Every day for breakfast, 15-year-old Lena Kelly loves to overshare her most humiliating experiences on YouTube. And now, at Akademy Ten, success is judged by her numbers of likes, shares and follows. Lena worries she will sink without trace as she struggles to navigate the seductive wilds of fame, creativity and the power of the online world. She witnesses the stratospheric rise of her friend, James, as his success almost eats him alive. Can she save James from a fall that is both swift and painful or will he drown them both?
‘Lena, up here! I can see everything!’
Rob Solis lifts his head from the desk and wonders about that voice. Was it real or was he dreaming? He slowly decides it must exist, he’s not a dreamer.
He looks blearily across the vast space of his office to the wagon wheel of a window; his porthole to the world, black metal frame, spotless glass. The voice came from that direction, from the back of the school, the end of the pier.
‘I thought those damn kids were gone for the year.’ Rob pushes himself to standing, his brain sozzled, still heavy with sleep, his left arm numb with pins and needles. ‘And what the hell time is it?’ He glances sideways to the clock on the wall. 1.45. That late? That means he left the party more than three hours ago.
Rob is used to hearing the burble of teenage voices, the background noise to his every working moment. They’re always here, always talking, shouting, singing, laughing. And they’re always ON. Their voices he can easily ignore, his own version of white noise, so why had this one woken him up? Why couldn’t they just let . . . him . . . sleep?
He didn’t usually sleep here, at his desk. He did have a home he could go to. But he’d left the end-of-year party early to come back to the Akademy, back to the quiet of his office. He had wanted to think. This eventful year had somehow got away from him. He wanted a chance to work it all out. And instead, he’d fallen asleep. He thumps the desk. That’s what keeps happening, he keeps getting distracted.
‘James!’ she calls, ‘Please come down!’
Through the surrounding silence, Rob can hear the fear in her voice.
He’s sure now, he knows who they are. ‘Come down from where, Lena?’ Rob mumbles to himself. There’s nothing to come down from. Nothing to climb, just a wooden pier, waves and water. He rubs his eyes as he walks in socks across the polished floorboards. It has views to die for, this office, this window, across the bay to the lights of Luna Park and to his right, the metal struts and rivets of the Sydney Harbour Bridge loom large and close.
‘It’s okay, Lena. The water’s really deep here,’ James’s voice is calm, reassuring. Rob believes him, there’s nothing to worry about.
The slow tired rhythm in Rob’s chest changes when he gets to the window. The crane, of course! Well no, not of course, but at least now it made some sense. The slowly sagging pier, the new footings, he’d signed the work order last week. The workmen must’ve arrived this morning and parked their barge crane out there, at the end of the pier, its long arm hanging high over the harbour.
Rob taps hard on the window glass. ‘That thing is fenced and locked,’ he hisses. ‘How did you two even get in there?’
Rob can’t see Lena, but he spots James straight away. Rob’s face prickles with unease. What’s he doing up there? Near the top of the crane’s long arm, James paused to call down to Lena. He’s climbing again, higher, clambering up and along the diagonal struts.
Now Rob sees her, Lena, as she walks across the roof of the crane driver’s cabin, in her party dress, her hair all messed up.
‘Come down, please,’ Lena calls desperately, her face in the moonlight. ‘I want to go home.’
‘It’s okay, Lena. I had to see what you looked like from up here, what it all looked like,’ he almost sings to her. ‘It’s beautiful. The moonlight. This place. You.’
Rob’s breathing slows again. It’s good to hear James so happy; he has missed that sound. Like a purr that resonates through him, the words unlock a bony lump inside Rob’s chest, the hyper vigilance he’s been living with for weeks. It dissolves and he breathes deeply, without pain. This year has toasted them all, and for weeks Rob has been trying to scrape off his burnt edges. It was the reason he came back to his office tonight. The thing he’d wanted to think about. But hearing James speak, his voice travelling calmly through the clear night air, Rob is reassured. James is right, he’ll be ok.
But there is something about the way James falls. As soon as he hits the water, Rob reaches for his phone. ‘Yes, it’s urgent,’ he replies before hanging up. And then he just stares at the still dark water.
10 months earlier
Breakfast B-Day Vlog #200
‘We all know what day it is. You know and I know and Jaclyn knows. And there’s already been some tears here, off camera, so we’re struggling a bit, you know, to keep it together. So you’ll have to give us a little slack today. You’ll have to forgive us for being a little bit too gooey and messed up as we make our last ever Breakfast B-Day.’ Lena gulps hard, wipes one eye and gives her sookiest grin to the camera.
‘Come here,’ she calls and Jaclyn emerges from off camera, awkward and uncomfortable, red-eyed, she drops onto the B-Day couch next to Lena, her dark hair falling across her face. Lena wraps an arm round Jaclyn’s shoulder and scrunches her into a hug.
‘And this is the main reason that today is so much harder than it should be. This wonderful girl. To say goodbye to something that means so much to me, to us, to all of you. To break up what is the greatest team. That’s what we’re struggling with.’ A tear escapes Lena’s eye as Jaclyn bites her bottom lip to keep from crying.
‘It’s been the most mind-blowing, sensational ride,’ Lena continues. ‘Doing this with Jaclyn, making these videos and sharing them with you all. You make us feel so loved. So thank you for being our friends,’ Lena says straight into the camera. ‘We love you guys.’
Lena squirms a little as she watches her own face fill the screen. Never her favourite part, watching it again. All those studied but ever-so-casual mannerisms she’s developed over the past year. Who is that person? So quirky and comfortable in her own skin, so completely gawky, but fine with it. Yeah right. She closes the lid and slides the computer into her backpack. So that was that was that was that. Her mind bubbles with nerves. She’s having no luck containing her never-ending list of things that could go wrong today.
I am so going to stuff this up. It’s going to take them two secs to realise that I’m an absolute fraudster, scatter head, no beans that count-ster. And then they’ll send me back to my old snore of a school. Sorry, but that cannot happen. I would rather die. But before I died, everyone will get to say ‘Yes! You are the biggest loser that never lived!’ And they will make sure I hear it constantly every single hour of every single day.
Why on earth did I apply? Why did they let me in? And why didn’t someone stop me?
Today is Lena’s first day at the Akademy.