16. The Sevens

I.

Gracie pops into Firefly’s on her way to work. Is delighted to be offered a house-sit, sans Tai (“Someone else has offered him a home”), until Firefly decides what to do with the apartment.

Resolves to keep quiet about Tai’s absence to her parents, until she’s sure what she wants to do long term about Lisa. Her mum offers variations on “It’s time to take responsibility for her, or formalise our taking responsibility for her” every time they meet. No word from overseas.

And then she’s at work, managing a difficult late morning, ringing round to replace a waiter who’s suddenly ill, when Jo sneaks up behind her.

—Outside. Now.

Waves Jo away (mouthing: Fuck off, I’m on the phone).

Collects Jo from the kitchen.

—Sorry. Sorry.

Stands in the sun with Jo and hears about Rebecca’s offer. Asks what Tai thinks.

Hears that Rebecca’s concerned, because she doesn’t quite trust Firefly.

Defends Firefly.

Answers her phone and it’s her mother.

Tells her mother about Firefly’s offer. And, because Jo’s news is so fresh, lets slip that Tai won’t be living at the apartment.

Hears her mother say

—So it could be a good moment to decide about Lisa.

Hears herself say

—Sure.

Makes an arrangement for early dinner, talk and babysit. Thumbs off. Looks at Jo.

Hears her say

—You really don’t want to be a mother, do you?

Hears herself say

—No.

Hears the choke in her voice.

Feels Jo’s arm around her.

Hears herself say

—I just can’t do it–

And then the only sound is her lament: wrenching sobs into Jo’s shoulder.

Until there’s a shout from inside. Norman.

And then young Finn’s voice nearby.

A request from Jo to Finn.

Silence except for the gulping effort to end the tears.

Finn’s return. Jo percussing rescue remedy.

Then

—Open up, sweetie. Lift up your tongue.

Five quick drops from the pipette. A gentle arm back around her shoulder. Five more minutes of comfort.

And back to work.

II.

Over at Jo’s that evening, Vita helps out with hand sewing for Jo’s and Lucy’s Labiate costumes. Listens to Jo’s Keith Jarrett Koln concert, again and again. Hems with care. Soothes herself not to return to the Lilo along the road.

And then, here’s Jo home, arm-in-arm with Gracie. Sooo pleased to have the help. Sooo pleased to have a beautiful woman waiting at home, who holds up the rosemary robe and says

—Here you go! Just finished. Cuppa?

No gum tonight. And being with Gracie, treating Gracie with special tenderness, makes it somehow easier to enjoy Vita openly. And then to laugh a little when Gracie digs into her bag, brings out the plastic bag with the pieces of her lavender robe.

—Gracie, you haven’t even sewn it together!

—Mum wouldn’t help–

—Fair enough, but you’re running out of time–

And then to temper the tenderness, because this is another issue altogether.

—And I’m not going to rescue you. Gracie rolls her eyes. Can she push here, and how?

—Don’t you want me to come?

Still laughing, Jo mimes playing a tiny violin.

Vita laughs too. —I’ll do it. Happy to rescue! I’ve loved doing this–

Gracie’s overcome with shame, needs some persuading that Vita really is happy to sew, offers to help Vita.

—Anything. Anytime.

Jo’s stopped laughing, breaks into Gracie’s unnecessary mea maxima culpa. Is totally disappointed.

—O Vita. I was hoping you’d make up the basil, so you can come too–

—Hate rugby.

—This isn’t rugby. It’s the Sevens. It’s the parade, and the parties, and the Cake Tin–

Gracie gets over herself and completes the blurt.

—It’s the throwing up in Courtenay Place. It’s the sex with strangers.

—Meeting beautiful people–

—And truly ugly people. Awful–

—You love it, Gracie, you know you do–

Vita retreats into almost-imperiousness.

—Enough, you two. I’ll finish Gracie’s. But that’s it–

Gracie gives Vita a thumbs up, and Jo a ‘so there’ grin. Jo could kill her, for a moment. But then Gracie tries on Lucy’s lemon balm robe and Jo puts on her rosemary velvet silk, and they sweep to and fro. Hoods up, hoods down. Cleavage, no cleavage. Leg, no leg. Totally happy, both of them, it seems to Vita. And Vita wonders whether she’ll ever feel joy again.

III.

Vita asks her therapist to help. Mostly, she doesn’t mind if she feels no joy. Mark’s gone. Streak’s gone. And it’s all her fault. And she doesn’t want medication to blunt the misery. Uses work for that. But she likes staying at Jo’s, the comfort there. And last night she’d enjoyed the quiet sewing. And envied Jo and Gracie. Maybe she doesn’t want to be ahedonic for ever.

So she and the therapist talk about fault and guilt and feelings. They talk about reasons to close off new and positive experiences. They talk about grief and tiny steps. They talk about the look-and-feel of the basil-printed silk.

IV.

It’s not easy for Firefly to run into Ivan by chance. But in the middle of the night, on a weeknight, he gives it a go. Checks Tai’s out to it. Fires up the boy friend’s car, a little Toyota, god it’s uncomfortable, makes a circuit. Goes to an ATM in Courtenay Place. Picks up some milk at the 24 hour dairy. Peers into Kenny’s. Oh well, there’s no big rush. Another night.

Then he drives by Ivan’s gym, without any real expectation, and BINGO there’s Ivan talking with a security guard. Parks a little way along the road, waits for the security guard to drive away, scoots along the kerb and stops. Jumps out and calls over the car’s roof.

—Hey! Been hoping to run into you–

Ivan narrows his eyes, gives a little half smile. Doing the ‘cool’ thing.

—Instead of calling me back–

—That’s right.

The inevitable dig.

—Looking for action? In that heap of junk?

—Looking for you– Give you a lift?

Ivan plays hard to get. A man in demand.

—I don’t think so. Places to go, people to see.

Firefly knows how to persuade him.

—Hop in. I can take you. Or take you to mine for a nightcap?

The places and people evaporate. Because Ivan’s never been to Firefly’s place. And once he’s there, he loves it, of course. And is glad he came, when Firefly tells him that while he was away in London Tai talked to the cops. And Firefly’s glad Ivan came when he sees his response to Firefly’s question, carefully timed after the third whisky and a joint.

—Tai says Sam’s gone. Whatever happened to him?

BINGO again. Firefly moves in for the kill.

V.

The cops visit Tai and Firefly the next evening. The brisk and friendly young man and the woman Gracie thinks Jo would enjoy are, again, lovely. Firefly sits in on the visit, offers to deliver and wait for Tai when he goes into the station, take him back to school (Tai’s insistent he doesn’t want to miss work.) A couple of sessions will do it. Next week, after the Sevens.

VI.

Vita loves tennis. And the Australian Open’s on. So she practices enjoyment, stays a little longer than she planned at Jo’s, working on Gracie’s robe. Till the Open’s finished. And tonight Maria Sharapova’s outfit that has a kind of silk-cut-on-the-bias look, and Vita looks again at the basil silk, picks it up, drapes it, first on her lap, then around herself. Just as Jo walks in the door. Jo decides to ignore the dressing up.

—Oh– TENNIS. Great.

Throws herself onto the couch.

Vita’s embarrassed, unwinds the silk.

—You’re very early.

—Slow night.

Vita folds the cloth. Puts it aside. And settles into a domestic late evening. Then the replay’s over. And they’re both a little self-conscious. This is the first time they’ve been here without Gracie, off at her mum’s, baby-sitting Lisa.

Jo gathers her thoughts, attempts to avoid a blurt.

—I’d be thrilled if you made something. For fun. You don’t need to wear it to the Sevens.

—It’s the ‘fun’ part that’s the problem.

Jo gets it. Immediately.

—I had that, for a while.

Vita waits. She is, after all, a highly experienced interviewer.

And Jo explains. She and her partner had a fight, her partner left on her motorbike, and crashed down the road in the Terrace tunnel. Died, after a long coma. Jo blamed herself for a long time. Started smoking again (of course). Then, found it was a little more bearable when she made things. Starting three years ago, with the fabric printing. And now the making goes on, often as replacement activity when she stops smoking (as Vita’s seen).

—And you might have noticed, sewing for the Sevens, I’ve given up the gum. Fingers crossed, it’ll hold. Making things, the little repetitive movements that are necessary—cut cut, stitch stitch—is a sideways move back into the world where I don’t feel guilt and don’t need to smoke. I can excuse making stuff as useful, pretend it isn’t pleasure. The same with work. Pleasure’s essential when I cook. I justify cooking’s pleasure as pleasure I’m paid to feel. And I’m beginning to feel pleasure first now and then– Without a mighty wind of justification strangling it. WHAT a relief.

Jo laughs. Then sighs.

—So you could give it a go with the fabric? If not for fun, as a little sideways move towards fun? A little sideways move towards not feeling so guilty? You could always start by pretending it’s a another dress for Gracie. Or for Rebecca–

She sees a shadow of Vita’s imperious look, thinks Oh fuck have I been incredibly matronising? Quick!

—Or not. I may be talking nonsense. Ignore it all.

—It’s fine. No worries. It worked for you. But I can’t– can’t– get there yet.

And Jo goes off to bed proud of herself for not saying how much pleasure she felt watching the tennis with Vita. And Vita picks up the basil silk and takes it to her room.

VII.

Tai tells himself he’s not worried about Sam. And the cops will be a breeze. But when he’s emptying rubbish outside Hemingway’s back door, and sees Vita watering her geraniums, he’s reminded of her stories, skives across the yard and to the bottom of her fire escape in no time at all.

Very gently, she extracts the bones of it from him. He’s not worried about Sam any more. He’s talking with the cops because Firefly wants him to (he doesn’t tell her Firefly’s bribed him). And it’ll be piss easy. Whatever happens outside New Zealand couldn’t happen here. Could it? He wants reassurance. Something’s worrying him.

So she reassures him.

And after he’s left, with a grin, and a promise to show her his Sevens outfit, she worries. Surely, if Firefly’s encouraging Tai to talk with the cops, he has nothing to hide? But– But– Mop. A feeling. Paranoia?

VIII.

It’s two against one when Vita explains. Three against one when they get on the phone to Rebecca. And not a pretty moment when Jo says

—Gracie, you don’t have to be a mother to care about what happens to a teenager– And even though you’re a politically correct straight woman, and he’s charmed you, you can still be cautious about Firefly and who knows who else out there, possibly gunning for Tai–

Gracie’s gob-smacked.

—That’s mean.

Vita looks mystified, and Gracie explains.

—My parents are formalising their primary responsibility for Lisa, and Jo’s doing her judgmental thing–

Then she sees Vita appear to do her judgmental thing, look away. Remembers Vita’s losses. Falters. Vita doesn’t. Stays on topic.

—I’m making a costume so I can help you keep an eye on Tai at the Sevens.

Aha, Jo thinks, she’s using her concern for Tai to justify her pleasure in that fabric, in joining in at the Sevens. Go, Vita! But she says

—We’ll keep him safe. Till he talks to the cops. And after.

IX.

But of course they can’t be with Tai all the time. He goes to school. He’s on the streets going to and fro. He spends his nights with Firefly.

Gracie’s back at Firefly’s too, and when Tai stays on at Hemingway’s to do his homework, she walks home with him.

They don’t know about Ivan, that he’s been stalking Tai since that night with Firefly. He follows and watches Tai when he can, and has decided that the Sevens is the best option. All that chaos means opportunity.

X.

Rebecca comes by to see Tai, asks Norman if he can spare Tai to share a goûter with her out in the restaurant. No worries.

And no worries for Tai re staying with her. When she talks about her house rules he says

–Sure, I know how to behave myself.

He can’t resist telling her.

—And Firefly’s promised me a trip. If I behave myself.

Rebecca looks at Tai’s glowing face and thinks, I hope Vita’s wrong. Asks him when he’d like to move in. He’s welcome any time. And of course he says

—When Firefly goes.

Be Safe, Be Safe, Rebecca says to herself as he thanks her for the goûter and returns to the kitchen.

XI.

And a few days later, there they all are in the Sevens Parade, weaving their way to Civic Square. Four Maenads and an amazing masked Bacchus, a Puck. With a group of real schoolgirls as Pirates, Lucy’s mates. Powder Puffs, Jo’s mates.

Gracie’s started menstruating, is feeling hot and heavy. Vita’s wishing she hadn’t come. Jo’s having a good time. And so are Lucy and Tai, who’s enjoying showing off for the Pirates.

Gracie’s delighted when they reach Civic Square. The library toilets! Clean! Familiar! And when she sees Firefly with Ivan, just zooms past.

Looks for Firefly when she comes out but he’s gone. Ivan’s gone too. He’s mingling with the parade, deciding on a costume. Predictably, decides on a sailor. Something he can knock up easily from costumes at home. Something that doesn’t stand out.

Then he has an inspiration, and calls someone else who has lots to lose if Tai talks.

XII.

Firefly makes his way over to Tai. There he is, mask off, surrounded by girls and women, knocking back some water.

—Hey. Firefly! Where’s your costume?

Lucy giggles. —That is suit’s a costume for him. What d’you expect? His normal gear’s rugby shorts–

Firefly breaks out his biggest grin.

—Pick on me, why dontcha?

The Pirates and the Powder Puffs clamour for introductions and autographs. And he doesn’t notice Vita and Jo, standing a little way away in the shade, watching closely. Jo leans in to Vita and speaks quietly.

—He looks so lovely, doesn’t he? And they love him, especially Tai–

—Yep. But Mop seems lovely. Lots of people love Mop, too.

They watch Gracie arrive, and join in the light-hearted conversation. And see that the Parade’s moving on again.

Vita doesn’t want to join Firefly and the others, decides to go back to work.

For once, Jo gives her a little farewell hug, and somehow that movement catches Firefly’s eye.

He calls out, as Vita moves away, feeling warmed.

—Jo! Vita!

Vita gives a quick smile over her shoulder, a backward wave, and keeps going.

XIII.

The Friday night Sevens is a glorious evening. Warm. No Wellington wind.

Tai, Gracie, and Jo change at Hemingway’s. Vita changes at City Radio and runs through the yard to join them.

Lucy arrives at Hemingway’s just in time.

Norman and young Finn and the rest of the staff applaud as they parade through the early diners and out the door.

Then down Cuba Street to the waterfront and along to the railway station to meet the Powder Puffs and the Pirates and walk on to the Cake Tin.

Vita watches Gracie tuck her arm through Jo’s, and tucks her arm through Jo’s other arm. And oh yes, Jo colours a little, and then gives her tiny extra-pleased and trying-not- to-show-it smile. All of which Gracie sees

—O Jo, you’re so predictable–

Jo knows exactly what Gracie’s saying.

—I know. And I’m your friend.

—And so am I, says Vita, I am both of your friends and it’s the most beautiful evening in the world.

And then there they are among the crowds in front of the railway station, a huge Victorian pillar-and-concrete-and-brick affair. And there are the Pirates and (most of) the Powder Puffs waiting exactly where they’d said they’d be.

XIV.

Ivan and his offsider trail the group from Hemingway’s. Outside the station they slip behind a pillar and keep a close eye on the Labiates, the Powder Puffs, the Pirates, and Bacchus. Not super-easy because someone’s dashing to the toilet, someone’s gone to the New World in the station, someone else has gone to meet a Powder Puff off a train. Ivan’s glad the offsider’s there, even though there’s no need to track the coming and going. Even Bacchus won’t go far, and will return. At last the group’s ready, and moving off.

XV.

Rebecca has NO interest in the Sevens. But she’s worried. About Tai. About Jo and Vita, how it’ll be for them if anything happened to Tai. Most of all about Firefly, after his visit to her office. Her long-ago-in-Poland survival strategies kick in. So she dresses blandly and for the weather, ohhhh it’s so HOT, tucks her hair under a cap, and mingles with the Sevens crowds outside the station.

Smiles with pride when she sees ‘her’ group, gorgeous, and watches them leave.

Watches two security guards peel away from a concrete column at the station entrance and follow ‘her’ group. Aha, she thinks.

And follows.

At the Cake Tin turnstile, Rebecca’s group goes one way and the security guards go another. Rebecca follows the security guards until they go through a STAFF entrance.

Wishes she’d got a ticket with the others, and could sit with them, makes her way to the stadium members lounge (professional perk). Hopes she can see her group from there. Settles herself by a window with her binoculars. Laughs at herself: What could she possibly do from here if Tai’s at risk? Wonders where Firefly might be.

XVI.

Firefly of course is in a private box, enjoying full hospitality. With all kinds of important people, some of them looking forward to telling him what they think about his retirement and coming out, many of them impressed when he tells them about the work lined up in Europe. He’s charming to everyone. One’s interested in buying his apartment. A couple ask him where his partner is. Some restrain themselves from asking who his partner is.

_________

NOTES

Now it’s your turn. While you wait for tonight’s game give it a go? Tell me what happens next?

Here’s a Jeff Simmonds clip from the Sevens partying, showing its benign side:

But as I noted a while back, it can get nasty, too:

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