8. Midnight Train To Georgia

I.    

Jo takes longer than she planned: showering, cleaning teeth, flossing, deciding what to wear. And by the time she reaches the back door, where Firefly’s now very bright boyfriend is flirting with young Finn, the music’s moved from Auld Lang Syne to Poi E. Tables are pushed back. Some people continue their rounds of kisses. Others dance.

Grabbing her pretty package from under the bench, Jo stands by the pass. She sees Rebecca first: there she is, over at the bar, talking to Gaylene Preston, the only other person in a hat, one of those cheeky wee woven white fedoras. (Rebecca loves it that filmmakers eat at ‘her’ restaurant and right now she and Gaylene are talking about motherhood, and daughters.)

Then, from behind Jo, Gracie’s voice.

—I won’t say a thing if you don’t.

Jo turns. Gracie and some big-and-handsome guy, looks familiar (Jo’s not big on rugby), on their way out to the bar.  (Gracie’s smiling, guy looks a little pale.) OK, start the kissing here. Get into gear. Big smooch for Gracie. On the lips. Smaller one for the pale guy… On the cheek. (Gracie sees him think he gets it: a speech bubble with DYKE blows from his mouth to above her head. So, just to fuck with his head, Gracie kisses him, on his lips. Tenderly, her dad at her ear again. Just a teeny tease with her tongue. Naughty. But his tangle of curls, his beautiful body, those eyes…AND the rest, now she’s seen it… Pity about his behaviour, or she’d be over him like a rash. Anyway, he’s even paler now. And he’s history.)

—Happy new year to us all. (To pale guy): Let me get you a drink.

(Later, Gracie wonders why he didn’t deck her, or run from the building, puts it down to her well-calibrated sexual stimulation, the amount he’d eaten and drunk, maybe combined with Norman’s dessert and who-knew-what-else with some of the others at Firefly’s table. Or, her strategy’s surprise element. Or his quick mind, calculating the odds of pain-humiliation versus various short- and longer-term benefits.  She’s especially relieved that he hasn’t run straight to Firefly to whinge, because she doesn’t want her relationship with Firefly compromised, tiny little relationship that it is. But who knows what he might tell Firefly, when they’re side by side in the physio room, or in the shower at the gym.)

So, off Gracie goes to the bar, with the pale fuckwit-with…

And Jo keeps looking for Vita. Please, please, let her still be here.

II.

Jo looks pretty good. Pants cut from a lavalava, elegant crop top and little Comme des Garcons jacket. Tiny bit of kohl, touch of lippy. She’d thought about it, on that quick dash home, aiming at somewhere between New York and ‘our’ east coast. Beautiful velvet flat shoes, a version of those martial arts slippers. As she circulates, with a new year bisou here and there, she’s unrecognisable to those who’ve only ever seen her in her whites, though not to Rebecca. And she avoids Rebecca once she sees that Vita’s not with her.

Then she sees Vita. With Firefly? Dancing up a storm? And, as Poi E ends and Ten Guitarsbegins she sees another woman, sitting next to Tai, get up and join them. Tai, Blackberry in front of him on the table now, is surrounded by empty chairs. Feeling suddenly very tired, Jo sits down two chairs away from Tai. Puts her box on the table. Is overwhelmed with longing for a smoke. Decides to get a drink.

—Hello– Remember me?

He glances up, then back at the Blackberry. A mental shrug. Someone for Firefly.

—I’m Jo. We met– One night a while back–

Another glance. What? No memory of her at all. Takes in the beautiful box this time. Decides to change the subject.

—Brought me a prezzie then?

Grrrrr, Jo thinks.

—Not this time. But I was hoping you’d keep an eye on it for me. While I get a drink.

—Sure. Snag one for me?

—Coke? Juice?

He considers.

—Brandy?

—You’re out of luck mate. Happen to know you’re fourteen.

—Firefly lets me.

—So ask him.

They both look towards Firefly. And LOOK, there’s Vita coming this way, making for the boyfriend’s chair and her bag on the table. Jo leaps to her feet.

—Happy new year, Vita.

Vita looks mystified, then sees it’s Jo. Whoa.  They kiss (NOT on the lips, a brushing of cheeks, not even an almost bisou, really ENGlish) sniff at each other a little, for different reasons. Always hyper-alert to sexual signals, Tai watches and listens. Abandons the Blackberry for a moment.

—Happy new year, Jo.

—I’ve got something for you. Just a little thing, because I know you like them. A doggy bag really. (Yes, Jo’s on the blurt again.)

She reaches for the box. And Tai recognises Vita, decides to tease a little.

You won’t buy me a drink, either.

Vita looks at him. Understands that he’s been there all along, and she just hasn’t noticed.

—Told you Firefly’s my mate.

Not sure what to say, Vita gives a polite smile, turns to Jo and takes the box.

—Shall I open it now?

—No. They’re for breakfast. Put it in the fridge when you get home (absolutely all that’s necessary to say: no blurt).

Tai can’t resist it.

—And she hopes you’ll be having breakfast together. (Needling these women entertains him: the one he can’t remember who won’t be manipulated into fetching him alcohol, the one who resisted his charms in that time he prefers not to think about.)

Vita looks, really looks, at Jo. Sees that Tai got it. EXACTLY. Gulp. And she’s pissed, and a bit lonely, and this is Rebecca’s daughter–

Ten Guitars ends. Tai pushes the envelope further, into the brief silence. He points at Jo.

—At her place. (to Vita): Unless you’ve moved from City Radio?

III. 

So Tai’s exposed Jo. And Tai’s exposed Vita. And each of them feels slightly trapped by both exposures. Then Up on the Roof starts. Everyone’s sings along as they dance.

Vita takes Jo’s box, and reaches for her bag.

—Thanks, Jo, what a lovely gesture. I have to go.

Jo feels slightly sick. What does she mean, ‘gesture’? This hasn’t gone as she hoped (a drink, a dance, a chat, a suggestion of doing something together another day, a friendship, at least).

And now, here’s Firefly, hand-in-hand with Julie.

—Don’t go, Vita, till I have your number.

Jo gives up. For now.

—See you, Vita. Happy new year, Firefly. I’d better circulate.

Firefly does a double take, too. Gives Jo a sweet new year’s kiss and a big hug.

—Thanks for that great meal.

And Tai gets it. That’s the woman in chef’s gear, dialling Firefly! And feels, what is it, a touch of shame? Surely not? But yes, he knows that this woman helped him get his current great gig. And he’s been cheeky, and upset her.  And Vita too, by the look of it. She’s edging away. At speed. Without giving Firefly her number. While Firefly introduces Jo to Julie. It’s a bit messy. And not a game on the Blackberry.

IV.    

And Gracie makes sure to get her turn with Firefly and Tai. She’s curious. And wants A Bit of Insurance, too. For Firefly to see how lovely she is, just in case Fuckwit-With… tells on her.

—So. How did you two meet? Or is that a rude question?

Julie’s there of course and happy to hear it all again.

—Oh no. Tell her, Firefly. I think it’s a beautiful story.

Firefly indicates Tai, again intent on the Blackberry, fingers flashing.

—It’s his story.

He nudges Tai.

—What about it mate? Shall I tell Gracie how we met?

Tai pauses.

—Sure.

Firefly sips at his drink.

—Where shall I start? It’s a long story. Let me compress it.

Julie’s a bit pissed, and Firefly’s her hero.

—No. ALL the details.

Gracie waits.

Firefly’s tired. And wondering where the boyfriend’s got to. But Julie matters, too.

—We have those team visits. To schools, disasters, hospitals. And I met Tai at Starship, my final visit.

Julie’s right there.

—You know, that children’s hospital, in Auckland.

Gracie stifles a smile, here’s a woman who looks at her and sees ‘waitress: slow’ on her forehead, even in Hemingway’s. She nods.

—Oh yes, know where you mean.

Firefly continues.

—Tai’s a Mozzie.

Julie’s really eager.

—You know, a Maori Australian.

Gracie nods and smiles. Got it, thanks (need Julie as an ally if the Fuckwit-With…).

—And Tai and I get on really well. He’s been staying with his grannie because things are difficult at home. And he and his grannie visit Auckland for a treat and have a car accident. So he’s bashed about. And lonely, too, because all the extended family live out of Auckland and his grannie’s in another hospital in a bad state. So I visit Tai a few times, and when I leave for Welly, I give him my mobile number.

Tai pauses his game.

—And that awesome Gameboy.

Julie gives Gracie a smile: See what I mean—ain’t it sweeeet?

—And then… Tai, maybe you should tell this bit?

Tai puts the Blackberry down.

—I didn’t want to go home to mum. So when I get out, and one of my cuzzies comes and picks me up, I go over to see my grannie and say to her that Firefly’s invited me to stay with him in Welly. She’s really crook, but gives me the fare, says to keep in touch.

There’s a sudden silence. Julie, a little late, remembers that this bit of the story is a bit murky, not so sweeeet. And taps her fingers on the table. Firefly waits. Tai glances down at the Blackberry. Gracie waits. Tai’s fingers fly across the Blackberry keys. Firefly does his best.

—And then, there you and Jo were, Gracie. And now here we are. A happily ever after story.

—Except Gran died.

—That’s right.

Gracie has lots more questions, but knows this is all she’s getting. For tonight, anyway. She smiles warmly at Firefly, at Julie, leans over and caresses Tai’s forearm.

—You’re right, Julie, it’s a beautiful story. Thanks, Firefly. Thanks Tai.

When she looks for Jo, Jo’s gone.

V. 

And then the boyfriend’s missing. Gone down the road, young Finn says vaguely, as he gets into Knock Three Times with one of Gracie’s staff, who’s had her eye on him for a while.

And Julie’s promised to drop in somewhere else. So, with Midnight Train to Georgia welling out Hemingway’s door behind them, long before Now is the Hour, Firefly and Tai walk home on their own.

Tai very quiet and sweet. And when Firefly says he’s pissed off that he didn’t get Vita’s number, Tai says:

—I know where she lives.

And tells Firefly that story, tucked up on the couch together. And Firefly hasn’t heard that story before and when Tai (a little over-tired) sobs a little, he cuddles him and they share a joint. And then, somehow, the cuddle turns to more. And Firefly forgets what he promised his English mate Mop, all those months ago. And Tai gets to turn his tricks of the trade for Firefly, which he’s wanted to do for a while. And the boyfriend finds them in bed together when he arrives early on new year’s day. And they all have a wild, wild day together.

NOTES

If you don’t know Tony Orlando’s Knock Three Times, here’s an opportunity to sing along:

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