We still hadn’t done it. You know: it.
James and I had been together for approximately three months, two weeks, one day, ten hours and five minutes and we still hadn’t said ‘I love you’.
I figured the words would come eventually, and when they did I wanted everything to be perfect. Preferably with baby bluebirds following us around chirping and singing a love song. James was my first proper boyfriend — I didn’t count being mouth-mauled by Pete Jordan last year, especially as his kissing technique had rated ten out of ten on the scientific Sloppy Pash Scale — so ‘I love you’ was a big deal. In eighteen years, I hadn’t used the L-bomb to describe anything other than my affection for my family,
friends, food and overpriced stationery. The pressure was on and my expectations were high. So high, I was semiconvinced that when I spoke that magical trio of words to James, fireworks would go off and a mariachi band wouldappear out of nowhere, sparking a flash mob of people shimmying in the streets from the sheer romance of it all.
But spilling the beans on my heart-thumping, distracting love for James wasn’t my only concern. There was something else we hadn’t done together yet. Something big. Something huge. Something life-changing.
We hadn’t done it.
You know, it.
Okay, the other it.
James and I were going slow and, thanks to my lifelong guy drought and lack of experience, I was fine with that. The fact that his ex-girlfriend Summer had cheated on him meant that he wasn’t in a rush either. Besides, every other area of our relationship earned gold stars, high distinctions and A-plus-pluses. We sniggered over the same YouTube clips, texted and talked on the phone for hours, and had a mutual aversion to dried food, pickles and ferrets. We even shared a borderline-obsessive enthusiasm for Christmas, which we discovered when we both wanted a cheesy photo with a flushed, potentially drunk Santa during the holidays. James’s kisses switched between sweet and hot, and his hugs were the warm, bone-crunching type that let you know everything was going to be okay. He was my perfect guy and it was going to be worth the wait.
But that didn’t stop me feeling pressure from everywhere. From the colourful magazine covers lining the newsagent’s shelves to the gossiping girls I’d hear in the juice line at the local café — everyone had an opinion on doing it. Or on who was doing it with who. Or on where they were doing it and how many times. It didn’t help that the moment people (friends, acquaintances, the local seamstress who specialised in taking up denim jeans and giving unsolicited love advice) heard I was part of a twosome, the knowing smiles began, leaving me feeling like I was the last virgin on the planet rocking a jewel-encrusted chastity belt. Even Mum was on the case, bluffing her way through the-birds-and-the-bees talk using a stumpy carrot and an over-ripe melon to demonstrate, turning me off orange fruit and vegetables for life.
Somehow I’d gone from not worrying at all to freaking out that if I wasn’t careful I’d end up as an 80-year-old virgin with frizzy grey hair, a walking frame and a thirst for Saturday-night Scrabble sessions. So I’d gone to the shops and, suffering from an epic brain-fart, had splurged on lacy black lingerie. Expensive lacy black lingerie. The kind that showed off every curve, freckle, hint of chest and thigh dimple. The kind that said ‘Hello, sailor’. The kind that would make James’s jaw drop, if I ever had the guts to show him.
One Wednesday morning before heading off to my job as junior writer at online magazine indi, I was staring at my black lacy lingeried reflection in my bathroom’s full-length mirror. The knickers had wriggled their way between my butt cheeks to form a wedgie, and I’d stuffed tissues down the bra to fill it out. I turned to look at my butt in the mirror when a loud banging on the door caused me to jump and stub my toe against the bathroom cabinet.
‘Aw, crap!’ I yelped, huddling over to clutch at my foot.
The knickers slipped even more, taking the wedgie to an atomic level. I had to be the unsexiest person ever to wear sexy underwear.
A nasal, high-pitched voice rang through the door.
‘Josephine, are you going to be long?’
‘Just a minute!’ I called out, rubbing at the fresh red mark on my foot before yanking my towel off the rail.
‘We’ve talked about this,’ the voice whinged. ‘How many emails do I need to send to make everyone realise I need the bathroom at this time to make it to the lab on schedule.’
The voice belonged to my housemate Prue, a second year medical student who ran her life according to a colour-coded timetable that accounted for every minute of her day. Prue kept two copies of her insane schedule in our crummy little terrace — one on her bedroom door, and one on the fridge to keep her life functioning ‘like clockwork’. She also left Post-it note reminders on the kitchen bench and bathroom wall, such as Who’s on shower-cleaning duty this week? (when she knew full well who it was) and Happy for you to use my stainless steel knives, but please rinse, wash and dry thoroughly afterwards (which was her way of turning you off ever borrowing her cutlery again).
Prue’s strict life-plan was proof that my living arrangements had changed since I’d moved to the city. Gone were the days of home-cooked dinners, Mum clipping her hair up in clothes pegs while she did the washing, and daydreaming in the herb garden with my little sister, Kat. Thankfully Prue, the med-student-moonlighting-as-a military-official, wasn’t my only housemate. The terrace, which technically only had two and a half bedrooms, had recently become home to my friend Steph, who I’d met interning at Sash magazine last year. The ultimate free spirit, Steph had set off on the overseas adventure of a lifetime to India with my cousin Tim a month before, only to have her credit card cancelled by her rich and powerful father. Her dad, who judged people on their job, social status and connections, wanted her close to him so he could set her up for the future — or in Steph’s words: ‘Set me up for a snoozefest life — no, thank you!’ Steph wanted fun, love and adventure, so she flew home, scored a job waitressing at a café to earn enough money to return to Tim in India, and refused to move back in with her parents. Instead, she and her giant backpack had made themselves comfortable in our ‘half-bedroom’ — the teeny-tiny space that Prue and I had been using to store unpacked boxes and my unused ironing board.
The terrace in the city wasn’t exactly home, but it had grown on me — especially now Steph was in the room next to mine. I had enough space to store my books, only sometimes heard the neighbours fighting through the paper-thin walls, and the hot water lasted long enough for a shower every second day. The main downer was sharing one bathroom between three people — one of them being a bigger clean freak than my Aunt Julie, who had designed her own chemical-free cleaning range.
Prue pounded on the door again. ‘Josie, hurry up.’
‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ I said, and opened the door to find Prue tapping her foot on the hardwood floor.
‘Took you long enough,’ she snapped.
‘Sorry.’ The towel slipped down, revealing a tissue poking out the top of my bra. I shoved it back into place.
‘Work it, Josie!’ Steph announced with glee as she came out of her bedroom and stood behind Prue.
‘What’s with the Victoria’s Secret? I always pictured you going to bed in one of those neck-to-ankle onesies with a bumflap.’
‘Gee, thanks,’ I said, making a mental note never to admit I’d been the proud owner of three pairs of onesie pyjamas, each with a bumflap, until I was thirteen.
‘I’m late,’ Prue said. ‘Steph, I hope you don’t need the bathroom, I’m going to be a while.’ She squeezed past me and closed the door.
‘Hey!’ I said. ‘My stuff’s still in there.’
‘So uptight,’ said Steph.
‘I can hear you,’ Prue called out over the sound of the shower running. I stifled a laugh and Steph and I hurried into my bedroom.
‘Seriously, what’s with the lace?’ she pushed. ‘I didn’t know sex goddess was in your repertoire.’
‘I knew I couldn’t pull this off,’ I groaned, glaring at my reflection.
‘Please, you look crazy-hot,’ she said. ‘But that’s enough compliments for you. I haven’t even eaten breakfast yet.’
She yawned, reminding me she’d worked the late shift at the café the previous night. ‘Hey, don’t you have a features meeting this morning?’
‘Crap on a stick!’ I shrieked. ‘What’s the time?’
‘Almost eight thirty — you better run,’ said Steph, yawning again as she attempted to smooth down her short, shaggy blonde hair. ‘Nighty-night. Hey, I’ll cook us tacos for dinner — I can’t remember the last time I ate a proper meal.’
As she left my bedroom, I slipped off the fancy lingerie, dragged on my usual plain bra and undies, followed by a polka-dot dress that had been lying in a crushed heap on the floor. I sprayed myself with perfume, layered on a coat of eye shadow and mascara, and looped my handbag over my shoulder. On the way out, I noticed my dishevelled brown mane in the hallway mirror, so I dragged it up into a messy ponytail.
I had twenty minutes to get to work. It wasn’t an impossible feat — not if I powerwalked for two blocks, caught the bus for ten blocks, jogged for one block, sprinted for four blocks, and was happy to arrive at the indi office in a hot, sweaty mess.
I glared at the buttons on the work lift as we chugged up each level. Faster, go faster. I couldn’t afford to be late, not now, not today. My editor, Liani, was awesome — she’d even brought in a communal lolly jar for our office — but something told me that missing the 501 bus due to ‘trying on lingerie to seduce my boyfriend’ wouldn’t cut it.
I glanced at my phone: 9.07 am. Being late was a new sensation; I was usually unfashionably early. The lift finally arrived at level nine. Ding! The doors strained open (almost stopping halfway from the effort) and I sprinted towards indi HQ, my handbag bouncing on my hip so hard that I wondered if it would bruise.
When I slid open the office door, the lights weren’t even on. I fumbled for the switch. White light flooded the room, except for one faulty bulb that flickered on and off in rebellion. I walked to Liani’s desk. There was no sign of her signature bright-red handbag, her computer wasn’t on and her usual ‘Don’t mess with Mum’ coffee mug wasn’t steaming away.
Soaking in the eerie quiet, I wondered whether I’d missed a memo or group email.
Our online producer, Harrison, worked from home a few days a week so I wasn’t surprised to see his empty desk. It looked like something out of a furniture-store brochure. The only evidence he worked there was a black-and-white photo of Ryan Gosling pinned to his bulletin board, and a pencil sharpener in the shape of a cat which was perched next to the computer mouse.
But our features and beauty director, Sia, who had cut her (perfectly polished and straightened) teeth at Sash too, was also absent. As usual, her desk looked as though a kitsch party shop had vomited pink and purple decorations all over it. Even her chair was stacked with boxes and bags of make-up and stationery from adoring public-relations consultants.
When Liani offered me the junior writer position at indi a few months ago I was ecstatic. (Confession: I never told anyone, but I sobbed with happiness in the foyer. And a little on the train home.) My journalism lecturer, Professor Fillsmore, was supportive and happy for me to study long distance, as long as I checked in regularly to ‘tick the boxes’ for my degree. It was the ultimate win: I was a paid writer (on a crappy salary, but still — money!) with a column of my own, complete with a by-line and a head shot, in an office with a communal lolly jar that never ran out.
Though during the first month of the job, there hadn’t been much writing. Organising, filing, researching, interviewing and photocopying, however? Oh, yes. The most writing I got to do was proofreading the emails Liani sent to her boss, a micromanaging high-flyer called Mya, who worked remotely and had never bothered to visit us.
Thankfully things had changed. Sure, I was still the team’s go-to printer whisperer — no one else seemed to be able to keep it purring quite like I did — but I’d also been writing my weekly column, as well as copy for the entire website, excluding Sia’s beauty pages. Having a by-line (a by-line I was actually paid for) made me feel like a real writer — like Carrie Bradshaw, just without the string of hot guys and walk-in wardrobe of designer threads.
I was nervous when I saw the clock had ticked over to 9.27 am, but still no one had arrived for our meeting. I’d already seen one magazine go down in flames as the industry played ‘survival of the fittest’; I didn’t want to be on another sinking ship before we’d even had the chance to set sail.
I re-read my notes, jotted down an extra page of ideas, sent a few email replies to pushy PR consultants, and practised my pitch while pacing back and forth through the office, but still the smiling faces of my colleagues didn’t appear. Bored, I rearranged my desk, which had become cluttered with personal knick-knacks. I put the photos of me, James, Angel, Steph, Kat and Mum in order, then lined up a neat rainbow-coloured row of nail polishes that Sia had given me.
Finally, with no Very Important Meeting taking place, no printers to soothe, no more tidying to do, I had no option but to fixate on Mission Drop The L-bomb And Hook Up With James. I would have given anything to have someone to talk to right now, but I couldn’t call my best friend, Angel, because she was off the grid backpacking her way through Europe; Steph was still heartbroken after her and Tim’s Indian path to spiritual enlightenment (and goal to eat twice their body weights in curries) had been axed; and I wasn’t close enough to open up to my uni classmates, many of whom had the personalities of used hankies. Mum couldn’t talk about guys without embarrassing everyone within a two kilometre radius; and I didn’t want to give my 16-year old boy-crazy sister any ideas. I was so desperate for advice I almost considered typing Help! I want to say ‘I love you’ and I’m still a virgin, what should I do? into Google.
I was halfway through an email to my contacts list calling for case studies for a column idea, when I realised there was another way to reach out to Angel. Email. She’d apparently lost her phone during a messy bar crawl in Florence, but she still tried to log on at an internet café about once a week. Email gave me the perfect opportunity to lay out the problem and tell Angel my fears. No interruptions, no judgement, no worries.
I bashed away at my keyboard, writing Angel the mother of all emails. When I pressed send on it, along with the case-study call-out, a sense of relief overwhelmed me and pushed away my doubts for the first time that morning. My worries about my personal life were now out there in the internet abyss, rocketing away from me and growing smaller and less important by the millisecond.