CONNECTION

CHAPTER ONE

“Vaginas rule the world!” my flamboyant best friend hollers.

“Really, Carly?” I facepalm then peek through my spread fingers, unable to stop myself from smiling at her idiocy.

“Yes, really.” She points a spatula covered in meringue at me. “And it’s about time you realised it.”

Sliding my hand to my temple, I massage it to release the Carly-tension Carly so easily puts there. “How? How do vaginas rule the world? Please enlighten me.”

This should be good.

She licks the spatula and waggles her eyebrows. “Because men are powerless when it comes to the pink taco.”

“Oh my God! Are you for real?”

“I’m for very real. The realest real I can be.” Carly places her hands on the benchtop and pierces me with her very real stare. “That carrot-topped taco between your legs is the most powerful thing you’ll ever own, so I suggest you wield it like a weapon.”

Carly!

“What?” She furrows her brow for the slightest of seconds before brushing her inappropriate comment off with the swish of her hand.

Inappropriate. That’s the best way to describe my roommate and best friend of several years. She’s offensive, fierce, and filterless, but she also has a heart of gold and bears an uncanny resemblance to Barbie.

Snatching the spatula from her manicured hand before she further desecrates our kitchen, I safely place it in the dishwasher, close the door, and rest my backside against it, arms crossed over my chest. “You can’t just talk about my vagina like that.”

“Yes, I can. You’re a redhead, Lib. It’s scientifically proven that your taco is redheaded as well.”

This is why Carly isn’t a teacher and I am.

“Scientifically proven?” I prompt, almost choking.

“Yep.” She pokes at the cake she’s just covered in meringue and then sucks her finger clean.

“It’s not scientifically proven.” Dismissing her lunacy like I normally do, I walk to the stools at our breakfast bar and slump into one. “You’re right about one thing though; vaginas should rule the world—”

Do,” she interrupts, “not should. Do.”

“Right. Do.” I sigh, unconvinced, and then pick at my unmanicured nails.

“You should see to those abominations.” Carly gestures to my fingers while performing a “blergh” face.

I fold them into my hands and make fists. “Why?”

“Because they’re hideous.”

“Why does it even matter? I’ve no one to impress.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Who?”

She points to her voluptuous chest. “Me… and your Prince Charming.” Carly smiles and bats her eyelids, and I know she’s patronising me. “Oh, and you, of course. You should do it for you too.”

I scoff. “We both know my Prince Charming doesn’t exist.”

She pouts. “Yes, he does.”

“No, he doesn’t. I’ve been waiting all my life for him to ride in on his horse at sunset and whisk me away to live happily ever after, and he hasn’t. Not once.” I throw my hands in the air. “So why should I bother ‘decorating’ myself while waiting for him? I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t bother at all.”

“Oh, Libby Mermaid…” Carly’s lips flatten, just like my mum’s did before she told me Santa Claus wasn’t real.

I bite back my half-smile at one of her nicknames for me—The Little Mermaid is my favourite Disney Princess—and snap out a, “What?”

“It saddens me to tell you this, but, yes, you’re right, Prince freakin’ Charming doesn’t exist.” She leans over the benchtop, her chin propped in her hands. “What’s wrong? Something’s really bothering you. I can tell.”

I divert my gaze to our pastel-pink Smeg kettle. “There’s nothing bothering me.”

“I call bullshit.”

“You can call whatever you like.”

“Libby, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing!” My face flushes with heat.

“Lies!” she yells, pointing at me and nearly taking out my eye. “Your cheeks are as red as your taco.”

Gritting my teeth, I snatch up my handbag and head to my room.

“Where are you going?”

I don’t answer her; there’s no point.

“Wait! Lib, come back. I’m just kidding. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Again, I don’t answer. I’m just not in the mood.

“Fairy tales, princes, and princesses are all real,” she calls out. “I promise. Now come back.”

“Have a good time tonight, Carly,” I say as I close my bedroom door behind me.

Tears sting my eyes, but I wipe them away with the back of my hand. I’m not going to cry over him. Not again. Not a second longer. He’s stolen enough tears from me already, and I refuse to let him steal any more. Tears aren’t like rain; you shouldn’t just let them fall.

Blowing out a long, slow breath, I blink my eyes dry just as Sasha—Carly’s eight-month-old golden retriever pup—scratches at my door. I turn the handle and let her in, and she bounds into the room like a sun-kissed whirlwind.

“Hello, baby girl.”

Bending down, I knead my fingers into the base of her ears. She smiles, which makes me smile.

“Did your rude, inappropriate mummy take you for a walk today?”

Sasha barks and whips her tongue across my face.

“My guess is that’s a no.”

She goes for a second tongue-whip, and I scrunch my nose but laugh. “Who needs men when we have dogs like you, huh?”

She barks again.

“Exactly! Men are jerks.”

Sasha rolls onto her back and kicks her legs in the air, so I sit on the ground next to her and scratch her belly, her leg twitching like crazy.

“Oooh yeah.” I scratch harder. “That’s the spot.”

My phone sounds an incoming message, so I abandon Sasha’s belly and reach into my handbag, pulling it out to find a text message from Oliver.

Oliver: I’m sorry, Lib. Got caught up. Raincheck?

I roll my eyes at his lame excuse. Pfft. Caught up? More like forgot.

Today isn’t the first time Oliver—a teacher and colleague at my school—has stood me up, but it will be the last.

I decide not to respond, and a few minutes later, another message sounds.

Debating whether or not to look, curiosity ends up getting the better of me.

Oliver: I swear, Lib. My grandma needed me to fix a leaky tap.

His grandma? Pa-lease. I’m not falling for that. I toss my phone onto the bed and stand up, ready to take a shower and get dressed for my mother’s birthday dinner, when doubt creeps up my spine like a spindly spider and stops me.

What if he’s telling the truth? I mean helping his grandma is quite lovely and chivalrous, and I shouldn’t punish him for being a wonderful grandson, should I?

Biting my lip, I clasp my phone and hover my finger over the Reply button until I eventually press it and type him a response.

Libby: It’s okay. I hope you fixed the leak.

Oliver: I did. Thanks for understanding, sweet cheeks.

Sweet cheeks? Warmth spreads over my body, and I feel a little fuzzy but also a little weird; he’s never called me sweet cheeks before. In fact, he’s never called me anything other than Lib or Ms Hanson.

Oliver: So, raincheck?

Libby: Sure

Oliver: Great! Dinner Wednesday?

I smile; dinner sounds perfect.

Libby: Looking forward to it.

Oliver: See you Monday.

Placing my phone back down, I silently curse myself for being too quick to vilify him. Sure, he’s stood me up a couple of times before, but he’s always apologised and tried to make amends, and remorse has got to count for something.

Sasha barks her impatience and tries to paw my hand, so I clasp her fluffy face and kiss the space between her big brown eyes. “Your mummy is wrong, Sashy. Prince Charming does exist, and he thinks I have sweet cheeks.” I hug her to my chest, and she licks my chin. “I just have to wait for him a little while longer. And shit!” I cringe at my hands. “I need to paint my fingernails.”