"I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down, I feel my heart start to trembling, whenever you're around."
Ang listened to the old song. Her homework was nearly finished and she didn't expect Jason to arrive for another hour.
What does it feel like when the earth moves?
"Come and help me get the twins to bed."
Ang dragged herself from her desk and into the bathroom. The boys were in the middle of pouring the water out of the bath and onto the bathmat.
"Can you manage in there?" Ang's mother called from her bedroom.
"Yes." She turned to Jeremy and Carlisle. "Would you like to watch that video in your room tonight?" she whispered. The twins were suddenly all attention. They had discussed tonight with Ang. With the wisdom of eight year's experience, they nodded and began to quietly get out of the bath.
In five minutes the boys were in their pyjamas and the bathroom was clean.
When Mr and Mrs Shank left their children, the young boys were quietly lying in their beds and their daughter was bent over books that were arranged on her desk. Ang did the last bit of homework, then sat amongst her books. Her mother always forgot something.
The car pulled back into the driveway.
"You still working dear? Don't get too carried away. See you later."
Ang listened to her father running through a list of items that he considered might possibly also have been forgotten. The car door closed and her parents drove away again. Idly listening to the sound of the car as it became faint and merged with the general sounds of traffic, Ang wondered if her parents "did it" any more.
The thought of Jason coming to visit sent a thrill through her. She loved being able to spend time alone with him. Only . . . well, she always felt as though there should be more to it. The earth hadn't even trembled.
Ang trembled. The sight of Jason walking along the path outside pushed aside any doubts. There was no question in her heart. Jason was all that mattered.
The twins were asleep. The house was lit only by the eerie beams cast through windows by the light on the porch. In her room, Ang lit a candle.
"Is that enough light?"
"Yes, I think I can see it properly now."
The young lovers bent over a book, studying it's pages by candlelight.
"It's all very well having a bloody diagram," growled Jason, "when I can't really see what I'm doing."
Ang looked at the diagram, then giggled. She threw herself back on the bed and offered Jason a view for comparison.
"Oh!" he said. "I think I see what they're talking about."
A silhouette appeared in the lounge-room window, closely followed by another. The figures approached the door and one of them began to fumble with the lock. As they tip-toed through the door they whispered to one another. Walking with unaccustomed stealth, Mr and Mrs Shank were a parody of midnight intruders.
Mr Shank stubbed his toe and swore. His wife hissed ferociously at him, "Shhh!" The twins slept soundly.
Ang woke with a start. She could hear her parents. Quickly realizing the predicament she was in, she grabbed Jason by the shoulder. He woke and gazed at Ang in surprise. She motioned for silence and bent to his ear, whispering.
"My parents are home. You've got to hide!"
It was too late.
"Are you asleep, dear? How did things . . ."
Mrs Shank stared in amazement at the blushing youth who was sitting naked in her daughter's bed. She screamed.
It was not a long scream, or particularly loud, but it was enough to bring her husband to the door. Mr Shank stared in amazement at the startled young man in his daughter's bed. He was stunned into immobility.
A decisive look finally passed over his face. The blank expression was replaced by rage. He grabbed at some clothes that looked like they were Jason's and flung them at the boy.
"Put them on!" he ordered.
Jason began to dress. His hands shook, and he found it difficult to persuade his clothes to cover his body. He looked to Ang for some clue about what he should do. Ang was huddled in her doona, her face a mask of anguish. She looked at Jason hopelessly. Ang's father spoke again.
"Now get out, boy. And I'd better not catch you any-where near my daughter again. D'you understand me?"
Mr Shank stepped towards Jason, who was now standing awkwardly in the centre of the room. Jason turned to Ang.
"Do you want me to stay?" Ang shook her head despairingly. "Will you be all right?" The young couple gazed briefly into one another's eyes. Ang smiled weakly and nodded.
"All right! That's enough! Now get yourself out of here."
The boy walked reluctantly out of the room, keeping a safe distance from Ang's father. Jason was taller than Mr Shank, but he realized that he would be unlikely to match the inflamed parent's experience or anger. He hoped that by leaving quickly he would encourage the Shanks to be lenient towards their daughter.
Jason knew what it was like to be the focus for a father's anger. The beatings he had suffered at the hands of his unpredictable father had made him tough, but vulnerable. Jason would do whatever he could to protect the person who had made him feel wanted and worthwhile. The best thing to do at that moment seemed to be to leave.
While the youth walked away from the house, Ang and her parents stared at one another. Mrs Shank broke the silence.
"Angelica! How could you?"
Ang sat in sullen silence. Mr Shank looked at his daughter. He was confused by the situation. The first wave of rage had passed and all he could think was, "She's just a baby!" Looking at Ang he decided the most important thing was to make sure that this sort of thing didn't happen again.
"Well Angelica, it seems your mother and I can no longer trust you. Since that is the case, we will have to protect you from yourself." He paused, but Ang didn't respond. "You're grounded indefinitely. You will not be left unchaperoned until you are old enough to have more sense. And you're not to see that boy again. I'll call the school on Monday and have you changed out of his class."
"No," said Ang. Her voice was quiet, but the strength and determination it expressed surprised all three who faced each other in the small bedroom. "I won't stop seeing Jason. You can't make me."
"We can make you and we will, young lady!" His daughter's defiance rekindled Mr Shank's anger. "I'm not going to spend my life wondering who I'm going to find in my daughter's bed when I come home. I won't have you prostituting yourself in my house!"
"I love him," Ang replied fiercely.
"Love? Hah! That's a good joke. I suppose he told you he loved you, too, before . . ." His face contorted. "To think a daughter of mine could have such loose morals."
"You hypocrite! What about that woman you were carrying on with last year. You nearly broke Mum's heart. At least I'm not married!"
"No. And now no-one will want you, you little slut."
The antagonism between father and daughter, usually so carefully controlled, was brought into the open by the situation. Ang's mother watched, her emotions in turmoil.
"Don't speak to her like that!"
Mr Shank looked at his wife in astonishment.
"If she deserves it, I will! What do you think I should say? Maybe I should pat her on the head and tell her what a good job she's doing, keeping that hoodlum here so that he's not out terrorizing the community? Perhaps we should see if there are any other thugs that need to be entertained. She's not good for anything else now, is she? Perhaps you can help her. My family was right about you. I should never have married you. For all I know she isn't even my child."
He stalked out of the room.
Ang and her mother looked at each other for a time before Mrs Shank spoke. "I'll talk to him."
Her mother left the room, closing the door. Ang sat in her bed, and at last allowed the tears to flow. For the first time in her memory, her mother had taken her side. But instead of a warm glow, Ang felt a pain in her heart. "It's too late," she told the collection of stuffed toys that hung over her bed.
She wished, now, that Jason had stayed. She felt separated from him. Could her parents really stop her from seeing him? Ang buried her face in her knees and wept.
The familiar sound of her parents fighting halted Ang's sobbing. Shouting at each other in whispers, they made it difficult for Ang to understand what they were saying. Her father's voice became louder and louder, though, until she heard him say, "I should throw all of you out onto the street. I was prepared to go easy on the girl, but I won't have her seeing that thug again."
Ang couldn't understand what her mother said.
"Oh, so we're on about love again, are we?"
Again her mother said something she could not hear.
"Maybe I'd be better at showing my feelings to this family if they didn't have their mother's bad blood. I would never have married you if you hadn't got pregnant, you know." Her father's voice now trailed away, and Ang was unable to follow the conversation for a time.
Ang was surprised when her father flung her door open. Her mother hovered behind him anxiously.
"So, young lady. You love this boy, do you?"
"Yes," Ang replied defiantly.
"And you don't believe you've done anything wrong?"
"Would you do it again if you had the chance?"
Ang hesitated for a moment, then answered, "Yes."
Mr Shank looked at his wife, an evil gloating on his face.
"Then it would seem that you don't belong here, do you? Pack your bags and get out. Let lover-boy take care of you."
He walked from the doorway. Ang stared questioningly at her mother. Mrs Shank dropped her head in shame and left her daughter sitting alone in her room.
Ang stood under the street-lamp, her belongings hanging from her shoulders and hands. She looked to her left and then to her right, as if hoping to find some direction. Jason had been so secretive about where he lived. She couldn't go to him because she didn't know where to go.
She took a deep breath and started walking up the footpath, a small and vulnerable figure in the dark and lonely night.
Annie was having trouble controlling the giggle that threatened to escape. Looking around the classroom she could see that many of the students were not bothering to hide their feelings. Survival, the strongest need of all, brought out the instinct of the pack to stick together. While students sniggered, teachers fought back-to-back.
"Listen to Mr Bond!" Annie snarled. It was them or her!
"The school belongs to all of us," said the voice on the public address system. It was a gentle voice which had been roused to unaccustomed annoyance. The speaker seemed perplexed, and Annie could not shake the feeling that no hardened juvenile delinquent who had been involved in an act of brazen vandalism was going to give in to this gentle man.
"During recess a fire extinguisher was discharged in the corridor outside the Art rooms. Some-one must know who did this. Fortunately the water did little permanent damage, but we will now have to call the fire-brigade to recharge the extinguisher. We will just have to hope we are lucky and that the extinguisher is not needed before it can be fixed. The thoughtlessness of the person, or people, who could endanger their fellow students in this way is unacceptable."
Annie glared at 9B. It did no good. The class was laughing.
"I am horrified and ashamed that a student of this school could be involved in such an act of vandalism. Those responsible will be punished severely. The person or people responsible, or any-one who knows who is responsible, should report to me at my office immediately."
Why fight it? Annie allowed herself a brief smile as the P.A. system crackled into silence.
"All right. That's enough. If any of you know anything about it, go and see Mr Bond now."
Annie waited while the noise died away.
"So, let's get back to work."
The quality of the written pieces, which had been inspired by a theatre performance at the school, had been a pleasant surprise to Annie. Although often lacking the refinements of grammar, the freshness with which her students expressed what they had experienced was exciting. It had been a good day.
When the bell rang she collected the pieces of work that she had not yet discussed and put them aside to look at later. The class rushed out. Becoming writers was not as stimulating as lunch-time.
Busy organizing herself, Annie did not realize that one member of the class had remained.
"Excuse me, Miss Friend."
Jason was standing nervously in front of her desk. His recent friendship with Ang had made him almost a model student. But this was the first time he had attended school since Ang's disappearance.
"Please, Miss. Linda won't tell me what's happening. She isn't even worried. Does she know where Ang is?"
Annie looked at the troubled boy in front of her. He did not bother to put on his tough act. Despite his size he was little more than a scared child. The person who had put some love into his lonely life had gone, and he wanted her back.
"I'm sorry, Jason. We don't know where Ang is either," she said gently.
"Isn't there something we can do to find her?"
"The police are looking for her - she's been listed as a missing person. Her parents have put ads in the papers." Annie shrugged hopelessly. "I don't understand the way Linda is behaving. When Ang first disappeared she was very angry with you. She isn't any more, though. She doesn't know where Ang is, but she's just stopped worrying about her. It's not like Linda."
She tried to smile reassuringly.
"Perhaps she realizes that Ang can take care of herself. It's only been a couple of days."
Jason nodded quickly and scurried out the door. He grabbed his schoolbag from next to the steps and hurried off towards the school gate. Annie didn't call after him.
The staffroom was sparsely populated. The small cliques had hidden themselves away in the parts of the school that they haunted during lunch, or gone to the mall to pretend that the school didn't exist. Annie had brought her lunch in a brown paper bag, having run out of money until next pay.
The staffroom could be a bit dead at lunchtime. The company was good today, though.
"I nearly got knocked over in the rush. I wouldn't have believed so many kids could fit into such a small toilet. I saw a face I recognized and nabbed the kid before he could get away. `What's going on in here, Mark?' I asked. `Oh, nothing Miss. They're just flushing a kid,' he said. `Oh, is that all,' I replied. `Well I'd just better make sure things are all right.'"
"You went into the boys' toilet?"
"Yes, and it wasn't a pleasant experience. In fact, it may possibly be a worse place than the girls' toilet."
The people gathered round the table laughed, briefly discussing the relative merits of girls' and boys' toilets.
"All right. So, it turns out that the kid being flushed was actually his younger brother. I remembered that he'd written a piece about the relationship between the two of them. Apparently they spent a lot of time organizing gestures of kindness towards one another. Chilli on the toothbrush, that sort of thing.
"So I asked if he was trying to help his brother. `No,' he said, rather emphatically. `He deserved it: he slagged on a kid.'" Annie paused briefly. "How could I argue with him?"
The room was filled with the sound of appreciative laughter. Annie went to the sink and made herself a cup of tea. Teaching was thirsty work and telling yarns at lunch-time didn't help. When she returned to the table they were discussing a particular student who seemed to be rather universally disliked.
"I must admit," she said, "I don't think I've ever met a kid that nobody liked."
"You don't teach him, do you?"
"No. I've never met the kid. Is he that bad?"
"Yes. And the parents are really nice, too. I've spoken with them a few times. I kind of feel sorry for them."
"It'd be hard loving a kid like that."
"I don't think any-one could love a kid like that," interjected Graham. "They went all the way up to Sydney to get him, though, that time he ran away and got into trouble with the police. Didn't they?"
"Poor bastards." Graham paused for a moment. "Maybe they should run away from home."
"Be a bit of a change, wouldn't it?" said Annie.
"Yeah. Can you imagine it? Kid comes home, and there's a note on the kitchen table. `We can't stand it any more. We're running away from home.'"
"And we're not coming back!"
People were still laughing at the idea when Jim Bond walked into the staffroom and over to the sink. Annie turned towards the Deputy Principal and spoke to him.
"Heard your announcement, Jim. Any luck?"
"Of course. Kids are in my office - just waiting for the parents to come pick them up."
Jim stirred his coffee and left.
"He should have been a Mountie," Annie informed her bemused colleagues.