Horses: Everything You Never Wanted to Know
Author: Reb Hay

Chapter 20
They Smell (And there is no way to put that politely)

I go to bed that night, tired like I can barely stand, and I sleep. Some of you understand how crazy, different and out there a good night’s sleep can be. Let’s face it: sleep is elusive but beautiful.

            When I wake, Charlotte and Lily are still asleep. It’s 6.30am. I haven’t been awake at 6.30 since the last time I stayed up all night doing a movie marathon.

            I turn onto my side and snuggle down under the doona, fully expecting that, as a normal teenager, I will go back to sleep. But I can’t. I flop onto my back and stare at the bunk above me. There’s a feeling in my chest. I’m thinking I know this feeling. Soon it’ll grip me so hard I’ll be paralysed by it. I lie waiting, dreading it but helpless to do anything about it. My hand creeps over my heart, expecting to feel its throb. But I feel nothing. I tune in to my breathing. Air goes in and then goes out, steady and slow. I take in a deep breath and let it out, only to realise I am smiling.

            Sure, I do know this feeling. It’s not fear at all. I’m excited. I’m excited because today I get to ride Ben properly and I’m excited because I’m excited about riding Ben, which is like some kind of exponential hit of excitement. I can see it shooting off the graph. I’m even excited because being excited is about a billion times better than being petrified.

            So much for sleep. I slip out of bed and tiptoe into the bathroom, sliding the door shut behind me. I catch myself in the mirror. My reflection stares back at me and then grins.

            I never look my best when I’ve just woken up—tell me one person who does—but, nevertheless, I am now prepared to tell you what I look like, if you’re still interested.

            I suppose you’ve already got the idea I’m not supermodel material. My hair is dark brown, shoulder-length and straight. It could hardly be more boring. I once tried to dye it bright blue but, well, let’s put it this way—my face went blue, my hands went blue, even my pillow, for about a thousand washes, was blue. But my hair stayed decidedly dark brown. So—hair: boring. Eyes: They are a grey-ish, blue-ish, murky colour. They are not boring, more indefinable. Nose: My nose is standard issue, off-the-shelf. The good news is—that pimple I was telling you about has decided to dry up and go away. Further good news—I do have a profile and a chin. One day I might end up with lots of chins but, for the moment, I have just the one.

            I smile at myself. One chin is good; one standard issue nose with no pimple is good; even murky eyes are not so bad. It’s a fine line between murky and mysterious. Just a bit of eyeliner should fix that. And my hair—one day I’ll work out how to dye it bright blue and then it’ll be a killer. Apologies if you are disappointed but that’s me.

            The door rattles open behind me and I leap nearly as high as the exhaust fan. ‘Ever heard of knocking,’ I say.

            ‘Sorry.’

            It’s Charlotte, of course. I feel about 100 per cent certain that Lily would never enter the bathroom without doing a head count of the dorm first.

            ‘It’s so early, I didn’t even think to check. Good thing you weren’t nude.’

            ‘Doesn’t matter, I’m done anyway.’ I’m embarrassed at being caught perving at myself in the mirror and embarrassed that Charlotte could mention nudity in the close confines of a bathroom. 

Charlotte doesn’t seem to do embarrassment. ‘Good, cos I’m busting.’ She wheels past me and I step out of the way.

Lily is awake too. ‘Good morning,’ she says. This is a very chatty start. Maybe she feels guilty about snubbing me yesterday.

‘How are you?’ I ask. I have no imagination before my first coffee but I am also a bit curious. It feels like a while since the possum incident. Lily was in bed after we got back from having hot chocolate. She had her eyes closed, pretending to be asleep, and Charlotte and I had gone along with it, even though no one could possibly sleep through Charlotte’s chatter.

‘Fine,’ Lily responds, dropping the word into the pause like discarding rubbish. I freak briefly and discretely. Is Lily punishing me for being a jerk last night? Does she hate me? Maybe she has always hated me? I expect kids like Lily to be frightened of me and I am cool with that. But what if the simmering, underlying emotion is hatred?

I scurry back to my bed and begin intense faffing, straightening covers, realigning pillows and slipping slowly into the blue funk of despair.

It has never been my life goal to be nice. Why would I want to be nice? My goals have always been to dye my hair electric blue, to collect piercings in creative crevices all over my body and to marry someone rich who would drop dead shortly after the wedding. Just standard stuff. But now here I am, perching on the edge of my bed, nursing the unsettling notion that maybe what I want is to grow up to be like Charlotte. I want to be nice, to be kind even. What the—? Who the—? Talk about pathetic underachiever.

If only Todd could hear me now. On multiple occasions I tried to tell him I was not nice. I even demonstrated. On multiple occasions. Snogging rando—that was just the grand finale. But for some inexplicable reason Todd always said I was mistaken.

‘It’s not you,’ he would say. ‘It’s not who you really are.’

Back then I used to ignore him but now I can hear his voice in my head, clearer than I ever heard it in reality. I can see the hurt in his eye. 

Who am I then, Todd? Who the hell am I?

Maybe Todd and I could start all over again? I half laugh to myself. This time I could aim for nice. I could remember his name. I could feign interest in maths. Hey, I could even refrain from snogging randos as an expression of my frustration.

I check that Lily is facing the other way before I slip out of my PJs and pull on my clothes. My jeans smell of Ben. This is not like other camps where you sit around bitching and the only dirt you get on your clothes is when the fettuccini backfires and you end up with Bolognese down your shirt. This camp actually involves real dirt. And I only brought one pair of jeans. I shrug and zip them up.

What smells of Ben now will only smell worse of Ben later. Or better? I actually quite like the smell. It’s like nothing else, not like wet dog, nor guinea pig whose cage hasn’t been cleaned, not even like the cosmetics department in Myers. You’re right, it’s nothing like the cosmetics department. It’s a unique Ben aroma, which, put like that, sounds almost marketable. If only I could bottle him, I could take some home to keep on my desk. Then, whenever I am asked to write an essay on identity and self-esteem, I could dab some behind my ears and Ben can remind me who I am. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m that really nice kid who always remembers people’s names, who shows an interest in other people’s hobbies and who doesn’t use others for her own personal ends. Ha, ha. That is one A+ essay but I’m going to have to sit with it awhile just to get used to the feel. Not 100% sure it’s quite me yet.

Charlotte appears from the bathroom, dressed and ready to roll.

Lily ducks in behind her. ‘You go on to breakfast,’ she says as she shuts the door. ‘You don’t have to wait for me.’

‘Nah, we do,’ Charlotte says. ‘Can’t go without you. Ava’ll eat it all.’

Is she making a snide comment about how much I eat or my hip measurements? Or is this someone nice trying to be funny? If so, she needs to work on her delivery.

 

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