It was a beautiful sunny day as I sat on a bench in the park and ate my lunch. I was struggling to get excited about the book I was studying though, and every now and then I lifted my head and looked into the distance to try and collect my thoughts.
There were still plenty of people in the park and I found I could distract myself from the book by watching them and making up stories in my head. Like the couple on the picnic blanket. She looked a bit bored and kept looking at her phone, while he was trying to kiss her. But she just wasn’t interested and I think she was sending text messages to another guy and had already decided to break up with the one she was in the park with. It was going to be messy though, because she had been playing both guys for a while.
I yawned and looked down at my watch – nearly two o’clock and almost time to start heading to my next lecture.
I closed my book with a sigh and turned to reach for my bag. It was just another boring lunch break. But when I looked up again my eye was drawn to a girl sitting on a bench across the park. How had I not noticed her before? She was stunning with the most dazzling smile I had ever seen. She was talking on the phone but was too far away for me to be able hear her voice, although every now and then I could hear an “oh my god!” and a musical laugh. I sat and watched her for a while, mesmerised by that smile.
I wondered who she was, because I hadn’t seen her in any of my classes or around the university before. As I watched, she shifted position on the bench, turning a little side on and crossing her legs. I felt like a stalker but I couldn’t help notice a flash of brown thighs, even from where I was sitting. I pulled my book back out of my bag again and pretended to be reading, while I was really watching this beautiful girl. She had long dark brown hair and was wearing an apricot top and a white skirt. After a while she put her phone in her bag and got up to walk away.
I looked at my watch again. Oh my gosh! It was nearly two-thirty. I was going to be late and Mr O’Sullivan was going to be cross again. It was the third time that week that I had turned up to class late. Last time he called me back after the lecture and told me that I had better lift my performance or I would struggle to get a pass mark. All I could think of was that the real reason I was struggling for marks in his class was that I hadn’t been flashing my boobs at him like the other girls. But I’m not like the other girls. It’s something I had been wrestling with for ages and I had finally admitted it to myself. I’m not like the other girls, I keep saying to myself, because I like other girls. The trouble was that I didn’t know any other girls to like because they were all so into boyfriends and sleeping around with random guys at parties. And besides, I am way too shy to do anything about it, so I figured I would just be stuck reading books on my own in the park for the rest of my life.
I packed my bag and hurried across the courtyard. I thought if I opened the door quietly I could sneak into the lecture theatre without being noticed.
“Good of you to join us, Miss Jones,” a voice boomed across the theatre. “Perhaps if you would take a seat I could continue the lecture?” Everybody in the lecture theatre turned and looked at me as my face went bright red. I could hear some of the girls giggling and the guys whispering to each other. I knew just what they are saying too, because I had heard it all before about being frigid and stuck up and, worse, a lezzo. I found a seat and opened my books, as Mr O’Sullivan’s voice droned on about the challenges of interpreting Flaubert.
After the lecture finished, I managed to escape before Mr O’Sullivan could corner me with his leering eyes. I kept my eyes down and hurried out of the room as I noticed him talking to some other girl. She was giggling and flicking her hair back.
It was nearly four o’clock and I had just over an hour to grab something to eat before getting to the poetry open mic at PJ O’Reilly’s pub. I found a seat in the corner of the university refectory and nibbled at my chicken salad. I wasn’t very hungry because of the butterflies in my stomach but I knew I had to eat something. I opened my folder and read over the poems I was going to read out at the open mic. They were new ones I had written a couple of weeks earlier, but I had been over them so many times that I knew each one by heart. Now I only had to deal with my nervousness.
I looked at my watch and it was quarter to five. I had to get going. I tipped the rest of my salad in the bin and wrapped my arms around myself for comfort as I stepped out into the cool afternoon air.
The pub was packed when I pushed open the door and I had to fight back the temptation to turn and run away. I am never at my best in crowds. But no, I was determined. It went with the new me I had been working on, the one that is brave and throws caution to the wind. I pushed my way through the crowd until I reached the black board and wrote my name down in chalk under an empty spot. I was to be the fourth performer and we each had ten minutes to read our poems. I had four poems, but two of them were quite short so I knew I wouldn’t go for the whole ten minutes, but that was okay as long as I just got up there and did it.
I went to the bar and asked for a glass of water and then found an empty stool at a table in the corner. As I climbed onto the stool, the MC introduced the first performer for the night.
“Ladies and gentleman, if I could have some quiet please. Tonight we have a full menu of poetry performers and I am sure you will give them all a big PJ’s welcome. First up tonight we have David. Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for David…”
This guy in a brown shirt slinked up to the microphone. He looked really nervous and that didn’t help me at all. I knew exactly what he was going through as he stumbled over his first poem. Some guys called out from the crowd and poor David began to mumble into the microphone. Oh my god, I thought. That is what was going to happen to me. I felt like throwing up and I think I would have run if the bar hadn’t been so crowded. New brave you, new brave you, I kept saying to myself.
The second act was a guy I knew from my creative writing class. I knew he would be good because I had already heard his stuff. He came across really confidently and the audience was quiet as they listened to his words. His second poem was a humorous one, something about a guy meeting a girl in a pub in Darwin and what they got up to. I could feel myself blushing at some of the things he said, but the crowd loved it and cheered loudly when he got to the punch line.
There was only one more act and then it was my turn. Suddenly I found myself starting to panic. I had a sip of water to try and calm the butterflies and I could feel how sweaty my palms were. I kept shuffling the pages in my hand, glancing at the writing to make sure it was clear in my head.
A girl was reciting some beautifully polished lyric poetry. She had a really seductive sultry voice and, again, the audience were hanging on her every word. But my heart was racing as she climbed down from the podium. Suddenly the MC was announcing my name.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have a special treat. For the first time at PJ’s poetry night I give you MOLLY.” The audience broke out into enthusiastic applause as I stepped up nervously to the microphone. I looked at my notes and cleared my throat, then took a deep breath.
“Ummmmm…. that day….” I began.
“Speak up!” someone yelled from the crowd. I looked up and a sea of faces swam before my eyes. I felt like I was stuck in a rip as the panic started to surge in my stomach.
“Oh, ummm… you put my book…” I was faltering and knew it. Somehow I had to keep going. “… on your shelf, ummm… told me everything, how you felt.” I looked up again and all I could see were people laughing and talking to each other. “Valentine’s Day, soul mates…” I tried to continue, but I could hardly hear myself over the noise of the crowd. “… letters to Juliet, burned intensely, ummmm…. until you answered my heart’s question in the negative….” I looked down at the page and took a moment to find where I was up to because the words were drifting before my eyes. “I could have had your baby, walked the aisle…” I was just reading now. I had given up on trying to recite and win the audience over. Just get through this, I told myself. “Spent my nights lying next to you, just fooling myself that it was true, you loved me too.”
I finally finished and stepped back from the microphone for a moment. There were a few polite claps but most of the crowd weren’t paying any attention. I turned the page to my next poem and stepped forward again. I stumbled through that poem as well, but then as I turned the page and looked up I saw her for the first time. It was her dazzling smile that caught my eye and I stood there mesmerised. It was the girl from the park, and she was looking straight at me. I took a deep breath and continued reading. “… noble lovers captured by sentimental glances…” I looked up and she was still listening intently, lips parted slightly. I could feel my heart racing but my voice grew stronger. Suddenly I felt like I had someone to read to. I put the page down and closed my eyes for a moment, picturing myself in the park reading to my lover.
“Gentle eyes, caressing words, magnetic attraction. Fondling material so soft, traces of feminine care…” I was really on a roll now. I opened my eyes. She was still there and I looked straight at her as I finished the poem. “Silence, listening, space… there are many ways of knowing the world.” And then I saw her clap and amazingly the rest of the room broke into applause as well. Not exactly wild applause, but it was better than nothing. I didn’t even look at the page for the next poem, but I kept my focus on the girl in the apricot top with the beautiful smile.
“Colours float in the summer sky. Dreams fall from clouds. Every breeze whispers her name, my hopes for the future keep me moving forward every single day. Does true love have a use-by-date? Is it getting too late to find my soul mate? Or is she lost to me forever? Would I know it if I saw her eyes? The sound of her voice? The touch of her lips? No more unanswered letters to Juliet. Just moments to accept my destiny.”
I stood back from the microphone as the audience erupted with applause. Right in the centre of it all was the girl with the apricot top and she was smiling at me. “Well done,” I saw her mouth to me over the noise.
I gathered up my pages as the MC came over and shook my hand. “Well done,” he said. “Molly, ladies and gentlemen. Another big hand for Molly.”
I turned around but the girl was gone, so I climbed off the podium and found my way back to the table in the corner. My mind was spinning with so many thoughts. Excitement at having made it through my first public reading of my own poetry, but I was a little disappointed that the girl with the beautiful smile had left before I could say hello.
I ordered myself a glass of wine from the bar, then settled back to listen to the next poet. Suddenly I heard a voice beside me.
“Hi, I’m Katie.” I turned and there was the girl in the apricot top. She was smiling straight into my eyes and I felt my heart racing again.
“Ohhh…, ummmm, hi,” my mouth had gone dry. “I’m Molly.”
“Yes, I know Molly. I heard your reading. Such beautiful words, I just had to come over and say hello.”
“Hi,” I said again. “Oh god, I’ve already said that…”
She laughed musically. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Sure, I would love that. I mean… yeah, have a seat.” Katie laughed again and climbed onto a stool.
“I just loved your poems. You read so beautifully, although I could see you were a bit nervous, but I really have to admire your courage. I don’t think I could ever do that.”
I smiled back at her and felt a flood of warmth rushing through my body. Just being near Katie made me feel good in a way I had never felt before. We kept talking and drinking glasses of wine through the evening and I could feel myself falling for her. She had a lovely English accent that touched something in my brain and sent tingles all the way down to my toes. And she kept smiling straight at me. I had never talked so much to anyone and I could feel myself smiling back at her every time our eyes met.
It didn’t seem possible that only this afternoon I thought I would never ever fall in love, and now I could feel it happening. The only trouble was that I started to worry that maybe she wasn’t into girls in that way. Maybe she was just being friendly. But that’s okay, I told myself. I would be happy just being friends with Katie.
She was telling me how she had been in Australia for the last couple of months, just backpacking around with a friend, but then the friend had to go back home and now Katie was all on her own. She leant forward a little as she spoke, getting closer to me and I could see the lipstick on her soft lips. I found myself wondering what it would be like to kiss those lips.
“So what do you think, Molly?” Oh my god, she had asked me a question.
“Ummm… what, sorry.” Katie laughed again and reached out for my hand. Her fingers were so soft and warm.
“You seem a bit distracted by the crowd Molly. Why don’t we find somewhere… quieter?”
“Hey, that would be great,” I found myself saying. “There is a nice little wine bar just down the block. It should be quiet.”
“Sounds fab,” she said and I giggled as we stood up. She was just so English… and perfect.