I’m going to be late for work!
It was impossible to tell what time it was in winter, and for some reason my stupid alarm hadn’t gone off—I’d probably been drunk and forgot to set it again, my team was going to kill me–and, fuck, where was my fucking phone?— I had been hurriedly feeling around for my phone on the bedside table, when I realised my table was the wrong height. That’s weird, I thought as my eyes adjusted to the light. Nothing made sense, I didn’t remember getting another—
I wasn’t in my apartment. It took me several seconds of staring at an unfamiliar ceiling to remember what had happened and where I was.
I’d quit that god-awful job. No one was going to kill me. No one was expecting me to be anywhere at the crack of dawn doing anything for anyone, and no one was asking me why I no speaky Engrish or telling me to leave all that tranny shit at home. I was in Sarah’s house, there was a formal complaint pending about all that crap, and I could relax.
I lay my head back on my pillow and took a deep breath. Beside me, Bree stirred. Under the doona, she slung an arm across my stomach and buried her nose in my shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said groggily. She was lovely and warm.
I kissed her forehead and felt her smile against my shoulder. That made me smile, and I exhaled at length, ready to try for another round of sleep before I realised that it was Friday and Bree had school.
I groaned, opened my eyes again, and felt around for my phone so I could hold it at my face. I read the clock at the same time as I noticed that fucking flashing blue LED and those stupid messages I hadn’t listened to yet. I dropped it back on the bedside table and sighed upwards at the ceiling. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to relax this morning.
“You’re doing that teeth-grindy thing again,” Bree mumbled into my arm.
She was right, I was. I tried to relax my jaw, but my muscles still felt all stiff. “Why am I such a stressball this morning, anyway?” I asked her, tilting my head to stretch my neck. “I had such an awesome time last night.”
“Because when there’s nothing to worry about, you worry about worrying,” Bree told me sagely, and snuggled up against my arm. “Don’t worry so much. Just relax.”
“Wow, I’m cured,” I said dryly. “Thank you, Dr. Dejanovic.”
She was peeking over the doona at me and there was a twinkle in her eye. “You pronounced it wrong.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said, and propped myself up on an elbow. “Let’s hear you say my name properly.”
She still had that cheeky grin. “Pretty hard for me when you can’t even pronounce your own name properly.”
Wow. That earned her a tickle, and I rolled over on top of her, my fingers hovering ominously around her ribs while she struggled, laughed, apologised and shrieked—that ear-splitting, glass-shattering sound she made when she panicked. I put my hand over her mouth. “Shh!” I hissed, but I was laughing too hard for it to be an effective warning.
She licked my palm to get me to take my hand away, and it worked. At my grossed-out expression, she shoved me. “Are you serious? You’ll let me put it in your mouth but you think it’s gross on your hand?” she wrinkled that cute little nose of hers. “No wonder you won’t let me put it anywhere else!”
“Didn’t you hear what I told Dazza? I’m saving myself for marriage.”
She looked a bit coy. “Yeah? Well, I’m not, so…”
“Oh, boy, I wonder what that means,” I said flatly, and then leant down to kiss her.
In the grand habit of Bree, at some point in the night her skirt and her socks had come off and were probably buried in the covers somewhere. I had bare legs, too, and the feeling of all that skin against mine was not incentive to get Bree off to school on time. She was soft, and warm, and her hips were resting against mine and our legs were intertwined, and, god, her buttons were really hard to undo with one hand…
She helped me, and then said in a deep voice which I think was supposed to be mine, “’You can’t be late, Bree, that would make you a terrible person!’”
I kissed down her neck to her collarbones. “I’m just getting you ready for a shower,” I told her as I pushed apart the sides of her shirt. Her breasts were falling out of her bra because she was on her back, and that was a very, very pleasant sight. God, I was going to need one of those showers myself: a very cold one. I wanted that bra and those knickers off her right now.
We couldn’t start something, though, because she needed to get to school before Christmas. I managed to resist the allure of all that very tempting skin and sat back off her. “Okay,” I said breathily. “Okay, we probably shouldn’t. You need to go get ready or you will be late.”
“Fine,” she said, and sat up from underneath me, shrugging off her school shirt and her bra and leaning over to my phone. She scoffed. “I’m going to be way early, you are so ultra-paranoid about time.”
“I just wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to use all the hot water before it’s my turn.”
She rolled her eyes at me and stood, grabbing her towel wrapping it around herself. I must have been watching a bit too hard as she did that, because she gave me another cheeky grin before she left. “You want to come and waste the hot water with me?”
I winced: I did, a lot. But seeing my naked body in front of Sarah’s full-length bathroom mirror was a big enough challenge for me even when I was alone. “I can’t,” I told her, making a face. “I’m sorry, I just—”
“—I know,” she said simply, and then added, “Maybe we could get you, like, a binder that’s supposed to be swum in or something? I mean, trans guys still want to swim, right, so they probably exist? That could be fun.”
“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being wet and naked together, though?”
“No,” she said, as if the suggestion was ridiculous. “We’ll still be in there together with all the hot water and the steam, and I’ll be naked.” When I tried to apologise again, she cut me off. “—Still worrying too much,” she told me, leant down and gave me a quick kiss and another spectacular view of her cleavage, and then slipped off to have that shower.
I had been sitting on the bed, smiling like an idiot and imagining all that hot water and steam, but the little flashing LED on my phone kept fucking distracting me. I gave up, threw on some clothes, and went to see how Sarah’s house had fared after the party.
The hallway outside my bedroom looked normal, but as I approached the mouth of the living room there were tumbleweeds of party-streamers gathered in corners and I nearly trod on a bottle-cap. Off in the kitchen I could see the sink had a skyscraper of dirty cake plates stacked in it, and the number of empty bottles crammed onto the kitchen counter made it look like at least a hundred people had been drinking last night, not a dozen. The living room had bottles in it, too, but in addition to the bottles there was rubbish spread everywhere—it looked like a party bomb had detonated and showered the whole area with festive mess.
In the centre of the room, seated at the dining table, Sarah was dressed in her work clothes and hunched over an uneaten bowl of cereal, groaning like a creature out of Silent Hill.
She looked up at me when I entered. “I think I’m going to die,” she said bleakly.
I laughed. “You look like you’re already half there,” I told her, and then had to rush back to my room to get the phone so I could take a morning after photo of her and the house.
“If you tag that I’m taking you with me to the grave,” she said, waving her spoon at me. Then, she dropped it back in her cereal, moaned and put her head in her arms on the table. “I am way too old for this, my head is killing me and I have a presentation this morning. I thought food might help, but if I have a single mouthful of this cereal I swear to god I am going to need a bucket.”
I bent over the table and rescued a lock of her long brown hair from swimming in the milk. “On the bright side, you threw a fucking amazing party.”
She looked up from her forearms. “It was great, wasn’t it? Good, I’m glad I’m not going to die in vain. And let’s be serious: you were totally digging the chance to see me in a school uniform. I know how it is.”
I grinned. “You’re way too old for me, Sarah.”
She pretended to be offended. “Harsh!” she said, laughing. “Although I guess I’ve told you like a hundred times that you can’t touch me until you put on 50 kilos of muscle, so I guess that makes us even. C’mere.” She held an arm in the air that I was presumably supposed to accept, so I put my phone down on the table and let her put that arm around me. “Happy Birthday,” she told me, and gave me a big, firm hug. “I didn’t want to say this in front of a whole room of people, but I am pathetically in awe of you. You’re literally awesome. Inspirational, even.”
Over Sarah’s shoulder, I could see the LED on my phone. “’Inspirational’?” I asked a bit sceptically, trying to ignore it so I could focus on the nice things Sarah was saying to me.
She let me go, and I sat beside her as she lolled semi-upright on her chair. “Yeah,” she said. “Hear me out before you decide I’m so hungover that I’ve lost my grip on reality. So, all the changes you’re making, it makes a girl think about her own life, you know?” She looked a bit wistful. “What am I supposed to be? Not, like, gender-wise, obviously, but in general. I thought about it, and even though I’m pretty happy with my life and things are great, I don’t know my purpose, does that make sense? It’s not wasting away as a lowly forgotten clerk at Frost, that’s for sure. I mean, ideally they’d promote me—that’s what we’re all there for, right?—but since it seems kind of obvious that’s never going to happen, there’s no point in hanging around. So, I was thinking of giving up on the whole upper management dream and paying off my house—that’ll probably take me two-ish years—and then doing all that cliché self-discovery crap: taking a year off to travel the world, and maybe spending a few months in the part of Italy my Dad’s side is from.”
“That actually sounds pretty awesome,” I told her honestly. I turned my phone over so I couldn’t see the light anymore.
Sarah noticed. “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that stuff, but sort of assumed I couldn’t, you know? Which is crap, of course I can do it if I want to. So, thank you for showing me that just by doing your thing.” We smiled at each other for a moment, and then her smile faded and her eyes dipped to the table. “Min. What’s going on with your phone?”
“Nothing,” I answered, probably a little too quickly. Her eyes narrowed and, with speed belying someone who was catastrophically hungover, her hand shot out to grab it. I got there first and put it in the front pocket of my hoodie. “The notification light was bothering me, that’s all.”
She looked very suspicious. “You do realise if you check your notifications they stop blinking, right?”
“Oh my god, so that’s how it works.”
She ignored my sarcasm. “I thought we’d got you to a place where you actually answered your phone when it rings?” Apparently Mum had outsourced the nagging to my friends, now.
“Bit hard to answer it when it’s on flight mode 25,000 feet in the air.”
Sarah didn’t budge. “…15 hours ago,” she said pointedly. “Come on, what’s the worst thing those messages could say?”
I didn’t get the opportunity to answer, though, because Bree came bouncing into the living room, dressed and ready and in the middle of announcing that when she stopped. “Whoa,” she said, surveying the damage and looking pretty impressed. “You guys went crazy. I’m kind of sad I missed—whoa,” she repeated when she saw Sarah. Then, she laughed. “Sarah, you look terrible.”
Sarah narrowed her eyes at Bree. “Gee, thanks,” she said. “Whose house are you staying in again?”
Bree completely ignored her. “Maybe you should stay home and get better? I could look after you! I could clean up, too, this place is a mess.”
“You have school,” I reminded Bree, and she made a face.
Sarah stood painfully. “Hah!” she said, “Sick leave? What’s sick leave? At Frost we only have people who show up to work and traitors.” She gestured at Bree and began to walk towards the door. “Come on, Schoolgirl, let’s get moving.”
Bree looked surprised. “You want to walk with me?”
Sarah bustled her towards the hallway. “I need someone to call 000 if I pass out on the way to the station. Go on, get your bag, let’s go!”
Sarah may have been joking, but I recognised those careful steps she was taking from enduring five years of terrible hangovers. That must be one mother of a headache, and it wasn’t like I had anything else to do today, was it?
“I’ll drive you,” I called after them and followed them into the hallway, and then hushed my voice when I realised Rob was still asleep. “Least I can do to say thanks for the party, right?”
Sarah looked dead serious. “I’d totally kiss you,” she said, “but with the way I feel right now I’d probably throw up in your mouth and that’s not a great way to thank someone.”
After we’d piled in my car and taken off, she didn’t look much better, either. I must have been glancing nervously towards her, because she patted me reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’d vomit in my handbag before I’d vomit on the leather seats of your glorious Lexus, and my bag’s Chanel,” she said with gravity. “That’s how much I appreciate you driving me.”
Bree was sitting in the back looking thoughtful. “I think I read something that said if you press, like, this place in your right wrist it stops you from feeling sick,” she said, and then she made a noise. “Or maybe it was your left wrist? I forget. I’ll check.” Her little hand appeared over the back of my seat. “Phone.”
I took it out of the pouch in my hoodie and passed it back to her. Then, I remembered.
It took her a couple of seconds. “Min, you have like seven voicemails,” she observed.
Here we go. “I know.”
“Well, why don’t you listen to them? Doesn’t your car have Bluetooth?”
I could see Sarah smirking at me from the corner of my eye. “Oh, yeah, look, here’s the symbol,” she said, and ‘helpfully’ pointed to the little B on my dash.
I braked suddenly and they both yelped. “Whoops,” I said flatly, accelerating again. “I guess I should really concentrate on the road and not allow myself to be distracted.”
“I can listen to them for you!” Bree offered. “And then I can tell you what they say!”
“That’s not going to be very useful unless you learnt to speak Korean while I was in Broome.”
The smile on Bree’s face faded. “Oh, they’re from your Mum?” I nodded. She made a face. “Well, maybe they’re not all from your Mum? I mean, it was your birthday, maybe some other people called, too? You should listen, just in case!”
“They’re from Mum,” I said. “Everyone else was at the surprise party.” Well, everyone else except Henry…
Sarah grabbed my arm and nearly made me swerve. “Oh, no!” she said with exaggerated drama. “What if your Mum’s calling to wish you a happy birthday?”
I sighed at her. “If that’s all it was, I’d be fine.”
Sarah watched me for a moment and recognition dawned on her face. She stopped smirking. “Oh. Oh, right. She doesn’t know, does she?” I shook my head, and she sat back in her chair and stopped bothering me. “Yeah, I thought that gift wrap looked a bit girly. Ouch.” I didn’t say anything to that and we drove the rest of the way to Frost in silence.
It was weird pulling up alongside Frost International HQ; seeing the building again up close now that I no longer worked there made me feel out of place. Everything looked the same, but it felt unfamiliar and different, somehow, as if it was in another dimension. It kind of was, in a way. It was in my past, along with a series of people I never wanted to see again. Where they belonged.
A thought crossed my mind. “Maybe I should just drop the complaint,” I said as Sarah got carefully out of the car.
She spun back towards me, looking alarmed. “No!” she told me, “your complaint investigation is the only reason Omar’s Head of Marketing instead of Jason, and I really don’t want Jason back as my boss!”
My eyes were probably pretty wide. “Okay, okay! I’ll leave it!” I said, and then passed her the not-vomited-in Chanel handbag.
She leant in the doorway for a second as she took it. “Thanks, and thanks for the ride,” she said. I saluted her. “Now: to go forth and not throw up in my presentation. Wish me luck!”
“Good luck!” Bree called out the window as we got honked at for blocking the bus lane. I pulled out of it quickly so I didn’t kick off my holidays with a traffic infringement.
I had been thinking about those fucking messages again when Bree interrupted me. “Will they fire him?” she wondered aloud as I tried to figure out how to avoid the toll roads. It took me a second to realise she meant Jason.
Hah, in my dreams. “Probably not, but they haven’t really told me anything.”
“Is that what’s supposed to happen?”
“I have no idea,” I told her honestly. “But Frost doesn’t really do ‘supposed to’, so I don’t know if that means anything.”
At the next set of traffic lights, Bree casually climbed through to the front seat, snuck my phone back into my pouch and placed her hand over mine on the gearstick. “I’m sure it’s all fine,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I bet everything is fine. I bet your complaint thing is going to be fine, and I bet your Mum isn’t saying anything really terrible.” She gave me a lovely big smile.
I looked across at those rosy cheeks of hers and she edged closer to me, looking hopeful. I knew what she was after. “I’m driving,” I told her with a half-smile. “You’ll have to wait. And do up your seatbelt.”
She rolled her eyes and followed my instructions. “Spoil-sport,” she mumbled under her breath, but she looked secretly delighted.
Bree’s school wasn’t that far out of the city, and it only took me a few minutes to get there once we cleared the traffic in the CBD. She insisted I drop her off right outside the front entrance, and then she grabbed me by the collar and started pashing me very energetically through my open window while I blinked at her.
She was normally a lot gentler, and I wondered if the two teachers standing on duty at the gate had anything to do with it. They did not look impressed. “Are you sure you want to do this with them watching?” I asked her when I’d managed to escape for a second.
“Yes,” she said flatly. “One of them is my maths teacher and I want him to see me pashing a guy driving a Lexus.”
I wasn’t sure why that was, but I let her dive right back on me for a few more seconds anyway. She looked very smug afterwards. “Thanks,” she said. “And, seriously, you don’t have to worry. I’m sure your Mum isn’t saying anything awful in the messages like, ‘I know you’re trans!’, or, ‘I know you’ve broken up with Henry and I have no daughter!’ or whatever.” She made a face. “Although I guess technically that’s true, since ‘daughter’ is probably the wrong word now, isn’t it? Anyway…” She stood up and stepped away from the car. “I’m sure it’s fine. Thanks again!”
God, I hoped Mum hadn’t somehow found out. I hadn’t even thought of that, but it would explain the seven messages… Someone honked. “You’re welcome,” I told Bree, and then glanced in my rear view and saw a line of cars waiting to drop their girls off behind me. Whoops. “I’d better go!”
She gave me a little wave. “Bye!”
Mum couldn’t have found out, I thought as I drove away from Cloverfield. Henry definitely wouldn’t have told her, my Facebook privacy settings rivalled Alcatraz and, in any case, Mum wasn’t fantastic with the Internet. No one my Mum could possibly be in contact with would tell her, so it wouldn’t be that.
So if it wasn’t that, what was it?
Sarah’s question rung in my ears, ‘what’s the worst thing those messages could say?’, and the answer was far, far too easy: ‘I got someone to mind Grandma, I’m in Sydney now and I’m coming to visit you right this very minute!’
That actually made the blood drain from my face. I didn’t know what I’d do if she showed up suddenly at Sarah’s. She knew the address, so she could do it. Rob would probably let her in, too, and when she couldn’t find me, she’d poke around in the rooms and she’d find my room with all my artwork in it and my men’s clothes and—my stomach dropped—the packer…
I should have worn it this morning, I thought. I should have worn it. God, what if that is what she’s saying? What if she’s coming to visit me?
I was a few streets away from Sarah’s place, and I kept imagining walking through Sarah’s door and seeing Mum sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. I had no idea what she’d say. I couldn’t even imagine it. I didn’t want to imagine it, because I knew the sorts of words that might come out of her mouth and I couldn’t hear them, not from my own mother. Just thinking about it was making me break out in a cold sweat, and I turned the aircon right up because I felt like there was no fucking oxygen in this car.
Eventually when I started to feel a bit lightheaded, I gave up. Fuck this, I thought, and pulled over. Fuck this. I need to know if that’s what those messages are about, and I need enough time to prepare for her being here if she is visiting.
I took my phone out of my pouch and looked down at it flashing at me.
Here goes nothing, I thought, tapped the notification and put the phone to my ear. My heart was pounding.
Maybe they aren’t all from her, I tried to reassure myself, listening to each agonising ring before the automated voice answered. Maybe a few of them are and then the rest are from some other people. Other people like Henry, I immediately thought, and my heart lifted a little. Maybe he had left me a birthday message, despite what I did to him…
“Hey, it’s me!” That was Bree’s voice? “I have to do this really quietly because I’m in the library and really quickly because Courtney has, like, no credit left, but:” She proceeded to very quietly and hurriedly sing Happy Birthday to me. Even at a whisper she sounded terrible, but I was so fucking relieved that I laughed out loud and saved the message anyway.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath while I was waiting for the next message. Maybe it is several people, I thought. Maybe it it’s not—
“Min?” That was my mother’s voice. My breath caught in my throat. “Why didn’t you answer? I’ll try again. Maybe you didn’t make it to the phone in time.”
There were two more messages like that, and as my throat got progressively tighter and it got progressively harder to breathe, then the fourth one started, “I don’t know why you’re not answering the phone, if you’re not working now you should have lots of time to answer the phone. Don’t you want to talk to your mother on your birthday? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, it would be really nice if you would answer the phone just for a moment and let me know that everything’s okay and you’re healthy and Henry’s healthy…”
The next one was like that, too, and the last one said, “Well, now that I think about it, maybe you’re having a nice birthday celebration with Henry and that’s why you’re not answering. That’s nice. He is such a nice man, I hope you’re not wearing that horrible stripy blouse, the one with the puffy sleeves. It looks really cheap and you don’t want to embarrass him. I’ll call his house and see if you’re there.” I winced.
The automated voice reported, ‘End of messages’, and I put the phone in my lap. I exhaled.
Okay, so she wasn’t visiting. I expected to be really relieved about that, but instead I just felt… Well, I didn’t know. I wondered how many times she’d called Henry, and if he’d answered. He didn’t deserve that. He didn’t deserve to be constantly reminded about a relationship he was mourning, and if I didn’t fucking call my mother, she’d keep doing it.
I bumped my forehead on the steering wheel a couple of times, groaning. I was going to have to call her now, wasn’t I? There was no way around it. I sat up straight again and looked down at my phone. Fuck.
Taking a few slow breaths, I tapped ‘return call’ and put the phone to my ear. She’ll just talk about Grandma, I reassured myself. And Henry, and the ladies at Church, and she’ll lecture me a bit and then it will be over.
After several rings I realised she wasn’t going to answer. That was very unlike Mum, and, I—oh, the time difference. Thank fucking Christ for that.
Mum’s polite recording invited me to leave her a message, so I put on my best Dutiful Daughter voice and did exactly that: I thanked her for her messages, and explained I was on a plane when she’d left them. I had absolutely no idea how Henry was but I told her he was well anyway, and apologised for not calling back sooner because my friends had thrown me a party.
And I’m trans-something, and I broke up with Henry and I’ve fallen for a penniless, white, atheist schoolgirl, I mentally added as I hung up, dropped my phone on the passenger side and leaned against my seat. She’d play that message to Grandma, probably, and maybe even her Church friends when they asked about me. Henry told me once that she kept every single message I left so she could share them with people and tell them all about her Daughter Who Lives in Australia.
I sighed. Well, I couldn’t stay parked outside some stranger’s house all day, could I? I put my car into gear and drove back to Sarah’s.
Rob was still asleep when I got home, and despite the fact Sarah always promised me he could sleep through a hurricane, I tip-toed around the house just to be polite. His hangover was probably at least as bad as Sarah’s.
I got stuck into quietly cleaning up the living room and the kitchen before I wound down enough to think clearly about what had happened this morning: I’d freaked the fuck out over nothing and made an enormous drama over what was essentially just my mum being my mum. She always called repeatedly, always. And since she had no cause to believe anything had changed other than the fact I’d left work, it stood to reason that she wouldn’t change what she did, either. And yet, I’d been stressing over it, absolutely fucking sure the world would end, and probably doing that ‘teeth-grindy’ thing Bree always accused me of.
I had a mental image of Bree waggling a finger at me and saying sternly, ‘You’re worrying too much again!’ I wanted to text her and tell her she’d been right, except that she still hadn’t replaced her phone.
I should get her one, I thought. My final pay from Frost hadn’t come through yet, but I had enough money from Broome— despite how many presents I’d bought her there— that could probably get her a pretty decent one and still have heaps left over. It was Friday night, too, so we could make a night of it without interfering with her homework. I could give her all those presents, get her a phone and just generally thank her for giving me something in my life I didn’t need to worry about.
I’d need to pick her up from school, though, because it took her a couple of hours to get back to Sarah’s by public transport and we probably wouldn’t have enough time to have a proper look around otherwise. I agonised over whether or not I should bother Bree’s friends to pass on a message to her, but in the end decided it would be for the last time, anyway.
I took my phone out of my pocket, opened the Facebook app and tapped on Courtney’s portrait. “Hey, sorry to bother you, are you in class?”
It wasn’t even ten seconds before she replied. “Oh hello there… yeah but we’re doing a group exercise. What’s up?”
“Could you ask Bree to wait for me out the front where I dropped her off today? I’ll pick her up after school.”
This time, Courtney took longer to reply. “Ummm ok? If I see her I’ll tell her 🙂”
I frowned. “Aren’t you two in the same classes?”
“Yeah we are but I haven’t seen her today. I kinda thought she was spending the day with you?”
Bree, I thought, groaning. I’d dropped her there this morning for crying out loud.
I typed some short thanks to Courtney and then l let my hand fall into my lap. Well, so much for having a nice, restful afternoon relaxing and unpacking and having nothing to worry about.