Thursday fragments 2

It was my sixteenth birthday and officially I wasn’t a little girl anymore, as if anybody noticed or cared. I hadn’t slept very much through the night, as usual. My eyes were sore from crying and I didn’t want to lift my head off the pillow. The nightmares still bothered me when I did fall asleep so I usually just let myself lay there for hours staring into the darkness. Sometimes I could see stars shining through my bedroom window and I watched them move slowly across the night sky. I could feel time standing still around me while the rest of the world kept spinning in ever increasing circles.

I rolled out of bed and my feet hit the cold floor. The clouds outside were grey and the wind had blown all the autumn leaves away. The bare branches against the window were pointing at me. ‘Look at the freaky teenager,’ they said.

I couldn’t bear to look at my face in the mirror, so I got dressed with my back turned. My school uniform was so drab; black shoes, grey stockings, black skirt, a white blouse and an ugly grey school jumper. I usually wore my hair tied up so that I didn’t have to be bothered with brushing it. Nobody likes red hair anyway.

I skipped breakfast as usual and gave Mum a quick kiss goodbye. ‘You should eat something, darling,’ she said as I ran out the back door. I just waved my hand and headed for my bike. ‘Don’t forget to come straight home this afternoon.’ No mention of my birthday or anything. She had probably forgotten all about it.

I climbed on my bike and rode down the laneway. This was the best bit, feeling the cold wind biting against my cheeks. It was almost like punishment, except it made me feel free. I usually liked to take my time on the way to school but I rode fast because there was something I needed to do on the other side of town first.

My breath was rasping in my throat as I pushed my way up the hill and coasted to a stop. I walked my bike through the gates of the crematorium and leant it against a tree. ‘Well, here I am again,’ I whispered. ‘It’s my birthday today, but I guess you already know that.’ The branches above swayed as I stood there in silence, tears running down my cheeks. It had been five years but it still hurt and I missed him every day. The minutes ticked away and I took a deep breath. ‘I’d better go, I’m already late.’ I walked back to my bike and rode off to school.

I was late again, of course, and got put on lunchtime detention. It was the third time that week. I didn’t mind though because it meant I didn’t have to talk to anyone or be out in the playground with all the other kids. I could just sit in the classroom and read. I hated school anyway; I was terrible at all my subjects except English. Actually, I was bad at English too because I just got zero on my last assignment. I was meant to keep a journal of all the books I had read during the year and write about them. I had read more than a dozen books and had filled up my journal; but I forgot to hand it in on time so I got a big fat zero.

Mum had tried really hard to get me interested in an activity of some sort. She said I spent far too much time sitting in my bedroom with my nose in a book. It was time I did something like making friends and playing outside. I had never told her about school and how all the kids thought I was weird.

Last year Mum bought me a guitar. I lasted one lesson because it hurt my fingers so much that I never touched it again. She then made me sign up for the school choir. She said it was because I used to love singing when I was younger and I needed to discover that again. I went to choir practice once and heard some boys laughing at me. One of them even came over afterwards and told me I was singing flat. So I never went back again. Then Mum tried netball, soccer, athletics, and a heap of other things. I proved I was completely uncoordinated and hopeless at all of them and just wished that she would give up. In the end she bought me a blank notebook in frustration. She handed it to me and said, ‘Why don’t you just write down the things you want to do?’

The notebook sat on the desk in my bedroom for months before I touched it. It was that English assignment that got me started. One afternoon, I thought I would see if I could write about how I felt about things. I sat there staring at the blank first page for ages, not sure how to start, but then the words just started flowing.

Find out what happens next by ordering Molly’s Dreams online from Amazon

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Pink lines

Waiting on my bed,
anxiously looking
for those little pink lines

holding my breath
mind spinning
with a thousand
confused thoughts
oscilating hopes and fears
anticipation and trepidation
as seconds tick by

am I ready for this?
positive or negative,
which do I want?
is there already new life
growing inside my body?
cells dividing every second
that I wait anxiously

how will I look
with a swollen belly?
stroking my tummy
will I put on lots of weight?
will my baby be healthy?
will I be sick all the time
like my sister was?
I’m not even sure I want to breastfeed
feeling panic rising
in my throat

Waiting on my bed
Anxiously looking
For those little pink lines

Elizabeth and Darcy

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At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.

It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.

He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.

‘It’s your turn,’ he said.

I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.

‘It’s okay, Molly,’ said Mr Norris, ‘Just take your time.’

I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.

Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.

Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. ‘Yes, David?’ said Mr Norris.

‘I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.’ He didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time he spoke.

‘Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?’ He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. ‘Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?’

I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? ‘Ummm…,’ I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. ‘Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.’ I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. ‘I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.’ I looked up at David.

‘That is an excellent analysis, Molly,’ said Mr Norris. ‘You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?’

Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. ‘Molly, you were wonderful!’ she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.

‘Thanks, Rose,’ I whispered back.

‘Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.’

I stood and started to pick up some chairs. ‘Here, let me carry that for you,’ said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.

‘Thanks, but I can carry them.’

‘I know you can, but I just wanted to help.’ I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.

So many boys

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When Friday night came, I put on my best skirt and brushed and curled my hair. Mum then dropped me off at the hall where the youth group was held and kissed me goodbye as I hopped out of the car.

‘Have fun, Molly. I will pick you up at eight,’ she called behind me. I waved my hand without turning around as I walked toward the old brick building that stood next to the chapel of the church. When I saw a group of kids sitting around the front steps of the hall I suddenly felt really nervous and started to wish I hadn’t dressed so differently from everyone else. I didn’t know any of them and they just stared at me as I walked toward the group.

‘Hi, I was looking for Debbie Long,’ I said, trying to sound brave and confident but hearing the shaky softness of my own voice and wishing I was stronger.

‘She’s inside.’ One of the kids pointed inside the doorway, so I said ‘thanks’ and walked between them to go inside.

The hall was a rectangle with wooden floorboards and a stage at one end. There was a picture of the queen on one wall and the other wall was covered in posters that some of the kids must have made. There was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting around in a circle and holding hands. Their heads were bowed and one of them was saying a prayer. I stood there awkwardly and waited for them to finish.

Debbie noticed me when she lifted her head and came bounding over to take my hand.

‘Come and meet the gang,’ she said brightly. I followed her nervously, feeling out of place and wishing I had never come. ‘This is Molly everyone, she’s coming to join us. She sings and writes poetry.’ I felt myself blushing from embarrassment. I should have expected something like that from Debbie but I thought she might be gentler for my first time.

‘Molly, I want you to meet everyone. You know Rose, of course, and this is Bruce, and Anne…’

Debbie went around the group and introduced me to everyone. Each one of them stood up and said ‘hello’ until there was only one guy left sitting on the ground. I hadn’t noticed him at first because I was so nervous, but now I saw that he had short sandy hair and looked a little shy. ‘… and this is Andrew. Andrew, this is the Molly I have been telling you about.’

Andrew stood up and I realised he was much taller than I had thought. He made me feel even shorter than usual as he reached out his hand. As our fingers met, I half expected him to kiss my hand like David had done, but instead he shook it gently but firmly. His skin was cool against my hot fingers, and I looked up into the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They were so hypnotic that I found myself staring into them for longer than I should have. Suddenly Andrew smiled and my heart started racing. ‘I’m really pleased to meet you, Molly. Debbie has told me so much about you, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy being part of our group.’ I gave a little smile back, but I was too flustered to say anything. His voice was as gentle and smooth as his hand, and I realised that he wasn’t shy at all, just… I searched for the right word, confident? Controlled? Or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He let go of my hand and I stood there awkwardly, realising everyone had been watching us.

Debbie suddenly put her arm around me. ‘Come and sit, we were just about to do some singing.’

I sat on the floor between Debbie and Rose. The rest of the group spread around us in a circle. Andrew was sitting directly opposite me and he picked up a guitar and started strumming for a few moments. Then he lifted his head and looked straight at me as he sang. All the others joined in after the first verse, but I didn’t know the song so I just sat there with my eyes hypnotised by Andrew’s gaze.

When the song finished, Andrew held the guitar up. ‘Who else knows how to play the guitar?’

‘Molly can,’ Debbie leapt in straight away.

I felt so embarrassed that my face was burning as I tried to explain how I didn’t really know how to play properly, but Andrew stood up and brought the guitar over to me.

‘Whatever you do, it will be beautiful,’ he said.

I sat with my legs crossed and placed the guitar on my lap. I tried to remember how Shawn’s song went and I tentatively strummed a chord. It sounded okay, so I strummed a few more times and tried to find the rhythm. I was too embarrassed to look up, so I kept my head down and looked at the guitar and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Then the words came to me and I opened my mouth to sing, ‘Can you imagine anything…’

My voice sounded hollow and thin in my ears and my fingers stumbled a few times, but I managed to get through the song and then looked up. Everyone in the group was staring at me. Some had their mouths open and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I could feel the tears coming and I was suddenly upset because I hadn’t been sad in ages and now Debbie had embarrassed me in front of all her friends. I was about to put the guitar down and run out of the hall, when Andrew leant over to take it from my hands.

‘That was so beautiful,’ he said kindly. Suddenly everyone started clapping and talking all at once and I couldn’t believe that they had actually enjoyed what they’d heard. I thought they were just being nice, but they made it believable and I started to smile as the tears went away.

Just another day at school

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When I got to my locker I found David was standing in front of it again with his own locker door open. He had the locker next to mine, but he was talking to a friend instead of getting his books out.

‘Hi David, can I please get to my locker,’ I said quietly.

David turned around and grinned at me, then stepped aside.

‘Why if it isn’t mademoiselle,’ he said, ‘What’s the rush, belle petite rousse?’

‘I have to get to class,’ I blushed.

‘So do I. Why don’t you let me walk with you? I can show you the way.’

‘It’s okay, I know where to go.’ I closed my locker door and started walking away down the corridor, but then David appeared right beside me.

‘So what brings you to our fair school?’

‘Oh, ummm… we just moved here.’ I didn’t really know why I lied, but I also didn’t want to tell him I had been at the other high school before in case he knew some of the kids from there.

‘I have to go now,’ I said as I reached the door to my classroom.

David put his arm across the door and blocked my way. ‘I’ll see you later, l’amour de la vie.’  He brushed a stray strand of hair from my face and stepped to one side with a bow. I rushed past and sat in my seat feeling flustered.

‘Where have you been all morning?’ asked Debbie.

‘Oh, gosh, ummm… I went to the library to get some books.’

‘So that’s why your face is all red?’

‘Oh, is it? Ummm… I was just running.’ I opened my textbook and pretended to be looking closely at the words, but I was aware that Debbie was still looking at me curiously when the teacher walked into the room.

‘Okay ladies and gentleman. Algebra…’

I opened my notebook and wrote down a little verse that had popped into my head,

 

‘In that moment between breaths,
No more clouds, but light
Shining brightly, clear beauty.’

 

I looked at my words for a moment then closed my notebook and quickly opened my maths book. Then I noticed Debbie look away. ‘Oh my gosh! Did she see what I had written?’ I went red from embarrassment but tried to concentrate on what my maths teacher was saying.

‘To solve an equation, you must find the common factors and cancel them…’

I needed to pay attention more, because I really had no idea what he meant. Debbie leant towards me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Molly. I can help you later.’

I looked at her and smiled. She really was my best friend.

After class, Debbie followed me outside and pounced on me straight away.

‘What were you really doing before class?’

‘I told you, I was in the library.’

‘So how come I saw you walking with David?’

‘Oh, ummm… he followed me from my locker. I was trying to get rid of him.’

‘That’s not what it looked like to me,’ she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment then added, ‘Say, why don’t you join us on Friday night? Rose and I go to youth group for our church. It’s a lot of fun and hardly religious at all. We play music and do lots of stuff… like reading poetry.’

‘Oh, I’d love to Deb. That sounds like fun.’ I was glad she had changed the subject.

Falling in love with Jane Austen

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The next lesson was English and I found myself sitting next to Rose this time because Debbie was in a different class. I had found it hard to get to know Rose, and I wasn’t even sure if she liked me or not because we never talked that much. I kept worrying about it. I wondered if maybe Rose was really shy like me and was just overshadowed by Debbie. I decided to make more of an effort to get Rose to like me, but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Maybe if I tried to be more like Debbie then that would work.

‘Isn’t it great being back at school?’ I said, trying to sound bright, just like Debbie.

‘It’s okay, I guess.’

‘Well I’m excited.’ Rose looked at me funny and was about to say something when the teacher walked into the classroom.

‘Good morning class. I’m sorry that I’m late. For those that don’t know me, my name is Mr Norris.’

I groaned. Why did he have to follow me here when I was trying to start all over again?

‘I think I see some familiar faces, so hello to you, and welcome everyone to Year 11 English.’

I looked around the room and all the kids were sitting up straight and paying attention to him. It was completely different from my old high school.

‘We have a full program of study this year, but there will be three main strands. First of all, we will be studying the novels of Jane Austen.’

I sat up and suddenly started paying attention. Once again Mr Norris seemed to know exactly what I was interested in.

‘There will be a major essay and a creative piece due at the end of Term One. Then we will take what we have learned from Jane Austen into the world of debate. Ultimately, I will be selecting a team to take on our colleagues at that other high school across town.’

He paused and looked around the class, and then his eyes fell on me. I quickly looked down at my desk because I knew there was no way I was ever going to get involved in a debating team, particularly if it meant coming up against those kids from my old school when I had only just escaped from them.

‘For the rest of the year after that,’ Mr Norris continued, ‘We will be studying King Lear and then putting on a performance for the Christmas concert.’

He stood and looked at the class with his black beady eyes, but I thought they looked kinder and more eager than I remembered them.

After school, I walked out to the front gate with Debbie and we talked about our first day at school. I told her how excited I was that we were studying Jane Austen, but she was more interested in having been able to catch up with all her friends.

I met Mum at the school gate. ‘How was your first day of school?’ she asked.

‘Fantastic!’ I replied, and jumped in the car.

All the way home I told her about what we were doing in English for the year, but I didn’t tell her about that boy near my locker.

When I got home that night I finished reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My head was so full of Elizabeth and Darcy that I rushed to the library as soon as I got to school the next morning and borrowed a different Jane Austen novel. I was so eager to start reading that I sat at a table in the library and read the first chapter rather than meeting my new friends outside. I loved the way the words were so soft and gentle, and while I enjoyed the romance, I sensed there was some other message in there that I needed to figure out.

The copy of the book I borrowed from the library had illustrations in it and I fell in love immediately with the elegant dresses the characters wore. I thought if I tied a ribbon around the middle of my long white Juliet dress then it would look just like the real thing from a Jane Austen novel. I decided that I would try that with my dress on the weekend and I would have a go at doing my hair in that style as well. I studied the pictures closely and tried to work out how they got their hair tied up on top of the head like that. I could do that with a couple of ribbons as well, and with my naturally curly hair it should be easy to leave a couple of curls dangling down either side of my face. Mum should be able to help because she had lots of ribbons in her sewing room. I just needed to remember to ask her when I got home.

The bell rang and I quickly packed the book in my bag and hurried out of the library. I had five minutes to get some things from my locker before I had to get to my next class so I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

The way he kissed my hand

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I was dreading the end of school holidays. As the last week of the break drew nearer I began to feel sick each morning. My stomach was churning so much that I couldn’t eat breakfast and I had to spend a long time in the bathroom.

Mum talked about taking me to see a doctor, but then she decided that a change of school would be good for me. A few days later she told me she had enrolled me in the same high school as Debbie and Rose. Once I found that we would be sharing a lot of the same classes I stopped being sick in the morning.

By the time the first day of school came around I was actually excited and looking forward to starting school again. I was a senior now and Debbie and Rose met me at the school gate. We walked towards the red brick building together. Debbie seemed to know everybody and she introduced me to all of her friends as we walked along. I didn’t feel like the outsider anymore and nobody laughed at my red hair or freckles. I even found myself smiling and laughing with the other girls.

In the half hour before the bell rang for the first class of the year, Debbie entertained everyone with stories about her holiday at the beach. Some of the stories were so funny that I wondered if we had even been at the same beach together.

As usual, Debbie didn’t stop talking as I followed her down the corridor to the classroom. We sat next to each other for the first lesson and the teacher assigned everyone their lockers and a list of textbooks that we would need for each subject. We were then given ten minutes to find our lockers, take the keys from the lock, and get back to the classroom.

‘Come on, Molly, our lockers are just around the corner so we can be quick,’ said Debbie. I followed her around the corner to find a group of kids from one of the other classes were already standing at the lockers.

I looked at the piece of paper I had been given with my name on it and saw that I had been assigned locker seventeen. That will be easy to remember, I thought, because that is how old I will be on my next birthday. I walked over to locker seventeen to get my key, but there was a guy standing in the way.

I took a deep breath and said, ‘Excuse me. I need to get to my locker.’ I waited for the nasty remark that would follow as the guy turned around, but instead he bowed and stepped to one side.

‘Pardon me, mademoiselle.’ His smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile back. Then Debbie was right beside me.

‘Hurry up, Molly. We need to get back.’

I suddenly felt flustered as I rushed to get my locker key with this guy watching me.

‘Hi Deb,’ said the guy. ‘Who’s your cute friend?’

‘Hey David, this is Molly. She’s new here, so be nice. Molly this is David.’

David reached out his hand, and I held mine out uncertainly. He took my fingertips gently and raised my hand to kiss the back of it softly.

‘Enchanted, mon cheri.’ My head was spinning and I felt like I was watching a movie scene from above rather than in my own body.

‘Leave her alone, David. She’s already spoken for.’ Debbie then grabbed my elbow and hurried me back to the classroom. I turned and looked back over my shoulder before we went around the corner. David was still looking at me and he smiled and waved. I waved too before Debbie jerked me into the classroom.

The morning went quickly and before I knew it we were back in the playground for our recess break. I was trying to find a way to ask Debbie about David but she beat me to it.

‘You don’t want to get swept away by David,’ she said. ‘He tries that act on all the girls.’

‘Is that why you said I was ‘taken’?’

‘Of course, I’m just looking out for you, Molly. Don’t give away your heart too easily.’

She squeezed my arm and smiled, ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ I gave her a little smile back but I couldn’t get the picture of David’s face out of my mind, or the way he kissed my hand.

Reunited with an old friend

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Excerpt from Molly’s Dreams available now on Amazon

I felt like I was lying in heaven when I woke in the morning. The pillows on my bed were as soft as clouds and I was snug under the fluffy doona. Sunlight was bursting through the window and it threw pretty patterns across the mat on the floor. I couldn’t remember having ever felt so happy and full of life as I looked out the window at the cloudless blue sky.

I bounded out of bed and grabbed my crutches and hopped up to the house to join Mum and Grandma in the kitchen for breakfast.

‘Good morning,’ I said brightly and gave them both a hug.

‘Well, you are chirpy this morning. It’s so good to see a smile on your face,’ said Grandma.

I couldn’t help but smile at her even more brightly. I really didn’t know why I felt so happy, but I finished breakfast and hopped out onto the verandah to wait for Debbie and Rose.

I had just started reading when an old car pulled up at the front of the house and beeped its horn. Then I saw Debbie’s head sticking out the window.

‘Come on, Molly. The beach is waiting.’

I quickly said goodbye to Mum and Grandma and made my way down the driveway to the car. In all the excitement I had forgotten to be nervous, but all of my shyness suddenly came flooding back when I realised there was more than just Debbie and Rose in the car.

Debbie jumped out so that I could sit in the middle of her and Rose and she took my crutches to put them in the boot. There were three guys sitting across the bench seat in the front.

‘Guys, this is Molly,’ said Debbie. As they all turned their heads to look at me, I sat there astonished to recognise the sandy hair and the lopsided grin of the guy in the middle.

‘Blue!’ he said, just as astonished as I was. ‘Blue, is that really you?’

All of the others sat there and stared at us with their mouths open. Not even Debbie could think of anything to say.

‘Hi Shawn,’ I said as coolly as I could, but inside I was bubbling with nerves and excitement.

‘You two know each other?’ Debbie screamed.

‘Yes,’ said Shawn, ‘Ages ago. I thought I would never see you again, Blue.’

The rest of the way to the beach was spent explaining how we had met when I was eight years old. Debbie was excited, but Rose seemed to show more interest in me than she had before. The other two guys in the car were Shawn’s brothers. The one driving was Neil and he was the oldest in the family. Shawn was the middle brother and Michael was a year older than me and the same age as the twins.

We stopped at the beach and climbed out of the car. It was the same beach that I had played on ever since I was a child, and I felt like I knew every curve of the sand dunes as they led around to that rocky headland that stood broodingly at the northern end of the beach. From where I was standing I could clearly see the pathway that climbed to the top of the headland.

‘Come on guys, let’s get in the water,’ Debbie squealed as she raced across the beach. She dropped her towel on the sand and then leapt toward the waves. Rose was close behind her and both girls screamed when the water crashed into their waists.

Neil and Michael were busy taking the surf boards off the roof of the car and Shawn got my crutches out of the boot and walked slowly across the sand beside me. Neither of us spoke. I kept thinking about the little boy that I had played with in the sand dunes and how he made me run all the time, but how I so wanted to do what he asked to make him happy.

Meeting the twins

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Excerpt from Molly’s Dreams available now on Amazon

It was late in the afternoon and I was standing on one leg on the railway platform. My broken leg was aching as I leant on the crutches. It had been a week since I had left the hospital but I still wasn’t used to getting around on only one leg.

I was waiting on my own for Mum to come back from the booking office with the tickets and I watched people as they moved about on the platform. Some of them looked like they had been rushing and were worried they were going to miss the train. I wasn’t worried though, because Mum had said we got here in plenty of time.

Suddenly there was a bustle of noise from one end of the platform and I turned to see two girls being farewelled by some guys that I guessed were their older brothers. I watched as the two girls went around the group of guys and hugged each one. They looked to be about my age, or maybe a little older and I watched them with interest because I didn’t know the girls from my school.

One of them was wearing a short floral summer dress and had white sneakers on her feet. Her long brown hair was tied back in a simple pony tail. The other girl was wearing pink shorts and a white top and sandals. She too had long brown hair, but hers was hanging loosely over her shoulders. What really caught my attention about these two girls, though, was that their faces were identical.

The brothers left and the two girls started walking toward where I was standing. I quickly looked away so that they wouldn’t see that I had been watching them, but one of the girls smiled and said ‘hi’ as she walked past me. I looked up and saw the happy eyes of the one with the ponytail.

‘Hi,’ I said back shyly. Just then Mum came out of the booking office with the tickets as the headlight of the train appeared further down the track. I started to feel excited as the train pulled into the platform because now it felt like I was really going on holidays.

There was crazy activity and noise everywhere as the stationmaster blew his whistle. The porter opened one of the carriage doors and I hobbled across the platform on my crutches.

‘Careful with that step, miss,’ he said kindly.

I hesitated, wondering how to step across the gap between the platform and the carriage.

‘Put your crutches across first and then swing yourself over,’ came a girl’s voice from behind me.

I turned to see who had spoken and saw it was the girl with the ponytail.

‘Oh, thanks,’ I said. I was a bit nervous about making the leap with everybody watching me, but I didn’t want these two girls to know that, so I took a deep breath and swung across exactly as she had said.

I turned to say thank you again, but the girl was talking to her sister.

‘Come on, Molly, let’s find our seats,’ said Mum as she walked down the aisle. I shuffled along behind her until Mum pointed out our seats about halfway down the carriage. As I was squeezing into my seat against the window the porter appeared again right beside me.

‘I can look after your crutches, if you like, miss,’ he said. ‘If you need them just call. It will give you more room,’ he added quickly.

‘Oh, thank you,’ I replied. ‘That is so nice of you.’

He dipped his head and, clutching my crutches to his chest, he scurried away with a smile on his face.

I took my book out of my bag and then put the bag at my feet. I was still reading ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’ and had been wandering through the Australian bush with Rufus Dawes for a week. When I sat up again, I was surprised to see the girl with the ponytail looking over the back of the seat in front of me.

‘Hi again,’ she said. ‘I’m Debbie.’ Her smile was so sparkly that I couldn’t help but smile back at her.

‘Hi, I’m Molly,’ I said in my softest shy voice.

‘Hi Molly,’ she said brightly. ‘What book are you reading?’

I showed Debbie the cover and started to explain to her what the book was all about.

‘It’s about this guy that was sent to Australia as a convict, but…’

‘Oh that sounds cool. What happened to your leg?’

‘I had an accident on my bike,’ I said.

‘Ooohh, that must have hurt.’ She suddenly turned around. ‘Hey Rose, come and meet Molly.’

Another face that was the mirror image of Debbie’s appeared over the back of the seat. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart if it wasn’t for the different hairstyles and clothes.

‘Hiya,’ she said. She wasn’t as bouncy or happy as her sister.

‘Where are you going?’ asked Debbie.

I told her that Mum and I were going to the beach to visit Grandma and Grandpa. It turned out that they were heading to the same beach for a holiday with their cousins.

‘That’s so cool,’ said Debbie. ‘Maybe we can hang out on the beach together.’

I smiled and said that sounded like fun.

‘What school do you go to?’

I hesitated, because I didn’t want my new friends to know about my school and how everyone thought I was a loser.

Just then the train pulled away from the station with a jerk and Debbie’s face disappeared for a moment. But she was back as quickly as she went and giggling because she had nearly fallen off her seat.

‘Is everything okay here, miss?’ The porter had suddenly appeared in the aisle beside Mum’s seat. I looked across and nodded. ‘Can I get you anything?’ I shook my head and looked back to see Debbie grinning at me as the porter disappeared.

‘I think he likes you,’ she said with a giggle.

‘Really?’ I turned to look at him but he was gone.

‘Yes, really! Haven’t you had guys chasing after you before?’

I blushed and shook my head.

‘I don’t believe that. You’re so pretty and sweet. I’m sure all the guys at school are after you.’

My face was burning hot as I blushed even more and I was feeling uncomfortable that she had mentioned school again. But Debbie didn’t seem to notice and she kept talking to me for ages as the train rushed across the green landscape of scattered farms.

Every now and then she brought Rose into the conversation and her face would suddenly appear over the back of the seat. But she never stayed for long and would soon disappear again. I think she was reading a book and I longed to be able to read mine as well, but I didn’t want to lose my new friend either.

Debbie kept talking until it started to get dark and the porter came back.

‘I thought you might like a blanket, miss.’

I looked at him and blushed because of what Debbie had said. ‘Thank you.’

He bounced away down the aisle with a smile on his face again.

I settled back in my seat and turned my face toward the window to watch the evening settle softly across the countryside. After a while I could see my own reflection in the window as it started to get darker outside. My reflection looked sleepy but happy.

When I opened my eyes again I could see glimpses of lonely farmhouse lights in the distance and bridges and level crossings rushing past. The world outside was dark and cold. Every time I began to doze off again I was woken by a jolt as the train pulled up to the fairy lights of a foggy station. I wrapped myself deeper in the blanket, leaned my head against the cold glass of the window and tried to fall asleep again.

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