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How Long Will You Be Seventeen?

Caitlin was bitten in 2010, when Robert Pattinson meant the world and side fringes were in. She was seventeen, dressed up as Buffy in the shortest cheerleader skirt her school would let into the disco, and a cute guy dressed up as Angel had smiled at her from across the room. He didn’t quite pull off the leather, and his hair looked like something out of Grease, but he was tall, and the fangs were kind of hot. Amy warned her not to flirt with him but Maddy had all but pushed Caitlin his way. He didn’t laugh, which was something, and she liked the way his eyes trailed over her.


It was her first kiss, and she pretended it was the real Angel to ease her nerves. It helped more than she expected when he led her to an empty classroom. He was a good kisser, but the fake fangs pricked her lip, blood pooling in her mouth. When she pulled back, his lips dropped to her throat. Her heart had been racing; it wasn’t fear, really, but she’d wished she at least recognised whatever dork was under the fangs. When his teeth broke through her skin, it wasn’t like anything they’d promised – no pleasure or headiness, no out of body experience, just pain and dizziness and a sudden, sharp nausea.


It took days before it went away; before she felt the same as she always did. Even though she wasn’t. He’d given her his fangs, wicked sharp against her tongue, and his hunger too. 


But nothing had to change. She was still Caitlin, seventeen and Angel-mad.


She told everyone it was the flu, wore her collars high and her hair low until the bites faded away. She went shopping with Amy and Maddy, pretending not to notice the veins standing livid on their thighs while they tried on Supre’s latest mini dress, or the way their hearts echoed in her ears with every goodbye hug. She drowned hunger with cheap red slushies and tanned from bottles and never worried about cutting her hair. Buffy played on repeat; sometimes it was a comfort, others it became background noise to Amy’s latest breakup or Maddy’s newest hair dye. 


She was seventeen, with her whole life ahead of her, and nothing would change.


Then she was eighteen. School finished, university started. Maddy and Amy went their own ways, kept in touch with clubbing nights, then café dates. Amy got an apprenticeship, Maddy moved to Sydney and kept a boyfriend. They saw each other less, and while Caitlin missed them, there wasn’t much to say when they met up again. She flunked some classes, changed her major two or three times, found a revolving door of friends in each new crop of first years, and went to every new class recognising others a little less.


She didn’t notice when months turned into years until Maddy called her up, a glittering ring on her finger and an extra few kilos hanging around her jaw. Caitlin glanced at the calendar on her phone, tapping through the years – was she twenty? Twenty-two? How long ago was graduation? 


They met up for a bridesmaid brunch. Caitlin, Maddy, Amy; just like old times. Except it wasn’t. Old jokes fell flat, Angel wasn’t in anymore, Robert Patterson was Bruce Wayne and Edward was a distant, drowned out memory, thought of with embarrassed laughter Caitlin didn’t understand.  Maddy wore her natural hair, wore a long dress with a tiny belt. Amy had tossed her platforms and miniskirts, let her curls coil and her high-waisted jeans flare. They looked incredible – they looked like women, laughing loudly over chardonnay and picking at couscous and wraps. Disposable masks were tucked in their handbags, great beasts that carried the whole world compared to Caitlin’s clubbing counterpart. She counted the lines around their eyes, the grey peaking out in Amy’s hair. 

Twenty-three. Twenty-four.


Twenty-seven. 


When did they get to twenty-seven?


Maddy showed off her ring – small and square and not nearly as expensive as she always wanted – showed off tattoos splattered like stickers down her arms. Showed off Instagram pictures of her fiancée, old and bearded with no six-pack in sight. Amy called him hot, but Caitlin could only see her uncles in his wrinkled brow, in the beer he held so casually. Amy had a boyfriend too, chiselled jawed and shoddily shaven, dressed like a realtor in a washed-out suit. He was successful, at least. More than Caitlin’s first-year flirts. 


She was carded for her wine, tucked her side bangs behind her ear self-consciously, and smiled when Maddy grinned at her, tipsy with excitement, and said fondly that she hadn’t changed a bit.


Twenty-seven, but Caitlin didn’t feel twenty-seven. Didn’t look it. She still shopped in Supre, still ate instant noodles, still got flustered over cute boys in leather and laughter she wasn’t part of. Still loved Angel and Edward and all the things her friends had tucked away and forgotten.


Still hid sharp fangs and red hunger and itchy, burning skin. 


Twenty-seven, but not a day over seventeen.


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