ON THE WAY UP

Stone Arch Bridge Stock Photo

It was another wet winter’s night in Sydney Town.  The rain kept pouring down, slicking over the pavements and eventually down into the Harbour.

People stumbled home from work in it, glad to be returning to the cosiness of four walls.  Others took shelter in cafes, restaurants and bars; glad of a warm lighted place on a cold wet night.

Under a bridge somewhere, two girls sat huddled up against the cold.

“You got a light?” The older one asked a man who walked up.  Suddenly she realised who he was. “Brad!”

They threw their arms around each other.  Then they both began talking simultaneously.

“So how have you been, Kat?” he asked eventually.

“Pretty good.  Holding in there, anyway.”

“Glad to hear it!  You always did hold yourself together well.” He turned to the other girl.  “I haven’t seen you around here before, love.”

“This is my friend, Chloe.”

They shook hands.

“Soooo, what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

“I don’t know, really.” The young girl replied shyly.

“We could ask you the same thing, Brad,” Kat interjected. “What a nice boy like you doing out and about on a night like this?”

“Just bored I guess,” he replied casually. “Thought I’d check things out.”

“Well you’re always welcome here.” Kat gestured behind her. “Pull up a milk crate.”

They all sat down, chatting away.

Brad ended up taking quite a shine to young Chloe, asking her back to his place.

“I know it’s not the Hilton or anything, but it is warm and dry there.”

Chloe hesitated.  She may not have been on the streets for terribly long, but she knew what was really behind the offer.

“You should, Clo!” Kat cut in. “He’s a really good bloke.”

She thought about it.  Thought about the pallet in the squat where they were staying, how draughty the old warehouse was.  Not much of a choice, really.

Chloe turned to him. “Lead the way.”

“Alright!  I’m parked down by the shopping centre.”

“See ya, Kat.” She started walking after him.

Her friend replied with a thumbs up.

* * * * *

When Chloe woke the next morning, she had no idea where she was.

She was lying on a couch in a strange room, with a blanket thrown over her.  The storm had blown away, bright sunlight was shining through the windows.  Her head aching slightly, Chloe tried to remember.

She had returned to his flat, now she remember sitting here.  He had brought a couple of bottles: “Something to warm us up with.”

She recalled talking and giggling a lot – then nothing.  Chloe lay back and shut her eyes.

“Hello.” She heard a man’s voice, sometime later.  Slowly she struggled into a sitting position.

“I didn’t want to disturb you before,” Brad told her.  He went onto explain that he had just thrown the blanket over her and left her to sleep.

Then he brought them some coffee.

Chloe felt like she was in one of those old movies where the heroine wakes up in a strange man’s place.  Then the question is: did they or didn’t they?

She did find out the answer to that.  She was fully clothed and had waken up that way.  There was no internal soreness, which told her everything she needed to know.

After they finished their cuppas, Brad found a towel and showed her where the bathroom was.  Then he politely suggested she use it.

Showering is always invigorating, it refreshes more than the skin.  It also gave her a chance to think, about the whole situation.  Especially what his motives were for taking her here?

It cleared her head as well.  A moment later she toddled out, to where Brad was sitting in front of the television.

She didn’t know what to say to him.  Just sat down and started watching the morning news show.

“What do you want to do now?” Chloe asked awkwardly.

“Ah yeah.” Brad was fairly non-committal.  He didn’t have to go to work that day, so he was enjoying doing nothing much.

“So do you want your pound of flesh now?” She quoted her school English text.

Brad turned and stared at her.  Now, he was looking in the cold light of day.

“How old are you, kid?”

“Old enough!” Chloe snapped. “I’ll be 17 next month.”

This was true, but all the same she was still young enough that it hurt to be called a baby goat.

“In some ways,” Brad replied, looking at the empty bottles on the coffee table significantly.

He paused for a long time, obviously deep in thought.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” Brad said eventually. “You can stay here as long as you like.  Then when you feel like you’re in the mood, you come and let me know.”

He patted her leg slightly.

* * * * *

Chloe walked into the squat.

“Well, well, our little stop-out has returned.” Kat observed.

“Hi,” Chloe replied nervously.

“Is that all you can say?!  How’s Brad going?”

“Actually, I need to pick up my things.”

“Woohoo!  Moving in…” She thought for a moment. “Well you’re lucky, Brad’s always a really top bloke.”

It didn’t take them long to pack up Chloe’s few belongings.  Then they sat down, while Kat made some coffee on her small camping stove.

“Get this into ya.  Soon be warm as toast.”

“There’s something I want to ask you about, Kat.”

“Fire away.”

Chloe told her everything that had happened at Brad’s. “. . .so I don’t know what to do now.”

Kat was silent for a long time. “Well, I haven’t heard anything like this before.  And I know what Brad’s like.”  She thought a little longer. “He must really like you.  I wouldn’t keep him waiting too long though.”

She noticed that the younger girl had bured her face in her hands.

“Clo!  What’s the matter?”

Chloe couldn’t have told her everything then.  It would take many years to slowly and painfully extract the story, which certainly took its toll.

“Don’t worry, sweetie.  I think things are going to work out for you pretty good.”

She suddenly noticed that Chloe was crying.  Quickly she grabbed her and held her.  After a minute, Kat asked:

“Alright, now tell me what’s wrong.”

“It hurts.” Chloe sobbed.

“I-I suppose so. . .at first.  But surely, you were with Jason?”

“Yep, and he was pretty rough.”

“Men!”  Kat couldn’t think of anything better to say, for a long time.

“The way I look at it, you have a few choices here,” she continued, gesturing around the large warehouse. “Go back to your space here and unpack your shit.  Then, when the cold wind blows through here at night, I don’t want to hear you.  I don’t have any spare blankets and you can go and get an old paper.

“Or else you can go back to Brad’s place, and try to make a go of it.”

“I guess that’s it then.” Chloe’s voice was soft.

“Believe me, kid, you could do a lot worse.  I know what Brad’s like, quite a catch for you.”

She busied herself with making them another coffee.

“Why is it that all men only want that?” Chloe sighed.

“Welcome to life in the big city, kid.  That’s what they all want.”  Kat remembered something then. “It could be a lot worse though, if you think about it.  Going out with Shelley, taking down number plates for her.  What will you do when they want you to jump in the car?”

Chloe gasped. “You knew about that?!”

“Of course, she told me.  There’s not much I don’t know about around here.”

There didn’t seem to be much more to say.  They finished their cuppas and Chloe decided to head back to his place.  She wanted to be indoors before the biting cold of the winter night arrived in a few hours.

She gathered up her belongings.

Kat gave her some parting advice. “Just remember that you ain’t the Virgin Mary and this ain’t Christmas.”

* * * * *

Chloe was nervous as she headed for Brad’s flat.  Anticipation is like that.

They were getting along OK, but there was always that tension between them.  Understandable.

He had kissed her once, but it was hardly Hollywood stuff.

Now there didn’t seem to be too much for them to say to each other.  Brad told her a little about his day at work, then they settled down for another evening in front of the TV.  Chloe didn’t talk much, anticipating her next move.

Finally Brad said something about more work in the morning.  He took himself off to the bedroom.

Now the time had come.  Chloe steeled herself, she had to take the chance.

She took a few more deep breaths, then walked toward his room.  Slowly, nervously, she tapped on the door.

“Yes! Come in.”

She walked into the bedroom.  Brad regarded her from under the covers.

“I just wanted to tell you…” Suddenly she was nervous, tongue-tied. “I-I-I think that – it’s t-time now.”

He stared for a moment.

“You’re shivering.” He pulled back the bedcover for her, then indicated the space beside him. “Climb in.”

She did so, wrapped in the warm cocoon of doona and blankets.  He did not touch her at first, until she had relaxed a little in its comfort.

Brad began on her very slowly.

“Just relax.  There’s nothing to worry about, kid.”

She gradually seemed to a little, as the touching went on and on and on.  He was in no hurry, soon they were gasping with the excitement of it all.

Chloe was so lost in pleasure, that she hardly felt the first few thrusts.  She knew that he was inside her, splitting her apart – and it didn’t hurt at all.

* * * * *

They had agreed to meet at the outreach centre.

“Gday Kat!” she cried exuberantly

The girls embraced.  Then Kat studied her for a moment.

“Was it as good as that?”

Chloe turned bright red, feeling as if she was standing in front of the whole world, still naked.

“How did you know?”

“It’s written all over you, sweetie.  Look at the grin on your face.”

“Well. . .you learn something every day.”

“I was married once,” Kat told her, smiling. “I remember those days very well.”

“So what happened?”

“Oh we eventually grew apart.  Long story, really.  He’s up in Queensland now.”

“That’s sad.” Suddenly Chloe looked worried.

“That’s life, sweetie.  Nothing last forever – in the end.” She studied Chloe’s face. “Don’t get upset about it, no point.”

“I’d like to think that Brad and I could live happily ever after.”

Kat laughed. “That’s definitely a fairytale.  Every relationship has it’s honeymoon period, you’ll see.

“My advice is to enjoy it while you can.”

Chloe could think of nothing to say.

Kat looked around. “What time do they serve lunch here, again.”

The sad part was that for all Kat had done to bring them together, Chloe would eventually cut her off.  She didn’t want someone around who had previously slept with her boyfriend.  Jealousy is a curse, indeed.

* * * * *

Chloe still couldn’t believe how lucky she was.

Sometimes after they had made love at night, she would lie beside the sleeping Brad.  She felt totally contented, happy with her lot for the first time in a long time.

Other times, she would climb out of bed.  Still naked, she wandered over to the windows of the flat.  Often that winter; the wind would be howling outside, or else the rain pounding against the windows.

Chloe would think about how fortunate she was, not to be out in that.  She saw life differently to others, grateful for little things that they took for granted – having known the cold embrace of the pavement.

Smiling she would return to their bed, cocooned in warmth and happiness.

Her life would soon become more than enjoying the afterglows.

One morning, they had their first argument.  Brad pushed her hands firmly away from the buttons of his good shirt.  He snapped at her he would be late for work, which would be all her fault.

When she protested; he then told her that she should find a job, it was about time she started to help pay her way. Then he stormed out the door.

Brad would apologise later for his impatience.  By then, she had started to take his advice.

After only a couple of weeks, Chloe had found a job at a local café.  She was soon exhausted after her shifts.  One bonus was the leftovers they let her bring home, it saved on cooking for her man.

It was to be her first step up.

Society had banished people like her, young refugees from impossible family situations.  It was quite happy to throw them on the scrapheap, then turn them into the problem.

Chloe was fated not to live such a life.  She would fight and claw her way up, with Brad by her side.

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