Season One of That YA Podcast is well and truly underway! If you haven’t listened to the third episode, make sure you do so! We’re so excited to share the rest of Megan and Des’s story with you, and we hope you’re enjoying it so far.
Full transcript below…
Wow. I mean… wow. Okay, I have to stop staring at my bed and smiling and remembering how Dessie laced her fingers through mine and pulled me close and…
Okay woah not like that. Sorry, potential uni administrator — I might have to accidentally leave this part out of my application. Whoops, one click and it’s gone. But… I have to get this out. These emotions are swirling around inside me like a hurrica ne, and my mind’s all cloudy, but not in a bad way. The butterflies in my stomach took flight this morning and haven’t left me alone all day, but I’m not anxious.
Is it weird that I don’t get anxious around her?
Julie, my school counsellor, said that Dessie’s presence affected me because she wasn’t someone I associated with school or university. Nothing I did was to get good grades or please her or anything. But there’s where I think Julie’s wrong. When I’m with Dessie, all I want to do is make her laugh. I’ll belt out that song from High School Musical as we walk to the station together or tell the barista my name’s Miss Trunchbull just to see that grin on her face. One side quirked up higher than the other, and then slowly her lips spread apart and take over her whole face.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In between the first day of term — the night of the gallery — and now, there’ve been seventeen times she’s reached for my hand, eleven little coffee dates, eight jokes that definitely had innuendos, and three kisses around the corner from the science labs. I counted each of them like they were brushstrokes on a painting. Maybe separately they didn’t mean that much, but together they made something… breathtaking.
Everyone knew we were dating as soon as we walked into school the day after we first got coffee from that dingy little cafe near the station — I’d never even realised it existed. Maybe I didn’t know everything about Dessie, or as much as I thought I did. But I planned to learn everything about her, from her favourite cereal to her guilty pleasure TV shows.
We planned to meet outside the station and get a drink before being locked in school for eight hours straight. It wasn’t so bad for me because I only had to catch the train for twenty minutes, but it was still an effort to drag my butt out of bed every morning. The windows were practically coated with ice on the train when I got on.
So we got our drinks — but you know how when your hands are freezing and you touch something warm and it feels like it’s burning? It’s the worst. Sure, I had my caffeine, but who knew caffeine could be painful? Dessie took my hand — it was warm, and it didn’t burn.
Even once we’d finished our drinks and tossed out the cups, our fingers stayed laced around each other’s. We didn’t even let go when we walked into school.
And so yeah, people talked. Not in that way. I’m gay, and everyone at Westbury’s okay with that. Like they should be, as humans with hearts. I don’t really know how Dessie identifies. She says that she’s kissed all sorts of people in the past and she cares more about people than what they look like with their clothes off.
‘Not that I’m not interested in what they look like with their clothes off,’ she said.
But yeah, I respect that she doesn’t want to label herself at this point. That could change, but it might not. A label helped me feel like I wasn’t different or alone in how I felt and who I liked — it made me feel like I was a part of a community and that my feelings were valid. Society’s definitely heteronormative and people can try and reduce you to stereotypes, but I’ve encountered nothing but positivity in my experiences. I’m lucky to live in the environment that I do. You have to recognise what privileges you have, you know?
I’ve only ever dated one girl before Dessie, and that was in the summer of 9th grade. We went out for a couple of months and I guess I was kind of scared for people to find out, but you know, it’s high school. It’s a cesspool of rumours and gossip, the most prized whispers in the corridors being those that told of new romances.
To cut a long story short, I decided that my sexuality wasn’t something that I had to keep secret and that anyone who thought me liking girls made that different to anyone else wasn’t worth my time. After that, I was the person who’d always make the school speeches on marriage equality and what next event we were holding to in support of Pride Week, or Pride Month. Every day was Pride Day for me — the school’s queer poster child. Sure, we had a few other openly queer students, and probably a ton more that didn’t, but not all of them were on the school council, running for school captain next year.
As soon as Dessie walked to the other end of the lockers lined down the corridor and leading to the cafeteria, Caitlin bounded over to me, her curls bouncing wildly. She was always the person who I’d chat to about girls I thought were cute in English class — it was better than the alternative. Listening to our less-than-inspiring teacher talk to us about the wondrous work of art that is Heart of Darkness.
There were people in school that I associated with different aspects of my life. I was friends with everyone, and we all talked about different things, but never really in depth. I guess I kind of think it’s my job — if I’m going to be school captain — to know everyone. I wave to the guys playing football each lunchtime as I walk past the dancers, commenting of whatever routine they were practicing, and find my way to the room where Community Service Committee is held. Never in one place for too long. Never lingering.
But this past week or so has been different. It feels like I have, I don’t know, a purpose? Is that weird? Sure, there are a million things I should be doing for school and preparing for uni apps and everything, but Dessie’s different. I spend time with her because I want to — not for anyone else, but for me. And I guess there’s a part of me that thinks I can help her get on her feet here. She told me about how she won a scholarship and from what she’s hinted, it’s not like she’s rolling in money. Neither am I but… you know. It’s not like I don’t have the money to get a coffee every morning and pay for seasonal Art Gallery passes.
She helps me keep my mind quiet and I help her catch up in her classes. Every relationship has to be founded on ways we can help each other, right? Neither of us is a helpless damsel in distress, but with the other, we can conquer the world.
When I’m looking into her eyes, it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t even exist.
After a few mornings of us meeting, most of them cut short by my early-morning meetings for the School Committee and preparing for House activities, I decided that I could afford to skip a few of them. Or at least, be a little late. I’d attended every one of those meeting for the past two years — even when I was Middle School Captain. I figured it was time to cash in on my sick leave, so to speak.
I didn’t even feel guilty about skipping those few meetings. How could I, when I was sitting in that small little cafe with a warm mug of coffee between my frost-bitten hands and my knees touching Dessie’s from where she sat across from me and the way she’d look at me like there’s nowhere else in the entire world she’d rather be.
Sure, it started out as coffee, but it quickly became more. I couldn’t help but count down the minutes to lunch in every class that I sat in. It didn’t matter if I had to spend a few minutes reassuring my team for debating that I was prepared for our upcoming round or meeting with a teacher to run through my speech topic for next week’s assembly — I knew that Dessie would be waiting for me on that old wooden bench underneath the big oak tree in the Sherwood Gardens made me forget about everything else. How I knew that she’d be sitting with the white sleeves of her shirt rolled up to her elbows, her skin still flecked with paint from her last adventure.
Her chipped black nails, even though we weren’t allowed to wear nail polish here. Her hair that danced around her head in the breeze. The way she’d get a little crinkle between her eyebrows when she was thinking.
There was a million things I didn’t know about her, but there was only one thing I cared about — finding her hand with my own and pulling her close.
It was beneath that oak tree — straggly and naked, now that it was winter — that I kissed her for the first time. We hadn’t even been talking about anything remarkable — just school and life and what we wanted to do once we were out of here — but I couldn’t help it. I’d been thinking about the way her lips would feel against mine since… since the gallery? Since we went out for coffee?
But I can still hear the sound she made with my lips touched hers so clearly. It was almost a gasp, like she wasn’t expecting it. For a split second, I thought I’d read the situation all wrong, but when she leaned in closer, my heart felt like it leapt and melted at the same time. I never thought that was possible.
As footsteps approached, we were forced apart. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face the whole day. I came home and Mum asked why I was so happy. I told her I was just pleased with my bio results. When I danced around my room without any music on, I just told her I was celebrating getting 100% on my English essay. When I stayed up all night messaging Dessie, I just told her I was revising for a math test.
A few nights ago, I knew it was time to tell her — and Dad — the truth. I planned to invite Des over for dinner, but not just, like, ordering a pizza in. I wanted to do this the proper way, and my parents deserved to meet her. They’ve always been a part of my life, even with all the late nights and their sporadic work schedules, so this was something they should be a part of too.
I told them when they were both back from night, having a rare night off together. We’d just finished an episode of Sherlock when I said I had to tell them something.
‘You’re pregnant!’ Mum exclaimed. ‘We’re going to be grandparents!’ She started dancing around the room like a schoolgirl.
‘She is not pregnant,’ Dad scoffed. ‘5 bucks says she’s been expelled.’
‘I’ll take that bet,’ Mum replied, poking her tongue out at Dad.
Ugh, I know they can get on my nerves at times, but I love my parents so much.
I told them that I wanted to bring my girlfriend over for dinner. Of course, they demanded to know everything about her. How we met. What she was like at school. What kind of food she liked. Oh yes. Dad was already preparing to cook up a feast — I could see him mentally planning out an entire three course meal for us all.
Note to self: Don’t let Dad cook for next Chinese New Year. As much as I love dumplings, I don’t ever want to have them twice a day for two weeks again.
And so the next day, I told Dessie that she’d been invited over — it was more of a request then an offer. She laughed when I told her how excited my parents were to meet her and my Dad was probably preparing the handmade gnocchi right now.
I wish some of him talent with cooking had rubbed off on me. I’d only just learnt how to boil a pot of rice.
But then Dessie’s face dropped, and her smile cracked away to reveal her nervousness beneath. She bit her lip.
‘What if they don’t like me?’ she asked.
I didn’t even know what to say to that. How was it possible that someone couldn’t like her? I mean, she was funny and creative and always knew what to say. It was the first time that I’d seen her look like she was even remotely questioning the situation. She hesitated. That was something I didn’t associate with her.
I tried to reassure her that they’d love her, and they knew a bit about her and were looking forward to learning more. Something told me she’d never been to meet the parents of any of her past relationships. I guess she’d only vaguely mentioning going on a few dates with different kinds of people — nothing that seemed serious enough to linger in conversation. In many ways, we were each other’s first.
First proper romance. First kiss outside the school gates. First time I ditched my extra curriculars to be with her. First time I felt like something else mattered besides school.
Friday night worked out perfectly for her to come over. She had community service at the gallery until 6.30 and I was doing volunteer work at one of the small libraries in the city until 6. That gave me enough time to head home and change out of my gross school uniform before meeting her outside the gallery and showing her to my apartment. All the buildings in the city looked the same — it was easy to get lost.
I may have walked into the wrong apartment building when we just moved in.
Dessie was waiting for me when I came past a few minutes after 6.30, her breath making clouds of fog on the air. I pulled the earbuds from my ear and paused Stephen Fry’s voice imitating Hermione’s and stuffed them into my pocket, a smile creeping over my face.
Her eyes lifted and she spotted me, her expression reflecting mine. Even though it’d only been a few hours since we said goodbye to each other after catching the train back into the city, I can’t even begin to describe how happy it made me to see her again. To know that I’d be introducing her to my parents as my girlfriend, and that she’d be coming over to our apartment, and…
But all of that melted away when she slid her cold hand into mine and we walked down towards Southbank. Nothing much happened at the gallery, she told me, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have anything to talk about. I don’t even remember what we chatted about now, but there always seemed like there was more to be said.
Trams dinged past us and the sound of a busker strumming a guitar wafted from Flinders Street Station. We turned to walk down the steps that led us to the Yarra, where restaurants lined the sidewalk and the river was still. The fairy lights strung up in the surrounding trees made the city feel a lot more magical than it was. All we were missing was gently falling snow to kiss under.
Shivering in the breeze, we finally turned off Southbank and approached my apartment building. Time seemed to speed up as we walked through the revolving doors, got into the elevator, and then I was pulling the key from my pocket and opening the door.
‘Home sweet home,’ I said, gesturing dramatically.
Dessie flashed me a nervous grin and started down the corridor. I followed her into the living room, Dad in the kitchen and Mum lighting a candle on the table. Mum rushed over to envelop her in a hug as soon as she saw her, and Dad greeted her from where he was watching the gnocchi at the stove.
I laughed at the panicked expression on her face and indicated that we should take a seat. I’d warned my parents not to bombard her with questions, but they seemed to forget my threats. How was she finding the art gallery? Where did she go to school before Westbury? How was she finding the classes? What did she do in her spare time? That kind of thing.
I felt a bit bad for her, but it was kind of sweet seeing her blush under all the attention, barely having time to pause between each answer she gave. Of course, my dad had to embarrass me by saying how much I’d told them about Dessie, while also sounding mildly offended that I didn’t tell them on the night we met.
At least when the food was ready, that gave her a few minutes of peace. When she told Dad how amazing the gnocchi was, he looked at me in a way that either said she has lovely manners, or I’m kicking you out and adopting her instead. When all of our plates were practically licked clean, I decided to drag Dessie away before she would have to suffer through another interrogation session.
She wrapped an arm around me as soon as we were out of view.
‘So, your parents are nice,’ she said as we walked into my room.
I pushed the door closed quietly behind us and shook my head. ‘Sorry you had to endure all that. I rescued you as soon as I could.’
‘No, it’s sweet that they care so much,’ she replied. There was a bite to her words that told me perhaps her parents weren’t the same. But I decided not to push it right now. Everyone kind of hated their parents on some level, right? Just because I loved my parents, that doesn’t mean they don’t frustrate me at times.
We sat on my bed, looking out the window across to the bay. There were speckles of light and then darkness where the water was. From up here, we could see all the way to St Kilda and Elsternwick and Port Melbourne. Some mornings when I woke up, the fog that lingered in the air meant that everything beyond the window was blanketed in whiteness. It felt peaceful this high up. All the sounds of the city could disappear beneath us until we were in our own little world in the clouds.
The sounds of my parents talking softly were muffled by the walls. I turned to Dessie and told her how much it meant to me that she was here tonight.
She bit her lip and said, ‘You have no idea how much you mean to me.’
And then we were kissing. I don’t know who leant in first, but suddenly we were pressed together like the room was too small for the both of us. My fingers were tangled in her hair and hers were at my hips, touching the exposed skin between my shirt and jeans. I leant backwards until I was lying on my bed and I pulled Dessie down with me.
I never really knew what people were referring to when they said they had swollen lips from kissing too much. All I knew was that I would never get enough of her. I wanted to stay with her, our lips tangled together on my bed, for hours. Until the sun rose. I wanted to follow the smudges of paint up beneath her jumper and trace my fingers over her skin and commit her to memory.
But all too soon, I heard footsteps coming down the hall and Mum’s voice announcing that dessert was ready. Slowly, as if the very movements pained us, we untangled ourselves from each other and made our way back into the living room, straightening our clothes guilty and sharing secret glances.
When it got to 10 o’clock, I knew I should probably walk Dessie back to the train station. I didn’t want her to get into any trouble on the way home. And then our night came to an end. I kissed her under the halogen lights of the platform and then waved goodbye, walking back to the apartment through the icy air.
And now I’m here. I can almost still feel her fingers on my skin, her lips on mine.
I wish she didn’t have to leave.
It’s going to kill me, having to wait until Monday to see her again. I don’t know how I’m supposed to concentrate on my schoolwork until then. But anyway. Tonight was amazing.
Megan Chen, signing off.