Sent: 24/7/2008 9:42pm
Thought I’d write a note - it’s easier sometimes than the phone. I never know when you’ll be home, or if you’ll be banging away in the work shed and not hear it ringing anyway.
I’ve been thinking about you and Raife and wondering how it’s all going. I know what you’re like. Try and be patient with him. Give it time. Saul thinks the stability of being home will be good for him. Funny, after all these years we’re still trying to sort Raife’s shit out. Just remember, under that tough exterior there’s a good heart.
I’ve been worrying that I shouldn’t have let Amandine speak to him on the phone. I thought it would be good for her to hear his voice, maybe jog some memories, that way she’d stop thinking Saul was Raife. I think I made things worse Jack.
She’s unwell and I really want to take her to a doctor but I can’t if Joseph won’t let me. Saul finally realises she needs more help than we can give her. He tried to talk to Joseph about it but that went pretty badly. Joseph was drunk for two days and didn’t speak to either of us for a week. I know how you feel about him right now but maybe if you’d call him it might help. Will you?
Everything else is fine, try not to worry. I think with some help from the doctor things might improve.
Work is keeping Saul busy, he’s out fishing most hours, then in the orchard when I can get him on dry land. We had to get a little help from some local boys in town to harvest this year. I’m useless, you should see the size of my belly. It’s incredible!
Still a while to go, I can’t imagine the size I will stretch to. Saul is so excited I think he might combust by the time this baby pops out. It tires me watching him.
Nursery is all finished and looks perfect thanks to the furniture from Uncle Jack. Finishing on a happy note after pouring my worries on you…we were wondering if you’d be Godfather. What do you say? We think maybe this way, you’ll have to come visit more often.
Waiting to hear from you…
It’s early when he reads Jess’s email. He can hear Raife snoring next door, the damn noise is driving him crazy. Raife is driving him crazy. Something needs to happen; he just wishes he knew what it was.
He feels the weight of expectation, Jess, Saul and Joseph. They all believe he can somehow help Raife and get him back on track. What does that even mean? Back on track. Jack has an idea that the track Raife was headed even before the accident was never a good one.
That one night has become the reason nothing turned out as it should for Raife. It’s become his excuse for everything: his ‘if only’. No-one regrets that night more than Jack, but he’s pretty sure Raife would have been in trouble with or without a reason. What makes it tough is that now and forever more, the reason is Jack.
His reply is brief. He loves Jess and wants to reassure her everything’s fine. He writes that he’s honoured to be asked and that of course, he’ll have to come home more often being that he’ll be a ‘kick-ass’ Godfather. He tells Jess that Raife is doing well, settling down and that soon they’ll both come home.
The truth is, he’s not sure when that will be. Right now Raife won’t talk about going to see Amandine. Since the call where he launched the phone into the bush, he won’t talk about home at all.
Jack gives Jess all the answers he hopes she needs: telling her to rest up and take care of his Godson/Goddaughter, that he’ll talk to Joseph and will make sure Amandine gets the help she needs.
Happy with the letter, he feels is only partly true he presses ‘send’. The thought of Jess and Saul and their baby pulls him away from the worries which will wait till later. Pulling on some old running shoes and whistling quietly for the dogs, he exits the house and the snoring and the drama.
Night makes way for day as he runs to the beach. Here he stands ankle deep as the tide pulls and rushes around his feet. Louie and Bets race back and forward for each stick he throws. Swimming and searching; all eyes and sleek black noses above the water, back and forth searching for the stick they know will be tossed once again back into the waves. The fruitlessness of their mission unimportant, lost in the thrill of the swim and chase and the white frothy caps of sea foam that follow.
“Hello? Anyone home?”
I knock again, hoping Jack will put down whatever he’s doing inside and come open his front door. The twins bang with little fists and shout for Louie and Bets but no-one’s around.
I’m carrying a dish of lasagne and a cheesecake on a large wooden tray. It’s shameless I know, but bribery via food has worked well for me so far. I have been trading home cooking for DIY help. Jack’s cooking repertoire is limited. So when I offer dinner for DIY, he seems happy to oblige.
Setting the tray down on the doorstep I motion for the twins to follow me down to the work shed. Jack’s truck is in the driveway. I deduce if he isn’t upstairs then he’s probably down there. Evie runs ahead, pushing her way into the dusty work shed. No signs of life here.
In the middle of the room reaching almost to the roof is Galileo, Jacks current project. We stand, the three of us, in a small line, entranced. The boat glows in the afternoon sun, a shabby chic relic destined for greatness. She stands naked. Jack has stripped away everything that couldn’t be salvaged. All the bad wood and rot gone. She waits proudly, quite bare but self-assured, as if she knows she will be beautiful again.
Sunny wanders forward, extending a small hand to touch the curve of the hull. He pats it like a dog then runs the flat of his palm along the side, walking as he goes till he has completed a full circuit. When he comes back around to meet us, Evie joins copying his movements exactly. The lap of the boat soon turns into a game of chase and they race round and around Galileo squealing with laughter, until finally I intervene, grab them both around the tummy and head for the door.
With both hands occupied, I push the heavy door with my back but it doesn’t budge. Damn, it’s always getting stuck. I bend and flex then thump the door with my bottom. Nothing. Again, a little harder. Still nothing. Evie and Sunny giggle and yell as I try for one last powerful butt thump to the stubborn door. This time it flies open, and I fly backward at speed with a small child under each arm, directly into the arms of Raife.
“Easy there.” He catches me deftly, arms locked around my waist as I lower the twins shakily to the ground. “You okay?”
“Sorry, I was looking for Jack and the door got jammed.”
“Right.” Raife’s arms remain firm on the sides of my waist.
“Thanks, I’m fine.” The moment is awkward. “You can let me go.”
“If you say so.”
Raife is barefoot, wearing old jeans and no shirt, and my back presses into the sinewy muscle of his chest. I can smell him; an oddly erotic odour of cologne and sweat.
Blushing, I look quickly away, flustered and embarrassed by my internal reaction to ‘man smell.’ God, what has become of me? I’m a sex-starved, beard-shaving, man-smelling, widowed, mother to small people who are, incidentally, running around my ankles as I contemplate the eroticism of the male smell and sex.
I can’t help it! I’m thinking about sex. Not with Raife, but sex, in general. And, to be honest, Jack parades around in some small shorts in this quickly formed fantasy.
Oh my God! Lock me up!
“Are you okay?” Raife’s eyes twinkle in amusement.
I shake my head, clearing the fantasy which was quickly turning into a soft porn movie without the seventies moustaches. What’s wrong with me?
Raife is waiting for an answer and I bluster, “Sorry for bothering you, I just came round to…”
He interrupts me. “Bring Jack food? I saw the tray. Sweet.”
I don’t like his tone. It makes me feel like some needy, pathetic female. “He’s doing some jobs for me.”
I’m hot and flustered, and a little cross. Raife is looking at me like he was privy to my private fantasy and I hate that I’m blushing.
“Look, can you just tell him I came by when he gets back?”
Raife’s arms are folded across his chest, the smile on his face looks too much like a smirk for me to feel comfortable.
“You can wait for him if you like.”
“No that’s okay. I have plenty to do.”
“Can I help you with anything?”
I smile confidently. “Thanks, but I’ll wait for Jack.”
I shout to the twins, who have ducked under the fence and are already in our back garden playing in the sandpit.
“Hey you two, wait up!” I notice Louie and Bets are in my garden jumping around near Evie and Sunny. I look around wondering where they sprang from.
Jack comes jogging down the path bare-chested, in shorts and runners (not little shorts, but shorts nevertheless) looking like he’s just run a marathon. Another sweaty, man too close to my raging hormones for comfort.
“Hey.” He smiles as he reaches us, and the light from his smile makes everything else fade, just for a moment.
Just for a moment, I forget that the twins are wrestling with the dogs in the sandpit. I forget that Jack’s gorgeous but strange brother is hovering over me. Just for a moment, I forget that I chose another man; one that I loved deeply who’s no longer here. I forget that I ought to feel sad and full of regret, because I betrayed that other man with this one. The smiling one, walking towards me like I’m the best thing he’s seen all day.
“Jack.” Raife sighs and his eyes narrow as Jack approaches. “Billie and I have just been hanging out.”
Jack slows to a walk. His hands rest on his waist as he catches his breath, eyes moving quickly from Raife back to me.
Raife waits for a moment, watching me and watching Jack. He mirrors Jacks pose; hands on hips and nods. “Billie was just filling me in. Things were just getting interesting.” He grins, reaches a hand out to squeeze my shoulder and turns back to the house where he takes the stairs two at a time. In moments the sound of his guitar strums beautifully though the thick air. Plaintive chords, followed by the hum of his voice in rehearsal; much more is to come.
I turn my gaze from the stairs and the beautiful music, back to Jack who is closer, hands still on his waist, breathing heavy and eyes pained.
I blow a breath of air out forcefully, the hair around my face lifting and settling limply in the heat. “Your brother is…” I frown, trying to think of the perfect word to do his uneasy presence justice without offending Jack. “He’s…” Didn’t I recently resurrect my clever writer self, where is my bank of perfect adjectives? “He’s weird.”
Jack’s eyes are on Louie and Bets and the twins running in circles in my garden. He nods but I don’t think he’s listening.
“You okay?” I ask, because there’s something in his expression I can’t fathom.
His eyes snap back to me quickly, “Yeah.” His smile looks forced.
“I wasn’t filling Raife in on anything, just so you know.” Sunny notices Jack and ducks back under the fence giggling. Louie follows closely. “We left dinner on the front porch.”
“Hey buddy.” Jack squats down level with Sunny. “What you got there?” Sunny looks at me carefully, worried that he’s about to get whatever is in his grubby little mitt confiscated. He leans in theatrically toward Jack.
“It’s a bug.”
Jack looks serious, he glances up at me just as Sunny did and says in a low voice. “Can I take a look?” Eagerly Sunny opens his hand and I yelp. I was expecting a squished worm at worse, but in Sunny’s open hand is a large cicada, or more accurately what used to be a large cicada before Sunny held it in an affectionate embrace and its guts spilled out.
Sunny seems unaware that the cicada is as good as gone. He looks up at me, little palm open, bug guts on show, then back to Jack. “Mommy doesn’t like bugs.” Jack’s eyes are warm, the troubled look gone. They twinkle as he examines Sunny’s palm. “His name is Jojo.”
“That’s a good name.”
Sunny grins at Jack like he just knew Jack would get it. Every bug deserves a name right? I’m wondering how to explain to Sunny that his bug friend is dead when Evie comes running up, her hands full of sand.
“Mommy, look it’s raining, it’s raining!” She throws fistfuls of sand in the air and it showers down on Sunny’s head. The open hand displaying Jojo the dead bug is now a small desert, Jojos’ remains buried.
“Mommy Evie sanded me!” He wails as Evie turns to run.
Sunny, quick off the mark forgets Jojo the bug and everything else. In his moment of sibling revenge, he drops the bug and races after her. I watch open-mouthed as a tussle ensues. There’s some scrabbling in the grass, some hair pulling and just when I move to go separate them, the squealing turns to giggling and all is well again.
When I turn Jack is close behind me, almost touching, the humid air charged with his proximity. He doesn’t speak and we stand there watching Sunny and Evie. I let my body lean back till there’s barely a breath of air between us. Close enough to hear his heart, I reach a hand carefully behind me, and let my fingers touch his leg and rest there.
“I need you.”
His words are barely audible above the beating of my heart, his breath close to my ear as he whispers. I shudder and hold still, feet firm on the earth below. I want to hold the moment; have it wait here like this till I’m done. Till I’m done rolling those words around in my head and letting their warmth sink deep into my bones.
I close my eyes holding the moment next to my heart, storing it away - a stash of quiet joy. This memory will sustain me, because winter is always coming. Life has taught me this much.
I lean in to him and breathe the musky air heavy, fragrant in the hot afternoon sun, amidst children’s laughter and dogs barking, the strum of Raife’s guitar and call of distant seabirds by the cliff. Amidst all this life, I lean in toward Jack, I let him hold me and I hold my fragile heart as it swells and aches with grief and hope in equal measures.
He needs me and there is beauty in this need. That despite my heavy baggage and healing heart, I fulfil a need in him. Not a want but a need. That somehow the person I have become has been moulded by fate and circumstance to fill the space that waits in his heart.
He moves my hair to the side and gently kisses the back of my neck, then turns and walks toward the work shed; to his life of boats and brothers, family drama and sick mothers. And I return to my side of the fence; to the twins and the dogs, sand fights and laundry, bedtime stories, snotty noses and pet bugs. Two lives once separate now tangled and bound.
“Hello? Anyone home?”
I recognise Virginia’s voice and know I won’t have to race to answer the door, she will let herself in.
“In here!” I dry my hands and pop my head round the corner from the laundry to see Virginia making her way across the kitchen to unburden herself of a large cardboard box and a few other plastic containers.
“There we go,” she arranges the collection of cartons on the counter and stands back to survey them proudly.
“What’s all this?” I look from her satisfied expression to the crowded counter.
“Well, after seeing Zoe yesterday, I thought maybe we should take her some dinners, you know, stock up the freezer. She’s looking a little tired.”
“Ginny, you are a sweetheart. God I’m a terrible friend, I haven’t spoken to her in a few days. Is she okay?”
“Oh she’s great, blossoming beautifully, although I think she might have just hit the over it stage. It’s hard having two busy boys at home when you can barely walk up the stairs.” She looks around. “Now where are my little darlings?”
“Evie! Sunny! Aunty Ginny’s here.” I call down the corridor to the bedroom where the twins are holed up, playing in a fort made with blankets draped over beds and dressers. Evie comes running first wearing a bumble bee costume, Sunny in hot pursuit poking her with a foam sword.
“My favourite bumble bee.” She scoops up Evie and tickles her, producing a yellow lollypop from her pocket. Sunny watches closely his bottom lip trembling, sure he’s been forgotten. Virginia puts down Evie who runs to me to unwrap the lolly.
“Excuse me.” Virginia turns to Sunny, bending down to kneel in front of him. “Mr Pirate Man. I’m looking for my friend, Sunny Skylark. Have you seen him around?”
The trembling lip breaks into a disbelieving smile. “It’s me Ginny, it’s me.”
“No, you can’t be Sunny, you look too much like a fierce pirate. Tell me where he is!”
Sunny is laughing hard now, jumping up and down, waving his foam sword at her. “It’s me, it’s me!”
She grabs him by the waist and tickles him before presenting him with a green lollypop. “You are the cutest, I mean scariest pirate in St. Cloud.” She unwraps the lolly, “Truly Sunny - and I’ve seen a few.”
Soon we are bundled in the car and all the food Virginia has carefully prepared is stacked in the trunk to deliver to the overtired, and almost over ripe, Zoe. I drive and Ginny takes care of the boxed chocolate cake she has brought to share around for afternoon tea. We’re hoping this will help Zoe’s mood. Chocolate cake usually works in Zoe currency.
The heat of the day is slowly waning as we drive up Zoe and Felix’s curved tree-lined drive. Their house, settled just up the hill is surrounded, by bush and native forest, but the upper lever of the house rises just out of the tree line and the deck has a view to die for.
We meet Felix in the driveway. “Ladies,” he smiles warmly. “Have you come to save me?”
“Move aside.” Virginia says forcefully. “We’ve come to save your wife.”
Felix grins and steps aside, noticing the boxes and containers his smile widens. “You shouldn’t have.”
I roll my eyes. “If you did more than barbecue a few sausages, we wouldn’t have to.”
Felix looks wounded, “Zoe loves my sausages.”
I punch him affectionately on the way past. As we reach the front door, I hear him shouting for Mattie and Nate who must be playing in the bush. The house smells like an odd combination of lavender and burnt toast.
“Zoe?” Virginia calls as we kick off our shoes and head to the kitchen with our offerings, the twins follow behind, looking in each room for Mattie and Nate or at least their toys.
“In here,” calls a voice feigning cheer. Plopping the containers on the table, we enter the living room to find Zoe sitting on an upturned bucket in the middle of the floor. Lavender scented candles burn on all the window sills and a pile of burnt toast sits on a plate on the floor beside her.
“Hey.” Her eyes are tightly closed and her hands rest on her bent knees.
“What, are you doing down there pray tell?” Virginia’s maternal tone is scolding.
Zoe opens an eye, “It’s the only way I can sit comfortably. I couldn’t find a stool so Felix found me this bucket.”
“And did Felix make you this appetising snack?” Virginia asks unimpressed, pointing at the plate of overdone toast.
Zoe actually smiles. “I asked for something plain, you know, nothing that would give me indigestion being that my actual stomach is the size of a peanut. This is what he brought me. I had been thinking maybe soup or macaroni cheese.” She gestures to the toast. “He’s a literal thinker.” She reaches out an arm and makes to stand. “So nice to see you gals. Feel free to help yourself to my toast, I’ll put the kettle on.”
I step forward and steady her with a hand. She really is quite a size, poor Zoe. “Your guardian angel Ginny here has been busy in the kitchen. We come armed with food for the week and chocolate cake for now.”
Zoe wobbles and grips my hand tightly. “You didn’t.” Steadying herself she beams brightly and waddles over to Virginia to throw her arms around her in gratitude. Only her hands actually reach Ginny as the huge belly gets in the way, and we’re laughing as Felix arrives back in the house with Mattie and Nate in tow.
Soon we’re all ensconced round the big kitchen table drinking tea, eating cake, chatting, teasing Felix and doing our best to take Zoe’s mind off her stretched belly and aching body. Mattie and Nate have exhausted the twins on the trampoline and Felix settles them all on the sofa for a movie.
Zoe has been transformed from the blotchy faced picture of abject despair seated on an upturned bucket back to the glowing, smiley fun-loving self we all know and adore. Felix looks relieved.
“Listen, I have a great idea.” Zoe claps her hands together. “Let’s call around and get everyone over and have dinner here. I know Jed has Thursdays off, I bet Jack will be free, and Dan can bloody well miss yoga. Let’s have a celebratory dinner before this baby pops and I’m out of commission.”
Soon, Zoe is on the phone rekindling her role as social organiser, persuading everyone to drop what they’re doing and head round for an impromptu dinner. Virginia busies herself in the kitchen, making a salad, heating up a few of the dishes she has made, I set the table and in thirty minutes the house is full. No-one can say no to a heavily pregnant woman, so here we all are. It’s a gorgeous excuse to get together and soon conversation and laughter fill the house.
Dan arrives in lycra pants with a scowl on his face and a yoga matt rolled under his arm. The pretence of annoyance is only for our benefit, and he’s soon enjoying centre stage, telling funny stories with his usual sarcasm and making everyone laugh. Jed and Sadie sit side by side. Jed drinks beer and talks football with Felix but I notice Sadie sips on water looking pale and a little distracted. I can’t help but wonder if things aren’t going well.
At 7pm Bastian pops by with a crate of beer and a tray of Josefina’s Chilli Rellenos. Zoe had begged them to come but Santos is open and they couldn’t get away. Bastian drops off his offering and has a quick drink before heading back to the bar.
Jack is the last to arrive, Raife comes too. I’m happy to see him but the sight of Raife makes me uneasy. There’s a strange distance between the two. I haven’t yet seen them smile or laugh together. It’s odd; brothers so close in age yet seemingly not close at all. Maybe sibling love is always complicated, not that I would know personally. Jack smiles at me across the room and everything feels right. All around me is my other family; all of us quirky and imperfect, but together we work and with them I feel loved.
By nine thirty the twins, Mattie and Nate are all asleep on the sofa. Despite the noise they snooze peacefully, little bodies wrapped around each other in slumber. I cover them in a blanket, pour myself another glass of wine and wander to the kitchen to begin clearing up.
Zoe, with only 2 weeks till her due date, has allowed herself a glass of wine, the first all pregnancy and I think she’s a little buzzed. She’s sitting on Felix’s knee. His arms wrap around her and rest gently on her tummy and he looks happy, more relaxed than I’ve seen him in a while. Dan sits across the table from Jed and Raife, they’re all in some discussion about bands and live music. Sadie and Virginia chat at the other end of the table and it’s all just so easy.
I clear plates and watch my friends from the kitchen, even Raife seems relaxed. The edge around him that unsettles me has faded. He looks more like Jack as he sits, elbows on the table, beer in hand, absorbed in the discussion about music.
“Need a little help in here?”
Jack enters laden with plates. I nod and smile. Together we scrape, rinse and stack the dishwasher. Van Morrison plays in the background and when the surfaces are clear and the kitchen quiet we lean side by side against the counter looking out to where our friends chat, laugh and sip drinks. It’s a beautiful scene and it needs nothing, one of those rare moments when life is perfect just as it is.
I’m watching Felix and Zoe thinking what a lovely couple they are when suddenly, Felix’s eyes widen and he sits bolt upright. Zoe who is still on his lap has an odd expression on her face - shock maybe.
“Oh my God.”
I see her mouth the words. Deep in conversation, no-one else has noticed.
Felix takes his hands from their resting place on Zoe’s belly and holds them, palms out in disbelief. “Zoe did you just…?”
“Oh my God!”
She yells now and everyone jumps and turns. Together Jack and I run through from the kitchen.
“Oh my freaking God.”
Water drips through the cane chair on which Felix sits, his expression mortified. We look down at the small pool of water on the floor, then back up, wide eyed to their shocked expressions.
“My waters just broke!” Zoe yelps.
“On me!” Felix is looking down at his lap as Zoe stands up shakily.
She turns to Felix and claps a hand over her mouth. “Oh my God sweetie, I’m so sorry. That’s a little gross.” She clutches her tummy. “But so exciting! Oh my God this baby’s on the way!” She claps her hands together in joy and kisses him full on the mouth. Felix hasn’t moved, trapped in the cane chair, crotch soaked in his wife’s amniotic fluid.
Here follows much fussing and clean up. Zoe is terribly excited and begins bossing Felix around. It takes him a few moments to recover from the shock, but soon it’s all action stations. Raife, looking awkward leaves and the rest of us finish clearing whilst Virginia takes Zoe through to the bedroom to check things out. I run around packing a hospital bag with all the things I think she might need, and more, just in case.
Felix is changed and waiting in the kitchen for news from the bedroom where Zoe and Virginia are.
“Don’t worry man, it could take a while yet. Don’t get all worked up.” Dan pats Felix on the arm and Felix nods trying to look calm. “Save your energy, could be a long haul.” Dan speaks so assuredly we all breath out, relaxing a little. No hot towels needed, the baby mightn’t be here for days. A scream from the bedroom makes us jump and we turn to Dan, he shrugs. “A guy can’t always be right.”
Virginia strides calmly from the room. “Right Felix, get the car going, we should leave for the hospital now. She’s 5cm dilated.”
“Holy crap!” I’m amazed, “She was in labour through dinner and didn’t even know?”
Felix doesn’t move. His mouth is slightly open. His feet stuck to the spot. Virginia claps her hands together and he jumps.
“What about the boys?” Felix is pale, his deep voice an octave higher than usual.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it” I say patting him reassuringly on the arm. “Go!”
Sadie grabs the packed hospital bag and passes it to Virginia whilst Jack gets their car running. Felix emerges from the bedroom carrying Zoe who smiles weakly at us and moans again as they help her into the backseat.
“Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll be here with the boys.” I shout after them. The car whooshes off down the driveway, red tail lights disappearing quickly around the dark bends. We stand in shock, watching the dark space where the car had been.
Jed is the first to speak. “That was wild.”
Dan shakes his head, “That, was labour… Zoe style.”
Sadie’s hands are over her mouth, “My God, it was so quick. Please let them get to the hospital in time.”
Jed slings an arm round her shoulder, “She’s in good hands with Ginny.”
“She is.” I concur thinking back to my own experience when once again Virginia had been there to take control.
Sadie shivers and starts to cough, taking herself inside for some water.
“I think she’s getting sick.” Jed’s arms are folded as he stares out into the darkness. “I’m going to tell her to come see you.” He sighs, turning to Dan. “If she wasn’t such a hippy she’d just take some antibiotics like the rest of us.”
Dan looks away and doesn’t answer. And I’m only half listening, distracted thinking of Zoe, babies, labour, and the messy, scary business it is, wondering if I’ll ever go through it again.
Jed and Sadie head home shortly after and Dan follows. We promise to keep in touch if there’s any news. Despite the warmth, I shiver too and head inside to check on the kids. Jack has carried Mattie and Nate up to bed and has put Evie and Sunny to sleep in the spare room. All is quiet and still. Zoe’s lavender candles still burn and the room flickers and glows.
I collapse into the sofa and bring my hands up to cover my face breathing carefully, examining my thoughts quietly behind the darkness of my hands. Jack lowers himself beside me and we sit there for a while. I know that something isn’t right, something is eating at him, I feel it. His easy presence is cluttered, his attention distracted.
“What is it Jack?”
He looks down at his hands and grins. “Other than Zoe’s waters breaking on Felix’s lap and her almost having the baby in the bedroom?”
“Yep.” I nod. “Other than that.”
He shakes his head, taking my fingers one by one, rubbing his thumb down their length. “Nothing.”
“That’s not true.”
“I know, but it’s nothing that I want to think about right now.”
I watch the candlelight for a long minute. “When you want to think about it and you need to talk, will you come to me?”
“I’ll come to you.”
He brings my hand to his mouth and kisses my fingers and I turn to him bringing the other hand to his face and letting it rest there till gently he pushes me back on to the sofa. We kiss, and he runs a finger slowly down over my closed eyes, my lips and neck, around the curve of my shoulder down to my breasts. In one careful motion he slides his hand gently under my top to touch bare skin. His hand strokes my breasts, the sensation so exquisite my thoughts are quiet, silenced under his touch.
“Just this.” His voice is low, barely audible; his lips pressed to my neck.
When I open my eyes he is watching me, I nod slowly answering in a whisper. “Just this.”
We lay side by side facing each other, the quiet privacy an unexpected treasure.
I fall asleep holding his hand and wake startled in the blackest part of the night, the candles burned out, the screen of my phone flashes brightly with an incoming text.
Baby Freya here, all well.
I laugh and Jack wakes. I throw the phone toward him, my eyes clouding with tears. His face lights as he reads the words and we talk for a while, and hold each other, and together share in the joy of new life.
“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”
Martin Luther King. Jr
The darkest part of the night sees Raife walk alone. Alone, along the side of the curving, tree lined roads of St. Cloud, another road that inevitably leads to the ocean. Past houses, tucked safely amongst the trees, lights on here and there but no noise. It’s too late. Even the cry of a baby awake is swallowed by the forest. Endless windows into the ‘happy ever after’ of others brings bitterness to fill the space where sadness sat briefly. He lowers his head, sinks his hands deeper into his pockets and walks on.
At the beach Raife walks to the water, kicking off his shoes and heading along the tide line. There’s a small bonfire on the far edge of the shore. The light in the darkness draws him closer.
A party, a group around the fire, bottles scattered, guitars, couples draped around each other. They’re young. It’s a scene he would have been in the middle of ten years ago. He wanders closer. It’s almost 1 am. and the expected chaos of too much booze and pot around the campfire is evident in raised voices and tangled limbs. A few couples are making out, shabby guitar chords strum from lazy fingers and up ahead he can hear voices in the water; the obligatory late night skinny dip.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
A male voice calls him over and he strolls toward the scene. It’s the guitarist, a kid of maybe twenty with scraggy hair and a nose ring. “Good night for it, eh?”
“Is it?” Raife answers with a smile.
“Sure, always is.” Nose ring strums a chord then pauses as a girl in a bikini passes him a bottle.
“Want a drink?” She looks up to Raife, smiles slowly and gestures for him to sit. Raife shrugs and eases down on the sand beside them, the girl passes him a bottle of beer. “How come you’re all alone?”
“Because I like it that way.”
She shrugs, undeterred. “You sure?”
He smiles, sips his beer and watches the crowd, taking his turn with the guitar as it passes round the circle. When he plays there’s silence all around, conversation stops and glazed eyes try and find focus looking for the source. His music is beautiful and hard to ignore; attention is all on Raife.
When he stops the hush lasts, no-one speaks for a moment, unwilling to break the spell. The girl moves closer and passes Raife a joint. He smiles taking it in exchange for the guitar which continues its round of the circle, although no-one is keen to follow his act.
“Wait a minute…” The girl in the bikini is staring at him. “I know you.”
“I doubt it sweetheart.” Raife sucks on the joint, holding his breath then slowly, slowly, exhaling. “I’m a little old for you.”
Her eyes widen and she looks suddenly clear headed. “You’re Raife Kelly.”
Surprised he turns to her. “Yes, I am.” His eyes narrow in a frown as he looks at her more closely. “And you’d know that because?”
“Because I’m Niki.” She stares at him like he should recognise her too.
“Good to meet you Niki,” the marijuana is kicking in and he blinks to clear the glaze in his vision.
“Niki Freeman…Lil’s cousin.”
Raife shakes his head as though readjusting the frame, erasing what he thought he just heard, trying to replay the scene correctly. “What did you just say?”
Raife breathes out slowly and takes her in. She’s watching him, waiting for a reaction but his face remains blank.
“I was ten.”
He catches his breath. “I remember you.”
“Where did you go?”
Raife shakes his head, “I’ve been away.”
“You’ve been away since? It’s been more than ten years?” Her voice is incredulous. “You must have really loved her.” The air has become thin and he’s pale and clammy. She moves closer. “Do you still hurt when you think about her?” She’s touching him, her hand carefully stroking his forearm. “She loved you, you know.”
He shakes his head as the scene spins. “I’ve got to go, the pot…I don’t feel good.”
Nearer, “I’m all grown up Raife.” Her breath is close, sweet from wine as she presses herself against him. “Stay a while…we’ll make it all okay.”
Raife pushes her gently to the side where she collapses on to the sand and starts to laugh. He stands too quickly and staggers but she’s not watching him anymore.
Her eyes are closed. “Guess I’m no match, huh hot shot?” Her laugh is grating, it scrapes and tears at his thick skin. He needs to get away. Raife turns, trying to run despite a sudden weakness in his legs. He runs till he reaches Jack’s place where he lies in the moonlight on the deck with his hands over his face waiting for the world to stop spinning.
Jack isn’t home and the house is quiet. Calm comes slowly, and when he finally sits up his face is no longer afraid but cold and closed. Anger, cold and familiar descends. Raife Kelly knows anger; he relies on it. Descending the stairs to the garden, he crosses to Billie’s yard where he walks quickly to the back door. He knows she won’t be there. She’s with Jack.
He tries the glass sliders - locked, then makes his way around to the laundry door. As predicted, there’s a key under a plant pot. He lets himself in.
Taking his time, he walks from room to room. A purposeless intrusion. But his anger clouds reason, bitterness spreads with each quiet footstep as he surveys her house. Quiet but clear words in the still air of the empty house. “Fucking Jack.” He looks around at the chaos of toys, and mess of clothes and kitchen clutter. “Happy fucking families… fuck them all.”
There’s a door at the end of the corridor, a room he hadn’t noticed before. He tries the handle then enters. Boxes and canvases are stacked and labelled against the far wall and the faint smell of oil and paint hangs in the air. There’s a photo, just one on the window sill. He picks it up surveying the dark haired man, his arm around Billie. He stares for a time, feeling a strange connection with the face he’ll never know.
“Poor bastard.” He mutters, flipping off the light and walking silently back through the house to where he knows her bedroom is.
Without caution he flips the light and moves around her room running his fingers over surfaces, pictures and through clothes. He sits heavily at the end of the bed, head in his hands, eyes closed tightly. A sheer curtain ripples in a rare breath of air and the room is calm despite the tension that tightens his nerves like strings on a fret. Slowly he lies back on the bed face raised to the roof, hands braced behind his head. He watches the moonlight on the ceiling until his eyes close and he drifts to sleep.
At 3 am he rises, drinks water from her glass then opens a bedside drawer. He sees a ring, a plain golden wedding band and slips it into his pocket. Letting himself out, he replaces the key then returns to Jack’s place where he enters the workshop.
A spotlight illuminates Galileo. Raife stands a moment taking her in, sulkily admiring his brother’s work. Pulling the gold band from his pocket he presses it into the smooth wood of the hull and runs it carefully around, cutting a shallow but distinct groove of suppressed anger. A clear line from this side to that, just like the one they live by; then to now.
Raife steps back, surveys the damage and lets out a long slow breath. Falling back against the wall he slides to the floor, head on his knees. “What the fuck?” The empty question falls on the dusty floor and Evan’s ring glints as it falls from his hand, rolling and settling under the work bench.