Ten Years Earlier
As soon as I reach my favourite tree, in the park near my house, I sit and rummage through my sack for my journal. It’s kind of like my diary, but diaries are for kids and I’m almost a teenager. I smile as I finger the pale pink roses embroidered on the leather-bound cover. This book knows more about me than anyone. All my secrets are inside—even some I don’t tell Emma or Max. I flip to a blank page so I can write about something—I’m not sure what yet, but that urge has the pen ready to fly across the paper. As the point touches down, Andrew’s name scribbles out, over and over again. Biting down on my lip, I will away the tears threatening to spill as sadness washes over me.
I might be in love with him, but he’s never going to be in love with me.
Andrew’s my big brother’s best friend.
He’s already eighteen and has girls lining up to date him. Girls with pretty hair and long, tanned legs which seem to go on forever. Girls with boobs and everything. I glance down at my flat chest and frown. It’s not fair. I should have some boobs by now; Emma does, but not me. Not even tiny ones I could pretend were bigger with the right bra like my mum does. Not that it matters, anyway. His best mate is my brother, and I’m pretty sure Max would kick his butt if Andrew did love me. Not to mention Emma would be angry if she knew I how I felt. I keep telling myself the age difference is too much right now, but when we’re grownups—well, when I’m a grownup—it’ll be different. He’ll be a man, and I’ll finally be a woman.
The pen continues to dance on the paper—leaving his name, heart doodles and other random things—when I hear Max scream out from across the park.
“You’re dead!” Max hollers, and I look up, trying to see what’s going on. Andrew. Of course he’s here. And he’s got Max hung up in the tree … by his pants.
I quickly toss the book aside and sprint over to where Max is yelling while Andrew stands there laughing. Anger fills me and I strike Andrew right in the chest, leaving a sting behind on my hand to remind me what I’d just done.
“Hey, watch it, killer,” he teases, baiting me into chasing him.
“You better watch out, Andrew. When I catch you, I’m gonna punch you right in the eye,” I threaten, running after him. His other so-called friends stand there and laugh; nobody bothers to help Max.
I don’t know how Max can hang out with these boys. Nearly all the time they’re just a bunch of jerks. Especially Andrew. He’s the biggest jerk of them all. Max is big, but Andrew’s bigger, and he knows everyone is scared of him. He’s always picking on Max and Sam, one of their other friends. One day, someone’s going to bash him up so bad, and I’m just going to sit back and laugh. I don’t understand how I can love someone who can be so mean. I just don’t get it. Is there something wrong with me?
“Go home, Aubs,” Andrew says, ruffling my hair. I duck out of the way and scowl at him. “Better yet, why don’t you go play with Emma?”
“I’ll go home when you get Max out of that tree, you bully. Why’d you put him up there, anyway?”
“Because it’s funny.”
“It’s not funny!” Max yells, struggling to break free. “My arse is hanging out! Get him, Aubs. Punch him in the balls for me.”
I chase Andrew around a little while longer until I succumb to the realization he’s just too fast for me. Frustrated tears fill my eyes, and I’m about to lose it when Andrew saunters over to me with his “I’m cooler than you” attitude.
“I’ll get him down in a second, kid. Don’t get so worked up. This is just what guys do,” he offers, but it doesn’t satisfy me.
“I wouldn’t hang Emma upside down in a tree,” I state defensively. Emma would kill me if I even tried to think about putting her in a tree. She’d bring me back to life and kill me again if her arse was hanging out for the whole neighbourhood to see.
“Do you know why he’s in the tree?” Andrew asks gently. I shake my head. “Last night, Max and Sam decided to put unwrapped condoms all over my car. I didn’t get them cleaned off quickly enough, and now the paint is wrecked. It’s going to cost a few hundred dollars to fix it. Instead of making Max pay for it, I strung him up in a tree.” He shrugs as if it makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t. I’m even more confused now.
“Why did Max do that to your car?”
“Because that’s what guys do. We prank each other. It’s our job.”
“It’s stupid.” I cross my arms over my chest. “And he just got over being sick. What if that’s making the cancer come back?” I ask, pointing at Max, worry settling heavy in my gut.
“He didn’t seem too sick when he was trashing my car.” He grins, his face softening. “Aubs, I’m not hurting him, I promise. Just relax, okay? Go be a kid. You’re growing up before you need to.”
Leaning down, he bumps his shoulder into mine and a familiar warmth floods my body. He and Max had been running around all school holidays; I haven’t seen them much. They’ll be heading off to Uni soon—well, Max will be. Andrew says he’s not going; he’d rather start a job and make some money.
Without Max around all the time, it’s safe to say Andrew won’t be here, either. And with all the problems my parents are having, I think my dad will take the job in America. If he does, I’m going with him. I can’t stay here. Mum doesn’t want me; I’m just in her way. I’ll miss Emma, but sometimes I feel like I’m just in her way, too. Sometimes, I don’t know where I belong.
“I’d better go. Emma and I are going for ice cream with the money she got for her good report. You wanna come?” I ask, praying he says yes.
“Nah, sorry, kid. Gotta get your brother down and take Sam and Cam home before their mum has a heart attack. I’ll catch you around, though.” He smiles a signature Andrew grin at me, stands up from the grass and walks to the tree to get Max.
I trudge back to where I was sitting to get my notebook. Halfway there, I can just make out Emma hunched over and reading something. As I get closer, I realise it’s my notebook.
“That’s not yours to read,” I cry, snatching it off her. But from the gleam in her eyes, I know it’s too late. She knows. My heart races as I shove the notebook back into my backpack, wrapping my arms around it protectively.