The hillside grew dark as the four guys settled into Adam’s living room. Richard’s fingers turned his car keys over and over. Adam put the video they’d hired down on the coffee table.
Scott immediately picked it up again. ‘This movie is gonna suck so bad.’
Dennis was on the couch. ‘It could be good.’
‘It won’t be good. You always pick the dumbest movies. Its like you have a special radar for detecting complete shit. Almost a super power, really.’
‘It could be good.’
‘No fucking chance.’
Adam cleared his throat. ‘Um, Scott? My family are all home, so, please?’
‘Yeah yeah yeah. PG-13 language only.’ Scott sat crosslegged by the fireplace. ‘So, Rich. Gonna tell us about your Friday night?’
Richard was over at the picture window, looking out at the city. ‘Huh?’
‘Are you going to share the news? Who was she? What’s going on? Why are you staring out the window sighing like Romeo thinking about Juliet?’
‘Oh.’ He turned to face the others, silhouetted against the evening sky, the clouds reflecting city light. ‘That.’
‘Oh, please. You’ve been preoccupied since, what, Thursday? And since it’s now Sunday and you still haven’t volunteered any information, the time has come for your trusted neglected friends to dig a little.’
Richard folded his arms. ‘Not much to tell.’
‘Start with her name.’
Dennis spoke up. ‘Kirsty Rhodes. Goes to Hutt High. Pretty.’
Scott’s eyes narrowed. ‘Waitasecond, how do you know this? Richard, please don’t tell me you spilled your guts to this chump but held out on me. Say it ain’t so.’
‘Ran into them,’ Dennis said.
Adam was interested. ‘Is that the Kirsty Rhodes who lives just down the hill? I’ve met her. She is pretty.’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake.’ Scott put his hands up. ‘And Adam’s met her too? What the hell is going on here? Adam, go get some food so I can throw it at you.’
Adam went to the kitchen. Richard took the other seat on the couch, still silent. He noticed Scott staring at him. ‘What?’
‘You’re thinking about her right now, aren’t you?’
Richard didn’t answer but he didn’t try to hide it. He was thinking about a lot of things.
‘Is that right? She lives just down the road?’ Scott smiled broadly. ‘Give her a call! Invite her up! Watching a bad post-apocalypse action movie with her new boyfriend, how could she resist?’
‘It might be good,’ Dennis said.
Richard shook his head. ‘I’m not her boyfriend. It’s just a thing.’
‘So far it’s just a thing. Oh, come on, fucking hell. The others have met her, give me a chance to catch up why don’t you?’
‘Shit, Scott.’ Richard was getting irritated. ‘Why don’t you ask Dennis about his date on Friday?’
‘Because those stories are always the same. Den meets girl, Den puts tongue in girl’s throat, Den puts hand in girl’s pants, Den sleeps with her, Den doesn’t call her, girl cries, Den meets the next girl. Boring. Old news. But you, Rich, you don’t get together with anyone hardly ever. So this counts as interesting.’
Richard wasn’t in the mood to answer. He’d been thinking in non-stop circles for an entire weekend and it was starting to wear him out.
Adam reappeared with 7-Up and glasses and a bowl of chippies. ‘Hey guys,’ he said. ‘Look who I found.’
Following him into the room was a young woman with a confident smile. The girl put her hands on her hips. ‘It’s the Hutt boys! Holy crap, you all look exactly the same.’
‘Lauren!’ Scott said, unable to hide his surprise.
‘Why, the gambler himself. How are things, Scott?’
‘Ah, yeah, good. You?’
‘Likewise, always.’ She pointed one forefinger at Richard and the other at Dennis, like a two-gun cowgirl shooting from the hip. ‘Now – let’s see if I get the names around the right way. Richard? And Dennis.’
Lauren was Adam’s cousin. Richard had met her the last time she’d been visiting, a year ago, playing cards in Adam’s room for hours.
‘So what’s the story, boys? Pretending to be all grown up?’
Scott stood up. ‘No more than you.’
‘Hell, I’m not pretending.’
‘Leave it out, you’re just one year ahead of us.’
Lauren’s eyebrows curved merrily. ‘The thing is, I feel so much older.’
Dennis spoke up from the couch. ‘I wouldn’t mind checking that for myself.’
Lauren rewarded him with a grin and sat on the spare armchair. ‘So what’s this movie? Oh, jesus. This looks sub-Chuck Norris. Who chose this?’
‘That’s a classic Dennis video pick,’ Scott said.
‘Nice work, Dennis. An appreciation for the worst cinema ever made. It takes soul to enjoy shit like this, know what I mean?’
Richard let himself smile as the wind came out of Scott’s sails.
Adam poured drinks and handed them out while Dennis kept up the chat. ‘So what are you doing here? Adam didn’t mention anything.’
‘I guess I’m the Sunday night surprise. You guys been up to much today?’
‘Playing basketball,’ Adam said. ‘We have trials for the team on Thursday so we’re practising.’
Lauren tucked her legs up into the chair and sat cross-legged. ‘Nice one. I never quite know, does a day of sport make guys more or less manageable? Does it bleed off testosterone or just get more of it pumping?’
Dennis looked amused. ‘What, you like us manageable?’
‘Of course. Guys are beasts, especially in groups. Wild as a troop of rogue baboons. I prefer you a bit less horny.’
Dennis arched an eyebrow. ‘How much less?’
Lauren narrowed her eyes, amused. ‘Good girls never tell.’
Scott coughed to catch some attention. ‘So how long are you in town?’
‘Leaving tomorrow, I’m afraid. Just here for the weekend actually.
‘I must have forgot to say,’ Adam said, looking guilty.
‘He was under orders,’ Lauren grinned. ‘I’m here undercover, top-secret two-day scouting mission, couldn’t mention my presence under pain of death.’
Scott smiled at this. ‘Who are you hiding from?’
‘The real-world people who want me to get a job and a life and stuff. But that’s okay, I think I’ve found a good place to hide for the next few years – design school, ta da! It sounds real, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s perfect.’
‘You’re going to study design?’
Lauren nodded. ‘I’m taking an intro course next half, to see how I like it, you know? Photography and drawing and stuff. So are we gonna watch this thing?’
‘We’re just waiting for Richard to invite his new girlfriend up,’ Scott said. ‘Isn’t that right, Rich?’
Richard took a moment to respond – he’d been quite enjoying staying out of the chatter. ‘Nope.’
Lauren leaned towards Richard, fascinated. ‘Why not? You’re hiding her from your friends? Are you ashamed of my cousin, is that it?’
‘Nothing like that.’
There were a bunch of reasons, most of them in his gut instinct that it would be a bad idea. Richard shrugged. ‘If I bring her up here, and she meets all of you guys, then it gets all complicated, you know?’
Dennis nodded agreement. ‘No control.’
Lauren seemed satisfied. ‘Guys are fascinating,’ she said.
They all settled in to watch the video. Richard’s mind was miles away, thinking about Kirsty, thinking about leaving, thinking about getting serious. Thinking about screwing up.
‘Rogue baboons,’ Dennis said. ‘I like that.’
Lauren grinned at him.