It was the summer of my last year of high school. The summer our home had finally thawed from a wet winter, and every wall of our mould-riddled house was insulated with stacks of Mum’s self-published poetry books.
It was the summer New Zealand elected a right-wing prime minister who tugged on the parents at school’s heartstrings and waitresses’ ponytails.
It was the summer all the teachers told us to study hard so we could have a career, while all the News reported on was the global recession, unemployment, and how my generation would never be able to afford a home.
It was the summer everyone who was anyone knew exactly what they were going to study at university, while the rest of us were told we might be better off marrying rich.
It was the summer Tiff and I worked as waitresses, got fake IDs and spent every weekend we could clubbing and doing lines that Kaitlyn’s boyfriend sold us for half price.
It was the first summer I hadn’t seen Div once, Jess abandoned our group for people cooler and richer, and Dad went back to washing her family’s house every weekend.
‘Pass the note,’ says Tiff.
‘I gave it to you,’ says Kaitlyn, wide-eyed and tight-jawed.
‘For fuck’s sake. Don’t lose this one,’ says Adam, handing Tiff a $50 bill. ‘And hurry up. I don’t want to miss the first act.’
‘Chill babe. It’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine. Wonderful, in fact,’ says Kaitlyn, taking Adam in both hands and kissing him on the lips. Adam kisses her, then pulls away.
‘You’re cooked, babe,’ he laughs.
‘This stuff is so good. I feel amazing,’ says Kaitlyn.
‘Better than the shit that was laced with meth last weekend,’ says Adam.
‘Shut up,’ snaps Tiff. ‘My Mum is in the other room, remember. Turn up the music.’
Kaitlyn twists the knob on the stereo. Chase and Status pulse through the room. Tiff kneels down beside her bedside cabinet, retrieves her bus card from her wallet and presses it down on top of the pink pill imprinted with a Mercedes symbol until it cracks and turns to powder. She cuts up any lumps with the side of the card before guiding the powder into two neat lines. She takes the $50 note, rolls it into a tight cylinder and raises it to her right nostril.
Her head follows the line from up to down in one sweeping motion.
‘Fuck, it burns. But it feels good,’ she says, sniffing up any powder stuck in her nose and licking the sides of her bus card. She hands me the note.
I copy Tiff’s process, but only half makes its way up my nostril.
‘I can’t get it,’ I whisper. Tiff always looks like a pro when she does lines. I always manage to fuck it up somehow. Sneezing and losing half the line or not breathing in hard enough to transport the powder up.
Tiff giggles, ‘Just try block your other nostril,’ she whispers, putting her hand on my back and placing her body between me, Adam and Kaitlyn, so they can’t view my incompetence.
‘I can never do lines under pressure,’ I whisper, flustered.
Tiff takes my hand. ‘Saff, chill. Just take a big breath naturally, and it will flow right in.’
I re-roll the note and place it in my right nostril. My left hand presses my left nostril shut. I breathe in as Tiff has suggested and feel the powder shoot up. It burns, making my eyes water. Chunks of powder make their way into the back of my throat. It tastes like the time I was ten and accidentally bit into a mothball thinking it was a peppermint. I force the lumps out with my tongue, sniff aggressively, and swallow hard.
‘You’ll feel great in 20 minutes,’ says Kaitlyn jumping up on Tiff’s bed and moving her head and arms to the drop.
‘Ready?’ says Adam.
Tiff turns off the stereo and gathers her things into a black leather handbag.
‘Smile!’ says Kaitlyn flashing her pink Sony Cybershot our way.
‘There better be no evidence of E in that shot,’ snaps Adam.
‘Bye, Mum!’ says Tiff as we make our way through the toy-lined hallway and out the door.
In Adam’s car, the music gets louder and the streets sweep by faster and faster. My heart beats fast and my mind sifts through any painful memories, dragging them into a magical trash bin that compresses them and turns them into exploding galaxies that light up every corner of my mind. I think about the girls at school who had whispered behind our backs this week. Since Jess and Sharon had been inducted into the cool group over the summer, Jess had made it her goal to exert her newfound power over our remaining group by spreading rumours about us.
Did you know Saff’s Dad weeds my garden? I heard her Mum writes weird poetry. I heard her Aunt went crazy and killed herself. I heard Tiff slept with Kaitlyn’s boyfriend. I heard Kaitlyn is addicted to crack. Ew. Poor. Povo. Whores. Sluts.
The drugs spin the sentences round and round in my brain until the words jumble up into indecipherable anagrams, and they don’t hurt me anymore. They don’t call it ecstasy for nothing.
‘Tell me your name again?’ says Tiff with a serious expression.
I look at her with a straight face. ‘Kelsey Waddington.’
Tiff nods. ‘Birthday?’
‘22 July 1990.’
Tiff nods again. ‘Star sign?’
‘They never ask that,’ I say.
‘They might,’ says Tiff.
‘Cancer,’ I say.
‘Good girl,’ Tiff says, reaching over to fix my hair. ‘You need to stop swishing it to the side. Kelsey has hers in a dead-straight middle parting.’
‘Sorry, habit,’ I say.
‘We better not get bounced for the first time tonight. I’ve been waiting for this show for a year,’ Tiff says.
‘I won’t touch it again. Your turn,’ I say.
‘Sarah Weaver, 24 July 1990, Leo,’ Tiff says casually. She holds her fake ID next to her face practising the same smile as Sarah’s in the picture.
I like it when Tiff and I use our fake IDs. Not just because it gets us into clubs and allows us to buy alcohol but because it makes me feel like, for the night, we are different people. Tonight I am Kelsey, and Kelsey is whoever I want her to be. Kelsey, I decide, has travelled the world and lives in an apartment with a view of the ocean. She has a job in an office, with a company car and a salary that pays for jewellery and designer clothing. Kelsey, I think, is into women.
I wonder what Sarah would do if Kelsey were to lean in and kiss her on the lips.
‘Do I have Sarah’s smile right?’ Tiff says, poking me in the ribs.
‘Practically twins,’ I smile.