Always mackenzie, p.1
Always MacKenzie, p.1Kate Constable
She’s with the Band Georgia Clark
Cassie Barry Jonsberg
The (not quite) Perfect Boyfriend Lili Wilkinson
Always Mackenzie Kate Constable
This edition published in 2011
First published in 2008
Copyright © Text, Kate Constable 2008
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About the Author
‘We’re doomed.’ Bec dumped her bags beneath the grimy window of the converted shearers shed. ‘We’re all going to die.’
‘Doomed to death?’ said Iris. ‘That’s got to be a tautology.’
‘We won’t die,’ said Georgia. ‘You never know, it might even be fun.’
I said, ‘Can I have the top bunk?’
So what did that say about me?
On the flimsy evidence available, it might seem that I was a practical, confident, brisk kind of person who’d rather get on with things than stand around arguing.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again, which shows how inaccurate first impressions can be. Because standing around arguing was almost my favourite activity; I wasn’t practical (I couldn’t do anything with my hands), or confident (I tended to be anxious and self-deprecating), or brisk (I was more of a cautious perfectionist).
Bec’s comment was true to form, though. She was a pessimist: a tiny, sharp-tongued, pointy-nosed, deeply cynical person, like an impatient little bandicoot. Iris was pedantic about language, and a thousand other things. She was an absolute nerd, and since we shared some of the same obsessions, that made me a nerd, too. And Georgia was a simple, happy soul who liked peace and harmony and tended to look on the bright side. Bec Patel, Iris Kwong and Georgia Harris – a pessimist, a pedant and a peacemaker: my three closest friends. And me – Jem. Actually I was a Jessica, but there were so many other Jessicas and Jesses around, I became Jess M at creche, and that was shortened to Jem, so I was Jem, even at home. The M was for Martinic.
I always liked being Jem. It was a tough kind of name. A girl called Jem could become a knight and ride off on crusades, or a guitarist in a punk band, or an adventurer, trekking across Outer Mongolia on a motorbike, or sailing solo round the world. Not that I’d ever had any desire to do those things, but it was good to know that if I did decide to, my name wouldn’t hold me back.
It was ironic that I had ended up with a tough name though, because I wasn’t tough at all. I was one of those people who never got noticed: the Invisible Girl. Which suited me fine, most of the time. I didn’t play an instrument (so much for the punk band), I wasn’t into drama (I’d rather watch than perform), and I was definitely not sporty (no trekking and sailing for me). And at my school, unless you were a star at one of those activities, you were invisible.
Luckily for me there were a few of us who fell into that category. Back in Year 7, in the first few weeks of school, there was a tremendous jostling as all the girls who were going to be popular, the golden girls, arranged themselves together like those magnet stick-and-ball sets: snap! snap! snap! the musos, the drama queens, the sporting heroes. The rest of us were shunted to the edges – the rejects, the geeks, the nerds, the ugly ones, the brains. Then it was our turn to mill about until we established our own groups, huddling invisibly together in the shadow of the glowing golden ones as they sashayed about, totally oblivious to us.
That was the way it had been ever since. And that was the way it was always going to be – until Year 10 camp. For the first term of Year 10, the whole year level got bussed to the school’s property on the Heathersett River. It was a tradition. And it was real back-to-nature stuff: no mobile phone signal, no internet, not even TV. We slept in old shearers sheds, and there was a roster for cooking, and we did ‘challenging’ activities: rafting and abseiling and camping out overnight.
I said ‘challenging’ like that, not because I didn’t find it challenging (I certainly felt challenged; challenged out of my skin), but because that was the kind of language everyone used at Heathersett River. It was all ‘getting out of your comfort zone’ and ‘accessing your inner resources’ and ‘enhancing your leadership qualities.’ We were supposed to be the leaders of the future, you see; that was the motto on our school’s publicity material. The first female Head of Treasury was one of our Old Girls; so was that doctor who was on the news all the time, fighting AIDS in Africa and arguing with the UN.
Everyone there was more or less smart; if you weren’t, they’d weed you out before you made it as far as Heather-sett River. So when I was talking about the brains before, I meant the ones who were nothing but brainy. No dazzling extras. Not brainy and musical; not brainy and sporty; not brainy and talented performers. Just brainy and boring. We were a bit of a disappointment; we didn’t ‘add value’. We just kept our heads down, held the academic success rate steady, and stayed invisible.
Actually it was slightly weird, because Georgia was a good swimmer, and Iris played a mean violin, and Bec performed in her House play last year, and she was hilarious. I was the only one who was a complete dead loss. I was the original Plain Jane, nose-in-a-book. The others glittered slightly, in the right light, but they were not quite golden. And I dragged the whole gang down. No glitter here, not even a pinch of gold dust. Which, in a perverse way, I was proud of. It was a distinction to be undistinguished in such distinguished company.
Did I mention – did I need to mention? – how much we’d been dreading Heathersett River? Cut off from civilisation for nine whole weeks? Marooned with the shining ones, with only the staff to break the monotony? And we each had our individual reasons for dreading it, as well.
Georgia was going to miss her mum. They’re a single-parent family and they’d never been apart even for one night. Iris was addicted to Starfield 5, and the new series was due to start right in the middle of the Heathersett term. (Now that was nerdy; I quite liked Starfield 5, but I wasn’t that bad.) Bec’s brother was returning from a year in India. After a huge amount of begging and pleading and letter-writing and special meetings, she’d been given leave for one weekend to see him. They were pretty strict about the Heathersett River experience.
The idea was to be totally immersed, and to come out the other side a different person. I didn’t like the sound of that. A proud glitter-free nerd, I was pretty comfortable with myself the way I was, thanks.
Anyway, the whole point of the camp was that we spent nine weeks communing with nature and doing extreme sports before we had to think about Year 11 and 12 and uni entrance scores and all the stuff that would loom up at us like a tidal wave as soon as we returned to the real world.
So – no books. They figured we were going to spend the next two and a half years up to our eyeballs in books and study, so we should take a break while we could. But I was the kind of person who had a panic attack at the prospect of going nine minutes without something to read, let alone nine weeks.
Generally speaking, I was a very law-abiding person. But I seriously could not face the thought of enduring all that time without books. So I smuggled some in. Only two. Two! As if two books would be enough to last me nine weeks. But it was better than nothing. Actually one of them was four novels in one volume, in really tiny print: The Once and Future King by T.H. White – a great tragic romance about King Arthur, and worth reading several times, as well as being good value in words per kilo. And the other book was Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers, because Iris and I had a crush on Lord Peter Wimsey, who was wealthy and witty and swanned around solving crimes in the 1930s. I knew Iris would read it, too. She had her heart set on going to Oxford University in England – I suspected because she thought she’d meet her own Peter Wimsey there. I said I’d go, too. Nothing to do with Wimsey, of course.
It was Busman’s Honeymoon that got me into trouble. It was a hardback, and difficult to hide. On the second day at Heathersett River, Mrs Peterson – I mean ‘Fiona’, we had to call staff by their first names while we were away – saw it sticking out from under my pillow, and promptly confiscated it.
‘Any more?’ she said. A maths teacher, she might have let me keep The Joy of Fractals, but she wasn’t sympathetic to novel-addiction. Mrs Renton (aka Danielle) might have turned a blind eye.
As I said, I was a law-abiding person, so I gave up the T.H. White as well. Can you imagine my pain at losing those books? I actually cried.
I guess it wasn’t just the books. I was missing Mum and Dad, and I was struggling with being so far out of my comfort zone. Lukewarm two-minute showers; the flies; bunk beds; food that was either burnt or undercooked, because we weren’t the most experienced chefs and none of us had figured out how to cook for eighty people. Even the toilet facilities were only just adequate.
And I was an only child. I used to wish I had brothers and sisters to share things with, to play with. But as Mum pointed out, if I actually had siblings they’d probably drive me crazy. I liked things to stay where I’d put them; I liked it that I could open the door of my room and find everything exactly where I’d left it. Poor Iris had a younger brother and he spent his life finding ways to wreck hers.
As much as I loved Bec and Iris and Georgia, I wasn’t used to sharing a room with anyone, let alone with one person who always left her towel on the floor (Georgia), one person who picked her nose (sorry, Iris) and one who borrowed other people’s clothes without asking – even underwear – when she’d forgotten to wash her own (that really irked me, Bec).
Not that I was perfect. Obsessive neatness might be annoying if you’re not naturally neat yourself. It took me a while to realise that the others were getting irritated when I tidied up – I mean, who wouldn’t rather live in a neat, organised room (or shearers shed), than a squalid one? Well, the answer to that was, apparently, my three friends.
So what with one thing and another, none of us were feeling very happy. It was weird. Heathersett River was life-changing, and I didn’t even see it coming.
Oddly enough, it was Bec who started it. For some reason, Bec got it into her head that she wanted to go horse riding.
It was clear from the first day that certain activities were reserved for certain (golden) people. Not officially, of course. Officially, we all had to try everything at least once, and then we were encouraged to concentrate on only a couple of activities to ‘develop our skills and competencies’ and ‘enhance our confidence and leadership potential’. Which meant that non-shiny people ended up with the lame, low-glamour activities, such as fishing, art (i.e. gluing rocks together to express our emotions about the land) and bushwalking, while the golden types – Mackenzie Woodrow and Jessica Samuels and their gangs – spent their days horse riding and rock climbing and whitewater rafting.
As I said, this was very clear. Clear to everyone except Bec Patel. Bec could be funny like that; sometimes she just didn’t get it. She came across as this jaded, knowing person, but she could be quite naive about the way the world worked: our world, anyway. Iris and I actually had to sit her down in Year 8 and explain about the golden girls, and she genuinely didn’t believe us. She still asked us, sometimes, who was who. She didn’t see the trip-wires everyone else carefully stepped over. Of course, sometimes she stumbled over them herself, like with the horse riding, but she didn’t understand why she suddenly landed face-first in the dirt. That was why she tried out for the House play; she honestly didn’t realise that only golden girls got parts. But she was so amazingly funny that they had to give it to her, and then she thought she’d proved that Iris and I were just paranoid, because we’d said it was impossible.
By the third week, we’d all tried every activity at least once, and we were settling into our special areas. Then at dinner Bec announced she wanted to go horse riding again. Georgia and Iris and I stared at her as if she were crazy. We wondered if her weekend in the outside world, seeing her brother, had temporarily blinded her to the Heathersett River rules. But then we realised she was just being Bec.
‘But Mackenzie and Philippa and Rosie Lee are horse riding tomorrow,’ said Georgia. ‘I heard them talking about it in the shower block.’
‘There might be a space for me,’ said Bec. ‘I’ll check.’
She scribbled her name on the horse-riding list and came back to our table looking very pleased with herself.
‘I told you there’d be room.’
‘You don’t understand,’ said Iris. ‘You’re upsetting the delicate balance of nature. Was Frances on the list?’
‘Late as usual. So she’ll have to join the rafting group instead. Which will push Jasmin into abseiling. Which will push Sam into hiking. It’s called the domino effect.’
‘And Jess Casinader will end up fishing with us,’ I said.
‘I like Jess Casinader,’ said Georgia.
‘That’s not the point,’ said Iris. ‘The point is, it’s a chain reaction. There could be a complete meltdown.’
Iris was planning a career in nuclear physics.
‘I don’t care,’ said Bec. ‘I want to go horse riding. It’s not fair.’
We were sure Bec would end up as some kind of activist. I could just imagine her being dragged away by the cops, sticking out her sharp little chin and squeaking, ‘Why are you arresting me? It’s just not fair.’
Really, Georgia should have been the one demanding more contact with animals. She wanted to be a vet. But she never made a fuss about anything.
Next day, sure enough, all hell broke loose.
There was a domino effect, though the dominoes didn’t fall exactly as Iris and I predicted. We ended up with Sara-Grace Fratelli in our fishing group, not Jess Casinader, but the effect of the effect was the same – the camp was full of grumbling and aggrieved looks and girls muttering, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ It was so bad, even the staff noticed, and though the normal policy was to let us sort out our own problems, the counsellor – ‘Trish’ – decided that we needed a sharing session.
And then we had a session of trust exercises and mediation, and boy, how we wished we’d backed up Iris.
Before the trust sharing session we pushed aside the tables in the dining shed and arranged the chairs in a circle. The staff leaned against the walls and looked grumpy. I guess it wasn’t much fun for them, either, being stuck in the bush for nine weeks with us while we ‘learned to live in our bodies’.
Trish made us all number off, one to ten, then all the Ones had to join up together and all the Twos and so on. So there were ten groups of five or six girls and all the normal friendship gangs were broken up. I was with Mackenzie Woodrow and Jessica Harper and Sara-Grace Fratelli and a funny little girl called Sonia Darcy who was about two years younger than the rest of us and some kind of IT child prodigy.
I’d never spoken to Mackenzie Woodrow in my life. Sara-Grace Fratelli and Jessica Harper used to be best friends, but they’d had a huge falling out last year and since then they’d hated each other. They glared at each other across our little ring of chairs. Sonia gazed into space, lips moving, probably dreaming up some new hacker code.
Mackenzie muttered, ‘This is going to be fun.’ I nearly laughed, but I didn’t dare. She wasn’t talking to me; Mackenzie Woodrow glittered so brightly beyond my orbit, like a comet blazing overhead, that I could only glance at her briefly in case my eyes were blinded by her radiance. She looked golden. She had blonde hair, beautifully cut, that swung around her face like a bell, and big blue eyes, and killer cheekbones. She was no dumb blonde, though; she was sporty and into drama and brainy, the triple whammy. Everyone knew she was going to be an actress – a brilliant one. She even looked like Cate Blanchett.
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