On the last Friday of term, just after the bell rang, Eva came up behind me at the bag racks.
‘Hey,’ she said.
I was tying my jumper around my waist.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Do you want to sleep over at my house tomorrow night?’
It had been ages since Eva and I had spent time together, just the two of us.
‘I’ll have to ask.’
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Get your mum to call my mum tonight.’ She reached into her pocket and handed me a piece of paper that she’d ripped out of her science book. ‘This is her new number,’ she said.
Eva didn’t know that I didn’t live with my mum anymore. We weren’t in any of the same groups for reading or sport that year. Eva was always surrounded by a big group of friends at lunchtime. She got in trouble for laughing because other kids distracted her and I’d heard she was being moved to the lower maths class next year. I was bad at making new friends and I thought it was too late to do anything about it.
‘My mum doesn’t care if we watch MA15+ movies.’ She looked down at her shoelace that had come undone.
‘See ya,’ she said.
I watched as Eva walked away and disappeared around the corner. It was a warm afternoon and my eyes were itchy from the pollen in the air. Thea was probably invited too. Thea owned Eva’s matching friendship bracelet and she was what the teachers called a real piece of work.
I held the paper in my hand all the way home.
The next afternoon, Dad dropped me off at the bottom of Eva’s driveway. The front door was open but the flyscreen door was locked. I could see into the corridor through the little holes. I rang the doorbell twice. There were two dogs barking in the yard next door so I couldn’t hear if the bell had rung or not. I was worried that I should have brought something else with me like a block of chocolate or a blanket. Eventually, Eva came to the door. Her hair looked messy, like she hadn’t brushed it all day, and she stared at me blankly, as if I could have been the postman or a lady asking for charity donations.
‘Thanks again for inviting me,’ I said. I was nervous. Maybe I had only imagined Eva inviting me to sleepover and she had no idea why I was there.
I remembered Eva’s house from when we used to play together when we were in Grade 3, but it looked messier than I remembered. The kitchen was full of things piled on top of each other like magazines and plastic tupperware and trays of bills and receipts. There was a strong smell of lemon detergent. Eva’s mum was standing at the bench, dunking a tea bag up and down in a mug. Her mum had the same dark hair as Eva and her eyes were even darker. When she turned to me to say hello I could see that she was pregnant. Her belly was curved and full like a helium balloon, and there was a small hole in the bottom of her t-shirt. She was much younger than my mum.
‘Hello,’ she said.
‘Hello, Mrs Callas,’ I said.
‘She’s not a Mrs,’ said Eva, scowling at me.
‘Call me Andrea,’ she said. ‘Now go outside and play, girls.’ Andrea turned to me. ‘You’re our special guest tonight.’
Eva sat with her elbows on the table and her face resting in her hands. She’d told me she was tired, but I could tell she was fed up with me because I was being boring. I wasn’t good at starting conversations and I didn’t know any of the songs she’d played for me on her new discman. For dinner, we had pre-made lasagna that Andrea warmed in the oven, and a salad with two kinds of olives that I’d never tried before. Andrea came to join us at the table, but she didn’t eat anything. She folded her arms over her belly, which was pushing up against the plastic tablecloth.
‘Make sure you have seconds,’ she said, nodding at me.
Eva moved her fork back and forth across the cheesy top of the lasagna. The only photo on the wall was of Andrea holding Eva as a baby, standing outside the front door of a different house. I wondered who had taken the photo. The rest of the walls were decorated with little crocheted hangings. The one closest to me had writing that said ‘Friends are special, especially mine.’
‘When will your baby be born?’ I asked Andrea.
‘In two months,’ Andrea said. ‘I’m having twins.’
‘Wow,’ I said.
Eva reached in front of us to grab the sauce bottle.
‘Are they girls or boys?’ I asked.
‘That’s a secret for now,’ Andrea said. ‘Has your mum had any more babies? We haven’t seen each other in a long time.’
I noticed there was a small, white statue of Mary on the side table. She wasn’t much taller than the stack of books behind her. Her arms were reaching down to the ground and her palms were turned towards the ceiling.
‘No, it’s just me.’
After dinner, Eva and I went into her room. She rummaged around in her chest of drawers, then said she was going to have a shower and that I should stay here. I hadn’t brought a towel with me and I always showered in the morning anyway. I went to close the door so I could get undressed, but it was stuck against the thick carpet and made a small cracking sound when I tried to push it closed. I decided to change in the corner of the room instead, slipping off my shorts and kicking my legs down into my pyjamas. I wanted to relax around Eva, but she made me nervous. I wanted her to be my best friend again. I wanted us to have roller-skate fights through the house again and paint treasure maps on big sheets of butcher’s paper like we used to. I thought about calling my dad and asking him to pick me up, but I didn’t know if he would be at home. From Eva’s bedroom window I could see Andrea outside, bending down and pulling out bunches of weeds that were growing in the grass. They were the kind of weeds that look like small white flowers with yellow centres. She scrunched the weeds in her hands and threw them towards the fence.
After I’d watched Eva blow-dry her hair in Andrea’s bathroom, we set up an air mattress in the lounge. Eva and I took turns pressing down on a plastic button that pushed the air into the bed. Andrea brought us a set of faded blue sheets.
‘Don’t stay up too late,’ she said.
We watched a movie about American cheerleaders. The girls were in high school but they looked like grown-ups. I was scared that I would never be able to do the things they were doing, like driving cars and going to parties and slapping their best friends in the face when they were angry with them. When the credits came on the screen Eva turned off the TV and all of the lights.
‘We should play truth or dare,’ Eva said.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Truth or dare?’
‘Truth,’ she said.
I rubbed my feet against the sheets. The fabric was thin and scratchy.
‘Why did you invite me to sleep over?’ I asked.
Eva stared up at the tall ceiling.
‘For fun,’ she said.
There was silence.
‘Mum wants you and me to be friends again,’ she said. ‘I knew you’d come ’cos you don’t have anyone else. No offence.’
‘I have friends,’ I said.
‘You know what I mean.’
I rolled away from her.
‘I’m sorry. I thought you’d like to come.’
I pulled the sheets down because I could feel my whole body heating up.
‘Why didn’t you invite Thea?’ I asked.
‘Mum won’t let her come over anymore.’
‘Why not?’ I said.
‘What’s it to you?’ she said. ‘Anyway, Mum says once the twins are here I won’t be able to have sleepovers anymore. The babies are going to be a lot of work.’
‘Maybe I could help,’ I said.
‘I don’t think you could look after a baby.’
‘We could have sleepovers at my house instead.’
‘I don’t know,’ Eva said. She sighed and rubbed her eyes.
‘I guess you’d rather go to Thea’s house,’ I said.
‘Isn’t she your best friend? You’re still wearing her bracelet.’
‘Thea gets me into trouble.’
‘So?’ I asked. ‘You can still be friends. Just be more careful.’
‘You don’t know,’ Eva said. ‘Thea did something bad last week, in the bathrooms during PE. She asked me if she could. But then she wouldn’t stop.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
Eva rolled her eyes at me. They seemed to glow in the dark. ‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she said.
‘I might,’ I said.
‘Thea put her hand down my undies,’ Eva said.
My heart started beating faster.
‘And then she was rubbing my skin down there.’
I imagined the two of them in the bathrooms together. I felt my body twitch.
‘What did it feel like?’ I asked.
‘You know,’ she said.
I crossed my legs, under the covers. We lay there for long time in the darkness. I was worried about Eva. I didn’t know what I was supposed to think and I was scared she would be angry at me if I said the wrong thing.
‘I hope you get two baby brothers,’ I said.
And then I opened my eyes just a tiny bit and looked over at Eva. Her eyes were closed. She moved her hand and laid it against mine under the covers. I liked her hand there. I didn’t want to move.
‘Are you still awake?’ I whispered to her.
Eventually, I heard Eva start to take longer and quieter breaths as she fell asleep. Her hand rolled away from mine. I pushed myself up onto my side and looked down at Eva. My eyes adjusted to the dark. I leaned closer to Eva, so close that my face was almost on top of hers. I held my breath so she wouldn’t feel me there. I wondered if she was dreaming. In the dark, her mouth hung slightly open and her eyes were two curved lines of dark eyelashes. I was starting to shake from holding my breath. I was so close to her it felt like I was looking at her face through a microscope, like the kind we used in science to learn about caterpillars.
Eva stirred and sighed. She wriggled her arms out from the covers and up behind her head onto the pillow. Her pyjama tank top had ridden upwards so I could see her stomach. Eva had a small bellybutton, the kind that caved inwards, and it moved slowly up and down as she breathed. I spread out my hand and hovered it over her bare stomach. I wished there was a way to touch Eva, gently, without waking her up. I wanted to know if her skin felt the same as mine. I moved my hand in the air above her, making small circles around her bellybutton. Then, I accidentally got too close, and my fingertips brushed the space just above the elastic of her pyjama pants.
Suddenly, the kitchen light down the hallway came on. All of my muscles tightened. I moved back slowly back onto my side of the mattress, trying to move my limbs one by one. Eva made a small frown in her sleep and turned onto her side. I waited and listened.
I got up carefully and made my way down the corridor, moving my hands along the wall. Andrea was sitting on the couch with her back to me, in a triangle shape of light coming from the lamp in the corner of the room.
I wondered if she was okay or if I should go and wake up Eva. Maybe the babies were coming.
‘Andrea?’ I whispered. ‘Andrea?’
Andrea jumped and turned around. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
‘I could hear you.’
She frowned and shuffled around awkwardly on the couch to face me. In the light, the wrinkles around her eyes and on her forehead looked longer and deeper. She looked exhausted. The TV wasn’t on and I couldn’t see if she had a book or a magazine or anything with her.
‘Why aren’t you in bed?’ she asked.
‘I thought you might be lonely,’ I said.
‘You girls should be sleeping.’
‘Go back to bed,’ she said.
I turned back down the corridor, walking with my hands along the wall again, feeling the tiny cracks where the paint had chipped away. I thought about how it was possible for people to disappear from your life, as if they’d never been there at all, but also they could also come back unexpectedly and want to know you again, for a short amount of time or maybe a long amount of time.
The feeling in my throat came back when I saw Eva lying there. She’d rolled onto my side of mattress. I lay back down and gently pushed my body up against her so there was room for the two of us. The mattress was starting to lose its air. For the rest of the night I lay awake, listening to Eva breath in and out, and feeling my body sink slowly down towards the floor.
Grace Finlayson has been published in Seizure, Scum Mag, The Other Stories and elsewhere. She is a fiction editor for Voiceworks magazine and tweets @gracefinlayson