Best friends 18 YO Dessi and Emma fall out after Dessi is unable to travel north for an end of school celebration and Emma asks Dessi to look after her new boyfriend.
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THE title of this new YA release could lead readers to expect a straight romance. Yet while Dessi’s first real experience of love is central to the theme of this novel, deeper issues of loyalty, trust and betrayal are integral to the plot. Cultural differences are also a key element.
Dessi and Emma are best friends like their mothers before them and can’t imagine anything or anyone ever coming between them. They’ve just graduated from high school and are looking forward to Schoolies celebrations on the Gold Coast with a group of mates while waiting to find out if they’ve been accepted into their chosen university courses. When Dessi is injured in a traffic accident and must stay home to recuperate, Emma asks her new boyfriend and her best friend to look after each other while she’s away. What Emma couldn’t have foreseen was the instant attraction between Dessi and the older, darkly exotic Middle Eastern Abdul. Dessi’s romance threatens to destroy a friendship that promised to last a lifetime. To complicate matters, Abdul’s family is far from welcoming of his Australian girlfriend.
1. DESSI, Melbourne
I prop my right leg onto a stool and poke a knitting needle inside the walking-brace boot. It’s early. Just after nine. My mother, Hannah, is at work. My father, Graham, is hammering in the backyard. My brother, Jeremy, is at school. The silent TV flickers between commercials and scenes from a bloody terrorist attack. For all I care, it could be announcing the start of World War Three...
A fortnight ago all I had to worry about is which university will give me a place. But last day of school, backpacks crammed with books and files I never wanted to see again, we were halfway home when the skies opened up. Wet hair plastered across her face, my best friend, Emma, glimpsed Jon McKenna’s beat-up car and signalled him to stop.
I grabbed her arm. ‘I’m not getting in with him.’
I claim Jon should be forced to wear a sign: ‘Beware. Accident approaching.’ Besides, ever since I refused to date him anymore and that was only because Emma talked me into it saying ‘he’s so into you, give him another go…’ he always looked hurt whenever he saw me.
So avoiding eye contact, I climbed into the rear.
Emma slid into the front passenger seat.
Jon hit the accelerator.
Maybe if I’d sat beside him, that collision might never have happened. But he kept eyeing me in his mirror instead of concentrating on the road.
He didn’t see that other car. Swerving to avoid it, he went straight into a tree.
Emma escaped with badly bruised ribs.
Jon was mildly concussed.
But the driver’s seat slid back jamming itself onto my right leg fracturing my ankle in four places. The result was two operations, three weeks in hospital and a fortnight in a rehab inhabited by seniors having hip and knee replacements. I never got to the end-of-year parties. Never wore the silk green strapless bought specially for the Formal. And now I’m not going on holiday.
Tears start to my eyes. I’m like this a lot. Weak and sick from pain and too many medicines, at the same time breathless with anger and frustration.
Before my face crumples completely, Dad staggers in with an old leather chest. ‘Belonged to your great-aunts,’ he tells me.
I rub my cheeks on my sleeve and hop over to inspect his find. ‘You going to trash it?’ He dusts the top with an oily rag. ‘Some of this stuff might be valuable. Shame you only knew the great-aunts when they were old.’
Graham’s talking about his great aunts Ella and Lilbet. Searching inside the chest, he’s saying ‘Amazing to think how those two stayed here all their lives.’
Mildly distracted, I say, ‘Twins, weren’t they?’
‘Neither ever married. They were always close.’
I manage a tiny smile. ‘Lesos?’
He frowns. ‘How would I know? When I was your age, sex was never discussed.’
This time I openly grin. He’s so sensitive to any criticism of his family. ‘Good of them to leave you this house,’ I concede. Then, as if I haven’t repeated this a million times already, ‘But it’s still crap living here.’ While I was in hospital, Dad moved us from our comfortable double-storey house in East Bentleigh to this decrepit villa in South Melbourne.
‘Since I left teaching we need more cash,’ he reminds me. ‘So renting our old home gives us income. Meanwhile I do this house up, sell, make a profit and we go back home.’
My eyes roll. But I’m sick of arguing. A bird squawks outside the window. A car starts up next door. Distant traffic rumbles. My gaze wanders around extra high ceilings, dingy walls, chipped paint, broken floorboards, cracked leadlight windows, an old bookcase morphed into a pantry. It’s all too awful.
‘I really miss my old room.’
‘I know. That accident was such bad luck.’
Bad luck? Didn’t it happen because Emma was so insistent about getting home to her kittens... because of Jon’s crazy driving… because... because...
Too late! He’s already out the door.
I grab my crutches and hop down a narrow passage cluttered with cartons to the most basic of bathrooms. Though the shaving mirror sits high, I’m tall enough to see a girl with dark very curly hair, a high forehead, hazel eyes, pronounced cheekbones, the short distance between her nose and lip giving a soft vulnerable look now emphasised by a sickroom pallor.
The only positive is losing the three kilo I put on while studying.
I peer at my teeth. At least they’re still straight and white.
Exhausted by even this tiny effort, I hop back down the hall, settle into a chair, and wait for this ankle to stop aching.
How to fill in the rest of the day?
I know I’ll sit here angry, frustrated and tearful. I know I’ll end up brooding about not going to the Gold Coast, and how much I’ll miss Emma.