Bree was late. I was bothered because people being late always bothered me, but also because I’d made a decision during the day that ‘when I had a minute by myself’, I would let Henry know the meeting was a hoax so that he didn’t have to hear it from Sean or James. I checked the clock on the dash: I’d already had nine minutes by myself sitting parked outside Cloverfield, and it was getting to the point where ‘Bree might come any second’ didn’t justify me not doing it anymore. I sighed heavily. No more excuses, I thought, and then made a decision to leave Henry a voicemail rather than a text. Henry always read his texts in meetings and I didn’t want to interrupt his meeting with further breaking news about Sean being a fuckhead.
Rather than risk talking myself out of it by meticulously planning my every word, I just dialled Henry’s number, listened to his friendly recording and then tried to explain in 30 seconds what happened. After the beep cut me off, I couldn’t remember what I’d said which at least meant I didn’t have to agonise over it. Leaving the voicemail made me angry at Sean again, though, and so I sat fuming in the driver’s seat as I waited for Bree.
I was deep in a fantasy about Frost going bankrupt when my phone buzzed on my lap. For a couple of seconds I thought it might be Henry, but then I saw ‘Bree’ on the screen and exhaled. She was probably going to tell me how much more late she was going to be. I answered it. “If you’re not calling to beg for my forgiveness I’m going to hang up on you.”
“Sorry, the clock in the library is slow!” she said, but she definitely didn’t commit to it. “Could you get out of the car for a sec? I can’t see where you’re parked.”
Why was she…? “Okay…” I said slowly, and followed her instructions. I could have just told her where I was parked, it wasn’t that dark yet…
I spotted some frantic waving as soon as I closed the door. “Hey!” The phone hung up in my ear. Bree was standing near the gate with a couple of other girls and calling out. Then, with her enormous bag slung awkwardly over one shoulder, she came galloping over to me. Her friends followed at a more subdued pace.
She dropped her bag at my feet and pulled me down by my tie into a very exaggerated kiss, and then stood back and looked me up and down. She had a big smile plastered across her face as she reverently brushed down my lapels and straightened my tie.
When her friends arrived at my car, they kept glancing at each other and trying not to giggle as Bree introduced them. “Is that your car?” one of them asked a bit shyly about my Lexus. The other one elbowed her.
I glanced back at it and then grinned down at her. “Why, do you like it?”
“Oh my god,” Bree’s friend said under her breath, and then giggled. She couldn’t even make eye contact with me after that.
When they’d gone, Bree wrapped her arms around my middle and beamed up at me, smiling ear-to-ear.
I rested my arms on her shoulders. “Can I get back in my car now?”
“Not yet,” she said, and stood hopefully up on her very tip-toes, coaxing me down into a sweeter, gentler kiss. By the end of it she could hardly kiss me properly because she was smiling so much. She brushed the tip of her nose with mine. “Okay, now you can. Let me just get my tablet out.”
I scoffed. “Get in,” I told her, nodding inside. “You can get it out on the way to the station.”
“It’s like two streets away,” she protested, but she was still smiling as she rounded the car and climbed into the passenger side with her huge bag on her lap, taking her sparkly tablet out and very carefully placing it on the back seat.
The station really was two streets away, and we got there far too quickly. I’d been waiting around in the city all day to meet her, and it was a little while before I had to pick Sarah up. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her just yet. She didn’t get out straight away, either, she just sat there with her hand over mine on the gearstick, content. Her skin was warm.
“Well,” I prompted her. “Aren’t you going to tell me what your English teacher said?”
She looked up at me. “Oh!” she said as she remembered. “Yes!” She withdrew her hand and went rummaging through her full bag for her mobile. After spending a few seconds flicking through her gallery, she leant over to me to show me a photo. It was a very staged picture of a middle-aged lady with her hand on her cheek pretending to look really surprised. “We had to email them to her before class, so I kind of missed the moment and asked her if she’d recreate it for you.”
I held the phone so I could see the picture better. It was terrible, the teacher could not act, and I had to laugh. “I can’t believe she did that. My teachers wouldn’t have.”
Bree accepted the phone back from me. “Yeah! She’s really cool. She’s always been okay, it’s just that she’s super strict and kind of scary. She even said she read the first paragraph of my essay to check it wasn’t a rush job and she was really impressed, and when I told her you got me to do it, she’s like, ‘Ask him what his secret is because I’ve been trying to get you do your homework on time for years to no avail’.”
“I hope you didn’t reveal my secret magical powers.”
“No,” Bree giggled. “I said you look better in a suit.”
I cringed. “You didn’t, Bree.”
“I did! And I said you’re cute, and you’re funny, and you’re a great kisser…” At my pained expression, she added, “Okay, not the last one. But yeah… She said if I kept going I was heading for an ‘F’. She was just joking, though, and everyone in the class thought it was hilarious.” Since Bree thought I was so good at it, I let her kiss me a couple more times. “How was your meeting-thing that you needed to wear your totally hot suit to, anyway? What’s happening to the complaint?”
I grimaced and gave her the abridged version of the hoax meeting saga. “So, yeah, the jury is out on why Sean did it,” I finished, making a face. “Henry’s going to be really upset and angry when he finds out. Maybe he’ll know why, at least.”
Bree shrugged. “Some people are just fucked up and there isn’t a ‘why’,” she said, “I should know, I’m related to one of them.” She then fixed me with a glare and pointed her index finger sternly. “You need to tell Henry.”
I gave her a tired look. “Yes, Bree, I know. I left him a voicemail already.”
She stopped pointing. “Really? Already?” She looked pleasantly surprised.
I sighed at her. “I’m not that bad.” I neglected to mention that I’d only done it ten minutes ago.
She wrinkled her nose. “You’re pretty bad normally,” she corrected me as she relaxed back in her seat.
We sat quietly and watched people spilling out of the station for a little while, and then Bree turned her head back to me. “I had a really great day,” she said eventually. “With that group thing I was doing just before, those girls were kind of annoyed to be put with me last week because everyone knows what I’m like. So before school started today I did all the reading for the class and I wrote down a couple of ideas about what we could do for our project, and when I told them they were like, ‘Wow, that’s actually good!’” She was smiling again. “And everyone loves my tablet, no one else has a really sparkly one. I was sitting there in class looking at what people were using, and mine’s the prettiest.”
I threaded my fingers through the soft wispy curls at the back of her neck. I could listen to her talk like this all day. “Well, it belongs to the right person, then.”
Her face looked like it was about to crack in half from all that smiling. She watched me thoughtfully for a little while, before her smile faded and she asked a bit hesitantly, “Do you… want to drop me home?”
My eyebrows went up. That was a first. “I thought you weren’t allowed to have people around?”
She shrugged. “I’m not, but there won’t be anyone home yet, so no one will know. Besides,” she said, “you already know we have no money, so if there’s, like, a sheriff’s calling card wedged in the front door or there’s red envelopes spilling out of the mailbox I don’t have to come up with some story about it.”
I put the car into first. “Are you sure?” I asked her gently before I pulled away from the curb.
It was difficult to read her voice. “9 Christmas Court,” she told me, and that was her answer. I punched it into my GPS and let the car direct us there.
She sat back in the seat as we drove, watching me. At one point, she giggled. “You look excited.”
I made a face. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” she told me. “I was when I saw your house for the first time.”
“When you barged your way in, you mean.”
She looked very guilty. “Worth it,” she declared. “So, what do you think it looks like? Like, when you imagine where I live?”
I laughed at her. “I don’t know,” I said honestly, and then looked a bit guilty myself. “I did Street View some parts of Bellevue Hill to see what the area is like.”
She looked absolutely delighted. “Really?” she said, and then put her hand over mine on the gearstick again as we kept driving.
I don’t know what I imagined; maybe a big, affluent-looking house, the kind that had two storeys with a double driveway. That’s what I’d seen of the suburb on Google maps. When we pulled into Christmas Court and outside the front of Bree’s house, it wasn’t like what I’d imagined, not at all. It was just a narrow red brick townhouse nestled at the end of a quiet, leafy court. It was modest and unimpressive with its mossy roof tiles and peeling awnings, but there was something warm about it. It had character. I could understand why Bree said her mother had fallen in love with it: it looked like the type of house someone bought to raise kids and then grow old in.
My windows were tinted and it was getting quite dark outside, so I wound them down to see better. The pink sunset was reflecting off the second-storey windows. “It’s beautiful,” I told Bree. “The garden looks really nice, too.”
She brightened. “Thank you!” she said, and then she looked back out at it somewhat critically. “The hedges kind of need a trim, and probably some of those weeds could come out too, but yeah, you should see it in early summer when all the roses bloom. They’re white and they look so pretty against the red bricks.”
We both sat quietly for a minute or two admiring her house, and then she turned slowly back to me, eyes veiled. After a moment of struggling with the words, she said quietly, “We’re going to lose it soon, you know.”
That knocked the wind out of me; Bree. I reached across between us and took her hand, holding it between mine and looking into those big, soulful eyes. There wasn’t anything I could say to that, so I didn’t try.
She didn’t speak straight away, either. I kept stroking her hand until she took a little breath and asked, “Do you want to come in, too?”
I winced, sucking air through my teeth. “Yes, very much, but I’m supposed to pick Sarah up in,” I glanced at the clock on my dash, “about twenty, and normally I’d say she could wait a few minutes, but—”
“—she’s still hungover,” Bree finished. She sounded really disappointed. “Okay. Maybe next time.” She withdrew her hand and began to get her bag together.
“Erm, Bree…” I wasn’t really sure how to put it, especially after what she’d just disclosed. Absent-mindedly, I touched the healed scar on my cheek. “Do you really think me coming in is a good idea anyway? I’m pressing charges against Andrej for assault, and that’s aside from, well…” I gestured down at my men’s suit.
Bree shrugged. “No, it’s probably not a good idea.”
“Yeah,” I said, sitting back. “I can imagine they’re probably very angry with me. I don’t think I should visit.”
She shook her head. “I think there’s a maximum amount people can be angry before there’s no anger left,” she told me. “And the police said Andrej probably won’t get a criminal record if he agrees to get help for his gambling, so, you know, as long as no one finds out about their baby boy it doesn’t matter what happened.” She exhaled and made a face. “Also Mum and Dad kind of don’t know exactly what’s going on between you and me.”
That, I couldn’t believe. “Come on, they know you sleep over at my place most nights. I think there’s only one conclusion you can come to about that.”
“Yeah, but they still think you’re a regular cisgender guy.”
“Oh,” I said, and accepted that for a fraction of a second before I remembered Andrej’s jab about me ‘pretending’. “But Andrej knows I’m not, and he doesn’t seem like sort of person who’d offer to keep my secret, especially since I’m, you know, pressing charges against him. He must have said something.”
“Not yet,” Bree told me. “I mean, he said something about you, because the next time I was home after that, Dad was waiting for me and he was like, ‘Bree, you’re dating a Chinese boy?’ and I was like, ‘Korean’, and after everything that happened with the assault and finding out about Andrej’s gambling and stuff, I kind of didn’t have the guts to say, ‘Also he’s transgender’.”
My eyebrows went up. Wow. “Out of everything, the fact I’m Korean is the problem?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, he wasn’t happy but he didn’t tell me to stop or anything. There was so much going on I don’t know what he thought about anything. But yeah, I didn’t tell them about the other stuff.”
I didn’t even want to ask it. “Andrej will tell them, won’t he?”
She didn’t even pause. “Yes,” she said easily. “He will. I don’t trust him at all. I don’t know why he hasn’t, but I know it’s better if they hear it from me.” She sighed down at her bag, but she was gazing through it. “I think I’ve figured out how I should do it: I want them to meet you and see that you’re completely normal first. Because, yeah, I can totally see them not caring about anything to do with me for years, but suddenly it becomes super important to them that I don’t date a trans person, you know? Because, oh my god, what if people find out? What if their friends back in Serbia find out? What if the family finds out…?”
I laughed darkly at that. She’d just described my childhood. “—Yeah, that sounds familiar,” I said. “That’s basically the entire Korean community Mum used to be part of down in Melbourne.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I don’t know if they really even know what trans people are, they’ve never talked about it. I want them to see with their own eyes that it’s totally fine, because Mum was really homophobic when I was younger but there’s a gay guy at her work now and she likes him so she doesn’t say that stuff anymore. So I think that’s the way to do it.”
Something occurred to me. “Do you think it would be easier if you introduced me as a woman, then?”
She looked sceptical. “What, like, ‘Hey, Mum and Dad, I’m gay and this is my mega butch girlfriend who has a flat chest and a silicone dick in her pants’?”
I gave her a look. “I can leave this at home,” I told her, nodding down at the packer. “I don’t wear it all the time, and I’m thin enough that people would believe I’m naturally flat-chested.”
In considering that option, Bree remembered something and laughed to herself. “You know ‘lesbian’ is kind of true, though? At least for me. Because after that first night you messaged me back, like, my heart—” She made a fluttering movement by her chest. “—so yeah, I thought you were a girl back then and I was, like, imagining stuff about you. Maybe I’m a bit gay anyway? I probably am. But not completely, because I’m totally into you now, and if you end up on testosterone and all that, I’ll be into you then.”
I reached out and brushed my thumb along her cheek with a faint smile. “That’s extremely sweet, but it doesn’t answer the question of how you’re going to explain me to your parents.”
Bree leant her face into my hand. “Well, what do you want?”
Hah. What a question. “I just don’t want you to get in trouble. What do you think will get them off your back?”
She made a face, thinking. “Honestly? I don’t think it matters what I say about you. If I’m anything other than totally hetero they’re not going to be happy. I mean, they’re not like your mum with the whole ‘your main purpose is to get married and have babies right now’ thing, but yeah, it’s more like, ‘oh my god, did you hear who the Dejanovic girl is dating? Tell everyone.’ That’s what they’ll be thinking.” She must have seen my expression, because she added, “By the way, none of this is your fault. I was the one who totally came after you, remember?”
I had to chuckle at that; I had been thinking it would have been so much easier for her if she’d just fallen for an ordinary cis guy. “Mind reader,” I accused her, and then exhaled at length and shook my head. “Shit. It really sucks that Andrej knows. If he didn’t, we could just pretend that I’m a cis guy and we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”
Bree nodded. “Everything’s fucked,” she said with false cheer, and then she reached over and put her hand on mine again. “On the bright side, your mum’s going to come over to Australia in like two months and probably stop me from seeing you anyway, so…”
“I’d never let that happen,” I said firmly, but just ended up sighing again.
We sat there, holding hands and staring forward. “Well,” Bree said eventually, forcing a smile. “I had a really good day today anyway.”
I stroked the back of her hand with my thumb. “Mine got a lot better about half an hour ago.”
I think that smile might even have been genuine for a moment. “Everything will be okay,” she told me like she was reciting a mantra, and then began to rearrange things in her bag so she could close it. “I should probably let you go pick up Sarah.”
I made a face and nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to be—” I glanced at the clock on the dash and realised what time it was. “—Shit, really late. I have to go.”
Bree giggled at my reaction. “Oh my god, you’re such a terrible person, you’re going to be five minutes late,” she said with comical gravity.
“Quiet, you,” I told her. “It’s respectful to be on time to places, and Sarah’s done heaps for me, the least I can do is be on time for her.”
“Yeah, she’s totally going to hate you,” Bree said with a smirk, finally managing to zip her bag up. “She’ll know it’s my fault, anyway.”
Even though I’d seen Bree take the tablet out, I double-checked it was still on the back seat just to be safe. “Are you going to be okay to do your homework without the tablet?”
She nodded as she opened the door. “Yeah, there’s just some Psych reading on my timeline and I printed it all out, I can probably even read it all before everyone gets home. And if anything really gets me I can just Google it on my phone.”
“Well, make sure you don’t get distracted,” I told her as she got out. “I know what you’re like with Google.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, ‘Dear Google, how do I stop my boyfriend nagging me?’” She knelt back on the passenger seat to give me one last kiss before she ducked back out and hoisted her bag on her shoulder. “I’ll be good,” she told me. “I promise. Oh! By the way, my timeline says I’m supposed to do Chem homework tomorrow, but I’ll need help with that. Sarah said she would go through it with me, so can I come over tomorrow night?”
You can get back in my car and come home with me right now, I thought, already regretting not just locking the doors and driving home with her. “Sure, see you then.”
She waved goodbye to me as I hurriedly chucked a u-ey and headed back out onto the main road.
I actually was really late. It was a good ten minutes past the latest I said I’d be to pick Sarah up, and I was probably another twenty minutes out of the city in this traffic. While I was parked at the lights, I tried to frantically text her—getting myself honked at when the lights turned green and I didn’t notice—and nearly swerved and hit a parked car when I went to send it.
It didn’t take her long to text me back, and it was three green sets of lights before I hit a red one and could read it. “I’m standing on a train platform. I’ve been abandoned by everyone. I am going to die alone, wedged between two business dudes on their smartphones. They won’t notice. It’s been nice knowing you xx”
I felt awful, because it made me laugh. At the next set of red lights, I replied, “I am so so so so sorry. If you want to wait somewhere I can pick you up anyway.”
She replied before the lights went green. “Nah, it’s actually fine. It’ll take me less time to get home on the train than it’ll take you to get here. I need to drop past the chemist and grab something anyway so it’s no big deal.”
She didn’t seem upset at all, and in two text messages she hadn’t mentioned throwing up all over everything. Although there was a strong possibility she was headed to her chemist for the sole purpose of buying them out of anti-nausea pills, I felt better. Maybe I could just offer to ferry her to and from work for the rest of the week as penance.
After I’d pulled into the driveway, somehow having miraculously avoided crashing horribly as a result of texting behind the wheel, I spent a few seconds holding my phone and thinking about the red brick townhouse with Bree in it. It was just so much to process, all of it. That beautiful house, her fucked family. No wonder she could hardly fucking study there.
I mulled over it for a few seconds, and then texted her. “You know you can stay over with me as much as you like, don’t you?”
It wasn’t long before my phone buzzed in my hands. “yeah i know thanks ❤ ❤ ❤ ”
“Then why are you there, Bree?” I said aloud and sighed, but didn’t ask her that. I just texted, “I hope you’re okay.”
“i will be…………. 🙂 🙂 🙂”
I gazed at those cheerful smilies for a couple of seconds, and then slipped my phone back into my pocket, grabbed Bree’s tablet from the back seat, and headed inside.
I figured I must have beaten Sarah home after all, because nothing was on inside except the hall light, and Rob was always forgetting to turn that off. The house was quiet, and I think I might even have been humming to myself as I put the tablet on my desk and hung up my tie and blazer. If I was quick, I could probably have my shower first before Sarah got home.
I had been undoing my cufflinks and trying to work one of them out of the little hole when I rounded the corner into the bathroom and nearly collided with the person who was already in there.
Sarah was standing there in front of the mirror, still in her work clothes.
“Sarah!” I half-laughed, putting a hand to my chest and taking a deep breath as I leant heavily against the doorframe. “Fuck, I had no idea you were even home! Sorry about charging in here without checking that it was…” The words died on my lips when I realised I was doing all of the talking.
She was just leaning against the vanity with a stricken expression, white as a sheet. It was so quiet I could hear the clock ticking from the living room.
My stomach knotted. She’d been fine when she’d sent me that message half an hour ago, but now she looked like she’d just seen a ghost. “Sarah…?” I took a couple of steps towards her. “Fuck, are you okay? Are you still feeling sick?”
She swallowed, opening her mouth, but closing it again when nothing came out of it. In the end, she just shook her head once and showed me what she’d been holding. It looked like a white pen, and it was shaking because she was. When I looked harder at it, though, it was too flat to be a pen and it had a window on the end of it.
In the window was a little blue cross. All the blood drained from my face as I realised what the device was and what that cross meant.
Sarah had clearly only just seen it. She looked up at me, still numb with shock. “Min, I’m pregnant.”