Driving to Amber’s house the next afternoon, Jenny wished for the ka-zillionth time that she’d stopped drinking champagne and stuck to water. When she’d woken this morning, her head had throbbed so hard she thought her brain was going to burst out of her skull. After several minutes of googling her symptoms, Jenny had decided she must have a brain tumour and made a panicked call to Bridgette, who was the only medical professional she knew. Apparently, it was extremely unlikely that her brain was going to just pop out of her skull – “fucking ridiculous” were Bridgette’s exact words. Apparently, she most likely did not have a brain tumour and was not going to die, not even close – and Bridgette apparently did not think they would need to make an emergency dash to the hospital.
According to Bridgette, Jenny was merely experiencing a run-of-the-mill, standard issue, nothing-to-see-here-folks, “get over yourself” hangover. Her very first hangover, in fact. And it was not nice. Neither was Bridgette, who had howled with laughter and insisted she would visit Jenny’s apartment later that day to see the results for herself. Then she promptly hung up. No doubt to call their parents and give them the exciting news.
Jenny had put the phone down and pulled a pillow over her head, lying as still as possible and contemplating whether she should suffocate herself. In the end, she had dragged herself out of bed and into the shower, before wandering into the kitchen to find something to eat. But, weirdly, nothing, literally nothing in her fridge looked edible, not her triple-washed salad greens or her home-made smoothies or that delicious jar of cacao-flavoured Raglan coconut yoghurt. Instead, she had the strangest craving for something extremely salty, and preferably deep-fried.
And so here she was, driving to Amber’s house with an empty and crumpled McDonalds bag sitting on the passenger seat beside her. The oily smell in her car was like heaven and hell all at the same time, and Jenny kept looking over at the offensive paper bag as if it was going to attack her at any second. Normally extremely conscientious about recycling, Jenny had come to the conclusion that she might have to throw it out the window or risk having a heart attack, when she arrived at Amber’s house.
Just breathe Jennifer Sullivan, in and out, in and out. Jenny parked her car in Amber’s driveway, and sat in the front seat with the motor running. Breathe, breathe, breeeeathe Jenny. You will not shout the words butt-plug, you will not take your clothes off, you will not vomit or do anything weird, you will not… Jenny heard the front door open and shut, and glanced over to see Amber smiling and waving at her. Damn, it’s too late to drive away.
Jenny turned off the engine, and opened her car door. Getting out, she gave the door handle and her hands a liberal spray of sanitiser, and squared her shoulders before walking up to greet Amber.
‘Jen, I’m so glad you made it!’
‘Uh, yeah – me too,’ Jenny heard the scuffle of excited dogs somewhere inside the house, ‘er, kind of.’
Amber looked apologetic. ‘Sorry hun, the dogs are still here. I washed them so hard this morning, I’m pretty sure their fur’s going to fall out. If it all gets too much, we can lock them outside.’
Jenny forced a smile, withering on the inside as she thought about their little noses stuck inside each other’s butts and then sniffing all over her clothes. ‘Okay, sure.’
Amber was about to walk back inside, when she took a closer look at Jenny. ‘Are you okay? You look kind of…grey or something.’ Amber looked worried. ‘Seriously Jen, if this is too much, let’s just have a coffee out here on the deck.’
As tempting as it was to take Amber up on her offer, Jenny decided to come clean. ‘Uh, well, I’m fine – it’s just, I had that group dinner last night… and somehow I seem to have got myself a little bit of a hangover.’
Amber’s eyes grew wide with surprise. ‘Jennifer Sullivan, you have not?!’
Jenny nodded. ‘I even went to the McDonalds’ drive-through on my way here.’ Amber looked suitably shocked, and Jenny laughed. ‘I know, right? After I ordered, I drove up to the window to pay, and the girl tried to hand me one of those eftpos machines, like, right into the window of my car. I think I screamed a little bit, and she nearly dropped it out the window onto the ground.’ Jenny shook her head at the memory, and Amber laughed.
‘And then I threw a handful of money through her window like a crazy person, and when she handed me the bag I’m pretty sure my face looked like she was handing me a bomb. I just don’t know what made me do it – I’ve never eaten that stuff in my life. Well, not since I was a kid, and.. normal I guess. It’s like I had this unbelievable urge to eat salty fried foods, and before I knew it I had a paper bag full of it on my lap, and I couldn’t stop eating.’
Amber laughed. ‘A classic hangover. I just can’t believe it. Though not much surprises me about you these days. Right, come on in. You can tell me all about the dinner last night, and deny your feelings for a certain someone.’
Jenny immediately thought of Jonty, and the warmth of his hand under hers. She could feel her cheeks flaming with the memory, a fact which was not lost on Amber.
‘Ha, I KNEW it!’ Amber crowed triumphantly.
‘Knew what?’ came a male voice from inside the house.
‘Er, mind your own business and stop earwigging,’ Amber said. Opening the front door and walking inside the house, she motioned for Jenny to follow her. ‘You can fill me in later,’ she whispered.
Jenny followed Amber inside the house and into the main lounge, where she stood silently looking around her. There were two large plants in one corner of the room, nestled in white and navy striped pots, three white hanging planter boxes on the wall, with some sort of yellow flowers trailing over the sides of them, and a gorgeous tiled fireplace with a collection of porcelain birds dotted across the hearth. A huge brightly coloured painting of a parrot hung on the wall behind two comfy-looking navy blue couches, which were covered in puffy soft cushions in a rainbow of colours.
Amber looked uncertain. ‘Um, what do you think Jen? I guess it’s changed a lot since you were last here. I know it’s not really your style, with all the colours and stuff.’
Jenny shook her head slowly. ’Ams, I actually love it. I really do. It’s so bright and cheerful.’
The two women smiled at each other, before they suddenly heard the sound of little tiny dog feet racing across wooden floors towards them. In less than a minute, two tiny yapping dogs raced into the room and headed straight for Jenny.
‘Pepper, Buster – GET DOWN!’ came a stern command in a man’s voice, and both the little dogs immediately stopped jumping and sniffing around Jenny’s legs and sat down.
Jenny, who had frozen to the spot in terror, just about fainted with relief. She looked over at the doorway, and there was Jack with a big smile on his face.
‘Jenny, hi! Sorry about the mutts, they’re a consequence.’
Jenny looked down at Pepper and Buster, who were sitting obediently at her feet but gazing adoringly at Jack. Jenny turned to Amber and was about to make a joke about it, when she saw the exact same adoring expression on Amber’s face.
‘Hi Jack,’ Jenny looked back over at him. ‘Um, thanks – for calling them off.’
Jack laughed. ‘No worries. I saw the terror on yer face, and thought you needed rescuing! So, do ye want coffee or tea?’
‘Coffee please.’ Jenny offered a silent prayer to the universe that Jack washed his hands, with Janola, before making her coffee.
‘And better get us some water!’ Amber added, winking at Jenny as she sat down on one of the couches. ‘Hangovers need lots of water hun.’
‘Right, done. Be back in a minute.’ Jack walked back to the kitchen, and the two dogs followed on his heels.
As soon as Jack was gone, Jenny looked around and considered the seating situation. The couch material looked clean, but was likely covered in dog hair and dog butt. The floor looked clean too, but was definitely covered in dog feet – she pictured Pepper and Buster doing that nasty dragging-legs thing dogs did when they wanted to scratch their genitals on the ground. Nope, definitely not the floor. She spotted a wooden rocking chair in the corner of the room which would have been her preferred option, had she not just eaten her weight in fried food. The way her stomach was already heaving, she was pretty sure the rocking motion would have dire consequences.
Knowing Amber was waiting for her to sit down, Jenny decided that the couches were the lesser of all the evils, and gingerly planted the edge of her bottom on the nearest seat. It was softer than she expected, and the urge to lay down and shut her eyes was almost overwhelming.
‘Ah, yep, just getting… comfortable.’
Amber regarded Jenny, perched on the very edge of the couch. ‘I can see that. So,’ she looked at the door of the lounge to ensure Jack wasn’t within earshot, ‘tell me about this blonde man.’
Jenny couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. ’Ams, it’s just so unexpected. I mean, really unexpected. I like him, in that way – as in, butterflies and everything. I’m pretty sure he likes me too. And, er…we held hands last night. It was kind of a dare, so it probably doesn’t count. But I still did it, and it was… nice.’
Amber whistled. ‘You actually held his hand, without gloves or anything?’ Jenny nodded, and Amber grinned at her. ’That’s amazing hun! But, can I just say for the record – it’s hardly unexpected. And of course he likes you. It was obvious months ago that he was crazy about you.’
Just for a second, Jenny was confused. ‘Oh, Ams, it’s not Phil. Definitely not Phil.’
‘What’s not Phil?’
’The blonde guy. There’s, um, another blonde guy in my group. His name is Jonty.’
Two hours later, Jenny had peeled herself off the couch and walked out to her car with Amber and Jack. She was about to say goodbye and open her door, when she remembered the McDonalds bag. The oil-drenched crumpled paper bag. Her stomach clenched. Ugh.
‘Jack – can you do me a favour?’
‘If I open my passenger door, could you kind of reach in and, um, not touch anything, and grab that bag off the seat for me, and chuck it, like, a million miles away?’
He smiled. ‘Done.’
Driving home, Jenny considered the visit. The dogs had admittedly been on her mind for the first hour or so, but they were so well-behaved for Jack that she had eventually forgotten about them and had actually quite enjoyed herself. In fact, she had found herself accepting an invitation to come back for a BBQ in a few weeks. Amber had stage-whispered with a grin that she might like to bring a “guest”, and Jenny’s face had exploded in flames. Jack, thankfully, had tactfully not commented.
Arriving at her apartment block, Jenny parked her car and switched off the engine. It was late afternoon, and she suspected Bridgette would be arriving at any second to laugh at her. Better get upstairs and prepare myself for the onslaught.
Only a few minutes after Jenny had let herself into her apartment, the buzzer rang.
Jenny pushed the intercom button. ‘Okay Bridge, come and make me feel worse than I already do.’
There was silence on the other end.
‘Bridge, is that you?’
‘Yes, it’s me. Can you just buzz me in already?’ There was something odd about Bridgette’s voice. Jenny had been expecting, if not outright laughter, than at the very least some gleeful sniggering.
She pushed the button to unlock the gate downstairs, and waited for Bridgette to walk up to her apartment. Several minutes later there was a light knock.
Jenny opened the door with a grin. ‘Right, in you come, take it easy on me okay?’
Bridgette offered the hint of a smile, and walked in past Jenny. After taking off her shoes and placing them neatly on the shoe rack, then spreading several pumps of sanitiser on her hand, she gave a big sigh. Jenny watched her, and felt something like concern wash over her.
‘Bridge, are you okay?’
Bridgette nodded. ‘Don’t mind me, just another failed romance. I know you hate my dating stories, so I’ll spare you the latest disaster.’
‘I don’t hate your dating stories.’ Bridgette stared at her and Jenny bit her lip. ’Okay, I don’t really like them, but hate is a bit strong. What’s happened? Was it Gary? No, John? Er, Brendon maybe?’ Jenny trailed off, embarrassed.
‘None of the above. I’ve been seeing a doctor for the past few weeks. Peter. We’ve been on a few dates, and he’s spent the night at my place a few times.’ She paused briefly. ‘He’s sort of beautiful, all the nurses think he’s gorgeous.’
‘Sounds perfect Bridge. What’s the problem?’
Bridgette sighed again. ‘The problem, Jen, is that on the drive over here I saw him. With Matilda, one of the ED nurses. And they were…’ Bridgette suddenly sobbed. ’They were ki, ki, ki, ki…kissing. This is going to sound pa, pa, pathetic, but I sort… sort of thought he might be The One.’ ’ Bridgette’s shoulders shook with sobs, and the tears rolled down her face.
Jenny, without thinking, reached out her arms and put them around her sister, pulling her into a hug.
‘Fuck him, Bridge, he’s not worth it.’
Jenny felt Bridgette relax into her arms, and held her even closer, marvelling at the familiar smell of her, despite all the years that had passed since they had been so physically close. Eventually, after a few minutes, Bridgette’s sobs subsided and the two women pulled apart, looking at each other.
‘Jen. You just hugged me. I mean, you actually bloody hugged me.’
‘Do you, like, want to go and scrub the germs off or something?’
Jenny laughed. ‘Yes, but I’ll wait til you’re gone. Come into the kitchen. Do you want a coffee?’
Bridgette shook her head. ‘Got anything stronger? I don’t think caffeine’s going to cut it.’
‘I’ve got wine in the fridge, but you have to pour it – at least ten feet away from me. If I get the slightest whiff of it I think I’ll hurl.’
The two of them laughed, and Bridgette wiped the tears from her face. ‘So, you really got drunk last night?’
Jenny nodded, and began to fill Bridgette in on her night. She finally got to the part about holding hands with Jonty, and Bridgette shook her head in amazement.
‘I suppose he’s really nice, is he?’
Jenny couldn’t hide her smile. ‘I think so.’
‘Typical. I spend years dating all sorts of assholes, wishing I’d find a nice one. You take, what, a few weeks? I bet he thinks you’re amazing.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that. And, I haven’t actually heard from him yet. I kind of thought he might call me. Or send me a message.’
‘I bet he’s already crazy about you,’ Bridgette sounded put-out, ‘and I bet he calls you tonight.’
‘Bridge, seriously, what are you going on about?’
‘You may not realise this Jen, but I was always jealous of you in high school.’
Jenny stared at her sister. ’What? You were jealous of me? How could you be jealous of me? You were the one who was off playing sports and going clubbing, and had all those guys hanging around you.’
‘It might have looked like that Jen, but I always suspected they were trying to use me to get to you. And the nice ones NEVER wanted me, they always asked about you.’
Jenny felt like she was in an alternative universe. Her memories of high school were obviously completely different to her sister. She remembered the name calling, the sniggers behind her back. ‘How can that be true Bridge? I spent all our high school years hiding - wishing I was, well, wishing I was you actually.’
‘I guess we both did a bit of that then. I just wish…’ Bridgette trailed off, and Jenny waited for her to continue. ‘I just wish I could find someone nice Jen, and kind. I always seem to go after the guys who care more about how they look than they do about me. And, actually, I just want someone who can make me laugh, and can laugh at themselves. Someone who treats me well, and doesn’t make me cry. Someone honest. Someone who’s not a complete ass-hat. Surely that’s not too much to ask?’
‘No, that’s definitely not too much to ask Bridge.’
‘I don’t even care what they look like, as long as they’re kind.’ Bridgette paused. ‘Okay, I care a little bit. But I’m not fussy – a cute smile, and maybe just some dimples. Even one dimple…’
Jenny looked at her sister, considering. So her sister wanted someone who wasn’t concerned with how they look. Someone funny, who laughed at themselves. Someone honest, and kind. Someone with a cute smile and dimples.
Jenny thought about the Auckland marathon, which was on the following weekend.
‘I think I might know the perfect man. Are you busy next weekend?’