Published in ‘Rise’ (Clover Press, 2021)

‘Give us a pen will ya?’ Amelia said to me on a Wednesday morning. She swung back on her plastic chair and grinned. I would have told her she might crack her head on the side of the table behind her if it wasn’t for the fact that the thought of her cracking her head on the table behind her gave me a sick sense of joy. Amelia, Amelia, Amelia. What a shit name. It suited her.
            ‘Don’t have any spare pens,’ I said, zipping up the multiple compartments of my pencil case so she couldn’t take a peek inside. ‘None that you can chew on anyway.’
            ‘Ha. Guess I won’t be doing any work today then.’
            I gave a pointed look to Lily who sat on the other side of her with pencils lined up neatly above her notebook, but Amelia ignored me. She pulled her phone from the inside of her blazer and balanced it on her lap as she typed away, out of sight from Ms O’Brien who sat at the front of the classroom, squinting at her laptop while she stabbed at her salad in one of those red plastic containers.
            My right hand itched with the urge to throw it in the air and tell the teacher that Amelia was on her phone, but everyone already hated me for reminding Ms O’Brien about the homework the day before. I didn’t deserve the hate I got for that one. We had two weeks to do the work. It wasn’t my fault people didn’t know how to balance year twelve with their social life. Amelia said people who did homework had no social life. I hated her for that. She was one of those people who never did any work and still got the top marks. I wanted to tell her she didn’t deserve anything she had in her life. Amelia didn’t know what it was like to work hard, to strive for excellence, to earn all the love and success she got for free.
            She continued to type away and Ms O’Brien continued to remain oblivious to the clear violation of school policy.
            The clicking of her acrylic nails against her phone screen set my teeth on edge.
            ‘You going to Ollie’s party this weekend?’ Amelia asked without looking up from her phone.  ‘Well, are you or what?’
            She tucked a long black strand behind her ear and looked up at me. Her foundation was a shade too dark and her eyebrows were drawn on so thick that she might have used sharpie to colour them in. Eshay.
            ‘Are you talking to me?’
            ‘Are you thick? Yeah, I’m talking to you.’ She shoved her phone back into her blazer then focused on rolling up her already short skirt. ‘I heard you’ve got a car. I need someone to drive me to get booze.’
            ‘I don’t even know who Ollie is.’
            ‘Ollie. Orange Ollie. The ranga from St Peter’s.’
            I didn’t know anyone from St Peter’s. I didn’t know any boys. ‘Wasn’t invited.’
            ‘You can be my plus one then.’
            I glanced up at Ms O’Brien, my body tense as I waited for her to tell me off for talking. My cheeks burned as if preparing for the humiliation of getting yelled at in front of everyone. Instead, Ms O’Brien yawned and pulled out a pair of headphones, plugging them into her laptop. Amelia and I froze as she scanned the classroom.
            ‘I have to study,’ I said, when I was sure Ms O’Brien couldn’t hear me. Her music was blasting so loudly I could hear it through the earphones. ‘Not that you’d know what that is.’
            ‘If you take me to this party, I’ll help you study for the test Monday. You don’t even have to stay at the Ollie’s, just take me there. Isla, come on.’
            Would she beg if I waited a while to answer?
            I considered the offer. It seemed too good to be true. All I had to do was drive her to get alcohol then to some party and I got free tutoring. It would be painful to get taught by Amelia, but I had barely scratched the surface of Lazarus Model of Stress and I was starting to feel, well, stressed.
            ‘Ok. Fine.’

‘Give us a highlighter,’ Amelia said to me on a Thursday afternoon after school. We sat in the library with textbooks and notes spread across the table. She gripped the edge of the table, knuckles turning white as she balanced her chair on the back two legs. I rolled my eyes.
            ‘Use your own highlighters.’
            ‘But yours are nicer.’
            ‘Yeah, cause they were expensive. You’re not messing them up.’ I snatched my pastel pink highlighter away before Amelia could put her sticky fingers on them. She’d been digging into a paper bag filled to the brim with sour worms and the tips of her fingers had a blue slime on them that made me wrinkle my nose.
            ‘Fine. Then highlight, here, here and here.’ She sucked the sugar off her pointer finger then pressed it into the glossy paper of her textbook. The sound of her skin unsticking from the page filled the quiet. ‘Those are gonna be your key terms. Use them in every answer and O’Brien will be chuffed. Guaranteed.’
            ‘Erm ok. Thanks. You don’t mind me drawing on your book?’
            ‘Nah. It’s second-hand anyway.’
            After an hour of studying Amelia needed to go home. I felt cheated, only an hour and we’d barely scratched the surface. She shoved her books into her bag and I rushed to catch up with her, trying not to cringe at the way the paper at the bottom of my bag was being crumpled.
            ‘Wait,’ I said, grabbing her arm before she could push the library door open. She flinched in my grip so I pulled away. ‘I need more study time.’
            ‘I have to get home.’
            ‘Then maybe I could come to your house. You know, so we can finish what we started.’
            Amelia raised one of her thick brows, but nodded and opened the door, gesturing with her head for me to go first.
            We made our way to the bus stop. Amelia didn’t touch on her Myki—I could see her card resting behind her clear phone case. It made my skin prickle and my heart race; to be around someone who had such disregard for rules.
            ‘You’re acting like I’ve murdered someone,’ she said as I kept glancing at the mirror at the front of the bus, shifting in my seat every few seconds.
            ‘You broke the law,’ I hissed.
            Amelia just laughed. ‘Not like I’m going to jail for it. Live a little.’ I balled my hands into the thick plaid material of my skirt. Right, I was boring, a loser, for not wanting to pay a couple hundred dollar fine for fare evasion.
            I forced my shoulders to relax so Amelia wouldn’t make any more comments about me. I didn’t want to be known by her. I didn’t open my mouth again until we arrived at Amelia’s apartment. It was a dingy little building that didn’t know what colour was. The carpet of her lounge room was cream just like her couch and curtains. The place didn’t suit a person as colourful as her. She always wore neon-coloured bangles even when the teachers told her off, and she always had a new coloured headband on—she was wearing a pink one now. 
            Her room, on the other hand, perfectly encompassed the image of Amelia I had spent years cultivating in my mind—vain, basic, lazy. Clothes thrown everywhere. Dirty makeup brushes and opened bottles of lipstick abandoned on an old-fashioned vanity. Photos of her and her friends covered the entire wall her bed was pressed up against. Amelia looking her best and everyone else in the pictures looking like they’d been caught sneezing.
            She pulled her books from her bag and threw them onto her bed before jumping down next to them.
            She bit her cherry lip. ‘You gonna sit or what?’
            I pulled my own notes out of my bag, cringing. My drink bottle had leaked at the bottom of my bag making the edges of the paper soggy. I sat away from Amelia on the bed but she was quick to shuffle closer to me. I fought the urge to crawl away.
            ‘Wanna stay for dinner?’ she said after we’d been studying for a while. I pulled my phone out and gasped at the time. Three hours and I hadn’t even realised.
            ‘You can say no,’ she said with a scoff when I didn’t answer. She hopped off her bed and to her vanity, balancing in her chair backward so she could open the vanity’s draw fully.
            She pulled out a thick stack of loose-leaf paper, tied together with pink, fraying string.
            ‘What are those?’
            ‘I don’t like typing my novel,’ she said as if that explained anything. She flicked open to the middle of the paper and started to circle things in red pen.
            ‘You’re writing a novel?’
            ‘Got a problem?’
            ‘No…what’s it about?’
            Amelia paused, folding the paper so I couldn’t see her messy scrawl.
            ‘It’s a romance.’

‘Isla, just the person I was looking for. Got a couple of bucks on ya?’ Amelia said to me on a Friday afternoon. I was sitting under the big tree with my mate Eleanor, sharing a pack of salt and vinegar chips between us. The grass made my skin itch so I pulled my socks over my knees. Amelia had bounded up to us, surrounded by her group of ten other friends who all wore their hair out and ankle socks. I didn’t get how someone could have so many friends—surely no one got a word in. They probably knew nothing about each other. I probably knew more about Amelia than all of them combined considering I sat next to her in classes. The thought made my mouth taste sour. Amelia and I weren’t friends and never would be friends.
            ‘Yeah, I’ve got some money. Why?’
            ‘Canteen’s selling hot jam donuts. I’ll buy you one too if you give me the coin.’
            ‘Fine.’ I dug into my blazer and pulled out my Velcro wallet, ignoring the snicker from somewhere in her crowd of clones.
            ‘Since when were you and Amelia Xavier friends?’ Eleanor said when the group had disappeared. I straightened my back, turning to her with wide eyes.
            ‘We aren’t friends.’ But the words felt false even to my own ears.

‘Got money on ya?’ Amelia said to me on a Saturday night. We sat in the carpark of the local Bottle-O. Her wavy hair was now stick straight. Her lips a dark red and her matching dress climbing dangerously high up her thighs so that she constantly had to tug it down. She looked beautiful in a way that pissed me off.
            ‘You didn’t bring money?’
            ‘I did,’ she said, wrapping her parka tight around her body. ‘Just not enough.’
            I fought the urge to slap the sheepish smile off her face. Instead, I sighed, throwing my head back against my seat. ‘Fine. But I’m coming in with you so you don’t spend it all.’
            I popped my door open and stepped outside where the wind whipped at my jacket, making goosebumps spread across my arms. If I was cold in jeans and a jacket, Amelia should have hypothermia.
            In the artificial lighting of the liquor store, the spot where Amelia’s foundation ended was a visible line on her neck. I wanted to reach out and blend it with the tips of my fingers. Or maybe I wanted to reach out and wring her neck considering she was eyeing the more expensive vodka as if she had her own money to spend it on.
            Freeloaders. That’s what my mum called the Xavier family. Amelia’s mum had borrowed our Esky a year ago and we still haven’t got it back.
            I ran my hand against the fogging glass of the fridge and wondered what I’d be doing if I wasn’t with Amelia right now—probably studying. I pulled at the hem of my white shirt and wondered if I was boring or if people like Amelia just made me think I was boring because they set the standard of what fun should be. And when had I started caring about what people like Amelia thought?
            The sound of hissing pulled me from my thoughts. Amelia stood, laughing behind her palm as she stared at the can she had dropped.
            ‘Oops…Should we make a break for it?’ she said, glancing around for a worker.
            ‘What, no? I’ll just pay for it.’
            ‘Boring.’ My face fell and Amelia brought her hand to my shoulder. ‘Only joking.’
            My mood turned sour. I bought the vodka then drove Amelia to Ollie’s house without saying a word.
            ‘You coming in?’
            ‘No. I have to go home and be boring.’
            ‘Ha,’ she said, unclicking her seat belt and shimming out of her black parka. She opened the door but paused. ‘You’re plenty interesting, Isla.’ And with that, she left.
            I went home.

Amelia said nothing to me on a Monday morning. She wouldn’t say anything to me ever again. She wouldn’t ask me to borrow pencils or pens or highlighters or money for jam donuts. She wouldn’t show up to class late. She wouldn’t be showing up to class ever again. I pressed my palm against the cold plastic of her seat and wished I had been kinder to her.
            ‘She addressed it to you,’ I was told on a Monday afternoon by one of Amelia’s friends who stood, dry-eyed and serious. ‘Her dad found it.’
            She handed me a thick pile of paper and I immediately recognised Amelia’s almost illegible handwriting. I spent the rest of the day reading through those papers, Amelia’s novel, not paying attention to a word any of my teachers said.
            Her novel was about two girls our age, one studious and always following the rules, the other a rebel. I recognised myself in the description of the studious girl—blonde, severe, always having her hair in two braids. I recognised Amelia in the rebel—dark hair, an attitude, always speaking her mind. But there were things I also didn’t recognise. It was like seeing myself through a blurred lens—through Amelia’s eyes. I wasn’t boring. ‘The blonde girl would spend her days with her head buried in a book, despite never being the top of the class, despite becoming shut off from the rest of the world. She was special for trying. She was special for caring.’ That’s what Amelia wrote, and my eyes blurred with tears.
            I hugged the fraying pages tight against my chest.
            Amelia had a life. She loved. She loved me. And maybe I could have loved her too. If only I hadn’t left her that night.

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