There’s something about the start of a new day; the freshness, the liberation of not knowing what it will hold, the anticipation of countless adventures to be had. But there will come a point in the day where those feelings wear off, the cracks start to show and the troubles of life make their way back in.
Karla squirmed around in her sheets, stretching her arm above her head on the pillow as she began to wake from a dream-filled night of planes and old ladies and belting out ‘Welcome to my life’ at the top of her lungs. She smiled dozily and slowly opened her eyes to welcome in the sunlight peeping in from behind the crimson blackout curtain. As her eyes adjusted to the light and took in the room around her, she became disorientated and wondered where she was.
This isn’t my room, she thought. Then she remembered. It hadn’t been a dream, but memories. She really was home. This is my room. And the sleepy smile of a contented night grew into the bigger smile of a longed-for day. She threw off the sheets and swung her legs out of bed, her foot slipping on the abandoned comic she’d forgotten on her covers the previous night.
A deep breath through her nostrils confirmed there was bacon cooking downstairs, so allowing only enough time to don a hoodie and thick fluffy socks, she rushed down to the kitchen.
Jay was standing at the hob, bopping and mouthing along to some mystery music feeding straight into his ears from his Bluetooth earphones. Karla was sure she looked a mess but didn’t care enough to do anything about it. The Zellers were a second family to her; there was no need to impress. Jay clearly agreed, having not even bothered to put on pants or a shirt. He stood over a sizzling frying pan dressed only in garish green boxer shorts and white ankle socks. She laughed to herself at the ridiculous sight, disturbed, but also somewhat flattered that he regarded her so much part of the family that he was comfortable to waltz around the house in his underwear.
Jay suddenly noticed her standing there and took out an earphone. ‘Morning K,’ he greeted.
She moved closer to the hob and put her hand on his shoulder, looking into the pan. ‘Please tell me you’re making your special Breakfast Bagel?’ Karla almost had to stop herself drooling in hope.
‘What else?’ Jay grinned. ‘I thought I’d make it for your first morning here.’ He dropped three crispy rashers of bacon onto a buttered bagel, then dolloped a good helping of scrambled egg and a square of plastic cheese on top, crowning it with the top half of the bagel, and presented the plate to Karla.
‘Have I ever told you you’re my favourite Zeller?’ she swooned as she looked longingly at her favourite breakfast food. It was all she could do to wait until they were both sat down at the table before taking a bite.
‘No,’ Jay replied, sitting opposite her with his own treat. ‘But I always knew it to be true.’ As Karla picked up her bagel, Jay tutted. ‘Ah ah ah, grace first.’
Karla frowned at her smirking friend before replacing the bagel to the plate and clasping her hands in front of her. Jay closed his eyes. ‘Father God, we thank You for good sleep, good friends, and good food. Amen.’
‘Amen.’ And before taking a second breath, Karla delved in. She immediately closed her eyes and let out a satisfied groan. ‘So good.’
‘Just what the doctor ordered?’
‘This could heal all ills.’
‘It could probably give you a few and all,’ Jay chuckled.
At that moment, Riley walked into the kitchen. ‘I thought I could smell bacon.’
‘There’s a couple rashers and eggs left on the side if you want,’ Jay replied, pointing.
Riley looked put out. ‘What, so you make breakfast for yourself and Karla and not for the rest of us?’
‘She’s a guest,’ Jay shrugged, taking another satisfied bite.
‘I’m your older brother.’
‘Exactly,’ he replied, his mouth full. ‘You should know how to make your own breakfast by now.’
Karla let out a snigger that earned her a glower from Riley. His sense of humour wasn’t normally active before at least 10am.
‘So, what are your plans for today?’ Jay asked, already halfway through his bagel.
He waited while Karla tried to quickly finish chewing her mouthful before being able to answer. After a big gulp to clear her mouth she shrugged. ‘I’m hanging out with Ali after he finishes his shift at the movie theatre, then I’m having dinner with my family. But in the meantime, no idea.’
‘Unpacking?’ Riley asked over the sizzle of the frying pan.
‘Uh, no. It’s my first full day in Australia; I’m not gonna waste it unpacking.’
‘Beach?’ Jay suggested with a wink.
Karla stuck out her tongue. ‘Very funny.’
Riley turned around and waved his spatula at her. ‘Now that you live here again, you’re going to have to learn to like the beach.’
‘Contrary to popular belief, there are other things to do around here than build sandcastles and go surfing.’
Jay gulped down his mouthful. ‘True, but the beach is where all the hot babes are.’
‘And why do think that is going to make me want to go?’ she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Jay threw his arms out as it were obvious. ‘Well you’re our wing girl. You can butter them up for us, big us up. Girls are much more likely to pay attention to a guy if they see another hot girl paying them attention.’
Karla nearly choked on the last bite of her bagel. ‘I’m sorry, did you just call me hot?’
‘Yeah,’ Jay shrugged, not understanding why the other two were both looking at him in disbelief.
‘Inappropriate, man,’ his brother chastised, flipping his bacon.
‘What? I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s not like I’ve been checking you out or anything-’
‘Wooooah, ok cowboy.’ Karla interrupted. ‘Now would be a great time to stop talking.’
‘Look, our relationship is purely platonic, don’t you worry. I can acknowledge the objective fact that you are good looking without wanting to jump your bones.’ Karla spat out the orange juice she’d just taken a swig of and Jay shifted to the side, his nose turned up in disgust. ‘Gross.’
‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking,’ Karla retorted sharply, staring daggers across the table.
Riley came and put his hands down hard on his brother’s shoulders. ‘I really think it would be in your best interests to stop talking now,’ he said in a low voice.
Jay shook Riley off and stood up, wiping his mouth with a napkin. ‘That’s fine, I have to go see Natasha anyway.’ He dropped the greasy napkin onto the plate and bid the two farewell with a salute.
‘I hope you’re gonna put pants on first!’ Karla called after him.
‘So, what are you going to do today?’ Riley asked, cracking a couple eggs into the pan as the bacon browned.
Karla shrugged. ‘I dunno, everyone’s gonna be out most of the day so nothing much. Probably just slob in front of the TV for the morning. I know by noon my body clock is gonna be screaming bedtime, and I’m not gonna argue with it.’
‘Fair enough. As long as you don’t sleep through meeting Ali.’
‘Good point. I’ll set an alarm.’
Riley finished cooking his breakfast and sat down adjacent to her. He looked a little uncomfortable. ‘Listen K, can you answer me something honestly?’
‘Sure,’ she replied through a mouth full of the last bite of bagel.
‘Why did you really come back?’
Karla looked at him, confused. ‘What do you mean? You know why I came back.’
‘You and I both know there’s more to it than you just deciding it’s time. You’ve been sitting on this decision for three years and suddenly you change your mind? I don’t buy it.’
‘Then don’t. I’ve told why, so you can believe that or not; I don’t care.’ She glanced at the clock hanging on the wall above the doorframe and stood up. ‘I should go shower. I have a lot of Netflix to catch up on.’ Before Riley could question her further, she hurried out the door.
Riley stood in line in cafés surrounding the Phoenix Theatre in Geelong, bored as anything. Whilst the military installation meant Barunga boasted a few more amenities than most small towns around, there were still certain perks that required making the half-hour trip into Geelong. It was the biggest town this side of Melbourne and Riley had a part-time job at the theatre Front-of-House. In the Uni holidays he picked up some extra hours cleaning the theatre during the day. It wasn’t the most glamourous job, but if he wanted to fulfil his dream of becoming a stage actor, it was at least a foot in the door in building up connections.
He hated wasting his lunch breaks queuing for food, but in all the excitement of Karla and bacon that morning, Riley had completely forgotten to make his lunch.
As he waited for the dithering girl in front to decide between tuna salad and a smashed avo wrap, he noticed Connor walk past with a freshly-made baguette in his hand. The small cinema in Barunga released new movies once they’d finished their run in normal cinemas, but Connor was a keen film-watcher and preferred to pay the extra dollars and see them on time in Geelong, just round the corner from the theatre.
‘Hey Connor!’ he greeted, loud enough to be heard two metres away over the babble of customers. Riley could have sworn Connor glanced up and saw him, but he didn’t respond if he did. Riley tried a second time but he definitely didn’t look and left the café. Riley shrugged it off, thinking Connor must not have heard him. It was pretty noisy in there, and Connor did have a tendency of going off into his own world.
Finally, the girl made her decision- from neither of her previous options- and Riley handed his sandwich to the cashier before bolting out of the over-crowded sweat bucket into the searing summer air outside.
Barunga was a largely residential town, with only a couple thousand people in the township. Military personnel and their families stationed at Rosie Lakes comprised about a sixth of that count. Apart from being a beautiful coastal town with long stretches of white sand and views reaching to the very edges of the earth, there wasn’t a lot more to write home about. It wasn’t bustling, it wasn’t particularly exciting, and the locals were by-and-large relatively normal and well-mannered.
For the youngsters who lived in the town, there was no buzzing nightlife or high culture nearer than Geelong, but thanks to a few original Compound veterans who had missed the convenience and military discount of base entertainment, they at least had the small cinema, six-lane bowling alley, and a shooting range (adult-supervision required) where they could while away a couple of otherwise-empty hours.
It was outside the cinema that Karla sat on a bench, shielding her eyes from the blazing afternoon sunlight behind dark aviators, waiting for Ali to finish his shift. After a few minutes, she spotted the blonde-haired, gentle, smiling boy she had known since she was six emerge, chatting with a couple of boys she vaguely recognised. She’d not lived in the area for a long time, but it was a small and tight-knit community and you tended to see the same people around, even if you didn’t know their names.
‘Well howdy there, cowboy,’ Karla greeted in an overdone southern-American accent, complete with arm swing, as Ali approached the bench.
He looked at his oldest friend in bemusement. ‘Uh, ok…’ He nodded to his colleagues in farewell.
Karla jumped up off the bench and hooked her arm through Ali’s. ‘How was woooork?’
‘You’re in a good mood.’ Her uncharacteristic positivity unnerved him.
‘I get to hang out with my best friend in the whole wide world. Why would I not be in a good mood?’ Ali raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, but Karla smiled sweetly. ‘Also, I had coffee.’
‘You hate coffee.’
‘I do hate coffee. I really do. But desperate times my friend, desperate times,’ she replied, wagging her finger in his face.
Ali grabbed her finger playfully and gave it a little shake. ‘Ok, well then we’re going to go somewhere where you can work off all this energy.’
Karla waved him off. ‘I’m fiiiine.’
‘You sound drunk,’ he laughed.
‘Drunk on love,’ she slurred, cracking a smile at her joke.
Ali shook his head. Classic crazy Karla. ‘Yeah alright, save it for your boyfriend.’
‘Soooo, what d’you wanna do? D’you wanna go shoot some things?’ Karla asked with big, shining eyes. She took back possession of her arm and shoved her hand in her shorts pocket. Going to the shooting range had become their thing over the past three years. Ali had suggested she might need a more constructive outlet for her anger after breaking her hand punching a tree. Again. And both growing up in the military meant they could normally find an adult willing to accompany and train them.
As they stood on the paved area surrounding the glass entrance, a car sped past a little too close to the kerbside. ‘Hey watch what you’re doing, jackass!’ Karla shouted after the silver hatchback.
Letting out a deep sigh of frustration, she turned back to Ali. As quickly as the anger flared up, the bounce in her step was back and she was smiling. He stared at her, her mood swings clearly in overdrive under the foreign influence of caffeine. ‘Yeah, I’m not letting you near a gun when you’re this hyped up.’
‘I thought you wanted me to let off some steam.’
‘Not with a live firearm.’
‘You’re no fun,’ Karla complained, sticking out her bottom lip in protest.
‘I’m ok with that.’
Karla’s eyes flicked across the open square of dirt that served as a car park, and occasional soccer pitch. ‘Seeing as we’re here, how about bowling?’
Ali smiled at the suggestion. ‘I am very up for bowling. Particularly as I always beat you.’
Karla gasped and thwacked him on his muscle-hardened arm. ‘You do not always beat me!’
‘I do. Literally every time. You really suck at bowling.’
‘Alright Mr Macho. You’re talking a big game, you wanna put your money where your mouth is?’
‘I’m listening,’ he challenged, crossing his arms and smirking superiorly.
‘Loser buys shakes.’
‘Loser buys shakes and fries,’ Ali upped.
She shook her head, looking at her watch. ‘No fries, I’m having dinner with my family at seven.’
‘They can be redeemed at a later date.’
Karla considered the proposal and nodded, sticking her hand out. ‘You’re on.’ Ali slapped her hand and they did their seven-move handshake they’d made up shortly after they met. They knew it was childish, but no matter how much their friend Gypsy begged, they refused to give up their sacred ritual.
They laughed together and Ali gave his friend a squeeze. Karla looked up at him with a cheeky glint in her eye. ‘Race ya?’ Without waiting for an answer, she broke free from his arm and started sprinting across the open car park.
‘Hey, no fair!’ Ali called as he chased after her.