Craving Candy: Chapter 8

By the time Lolly heard the crunching sound of metal hitting metal, the accident had already happened ten minutes ago. At least that’s how it felt. She’d paused in the carpark, her indicator on as she prepared to manoeuvre her car into the newly-vacant space when she saw, out of the corner of her eye, the reversing lights, the car backing out and then… fifty-seven minutes later… the back end of the BMW crunching into her passenger side door.

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion, as her friend Jennifer was fond of saying. Except it was literally watching a car crash in slow motion and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

And yet there was a part of her that felt that it was somehow her fault. That her distracted, spiralling mind obsessed with all her current concerns was the reason the accident had occurred.

She hadn’t really been paying attention, had she? She hadn’t really been as focussed as she should be? Surely she was somehow complicit in this moment of slow unfolding disaster?

She didn’t know what to do so she parked. It was all she could think of. And then she got out of her battered old Corolla and surveyed the damage. He’d hit a crumple zone and the passenger door was jammed open. She tried to close it. Stubborn, it would not close.

“You can’t drive that,” a passerby told her. “Door’s fucked”.

She could only nod helplessly at just how ‘fucked’ the car was. The driver of the BMW, an older Korean man, had handed over his licence wordlessly and they’d all photographed the various damage and then he’d driven away and she was left wondering how to deal with the sheer weight of her life’s latest disaster.

“At least nobody’s hurt, love,” another woman told her. She had the dyed blonde hair and bronzed wrinkles of a white woman somewhere between the ages of 50 and 90. And she was right, of course. But it was scant comfort. Deep inside, Laura wondered if maybe it would have been nice to be hurt. Like seriously hurt. In hospital and unable to get up and forced to just lie there for a few weeks doing nothing. Nobody could blame her. She’d have no other choice.

At least nobody was hurt. She repeated it like a mantra because she didn’t really want to be hurt. She may have had the flicker of a thought but she didn’t really mean it. At least nobody was hurt. But she still had a car she couldn’t drive, a shift at the servo to get to and absolutely no money in her bank account. Oh and yeah, a car that wasn’t roadworthy parked in a busy suburban shopping centre that she couldn’t afford to get repaired.

Her insurance had lapsed, why had she let her insurance lapse? She couldn’t afford her insurance, that was why. The bill had come and she’d pretended it hadn’t. As though her insurance wouldn’t expire if she didn’t notice the Due Date on the notice. But it had. She knew that.

The guy who hit her would call his insurer and make the claim and the car would be repaired but when was the question and what did she do now? She had no choice, she had to get the car towed home at least and then hopefully claim it back from his insurance company when the time came.

Idiot, idiot, idiot. What kind of adult is uninsured? It’s Adulting 101.

Laura put her head for a moment, for a single raw moment, on the steering wheel and allowed herself to feel completely overwhelmed. Just for a heartbeat. But in that heartbeat somebody knocked on her passenger-side window.

It was a guy, maybe early 30s with a roll of duct tape. Behind him, she could see his freckled-shoulders girlfriend with matching boardies and a singlet standing next to what must be their 4WD. It was the ‘door’s fucked’ guy. She opened the door and got out.

“Let’s get you fixed up,” he told her. He managed to be laconic somehow, although she didn’t see how it was possible in that situation. “Get you home at least”.

He and his devastatingly-efficient other half proceeded to work wonders with rope and tape until the door was closed and wouldn’t open at least while she was driving home. Lolly was so grateful she almost cried.

“Can’t believe that bastard just left you here like that,” he capped it off, but the whole time not entirely looking at her as though he was fixing a car belonging to nobody – or everybody. “Didn’t even offer you a lift or call a cab. Fucking asshole,” he concluded to the air and Laura found it weirdly comforting, as though the act of helping her was something that was just happening and another human being wasn’t involved at all.

Before she could barely work out how to thank them for their help, they declared “she’ll be right” and headed off into the shopping centre with a dozen shopping bags and a cooler bag. They were going camping she guessed and had treated her extreme crisis as if it was at the same level as doing their groceries.

As she drove off, Laura was in a small bizarre bubble of happiness as though her trashed car paled beside the small routine act of human kindness. It was a glistening, pink bubble of groundless euphoria that lasted as long as the drive to her afternoon shift. Where she got fired.

I really believed you, Laura wanted to say as she stared unblinking at her boss. I really believed we were family.

That’s what they’d always said to her, after all. “We’re a family business,” Rick had said so often. “Our workers are family.”

Implied. You’re family.

Family didn’t fire you with no notice just as you were about to start your shift.

She didn’t deal well with confrontation, at least with those she knew. So she left in a haze, drove off in the car she shouldn’t be driving and hesitated for an hour two, assertively procrastinating while the voice in the back of her mind told her she needed to at least ask them. In the end, while she lay on her bed staring at the monochromatic ceiling in the monochromatic cupboard of a unit she desperately wanted to leave, she found herself texting the wiry middle-aged former mechanic who owned the service station that had been her favourite part-time job.

“I’m sorry,” he replied quickly, too quickly, as though his reply was there waiting for her inevitable message for him to press ‘send’. “Because of Jobkeeper, it makes sense for us to keep our full-time staff and get rid of our casuals,” he explained bluntly. “It’s not personal. I’ll give you a reference. Just typing it now.”

A reference. For her to apply to do what? Work as an Uber driver in a car with a duct taped door that she couldn’t legally drive.

And there it was, thrumming even louder on the back of her skull. Driving her crazy with his incessant drum beat.

Money. Money. Money.


Craving Candy: Chapter 7

“A Margarita, a lychee martini and a Pisco Sour, please,” the overdressed office worker asked her, with only a slight slur in her lightly accented voice.

When Phil had asked her to take some shifts, she had assumed he was opening the moshpit cesspool that was his downtown venue. She was pleasantly surprised when she found herself at Thursday’s by the river.

Thursday’s was an open plan bar with a large deck overlooking the water. The huge glass doors swung open to let the inside merge with the outside and to let the cool spring air swirl through the room. With the Covid restrictions in force, patrons were scattered at tables drinking cocktails and champagne; the (currently) polite 9 to 5 crowd of power suits and designer boots.

The bankers, lawyers, engineers and accountants were going to end up as obnoxious as anyone else after dark – maybe even more so – but for now they were content to sit in distanced tables watching the the sun set in a blaze of reds and yellow over the bridge.

Laura tried to avoid fiddling with the mask on her face as she poured drink after drink and handed out increasing amounts of water. It was hot for this time of year and everyone was taking advantage of the generous drink specials that Phil had used to lure them back into the club.

“They’re getting drunk fast,” Jennifer noted, her pure blonde hair gleaming with copper light as the sun finally set and the main band for the evening started their set. 

Phil had contracted a series of live bands for their grand reopening as a way of providing music without encouraging people to dance. The first band had been strumming out classic pub tunes, 80s rock and Powderfinger songs since mid-afternoon. It seemed to be going down well, even though few people in the club were born when most of the songs were written. 

Laura nodded, not entirely sure whether she and her best friend, Jennifer – possibly former? – were back to their status quo after the share house incident that had caused her parents to pull her out and put her in student accommodation. She’d spent the lockdown doing remote lectures in a room so small she could almost reach out and touch every wall and she still hadn’t decided how much of that she blamed on Jennifer.

Still, she owed this job to her. As well as a lot of other things since they met on the first day of Year 8. One incident, however terrible, shouldn’t ruin a friendship like that. Should it?

“Move it!” Kelly yelled from the other drink station, “They’ll be finishing their set soon.”

Kelly was the quintessential blowsy blonde Aussie chick with a thick tan and a boundless confidence; the ability to don a bikini in public despite the muffin top hanging over it and no fear of drinking 20 pots in some suburban beer garden with a group of men. She was the kind of girl from her high school years that Laura both feared and envied and the exact opposite of the studious and serious Jennifer who had gravitated to the Asian students more than the white girls from day one.

“Sorry, I’m on it,” Laura apologised and focussed back on the growing crowd. She was sure it was starting to get too crowded in here. As the sun set, people began to move inside and mill around. There were restrictions on numbers and it was beginning to look too crowded. At least to her. 

“Gosh it’s so busy,” Kelly said as she joined them at the bar to help clear the crowd, “Don’t these people know it’s a pandemic? I only took this shift because I thought it’d be quiet. And I need a new carby.”

“A what?” Laura asked, hating it when the slang of her own country flew over her head. It made her feel othered, like she was back in high school and relegated to the Asian group. She hated that feeling. There were few things about high school she remembered with fondness because of it. And not just because her feelings about her friendship with Jennifer were complicated these days.

“A carburettor. For my bike,” Kelly explained. Kelly rode motorbikes. Of course she did.

“Merciful Lord,” said Jennifer suddenly from the next station, “That is the best looking man I have ever seen.”

Laura grinned at her friend’s outburst, all ambiguity gone in the common interest of a hot member of the male species. She swung her eyes over to where two men were standing near the back of the room. They were both impeccably dressed of course, clearly of the professional city crowd and even slightly above it. Both seemed to be in expensive designer labels. One was wearing a large number of rings on his hand, while the other sported a designer earring.

Both were of Asian descent, which made Laura’s inner eye roll. She was never sure if Jennifer’s predilection was something she should have a problem with but it seemed to be based on nothing but a genuine attraction. And possibly an adolescence of too much Kpop. Jennifer fricking loved Kpop.

They were both tall for Asian men; their lean legs and well-sculpted chests filling out their tailored shirts nicely. And as for their faces… their faces…

“Fuck!” Laura said out loud and instantly had the immense shame that came with swearing. Her parents hated swearing. If they’d been here they’d throw her looks of intense disappointment. But the word escaped her before she knew what was happening.

“You alright, hon?” Kelly asked, her concern genuine. Jennifer simply looked taken aback. She knew how rare it was for Laura to swear anywhere outside of her head.

“It’s him!” she said, “Him!”



Why here? Why here now?

She realised they had no idea who ‘he’ was. She wasn’t close enough to either right now to tell them and the mask hid most of the blotchy yellow damage from the weekend before.

“Last weekend, he… oh dear God, here they come.”

And they did, the two men sauntering up to the bar like large cats after their prey. Like a cheetah.

“Here they come!” yelled Kelly, cheerfully and Laura glared at her. She had no idea what had happened but she was still ready to microwave virtual popcorn and watch the show. Then Kelly winked at her and gave her shoulder a sympathetic hand and Laura felt bad tempered and mean spirited. Maybe the Kelly’s of this world had the right idea. The cheery enthusiasm. The unstoppable ability to do.

As he approached the bar and she realised he hadn’t seen her, she got her first chance to really look at him. 

The dark brown hair fell softly at a perfect angle down his forehead, highlighting those chocolate-brown eyes. His eyes were large and only gently slanted, presently crinkled to an amusement that danced ironically around his lips. His hair was slightly too long and slightly wavy and he had a smattering of growth on his chin and upper lip. Not like he’d forgotten to shave but had simply been too busy in the boardroom.

The boardroom? The boardroom! She’d been watching too many of her mother’s Taiwanese dramas. But oh God, that’s what he looked like. He looked like a male lead. He looked like Aaron Yan’s straight older brother. His much taller straight older brother. Why was she fixating on him being straight?

He’s an asshole, she reminded herself. No, a jerk. A non-sweary jerk. A Jerky McJerkFace. She replayed for herself his lack of concern over her bleeding when she bumped into him. He was instead furious at the stain on his shirt. She wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to charge her for his dry cleaning because of it.

“Two pints,” his friend said as he got to the bar and both Jennifer and Kelly shook their heads at him to signify they were busy. Yeah, thanks friends.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re like the moon in a clear night sky.”

Laura kept her head down and began pulling the beers. She was many things but beautiful was not one of them and besides, “The moon’s a waning crescent tonight. Are you saying I’m dim and barely visible?”

Gosh, why on Earth did she say that? She was trying to avoid their attention. Wasn’t she?

She snuck a glance at Aaron Yan’s older very straight brother and he was thankfully surveying the room with a slightly bored look on his face. His jerk face. 

“I’m saying you’re full of potential and will still shine even as you wax and wane.”

Wow, this guy could flirt. Seriously flirt. The most she usually got from the average Australian male was Can I buy you a beer? or I think you’re hot, let’s hook up.  This was some next level flirting. It wasn’t even the words themselves, as impressive as they were, but the gentle self-mocking tone as though he may not be entirely serious and was therefore absolutely no threat.

Laura wasn’t used to it and reddened slightly despite herself. Nonetheless, she studiously ignored him and the dawning fact that he was also extremely good looking in a fine-boned, metrosexual way. The kind of man who could pull off the guyliner he was wearing around his almost-black eyes and the long hair pulled back to reveal his emerald-cut cheekbones. 

She put the two pints on the bar and looked up to ask for the money, thinking she’d managed to get through the encounter unscathed when…

“It’s you.”

There it was. 

She looked up despite herself, her eyes betraying her recognition before she could pretend she didn’t know him. 

His tone was flat but his face was ice and stone. For some reason she was reminded of the strange woman in the store from Monday night. This was the same look. He was beneath her. 

“That’ll be $12,” she told them, trying to stay calm.

“Do you two know each other?” the jerk’s friend asked him, looking between them with an interested glance. 

“You know you ruined my shirt,” he asked her rhetorically. Superciliously, even. She wasn’t sure how he managed to sound both bored and arrogant at the same time but he had pulled it off. 

“It was Gucci. You should have seen my dry cleaning bill.”

Wow, he really had brought up the dry cleaning bill. She couldn’t believe it. 

She took a deep breath and managed to calmly say, “I’m sorry I accidentally bumped into you while I was running for help while covered in blood. Do you want me to pay your dry cleaning bill?”

Personally she didn’t think she should have to pay his dry cleaning bill but it had occurred to her she probably would have made the offer to somebody who wasn’t him.

He looked pointedly bored, suddenly, as if talking to someone like her was too much effort. He shot a look up and down her cheap Target jeans and t-shirt. “Just forget it,” he said dismissively, “I doubt you could afford it.”

“To be clear, we’re talking about the dry cleaning bill. Not the shirt itself. I think I can afford a dry cleaning bill.”

“It’s fine,” he said, waving his hand in a display of what he appeared to think was magnanimity, “I can just buy another shirt.”

“Hey!” It was Kelly, who she realised had been quietly shuffling her way over, leaving her queue of thirsty patrons stranded, “Don’t you talk to her like that.”

“Yeah,” Jennifer said, belatedly realising that standing up for Laura was supposed to be her job. Jennifer seemed to always be late in this particular regard.

Laura was as tired of this conversation as the customers building up behind him were.

“Look, I’m happy to pay the bill. Hand it over. Or do you want to drop it by the service station? I can pick it up on Sunday morning.”

“And I’m telling you, it’s okay. Someone who works in a place like this needs to save every cent.”

“What’s wrong with where I work? It’s a job. Those are hard to come by these days. I consider myself lucky.”

He rolled his eyes, “Minimum wage, plus what? Time and a half? And you’re what? 24? 25? Maybe if you’d worked harder you wouldn’t be stuck in unskilled work when everyone else our age is buying their first home.”

Buying their first home. In what universe… Of all days… It was just too much, she thought. Too much.

“You know what,” she snapped, her adrenaline overwhelming her common sense, “I happen to be proud of the fact I have a job. I happen to think every job is equal. And yes I could use more money but that’s hardly a reflection of how hard I work. And not only can I afford your dry cleaning bill, I can afford to do this.”

And she picked up the two pints she’d just poured for them and dumped them both over his head. The beer sloshed in a frothy wave down his perfect hair and his perfect face, all the way down to his patent leather shoes. And he stood there agape at her audacity as it dripped off his eyelashes and pooled in his socks. 

“And when you get the dry cleaning bill for this outfit,” Laura finished, “make sure to send that to me as well,”. She then gestured to the two woman standing behind him.