Patience, Halie reminded herself again, patience. But how could she be patient any longer? Johnny had been in there talking to the attendant for so long that it seemed like that it had been hours since when they had pulled in for fuel at the petrol station. She checked the time on her mobile phone just to be sure.
It had only been twelve minutes since Johnny went in.
She placed her phone back into her pocket and leaned roughly back into the seat, waiting for Johnny to finally reemerge.
Halie Trinscoll was a young woman of twenty years of age. To a wide array of men, she would not seem an overtly beautiful or even sexy looking woman; she was of a mostly plain appearance, but that was how she liked herself to be viewed as, even if she didn't have handsome hunks that she usually saw on magazine and tabloid covers in the supermarket falling all over her. She always kept her brunette coloured hair cut to a medium-short length and had it brushed fairly every morning, but not too much as to keep every strand perfect. She did not wear makeup at all, despite the immense pressure from women of her own age to do so. Her eyes were nothing special, just an average shade of blue somewhere between a spring sky and a crystal sapphire.
Appearances meant nothing to Halie, with the exceptions of getting ready for her workdays at Coles every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and of course for her dates with Johnny as well. Her figure meant nothing to her either; she did not care if she was too lean or too fat. She kept everything normal, manicuring her fingernails once every week and just using simple fruit-fragranced shampoo and conditioner whenever she was in the shower.
Just a normal, non-obsessed with personal appearance, lifestyle. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing highly attractive, which was why she was so suspicious when Johnny started asking her out five months ago.
John Munday. Thirty five years old, thirty four when they had met. A suave business representative of a Sydney-based company looking to supply Coles with some new laundry products. Every inch of perfection the hunks were on those magazine covers in their looks, and yet he ignored every advance Halie's co-workers had made towards him.
The only attention he ever paid was to her.
She didn't glance at him at first, but when she did, Halie found him mesmerising. He initiated conversation with her then, choosing general topics such as the latest news on Federal politics, the nearest occurring natural disaster and so on. But as their encounters gradually became more frequent, the topics became more personal. Favourite songs and movies. Their high school experiences. Whether she actually did not wear any makeup or just pretended she didn't. Whether she had a boyfriend or he had a girlfriend.
To her pleasure, he had none.
Then came the first date. Johnny, having at last finalised the deal with Coles, came up to her and asked her out to dinner at the local sports club. That was when Halie started in getting flustered about her appearance; she started buying lipsticks and other cosmetics to make herself look more beautiful to him. Over the phone one time, her mother tried to explain to her that first dates were really not that much compared to any later ones, should they ever occur. Halie ignored her advice and kept on selecting everything she believed she would need.
It all became a disaster fro her from the word go. She applied the cosmetics too roughly or too thick. The lipstick kept getting more smudged along her lips, making them look more enormous than they were. The eyeshadow looked too dark. Nail polish streaked all down her fingers.
She found herself at the end of it all where she had begun. In a mess. And the thing that made every effort nothing was that after she had cleaned up, Johnny called on the phone and said during a conversation about how good the date might be that he really did not care if she wore any makeup or not, reminding her that he asked her out because of how attractive she had always looked since they had met.
Halie fumed afterwards, and prepared for the date as how she prepared for everything else. Showered with the fruit-fragranced shampoo. Brushed her hair fairly. The only thing that was different was what she would be wearing.
She did not have many dresses for occasions like a date; she never really expected them due to the fact that before Johnny, no man or boy ever paid her the slightest bit of romantic attention. That was fine with her, but she thought that if noone would, she might never have that kind of life every woman was believed to have wanted.
So she had to go and buy one. The choice of dress, unlike her makeup, was a fine one. Short, not too revealing blue satin, which reached down to her knees. The shoes, as was the usual with occasional dresswear shops, came with the dress and were flat-footed and coloured a vibrant blue to match.
When Halie saw the final result of her renewed vigour, she realised her mother had been right and she had come out looking more perfect than she had originally conceived to be. She smiled at herself in the mirror, hardly believing that it was her in the reflective glass.
Following on from there, the date went swimmingly. Johnny picked her up at twelve past five and drove her to the club, treating her to an Asian dinner at its restaurant. She did not fall in love there and then, but she did gradually warm to Johnny more that evening.
The falling in love part started on the third date. After the second, which had taken place at a McDonald's, she decided yo ask him over to her house for a meal cooked by her. He answered yes.
As she had learned from the first date, Halie went simple. Peas, carrots and broccoli that she had boiled in a microwavable container. Four potatoes roasted in a frying pan. Two silverside eye steaks grilled in the oven. Johnny came around in the middle of the cooking and sat down in the lounge room to watch a game show on Channel Nine.
Halie finished the cooking, piling the food on the plates, and took them into the lounge room. She had given Johnny his plate and asked what he had wanted to drink. He requested his favourite, a bottle of Toohey's Light Beer.
The two of them continued to watch the game show where the winning contestant ended up getting one hundred thousand dollars, but decided to skip the following news program to watch a movie instead. Gain, Halie left the choice to Johnny. He selected Beverly Hills Cop, his favourite comedy. They laughed together at the film's funniest moments, but there were those times when Halie's attentions wandered from the screen over to Johnny. She stared at him , her eyes taken in by his cheerful face, his gleaming eyes, his childlike smile.
His handsome lips, she thought suddenly. That, for her, was the spark. Her body slowly heated. Her heart pounded on her ribs, vibrating to her flesh through the bones. The beating went up through her throat, into her head, and into her ears. She felt the pulses reverberate in the canals. The urge to get out of her chair and go to him rose.
Johnny turned. He blinked in surprise.
Halie flinched, knowing he had seen the hungering look in her eyes. She instinctively moved to collect the dinner plates.
His hand stopped her, his fingertips touching upon her knuckles. She let out a gasp of nervousness as his fingers curled around her hand until they formed a gentle grip. She looked back at him. His eyes held her there, glinting like a pair of stars. He leaned over the arm of his chair, bringing his face closer to hers. She closed her eyes, holding back a gulp, and too leaned in. His lips came gingerly down upon hers. Halie tasted a mix of steak and beer on the moist skin, sending her lust into a frenzy. She returned his kiss with one from her, applying to his lips more roughly than he had to hers. He grabbed her by the shoulders, realising what she had in mind. When he didn't go any further than that, she knew. The feelings died down as she reopened her eyes and looked at him in rejection.
"Not yet, okay?" he said.
The hope had sparkled within her again. It had not been a complete rejection at all. She saw it in his eyes. He wanted to do it as well, just not then. She accepted.
Barely a month ago, she got her wish. By then, the both of them had lost count on the many successive dates they had and couldn't measure which ones were the best of them. Like the third date, she had got what she wanted through another date at her house. That time, she cooked up a more fanciful dinner of teriyaki fish and roasted vegetables flavoured with Italian herbs, with two mini pavlovas waiting in the fridge to be dessert. Johnny arrived from work after the news had finished. He came up to her, as she worked at the pan of teriyaki fish, with their customary embrace. His left arm weaved around her waist, gently pulling her into him. His right arm stroked her own, moving in sync with her as she lathered the sauce in. He kissed her on the side of her neck. She tilted her head to the left, giving him open space to work as she softly rubbed his lips down to her collarbone, where he met her tickle spot and she giggled.
"Miss me?" he had whispered, something he asked her regularly.
Her reply on the other hand was always different as it involved whatever she was cooking. "Until the teriyaki got on me."
"Awww," he played along, his chin kneeling on her shoulder, "is my poor baby burned?"
Halie giggled again. "No, but someone won't be able to eat tonight if I'm not left alone to cook it."
Johnny smiled. "Ouch, I hope the movie's a softer punishment."
"Well, it's your choice tonight," she reminded him.
He gave her another peck, this time on the cheek, and went into the lounge room.
Johnny had chosen a long one, a three hour film. When it had finished, Johnny remarked how late it was getting. Hearing that and realising the time, the beast in Halie stirred again. The signs reappeared.
She slowly got up from her armchair and stepped over to him. Johnny looked up at her curiously until he saw the look in her eyes. This time he did not say or do anything to stop her. She sat down across his lap, leaned down and wrapped her arms around his neck. He held her at the back of her waist. Her lips gently washed over his, the corners pulling them into a smile as the flavour of his mouth spread over her tongue. They both went for another round. Then a third, and a fourth.
Halie took Johnny by the wrists while still locked in their forth kiss. He followed her beckoning, letting his hands down and allowed her to lead him to her bedroom.
Halie opened her eyes after reminiscing the first night she and Johnny made love. In the rearview mirror she saw the smile that she had been feeling was there. The memory of the evening continued to play in her mind. She chuckled.
So did Johnny.
Halie nearly leaped into the roof of the car when she heard him. She turned her head to the driver-side window. There he was, smiling widely at her through the open gap.
"How long have you been there?" she asked.
"Enough to wonder what you're thinking about," he answered.
Halie smiled again as the memory came back. "Our first night."
Johnny nodded knowingly. "That's still the best one for you, then?"
Johnny shook his head in amusement. "What didn't I do in the other times to make them better?"
"It's not that. I just - - - - - felt different after that night."
Johnny regarded her with an understanding look. She had told him the next morning after their first time that it was actually her very first.
"I know, honey," he said. "But, believe me, that's gonna change after this little trip."
Halie gave him another smile for the reminder of where they were going to. Every autumn and spring for the past seven years, Johnny spent one week at a holiday home he owned in the Wisemans Ferry area. The last time he had gone there was one month before she met him; this time though he asked if she wanted to join him for this one.
She readily agreed.
"I hope it does," she replied.
Johnny grinned, opened the car door, and hopped inside. He shut the door and buckled his seatbelt, and plucked the car keys from his pocket before turning back to Halie.
"Then get your belt back on, ma'am. This is our last pit stop before reaching our destination."
Halie laughed, and did as she was told.
The length of the journey from the petrol station to the holiday park took a much shorter time than it did for any of their other stops. Before Halie had known it, thanks to being mesmerised by the surrounding views throughout the drive, Johnny turned the car down a small lane that led to the park's administration block. There, he stopped outside the building and wound down his window. "Hey, Rick!" he called out. " You still own the place?"
Halie looked past him towards the administration doors. They slid open, revealing a man in his early forties dressed in a blue and black button-up shirt and grey jeans. The man grinned from ear to ear.
"Johnny. Of course I do. You know I'm not giving this place up, at least until after I've hit my retirement age."
Johnny laughed. "Let me guess, maybe not even then?"
"Maybe not even then," Rick repeated with a nod. Then his eyes darted to Halie in the front passenger seat and the eyebrows rose. "Oh. Apologies, miss. Didn't realise Jonny was bringing company."
"That's okay," Halie replied, waving her hand in greeting. "Name's Halie."
"Well, mine is Rick. Rick Tavers, owner of this establishment."
"Watch it lover boy," Johnny jokingly warned him. "She's taken."
Rick shrugged indifferently. "Doesn't worry me. I'm not going to bother since I need your money."
Johnny looked at him in confusion. "Bad business?"
"Like you wouldn't believe. You two are the only guests I've got for the next week."
"What about the summer? It's your best time."
"Why?" Halie asked curiously.
Rick glanced at her. "Because of the rumours," he answered.
"Rumours? What rumours?" Johnny asked.
Rick shook his head and waved him off. "Never mind. I'd like you two to enjoy yourselves without having to look over your shoulders for something that's not there."
He stepped over to the car and handed Johnny a set of keys. "Everything's the way you wanted it."
"Even the - - -
"Even the changes," Rick nodded. He looked back at Halie and gave her a cheerful grin. "You are going to be so spoiled this week."
Halie smiled back at him, wondering what he could possibly be hinting at. Johnny slowly put his foot down on the accelerator and rove farther into the holiday park. Halie turned around for a moment, giving the manager another glance, before putting her eyes back to the road ahead.
She got her first full look at the holiday park. After leaving Rick and the administration building behind them, Johnny made another turn. There was a single road with a line of small villas on either side. The villas looked eerily similar; all of them were painted brick red with silver roofs on top and grey concrete driveways at their sides. The far end of the road led out to a wide and open green field which bordered the nearby river on its right and high hills covered in dense bushland to its left and head. Someway along the field there was a small enclosed body of water that looked to her to be fenced off by wire mesh. It all looked peaceful, simple and tranquil, but there was something in the way that the villas appeared exactly the same and the way the bush-covered hills seemed to hang over the area that made the place look creepy.
Johnny turned the car to the right, parking it in the driveway of the fifth villa. He got out and stretched, groaning at his body's indication that his muscles were growing stiff. Halie got out and stretched as well; when she finished, her eyes fell back on the hills at the end of the field. Hills, she thought. To her, they looked like a small mountain range. She stared up the high slopes. There was hardly anything to see of the surface; all there was was a mass of the dark green of the trees and the blackness of the shadows between them. No wind was blowing at the leaves, even the ones closest to the ground. She shivered.
"Hale, everything okay?" Johnny asked her.
She reacted to his use of his nickname for her and rubbed at her arms, trying to warm up. "Yeah," she breathed. "It's just this place is so quiet it's creepy."
Johnny came around the car to her side and locked her in a tight one-arm embrace around the waist. "You're too used to the city, that's the problem."
Smiling, she rested her head back against his chest. Her ears flooded with the sound of his heartbeat and she closed her eyes, sighing in comfortable pleasure.
"Maybe you're right. I've never had a holiday in a place this remote before," she admitted.
Johnny laughed a little bit, sending a gentle vibration through his chest to her, along with his heartbeat. "Then this trip will be really be interesting for you."
Halie smiled, opening her eyes again and glanced up at him. "How did I get so lucky to have you?"
"Honey, luck's got nothing to do with me. Just you."
He gave her a deep kiss on the cheek. "Now, let's get the bags out of the car."
After Johnny retrieved their luggage of two pairs of bags and toiletry containers from the car, they walked around to the other side of the villa. There, Halie's eyes met the riverside. At the last stretch of dry land stood a straight line of medium-sized palm trees; beyond these was the river itself. The water was one hundred metres wide from the shoreline to the other side. The current appeared as though it was in a violent rush, but like the absence of the wind in the trees, it was silent. Ahead of the opposite shoreline were more high hills covered in dense bush.
She felt that same chill again and wondered why she was feeling that way. Then it really hit her. It wasn't that there was no blwoing of the wind or splashing of water, or that it seemed like nature was surrounding them for miles; it was the fact that, aside from Rick the manager, she and Johnny were the only people around.
Which, upon her thinking it a second time, sounded good. The chill was gone.
Halie and Johnny went up the short set of stairs to the villa's porch. Again, Halie took in her surroundings. The porch was modest; a single table in the corner with four cushioned steel chairs, a small wooden bench up against the wall, an extendable sunshade and thick glass panels for a ceiling, and a steel-and-cable railing to prevent someone from falling off. She felt warm at this sight. This was feeling more like a home.
Johnny put the bags and containers down on the bench and retrieved the keys Rick had given him from his pocket. He inserted the one he knew from previous occasions to be the door key in the lock and twisted. After hearing the answering click, he removed the key and pulled the glass sliding door open. Halie turned and looked inside. Her eyes took in the small living room. A huge plasma television set with an accompanying Bluray and DVD player stood on an entertainment unit installed into the left-hand wall. Up against the right-hand wall was a three-seat lounge and two armchairs all facing towards the television screen with a coffee table taking up the space in front of them. On the other side of the room, a tiny kitchen was tucked into a corner; to the left was a narrow square hallway which led to three doors. Unbenownst to her, Johnny was glancing at her, smiling. He picked up the bags and containers and walked inside. Halie followed.
After setting the bags down again by the lounge, he showed her around the villa fully. The kitchen was explored. A counter and refrigerator served as the only border between it and the living room. Below the counter was a set of drawers containing cutlery and other kitchen utensils, tea towels and tablecloths, and two cupboards; the nearest one to the drawers held plates and bowls while the other had drinking glasses, tea cups and coffee mugs. A sink with two basins, a large one for washing and a tinier one for rising, was at the right wall, with a third cupboard below it that had a full bottle each of dishwashing liquid and rinsing aid. The other wall had a fan-heated oven with a single cupboard on either side, a pair of oven mitts hanging from a steel rung, and a rubbish bin next to the left-side cupboard.
The hallway was next. Johnny opened the door on the right-hand side. Revealed beyond it was the bathroom. A shower-and-bathtub combination unit took up the entire back wall. A toilet stood away to the left and a sink with a tiny cupboard was fitted halfway along the right wall with a towel rack standing beside it.
The left-hand door was the entry to the smaller guest bedroom. Two single beds stood separately opposite each other, with a chest of drawers between either head.
"Are we expecting company?" Halie asked Johnny.
"No," was his answer. "All the villas are like this."
Her eyes darted around the room again until she noticed one feature it was lacking in.
"No windows?" she asked curiously.
"Yeah, Rick told me about that when I first came here. The architect who designed the villas had windows for this room in the original plan, but it was only when they were building them that they realised a mistake was being made so it was decided to leave the villas as they were. That's why there's no windows in here. Although there is an urban myth that the architect was drunk when he made the spec and there were no windows on it for the guest rooms at all."
Halie's eyebrows rose in amusement. "Urban myth?"
"More like, based on a true story," Johnny chuckled.
Moving on from their conversation, Halie was shown the small cupboard in which any guest of theirs could hang their clothes and put in their luggage bags and shoes. Then she and Johnny went back into the hallway and towards the final of the three doors. With all of the other rooms having been shown to her, Halie knew there was only one room left that this door could lead to, and she turned to Johnny with a beaming smile. He returned it with a teasing grin as his hand gripped around the doorknob and turned it, twisting it in a near-full circle and pushing the door inward. Halie looked inside. Ahead of her was a large king-sized bed underneath a curtained window and two chests of drawers, exact copies of the one she had seen in the guest bedroom, one on each side of the bed. To her right was an in-built cupboard much larger than the one that was in the guest bedroom. Happy with it, she turned back to Johnny, her beaming smile widening into the corners of her mouth. Johnny matched the length of her smile with his grin.
"What do you say we get everything else out of the car now?" he suggested.
Halie nodded, believing now that this trip would be the best holiday ever.
Besides her luggage bag and her toiletry container, there wasn't much Halie had brought from her own home. There was only her handbag, her purse and her mobile phone. How many items there were from Johnny's house was an entirely different story. From the back seats of the car, the two of them collected a pair of folded-up lawn chairs, three packets containing 150 DVDs in all, two fishing rods, a tackle box, a Cd and cassette player, and various plastics bags full of the grocery shopping he had done in the previous evening.
By the time they were done with the unpacking, Halie let out a long-held tired breath. Johnny gazed at her cheekily.
"Oh, is my poor baby tired?" he teased playfully.
Yawning, Halie nodded. "I think I need a little rest."
"I think so too," he agreed, looking at her eyes. "Go and have a lie down."
"Plenty of time for fun later," Johnny chuckled.
Halie uttered a small laugh of her own before nodding again. "Okay. What're you going to do?"
"Take out one of the lawn chairs. Rest in the afternoon sun. You could join me."
"Or, you could join me?" Halie countered slyly.
Johnny chuckled again, flashing her another of his grinning smiles that always made her want to leap at him and being her lips crushing into his. "Like I said, honey, plenty of time for fun later."
Halie grinned at him as she turned back towards the bedroom. He moved over to the lawn chairs propped up against the wall and, picking one up in both hands, walked outside onto the porch and down the steps to the ground. About a metre away from the house, he stopped, staring blissfully at the river's surface sparkling in the sunlight. Johnny glanced back through the door, the thoughts in his mind falling on Halie in the bedroom and on her offer. He shook his head. That would be for during the night. Right now, what he had planned was comfortable. He set to work on setting up the chair.
The very last thing Halie remembered before falling asleep was curling into a relaxing position on the mattress in the main bedroom and thinking of maybe joining Johnny outside after all. She guessed, after she awoke, that she must have been tired than she had realised. Reaching into her pants pocket, she pulled out her mobile phone to check the time.
The clock on her home screen read five thirty three.
Halie stretched her arms out, yawning. "Johnny?" she called out.
He did not answer her. Then it occurred to her that he may still be outside. She rose from the bed and walked out of the room, past the kitchen and lounge area, through the open door, and onto the porch. Halie smiled as she saw the lawn chair sitting idly on the grass and Johnny's hair being lifted by the same genteel breeze that was now fluttering at the base of her neck. She descended down the steps and moved quietly to and around the chair. There, she smiled again, finding Johnny fast asleep with his closed eyes looking up to the sky and his hands tucked in at his sides. His chest was rising and falling steadily. His lips were forming into a satisfied grin. It was all making him, look adorably cute to her.
Her smile widening in mischief, she pulled her phone from her pocket again. She performed the unlocking action on her home menu, sliding her thumb over the screen in a concave arc, and pressed for the Camera app to open. She turned the phone lengthways in her hands and let it focus on the image of Johnny and waited for the green light to indicate she could take the shot. It came. Halie pushed the button. The phone answered with a click. The screen flashed, changing from a live moving picture of Johnny to a still one. Halie smiled a third time. She had captured him perfectly.
"And just what is that about?"
Halie jumped, taking a step back. Johnny's eyes were open and staring at her in playful curiosity. The bright smile of his slumber curled awkwardly as he searched her for a reply. Halie gulped slightly.
"You looked adorable," she confessed nervously.
"Adorable?" Johnny spoke back to her, his eyebrows arching up by an inch.
"Yes," Halie said, slowly nodding.
A strange smile came onto Johnny's face as he got up from the chair, never taking his eyes off of her. Halie took a step back, knowing that her face was going red for guessing what he was up to. Inside her there was a small urge to run; she ignored it and let him approach, feeling the fire burn hotter as he came closer to her. His arms came forward, encircling her between them and pulled her into him. She felt the intense warmth of his body flooding into hers, his heart beating in time with her own, and she looked up into his eyes. He had not lost the smile but there were now sparkles of desire in his irises. Johnny bent his head in. Halie closed her eyes, accepting him. First he kissed her on the forehead, then laid his lips on hers to which she replied, and lowered his head to plant a third kiss at her collarbone. Halie felt a bobbing rise up in her throat as a passionately driven sigh issued out from inbetween her lips.
Johnny smiled, stopping for a moment, and chuckled. "You're making this too easy for me."
"Another time," Halie sighed longingly. "I'll get my turn another time. Just keep going."
And Johnny did, beginning with a trail of kisses up from Halie's collarbone to underneath her chin. Halie reacted with pleasure towards each one, tilting her head up for him to reach until her ecstatic eyes could see nothing but the sky above. Then Johnny completed his path by removing his arms from around her and firmly grasping her by the head, bringing it to its normal angle, and pressing a deeper kiss to her lips. Halie replied to it with a moan, burying her mouth against his.
Then when they finished, the both of them were in agreement on two things. The first was that they would skip dinner tonight. The other was that bedtime would be early. Thinking of their idea of an early night's sleep, Johnny packed up the lawn chair and followed Halie back inside. Afar, high in the hilltop from across the field, the intruder sat in his roost, watching them go, planning for the precise moment when he would enter the lives of his next two victims.