I've been fighting with my brother Tim about who gets to drive the Mini ever since I got my P-plates last year.
"Just because you got your licence before me doesn't mean it's your car, Tim. Mum and Dad gave it to us to share."
"You're still a bloody P-plater. You'd crash it the first time you took it out."
"At least I don't drive when I'm drunk."
This is a sore point with Tim. A few months ago, he drove over to a party--the eighteenth birthday for one of his mates from the building site where he works. He left the party around midnight, drove home at just under the speed limit, took the side streets all the way. He got in at half past twelve, crowing over having dodged the police and ready for a few million liters of water before bed. ("Best way to get over a hangover, Nat. You just remember that.")
But there, looking up at him from the old floral couch in the living room, were Mum and Dad. Just sitting there, waiting for him.
"I can smell your breath a mile away," Dad said wryly, and took the car keys away from him for four weeks.
But that was months ago. Since then, Tim's guarded those keys even more jealously than before.
So that's why I've got to get a job.
One day a few weeks after New Year's, I mention this to Lise. We're at the beach, lying on our towels on the sand, sunscreen plastered across our faces, legs kicking the air. It's hot, and Lise is looking kind of--not bored at my conversation, exactly, but not overly thrilled, either. I guess it's only about the millionth time I've talked about it to her.
"But I mean, think about it," I say, trying to make my point. "If I got a job, this time next year I could have my own car."
This beach trip: it's a regular Lise-and-me thing. We do it every summer on the last Saturday before the new school year begins. The first time was at the end of Year 7, which was the year Lise and I met, the year we became best friends. Mum took us that day. She packed a picnic lunch--squashed Vegemite sandwiches and juice boxes, and red Popsicles that melted in the cooler on the tram. Then she lay on the beach and read her book while Lise and I swam and threw the Frisbee at each other, and compared bathing suits and beach towels. We've come back by ourselves every year since, meeting at the tram stop near Lise's house. We always go to the same beach, at the end of Jetty Road: Glenelg--my favorite stretch of sea in Adelaide, my favorite summer place.
Today, like every other year, we've spent the time swimming and snoozing, lying under the jetty between swims, staring up at the wooden beams and talking. When I say talking, I mean, like--talking. Hopes and dreams; plans and fears; life, the universe, and everything--you name it, Lise and I'll talk about it. You know what I mean?
But now, when I've finally talked myself out about getting a job, she goes all funny on me.
"It's Year 12, Nat."
"Well, aren't we meant to be studying or something? I have to get into law."
"Lise--" I sigh. She's been saying she wants to do law ever since I met her. "You'll get into law with your eyes closed."
She pulls a face. "Maybe."
"Anyway, I only meant a one-day-a-week kind of job. You've got to have some kind of break from studying."
She shrugs, and doesn't answer. Then she goes kind of quiet.
When Lise is annoyed, she lets her hair (which is thick and curly and, at the moment, very damp) fall in front of her face, so you can't see what she's thinking. That stuff I said before, about talking? The one thing she and I don't ever talk about is what makes Lise angry, and why. But you sure as hell know when she's angry. The silent treatment: that's what she gives you. ("The sulk" is what Sofia calls it.)
One thing's for sure: she's giving it to me now. I glance across at her, elbow propping my chin, wondering what I've said. She ignores me and stares at the sand, tracing patterns in it with the sharp edge of a broken shell, her face completely obscured by her hair.
Clearly, there is no point going on with this conversation.
I sigh, give up talking, roll over onto my back. In my head, lying next to Lise, I go on dreaming about having a job, a car, money. I mean, there's no harm dreaming, surely?
Sand prickles my shoulder blades, and the towel creases damply, stickily, beneath my back. The sky throbs above us, late-January blue.
Afterward, we walk back up Jetty Road toward the tram, soggy bathing suits scrumpled up in our bags. Waves of heat swell up from the pavement toward us, and the asphalt pulses under our feet. I straggle along beside Lise, dreaming of ice cream, and cold drinks, and air-conditioning. Already it feels like we never went swimming at all.
But it's weird, sometimes, how things you really, really want can suddenly just appear, right there in front of you. My mother's got this summed up in three words: "Life is good." (That's Mum for you--ever the social worker, ever the optimist. She's determined to implant positive thoughts into her kids' minds.) Sofia just calls it fate. "If it's meant to happen, it'll happen, Nat," she's always telling me. As in, Just go with the flow.
Anyway, whatever--something I've been wanting for ages happens now, just as we're crossing at the traffic lights about halfway down the road.
Lise reaches the other side of the road before I do. (She always walks so quickly, Lise--like she's in a real hurry to get somewhere.) But then, instead of going on farther up the road, she stops suddenly. It's not that she's waiting for me: she's standing, staring through the window of the little health food cafe on the corner. It looks like she's seen something she hadn't expected to see.
"What?" I say, catching up with her.
"Look." She points at a piece of paper pinned up in the cafe's window.
In dark blue pen, the writing on the piece of paper says:
Kitchen hand / waitress needed.
Saturdays only, no experience necessary.
Interest in health foods required.
"Hey!" I say excitedly. "D'you think being vegetarian counts as having an 'interest in health foods'?"
Lise pushes a coil of long brown hair back over her shoulder. "I s'pose--"
"You could apply, too, you know. They'd probably interview us right now. We could just go in and ask."
"Nat." Lise is looking at me like I'm crazy. "You're not serious."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Leaving Jetty Road by Rebecca Burton. Copyright © 2006 by Rebecca Burton. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.