Lily Stojcevski is a university student and aspiring writer. In 2014, she won the Senior section of the Tasmanian Young Writers Prize for her speculative fiction “Mountain, Predator, Shell,” which was published in Forty Degrees South and Award Winning Australian Writing 2015. As well as working on the draft for a Young Adult fantasy novel, she has worked as a judge for the Inky Awards in 2013 and the Aurealis Awards in 2016. She is also part of a The Story Island Project, a Tasmanian organisation dedicated to increasing literacy rates and confidence amongst disadvantaged young people through creative writing workshops.

We sat, legs under uniform blue skirts. Bare knees like waves in a sea of assimilated femininity. We watched with strawberry-jam cheeks, as sweat and testosterone played out elaborate games on the polished wood below. It put thoughts into our heads, of lifting, writhing flesh. Hot to the touch. Forbidden.

We dressed in puzzles of zips and buttons and ties, wrapped ourselves like presents. We thought of their eyes on us, fantasized about being wanted. Longing drove us out of our minds.

They surrounded us with lust and flirtation and sex and then they told us our yearnings made us less-than-women. They wanted us to be wanted and they hated us for wanting.

We were Eve, Lilith, Circe, Pandora. They watched our transition from pink to red, their hearts in their throats. To them, perfect was the body of a whore and the mind of a virgin.

We made them uncomfortable.

We made them ashamed.

* * *

I remember a butter-yellow morning, tulips outside my window and my nails toxic apple red. I felt pretty.

You’re not wearing that, my mother said

What’s wrong with it?

Your skirt is too short. You look like a hooker.

All the girls—

I’m not all the girls’ mother. Go change.

Mum you’re not serious—

Change or stay home, your choice, she said. A lie. There was no choice. So I went back to my room, took off the skirt, and cried.

I did go out, flirted and danced, but something didn’t feel right. I didn’t understand.

* * *

But that night doesn’t matter. I will tell another story, another night.

His name was Liam and with him I found my Eden. He told me he loved me with hands cold on my stomach and lips on my neck. He tasted of Coca Cola and when his hand moved up my thigh I didn’t protest. I wanted him. He wanted me. We wanted.

There was nothing sexy about it. I know that now, but then… That was why I liked Liam. With him I felt like I could be me. The length of my skirt didn’t matter. To him, I was a woman. Not a girl, not a whore, not a prude. A woman. I liked that feeling.

I’m sorry. This is a hard story to tell. It doesn’t have a happy ending. I wish it did. I wish Liam had kept loving me and something came of that one night. I could tell it like that, I guess, but why lie?

Liam was not who I thought he was. At his locker the next day I heard him tell his friends I was easy, dying for it, desperate, pathetic.

In Liam’s story, I was just a body, a stand-in for his hand.

He bragged that he had corrupted me, done unspeakable things to my winter-pale body and changed my chemical make-up. In his mind, he was my drug, my sin, my master, and his caresses had deprived me of paradise.

I don’t want to remember.

* * *

Flannelette pyjamas and sleeping bags, we didn’t sleep. Her name was Maria and she knew me better than I knew myself. She was cheeky and opinionated and worldly and we lay out on mattresses, a chick flick whirring in the player, and whispered secrets. We giggled and blushed and played at being coy, coiled around the couch like serpents. It was there, in the intimate walls of feminine friendship that we could breathe. That we could want without shame.

Maria would lie out on my little-girl duvet, a cigarette between her fingers, and tempt me with stories. Before Maria, I was innocent, but her low-voiced legends introduced me to sex and boys and nightclubs. Behind my parents’ backs she’d slip me the forbidden fruit of the local cosmetic store. She’d create ways for me to escape from the house and, dressed in our most taboo clothes, we would dance and flirt and drink before ending up on someone’s couch like pre-teens in cotton nighties.

I loved those nights.

On those nights we were spies, murderers, counsellors. Seductive, ferocious, vengeful. We were hairdressers and make-up artists and pop stars and fashion designers and bodyguards. If one of us had been wronged the rest would rally around her like a wolf pack. We would stalk the girlfriends of our exes and come up with ingenious and unconditional insults, plotting schemes and murders that would never happen.

On those nights we were the same, a powerful and unashamed minority. We were as brash as we wanted to be and no one could tell us it wasn’t proper. On those nights we were women, and they should have been scared.

On those nights, apple juice ran down our chins.

* * *

Everyone told us we were free, and we believed them. We had our independence, we thought.

We were wrong.

We were not free. We were sluts, prudes, unladylike, less-than-women. Too good and not good enough. Mothers in supermarkets would turn their children away from us because our gym gear revealed the shapes and possibilities of our flesh. Teachers would tell us our suntanned shoulders were ‘distracting.’ Our bodies brought suffering to mankind.

No one could make up their minds about us—whether we were a boon or a threat—and it destroyed us. We were trapped in a world that idealised our beauty and ran scared from our desire, that objectified and chastised us in turn.

And the whole time we watched, waiting, wanting.