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Authors: Lili Wilkinson

Tags: #JUV026000, #book

Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend (15 page)

BOOK: Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend
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‘What?'

‘You're not upset because there're naked pictures of you all over the school.'

‘They're not naked pictures of me,' I say.

‘Whatever,' says George. ‘You're not upset about the fact that there's a rude picture of
you
. You're upset that there's a rude picture of
me
.'

‘What are you talking about?' I say. ‘Of course I'm upset there're rude pictures of me.'

George shakes his head. ‘Not as upset as you are about being in it with me. You don't care if people think you're–' he blushes, ‘. . . a
harlot
– you just don't want them to think that we're going out. You and me.'

‘We're not going out,' I say hastily.

‘I'm aware of that, Midge.'

George aims a savage kick at an empty take-away coffee cup.

‘What's so wrong with me, anyway?' says George.

The coffee cup bounces into the gutter and then rolls out onto the road.

‘Am I that odious to you?'

I know he's looking right at me, but I keep my eyes on the coffee cup. A car whooshes past and flattens it.

‘Would it really harm your precious reputation so much to be seen with me?'

I think about Tahni, lying on my bed, crying with laughter as she described George in his suit of armour. I think about the way he jiggles when he runs. I think about the way he wears his school shorts. I bite my lip and don't say anything.

George stops walking. ‘You're unbelievable,' he says. ‘I thought you were different, but you're just as shallow as all the others.'

I march on. I start to cry again, but I pretend it's just the rain.

14
scourge

–noun; 1. a whip or lash, esp. for the infliction of punishment or torture.
  2. a cause of affliction or calamity.

– The Wordsmith's Dictionary of Hard-to-spell Words

Mum and Dad are waiting for me when I get home. They're sitting at the table with cups of tea. I'm surprised to see Mum, because I thought she was still away with work.

‘Are you okay, sweetheart?' asks Mum. She gets up and hugs me. She smells different. New perfume.

I resist the urge to burst into tears. Instead, I sniff and nod.

‘Who would do something like that?' Dad asks.

I shrug. How can I tell them? They don't even know about Ben.

‘How is your friend?' asks Mum. ‘The other one in . . . in the pictures.'

‘He's not my friend,' I say. ‘Just someone I'm doing an assignment with.'

Mum pours me a cup of tea.

‘Is there anything you want to tell us, Midge?' asks Mum.

‘No,' I say in a very quiet voice, looking down at my mug. Doesn't Mum remember I hate tea?

‘Because you know you can talk to us about anything,' she says. ‘No matter what it is.'

‘There's nothing,' I say. ‘I don't know why it happened. I don't know why I was chosen. They probably just opened up the school roll and threw a pin at a name.'

Why is Dad being so quiet? This is normally the part where he makes a stupid joke to lighten the mood. Or gets furious that someone defiled his daughter's name and stamps around the house yelling. But he's just sitting there, staring at his hands.

Now what? Are they waiting for me to speak? Do they think that this understanding, tea-drinking family time will lead to me spilling out the truth about Ben and Tahni and George and how I'm an idiot and have no friends left in the world and am going to end up a lonely old lady with eleven cats much sooner than I imagined? Not likely.

‘Anyway,' says Mum. ‘It's good that we have this chance to all sit down together.'

Huh? We live together. We sit down together for dinner every night. Although we haven't been doing that much lately. Still.

‘Midge,' says Mum. ‘We need to talk.'

Oh. Is this where they finally tell me Grandma died?

She glances at Dad, but he's staring down at his mug. His face looks funny.

‘Midge . . .' says Mum again, and then trails off.

‘What is it?' I say.

Now Mum looks down at her cup of tea. I think she might be crying.

I suddenly get the feeling that this isn't about Grandma. Mum and Dad aren't making eye contact. What's going on? Is someone dying? Does Dad have cancer? Are we bankrupt? Is Mum a drug dealer? Is she going to goal? Am I adopted? Does Dad have a secret love-child? Or a whole other family? Are they going back to Russia to be with Svetlana? Or are they time-travellers from the future? Or terrorists?

‘Your mother's having an affair.'

Dad says it shortly, abruptly, without glancing up from his cup of tea.

‘What?'

Mum closes her eyes. ‘I'm sorry, Midge,' she says.

I must have heard wrong.

‘Tell her,' says Dad.

Mum sighs. ‘You know I work very long hours, Midge,' she says. ‘And so I've been spending a lot of time with Jason. And being a lawyer is so intense. And it just . . .'

‘Jason?' I say. ‘You had an affair with a lawyer called Jason?'

Mum nods.

I think about the long hours she's been working. Working late on a Saturday night and ‘falling asleep at her desk'. I remember the fancy roast dinner she cooked, and all the things she bought me on our girls' day out. It was guilt. It wasn't about me at all. It was about
Jason
.

‘When did it start?' I ask.

‘About six months ago,' says Mum.

Dad's hands are wrapped around his mug. His knuckles are white. I imagine someone else's hands touching my Mum. I imagine her kissing another man. I feel sick and shivery and very, very wrong. The smell of Mum's new perfume is overpowering.

‘But it's over now, right?' I say.

Mum squirms. I think Dad's stopped breathing. ‘No, sweetheart,' she says. ‘It's not over.'

‘Why not?' I ask.

‘Because I'm not sure what I want,' she says.

I'm sorry, but isn't it the
dad
who's supposed to have the affair? He's supposed to turn forty or fifty and get a red sports car and have an affair with a twenty-five-year-old leggy blonde. That's how it happens on television. The mother
never
has the affair.

‘Are you getting a divorce?' I ask.

‘I'm going to go and stay with a friend for a while,' says Mum. Her voice is squeaky. ‘While we figure things out.'

‘A
friend
?' I say, with a healthy amount of sarcasm.

‘Yes,' she says. ‘Just a girlfriend.'

I swallow.

‘Midge,' says Mum, and I wonder why she keeps saying my name. It's as though she thinks she's going to forget it or something. She might. ‘Midge, I want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll always be your mum. You're always my number one priority.'

‘Oh please,' I say. ‘If I was your number one priority, you'd keep our family together. You wouldn't have run out and slept with the first bloke you met like a
harlot
.'

‘Don't talk to your mother that way,' says Dad.

I look at him, and feel panic. How can I live with just Dad? He can't cook, and he doesn't know how to sew up the hem of my school uniform, and he won't know when I have to go to the dentist or remember that I don't like mushrooms or tea.

I can't handle this. It's all Mum's fault. I stand up. ‘She's not my mother.'

I walk out. I just want to go to my room and cry on my bed, but that doesn't feel dramatic enough. So I walk out the front door.

Why couldn't Mum have been the one with the imaginary boyfriend?

15
venge·ance

–noun; infliction of injury, harm, humiliation, or the like, on a person by another who has been harmed by that person.

– The Wordsmith's Dictionary of Hard-to-spell Words

It's still raining outside. Everything is grey and miserable. I run out of the front gate and stand on the footpath, under the shelter of a wattle tree.

I am totally numb. How could Mum do this? On today of all days? What did I do to the universe to deserve this?

Maybe I've just been given all the bad days for the rest of my life in one hit. Maybe this is it – from now on, everything will be puppies and sunshine and daisies. I doubt it.

I find my mobile and call Tahni. I know we've been fighting, but this is bigger than that. I need her.

‘Hello?'

‘It's me.' My voice is wobbly.

Silence.

‘Tahni?' I say.

‘I can't talk right now,' she says. She sounds weird.

‘But I really need to–'

‘See you later,' she says, and hangs up.

I have an urge to throw my phone across the street. I want to smash it against something and see it explode into tiny pieces. I want to break something.

But I put it back in my pocket.

I think about going back inside, but I don't want to see Mum at the moment. Or Dad. I just can't handle it. And Tahni is blowing me off.

So I go to the one place I have left.

A woman answers the door. She must be George's mum. She's quite dumpy, with thick salt-and-pepper hair tied back into a bun. She's wearing a floral dress, with an apron over the top.

‘Hi,' I say. ‘I'm Midge. I'm George's–. Is George here?'

She smiles at me.

‘Welcome,' she says. She has an accent.

She turns and yells, ‘Giorgos!' It sounds like
Your-goss
. That must be George's name in Greek.

George yells something from another room. It's not in English. His mum replies with a string of words I absolutely do not understand. Then she switches to English.

‘Your friend from school,' she yells. ‘Midge. She's a very pretty girl.'

She winks at me. I blush. I don't think I look very pretty right now, all wet and tear-stained and blotchy.

‘Come into the kitchen,' she says. ‘Giorgos will be down in a minute.'

I follow her into the house. It's quite a big house – bigger than ours, with lots of nice old-fashioned furniture. There are delicate china ornaments on every available surface – cats and lambs and bells and shepherdesses.

Mrs Papadopoulos is a force of nature. Before I'm aware of it, she's got me sitting at the kitchen bench, with a towel around my shoulders, sipping a cup of strong, black coffee and eating a crescent-shaped biscuit dusted with icing sugar. As soon as I bite into the crumbly biscuit, I realise it's what I've been smelling on George. Nutty and sweet and a little bit spicy. The biscuit crumbles and then melts in my mouth. It's delicious, and I help myself to another before I realise what I'm doing.

There's a stew or soup of some kind bubbling away on the stove. The windows are steamed up from the warmth, but I can still see the rain pounding away outside. I feel incredibly comfortable and safe.

This is a
real
kitchen. It has real food cooking in it. Not guilt-food. Mrs Papadopoulos bustles about, stirring the pot, topping up my coffee, asking me if I need a fresh towel, or if I would like to take a shower to warm up. She's a real mum. Not like my mum.

I want to stay in Mrs Papadopoulos's kitchen forever.

George comes into the room. He's sort of rumpled, and his T-shirt is on inside-out. I wonder if he just got dressed.

Mrs Papadopoulos says something in Greek, and then leaves the room.

‘Hey,' says George awkwardly, still standing by the door.

‘Hey,' I reply. I suddenly remember our fight earlier today (was it really today? I feel like I've aged about a zillion years in the last three hours), and how he had said that I was just as shallow as everyone else.

‘Sorry about my mum,' says George. ‘She can be a bit full-on.'

‘She's awesome,' I say. ‘I wish she was my mum.'

A tear slides down m cheek and suddenly I'm sobbing, which is really embarrassing. It's all the more embarrassing because it's obviously freaking George out. He doesn't try to comfort me or even sit down. He just shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot and stares at his shoes.

BOOK: Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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