28 degrees in March, I love you Australia. Sorry mum and dad, I’m never coming home.
#blessed #beach #sunny #sunnyday #bondi #bondibeach #australia #lifeisbetteratthebeach
The familiar scent of suntan lotion fills the air and I can feel the warm, soft sand caressing my bare feet as they sink in. The hot sun beats down on my tanned shoulders, the lapping crystal blue waves are calling to me.
‘Maddie, come on, we’re already late enough as it is. Put your phone away and hurry up.’
I open my eyes as my fiancé, Ash grabs hold of my hand and drags me across the rugby club car park of our small welsh town. I take one last lingering look at the photo posted to Instagram by my best friend, Chloe and shut off my phone.
'Chloe put a photo up of her at Bondi.' I try to tell him but I can tell he’s not really listening.
‘Great, why don’t you post one of here.’ He says, striding faster.
‘Why would I do that?’ I ask.
‘Show her what she’s missing out on, being all the way over there, instead of here with all her friends.’ I can’t see Ash’s face as he is still determinedly heading for the door but I assume that he is trying to be funny.
‘Sure, because given the choice, who wouldn’t pick a wet and windy Welsh coastal town over the paradise that is Bondi Beach.’
‘We did.’ Ash turns to me and grins before continuing on his charge. I glare at the back of his head as he turns back towards the door, intent on completing his mission.
My battered old kitten heels skid over the gravely surface and I have to cling on to Ash’s arm to keep myself upright. As Ash wrenches open the door to the club I take a look over my shoulder at the angry grey waves bashing against the sea wall, the cold air is filled with drizzle, which I can feel settling on my blonde wavy hair that I tried so hard to tame this morning.
I shake my head, how did we go from #sunkissed to #wetandwindy in less than a month?
‘I can’t believe we missed the whole thing?’ Ash says scowling as we slip in through the wooden doors.
‘Not the whole thing, we made it to the after party. You know the part where they serve alcohol and food. Believe me, we didn’t miss anything by not being at the church.’ I tell him, tiptoeing along the corridor.
‘You mean apart from the christening of our friends’ baby?’
‘Your friends.’ I say, noticing him roll his eyes. ‘It’s not a big deal, they will have sprinkled some water on his head, asked the godparents to renounce Satan and then hot footed it over here for the drinks. If anyone asks, just say you thought the kid looked really cute in his outfit and was really well behaved. Actually, scratch that last bit, can’t risk saying that only to discover he totally lost it and tried to gouge the vicar’s eye out with his pudgy little finger. That’s what my cousin did. You know Lucy?’
‘The one who got the New Year’s Eve party shut down when we were eighteen?’
‘Yeah, I suppose you could say the signs were there from early on.’
‘Jesus. Anyway, I do feel like it would have been nice to be here for the ceremony. You know, see the bit where they lift him up and present him to God.’
‘What are you talking about? This isn’t the Lion King.’ I give Ash a look. ‘I’m pretty sure vicars are discouraged from doing things like lifting tiny infants above their heads. Health and safety and all that. So you’ve really never been to a christening before?’
‘No, that’s why it would have been really nice if we could have gotten here on time.’ Ash sighs, running his hand through his hair. ‘Hindus don’t do christenings obviously, we have our own thing. What’s the point in us being back here, if we’re not going to turn up to these kind of events on time?’ He asks, looking harassed. I sense that this is not the right time to point out to him that he was the one that wanted to come back from Australia and not me. I think I’ll save that one for another time.
‘Oh my God, I’m sorry Ok, obviously I didn’t mean to take that long getting ready. In my defence, we have spent the past two years living in flip flops and not much else. To suddenly be presented with choice when it came to my footwear, well it just threw me that was all. Look, if anybody asks, let’s just say we had car troubles. People will understand that.’ I tell him, trying to smooth down wrinkles on the floaty, midnight blue A-line dress I had pulled out of the bottom of my giant backpack. The last time I had worn it, Chloe and I were sitting at an open bar next to the Sydney Opera House, while she tried to convince me to stay in Australia. She knew looking at the sparkly rock on my ring finger that I was a lost cause and so in love with Ash that I was happy to return home with him but she’s not one to give up easily. It really wasn’t warm enough for this dress and I looked enviously at Ash is his navy blue suit.
‘Well, well, well, look who it is.’ We both turn to see a striking red head with an equally flame-haired little boy sitting on her hip walking with purpose towards us. To describe Kimmy Strong as a character from one of those cliché American teen movies I secretly can’t help but love, she would definitely be the bitchy, hot popular girl who dates the high school quarterback and makes the lives of the weirdo, emo kids hell. Me? I was one of those weirdo, emo kids.
‘Kimmy! Hey! You look incredible.’ He says, leaning forward to give her a hug, as she tilts in to hug him back the little boy in her arms gives me a look with his piercing green eyes that are just like his mother’s.
‘Kimmy.’ I say, waiting for the two of them to finally let go. ‘It’s been a while.’ I watch as Kimmy pulls out of the hug and turns her attention to me. She gives a look as if she is just spotting me for the first time, as if she hadn’t noticed me standing right next to Ash.
‘Oh my God, Maddie. You know I heard from Ash’s mum that you two had started seeing each other but I don’t think I believed it up until now.’ She gives a fake laugh and leans into air kiss me. ‘How on earth did that happen?’ She asks giving a little shake of her head that is clearly meant to signal her absolute incredulity at the idea.
‘Oh well, you know, the usual way, girl and guy go to school together, have nothing to do with each other, then a couple of years later, guy sees girl crying on the beach and girl asks him to go travelling with him. Same old, same old.’ I say with a little smile.
‘Wow, I heard it was something crazy like that but I didn’t really believe it. I mean, no offence but you two getting together. I think there was more chance of seeing pigs flying over the sea on the last day of school.’ Kimmy laughs and shifts the little boy from one hip to another as she looks me up and down.
‘No offence taken.’ I say sweetly. ‘I certainly didn’t see the head boy, captain of the rugby team and guy voted most popular to end up with me but school was a long time ago, people change, things happen.’ I say and watch Kimmy try to keep the look of confusion off her face.
‘Oh yeah, I heard that something had happened to your fancy new life in London. Didn’t get all the details though.’ Kimmy says with an innocent smile, which I can see is hiding her true feelings.
I feel the same jerk of my stomach that I always do when my time in London is mentioned. Fortunately, Ash knows this and comes to rescue.
‘So this is little Mason.’ He says, giving the boy’s plump little leg a squeeze.
’The one and only.’ She says proudly, moving him so that he is sat balanced on her arm in the middle of her stomach so that we can get a better look at him. ‘He has his own Instagram account if you would like to follow him.’ Kimmy tells us as I try to make my face stay straight.
‘Great! Maddie’s obsessed with Instagram aren’t you?’ Ash turns to me with a giant, ridiculous smile on his face. ‘I’m sure she’d love to follow little Mason.’
I try to nod enthusiastically as Kimmy tells me the name of Mason’s account but all I want to do is kick Ash in the shin. My Instagram account is purely for stalking our fellow travellers, even though it depresses me to see what I’m missing out on, I just can’t help myself.
I really don’t have interest in following the daily struggles of which fits more easily up your nose, peas or carrots.
‘By the way, don’t think I don’t know you didn’t make it to the christening.’ She says with a little smile.
‘Maddie couldn’t make up her mind about which shoes to wear.’ Ash blurts out and I stare at him. Traitor!
‘Oh dear, still totally terrible at making decisions I see.’ Kimmy gives me pitying eyes and I just want to poke them.
‘How could you tell we weren’t at the church? What were you doing, taking attendance?’ I ask, grumpily. Still annoyed at Ash for ratting me out.
‘Er no, Michael and Becky had told me you were going to be here, Ash. I had a quick look to see if I could spot you and well it wasn’t hard to see that you weren’t there. You were the only Asian kid in the whole of our school.’
‘Nice. Still as blunt as ever Kimmy.’ Ash laughs.
‘I just tell it like it is you know.’ She actually winks at him and I want throw up.
‘My mum mentioned that you had moved back permanently.’ Ash says, always the master at moving on the conversation.
‘Yeah we have. That’s my husband over there.’ Kimmy says, pointing to a tall, clean-shaven man, leaning against the bar looking a bit lost. ‘That’s Robert. We met at the law firm we both worked at. Super smart and such a good laugh. I’ll have to introduce you some time.’ She says whilst turning her back to him.
‘Well he doesn’t look like he’s up to much at the moment.’ I say but Kimmy waves her hand dismissively.
‘Oh no, I haven’t seen you two in so long, I just want to keep you to myself.’ She lets out a shrill little laugh and Ash and I exchange a confused look. ‘Anyway, once we had little Mason, I said to Robert that I didn’t feel comfortable living in London anymore, I wanted more open spaces for the baby to be able to run around in, I wanted him to not be constantly breathing in car fumes. Luckily, our firm has offices in Cardiff, so here we are.’
‘Cardiff is a bit of a commute from here though, isn’t it?’ I ask. To the untrained eye the distance between our small welsh coastal town and Cardiff, on a map wouldn’t look like much at all. However, when you take into account that you can’t get any real speed up due to the hills and the numerous tractors littering the route, it was never a quick journey.
‘Oh, Robert doesn’t mind that. In fact I think he quite likes the time in the car to himself, you know, getting to listen to the radio or something like that.’ She says dismissively.
‘Are you not working there?’ I ask.
‘Oh no, I gave that all up when I had Mason. I have my own Etsy shop now. I sell pictures made out of stone and driftwood.’ She smile indulgently. ‘Don’t look at me like that. It’s all the rage, people love them. I’ll show you some time, they’re very tasteful. I can make one for you and Ash if you like?’ Kimmy stares at me until I realise that I should probably reply.
‘Oh, yeah, that sounds great.’ I tell her, wondering exactly what I would do with a picture made up of bits of wood.
Mason starts to fuss in Kimmy’s arms and she turns her full attention on him, trying various ways to cajole him into calming down. I take this opportunity to look around the room. The christening after party was being held in the function room of the town’s rugby club. A place that I had only been once before. I look at Ash and can see that he feels right at home here. He had been captain of the rugby team at school and never missed an opportunity to party. I, on the other hand, had been one of the weird kids who dyed their hair red and listened to My Chemical Romance, whilst sneering at the thought of going to parties on a Saturday night, with the rest of the kids from school. Of course, this was mainly just to protect myself from the hurt of never actually being invited.
Looking around the room, I could see a lot of familiar faces. It felt so strange that those gathered were so easily recognisable as the people that I was at school with eleven years ago and yet they didn’t look the same, not really. Obviously everyone looked older but it wasn’t just that. They looked like more polished versions of themselves. Those who were still dying their hair were obviously spending a bit more to get it done and going for much more neutral colours. The clothes they were dressed in were far more flattering, with less tears and more style. As someone who had basically lost contact with everyone from school, this was starting to feel surreal.
‘Oh my God, you guys are here!’ I turn to see a blonde with a sizeable belly waddling towards us and for a second I am totally thrown. ‘Eek, I’m so glad you came.’ It’s the eek that does it for me, transports me back to year ten English, sitting on the back row with Chloe, trying to go unnoticed as we painted our nails black under the table. We had totally missed Mrs Roberts looming down on us until it was too late. Our first hint that something was up, was the sound of Abigail Pearman’s squeaky little eek, Chloe tried to stuff the bottle back into her bag but Mrs Roberts was too quick for her and we watched on helplessly as she flung it into the bin, before turning back to us with a triumphant smile. I remember Chloe saying she was humiliated that she had to walk around for the rest of the day with only half her nails painted. I was gutted because it had been my bottle and I was now going to have to spend money on a new one.
‘Come here. Let me give you a hug, well try and give you a hug. I cannot wait for this little bugger to put in an appearance, she’s almost a week overdue and I am so done already. Anyway, congratulations you dark horses, getting engaged in Australia and then sneaking back into the country without telling anyone. I only found out you were back from your Mum.’ I lean around Abigail carefully and give her a squeeze. I wasn’t even aware that I had missed her until I saw her. Abigail was one of those sweet girls at school who had a bit of a hard time because the other kids couldn’t help but pull pranks on them, she was just so gullible and there was a contest to see who could get her to believe the most outrageous lie. Chloe and I had never felt like taking part, mainly because no-one ever asked us to, but even if they had I’m sure we would have felt it beneath us and cruel.
‘You two are engaged?’ Kimmy turns to me, her expression full of shock.
‘Yeah, sorry I would have mentioned it but I was too distracted by this little cutie.’ I tell her, leaning forward and giving Mason a squeeze on the foot. He pulls his leg away and eyes me suspiciously.
‘So when’s the big day?’ Kimmy asks.
‘Oh God, I don’t know yet, we only got engaged about a month ago, what with that and coming back here, I don’t think we’re in too much of a rush are we?’ I turn to Ash, looking for him to back me up but he appears to be entranced by Abigail’s belly.
‘What? Oh sorry, yeah well, seeing as we are back now and we’re looking for houses, I don’t see why the wedding can’t be sooner rather than later, we both know we want to get married, and I know that you don’t want a big wedding, so I guess it wouldn’t take that long to arrange something.’ He looks at me and smiles and I return it weakly. Not my plan exactly but that’s another discussion for another time.
‘Plus, the sooner you get married, the sooner you can think about having one of these.’ Abigail starts rubbing her swollen belly and I give a little laugh.
‘Yes, well I’m sure there’s no rush for that either.’ I reply, starting to feel a bit like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
‘None of us are getting any younger, we’re all turning thirty this year, the clock is ticking.’ Kimmy points to her wrist and her and Abigail laugh together.
‘Unless you have something you want to tell us already?’ She follows up, nodding her head in the direction of the glass of orange juice that I had just nabbed off a tray being carried by a sullen-looking teenager.
‘Oh my God, are you pregnant already?’ Abigail squeals.
‘No, no, not pregnant.’ I say, knocking back the orange juice and wishing it was something stronger.
‘So how were your travels?’ Abigail asks. It’s a fair enough question but one that makes me groan inwardly. I still have not found a suitable response, despite being asked by everyone from my mum to the postman on an almost daily basis for the past month. How do you sum up two years’ worth of travelling in one sentence?
‘It was great thanks. Really amazing.’ I cringe at such a woefully inadequate response and look to Ash to help me out.
‘Yeah, it was life changing.’ Ash adds smiling and I smile at him, despite all of our differences, of which there seem to be an endless supply, this is one thing that we can agree on.
‘Ha.’ Kimmy bursts out before composing herself. ‘Let me tell you, if you want to know what life changing really means, then have a baby.’ She gives me a patronising smile and I feel my face turning red. ‘I’m just saying, you can’t really compare the joy of bringing a new life into the world, with getting drunk in some disgusting hostel and waking up at noon. No offence.’
It’s those two little words that really trigger me. No offence. Whenever used their meaning is clear for all to hear. To mean exactly the opposite. I am just gearing myself up to give her both barrels about what she can do with her “no offence” when I feel the oddest sensation on my bum.
‘Ow!’ I spin around, rubbing my bum in the place it just received a rather forceful pinch. Spotting the culprit my annoyance turns to joy. ‘Charley?!’
‘The one and only.’ She smirks at me before aggressively pulling me in for a hug.
‘What the hell are doing here?’
‘Don’t you know? Me and Mike are best friends these days.’ She says with a mischievous grin, before breaking down into peels of laughter at the shock I know is showing on my face. To say that Charley Jones is at the christening of Mike and Becky’s son has come as a shock to me would be the understatement of the century. You know the good girl who gets straight A’s, who’s daddy just adores her and the guy the dad pretends to give a hard time to on prom night about having his daughter home by eleven but he doesn’t really mean it because he knows he’s a decent upstanding young gentleman? That’s Becky and Michael. Now cast your mind over to the bad girl, the one who skips class to smoke behind the bike sheds and makes suggestive comments to the supply teacher just to watch him squirm, that’s Charley. She had moved to our sleepy little town from the bright lights of London in our first year of sixth form and hated every minute of it. Chloe and I had no idea why she decided to start hanging out with us but at least it gave us a little bit of street cred amongst the rest of the year.
‘Boy am I glad to see you.’ I whisper in her ear as we pull out of the hug.
‘You not drinking?’ She asks, looking down at my orange juice. I follow her gaze and then look over at her cold cup of beer, with the condensation wriggling its way down the outside.
‘I am now!’ I tell her, linking my arm in hers before heading for the bar.
I swear I was only going to have one drink but I completely forgot just how persuasive Charley can be. Before I know it I am on my fourth and this party has got a lot more entertaining.
I watch on as Charley allows herself to be flirted with by Michael’s older brother, Daniel.
‘Is Daniel hitting on Charley?’ Ash comes up behind me and snakes his arms around my waist. I lean into him, I love the smell of him, especially after he’s had a couple of beers. I find it so intoxicating.
‘Yes he is.’ I reply with a cheeky laugh.
‘Well shouldn’t someone tell him?’
‘Tell him what?’ I ask innocently.
‘Don’t give me that. Shouldn’t someone tell him that Charley is never going to go for what he’s offering.’
‘That’s up to Charley now isn’t it. I’m sure she’s more than capable of letting him know that she is not into men.’
‘You’re wicked.’ Ash nuzzles into my neck.
‘And don’t you just love me for it.’ I reply, turning to face him and planting a big kiss on his mouth.
’So, you’re drunk. He laughs, stepping away and wiping at his mouth.
‘No I’m not. I kiss you like that when I’m sober.’ I say indignantly and cross my arms.
I turn back to see Daniel running his hand down Charley’s leather coated clad back and then trying to sneak it around the front for a cheeky feel. Charley takes her heavy, dark purple Dr Marten and slowly presses it into Daniel’s foot, as he leaps back in surprise, whilst shouting out in pain Charley whips around to face him, her face full of fake apology. I can’t help but laugh. Daniel looks up as he hears me laughing, with a scowl plastered across his face.
‘What are you laughing at?’ He asks, stepping towards me on shaky legs.
‘Nothing.’ I tell him with a smile, ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ I ask sweetly.
‘Yes thank you.’ He slurs slightly, not noticing that Charley is slowly inching away from him, giggling into what has to be her seventh plastic cup of beer.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Daniel asks, turning unsteadily and spotting her.
‘I was just going to get another drink. Want one?’ She asks, sounding innocent. I watch as he lurches towards her and am about to step in when in one swift movement she throws her cup straight at his face, covering him in beer.
There is an audible gasp from the people gathered around and one small eek which I know, without looking, has come from Abigail.
Daniel, too drunk, to fully comprehend why he now has liquid dripping from the end of his nose, spins around in confusion, spraying his own almost full cup over the gathered audience, myself and Ash included. I squirm as the warm, sticky liquid travels down my legs and I try to brush it away, only serving to flick it on to Ash’s trousers.
‘Sorry.’ I say, giving him an apologetic look.
Daniel stumbles away and I rush over to Charley to check she is ok, while everyone stands around whispering behind their hands whilst looking in our direction.
‘Are you ok?’ I ask her, trying to wipe the excess liquid off her spiky fringe.
‘Yeah I’m fine.’ She says brushing off the front of her black skinny jeans. ‘That was hilarious,’ She says through massive guffaws of laughter.
Michael, who was saying goodbye to some elderly relatives, comes over to us, a cheeky smile on his face.
‘And on that oh so familiar note ladies and gentlemen, I think we should call it a night!’ He declares to cheers and claps from the crowd, before walking over to his brother to check on him.
Ash guides me to the exit and I lean on his tall, strong frame for support. I spot Charley just ahead of me and give her a wave, accidentally hitting Ash in the face.
‘Sorry.’ I slur, trying to stand up a bit straighter.
‘Are you going to admit it?’ Ash asks with a little twinkle in his eye that I go to poke before he catches my hand in his.
‘Admit what?’ I ask, stepping in closer to him.
‘Admit that you had fun, that being back isn’t so dreadful.’
‘Hmm.’ I reply, ‘Maybe it wasn’t so bad, if you could just fix the weather, then I think you could be onto a winner here.’ He smiles down at me and I go to give him a big sloppy kiss but hear the familiar ding of the email notification coming from my phone.
‘Leave it.’ Ash tells me but I raise an eyebrow at him and tut.
‘I am a young entrepreneur just starting out. I can’t just ignore potential new clients. What if this person is in desperate need of my help.’ During my second year in Sydney I had worked for a travel company that booked trips for holidaymakers heading out to Australia from the UK. I had enjoyed the job so much, that I decided to have a go at doing it myself. I have a tiny clientele of about six customers at the moment but I have a sneaking suspicion I can make it pretty big. Which means that I can’t really go passing up the chance to check if prospective holidaymakers are trying to get in touch.
‘What, they need an emergency trip to Australia, stat!’ Ash rolls his eyes.
‘You joke but you never know.’ I squint down at my screen and try to focus on the tiny jumble of letters that insist on dancing about the place.
‘I’m going to see if that’s our taxi across the road. You stand there and don’t move until I come and get you.’ Ash commands.
I salute him. ‘Yes sir.’ It feels good to be back outside and I take a deep breath whilst admiring the view. The sky might be clouded over, leaving the sea to look dark and moody but it doesn’t dampen my love for it. Watching the waves crash up against the rocks, I get a jolt of nostalgia, followed by a bubble of excitement. Maybe it would be cool to be settled down here, I can see us getting a dog and taking it for long walks on the beach. Grudgingly I think that Kimmy might be right and it’s time to grow up and put down roots.
The cool breeze is clearing my head and I feel confident that I can try looking at the email without the urge to vomit overwhelming me. I look down at the screen and watch as the letters rearrange themselves into actual words. As the name of the sender comes into focus my knees turn to jelly and my stomach starts to churn. With tears filling my eyes, the force of the last couple of hours drinks making their way back up to the surface bends me over double and I heave until I have nothing else to give.
‘Oh dear.’ Ash comes rushing over, pulling my hair out of my face with one hand and rubbing my back with the other one. ‘Let’s get you home.’