I walk to the lockers. Grace is standing by mine.
'Hey,' I say.
'Hey,' she says. She smells like lavender—it's from the moisturiser she gave me for my birthday, then borrowed two months ago and forgot to give back.
I open my locker. I put in my books.
'Hey,' I say again. My hands are actually shaking, which is stupid, because this is Grace, my best friend, who lives down the street and one left and two rights away from me. Grace Yu-Harrison, who knows all the songs from the Beatles' White Album (like me), loves The Great Gatsby (like me), and the art of Alexander Calder, especially his mobiles, which move when you blow on them. (We did this, one Sunday in Sydney, when the guard wasn't looking. The wires trembled at first, then danced.)
Grace lives with her mum and stepdad, who are workaholics. I'm not exaggerating; they literally can't seem to stop sitting in their offices, going to meetings and conferences and dinners with other workaholics, and coming home late. Grace has a lot of time to herself. Her dad lives in Wagga Wagga, which is so far from the sea it may as well be fictional. She has a pool and a hammock that fits two—we often swing in it after a swim.
Grace is also stunning, the kind of gorgeous most people try their whole lives to be. She has kissed five and a half guys. Half because one guy turned and vomited two seconds after their lips touched.
'It was disgusting,' she said. 'He nearly threw up in my mouth!'
I haven't kissed anyone else but her.
In the four-minute walk from the lockers to our bench by the fence, Grace usually talks. She says we should dye our hair, but not blue because everyone's doing that, so maybe silver? And she tells me about the drawing she did of her dream last night, and about Suryan in Year 12 sending her a photo of his penis, which she calls a dick, and which I say is unfair to all the people called Richard, and Grace laughs.
At least, that's what she said on Friday, when I saw her last, before I went over for a swim in her pool and she lay on the grass afterwards—her eyes closed, her hair glassy-smooth—and that's when something lurched inside me and I leaned over and put my mouth on hers.
'Hey,' says Grace again, and I'm back, by the lockers.
We could do this all day, I think, but then she stands squarely in front of me, so I can't move. She pins me with her eyes.
'I'm sorry,' I begin, which is what I said after I kissed her, and again, when she tried to say how she liked me but not that way, but I was so mortified I took off. I'm a thousand feet tall and when I run I look like a giraffe, so imagine me, hoofing it down my street in just my swimmers, school bag in one hand, uniform and shoes in the other, the neighbours gawking at me from their front windows. I must have been quite the sight.
'Biz,' says Grace. She puts her hand on my arm. 'Seriously, it's okay. It was nice, you know? I haven't been kissed in ages and you're not a bad kisser. I'm just not—' She pauses. And takes a long breath in.
I fix my eyes on the lockers, the floor, anywhere but Grace's hand on my arm.
She steps closer, so now we are just two pairs of eyes, floating. 'So. Here's the thing, Biz. What I want—ah—what I'm wondering is'—another big breath in—'Biz, areyoubiorallthewaygay?'
I blink. 'Sorry?'
'Bi? Or gay?' Grace asks the question like she's standing with a clipboard in a shopping mall, asking strangers for orphan money.
I gawp at her.
'Because,' she says, 'I was thinking over the weekend—which sucked, by the way—Dad called and I had to fly to Wagga for some great-aunt's funeral, did you get my text?—and we went to his girlfriend's farm for fuckssake—it's got no wi-fi, no signal, how's that possible?—and we ate lamb, which is seriously disgusting—and he kept saying how I have to get my shit together this year or I won't get into uni—God, that man's a nightmare—But anyway—back to you, Biz—I was thinking about who might be good for you instead of me, and whether guys are a no for you or still a possibility, because Evie said Lucas Werry might be keen—but if it's girls you're into, we can go in a whole other direction. That's cool. Like, unless—as long as you're not hung up on me, in which case'—she pauses—'that could be a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.'
Grace finally stops talking. She smiles, sort of, and waits for me to answer.
I can't speak. I can feel the pistons of my heart moving, feel my lungs filling, emptying, my pores clogging. I feel the movement of the stars and I can hear the echo of all the black holes consuming everything—
and then, just like that, my head clears.
It's Grace. Just Grace. (Look, Biz.)
Here she is, her hand still on my arm. My best friend.
(Come down to earth, Biz. Everything is going to be okay.)
I blink slowly, and feel myself waking.
'No,' I say. 'I don't think I'm hung up on you. As mesmerisingly beautiful as you are, Grace, I actually don't think you're my type.' And as I say it, something untangles in my chest. Oh my God. It's true. I think?
I'm not. She isn't.
Grace looks hugely relieved. Which makes me laugh. And I keep laughing, and suddenly everything is fine.
'I don't actually know what I am,' I say, and I think that's true. Am I bi? Am I gay? Am I something else? It makes my head fog to think about it.
'I mean, I wasn't planning to kiss you,' I say.
She smiles. 'I am pretty irresistible.'
'You're the only person I've ever kissed, Grace. I'm seriously inexperienced. Maybe I should kiss more people to figure it out? Maybe we can line them up. Or lay them out on a tray like a taste test.'
'So we can see if you're into pepperoni or anchovies,' says Grace.
'Both are animal products, so therefore—' I begin, and then see Grace smirk. 'Ah, gross, Grace!'
Grace laughs. She starts walking outside. I walk beside her. We head for the tree, the bench under the tree, The Posse sitting beside the fence. And Grace is already pulling her phone out, already texting Lucas-Werry-who-might-be-keen, and asking him over to her house for a swim.
Which will be good.