I’ve been known to bend the truth for art’s sake but I swear this time it’s true. A gypsy put a curse on my Nan. At least, that’s what my Ma told us. It happened one day as Muirgheal stood on the stark Irish shore, staring out at the pitching black waves and dreaming of her silver-tongued, raven-haired beau—Derry Nial McDonagh—a gypsy boy who had trundled into her village with his wayward tinker family. She was just sixteen but the boy had sweet-talked her into handing over her heart as efficiently as his brothers sweet-talked her neighbours into handing over their scrap metal. Not that Muirgheal had minded; her life so far had been as dreary as the low cloud that clung so stubbornly to their town. For Muirgheal, Derry McDonagh was as tantalising as a secret.
Muirgheal was startled when the gypsy appeared. The woman’s face was dark and hard as the stones on the shore. The gypsy told her to stay away from Derry, because he was promised already to his cousin, Branna.
‘Tinkers marry tinkers,’ she told Muirgheal.
Now Muirgheal knew Derry’s cousin—Branna was fair and plump and ceaselessly cheery. Muirgheal had dark hair and wild eyes, and thought far too much about serious things; Derry once declared the west wind blew from her fury. She would have sworn heaven and stars that her Derry loved her. But no, he was meant for another.
Muirgheal placed her hands on her belly in despair—for a little gypsy rogue was growing inside her. Seeing the gesture, the gypsy woman laid her ring-laden fingers against Muirgheal’s belly and swore a set of heaven and stars of her own.
‘A daughter,’ she said.
Muirgheal had been dreaming of a baby boy with dark curls and midnight blue eyes like his father. Would Derry want a girl?
‘You cannot tell him of the child,’ the gypsy warned.
‘But I love him,’ Muirgheal declared.
The gypsy scowled. ‘Foolish girl. You do not know what love is.’ Muirgheal shivered as the air grew dense with magic. ‘Your gypsy daughter will not make the same mistake.’
She clutched Muirgheal’s swollen belly, muttering low words lost to the wind.
‘What did you do?’ Muirgheal asked the old woman.
‘A blessing,’ the gypsy replied. ‘Only her true love will see her. They will see no one else.’
My Nan was foolish enough to believe the woman, she even thanked her as she left.
She named my mother Aibhlinn on the spot. It means ‘wished for child’. Perhaps it was to prove to her baby that she was wanted, even without Derry Nial McDonagh to support her, and perhaps it was to remind Aibhlinn of the wonderful blessing the gypsy had bestowed upon her. Who knows?
Turns out, my mother did not need reminding. And neither do I.
I’m doomed to wait for love. Not just any love, my lousy true love.
Felix is calling.
‘What?’ I snap into my phone.
‘Hello, to you too.’
I roll my eyes at nobody. Felix loves pointing out my social shortcomings. I’m like his own personal fix-it project. ‘Did you want something?’
‘What are you doing tonight?’
‘Why? Do you want me to come over and kick your blind ass?’
‘You know you don’t stand a chance.’
He’s right, so I ignore him.
‘Anyway, I’m not talking about chess,’ he continues. ‘Come out. With me and Wallace.’
‘I’d rather pierce my ears with a staple gun.’
‘But you never come out with me!’
‘Then you should be used to it,’ I say and hang up.
I drop the phone on the bed beside me. Felix is right. I never go out with him. But get a grip buddy, there are a million things I never do, and going out with Felix (and his nauseatingly sweet girlfriend) is quite possibly number five thousand and eleven on my ‘to-do’ list. Number one?
I don’t know what would be better—to kiss or be kissed. There is a difference you know. Something about being wanted and wanting, a definite difference. Both smacking fantastic as far as I can see. Yes, I’m aware that I’ve put way too much thought into this. And yes, I’m aware that at seventeen, it’s pathetic that I haven’t even managed the slimiest of snogs. But what can you do? My limp and ragged heart hangs on a nail waiting to be found by pretty much anyone.
But anyone is a strong word.
An aromatherapy candle light flickers across my bedroom ceiling. It’s supposed to make me serene, but it’s not working. I’m as anxious and irritable as ever. The cerebral pathways of my brain are choked up like they’re lined with yoghurt.
I need to do something. Something fun.
Maybe I could do something with Rose. My sister is the poster girl for tedious, but anything is better than lying here. I stand up and catch sight of the empty mirror. Blagh. Seventeen and never been kissed. For me it’s not just a cliché—it’s a terminal condition.
Out in the living room, Mal has his feet on the table like his big hairy back owns the place. I don’t know how Rose stands him but here she is, still in her nurse’s uniform after a nine-hour shift, bringing him a drink. I half expect her to be wearing an apron, à la Stepford Wife. I snort loudly in disgust. She glances my way, panic-stricken, so I snort again and stalk back to my room, slamming the door. I hear her muttering the usual explanations to Mal before she follows me. It makes me sick.
‘He won’t be here long, Olive,’ she says, closing the door behind her. ‘Do you want to watch Model Life when he goes?’
The window squeals as I haul it open. I really need to oil it. It totally screws up any stealth I try to achieve when I’m bailing this dump.
‘Whatever,’ I say, dipping through the window. I slide down the wall, the rubber soles of my boots burning. Thank god we’re ground floor.
Rose pokes her head out of the window. ‘Where are you going?’
‘For a hit of the city. I despise the oppressive monotony of the sprawl.’
‘Are you talking Virginia Woolf?’
‘Of course I’m talking Virginia Woolf!’ I yell back at her.
I stalk the footpath like an alley cat. Probably faster, to be honest. I want to get the hell away.
People are home; lights are on, TVs cast their blue-alien glow on the walls, kids stare at screens, snapchatting their woes to the world. My status is implausible, there is no point updating it for my one friend, Felix.
The houses in the area where I live are mostly semis; one building split down the middle. Their windows face the pavement like hooded eyes, their reinforced bars like rusty eyelashes. Crummy bits of furniture are chained to the tiny verandahs, not that you’d bother stealing any of it, except maybe for firewood.
It’s not the most well-to-do suburb but I like it. It’s got a caustic crustiness that suits me. We’ve been here thirteen years now. Dad moved Rose and me back to Sydney after my Ma died. We lived in New York before that. I don’t remember much except everything was huge and crowded; not enough space for someone like me. Australia is all wide open blue sky and sun. It’s easy here, you can breathe.
Up the street, the lights are burning at Jordan’s. Her bedroom, like mine, is easiest accessed by the path that runs down the side of the house. I could slip down there tonight, like I’ve done a million times before, but I’m not so welcome there anymore. My throat gets stuck thinking about it—summertime, coming home from the beach, sitting in the back of her parents’ old Datsun, the skin on my thighs burning on the polyester seat, windows down, Jordan’s small warm pinkie entwined with mine.
I kick their fence and walk by. It would be boring visiting Jordan anyway. She’d be listening to crap folk music, trying to make her guitar sound decent when all she can manage is a couple of lousy chords. I’m better off alone.
I’m seeking the adrenaline rush I usually get sneaking into a club, but the girl at the door is so utterly confident that nobody will dare slip behind her that it’s easy, and I feel nothing. Not a good start. Inside, the air is hot, thick and sweet. The lights spin; dark then white, colour after colour. Dancers worship the DJ: her hair in pink pigtails; Clark Kent glasses, a man’s shirt, tie, and suit pants cut high into shorts. I can respect it.
I run my fingers down my own dress. It’s long, white and floaty, but who will notice? I suck in a deep breath and roll. I’m cool as a cucumber; put some spurs on my boots and I’m a cowgirl sauntering into a saloon.
And I can dance.
I get a few odd looks but nothing serious. I don’t get completely trampled—a few sharp elbows do the trick. The song changes to a slow, moody number and the dance floor almost empties. I don’t mind the music, it’s as morose as I am feeling tonight. Plus it’s opened up miles of space so I start spinning, my arms wide. Rose says I should have grown out of trying to make myself dizzy by now, but it still feels awesome, so why would I?
Then in that lolly sweet air, with my senses gone haywire in the heat and light—my world shifts. Someone is watching me. I can feel their eyes on my skin, I don’t know how, but I just feel it. I slow down and turn to face them. A guy. His eyes lock with mine—the screwy disco lights turn them red then blue then green. He’s cute. Broad open face, dirty blond hair, tall enough. The corner of his mouth turns up. It’s a smile. An uncertain kind of smirk, if that’s possible. He could be a real cocky prick. He takes a step toward me and I feel my throat tighten. Christ. I’ve wanted this for so long—just for someone to notice me—it’s heavenly, truly, it’s absolutely more than I could have hoped for. But what do I do next?
I hide at the bar.
I don’t know what else to do. It’s crowded over here so I have time to think. I need time to consider this. This is a very big deal. Briefly, my mind wanders to Muirgheal on that dark Irish afternoon, all west-wind crazy. Maybe that curse wasn’t complete insanity.
Suddenly he finds me. He finds me! If I were an ice cube I would melt on the spot. He stands beside me and orders a drink. My heart is beating so fast it’s putting the dance beat to shame. Surely I will die if it keeps up this pace. Like some 1950s crooner he swings toward me with a cheesy smile, his elbow on the bar. ‘Can I get you something?’ His voice is hot buttered toast.
My jaw drops. I can’t help it. What an idiot I am. I only have time to shut my mouth before a girl slips in between us.
‘Cosmopolitan out of the question?’ she asks.
‘Um, I’m kind of busy here …’
I slide off the stool and slip into the crowd. I know one safe place at this club. I bound up the cherry wood steps. If he truly sees me, if he truly wants me, if he truly likes me—he’ll find me.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of The Impossible Story of Olive In Love by Tonya Alexandra! Available in print and e-book from 1st April.
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