At school the next day most of the girls are wearing black ribbons on their uniforms, which is pretty annoying. Did I miss a memo? Is someone standing out the front of the school handing out black ribbons? Who is coordinating grief apparel?
I don’t have a ribbon and I don’t know where to get one. It’s not like I want the attention—like ‘Look at me! Look at me! My friend died.’ Maybe I should get the biggest ribbon I can find, tie it around my head and and march up and down the halls. I deserve it since Abby is my oldest friend. Was my oldest friend. Even though we’d stopped talking and she pretty much hated me before she died.
Last night I went through an old box of photos at the top of my cupboard. There weren’t a lot without Abby in them. There was one of us at the fair eating fairy floss on my twelfth birthday. I could just make out the ‘best friends’ necklace that she’d given me, which turned me into total cry baby. I cried until I fell asleep on the floor and woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by pictures of us.
I look at my timetable and walk to my first class. I notice there are posters taped to the grey metal lockers. Abby’s freckled face stares blankly back at me and I feel a shiver spread across my body. It’s her school photo, the one used for her ID card. She hated that photo, she said it made her look like a fat, ginger albino. I imagine what she’d say if she was here right now. Something like ‘Christ on a bike! Of all the photos of me, they chose that one.’ The photo takes up most of the poster page and underneath it says.
RIP Abigail Gilbert
Always in our hearts. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Assembly today at 2 pm in the hall
The bell rings for first period and I duck in to physics. As soon as I walk through the door, the room goes quiet. Every person at every lab desk is staring at me through protective glasses. In a way it makes me feel reassured. Part of me always felt invisible when Abby was around. It’s kind of nice being noticed for the first time. I guess there are perks to having a dead friend. I immediately feel terrible for thinking that and remind myself that they probably saw me on TV being interviewed by that reporter with snot hanging out of my nose. It makes me want to crawl into the cupboard with the test tubes and Bunsen burners. If I could talk to Abby right now I’d tell her I was sorry for not trying harder to fix things between us. That I don’t care if she talked about me behind my back. I’m afraid I’ll never find another friend like you, I’d say. And I wish that this was all a bad dream. Could you please still be alive. Please.
I sit down in the back row of physics class and try to concentrate. The front office lady appears at the classroom door and says something to my physics teacher and she motions for me to come forward. ‘Miss Zamani would like to see you.’ She says it kind of loud and I hear whispering behind my back. Usually the only people who get sent to Miss Zamani’s office during class time are the cutters, the anorexics or the kids whose parents call because they forgot to take their meds. I’ve never had to see Miss Zamani before. She’s pretty scary for a school psychologist. Part of me feels like running away.
Miss Zamani is made up of hard, brown angles, the muscles in her calves are like rocks. Up until now my only interactions with her have been during the presentations she gives to our PE class. She mostly talks about keeping the core school values of respect for others and ourselves by always having protected sex. Last time, she handed out condoms and made us unwrap them and put them on a banana. ‘Now girls, unwrap the condom and roll it slowly and gently down the banana like so.’ Miss Zamani rolled the condom with her long, pink nails very easily which made me whisper to Abby ‘I think she’s done this a few times,’ and Abby snorted loudly. Miss Zamani looked at us over her designer glasses. ‘This is no laughing matter, this condom is the only thing between you and herpes, chlamydia and, if you are very unlucky, AIDS. You’ll waste away, a shell of yourself, riddled with disease. Do you feel like laughing now?’ We shook our heads.
When I enter her office, Miss Zamani is behind a big wooden desk. She’s wearing a tight navy blue dress. Her brown, muscular arms look like smaller versions of her legs.
She gestures towards a cream couch where Georgia Costello is perched with a box of Kleenex tissues crying her eyes out, wearing a huge black ribbon in her wheat-coloured hair. Usually she’s sneering at me across a classroom. So this is new.
Miss Zamani gestures again to the couch. ‘Have a seat, Kat.’
I try to sit as far away from Georgia as possible, but this proves difficult, as the couch is quite small. No matter how far I try to squash myself in the side our legs are still touching.
‘Wow, I like your office.’ I let out a big sigh and look around the room. ‘Well thanks for inviting me. I like your ribbon, Georgia.’
Georgia sneers and rolls her eyes.
‘Kat, I wanted to talk to you and Georgia before the assembly this afternoon.’
‘That’s okay, I’m not going,’ I say.
Miss Zamani looks at me with concern.
She writes something down in a notebook.
‘Miss Zamani, Kat knows something about Abby’s murder,’ Georgia says angrily and wipes runny mascara from her eyes.
‘What are you talking about?’ I ask.
‘You know what I’m talking about.’ She shifts so that our thighs are touching all the way to the knee. I can feel her breath on my face.
Miss Zamani shifts uncomfortably in her chair. ‘Kat do you have information about Abby that might be useful?’
‘No, I don’t know anything,’ I say.
She gets up from behind her big desk, sits on the coffee table in front of us and places a veiny, manicured hand on both of our knees. ‘Girls, it would help if you supported each other. Let’s start by remembering some good memories about Abby. Go ahead say a memory out loud.’
Georgia says something about buying jeans at Topshop. I think of the summer we collected cicadas, picking them off the gum trees at the back of my house. I think about the jazz dances we made up in my bedroom. When it’s my turn I say, ‘It’s none of your business.’
Georgia looks at Miss Zamani and rolls her eyes.
Miss Zamani taps her fingers together and furrows her brow. ‘Tell me, Kat, how are things at home?’
I push myself further in to the side of the couch so I am basically falling into the crease.
‘How long do I have to stay here, exactly?’
Georgia presses her boob into my arm and whispers. ‘Stop looking for clues Sherlock Ho.’
I elbow her hard in the boob.
Georgia leans into hug me, squeezes me hard and whispers in my ear. ‘Be careful or you’ll get yourself killed.’
I glance at Miss Zamani, she’s writing something down in her notepad and seems not to have heard. She looks at her watch and stands up. ‘That’s a good start. Let’s meet again soon.’
I try to get out of there quickly but Georgia corners me in the hallway.
‘Everyone thinks you’re a slut for hanging out with Carter,’ she says.
‘We’re just friends,’ I say.
Georgia looks me up and down and says, ‘I didn’t know he was that desperate.’ She turns on her heel and disappears down the hall.
Later in class I pull out my notebook and write:
Potential suspect #2: Georgia Costello
Background: Queen bee. Psychopath.
Leads: Aggressive. Basically threatened me with death.
Questions: Where was she the night of the murder?
She probably didn’t kill Abby but she knows something. I make a note to keep an eye on her.
When the bell rings at 3.45, I leave to avoid the meeting. I grab my bag and walk quickly through the back gate; no one notices me. When I get home there’s a handwritten note from Mum. Darling, I have a staff meeting until 6 pm tonight. Love you.
I check the answering machine, there’s a message from Abby’s mother. I brace myself. Her voice sounds flat and far away.
‘This is a message for Kat. I was wondering if I could come by, I have a few things for you.’ Her voice starts to crack and there’s a pause. ‘This is Abby’s mother Mrs Jones, I mean Jane.
I call her house; she picks up and says she’ll be right over. She arrives in half an hour wearing black and carrying a cardboard box. I invite her into the kitchen and offer her a cup of tea. I’m so shocked by the sight of her that I start loading the dishwasher and wiping the benchtops down. This is somehow easier than taking in Mrs Jones’s unwashed hair and shaking hands. Her eyes are bruised from crying.
‘Where’s Mum?’ she asks softly.
‘At work,’ I say.
‘How are you, Kat?’
I don’t know what to say so I just nod and tears come to my eyes. I want to hug her because except for the tangled hair and the bloodshot eyes she looks exactly the same as she did a week ago, when Abby was alive. It makes me want to fit in the empty space between her arms.
I take a step towards her but she shakes her head. ‘I’m sorry but please don’t touch me,’ she says in a flat voice. She places the box on the kitchen counter. ‘So many people have hugged me, I just can’t take it any more. All day the neighbours have been bringing food, I can’t fit anything in my fridge.’
‘Okay,’ I say.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she says and buries her face in her hands. ‘I’m not myself.’ She takes a long, shaky breath and gestures at the box. ‘I brought this for you.’
Inside are photos with small pin holes in the corners: us at eight years old wearing Easter hats. The two of us on Halloween dressed as matching witches with green skirts and stripy white and black stockings.
‘I can’t have them,’ Mrs Jones says blankly. She seems angry at me. Does she wish it was me who’d been at the lagoon that night instead of the other way around? Should I apologise for being alive?
She exhales. ‘There’s also letters to you and other bits and pieces.’
She stands up, smooths her hair down slightly, catching her reflection in the kitchen window. ‘I can’t read anything in there right now.’
‘I understand,’ I say and run my hand over the box.
‘I’m going away for a while,’ she says.
She takes a step towards me. ‘Kat, I need you to do me a favour.’
‘Anything.’ Butterflies invade my stomach.
‘I need you to tell me if you find anything.’ She licks her lips, which are so dry I can hear her tongue slide across them.
‘Find anything?’ I ask.
‘About who killed her.’
She grabs me by the shoulders, runs her fingers through my hair and holds me close to her body. My head is on her chest. Her breath smells like wine.
‘Just don’t tell me the bad stuff, okay?’
When she leaves I open the box and feel the closest thing to a thrill that I’ve felt in a long time. It’s kind of exciting reading your best friend’s secrets. I think I know most of them already. Part of me wants to read the letters, there’s a lot of them, but I’m also nervous. What if she says horrible things about me? I open a letter addressed to me and I see the word bitch written in capital letters. I quickly put it back in to the envelope. I’m not ready.
This is an extract from a novel in progress, which was developed during the Faber Writing Academy Writing A Novel course 2017.
How to Avoid a Rip is a YA novel that deals with issues of domestic violence between a sixteen-year-old girl Kat and her surfer boyfriend, Carter. The novel is set in a picturesque beachside suburb on the NSW Central Coast. Kat’s popular best friend is missing after a wild party at the local surf club and her body is later found in the beach lagoon. The police believe the girl’s death was accidental, but Kat knows better. This leads Kat on an emotional quest to find out what happened to her friend. In the process she falls in love with a dangerous older boy and discovers that everything is not as it seems in her idyllic beachside home.
Brie Evans has recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at UTS. She worked in TV for many years but now writes short stories, copy and to-do lists. Her work appeared in the 2016 UTS Writers’ Anthology, Seeds and Skeletons and was shortlisted for the Anthology prize. Brie is currently working on a YA novel.