Copyright © Renee Conoulty 2017
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by Renee Conoulty
Mean a Thing Excerpt
To my niece, Grace. You’re just as beautiful as your name. Happy
run! And use two hands.”
“I won’t drop it, Mum, promise.”
on the park bench, watching her son stalk around the playground
clutching her brand-new smartphone. He tapped the screen with slender
fingers, his chubby toddler hands had vanished, then ran back.
Mum, look. I caught a Geodude. He’s a rock Pokémon just like Onix,
so maybe I’ll find an Onix today.”
across the playground and paced in circles.
downloaded the Pokémon Go game during the school holidays as a
bonding activity with her son. A great excuse to get out of the house
and explore the local community. They’d discovered a World War Two
archaeological walk full of Pokéstops and were currently working
their way around the local playgrounds. Grace hadn’t been
interested in Pokémon when she was young but had soon learned all
the lingo. Pokéstops, Gyms, Great Balls and Revives. Whatever it
took to make Finn happy. He was the centre of her world and if he
wanted to hang out with Pikachu and Squirtle, then that’s what
they’d do. For the next half hour, anyway.
of kids ran up the path, jumped over the concrete edging and
scrambled up the monkey bars. Finn raced across the playground,
kicking up the sand.
hold this? I wanna play with my friends.”
kids, in matching school uniforms, clambered all over the equipment.
checked the screen for scratches, then noticing the Pokéstop was in
range, clicked on the icon and spun the disk. For Finn. As she placed
the phone in her lap, a green ute pulled up opposite the playground.
Nobody got out. It was difficult to see through the tinted windows,
but there appeared to be only one person in the car.
minutes,” Grace called out. Attempting to leave without a wind-up
warning always led to tears.
minutes later, the car was still there. The knot in Grace’s stomach
tightened. Who would loiter by a kids’ playground but a predator?
clutched Finn’s hand. Keeping herself between him and the strange
ute, she crossed the grass to her car. She gripped her keys, the
largest one jutting out between her whitened knuckles. As they
reached the safety of Grace’s hatchback, the green car pulled away.
* * *
school today?” Grace asked.
Can we go the long, long way home again?”
smiled. “How about we just go the long way. We’ll go down the
main street tomorrow after gymnastics.”
what have I said about whinging?” She glanced into the rear vision
stop and battle the gym near our place.”
Finn pumped his fist in the air.
waited for the seatbelt indicator light to turn from red to green
then passed Finn her phone. They turned right out of the car park to
go past six Pokéstops and a Pokémon gym on the way home instead of
the shortcut to the left that didn’t go past any. Grace pulled into
a parking space but kept the car idling for the air-conditioning.
the yellow team, but it’s only a level four so I’ll kick them out
in no time.” Finn tapped away, his brow furrowed and eyes glued to
over her shoulder and watched him, hunched over the phone. Something
green flashed in her periphery. Grace turned to look out her window.
A car had pulled up beside them. Grace looked closer. No, it was a
ute. The same one she’d seen the day before. This time she could
make out the silhouette of a man leaning on the steering wheel.
time to go.”
Mum, I’ve only got one more Pokémon to defeat, then I can take
over the gym.”
flicked the central locking. “Okay. Five more minutes, then we have
glanced over at the green ute again. The stranger shifted position
and Grace caught a glimpse of an illuminated screen.
there’s someone else battling.”
it’s him.” She gestured to the green ute, careful to keep her
hands below the level of the window.
Finn continued staring at the phone.
person parked beside us.”
his name. He just put a Snorlax in the gym. He’s on the blue team
too. We can go now if you like.”
* * *
see my handstand?”
ruffled her son’s hair. “Sure did. That was your best one yet.”
it for, like, a hundred and seventeen seconds.”
five seconds, but Grace simply smiled and passed Finn her phone.
see what we can catch on the way back to the car.”
followed the footpath around the YMCA.
a lure on. Can we stay here for just a bit?”
I’ll sit over there.” Grace gestured to a nearby park bench.
cross the road, please? If I stand over there, with him, I can reach
all three Pokéstops.”
looked over to where Finn was pointing. A man leant up against the
corner of the building. “No.” She grabbed her son’s arm. “Don’t
point at people.”
looked up from his phone and caught Grace’s gaze. She looked away,
catching a glimpse of the familiar green ute parked on the side
guys playing Pokémon too?” The words carried clearly across the
Finn called back.
tightened her grip on his arm.
reach all three Pokéstops from here,” the stranger called out.
but my Mum won’t let me come over.”
Grace hissed through clenched teeth. Memories of a dark-haired
stranger looking for his lost dog rooted her feet to the ground.
Mum.” The voice was too deep to be Finn.
looked up. Did he just call her Mum?
come over too. Promise I don’t bite.” The man smiled, running his
fingers through his chocolate brown hair.
stomach knotted at the sight of his brown hair, her heart rate
rocketing as if she was running down the footpath. She lowered her
gaze to his face. His smile widened, unravelling the knots in her
stomach then twisting them up again. She’d trusted her gut instinct
back then and escaped but she wasn’t sure what her gut was saying
now. She gripped her car-key weapon.
The tiny voice brought her back to the present. She nodded, slipped
her free hand into his and they crossed the road.
Jackson.” The man held his hand out.
automatically reached out to shake his hand. Metal clanked against
concrete. Grace looked towards the sound. Her keys. She squatted to
pick them up, rising to see her son shaking hands with the stranger.
Icicles of fear slid down her back. She thought she’d drummed
“stranger danger” into her son but it seemed the manners lessons
had made more impact with him, just like they had with her.
Finn and this is my Mum. What level are you on? I’m on level 16.”
Finn shoved her phone into Jackson’s face.
I saw you in a gym yesterday.”
took over a gym on the way home from school. Are you JBoy8?”
don’t talk to strangers,” Grace mouthed, pulling him closer to
not a stranger, he’s Jackson,” Finn said, much louder than
flushed up her neck.
smiled at her then spoke to Finn. “Yep, I’m JBoy8.” He studied
Finn’s phone. “SharkO33. Let me guess, Shark because sharks have
You’ll never guess the O though.”
got me stumped there.”
is for my middle name, Onyx, and the 33 because I like the number 3
but SharkO3 was already taken.”
hey. So have you caught an Onix yet?”
saw one once, but it got away. I really want one, though. Have you
Where did you find them?”
caught one just here the other day and the other one along the
we see one today!” Finn hopped from foot to foot. “What level are
smiled at Grace, then lowered his phone so Finn could see.
You’re on level 23. That’s, like, the highest level.”
quite, but I’ve been stuck here for a while.”
you called JBoy8? You’re not a boy, you’re old.” Finn tilted
his head to one side.
those manners lessons hadn’t quite sunk all the way in.
is for Jack and a son is a boy. The 8 is for the eighth month, for my
tapped his fingers in turn. “That’s August. It’s August now.
When’s your birthday?”
having a party? I had a party at the water park.”
would’ve been fun. I’m not doing anything special, and anyway,
I’m too old for parties.”
watched the scene unfold before her, her emotions fluctuating between
the terror of the unknown and the joy of seeing her son bond with a
man. His father was nowhere to be seen and her parents lived across
the country. She’d moved far from the bustling Melbourne metropolis
she’d grown up in, but running from her memories also meant leaving
her family behind.
never too old for parties, are you Mum?” Finn looked up at Grace,
his face glowing.
he doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday.” Grace didn’t want
to think about how old she was going to be next month. She’d always
thought she’d have it all together by the time she was thirty.
mind birthdays, but they’re better when you have someone to share
them with. I just moved here a few weeks ago so I don’t know many
people yet.” Jackson squatted down beside Finn. “Does your mum
her name? She forgot to tell me.”
pointed at his mother. “She’s Grace Diamond Mulligan.”
rose to his full height. “Well, Grace Diamond Mulligan, would you
and Finn like to meet me tomorrow for coffee, cake and some Pokémon
catching? There’s a great bakery near the water tower.”
instinct was to shout “no” but the word caught in her throat.
not old enough to drink coffee,” Finn said.
about chocolate milk?”
milk is for babies. Can I have a Coke?”
chuckled. “You’ll have to ask your mum.”
resolve weakened as two pairs of eyes pleaded with her. They’d be
in a public place and she could leave if she didn’t feel safe. She
knew she was overprotective. Of herself as much as Finn.
She pushed the fear down and let a smile slip onto her face. “What
* * *
phone vibrated sending her heart skipping. Maybe Jackson was
cancelling? No, it couldn’t be. She hadn’t given him her number.
She glanced down to see one of those cute little furry Pokémon. Finn
was flying on the net swing, so she flicked a few balls at the
didn’t mean to scare you.” Jackson sat beside her on the concrete
chuckled, his deep voice resonating off the concrete tower supports.
“I meant the Pokémon you caught, it was an Eevee. I know you’re
Grace. Grace Diamond. How could I forget a name as beautiful as
prickled Grace’s neck. She clenched her toes, curling them into the
soft rubber of her thongs. She watched her pink varnished toenails
reappear as she let them unfurl then lifted her gaze to meet
Jackson’s. “Happy birthday.”
crinkled as the smile spread across his face. “Let’s go eat
Grace called, her gaze captured by Jackson.
don’t have to yell.”
her head to find Finn already standing beside her, thongs back on and
raring to go.
Sharko. Let’s get cake.”
jingled as they stepped into the bakery.
straight to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of Coke.
peered into the display. “I think I’ll have a chocolate muffin.”
I love chocolate and they look like little birthday cakes.” Finn
pressed his face up against the glass.
Grace pulled him off the glass by his shoulder. “I’ll get a
your birthday?” the barista asked Finn.
it’s his.” Finn pointed to Jackson.
placed her order then led Finn to a vacant table.
came over moments later and slid a bottle onto the table in front of
Finn. “You left this on the counter.”
sat opposite Grace and the table suddenly felt tiny. She tucked her
feet under her chair as he pulled his chair in. She looked down at
her handbag in the vacant chair. She’d made sure his arm wouldn’t
brush against hers, but she had forgotten about his eyes. Each time
she looked up, those big brown eyes were studying her.
awkward silence was broken as the waitress delivered the hot drinks.
She reappeared moments later with the food. A solitary candle
flickered in the centre of Jackson’s muffin.
into song. “Happy birthday to you.”
joined in on the second line, albeit much quieter than Finn. “Happy
birthday to you.”
the volume up a notch, drowning her out. “You look like a Mankey,
and you smell like one too!”
burst into laughter. His deep chuckle was infectious and Grace
couldn’t help but join in. By the time Jackson had gathered himself
together enough to blow out the candle, it had shrunk to half its
size, leaving a puddle of wax on the top of his muffin. Jackson
flinched as he attempted to pick the wax off. A glob stuck to his
snatched the bottle of Coke from Finn’s hands.
ignored him, reaching across the table to grab Jackson’s hand. She
flicked the hardening wax off with her fingernail and pressed the
cold bottle against his thumb.
Jackson made no attempt to take the bottle from her.
you’re supposed to run cold water over burns, but the water doesn’t
come out of the tap cold enough here. I did a first aid course ages
ago. My certificate’s way out of date, but—”
feeling better already,” Jackson cut in.
her bottom lip, looking down at their hands. She imagined entwining
her fingers with his but released her grip instead.
voice caught her attention.
have my drink back now?”
she forgotten to give that back? She slid it over.
slurped the last of his soft drink and clunked the empty bottle on
the table. “Can we go and catch some Pokémon now?”
* * *
drove to the far end of the Esplanade and found a parking space.
Yesterday, they’d paced up and down the street where Jackson had
caught the Onix, but to no avail. She’d agreed to meet Jackson in
the city, for Finn. Anything to see a smile light up his face.
Nothing to do with seeing Jackson’s smile. Or his eyes. Nope.
Nothing to do with him.
off ahead towards the war memorial. A sudden urge to run swept over
Grace, but she pushed it aside and continued walking.
JBoy.” Finn gave him a high five.
of them walked side by side along the path. Grace watched on as the
boys madly swiped at their screens.
are we gonna walk today? Can we go another kilometre? I’ve nearly
hatched my ten-k egg and it might be an Onix.”
We can go right to the other end of the Esplanade if you like.”
Grace turned to Jackson. “Is that okay with you?”
skipped ahead, flitting from one side of the path to the other.
slipped his phone into his pocket and turned to Grace. “He’s a
I spoil him a bit, but I’m doing the best I can.”
just the two of you?”
His dad took off.”
brought you to Darwin?”
as far from Melbourne as I could get.”
nodded. “Lots of bad memories.”
hope you’re making some better memories up here.”
looked up and smiled. “I am.”
Jackson, my egg’s hatching!”
of them huddled around the screen to see.
Finn’s shoulders slumped.
squeezed his arm.
is way stronger than Onix. He’ll be much better in battles.”
know. Can I go play in the playground for a bit, Mum?” Finn trudged
over to the playground.
sit?” Jackson gestured to a shaded park bench.
then realised there was no space between them to put her bag. She
placed it on the other side and got her phone out. She had to keep
her hands busy. Keep them in her lap. As she unlocked the screen, a
familiar theme played.
look.” Jackson reached over and tapped the screen, brushing against
shot up her arm. Her eyes locked with his. “What?”
dragged her gaze away from him. A grey snake made of rocks was
bouncing up and down, grinning at her. “Finn, come here. There’s
galloped over and snatched the phone from her outstretched hand.
reached over and squeezed her hand. “I hope he catches it.”
squeezed back. “Me too.”
loosened his grip but didn’t take his hand away.
linked her fingers through his and watched her son.
want this one to get away.
About the Author
Renee Conoulty is an Australian Air Force wife and mother of two.
When she’s not devouring books, reviewing and blogging at
or writing her own stories, Renee can be found swing dancing. Or
tweets about reading and reviewing @HeySaidRenee and about writing,
military life, and dancing @ReneeConoulty, but hasn’t created a
handle for nap talk yet.
also find Renee on Facebook
Also by Renee Conoulty
Mean a Thing (Got That Swing #1)
you finally took the lead, but life refused to follow?
introvert, Macie Harman, has finally found a career she is passionate
about, and after months of training, she’s begun her new job in the
Royal Australian Air Force. Leaving behind her family, friends, and
the life she knew, Macie has travelled to the other side of the
country where the only person she knows is Rachael, the extroverted
girl she went through basic training with. Everywhere Macie goes,
Rachael is there too.
looking for a way to widen her circle of friends in her new town,
Macie discovers a local swing dancing class. The jazz music captures
her heart, and Matt, the sexy swing dancer, sweeps her off her feet.
Matt has claimed the tropical Northern Territory as home and has no
plans to leave. He loves his teaching career with its predictable
routine and has a great bunch of friends. All he wants now is the
right girl to make his house a home.
life is tougher than Macie expected, and not everyone can deal with
the inevitable separations and last minute changes. Is this exciting
but unpredictable life something Macie wants to fight for, or could
she give it up and put down roots with Matt?
at your favourite ebook store
emerging butterfly, I stepped into the sunlight. A new day, a new
place, a new life. I barely got a chance to stretch my legs, let
alone my metaphorical wings, when I stopped, struggling to breathe
air so humid. I dropped my handbag on the tarmac and tore off my
travel jacket. I didn’t need the shorts and t-shirt I was wearing
now either, but I restrained from stripping completely.
trickled down my back as I strode towards the welcoming doors of the
air-conditioned airport terminal. I knew it was the wet season, but I
thought that meant water would fall from the sky, not drip from
on earth had I signed up for?
terminal seemed deserted compared to the bustle of the Melbourne
airport. Within ten minutes, I had my luggage and returned to the
stifling humidity in search of a taxi. I found the taxi rank easily,
going straight to the front of the non-existent queue.
to, love?” The taxi driver asked as he loaded my bags into the
into the back seat and rifled through my purse for my official ID
card. The sight of it made me smile. It still seemed surreal that I’d
actually done it. I’d dumped my controlling boyfriend, quit my
retail job, and joined the military. I ran my finger over the text.
ACW Macie Harman. I was an Aircraftwoman in the
Royal Australian Air Force, and I was about to start my new career. I
would finally do something that mattered. I would help keep Australia
safe and get to move around the country every few years. And no man
would stand in my way again.
my phone and texted Rachael to let her know I’d be there soon.
Rachael and I had gone through recruits and initial employment
training together. She wasn’t someone I’d usually choose to hang
out with, bubbly to the point of irritation, but she was the only
person I knew up here. She’d moved on base a week ago to get
settled in, whereas I’d stayed in Melbourne for two weeks after
Christmas so I could go to my eldest niece’s birthday party. I
didn’t know if I would make it to the next one.
out my window, trying to take it all in. Glimpses of a golf course. A
bridge. Palm trees. Two rockets jutting up from the ground. Before I
knew it, the taxi pulled into a parking space before the boom gate.
have to walk from here, love. No taxis on the base.”
okay, I’ve got a lift.” I spotted Rachael waving from the car
next to us. I passed him the military issued cab charge card and
transferred my luggage into Rachael’s boot.
Rachael squealed, throwing her arms around me. Her blonde mane
whipped into my face.“I hope you get a room in my block. Let’s go
get your key.”
me towards the passenger side. I clambered in, pulling a strand of
hair from my mouth. After presenting our ID cards to the security
officer, Rachael drove on. The boom gate dropped behind us, closing
off the civilian world.
were, the Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, in the tropical Top
End of the Northern Territory of Australia.
pulled up outside an older building.
admin,” she said.
I’ll be back in a minute or two.”
be silly. I’ll come with you and make sure you get a good room.”
trailed into the office behind me.
Can I help you?” The receptionist greeted.
please. I’m ACW Macie Harman. I’m posting in today, and I need to
organise my accommodation and all the other things on this list.” I
unfolded the joining instructions.
to Darwin.” She replied with a smile. She wasn’t wearing a
uniform. I was surprised that not everyone who worked on the base was
Macie have the spare room in building twenty-nine?” Rachael asked.
crossed my fingers and hoped she would say no.
receptionist tapped away at her computer, her fingernails clicking
against the keys. She paused for a moment to check something on the
papers I’d given her, but the clicking noise continued. The sound
came from beside me, though, not in front of me. I glanced over.
Rachael was flicking her fingernails, again. Click, click, click,
click. She flicked each fingernail against her thumbnail.
crossed my toes.
that room’s still available.” She began gathering documents, and
I could feel the excitement radiating from my new neighbour. “Here’s
your key. You’ve been allocated room four in building twenty-nine.
The room has been cleaned, and there should be a fresh set of linens
folded on the end of the bed, but you will be in charge of all your
laundry and cleaning from here out. Here are the mess opening times.”
She pointed to a sheet of paper in the ever increasing pile. “You’re
signed up for all meals on base, so your accommodation and food costs
will be automatically deducted from your pay. Just scan this card on
your way into the mess. Here’s the welcome pack and information
about the local area.”
up the key and the pile of papers and followed Rachael back to her
car. I studied the map as she drove, trying to identify the
along a street filled with large high set houses, stopping in front
of one. Rachael grabbed one of my bags and led the way up the
concrete steps. I took the other one and followed.
the communal lounge room,” she said, pointing to the first room on
the left. The couch was stained, as was the carpet. An old TV sat in
one corner. It had seen better days. Someone had obviously tried to
pretty the place up a little with two brightly coloured throw
cushions, but the grunge still bore through.
here’s the kitchen.”
right was a small kitchenette. Well, it was a room with a fridge,
sink, bench, and microwave. I didn’t venture past the doorway to
identify the strange smell wafting towards us. It might have been a
food smell once, but it definitely wasn’t food anymore. It was
clear that daily inspections were reserved for recruit training.
are all the bedrooms. The other girls are at work, so I’ll
introduce you later. This is my room.” Rachael pointed to a door
with the number two on it. “And here’s yours. We’ll be next
door neighbours.” She beamed at me. I tried to grin back.
Rach.” I slid the key into the lock and cautiously turned
it. Click. As
excited as I was to see my new home, what I’d seen so far had
dampened my spirits. I pushed open the door, glanced around, and
it could be worse.
seemed clean and smelt better than the kitchen at least. Whoever had
cleaned the room and left the linen had also left the window open to
air it out. I was glad for the fresh air but ecstatic to see the
air-conditioning unit set high on the wall. Rachael pushed past me
and dumped my suitcase in the middle of the floor. I followed her
into my room and set my other bag beside the first.
reached for the air-conditioner remote, switching it on. “There you
go. Just shut the window, and it’ll cool down in here in no time.”
closed the window and stood there for a moment, not sure what to do.
I wanted some time to myself, just to relax after that long flight,
but my room still felt like a sauna. I wasn’t sure what was more
suffocating, the air or Rachael’s constant chatter. I decided I
could cope with ten more minutes of Rachael.
show me the rest of this place while my room cools down?” I asked.
Rachael said, “Not much more to see, though.”
bathroom was at the far end of the central hall. I’d be sharing
with seven other girls. At least it wasn’t a co-ed dorm, so I
didn’t run the risk of sitting on the cold porcelain bowl in the
middle of the night. Enter memories of my ex-boyfriend leaving the
Did the porcelain actually get cold in Darwin?
laundry is downstairs,” Rachael said, retracing our steps to the
front door. I avoided glancing in the direction of the kitchen and
descended the stairs behind her. The building was held up by a mass
of round pillars. This design made the most of the breeze to cool the
building back in the days before air-conditioning. Near the front of
the undercover expanse was a group of plastic chairs. A bicycle was
chained up to a pole. There was a washing line strung up between the
beams towards the back.
walked over to a small room on the far left. “Here it is.”
creaked as she pushed it open. Something crunched underfoot as I
walked across the concrete floor to inspect the industrial style
washing machine. I shuddered at the thought of cockroach guts smeared
over my shoe. I dragged my foot sideways to scrape off whatever I’d
stepped in. It turned out to be spilt laundry powder. I couldn’t
get the image of cockroaches out of my mind, though.
get many roaches around here?”
Cane toads and green tree frogs too.”
realised the cane toads had come this far. Urgh.
for the tour, Rach. I’m going to head up and unpack, then I think
I’ll have a nap before dinner. Can you come get me before you go to
the mess?” At least by having all my meals at the mess, I had no
reason to go into the kitchen.
guess I’m home.
I awoke to
a quiet buzzing noise. The gentle, pulsed vibration was accompanied
by the ambient sound of waterfalls and birds twittering. Eyes still
closed, it took me a moment to process these sounds and realise that
I had the power to stop them. I fumbled for my phone and unplugged it
from the charger cord that was wrapped around the bedside lamp. I’d
forgotten to do that once and had sent my previous lamp to its
grizzly death. Keeping one eye screwed shut, I swiped the screen to
turn off the alarm.
loved the smart alarm feature, brilliantly designed to bring me to
consciousness more gently. I’m not a night owl, but I coped better
with mornings if I didn’t start them with an adrenaline dump caused
by the beep-beep-beep of a digital clock. The radio setting wasn’t
much better. Waking up to someone talking or singing at me was just
out of bed and gathered all the things I needed for my morning
shower. After living on base and using a communal bathroom for the
majority of last year, I had it down to a fine art.
toiletry bag, towel, shower thongs (better safe than toe jammy),
phone, shower cap, and Bluetooth headphones.
out of my pyjamas and wrapped myself in my favourite silk dressing
gown. Good to go.
reading, especially audiobooks, but since joining the military and
living on base, my commute time was practically non-existent. This
had put a huge dent in my audiobook listening, so I found a few ways
to squeeze in some extra reading time. My latest was to put my
Bluetooth headphones on under my shower cap—instant water resistant
headphones at a fraction of the cost. My phone was technically water
resistant too, but I didn’t want to play the books through the
loudspeaker. Broadcasting raunchy sex scenes to the world wasn’t
the first impression I wanted to make. I wandered up to the bathroom
and opened the door. Then I slammed it shut again.
god, Rachael! Lock the door.” I shouted, attempting to wipe away
the vision of her bending over, stark naked, to dry her toes.
Rachael’s giggle echoed around the bathroom. “Hey, Macie. I
forgot to tell you. I have to go to medical this morning, so you’ll
have to find your own way to Movements.”
has no boundaries. It was like talking to someone in the toilet
cubicle next to you.
I didn’t want to talk to naked Rachael, but I
couldn’t be rude either. “Are you okay?”
should be getting my shoulder cleared today.”
great. I’ll see you at work a bit later then.”
the second cubicle. Safe.
shower now running, I turned the volume up a notch to fill my mind
with new imagery and stood under the stream of lukewarm water. It
took me ages to get the water to a comfortable temperature. I had to
set it the opposite to what I was used to, a teensy bit of hot and
cold on full.
mentally and physically cleansed, I returned to my room to get
dressed. I braided my hair, tucked the end up underneath, and pinned
it into a military approved style. It was a relief to get the bulk of
my hair off the back of my neck. My freshly ironed blue service dress
uniform hung in the wardrobe ready to wear. I checked and double
checked that my patches were all in the right place. I hung my
uniform back up and dressed in my civvies—my regular civilian
clothes. I didn’t want to risk spilling breakfast on my uniform.
day at work was called “marching in”. I didn’t actually have to
march everywhere like I had at recruits, though. Real life in the
RAAF was a little less strict. Rachael described where to go before
she went to medical, so I found the Air Movements Section easily.
I was a
grown adult, but I felt like the new kid at school. My hand twitched
as I scanned uniforms, counting stripes to make sure I saluted the
right people. Correct etiquette had been drummed into me at recruits,
and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself on my first day. Or on
any day for that matter.
introduced myself to the nearest person. My sister’s voice echoed
through my mind as I scanned his uniform. He’s
built like a brick shithouse. Thank goodness he only had one
stripe. That was only one rank above mine. I was an Aircraftwoman—or
ACW—and hadn’t earned a stripe yet. He must be a Leading
Aircraftman—or LAC—though I don’t know why they distinguish men
and women at the lowest two ranks and not higher up. I didn’t need
to salute him, so I blurted out what I needed.
morning LAC. I’m ACW Macie Harman, and I’ve just posted in today.
Do you know where I can find Ma’am?” Heat flushed up my neck as
his gaze strayed from my face.
Macie, I’m Jeremy. Come on. I’ll introduce you.” With a cocky
nod in the direction of the office, he turned on his heel and strode
off, assuming I would follow. So I did.
He went up
the steps and into the office. There were several desks, most of them
occupied. A couple of people stood next to a large whiteboard,
writing things on magnetic strips and moving them around the board.
We walked over to one of the men sitting behind a computer.
Sarge, this is Macie,” Jeremy said.
Macie. Welcome to Darwin.” The sergeant smiled at me, then turned
to Jeremy. “Can you take her up to Ma’am’s office.” It was a
directive, not a question.
Jeremy turned to me, “C’mon.” I followed him through the
doorway and up a flight of stairs. He knocked firmly.
opened the door and nodded at me to go in first. “Mornin’ Ma’am.
This is ACW Macie Harman.”
you, Jeremy.” The officer dismissed him with a nod.
into the room, stood fast in front of the desk, and saluted. “Good
morning, Macie. Please take a seat.”
fluttered. It was like being in the principal’s office at school,
and I’d done that more than once. I sat.
to Darwin. How are you settling in so far?”
only got in yesterday, but my room is okay, and the food at the mess
is better than at recruits.” I fidgeted with the lowest button on
great. This week you’ll be on admin shift. We’ll run you through
orientation, plenty of paperwork, and sign you off on the basic
competencies. Next week you’ll join Team B. You’ve just met
Jeremy, who will be on your team. I believe you already know one of
your other teammates, Rachael. I’ll get Jeremy to introduce you to
the rest of the team today.”
on Rachael’s team. My fingers tensed as I twisted the button
again, and it came off in my fingers. Shit. I
hoped Ma’am didn’t notice.
picked up the phone. “Send Jeremy back up.”
the white button into my fist and waited until I was dismissed.
you can show Macie around today, and introduce her to the rest of
“Thanks, Ma’am. Nice to meet you.”
meet you too, Macie. And Macie.” Ma’am pointed towards my
stomach. “Get that button fixed.”
slipped from my clammy grasp, and I watched it roll across the floor
and disappear under her desk. “Yes, Ma’am.”
has a thing about uniform,” Jeremy whispered as he led me back
downstairs. “I didn’t notice your button was missing, or I would
have told you to fix it before I took you inside.”
wasn’t missing then. It broke off while I was in there.”
worry. I’ve got a sewing kit in my locker.”
dropped the button up there.”
chuckled. “We’ll find you a button somewhere.” We reached the
main hangar. “I’ll introduce you to the team. I haven’t seen
Rachael yet today, but the rest are here.”
Rachael already. We went through training together.”
full of beans, hey.”
certainly is. I don’t think I’ve seen her sit still. I feel
exhausted just watching her. I must be getting old.”
old,” Jeremy said.
“I felt old at Wagga with all those new recruits.”
is Rachael anyway?” Jeremy asked.
medical. She tripped over during training and tore a muscle in her
shoulder. She told me if the doc’s happy that it’s healed, she
can go back on full duty.”
hope she’s okay.”
introduced me to the rest of our team. Unfortunately, most names went
in one ear and out the other. I’m not great with names, and it
always takes ages to remember them all. Especially since so many
people had nicknames. I tried to cheat by checking name patches, but
they only had surname and rank, and most nicknames defied logic. I
wondered what I would get saddled with. Hopefully, I could ditch that
ridiculous one I’d picked up at recruits. As the oldest woman in
our group, all the girls had called me “Nanna”.
breezed in and joined the group, her hair now styled closely to mine.
“Hi, guys. Doc said my shoulder is good to go.” She glanced over
to me. “Hi,
Nanna. Did Ma’am put you on our team?”
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