Not Perfect Part 5 Kristen
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Bring, bring. Bring bring.
My phone was ringing, interrupting my slumber. I groaned softly and reached my arm over to grab it from my bedside window. A glance at the screen told me it was Jenna. I tried to clear my throat before answering it, but it didn’t do much good. I still sounded like a croaky bullfrog.
“Oh, sorry, did I wake you up?” Her apology confirmed the condition of my voice.
“Yes. I’m still in bed.”
“Sorry, did you want me to ring later?”
“No, I’m up now.” I propped the pillows up against the backbone of the bed. “But I’m curious to know why you’re ringing so early.”
“It’s past eight.”
“But it’s holidays!” I could just see her rolling her eyes.
“Oh, whatever. I was just ringing to ask if you were coming tonight?”
“To the carols?” I sighed, annoyed. “I would, if I had a way to get there. It’s a fair 10 kilometres to the showgrounds, I can’t walk. ”
“Can’t your mum take you? Is she coming?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
She tapped her teeth with her finger, a sign that she was thinking. “Hm...”
I felt a small tinge of bitterness against mum. I tried to shake it off. After all, it wasn’t her fault. She had all this work to do. Jenna’s voice broke up my thoughts.
“Are you and Brett actually dating, yet?”
“No, not technically.”
“So it’d be wrong for you to ask him to take you?”
“Definitely, yes.” I wondered what scheme she was cooking up. “Please, please don’t do anything embarrassing.” I pleaded her.
“I won’t, I won’t. Although...I could get Ethan to give him a ring...”
“Jenna!” Ethan was Jenna’s boyfriend, and Ethan and Brett were best mates.
“Now listen, he wouldn’t suspect a thing!”
“Yes, he so would!”
“Ethan can give a guy-to-guy talk...trust me.”
“Why can’t you pick me up?”
“Because...I’m taking my grandparents.”
“No, I am, seriously! Mum and dad are taking Lily and the boys, and so my grandparents asked if I could take them.”
“Alright, I believe you.”
“Then do I have permission to ring Ethan?”
“You’re a snake!” We were both laughing now.
“So, I can?”
“I guess. But...what if he doesn’t like me?”
“Kristen, I know he does. In fact, I’m so sure, that if you do not receive a call from Brett in the next two hours, I owe you ten dollars.”
“Absolutely. So, if I were you, I’d be taking a shower because...you sound like a croaky bullfrog.”
The warm water rushed over my head, making me feel relaxed. I thought over and over what Jenna had said. Brett was probably still asleep, anyway. I had taken my phone into the bathroom, just in case. The call didn’t come until I was dressed and having breakfast, my croaky voice all gone. I decided to have a different type of breakfast, oats, fruit and yogurt instead of cereal. Even cornflakes got boring after a while.
I threw open our old fashioned window, letting a cool breeze through. It felt nice to have it blowing on my face while I chewed my oats.
Mum wasn’t up yet, so I had the whole house to myself. I drummed my fingers on the wooden table top, my red nails turning blue as I got faster. Mum always complained about the marks and scratches that dotted the table’s varnish, but I liked them. They added character to it.
My phone rang. It vibrated on the wood, causing a slight fuzzy feeling through my fingers. I chewed my mouthful properly and swallowed before sliding my finger across the screen to answer it. It was Brett.
“Hey, how are you going?” I tried to sound as calm as possible.
He answered in his deep voice. “Good! How are you?”
“Pretty good, thanks.” I held my breath. This was it.
“That’s good. Hey, um...a bird told me you didn’t have a ride to the carols tonight.”
I pretended innocence and shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. “Yeah, I don’t.”
“Well, I’ve got an extra seat in my car, if you want it.”
“Oh, are you sure? Like, I wouldn’t want you to come out of your way.”
“Nah, it’s not a problem.”
“Okay then, thanks so much.”
“No worries. I’ll just have my younger brother with me, is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” I breathed, realising I’d been holding it for the last ten seconds.
“Cool. You live on…Kepple St, right?”
“Correct, number 82.”
“Alright then…see you at five o’clock. Bye!”
“Bye.” I hit the end call button and breathed a sigh of relief. Putting my phone down, I noticed my fingers were a little shaky. Smiling and shaking my head to myself, I finished my oats and gathered every dish to the sink. I put the plug in and watched the little soapsuds bubble up as I added the detergent. I turned on the radio and warbled away with the tunes, making my own country music.
I heard the master bedroom door slam upstairs. Mum came down the steps in a hurry, her skirt a mess, and her shirt half tucked in.
“Hi, darling.” She turned the coffee machine on, its spluttering drowning out the voice of the radio.
“Darling, can you turn that thing off? The noise is too much.”
My favourite song had just come on. I was about to protest, but then stopped myself. I wiped my hands on my shorts and switched the thing off.
Mum fanned herself frantically with the back of her hand. “Don’t you think it’s a bit hot? Can you turn on the aircon?”
I wondered why she asked me to do it, since she was standing right next to where the remote was mounted on the wall. I sighed and trudged over to it, anyway. So much for getting the dishes done.
The coffee machine puttered to a stop and she poured a cup and sipped at it. A few minutes passed in silence. She surprised me by bringing up the carols.
“Are you going, tonight?”
“I’m sorry, what’s on tonight?” I took a sarcastic approach.
She looked confused. “The...carols?”
“Oh yeah...” I smiled slyly. “Are you actually going?”
She took another sip and shrugged. “No, I have to work, sorry. I was just wondering if you were.”
I resisted to sigh impatiently and ask her how could I go if I couldn’t drive, since she hadn’t bothered to teach me. Instead, I told her I was planning to go.
“That’s good,” she said, downing the last of her coffee, “How are you getting there?”
“Brett,” I sniffed proudly, “Offered to pick me up.”
She frowned slightly, her black eyebrows furrowing together. She started to say something but stopped herself. “Umm...okay.” As an afterthought, she added, “Is he your boyfriend?”
I chewed my lip and hesitated. “No. But he’ll probably bring me back here...unless you could come at the end.”
It was my turn to frown. “Why not? You’ll be finished work.”
“I was thinking of having a late night to finish off stuff before Christmas.”
“Oh.” Frustrated, I turned my back to her. The carols finished at ten o’clock. Was she seriously going to work till then?
I could hear her gathering her keys and bag from off the top of the mantelpiece. Was she going already?
“Mum? Are you going now?”
She spun to face me, hair askew. “Yes, darling, I can’t stay all day.”
“I know that, but you haven’t eaten anything.”
She shrugged. “Don’t need it. I can get something at work if I feel hungry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I should go now.” She blew me a kiss. “Be good.” The door shut with a bang. She left, just like that.
“Bye.” I said to the empty kitchen. I wiped the sink down with the sponge and then grabbed the towel and wiped the dishes.
I tried to think of a legit reason why she couldn’t come to the carols after work. Couldn’t she put in that little bit of effort? Doesn’t matter though, I’d rather have Brett drop me off.
I switched the radio on again.
Ping! The notification tone on my phone went off. Brett had sent me a text saying he was coming in five minutes, was I ready? I sent a quick yes, confirming it.
I threw on a flannel shirt over my denim overalls and chucked some old, pink high-top vans on my eight sized feet. The doorbell, even though I was expecting it, made me jump.
I practically ran to the door, almost slipping over. Forcing myself to relax, I told myself to act natural as I swung open the door. There he was, wearing the same flannel shirt I had over my overalls.
We both started laughing.
“Well,” he said, “Looks like we’re matching today!”
“Yeah, did you plan that?” I joked.
“No, where did you get yours?”
“Same.” He smiled, his big pearly teeth shining at me. “So, I’ve got the ute running,” he jerked his thumb back towards the driveway, “Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I’ll just grab my purse. Meet you at the car!” I darted back inside, up the stairs, and fumbled around trying to find my wallet. Discovering it, I zipped it open to check how much I had. A dismal five dollar note stared me in the face. Shoot. Just shoot. Oh well, I tucked it into my pocket and crossed my fingers I didn’t have to spend much.
I remembered to lock the front door and ran to the car. I saw two forms in it, one in the front, which was Brett, the other in the back, which must have been his little brother. I opened the passenger side door, and breathed in the musty-country smell it emitted. I hoisted myself up across the high wheel, grabbed the handle and swung myself down onto the seat.
“Hello again,” Brett said.
“Hi,” I said, buckling my seatbelt.
“Hello!” A little voice squeaked behind me. I swivelled around to be face to face with a boy about ten years old. He had darkish hair in a buzz-cut, a shade darker than Brett’s.
“This is Joey, my little brother.”
“Hi Joey!” I smiled cheerfully. He smiled back, lighting up his little freckled face.
“You’re so pretty, just like Brett said.”
I glanced sideways at Brett curiously, surprised. He licked his lips nervously. “Joey, can you buckle up, please?”
“He talks about you all the time!” Joey piped up before seating himself.
Brett reversed the car out of my driveway and we sped down to the showground.
He laughed awkwardly. “Little brothers...yeah.”
I shrugged, and turned away so he wouldn’t see me smile.
Brett ran his fingers through his hair and sighed slowly. “Yeah, so...um...” He paused, unsure of what to say.
I made small talk on the roadworks, with Joey interjecting with his funny little voice.
We reached the showground quickly, ending the awkward-yet-amusing car trip. Joey jumped eagerly out of the car, pointing out different rides and shows with rapid excitement.
I spotted Jenna and some other people from school, sitting behind a big pop-up tent.
“Hey look, there’s Jenna and the others.”
Brett nodded. “And there’s my parents over there. I’ll take Joey to them, you join the others and I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Aw, why can’t I come hang out with you guys?” Joey pouted as Brett took his hand and led him over to the other side of the showground.
I headed over to where I could see Jenna, feeling a bit dumb and partner-less. She waved excitedly at me, and ran to hug me.
“Hey! Where’s Brett? I thought he took you.”
“No, he did...he’s just taken his younger brother to his parents.”
Jenna nodded, her eyes bright. “Okay. Anything...exciting?”
“Yes! He—” I was interrupted by a call from the rest of our friends. “Tell you later.”
We went back down and sat with the others. Jenna sat with Ethan, and just about everyone in our group had a partner. I felt a little odd.
Someone from behind me touched my shoulder. I looked up to see Brett standing there, he’d snuck up on me.
“Hey, you two are matching!” Ethan said, giving Brett a bro-fist, who sat down close beside me.
“Yeah, I know. We didn’t plan it, did we, Kristen?”
He smiled at me and I smiled back and shook my head. “Nope. Total coincidence.”
Jenna laughed. “You must be meant for each other.” I blushed. Did he notice? She continued: “Although, Brett, we thought you’d left her when she walked over here all on her own.”
Brett defended himself. “Hey, I just had to make sure my little brother was safe with my parents.”
“Sure, sure,” She tossed her maroon-almost-purple hair over her shoulder. “By the way, we saved two juice boxes for you.”
We sipped at the juice boxes and joked and snacked on snags with tomato sauce and onion. We chorused along to the occasional carol with the singers on stage. The evening wore on and it began getting darker when somebody lit the great pile of junkwood to make a bonfire. The boys from our group got up to help lug tree branches to serve as seats around it. Once lit, it towered up above our heads in a massive flickering of orange and blue flames.
Everybody scrambled to grab a seat beside the fire. I held back, not sure where to sit. Then I saw Brett waving at me, his hand reserving a spot. I hopped over to where he was and sat down.
“Thanks for saving the seat for me.”
“My pleasure. Shh, now, they’re about to begin.”
A burly man stepped up to the stage in front of the bonfire, guitar in hand. A wave of silence swept over the crowd. He welcomed the group gathered, and introduced himself as Bill, the MC for the night.
“We’re going to start out with ‘Strip the Willow’,” He said, strumming the strings.
“But first, I’m going to need a couple to demonstrate.” He jumped off the platform.
I realised with alarm that Brett and I were the only young couple close to the stage, all the people were little kids and grandparents. I had no idea how to dance ‘Strip the Willow’. What if he picked us? I would look so silly.
I started to panic when Bill pointed at us and boomed into the microphone: “What about you two? You’re even matching for us. Come on, hop up here.”
I whispered in Brett’s ear. “Brett! I don’t know...this dance.”
“That’s okay,” he whispered back, “I’ll teach you. It’s really easy.”
Not convinced, I jumped onto the stage with him anyway. Bill boomed into the mic again.
“What a cute couple! Alright guys, let’s get this straight. The male places his left hand around the lady’s right hip, they join hands and sidestep left, ready, one, two, three, four steps, then swap sides with...”
I zoned out on Bill’s droning voice, and was only conscious of Brett guiding me through the steps. His big, warm, hands encircled my waist as we stepped, half ran, around the stage, and I felt safe and secure.
We completed the dance without any embarrassment, and then Bill told us he was going to use us to demonstrate a few more dances, since we were so good at it. We danced the Blackwattle Reel, Circle Waltz and Country Bumkin.
By the time we were done, both of us were getting out of breath, not used to the robust dances. Bill gave us leave and thanked us. We hopped down the stairs of the stage, away from the fire and dancing people to somewhere where we could breathe.
“How did you know all those dances?” I asked him.
“Oh,” he shrugged, “We’ve always gone to bush dances and things since I was little. I grew up dancing to them.”
I nodded and sighed, realising how hungry I was.
“Are you hungry?” Brett asked me.
I looked at him, surprised. “How did you know I was hungry?”
He smiled, a twinkle in his eye. “My mum always sighs like that when she’s hungry.”
“Really? That’s funny.”
“Yeah. So, come on, I’ll grab you something to eat. I think there’s still some sausages cooking somewhere.”
He offered me his elbow. “My lady,” he mocked a British accent, “Allow me to find you some nourishment.”
He joined in on my laughter as I took his arm. We found where the sausages were being sizzled and Brett paid for two with onions and bread. He led me over to a grassy spot within view of the fire and the dancing figures.
“Thanks, Brett.” I bit into the meat.
“Any time,” he replied. We ate our food in silence, listening to the distant music.
“You’ve got tomato sauce on your face.”
I felt embarrassed as I wiped desperately around my mouth.
“No, no, it’s over here.” He reached over and brushed it away.
“Thanks.” I mumbled. “I’m a bit of a sloppy eater.”
“No, you’re not. I do it all the time.” He assured me.
We both took a deep breath. He started talking first.
“Are you driving yet?”
The question caught me off guard. “Um...no. No, I haven’t.”
“Really? Soon, though?”
I forced a smile. “When my mum gets the time, I guess.” Apparently I wasn’t too good at forcing smiles, and Brett saw through it. He hooked his finger under my chin, lifting my face so it was level with his.
“Hey...don’t look so down about it. She’ll get there.”
I couldn’t help but smile now, a real, genuine smile. “Yeah. She’s just so...busy.”
He was still holding my chin. Realising, he let it go and cleared his throat.
“Are you doing anything Christmas afternoon?”
I recalled my conversation with mum last night. We hadn’t said anything about staying home or doing anything. Would she mind?
“N-no. Not exactly.” Was he going to ask me out?
“Okay. Well, a bunch of cousins of mine are going down to the dam out at our place to have fun. I was thinking...it’d be really nice to have you there.”
“Oh, really? Wow, um...” I trailed off. Was this a date? Brett’s house was half an hour out of town. Even if I said yes, I wouldn’t have a way to get there. “Well...I’d love to, but...I don’t know how I’d get there.”
“Not a problem, I could pick you up. That is, if you wanted to...you know, come.”
I nodded my head eagerly. “Yes, I would. But, isn’t it a long way for you to come out?”
He shrugged again. “No, it’s fine. I… want you to come.”
I smiled, feeling happy. “Alright, what time?”
“I was thinking two.”
“Okay, that sounds really good.” I yawned, feeling suddenly sleepy. Brett caught it too.
“Maybe we need to head home.” He said. I nodded my agreement.
We headed across to the parking lot and climbed into to Brett’s unlocked car. He navigated among all the ill-parked vehicles, a result of no allocated parking spaces.
We passed the trip in total silence, except for when he forgot which street to turn down.
“Wow, sorry. I am so tired.” He stifled another yawn.
“No worries.” We lapsed into silence till we pulled into my driveway. He walked with me to the door. I thought he had forgotten about Christmas afternoon; I grasped the handle to the door but didn’t turn it, unsure of whether to say something.
“So…” Brett rubbed the back of his neck. “Are you…still wanting to come out to the dam on Wednesday afternoon?”
He’d remembered! I stifled my delight as much as I could. “Yeah, I really do. But…only if you’re really okay with driving here to get me.”
He grinned. “Seriously, it’s no problem. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay.” We locked eyes for a second, then it was over.
“Alright, well…I better get going.” He took a step backwards.
“Yeah, me too.” I turned the door handle the slightest bit.
“Good…bye, then?” He grinned again, mischievously this time.
“Yep, goodbye.” I swung the door open now.
He half-turned and walked backwards. “See you on Wednesday!”
“Bye!” I slipped inside the door, shut it, and slumped down against it. I could hear him start the car and drive away. What an…awkward goodbye. I held my hand up to my chest a felt my heart thudding. Why was it pounding? I bit my lip, suss pressing a giggle.
It hit me suddenly that the front door was already open when I came in. Did I forget to lock it? No. Mum must be home.
I stood and flicked the light switch, and tip-toed to the kitchen. Just in case she was asleep.
Nope, there she was, sitting at the kitchen bench. I made my steps louder on purpose, so she could hear me.
She glanced up and smiled. “Oh, hello. How were the carols? Did you have fun?”
“Yeah, yeah, I had heaps of fun.”
“That’s good. Sorry I couldn’t make it, I was a bit…you know, tied up.”
I bit my lip for the second time in five minutes, both for different reasons. Tied up? She didn’t even make an effort to come.
“Um, yeah, that’s fine.” I yawned. “I’m really tired, so…I’m going to hit the sack.”
She nodded, though I doubt, by the look in her eyes, she understood a word I just said.
“Okay, darling. I’m writing this really good article at the moment. It’s about…oh, never mind, you go to sleep. I’ve got to finish this.”
“Alright.” I said meekly, stepping backwards. “Goodnight.”