Sometimes it’s a blessing that your best friends know you so well. And sometimes it can land you in hot water.
‘And that is how you do it,’ Ali bragged, swaggering back from the lane, the sound of falling pins echoing in the background.
Karla looked at him, dismayed. ‘How do you get three strikes in a row?’
He sat down next to her on the bench to swap his shoes back. ‘Because I’m that good,’ he whispered, smirking at her.
Karla swiped him upside the head. ‘You’re that good at being cocky,’ she retorted, standing up.
Ali sat up and slapped his hands on his black work trousers. ‘It’s not being cocky if it’s true.’ Karla gave him a look and started walking away from the lane and her spectacular defeat. ‘Hey wait up!’ He dumped the bowling shoes on the counter, and jogged to catch up with Karla.
‘I don’t know why you insist on wearing those gross bowling shoes. You know you can wear your own shoes now?’
‘I know, but they’re comfy. And they get me into the zone, focus my mind. Maybe you should try it. You’ve got nothing to lose. And I mean literally nothing, because you barely scored any points,’ he started laughing.
Karla pulled the exit door open but rather than holding it for Ali, she let it slam shut behind her. He stopped in his tracks a centimetre short of the glass, his cocky grin falling with his step. Karla smirked to herself in satisfaction, knowing the exact look of disdain that would be plastered on his face. She turned around and sure enough, there it was. She crossed her arms and smiled sweetly as Ali stepped back, then let himself out of the alley.
‘Ha ha, very funny,’ he said, bobbing his head side-to-side.
‘Oops, sorry. I just didn’t think your big head would fit through the door.’ Ali launched himself on her and began tickling her sides, making her crumple up in his arms and screech. She tried wriggling away but he kept hold of her. ‘Ok, ok, I concede! I concede!’
‘Say you’re sorry,’ he replied, thoroughly enjoying himself.
‘I’m sorry,’ she garbled in the midst of screeches and laughs.
‘What was that?’
‘I’m sorry!’ she shouted, and he finally let go. Karla pushed Ali away. ‘You’re such a dork!’ she complained, but she was smiling.
‘Yes, but I’m a dork who will soon be enjoying free milkshake.’
‘I’m not sure you deserve it after that stunt.’
‘Regardless O’Connell, a bet is a bet. I won the bet, so you buy me fruity milk.’
Karla huffed. ‘Fiiiine. But next time we’re gonna do something I actually have a chance at winning.’
‘You’d better start practicing then.’
Ali looked up at the sky, pondering. ‘Uh, everything.’
‘Ooooh, you are so dead!’ Karla launched herself towards Ali and he raced off in the opposite direction, one hand planted on top of his navy Blues baseball cap. ‘Come back here Mason!’
Riley pulled up outside Old Joe’s and got out, leaning on the roof. Seb emerged from the passenger side. ‘Thanks again for the ride Riley, I really appreciate it. It would have been a pig carrying this box on the bus.’
‘Well it was good timing, and I’m very happy to give you a ride. Especially when there’s free beer in it for me.’
Seb raised an eyebrow as she stood up from grabbing her bag and the heavy box out of out of the footwell. ‘And who said anything about free beer?’
‘You did, when I kindly agreed to drive you all the way from Geelong and deliver you and your supplies safely back home.’
‘Uh, pretty sure I never said that.’
‘Well now’s the perfect time to rectify your oversight,’ Riley winked.
Seb tried to hide a smile as she manoeuvred the bulky box in her arms, shifting to a more manageable position. ‘Fine, one beer,’ she relented, pointing her finger at Riley off the edge of the box. ‘And I mean one.’
‘Pleasure doing business with you,’ Riley smiled, pleased with himself.
‘I’m working til closing. Offer expires with my shift,’ she warned before slamming the passenger door shut.
‘I’ll see you later then.’
As Seb walked to the open entrance, Connor came out with an iced tea in his hand. He nodded to Seb as he walked past. ‘Hey Connor,’ Riley greeted. But Connor ignore him and continued walking. Riley decided to call again in case he was in another daze. ‘Connor!’ Nothing. Ok, he is definitely ignoring me, Riley thought, irritated. He got back into his car and drove off.
Ali and Karla sat opposite each other at a round silver table, cold to the touch in the breeze of the overhead fan. Ali took a big slurp of his rich banana milkshake. ‘Have you spoken to Gypsy or Seth yet?’ he asked.
Karla shook her head and swallowed her mouthful. ‘No, I can’t get hold of them. I’ve tried calling them both but it’s going straight to voicemail, and neither of them have read my messages.’
‘Did you try actually going to their houses?’
‘I went to Seth’s, but his dad said he has gone into lockdown til Monday; whatever that means.’
Ali nodded. ‘Ah, yeah. Seth has suddenly become an extremely conscientious student. And I mean extreme. When he has an assignment due, he holes up in his room for a few days until it’s done. He turns off his phone, his internet, everything. He only emerges for school and even then he’s in the library at breaks.’
‘But school hasn’t even started back yet! How can he be studying already?’
‘He’ll probably be song-writing. He does the same thing for a few days when they need new material for the band. Claims he needs to put everything he has into the music.’
Karla groaned. ‘Great, so I won’t be able to see him for another three days? Typical he does this as soon as I get back. He’s always been properly into his music, but since when has he been that into school anyway?’
‘Since his parents told him he could have the garage as rehearsal space if he got a good score in his VCE.’
‘Wow, sweet deal!’
‘I know right. Lucky dude. Gotta hand it to him, he is doing well. What about Gypsy?’
Karla scoffed. ‘Ha! I’m not going anywhere near her house. Her dad hates me.’
Ali tutted. ‘Don’t be so dramatic.’
‘Dramatic?’ She leaned forward low across the table and prodded her index finger on the metal. ‘Last time I was there, her dad threw me out and then threatened to have me deported to the States if I ever showed my face there again.’
‘He actually said that?’
‘Well he can’t deport you anyway, you have dual citizenship.’
‘That’s what I said. He growled “Try me.” I’m not sure I want to.’
Ali shrugged. ‘What did you do to make him so mad?’
She leaned back in her chair, offended. ‘Why do you assume I did something?’
‘People don’t tend to threaten someone with deportation without provocation.’
‘Look, I promise you I didn’t do anything. The time before that he’d told me he didn’t want me around his daughter, and so he just wasn’t happy when he came home to find me in his house, watching TV, presumably when Gypsy was supposed to be studying.’
‘Seems like a bit of an extreme reaction.’
‘He thinks I’m a corrupting influence on his precious daughter.’
Ali laughed a deep, warm, belly laugh that always made Karla’s heart glow with fondness. ‘You? If anything, she’s the corrupting influence. Gypsy doesn’t need any outside encouragement to misbehave.’
‘I agree. In fact, the waterbomb incident of 2018 was completely her idea. I wasn’t even in the country. But somehow, her dad still finds a way to blame me for it.’
‘Only-child syndrome,’ Ali mused, absent-mindedly swirling his straw around the inside of his empty milkshake glass. ‘At least Gypsy doesn’t act as precious as she’s treated.’
Karla shook her head. ‘Point is, I can’t go to her house and I don’t know why she’s not replying to me.’
‘It’s Gypsy, who knows. She’ll turn up soon.’
‘Yeah, I hope so.’
With the lull in conversation, Ali took the opportunity to ask the question that had been burning in the back of his mind for the past twenty-four hours. ‘So why did you really come home?’
Karla’s head shot up in surprise. Once she found her tongue, she replied, ‘Beat around the bush why don’t you?’
‘Sorry, but you normally respond better to not beating around the bush.’
‘What makes you think I didn’t tell you the truth yesterday?’
Ali raised an eyebrow, as if the answer were obvious. ‘Because we’ve been best friends since we were six. I can read you like a book.’
‘Well then if you can read me so well, you shouldn’t need to ask,’ she replied, glancing at her watch nonchalantly. She went into fast-forward as she read the time. ‘Ah banana nuts, I’m gonna be late meeting dad.’ She swatted Ali’s arm. ‘Why didn’t you tell me how late it was?’
Ali chose to let the conversation drop for now in light of her apparently-genuine panic. ‘I’m not your PA, and you have a watch.’
Karla hurriedly grabbed her bag from under the table and came round to Ali’s side. ‘Thanks for today.’
‘Let me know how dinner goes.’
‘I will.’ She gave Ali a big kiss on the cheek. ‘Mwah. I love you.’
‘I love you too,’ he called after her as she disappeared through the door.
Seb was busy putting washed glasses back on the shelf under the bar when Riley walked in with Rocco. She smiled at the boys as she stood up. ‘Come to cash in?’ she smiled.
‘You betcha,’ replied Riley. ‘The usual please.’
‘Coming up. Rocco?’
Rocco plastered on his most charming smile. ‘I’ll have what he’s having, and you might as well charge us both the same.’
‘Nice try Rocco, but you’re not getting a freebie.’
His twinkle morphed immediately into a truly disappointed pout. ‘Ah come on Seb, help a brother out.’
‘If you ever decide to help a sister out, I might think about it,’ she replied, not to be fooled by her friend’s charms. She bent down to retrieve two glasses, the end of her long, almost-white, French plait flopping over her shoulder. Loose strands poked out of the woven locks, while short ones frizzed in a halo around her face from the heat and exertion of rushing around the joint serving customers and clearing tables.
‘I helped you out the other week with your surfing.’
The glasses banged down on the hard wood surface as she gave him a pointed look. ‘Criticising my technique is not what I call “helping”.’
‘Fine,’ he conceded, slapping a $10 note down onto the bar. He pointed his finger at her. ‘And I want change. No tip for you.’
‘I’m devastated,’ she mocked as she poured the beers, making Riley laugh. She slid the cool glasses across the bar and went to the till to get Rocco’s precious two dollars.
‘Thank you very much Sebastiana,’ Riley said, raising his glass a little.
‘You’re welcome. Enjoy.’ And she turned her attention to the next customer as Rocco and Riley left to find a booth.
‘So, Jojo told me Karla’s moved in. How’d that go down with her old man?’ Rocco asked as they sat opposite each other on the cushioned benches.
‘Firstly, Jordan ever hears you call her that, she will pummel you. But yeah, he’s alright I think. She said they cleared the air when she went over yesterday. But to be honest, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Has Connor said anything to you?’
‘I don’t know, but the couple times I’ve seen Connor today, he’s totally blanked me.’
‘Really? That doesn’t sound like Connor.’
‘You sure he didn’t just not see you?’
‘Maybe but I couldn’t help feeling he avoided me on purpose.’
‘I don’t know, maybe it’s his time of the month.’
‘Seriously Rocco?’ Riley berated.
‘Fine, fine. He hasn’t mentioned anything though. Not that I’ve seen him past couple days. I was surprised he didn’t message me about Karla, but maybe he assumed Boyd would tell me at surf school today. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure he’ll get over it, or come talk to you about it.’
Riley wasn’t convinced. He felt like there was something going on and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.