This story is by Michelle Lihou and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
On the beach, a bonfire raged. The stiff sea breeze fed the fire. It was early Fall and the dropping temperature was a relief after the summer holidays. A group of teens swayed to the music in the half light. For many of them school days were now over, they had taken up their offers for college, and knew they might never see this crowd together again.
Luis and Amber danced together. Amber stood out from the crowd not only for her bright red hair, but because she was by far the tallest girl there, taller than most of the boys. Luis because of the crazy weird way he danced, a shake your tail feather sort of duck walk; and the crazy weird look in his eyes, wide open and darting all over the place. He kept Amber amused for hours.
“I’m Luis.” he said.
“Did you come here with someone? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Yep. With my sister Lauren. She’s over there talking to Billie Hutchens.”
“Cool. I didn’t know Lauren had on older sister.”
“She doesn’t. I’m two years younger, but I’ve already finished school. She hates me for it.”
“Don’t fret sweet pea. All my family hate me. But how come you’ve finished school?”
“Accelerated learning. I was streamed with the gifted kids, but now my Mum won’t let me go on to Uni. She says I’m not mature enough.”
The conversation that followed rambled from school results to family, music & religion. Luis’s Dad was a founding partner at one of the city’s biggest law firms, but Luis didn’t fit the mould. He was too “philosophical”. Amber, to her friends and family, was “unique”. They agreed they were too high brow for their own good.
Four years later they were sharing a student house with a several others. Amber was a physics and maths major with a stellar future ahead of her. Luis was dreading joining the family firm. Luis knew he had loved Amber from the day they met, but he also knew that in her eyes, they were de facto brother and sister.
The pair arrived at the little house on the river around 10pm one Saturday night. It was a cute, timber cottage with tiny rooms, in what was once an inner city, working class suburb. Garden lanterns hung from ancient trees casting a golden glow over the hundred or so students celebrating the first week of the Fall term.
With utter disregard for the crisp, autumn air Amber wore tight sequinned shorts: a long feathery scarf her only concession to the change of season. It was a coup for Luis to arrive with this flame haired Venus. It bolstered his non-conformist image, but more importantly, he had been working to change her dubious socialising habits. Most Saturday nights of late, she’d been trolling downtown bars with her girlfriends, teasing drunken jocks, then disappearing home with the girls to laugh and get stoned together.
So here they were at the outcasts’ party with the super bright kids who’d had to fight their way in to Law School, or the rich kids like Luis who had been disowned by their conservative parents. Luis was so incredibly proud of his prodigy. He wanted her to shine.
Amber strode through the party with her usual self-confidence, dropping in on conversations with quick one liners, moving from group to group. It was clear she was looking to meet her match. There were intimate discussion groups punctuating the back garden; political party members from both Left and Right, anarchists, Wagner and Pink Floyd devotees. Craft beers were being compared.
Even though she wouldn’t admit it, the vibe here was a breath of fresh air. The sweaty, muscular tone of her preferred crowd had been replaced by something a little more challenging.
“It’s a bit like an after-church soiree at the Rector’s house” she thought, “but with booze and ganja thrown in to lighten the mix.”
They went inside the house to escape the encroaching cold, westerly wind. More and more people had piled into the house. They had to squeeze sideways to make their way from the back door to the kitchen, to get some ice. The mood indoors made the party in the garden seem positively droll. There were young hipsters with huge beards, some in Buddy Holly glasses, checked shirts and message Tees. The women mainly wore retro 50s outfits with loads of winged eyeliner. The music was hard to classify: Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend, Gram Parsons, Metallica, Miles Davis and God knows what else. Certainly not much to dance to.
Eventually they were separated. Luis went off with a lovely, soft, round, hippy girl named Shell, who offered him a toke of some home grown weed. They sat on a blue velvet draped, old leather couch in the lounge cum study and were in heaven. Three walls were floor to ceiling shelves full of books and LPs with a turntable and speakers as the focal point. They talked. Mostly, Luis talked about Amber.
As she entered the room, Luis and Shell watched from their vantage point tucked up in the corner. Amber gazed at a couple holding court in a lively discussion. Something about the underbelly of the Sydney nightclub district. For once she paused, taken aback, and took a deep breath. There were probably 20 people in the room. In the centre, sitting close to the floor on bean bags were a beautiful older woman around 30, who was leaning intently towards to a younger man. Their noses were virtually touching.
Luis explained to Shell that the centre of Amber’s and everyone else’s attention was Guy, undoubtedly the most charismatic student in the entire law school. A Mensa style genius with Da Caprio good looks, who was well aware of all the attention he drew. The woman was Carmel, the host’s older sister, an urbane Melbournite with a wont for serious types on their way up in the world.
“Carmel knows if there’s one thing these talented youngsters lack, it’s sexual experience. For them there’s romance a plenty, but they find it hard to get down and dirty whilst maintaining their intellectual distance” Dave explained to Shell. “That is the rule for most. But it certainly doesn’t define Amber. She has one foot firmly planted in each world.”
Amber caught herself thinking “He’s way too young for her, this is a very unhealthy vibe. I can see where this is headed, clumsy sex. There is no grace between this pair, they’re both gorgeous but….”
She realised she was already jealous. Amber turned for a split second, to check who had seen what she had seen. “Was anyone else taking note of this encounter?” “Of course.”
She caught Luis’ eye and he grinned from ear to ear. The brother sister connection was buzzing. “I think he knows me better than I do, sometimes.”
Amber headed towards the glamour couple. She pulled up a cushion, sat on the floor and lit up the room.
Luis realised all too late that it was a mistake to have brought her here.