I scribbled in my spiral notebook on the YHA Drifters‘ patio, taking notes on my day’s adventures. My foot was propped up on an empty chair with a small bag of ice on it. I looked at it and smiled. What had been such a crippling injury in Cairns was almost insignificant now. But I still was staying on the safe side and icing whenever I had the chance.
Tonight was poker night, apparently a weekly tradition at this YHA. And while I had planned on showing all these gents how to really play a game, I had arrived back too late from my day out at The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I felt my heart beaming from the memory of holding a koala. Well worth it, I thought.
A shaggy man in a baseball cap strode out to the patio. He lit a cigarette and walked around examining the couples sharing drinks. I didn’t pay much attention to him until he gestured toward me with his cigarette and said, “You sure know how to take up a table.”
I was taken aback by the comment, not sure what it implied. Then I looked at my set-up and laughed. I was sitting in one chair, had my foot propped up on a second and my purse on a third. I had managed to monopolize a seating arrangement for six all on my own. “Well what can I say,” I retorted, “I have a lot of imaginary friends.”
He chuckled and pulled up one of the empty chairs across from me. “What’s your name, love?”
“Hilary. And yourself?”
“Dan. Nice to meet you.” He pulled a pack out of his shirt pocket. “Smoke?”
I shook my head. He shrugged and put it back. “I think I’ve seen you around here before.”
He smirked, “Well that’s probably because I’m the owner, love.”
“Ah. You’re Dan.”
“You’ve heard of me?”
“Only good things. Scout’s honor.”
“Well, that’s good news then. Listen, I have to bugger off to take care of some things. But it was very nice to meet you.”
Dan and his smoke trail disappeared as quickly as it had come. I went back to journaling, uninterested in the partying going on around me. I only looked up at the sound of people walking towards me.
“There she is, the gal I was telling you about.” Dan had his arms around two guys in slacks and button downs. “This is Hilary and her imaginary friends.” The skinny guy on the left gave me a look.
I shook my head and laughed. “Don’t ask,” I said, extending a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Alan,” the skinny guy with the loud tie said. “This is Nathan, my roommate.” The taller gentlemen with the dimples nodded. They both stood awkwardly by the table.
“Would you like to sit down?” I offered.
Alan hesitated a moment before replying, “Well, we would you see, but I hear your imaginary friends are bitches.”
My eyes widened in amusement. “Is that the rumor about town?”
Nathan took a swig of his beer before chiming in, “Yeah. From what we’ve gathered, all they do is just sit and talk about handbags and how much guys suck.” These boys were quick.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong. We talk about devil worship and how cool it is to be a lesbian. Everything else just gets worked in by default.”
Alan cracked a smile and took a seat. “You’ve got a sense of humor. Nice. You’re not from around here.”
“Is anyone at this bar from around here?”
“We are,” Nathan said, pulling up another chair.
“Really? I didn’t know this was a popular hangout for locals.”
“It’s not, but it’s the closest bar to our apartment and we’re too lazy to walk to another.” Alan took a swig of his beer. “Where did you say you were from again?”
“I didn’t. But I’m from Vegas.” I loved that I never had to clarify further than that. Sometimes being from an iconic city had its perks.
“No way,” Nathan said, suddenly regarding me with intrigue. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Vegas before.”
“Story of my life,” I replied.
“So what brings you to Brisbane?” I took a breath before answering Alan’s question. After all, it was such a long story.
“Okay, here it goes… but stop me if you’ve heard this one before…”
Dan walked up with his hands in his pockets, his mouth pulled into an amused smile. He surveyed the scene in front of him. “Well, Miss Hilary, it looks like you’re down to one chair.”
I smiled and observed the scene with satisfaction. Somehow in the past hour my conversation with Alan and Nathan had attracted many other participants. Our table had grown to accommodate eight and my journal had remained untouched on the table. “Well, as it turns out, real friends are much more entertaining than the invisible ones.”
Dan winked at me. “Obviously you’re not drunk enough, love.” He stared at the drink in my hand with concern. “Speaking of, what have you got there?”
I looked at my glass. “Well, it’s supposed to be a tequila sunrise but I’m not sure what’s actually in it. Luckily it’s strong, so I’m cool.” I handed it over for him to try and he made a face.
“Dear God, what did she put in there?”
“Grenadine? I think? It’s okay. She’s doing the best she can. These lushes have her scared half to death,” I explained. The new bartender was barely 18 and nervously putting together the random (and slightly disgusting) drink orders of my new Brisbane pals. I watched her as she tried to assemble eight shots of squashed frogs with shaky hands.
He shook his head. “I must have a proper talk with her. Can I get you something else?” I shook my head no and he walked off. I turned back to the discussion at hand.
“The Australian accent is simple,” Alan said in a voice a little louder than necessary. “All you need to do is slur all your words together. The less syllables you have the more correct your pronunciation.”
Nathan nodded in agreement. “The goal is to only pronounce one syllable.”
They then demonstrated a ‘proper’ Aussie conversation, leaving the table in hysterics.
Ryan, the mild-mannered blogger from South Africa, brought a pitcher to the table and sat next to me. He smiled and poured glasses for the table. He had taken second in the poker tournament and wanted to celebrate. I kindly refused my glass, passing it over to the guy with the tattoos. Tattoo Guy chugged it without question.
That’s the great thing about hostels. There’s always someone willing to consume your alcohol if you don’t want it. But I doubt this is a problem other people consider as much as I do.
“Are you still nursing that tequila sunrise?” Alan looked at me dubiously. “Aren’t you from Vegas? I’m unimpressed with your drinking abilities, lady.”
I smiled over my straw, observing the empty beer mugs in front of him. “Shows how much you know. Maybe next time you’ll be less quick to judge.” He shrugged and thanked Ryan for the beer. I looked at my phone to check the time. “But on that note gentlemen, I must leave you.”
“Why?” Ryan asked in his sweet South African accent. His puppy eyes made me want to pinch his cheeks and muss his hair. Or throw him a ball. I couldn’t decide.
I looked at the table of my male compadres that were suddenly quiet as I stood to gather my things. All eyes were on me. “Well, for starters it’s way past my bedtime. And tomorrow is my last day in Brisbane, so I’m going to get up early and explore.” A knot formed in my stomach at the thought. In less than 48 hours I was headed to Fiji. What awaited me there? I shook the thought from my hand and focused on the present moment.
No-one looked satisfied with my answer. I didn’t understand why; it’s not like I was telling them it was their bedtime.
“Where are you going to go explore?” Nathan asked.
I shrugged. “I dunno. Places? I’m meeting a friend and she’s going to show me around. I already played with a koala so anything else is icing on the cake. Regardless, I must get on with it.”
“Well wait,” Alan protested, standing as well. “How ’bout you join us tomorrow night for dinner? We have to treat the only intelligent woman in this hostel to a farewell meal. Otherwise we wouldn’t be the proper gentlemen that we are.” I raised my eyebrow in amusement at the ‘proper gentlemen’ part.
Ryan quickly agreed. “Yes, let’s all go to dinner!”
I hesitated, wanting to say no. Not that these weren’t great guys, but I had an early flight the following day and didn’t want to be up all night. But then again… when in Rome? I did some quick calculations in my head. “It’ll have to be an early dinner.” I clarified. “I must be back here by ten or else I’ll turn into a pumpkin. Take it or leave it.” I put my hand on my hip and waited for a decision.
“It’s a date then. We’ll meet you in the lobby of the hostel at seven.” Nathan said with resolve.
I smiled and nodded my goodbyes.
“But wait,” Ryan called after me. I turned and gave him a questioning glance. “There’s three of us. But only one of you. Who’s taking who?”
I laughed at the question and they quickly went to arguing over the arrangement.
“Well, obviously since you two are practically Bert and Ernie, you should go with each other and I’ll go with Hilary,” Ryan concluded.
“That’s crap,” Alan argued. “It was my idea. Plus, you and Nathan make a lovely couple.”
“Goodnight boys, I’ll see you tomorrow.” I left them to their quarrel. I tried to hide my smile as I heard their argument continue behind me.
I nodded to Dan as I walked past. “That’s my girl,” he muttered under his breath, smirking at the sight. We high-fived and I left the bar.