The bus drops me off on the beach road around four thirty.
A few other, much younger, kids get off with me and quickly scatter, running and laughing. Once they're gone, the hot afternoon is silent.
I take a deep breath.
The bus drop off marks the start of my favourite part of the day, the beginning of my afternoon, my real afternoon, my post high school free time. A few short hours of nothing before dinner and TV and bed.
We live in a small country town - my mother, step father and myself - and the streets are drowsy and deserted. Most of the houses in our neighbourhood are big, shambling affairs, pretty badly run down in many cases, and they stand largely inert at this time, waiting for people to get home from work.
I walk the rest of the way home from the bus stop.
At the rear of our house is a vacant block and I take a short cut across it rather than walk around to the front.
I pause on our property line, which is unmarked on this side of our house except that the undergrowth on the vacant lot gives out. We've lived in the house for about a year now and my step dad has been meaning to put the back fence up the entire time, but has never quite gotten to it. The means for erecting it, a big pile of lumber and fencing slats, sits under a tarp on one side of our garden.
The house itself is a squat, rectangular box on wooden stilts and is so unlovely you wonder how it could ever have come about. It looks a bit like a small barn, although made out of gyprock and tin sheets rather than something more sturdily barn like.
My mother and step father built the place themselves, partly to save money and partly, I think, to show that they could.
Of course, neither of them being craftsmen, or having any building experience whatsoever, made this hard so, in order to be able to do it, they had to pick the simplest, most straight forward plan they can find. Hence the barn. And since they wanted to do all of it themselves, and not hire any extra help, they had to chose light, easily shifted materials. Hence the gryprock.
To top it off, and to show that they are lacking in aesthetic as well as house building ability, they also painted the house a kind of off pea green, the sort you'd find in a public hospital. The neighbours, mostly elderly, conservative couples, generally regard the barn with horror.
But all of this is just background noise in my head as I mostly ignore the house and focus instead on our driveway. The driveway is of red pea stone and curves from the street out front round to the left side of the house. From where I stand, I can see that it's empty.
This means that I am the first one home and I waste no time, dashing across our backyard and up the back steps, flying through the sliding door at the rear. Our Jack Russell, Tagger, is waiting for me and jumps up and demands a bit of attention, wagging his tail and butting me with his head. But I've got no time, not even for the dog, if I want to get in and out before my folks get home.
The dog will have to wait for later.
Appropriate for it's barn line appearance, the house inside is mostly open space. An enormous open plan living/dining area takes up about 60% of the total floor space, with bedrooms dotted around the central area. Mine is at the rear of the place, about as far away as you can get from everyone else without escaping the barn altogether.
I skip lightly to my bedroom and dump my schoolbag, exchanging it for a lighter plastic backpack. Into this goes; a can of Coke (from my stash in the fridge), the book I'm reading (currently 'Dirk Gently's'), a tatty old sweater and my Gameboy. I zip the bag, put my keys and my Sony walkman in my pocket and I'm ready to depart the house.
I fuss over Tagger a bit more and give him a solemn promise to walk him when I get back. And then I'm back out the door, leaving the house locked behind me. I get my ageing ten speed from the garden shed and ride off back the way I came, darting back through the vacant lot, bunny hopping over the tree roots and rocks, and then onto the network of streets beyond.
I've got places to go, people to see. A lot of time to kill.