Second Impressions

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The Sunday after my embarrassing encounter, I’m sitting in church and trying desperately not to yawn through the sermon. Then I catch sight of something that fixes the yawns right up. Over the other side of the church, in the very front pew, is Mark. Mr Let-Me-Pretend-I’m-Manly. Paying attention, and NOT yawning. My stranger with a sense of humour is stalking me?

After church, Mrs Catrick pulls him straight over to me and starts to introduce us.

“Don’t worry, Auntie, we’ve already met.” he says, and holds out a hand. I take it uncertainly and shake.

“Oh, lovely!” she says, smiling – not picking up a hint of awkwardness, “at school, dears?”

“No, on the street!” Mark says, grinning at me, “a man tried to steal her bag and she -”

I cough and raise my eyebrows, hoping to God he’ll take a hint.

“ – asked him so nicely to leave her alone that he ran away!” he finishes, smirking at me.

I can’t help it. I laugh, and Mrs Catrick looks bemused but happy to see us getting along.

I grab us a few bikkies and slices from the morning tea spread, and we sit down on the steps of the church, a bit away from the adults.

“So…” I ask, trying to make sense of him turning up here and now, “Mrs Catrick’s your aunt?”

He nods.

“And you’re living with her because…?”

“My mum and dad are divorcing, and ducking flying crockery made studying hard.”

I sober. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be – they’re both arseholes. I’m happy to get out of there.”

I put a hand on his arm.

“So – Mrs Catrick thrown anything yet?”

He snorts.

“Give her time – I’m still on good behaviour, remember?”

“Wow – when do we see the real Mark?”

He shrugs.

“So,” I ask, “why didn’t you out me to Mrs Catrick? Burst of altruism?”

“Pure self-interest,” he says, “Aunt Rosie would never let me associate with such an unfeminine girlie if she knew!”

I sigh.

“I am a bad influence,” I say seriously, “I’m not sure I’m such a good person for you to be hanging with, you know.”

He laughs.

“Girl,” he says, “at my last church, I found out that half of my goody-goody mates were really on speed and pot and other stuff… all behind their parents’ backs. And most of them were having sex with boyfriends and girlfriends their parents didn’t even know about. So come on, tell me all the horrible things you’re into!”

I goggle at him.

“Drugs? Fuck! I mean – oh crap, see what I mean?”

We look at each other and laugh wryly.

“So,” he asks, raising an eyebrow, “where’s the happening joint?”

“What, for drugs and sex, or just hanging out?”

“Wow, you are a forward young lady! Aunt Rose’d have a coronary!”

I smirk.

“Well, there’s the beach…” I say, grinning slyly at him.

He frowns.

“I’m 400 k inland, and there’s a beach? Geez, and I thought the drug scene was intense in Sydney!”

“Come on, city boy.”

I take him down to the river beach. It’s autumn now, so the only people there have fishing rods and focus.

“I know it’s lame,” I say, “But… it’s my favourite spot. I come down here and watch the birds, and… chill, you know?”

“I like it!” he says, and lies down on the grass. “I need a straw hat, and I’ll feel just like Huckleberry Finn!”

God help us. Huck Finn?

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