boy, am I?”
“Day after day then I chased them --
'course they had friends on the sly,
Friends who were willing to sell them
to those who were willing to buy.”
From "In the Stable" ~ Banjo Patterson
It didn’t take Jemimah long to discover what lay behind Jamie’s question. The following Monday afternoon, as she and Jarrah sat at her desk outlining a geography essay, she glanced up to see him and Mitch filling her classroom door.
“Oh, I didn’t realise you had someone here. Won’t interrupt,” Jamie said, a faint blush creeping up his cheeks.
“It’s no problem, Jamie - I think we’re just about finished anyway,” Jemimah turned back to Jarrah. “Do you want to come the same time tomorrow and have a look at your English assignment?”
“Yeah … okay.” She gave Jemimah one of her rare smiles and started stuffing her folder back into her backpack.
Although she’d been praying about it since she’d asked Jarrah on Friday night to pop in and see her at school, Jemimah hadn’t really expected her to come. Jarrah looked wary and reluctant when she’d come into the classroom, but had begun to relax when Jemimah brought in the drinks and chocolate slice she’d put in the fridge just in case.
Over afternoon tea, Jemimah had gone through one of Rosie’s readers with her, and as they laughed at the pictures and experimented with funny voices for the characters, Jarrah continued to loosen up. Despite her lack of confidence, Jarrah had no trouble understanding what Jemimah suggested and by the end of twenty minutes seemed eager to give it a go with Rosie that night.
Jemimah took the chance to ask Jarrah what homework she had herself, and was thrilled when she pulled it out to show her. From there it flowed naturally into going over it together, and when Jarrah dismissed one of the assignments as too hard to bother attempting, Jemimah asked if she could have a look at it. Jarrah was still scowling as Jemimah began to ask questions and jot down notes on a sheet of paper, but by the time they’d produced a list of topics to cover, and stuck colourful post-it notes at the relevant points in Jarrah’s text book, she was far more positive.
“You getting help with your homework?” Mitch asked as he swaggered into the room. Jarrah’s chin jutted up, but Mitch wasn’t even looking at her. He leaned down with his hands on Jemimah’s desk. “Good - I’ll sign up too. I’ve got no idea what my English teacher is on about with the essay he gave us last week, but there’s no way I’m goin’ to tell him that. Maybe you can translate the teacher-speak for me?”
“Did you want to look at it now? Is that why you’ve come?”
“Nah, haven’t got it with me today. Maybe I’ll pop in tomorrow.” Mitch straightened up, and grinned at Jamie. “Jamie reckons we might be able to get a lift home.”
Jemimah raised her eyebrows at Jamie. “So that’s why the sudden interest in my timetable?”
“Yeah … we wanted to pick some stuff up in town, so we got off the bus here and thought you mightn’t mind dropping us home …it’s on your way.” Jamie looked down and scuffed the toe of his shoe against the floor as he spoke.
“That’s fine, but,” Jemimah glanced up at the wall clock, “do you mind waiting until I’m ready? I haven’t gone round the cross-country yet - and I’m trying to run it every day before I go home.”
“Are you still doin’ it?” Jarrah was nearly at the door but turned in interest. “I remember you sayin’ about that weeks ago. How are you doin’? Can you run it all yet?”
Jemimah shook her head. “No. I can go really well for the first part, but then it’s all I can do to walk the rest. I’ve still got to get a lot fitter, so I can run the whole thing.”
Jarrah put her bag down. “You’ve got to pace yourself then. You’re probably sprinting at the start and then can’t keep it up. You gotta find a pace you can keep up the whole way - then you’ll get faster with practice.”
“Jarrah’s the one to know,” Jamie said as the girl looked at the floor in embarrassment at his compliment, “she’s been the school champion almost every year. Why don’t you go round with Jemimah?”
“Do you want me to?” Jarrah surprised Jemimah by asking. “I haven’t run the old course for ages. It’d be fun.”
“That would be great. I’m feeling a bit stuck - the last few weeks it doesn’t even seem like I’m improving any more.” Jemimah pushed her chair under her desk. “Do you two want to come for the run, too?”
Mitch and Jamie exchanged a meaningful glance and Jamie cleared his throat. “Maybe another time. We’ll go for a bit of a walk and meet you at your car.”
“Ah, they can’t do it!” Jarrah grinned. “Frightened two girls will show ‘em up!”
Mitch had a good reputation in the school rugby team and Jemimah wasn’t surprised when he laughed at Jarrah’s taunt. “You reckon? We’ll see about that - tomorrow. We’re just not dressed right or anything today.” He pointed a thumb at his school shirt.
“Oh. Are you alright in what you’ve got on?” Jemimah looked at Jarrah’s school skirt and blouse.
The girl shrugged. “Yeah. I’m not some wussy
Jemimah laughed, ushered the young people from the room and locked it behind her. “I’m wussy too, then, since I’m not running in what I’m wearing. Give me two minutes to change, Jarrah, and I’ll meet you out here.” She tossed her car keys toward Jamie. “You can wait in my car if you want.”
“Ta.” Mitch stretched out his arm and plucked them from the air before they reached Jamie. “Take her for a bit of a spin.”
“No, no, no!” Jemimah shook her head vigorously, but smiled when she saw his teasing wink. “Be good or I won’t help you with your English tomorrow.”
Jemimah felt buoyant as she and Jarrah jogged through the bush a short while later. Jarrah had explained that if Jemimah couldn’t talk while she ran, she was pushing too fast as yet, and the girl had been surprisingly chatty as they’d gone through the course. From feeling so alone and pathetic just a few weeks ago, Jemimah was amazed how quickly everything could change. Jarrah was treating her like an old friend, and since her muddy trip home in the ute with Jamie, he felt almost as familiar as a younger brother. Even Mitch didn’t unsettle her anymore.
God was amazing to give her this incredible opportunity with these new friendships, Jemimah thought, exulting in the sun-warmed breeze that combed through her hair as she ran beside Jarrah. She had failed horribly in her attempt to witness to Matt, but maybe she could do better with these young people.
Much to her amazement, Jemimah made it all the way around the course at a slow jog, and was thrilled when Jarrah remarked it would be even easier when they ran it the next day. So, she was keen to come again …
“And we’ll see what the boys are made of, too!” Jarrah grinned, nodding toward Jemimah’s car as she said goodbye at the school gate.
Mitch and Jamie were sitting in the back, loud music blaring from the radio as Jemimah opened the door. She leaned across and turned it down to a bearable level, then stopped. The distinctive odour of alcohol had been imprinted on her mind since that awful evening when Rosie’s dad had come to her door, and the moment she’d put her head in the car she’d recognised it along with the faint scent of something totally unfamiliar.
She swung round, glaring at the two young men in the back seat.
“Get out! Get out of my car, now!” Her voice wasn’t raised, but was edged with the unexpected steel that made disobedient children in her class very quickly toe the line.
The boys scrambled out of the car, and she rounded on them, trembling with anger. Jamie was pale, looking guiltily at her from beneath pinched eyebrows. Mitch met her eyes, open-faced and hands on hips in an obvious gesture of nonchalance.
“What’s up, Jemimah?” he asked.
“How dare you?” she looked from one to the other, desperately trying to remember what she’d learned from her teacher training about the signs of alcohol and drug use in students. “How dare you take advantage of me so that you can … so that you can …” she trailed off, out of her depth and not even knowing for sure what to accuse them of.
The boys looked normal - no sign of the glazed or bloodshot eyes that the drug literature pointed out. Maybe the odour she’d smelt in the car was nothing more than some kind of tobacco - she really wouldn’t know - but the vague sweet scent had filled her with a strange dread.
“So we had a can of beer. Big deal,” Mitch shrugged. “Live with it.”
“No, I won’t. It is a big deal - and I won’t put up with it.” Jemimah’s anger gave her unexpected confidence to stare him down, and Mitch dropped his eyes. “You think you’re the big shots? Make your own way home. I don’t want to be involved.”
She stalked to the car and wrenched the door open. When she went to shut it, it didn’t move and she looked up to see Jamie’s troubled face hovering over the door.
“I’m sorry Jemimah, really I am.”
She stared at him until he spoke again. “It really didn’t seem like a big deal. We just dropped in on a mate of Mitch’s, and he gave us a beer. It’s not like we were driving or anything.”
“No. It’s not like you’re eighteen, either.” Jemimah’s temper was cooling, and her mind turned to a more practical view. “How are you going to get home?”
Jamie grimaced, and Jemimah could imagine the explanations he’d be forced to give if he rang at home for a lift. It would serve him right, she thought, but still …she looked past him to Mitch, who was appraising her coolly.
“No problem. I’ve got mates who’ll run us home,” he answered.
“I bet.” Jemimah sighed. Sending them back to wherever they’d come from could hardly be a good thing.
“Get in,” she told them and climbed into the drivers seat, not speaking again until both boys had buckled themselves in - Jamie in the back and Mitch brazenly in the passenger seat beside her. She had a feeling that she’d just handled everything so wrong … that she should have been attempting to be cool about it and keep them on-side with her, rather than blow up like that. It was rare that she lost her temper, but when something upset her like that …
She started the car but didn’t move off, praying for wisdom. “Look, I’ll be honest with you. It’s not just the beer - something smelt strange. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about this kind of stuff, because I don’t – but the thought of what you might be involved in frightens me. Can you be totally honest with me?”
In her mirror she watched Jamie staring at his hands, but when she turned to Mitch he met her eyes without flinching.
“We had a beer, and that’s all. Yeah, the other guys were smoking something - you probably smelled it on our clothes. But we’re not that dumb.”
“Thank you, Mitch.” Jemimah nodded slowly, her heart unknotting slightly as she drove the car out of the school grounds. “I appreciate you respect me enough to explain. But maybe hanging out with guys who are that dumb isn’t such a great idea either.”
Mitch leaned across and turned the radio back on and she didn’t stop him. She had no idea what else to say anyway. She’d been so excited about feeling accepted as part of their circle … but it was all an illusion. Neither boy broke the silence and it wasn’t until she’d dropped Mitch off at the property where his father worked and lived, and Jamie took his place in the front that he spoke.
“I’m sorry, Jemimah.”
She shrugged, surprised to feel tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t really know Mitch, but I thought I knew you, Jamie - and this is not what I expected of you. I’m really disappointed.”
“Sorry,” he said again, his miserable tone encouraging Jemimah slightly. He certainly didn’t share his mate’s couldn’t-care-less attitude. No wonder his family was concerned about Mitch’s influence.
“You won’t tell Mum and Dad, will you?
“You should live your life so that you don’t have to worry about anything people find out about you, Jamie. If you’re uncomfortable about your parents knowing what you’re doing, change what you’re doing.”
He didn’t say anything more until she pulled up in front of his home, and even then his voice was very subdued.
“Guess you won’t want to see us there after school again?”
“Not if you’re going to use me as an excuse to get into trouble between getting off the bus and driving home with me. But, if you want a hand with any of your work, you can bring it to my classroom like Jarrah did. Anyway,” she breathed out heavily, letting go of the tension that had wrapped itself around her throat, “I thought you and Mitch were going to run the cross-country with us tomorrow. Or was that just another excuse?”
Jamie received her offered olive branch with a weak smile. “Nah, I meant that. I don’t know about Mitch but I’ll give it a go if you want. If he wants to go to his mate’s place again he can go on his own.”
Jemimah watched him walk around toward the back of the house. Despite his manly height, his awkwardly long limbs made her think of a young giraffe. She sighed again, and turned the car toward her cottage. Almost a man, and yet she feared he could be so easily led into disaster.
Jemimah hadn’t really expected to see Jamie and Mitch the following afternoon, but there they were in her classroom only a few minutes after Jarrah had come in straight after the high school bus had dropped her off in the main street.
“Move over, Jarrah,” Mitch said good-naturedly as he strode inside, dumping his school bag on Jemimah’s desk and pulling up a child-sized table to use as a stool. “Jemimah promised she’d interpret this teacher-jargon for me.”
“Wait your turn,” Jemimah chided with a smile. “What about you, Jamie? Are you joining the queue?”
“Nah,” he shook his head, and lowered himself into one of the tiny chairs. “But I thought I’d knock over my maths homework while I wait.”
Once Jarrah was satisfied she had enough to go on, she relinquished her place to Mitch who ended up chatting about stuff in general as much as asking questions about his English. Jemimah wasn’t even aware of the time passing until Jarrah packed up her bag and rang the little bell that Jemimah kept on her desk.
“Four-thirty - time for our run,” she announced with a cheeky grin, “that’s if these wussy boys aren’t gunna nick off again.”
“Huh! We’re here to show you how it’s done!” Mitch stood up, making a great show of stretching out his muscles.
“If you want to warm up, how about putting all those desks back neatly.” Jemimah shook her head at the disarray and went to change into her running gear.
Contrary to their boasts, the boys were content to run at the pace Jarrah set for Jemimah and the friendly banter between the four runners made the circuit pass by more easily than ever.
“There, are you satisfied?” Mitch asked Jarrah as he leant on his legs to catch his breath when they finally stopped by Jemimah’s car.
“Nuh. I’m not easin’ up on Jemimah until she can run the whole course through … twice!”
“Noooo!” Jemimah covered her eyes in mock anguish as the teenagers laughed, but her heart was light as they said goodbye to Jarrah and climbed into her car. It was as though the previous afternoon’s incident had never happened, although it still weighed on her mind as she drove the two boys home. She’d prayed a lot about it but still wasn’t sure whether or not she should mention it to Mr and Mrs Hart..
Mitch tuned her radio to his favourite station again, but the volume wasn’t nearly as loud and it didn’t interfere with the easy conversation that continued all the way to Mitch’s place. When he got out Jamie took his seat in the front, and once they were on the road again, he said simply, “I told Dad.”
Jemimah didn’t answer for a moment, not wanting to read too much into his statement. Had he merely wanted to put his own case across before Jemimah, or someone else, dobbed him in?
“Uh-huh,” she replied non-commitally.
“Yeah. I thought about what you said. If I didn’t feel good about Mum and Dad finding out what I’d been doing, I probably shouldn’t have been doing it.”
Wow. Jemimah nodded, biting her lip to keep from smiling in relief. She didn’t dare ask whether it had crossed Jamie’s mind to consider what God would think of his actions, but it was a start.
“So, what did your Dad say?”
Jamie laughed nervously. “Quite a bit. And he told me a bit more about those mates of Mitch’s. They mightn’t be as cool as I thought. Jack doesn’t think much of them, either.”
Jemimah raised her eyebrows, once again forced to reassess her opinion of Jack. He had more tact than she gave him credit for if he’d discussed it without putting his little brother off-side.
“So, can we have a lift home again after the run tomorrow?” Jamie asked Jemimah as they turned into the driveway at Hart’s Desire. “It was fun.”
Jemimah wondered when the novelty would wear off, but by the last week of the term her three young friends were just as enthusiastic about the daily routine as she was. She managed to get most of her school work done before the high school bus arrived around four, and the few times she’d had a meeting with the headmistress or a parent, the teenagers would wander down to the levee bank until she was finished. Most afternoons though, they did their homework on the children’s desks while Jemimah finished preparing her lessons, giving them help as they needed it.
Jarrah’s marks had improved greatly with just that bit of extra guidance, and she grinned proudly when she pulled out her marked essays to show Jemimah. From the little things Jarrah let slip, it sounded like her teachers were treating her with more respect and it had been a long while since Jemimah heard any mention of her quitting school.
The four of them celebrated the last Friday of term by buying soft drinks and chips from the general store and taking them to eat down by the levee bank. The evenings were getting cooler now, and the shadows of the willows stretched over the young people as they sprawled on the grass, still warm from their run.
“Going home tomorrow?” Mitch asked, passing Jemimah a bag of chips.
“Yes, in the morning,” she nodded, her stomach tightening. She couldn’t wait to be home with her family, but before that …
Jemimah took a couple of chips and passed the bag to Jamie. She regretted ever having suggested to Angie that she’d pick her up at her place. At the time, she’d been desperate for any chance to see Michael again, but now the thought filled her with dread.
Why did she want to remind Michael what a fool she was all over again? He already knew how badly she’d handled things earlier in the term - if he ever thought of her it couldn’t be in a flattering light. And when she saw him again, she’d be sure to do or say something that would make her look even worse.
She broke the chips into tiny pieces in her hands, and sighed. The worry that hung over the start of her holidays was all her own fault, because she’d contrived a way to see Michael when God hadn’t made one for her. If only she could stop thinking of him … get rid of the longing to be with him that tinged almost everything.
Jemimah turned onto her back and stared through the canopy of leaves to the huge blue sky. Michael would already be well on his way by now, she thought, maybe even looking up at the same sky on his way through the Hunter Valley.
“Awww,” Jarrah whined, “So you won’t be at the social night tomorrow night?”
Jemimah shook her head. It was going to be a special theme night, but it had been moved to the Saturday night this time. It would make it easier for more people living further out from the church to come along but it meant that Jemimah would have to miss it.
“I’m not going to go if you’re not,” Jarrah said with a frown.
“Then why don’t we have our own one tonight? We can go up to Macca’s and get something for tea. Pick up Angie Turnbull on the way again, too,” Mitch suggested. They’d cajoled her into it a fortnight ago when the Friday night social had been cancelled, and she’d promised to do it again sometime soon.
“I can’t. Not until my headlight’s fixed,” Jemimah said firmly.
“Ahh, it won’t matter, will it?” Mitch sidled up to her. “The other one’s still working.”
“You were all there when the policeman told me not to drive in the dark until it’s fixed.” Jemimah shuddered at the memory. She’d hit a cockatoo on their way into Narrabri for tea, and it had smashed one of her headlights before disintegrating across her windscreen. Screaming her lungs out in front of them all had been embarrassing enough, but getting pulled over by a police car just as they’d left Narrabri after dinner had been the final humiliation. The officer let her off with a warning, but being pursued by a marked car with its lights and sirens flashing was something she wouldn’t forget quickly, or risk happening again.
“That was two weeks ago!” Mitch complained. “How long does it take to fix a stupid light?”
“Probably not long - if they’ve got the parts.” Jemimah stood up and brushed the crumbs off her skirt. “They couldn’t get them up here before the holidays, so my Dad asked his mechanic to get the parts in to fix it while I’m in Newcastle. How about we plan to go into Narrabri the next time Friday night’s not on next term?”
“We’ll hold you to it, Jemimah.” Jamie said, getting himself up while Mitch grabbed Jarrah’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “You’re definitely coming back to the Plains after the holidays, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes.” Jemimah nodded, walking with the three young people back along the path to the main street. I’ve got plenty to come back for.
© R. L. Brown 2007