Tom, a bronze 36-year old American surfer and scriptwriter, showed concern when I missed our Video lecture for the third straight week.
Of course, the whole point of my semester was to do the least work possible and still pass; the more outsiders whose attentions were drawn to my delinquency, the better. And Tom was just about the most laidback guy around! Ha ha, things were going perfectly - that is, as long as I still passed.
To be sure of this, I figured I'd better go to the Video tutorial. And, as learning goes, it was actually pretty fun. We taped a little video, for which I pulled my arm into my sleeve for a thespian's portrayal of a crocodile attack victim. I spotted Matt, my sidekick actor in a feature film shot in Byron Bay and fellow self-proclaimed star, as we did this. I talked up the importance of my latest role. "I'm leaving you behind!" He just laughed.
Shortly after class, I received news regarding the REAL reason I'd come to Australia. I'd gotten a letter from the holiest of holy sites - the Crocodile Hunter's Australia Zoo.
I tore it open and learned I'd been accepted to volunteer there - to talk with the Irwins, to play with the snakes, to frolic with the crocodiles.
My face was a beam of light. I went around sharing the good news, sparing no one of my wide-eyed, nonsensical banter until he at least faked a smile, convincing me he was as happy for me as I was. I was reminded of what my brother had earlier told me: "You'll probably be the one to kill the Crocodile Hunter." I almost got on the next bus to Brisbane, but I decided to stay for Elkie's birthday, holding on to that last, faint glimmer of hope that she still likes me.
The following days passed tranquilly, but productively.
On Tuesday, I went into town to get money and sample bulk candy at the grocery store. I entered a Lismore antique store, where the owner said he could hook me up with "Australia's most famous outback artist," Reg Gregor. I requested he paint me a scene from the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park, which would include a kangaroo and a crocodile. The painting was exactly what I wanted as a wedding present to my best friend since 2nd grade. For years, the two of us had created Tolkien-like sagas with our preferred toys, Battlebeasts. Chris's character had always been the kangaroo; mine was the crocodile.
The next day, Australian Mick let me join him for a lab he had in his Coastal Management course. We drove to the quiet coast of north New South Wales, near Hastings Point. At a place with na odd Australian name - something like Colooloololoo - the yellow beach was interrupted by a huge hilly rock that stuck a hundred feet into the ocean. Despite the medium-sized waves that hit the cliffs, this rock became the second-best place I'd snorkelled since the Reef. At times in the foamy water, I'd be completely surrounded by schools of fish, ranging from footlong silver fish to small ones with horizontal yellow stripes. The coolest, though, were tiny, orange, slow-moving toadfish with puffy lips that lived near the bottom and seemed to spend their whole lives returning to position after every wave. I thanked Mick for the day at Cooolollololooollloo.
Thursday was Elkie's birthday.
I ran into my lesbian pimp roommate, Kim, on the university path. She told me the girl she's after eats ice cream three meals a day. I said she sounded like a winner. I told her tonight was the night with Elkie - the night I finally put the ambiguity behind and made my move.
We wished each other luck, and I hitchhiked for a day trip to Byron. A bearded gentleman I rode with kept talking about all the hitchhiker serial killers, which I found a little disturbing, but I made it to the beach all right.
The waves were big. As I spent the day bodysurfing, it occurred to me what to get for the birthday girl. I walked to the rocky edge of Cape Byron and searched for Australia's two easternmost shells. After interrupting the slumber of a few, tenacious rock-clinging snails, I found two vacant shells. The shells were round and white, each with a bulge and short swirls of black. I placed one shell in the center of two tweed bracelets I'd bought at a surf-shop: a green one for Elkie, a blue one for me.
I grabbed a delectable Bay Kebab and caught a bus to school, anxious to begin my new romance.
Shana, Raquel, and some other Aussies had gathered for the party. Elkie's lush body was clothed in gray pants and a black top. Her long dark hair, recently dyed a slight red, frayed out wildly below her shoulders, making her pristine face - the lamb-like eyes, like palm leafs reflected in a sunny waterfall, the complexion of her full cheeks, powdery and light, and the prize, her lips, as sumptious as na apple - all the more unreachable. She ran her new tongue-ring, a silver ball, across her teeth, and watching this made me just want to grab her and take her to the forest and never see another person again.
Proudly, I gave her my gift.
It didn't exactly get the reaction I'd so confidently expected. "Aww, Justin," she said, in her candy-like, thick Australian way, and hugged me. She put it on quickly, but I noticed immediately (being the great Australian actor I am, it's hard to pull a fast one on me) that her smile and cheer seemed unnatural and forced. She didn't like my gift. Tem minutes later, I saw that Elkie had terminated wearing the bracelet. I would later joke to Jeremy, "She took it off her arm, spit on it, and threw it in the garbage."
The party came to na end soon after. We departed for the Powerhouse to dance.
I confronted Elkie as we left. Lights from her apartment lit up her face, and her fiery eyes shone like emeralds. When I told her I liked her, her eyes became small and puzzled, like a cat trying to figure out a ball of yarn.
"But, you like Raquel!"
That wasn't true, though that's what she thought. I thought, "Damn it!"
As it turned out, in the four weeks since we'd kissed - a time during which I'd thought of her half my waking moments and even more of my dreaming ones - she hadn't thought of me romantically at all. It was pretty crushing.
Just when I was about to return to Jess's floor to sleep for a month, Elkie convinced me to go to the club with her for her birthday.
At the Powerhouse, I hung out a lot with Jeremy, Jess, Canadian Matt, and the other international students.
But, I also spent a lot of time dancing with Elkie. I would analogize the feeling this gave me to the feeling of a guy who goes on a game show to win a porsche, only to lost at the show and receive the consolation prize, which is a home version of the game show, so that he can play it and constantly be reminded of the great failure he'd suffered so profoundly.
Before my prize-less night with Elkie was over, I got to hear, for the second straight week, that I was the worst dancer on the floor. What a night.
I woke the next morning, happy it was a new day. However, it didn't take long for me to find out just how bad the previous night had been. My wallet was missing and presumed stolen. I'd just gone to the bank on Tuesday, meaning the wallet had been with $270.
I watched with teary eyes as my ride for a proposed trip to Newcastle left without me. I thought about the jerks who'd taken my wallet. I thought about my green-eyed crush. April 22, Elkie's 18th birthday, had been a day to forget, indeed.
For the first time in years, I could feel depression setting in, and I didn't even have a bed to lie in.