The drive home seemed endless. It takes time to shake the desperate fear. The descent of relentless panic and its complete hold leave him weak.
Inside Raife heads to the fridge and pulls out a beer. They don’t speak. Jack is shaken and ashamed. He thought he had it under control, to lose himself in front of Raife leaves him exposed. Raife hasn’t spoken about it. He sips his beer, grabs his guitar and heads outside to the deck to play music in the dark.
The quiet of the house is good. Jack’s colour begins to return and he strips and showers under heavy jets of cool water. Slowly the anxiousness and fear wash away with sweat and grime from the boatyard. When it’s gone and the tension recedes from his chest, he closes the shower faucet, towels off and changes. A heavy throb in his temples reminds him of what he must do.
In the bedroom he places the laptop on the bed and opens the window. Rain falls steadily and from here he can just make out the strums of the guitar. Sheltering under the covered deck Raife plays and sings, competing with the rain for attention.
Resting on the edge of the bed he powers up the computer and connects to Skype where he clicks on Jess’s photo and the automated ringing sound begins. The first time the connection goes dead; call failed. He waits a moment, gathering his words, and tries again. This time within a few rings the screen flickers to life and Saul’s weathered features look down at the screen through a tangle of untidy hair.
“Jack?” Saul’s brow is furrowed in frustration.
“Hey, yeah it’s me. Didn’t know you knew how to turn that thing on.”
“I don’t. That’s why it took me so long.” The frown turns to a half grin as he relaxes, sitting himself down to face the screen. “Can’t you just use the phone?”
“You don’t answer that either.”
Jack shakes his head, smiling warmly at his dependable, older brother. “Why the hell are you answering anyway? I thought Jess was your PA.”
Saul hates technology in all forms. “I’m flying solo man.”
“Jess run off with Isa from the fish market?” Jack laughs and Saul grins in response.
“Not yet, but he keeps trying. Nah, she’s down at the clinic.”
“It’s 10.30, what’s up?”
“They tell me there’s nothing to worry about, but her blood pressure’s up and they wanted to keep her in for the night.”
“You gotta stop working that girl so hard.”
“You try and stop her! I’m damned if she’ll listen to me.” Saul rubs a hand over his forehead. “You should see the size of her, God. I really didn’t know women could stretch like that.”
“Well that baby will be a good size if you’re actually the father, although if Isa got a look in she’ll be okay.”
Saul throws his head back and laughs heartily. “Don’t, you’re killing me.”
“So, she’s okay then?”
“Think so, just got back from there. She’s still bossing me around so that’s a good sign.” Saul’s face becomes sombre when he speaks again. “She’s more worried about Mama, so I’m gonna head over there now and check on her and Papa.”
“How they doing?”
Saul shrugs, collecting his words. “Not so great.” His gaze refocuses on something below the screen. “How’s crazy? You beat him up yet?”
Jack’s turn to shrug, aware of the quick shift in topic. “Same, same. You know Raife.”
“I do. He needs a job, some kind of a focus. Maybe he could do some work with you?” Jack shakes his head but Saul continues on. “He needs a girl, that would sort him out. Forget the job and find him a woman.”
Jack doesn’t feel like talking about what Raife does or doesn’t need. “Listen, I’m gonna come over soon, see Mama. Maybe we can talk to Papa together. Jess said he won’t get any help. Thought I’d try and get Raife to come too.”
“Papa won’t listen, I’ve tried. I don’t know what you can do, he doesn’t listen much to you anyway.” Jack winces. “Sorry bro but you know it’s true. As Mama gets worse he gets more stubborn. He’s fixed on having no-one else look after her, says he can manage fine on his own.”
“But she needs looking after, right?”
Saul’s eyes shift off to the left. He won’t look at Jack as he answers. Jack knows he’s lying. “She’ll be okay,” he pauses then turns back to face the screen, “I got it under control kid. Now I’d better go and check on them or Jess won’t sleep tonight.”
“Listen, I’ve been doing some reading…”
Saul interrupts. “I’ll put an ad in the papers.”
“Shut up and listen, I’ve been reading about what she’s got.”
Saul pauses and takes a deep breath. “She’s gotten old Jack, that’s all.”
“Come on Saul, you know it’s more than that. Don’t tell me you don’t believe it’s more serious.”
Saul brings two hands to his face and rubs them carefully over his eyes. The silence is drawn out by the flickering screen and the grainy image of his despair, in and out of focus. When he answers the screen has cleared but his expression clouded. “I don’t know what the hell it is Jack. Some days she’s fine, just fine, she’s back to her usual self and it’s the strangest thing. Then we’re all too afraid to talk to her about the days before, the days when she forgets, or talks like it’s twenty years ago.”
“Saul, she has dementia.” Jack waits a moment for the words to settle. “There’s no cure, it only gets worse.” His voice is soft but firm. He wants Saul to understand.
Saul looks up, then turns away again before responding. “Yesterday when I went by she’s making dinner and says to me, Now Joseph, set the table will you. Set it for three, there’s an old fella out there on the porch that I might ask to stay for dinner. It throws me for a minute then I realise she thinks I’m Papa, and Papa is the old guy outside.”
He pauses, running a hand through his hair. “Hell, Jess is so good with her but she wasn’t there. I didn’t know what to say. Do I tell her I’m her son Saul and the old guy is her husband? What would she do?” Shaking his head in despair he continues. “Know what I did Jack? I gave her a hug and I said thank you and I set the God damn table and went to tell Papa dinner was ready. What was he going to say when he hears her calling me his name? What would that do to him? I know why he’s pretending it’s not happening Jack, how the hell else would he cope? When I came back to the kitchen the pots were burning, she’d just walked away and left it all. I went to look for her and she was in bed, asleep, peaceful as anything.”
Saul lowers his head, Jack waits a time before speaking. “It will get worse, we need to do something.”
“I’m not sure yet, but we have to take her to see someone.”
“We’ll never get Papa to agree.”
“I don’t think he has a choice.”
“Right, of course.” Saul rolls his eyes,” I’ll just head over and tell him now. Say nice things about me at my funeral.”
“Listen we’ll sort it out together when I come over.”
“Sure.” Saul is quiet, then jumps suddenly noticing the time on the bottom right corner of the screen. “I got to go.”
“Call if you need me, right?”
“Take care of Jess.”
“Take care of Raife.”
The screen flickers. Saul’s image is gone, and despite the comfort found in talking to his older brother, Jack’s unsettled. Sadness and anger in equal measures; frustration, guilt and regret. Can sorrow and stress trigger the onset of dementia? They’re to blame; him and Raife. Another fucking tragedy as a result of one senseless mistake.
He paces the room, replaying Saul’s words, trying to figure out a way forward. Fuck Raife. Saul’s last request leaves a bitter taste. Always the focus on Raife, even now when Amandine needs them. Why is it that Raife continues to suck the air from the room when he’s not even there? Will he ever be able to shift the bitterness and guilt that overwhelm him at the mention of Raife’s name?
He exits the house taking the steps two at a time. Dull chords of Raife’s guitar drown tunelessly in the darkness and rain. Jack jogs down the drive and out on to the slick road. He runs to the end of Frontiere Point where the land meets the sea then turns back and runs to Billie.
I might have dozed for a short time, I’m not sure, but when I wake there’s a steady knocking on the back glass door. The door that faces the ocean, the yard and Jack’s house. In seconds I’m up, awake and alert as though I’d been waiting for his arrival. I open the door and usher him in to the dimly lit room, only half sure I’m not dreaming.
“I’m sorry. It’s late.” He runs a hand over his face, wiping the rain, clearing his features; serious and unsure.
“It’s fine.” I blink and steady myself but it’s no use, I’m not sober. “I was still awake.”
“Billie, I…” His head is down, wet hair dripping on to his chin and shirt. “I just wanted to see you.” He raises his chin and blinks away the rain that drips into his eyes.
He is beautiful. I watch him through the haze in my head, looking down at me, eyes dark and troubled. I ache to be held, to be touched by someone who wants me, to feel the complete release of sex.
“You should…” he gestures a hand toward me and I remember I discarded my clothes in the heat and stand in my underwear. Sober, I’d have cringed. My underwear is not of the let me seduce you variety - cotton sports bra and jockey high waists. But my undies are the last thing on my mind. The only thing on my mind is sex…
Sex with Jack.
The Jack I’m used to would smile at me right now. He’d realise I wasn’t behaving like myself, he’d tease me and not buy into my drama. But this isn’t the Jack I’m used to. This Jack is edgy and unsure and I know he needs something from me but misinterpret what that is.
The sliding door is still open behind him, warm rain falls hard but the real storm is yet to come. “Is it okay?” He asks quietly and I nod as he reaches behind and pulls the door closed.
“Let me get you a towel.”
“Will you let me get you a fucking towel?” I hear myself and stop, shocked by the sound of my voice. Jack nods gently, staring at me warily.
I try to walk nimbly to the bathroom but stumble a little on the three steps leading up to the corridor. When I return he’s kicked off his shoes and stands barefoot, arms folded, back to me, eyes on the rain outside.
I throw the towel toward him and it lands in a heap on the floor. He bends slowly to pick it up watching me, aware that something has shifted. “Are you okay?”
I collapse back on to the sofa. “I’m great, just great.”
He lifts the towel to his face, then drags it back over his hair. His eyes remain on me as I lean back sulkily on the sofa. “Billie, I…”
I give him no time. It’s all about me and my skewed perception on what must happen now. “God Jack, I can’t do it anymore.”
“Can’t do what?”
“This. I’m sick of waiting. I’m sick of being the good girl that waits for life to give her what she needs. That’s all I’ve ever done. Waited for life to give me what I think I need. Then when it turns to shit, I wonder what I did wrong. I blame myself for not being good enough.” I stop, breathe in deeply then blow that breath back out angrily. “I’ve been wrong all along.”
Jack shakes his head. He knows he has to hear me out before he interjects with sober wisdom.
“Life doesn’t actually give a shit. I just figured it out Jack and I’m pissed.” I blow out another hot breath of angry air. I am on a righteous roll. “None of it bloody well matters. How good we are or how good we’ve been? What we want or deserve, what we God damn well ought to have? It doesn’t matter. Life deals you a card and that’s it.”
“Let me finish.”
I feel sure for the first time in forever and the certainty is powerful. I’m done waiting around for divine deliverance. Why not go out and get what I want? And right now I want Jack. I want him to stride over here, all damp and troubled, and rip my bad underwear right off. I want him to make love to me right here on the floor and I want it to feel so good I forget everything. I want to forget it all and start again.
“Nothing makes sense Jack.” I pull myself up to stand, squaring off to face him, “nothing except you.”
His eyes are closed and he’s very still, but I can’t wait. The surge of confidence will soon dissolve so I press on. “I need you now.” He folds his arms across his body, head down, eyes still closed. “There’s no reason to wait, tomorrows a cheat and I want this now.”
I’m a little woozy, but I manage quite quickly to pull my bra up and over my head. God damn him, he will look up.
Jack does look up and he doesn’t flinch or look away. He also doesn’t race over and have his wicked way with me. His eyes are dark and heavy, his mouth set in a hard line. I walk over and stand before him, close but not touching. I want him to want me. I want him to reach for me, but he doesn’t and I feel myself wilting. I keep my head held high and stare him down, but with every passing second my self-assurance fades.
“You don’t want me.”
“You know I do.”
But he’s wrapping me in the towel, covering me up and everything starts to spin.
“Get away from me! All this time I thought this was what you wanted. I thought you loved me.” I free myself from the towel and flail unsteadily, fists flying, desire transmuted to jilted rage.
“I’ve always loved you.”
These words only reach my ears as my fist makes contact with his mouth, and I smack him harder than I knew possible.
“What the fuck Billie?”
He grabs me firmly by the wrists and I struggle, half naked, flailing and lashing out like Jack is responsible for everything bad that’s ever happened to anyone.
“God damn you!”
“Stop screaming, you’ll wake the twins.”
The word twins breaks through my hysteria and stops me mid-pummel.
“Take it easy, calm down.” He scoops me up like a child, holding me tightly to his chest. And just the feel of him straining below me, his arms that grip tightly around my shoulders and legs brings me back. I slump in his arms and begin to sob.
“Stop it Billie. Just stop.”
Jack sinks back on to the sofa with me in his arms and catches his breath. His heart beats loudly where my head lies.
“There’s more to love.” He waits letting his breathing slow. “Yes, I want you. I’ve spent years thinking about making love to you, but not like this. Me all messed up, you drunk and angry. You don’t want this for us either, the way you’re feeling tonight I could be anyone. I want you to remember how we are together. I don’t want you to mistake me for Evan, and I want to be ready to give you everything you deserve.” He lets his head lean back and his eyes close.
I lift my chin and rest it on his collarbone, “But I love you now, the way you are. You don’t have to fix anything for me.”
“I have to fix it for me.” He nods as though talking has given the thoughts clarity. “I’ve made mistakes, bad ones in the past, and I have to be sure for your sake, and for Sunny and Evie that if you let me into your lives I’m good enough.”
“I don’t understand.” I sniff.
“You still need time, time to be sure.”
“I’m already sure God dammit.” I wipe my eyes with the heel of my hand and pull the towel around me.
“You’re not going to hit me again are you?” He tips my chin toward him and kisses me gently, a soft careful kiss then something deeper, longer and less contained. And I know he is right, the time isn’t now and if I weren’t stupidly drunk I’d have known before. My experience with love so far has taught me that sex comes before everything. It’s what I know, but I am learning, slowly, there are so many ways to love.
“I’m sorry Jack.”
He kisses me again, cupping a hand around a towel clad breast. “Don’t be.” He pulls back and grins. “I just came for a chat - these babies were an unexpected bonus.”
He’s laughing and I’m laughing too and it feels nice. As anger seeps out, hope returns and with it a level helping of joy. Beautiful but unfortunately short-lived; the laughter sends my tummy in spasms and in seconds I’m racing to the loo to vomit out the excessive bubbles. The hangover I deserve begins slowly, and with aching limbs and a pounding head I shower then return to the sofa where Jack waits for me. We sleep, fully clothed, his arms around me, my back to his chest, his hand stroking my damp hair.
Just like the first night so long ago.
In that quiet place just before sleep, I wonder about those mistakes, the ones that keep Jack from ever being really happy. When he speaks of the past, the spaces between the words are louder than his stories. The words he won’t say weigh heavier now than ever. I fall asleep feeling sure it’s my turn. I must step up and be the rock he can lean on.
Dan can’t sleep.
He’s had trouble sleeping this past week, too much on his mind. All the usual sure-fire fixes he uses to switch off his mind after a long day don’t seem to be working. He’s done an hour of yoga, stopped in to Santos for a cold beer, had a long bath at home with scented candles listening to some Bach, then, still feeling twitchy, poured a red wine and watched an old Audrey Hepburn movie. And still, no sleep. There’s something he needs to do, something to help resolve the turmoil. He just wishes he knew what it was.
After a few fitful hours of dream laden sleep, he rises at 5.00 am. It’s not his thing but this morning he needs more than a few sun salutations. He needs to run, get sweaty and work off this nervous energy.
Designer running gear on, Dan could be mistaken for an elite athlete. Lean and well defined, hairless, tanned legs, broad shoulders and muscular arms he looks the part; until he starts to run. Running really isn’t his thing. His stride is uncoordinated and his arms don’t seem to know what to do. He hopes he doesn’t bump into anyone - he likes to be good at everything - but this morning needs must.
He runs down the side of the road toward the beach in the dim light; two kilometres of tarmac before the sand and a hopeful breeze. Despite his total lack of co-ordination, he moves quite quickly and the heaving of his lungs and burn in his thighs begin to make him feel better.
Maybe he needs to talk to Jack. Maybe not telling Jack what he knows hasn’t been the noble act he once thought. Maybe keeping quiet all these years has simply been cowardly. The thought makes him stride out faster, one clumsy footstep falling flat on the road after another. But would it change anything? He turns as the road curves, thinking his way carefully once again through the same question. Would it change anything?
By the time he reaches the beach the sky is grey, no hint of sunlight yet, but the pale ocean reflects the transition from night. No-one around, his stride shortens and slows to a walk as his feet meet the sand. He stops, chest heaving and bends over to catch his breath, thighs supporting his hands. He thought he’d put all this behind him but Raife’s return was always going to rock his boat. Jack wasn’t the only one disturbed by his presence.
When his breathing returns to normal, the light is brighter and a pale shimmer of orange and gold lines the far edge of the ocean. There’s nothing to be done that won’t somehow cause damage. He’s a doctor; he’s supposed to heal and cure, to alleviate suffering, not re-open old wounds.
Hands on hips, he watches the morning arrive on the horizon. His troubles dilute a little with the light and he sighs. Bending over he stretches out his aching muscles then decides to jog to the surgery. Another three kilometres will do him good, make sure he’s sweated those worries right out. He’ll shower and change at work, at this hour he should make it without being spotted.
“What the hell happened to you?” Jed’s forehead creases, the resultant expression a mixture of concern and disgust.
Dan raises a hand then collapses forward, hands on his knees again, breathing like a fish.
“That must have been some damn yoga class.” Jed grins and goes about grinding the beans to make Dan’s coffee.
The noise of the grinder gives Dan a moment to catch his breath and recover his sarcasm. “You have no idea.” He staggers to the counter and pours himself a glass of water.
“Hey, stand back, you’re sweating over stuff.” Jed throws him a clean towel from the kitchen and Dan gratefully mops his forehead, drinks some more water, then drapes the towel around his neck. “So what is this? You training for something or running from someone?”
“Okay.” Jed pushes a double espresso across the counter. “I’m suspicious though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sweat. Look at you, dripping all over my floor, looking like you’ve just circumnavigated the island in your Nikes.”
Dan smiles weakly and sips the coffee closing his eyes reverentially. Jed watches the transformation. A subtle change is underway. Dan takes a long slow breath and when he opens his eyes the sparkle has returned. “I couldn’t wait.”
“For me?” Jed places a hand on his heart. “But Dan, I’m spoken for.”
“God, that’s better.” Dan continues, ignoring him. “I just ran further than I’ve run in my entire life.” He waits expectantly but Jed just raises his eyebrows. “I feel like death, but I’m coming right.”
“Oh good, the local Doc feeling like death isn’t good for business in the surgery.” Jed smirks but Dan’s gaze is far away, looking out through the café’s glass front and beyond. “Just think if you’d stopped at the surgery first Muriel might have had to give you mouth-to-mouth.”
Dan stretches a long leg out in front of him and leans his head side to side. “You know, I actually feel quite good now. I may have missed a great career in endurance sport.”
Jed stifles a laugh, “Dude, you ran five kilometres. I don’t think Lance Armstrong needs to worry yet.”
Dan sighs, “Lance…cute, but definitely a cheater. And he dumped Sheryl! Who does that?” Shaking his head, he finishes the last of his coffee then bangs the cup over enthusiastically onto the counter. “Now before you start getting the impression I’m here for small talk, and coffee - which incidentally, is partly true - I need to discuss a few hot topics and I only have a few minutes.”
Jed stands squarely behind the counter and folds his arms firmly across his chest, assuming a serious stance. “Hit me.”
Dan glares and rubs his chin briefly where Jed’s fist left its mark only a few days ago. “I should, but I’m waiting till you least expect it.” Jed grins. “Okay, now that you and Sadie are tying the knot I think the three of us should sit down together. I don’t know what she’s told you or hasn’t, but I think it’d be good to talk things through, the three of us. She’s a master of downplay, and this way you can have her back.”
Jed’s face softens and he smiles at Dan. “Thanks man, I’d like that.”
“She probably won’t.”
“But we’ll bully her into submission.”
“I’m all for submission.”
“No more of this do it by myself shit. Life will be easier now she can ask for help.”
Jed’s smile is warm. “Thanks Dan.”
“You already said that.”
“I know, but I really mean it. Thanks.”
The phone rings and Jed answers, writing the days’ specials on the chalkboard as he talks, obviously placing an order. In minutes he’s back. “Right, next?”
“You said you had a few hot topics. What’s the next one?”
“Oh right? “Dan nods. “Are you going on Friday?”
“What’s Friday?” Jed frowns, lines on his forehead clearing as he remembers. “For sure, Raife’s gig at Santos? Said I’d give Bastian a hand behind the bar, Sadie’s going to help Josefina in the kitchen. Should be a great night, heard he’s really good.”
“Have you heard him?”
“Long time ago. Listen I was thinking, the guy needs a job, a chance to meet people, make some friends. You got any work going here?”
Jed looks surprised. “Thought you didn’t like him.”
“I never said that.”
“Didn’t have to, you get all moody when he’s around, I just figured…”
“Well, you and your figuring don’t always get it right junior. I grew up with him. Raife’s okay, a cocky pain in the ass, but he’s okay.”
Jed checks his watch and starts stacking cups as he speaks. “Can’t see him fitting in here.”
Dan raises his eyebrows. “Why not? Another misfit to your crew, what’s not to fit in?”
“You could do with the help.”
“Let me think on it.” Dan waits expectantly as Jed toys with the idea. “What’s in it for you? Since when did you care about Raife Kelly?”
Dan shrugs, “I think the guy just needs a break.” Jed’s turn to raises his eyebrows. “It’s just my Buddha nature coming through.” Dan sighs bending to re-lace a shoe. “Good hearted compassion, seeing ourselves in everyone, everyone in ourselves, all that jazz.”
“Okaay,” Jed drags the word out, the sound drips with sarcasm. “Could you ever just come in for coffee like a normal person?”
Dan straightens stretching his hands high above his head. “Normal people don’t do coffee here.”
“Fair point.” Jed glances out the window, the sun is fully risen and he has a lot to do before the crowds arrive. “Okay, what’s the next thing? I need your sweaty ass out of here.”
Dan grins, “Keep talking dirty.” Jed throws a wet cloth across the counter which makes a direct hit with the left side of Dan’s face. “Okay, okay! Have you seen Jack? I need to talk to him.”
Jed’s busy sliding a tray of warm pastries out of the oven, “Nope, not for a few days.”
Dan rubs his chin, eyes fixed out of the window, “Has he spoken to you about anything?”
“Anything in particular you’re fishing for here?”
“Why am I asking you?” Dan sighs heading for the door.
“What are you asking me?” Jed is confused.
“Never mind, if you see him today tell him to come by the surgery. It’s important.”
“Okay, are you done?”
“Now get to work.”
Dan salutes as he leaves. “Keep it tight junior.”
Jed turns the music up smiling. The smell of warm pastry wafts through the air and Ella Fitzgerald begins to sing about black coffee. He hops over the counter and flips the closed sign to open, humming to himself.
Across the road Dan opens up the surgery feeling better than before. He heads for the staff shower hoping that the warm water will wash away the last threads of tension that remain.
Teak, totara, cedar, oak, mahogany. He runs a hand carefully along the line of sanded planks, the workshop walls are lined with the woods he loves best. Okoume, iroko, greenheart, ironwood. Each distinct in colour and grain, touch and smell. He knows them by sight and appreciates their qualities.
Like people each wood has its own special quality, something that makes it unique and precious. He knows which to use and when. He knows what attention each needs to become perfect for his purpose; to be reshaped and formed into a boat of beauty.
It started early, this fascination with boats. Growing up on an island like St. Cloud, boats are a part of life. Saul taught him to sail, not Joseph. It would never have been Joseph. Patience was not a quality Joseph possessed. Teaching his boys anything had never been an option. Saul taught Jack most things, how to fish, play soccer, ride a bike, sail a dinghy.
The free feeling of being out on the water, steering a boat, being in control, learning the waves and respecting the ocean. The independence and freedom. These were the things he’d loved. Working with wood came naturally and he’d started helping out at a local boat builder’s after school. He worked and they let him sail for an hour after work.
It had been a natural progression. Over the years he’d refined his skills and carved out a reputation for himself. It was lucky really, who else would have employed him? Especially back in his twenties. It’s the thing that has held him together; a constant that’s always been there to distract and consume him.
He might sometimes build from scratch, working toward a craft of classic design with a modern edge, but his passion has always been restoring. Saving those old boats others have given up on. Bringing back what once was, second chances, new life after old. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s what makes him tick.
Fingers of sunlight shine through the workshop windows, resting on the wall, giving warmth to the wood. True colours radiate under the sunlight’s touch. Each is unique, each scent enhanced by the warmth. Jack’s finger stops on a cedar plank, the pads of his fingers pressing flat on the smooth surface, imprinting the grain and scent on his hands. He brings his fingers to his face and inhales.
Methodically, Jack organises his tools and supplies for the day. He lays out hand tools and resins, oils, rags and brushes, sand paper, brass fasteners and bronze screws. He dusts off the bench saw, sander and planer then stands back to examine Galileo in the light. Bright morning rays travel to the keel and bow. She shines, basking in her new beauty, a loveliness Jack has reclaimed day by patient day since bringing her home.
He’s glad he chose mahogany. He will prepare and begin working with the wood they brought in last night, although not much is needed now. She is beginning to resemble the boat she once was. Jack pats her with a rough hand. He hopes she’ll be more beautiful than before.
He watches the light play on the wood, watches the golden red hues and perfect seams from panel to panel. He is happy with his work so far. But as his hand moves a roughness catches his finger. Moving closer he sees the small but definite ridge that runs along the portside. He follows it with his finger and the rough groove guides him around Galileo in an almost complete circle.
“What the hell?” He bends close and examines the gouge, an indentation forced with something solid. Standing back, he brings his hands to rest on his head, eyes fixed on the angry mark. Sun gleams on the now obvious imperfection and it’s all he can see. How did he miss it before?
But it wasn’t there before. He sanded and sealed these planks only days ago. They were perfect. Leaning back against the wall of wood, he folds his arms across his chest, eyes stuck on the imperfection. There is nothing now but this, this mark which tarnishes everything. Frustration mounts as he walks lap after slow lap of Galileo, index finger running the length of the groove from bow to stern. Frustration blossoms into blame, and resentment follows like a guilty shadow.
Upstairs Raife plays his guitar and sings, his voice, dulled by the dense floorboards is still beautiful. There’s a sense of impending doom, inevitability to the moment that fuels the anger which swells in his chest. There is satisfaction in the bitterness, quiet resentment turned loud. He strides from the workshop taking the stairs two at a time.
“What the fuck did you do?” Jack stands on the top step facing the deck where Raife practices his set.
Raife doesn’t jump or startle, his reaction is slow and measured. He raises his head slowly, “Can you be more specific? Are we talking right now, or way back when? I did a lot of stuff Jack. Which do you want to talk about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Jack strides across the deck to where Raife sits, guitar balanced on knees, eyes fixed lazily on Jack’s advancing form. He grabs Raife by the shoulders pulling him gruffly to his feet. The guitar clatters to the ground as Raife struggles to steady himself.
“Easy man. Watch the guitar.”
“Why are you even here? Why the fuck are you here, leaving your mark everywhere? Are you afraid I’ll forget? Is that it?”
“Easy with the drama, you’re not that important Jack. You think I’d waste my time hanging around here just to piss you off? Get your fucking hands off me.”
Jack pushes Raife hard and he staggers backward before righting himself against the wall. Jack’s anger is beyond words. He doesn’t want to listen to Raife. It’s all he’s ever done. In three strides he’s one pace away, lunging forward he throws a punch that knocks Raife to the ground.
Raife’s reaction is careful. He takes the blow and is still for a moment. His hand cups his cheekbone where Jack’s fist struck but he doesn’t retaliate, instead he smiles slowly. “Nice, better than I remember. Got another one hotshot?”
Jack fist makes contact with Raife’s mouth before the last word is spoken.
The release is exquisite; the first blow soothing, the second stunning. As his fist makes contact with Raife’s jaw something toxic exits Jack’s body: primal communication, pure and uncomplicated, feudal resolution of fraternal complexities. Then the quiet, the echoing stillness following violence. He knows the peace will be short-lived. But for now the shaking anger is gone, tension dissolves to stillness and his head is silent.
Raife slumps against the wall sliding to sit, elbows on his knees, hands to his face. Louie whines from the edge of the deck pacing anxiously from side to side, head darting from Jack to Raife uncertainly. The sound brings Jack back from the red line and his breath escapes jaggedly as his fist begins to throb in time to the thump in his temples.
Raife looks up warily, bringing a hand to his lip which bleeds freely down his chin and over his shirt. “You done?”
Jack leans back against the house and slides slowly down to crouch on the deck beside Raife, eyes closed, forehead creased in impending regret. He nods. “Why did you do it?”
Raife’s eyes focus on the ocean and the birds that swoop and soar above the breaking waves. He shrugs but doesn’t answer.
When Jack speaks his voice is quiet. “I thought eventually you’d stop blaming me, but it’s never going to happen. You can’t move on. Sometimes I don’t think you even want to.” Raife’s expression is still, his focus fixed far out to sea. “I get it Raife. I wear it every day.” He nods slowly as he speaks. “You have to leave. I can’t be around you. Life’s moved on. I’m trying to start again. You need to get away from me and try and do the same.”
“I don’t know where to go.” Raife raises a hand to his bloodied lip, turning his head away, eyes squinting in the midday sun. Jack stalls, anger turned to sympathy in a heartbeat, but Raife smiles slowly, glancing over to Billie’s just visible house. “Time to get on with your own little happy ever after, eh?”
Jack tries to ignore the sneer in Raife’s voice. “You can’t stay here anymore, we’re no good around each other. It’s like no time has passed. I need you to leave.”
They’re interrupted by the low thrum of an old engine as Dan’s Chevy pulls into the drive. Raife grasps Jack’s arm before he can stand. “You should wear it every day.”
Dan’s voice calls from below and Jack shakes his arm free, the sound of feet taking the stairs two at a time accompany Dan’s offended tone. “Where the hell are you Jack? I’m not used to being stood up, we were supposed to…” Dan stops abruptly on the top stair, seeing the two slumped bodies, side by side, bloodied and bruised. “Is this a bad time?”
Raife manages a half grin through his swollen lip. “You’re just in time. Jack’s giving me some advice for the future.”
Dan turns to Jack who shrugs. “Your timing’s perfect.” He struggles to stand, rubbing his knuckles as he gets to his feet. “Raife needs a hug.” Jack pats Dan on the shoulder as he walks past, and into the house.
“Fuck you.” Raife calls after him.
“Glad I came by.” Dan’s hands are on his hips, eyes flitting between the brothers. “You okay?” he gestures to Raife’s bloodied lip and nose.
“Never been fucking better.”
“Jack giving me a bit of what I deserve.” Raife doesn’t look up. Down below in the work shed Jack’s sander roars to life, the grinding impact on wood grates the air around them.
“What do you deserve?”
Raife raises his head, heavy eyes on Dan. Dan holds the stare but his composure is momentarily lost. The grind of the sander stops abruptly, Louie and Bets bark from the yard and the tension dissolves. “Do you want me to look at that?” He gestures again to Raife’s face. Raife shakes his head, and turns away.
In the work shed Jack is barely visible under a cloud of wood dust, the sander is so loud he doesn’t notice Dan standing by the door. Sweat glistens on his forehead and forms a dark stain down the back of his shirt as he works; face set, jaw clenched tightly. When finally he notices Dan he doesn’t stop. Dan waits patiently, leaning against the wall, arms folded.
When he’s ready he turns off the sander, the grating sound seeps from the room as the dust slowly settles. “Don’t ask.”
“I’m not going to.”
“Good.” Jack wipes his brow and runs a hand around the edge of Galileo. “I don’t want to talk about him. I’m done.”
“Okay, well you be sure and tell me when you’re ready, because when you are, I’ll be telling you that this isn’t like you. That you’re going to regret this, and that you need to suck it up and sort this out without your fists.”
Jack’s eyes remain on Galileo. “And I’ll be sure to tell you to fuck off and mind your own business.”
Dan sighs, “I get the picture, I’m leaving.” He sneezes, and brushes his shirt, wood dust lifts and settles in a small cloud.
“Sorry I didn’t stop by yesterday, I got caught up. Shouldn’t you be at the surgery?’
“Yeah, I had a cancellation, I wanted to have a talk.”
Dan looks away, out of the window where the mid-morning sun bears down, the light too bright. He shakes his head briefly, eyes focused on the glare. “Nothing really, better get back. Take it easy man,” he frowns at Jack, “maybe I’ll catch you later.” Turning for the door he stops, holding up a paper folder he’s been clutching. “I’ve got a little reading for you, I’ll leave it upstairs.’
“What is it?”
“Some stuff to read and maybe give to Joseph and Saul. It’s about Amandine.” He pauses. “It’s about dementia.”
Jack puts down the sander and nods as Dan opens the door.
Dan gives a strained smile as door closes. “You’re welcome.”
Upstairs Raife is in the kitchen, running water on to a cloth, attempting to clean the blood from his face. “You still here?”
Dan puts the folder on the kitchen bench. “Let me look at your face.”
“You should see the other guy.”
“Shut up and let me help you.” Raife shrugs and turns to face Dan who takes the cloth and cleans efficiently around his nose and face. Raife sinks into a chair wincing as Dan touches the gash on his lip. This is where Dan would normally be sarcastic and witty, where he’d joke about Raife usually being the tough guy. But instead, as his hands touch Raife’s lips, words stick in his throat and his long fingers tremble unsteadily.
“God… oh my God.”
Bringing my hands to my face I cover my eyes and take a deep breath. The memory of last night is so horribly cringe-worthy, every time I think about it the same thing happens; Oh God…oh God - hand wringing head in hands moment. Over and over.
I’m currently hanging out the laundry, Evie is trying to help, which translates to tipping the peg basket upside down and making several peg families. Sunny is pulling a red plastic cart around, filling it slowly with dirt and the odd lucky pet bug.
As I peg a bra on to the line I’m once again faced with the God-awful hazy memory of me propositioning Jack. My cheeks flush and a hot tingle spreads, making my legs feel weak. I sink to a sitting position on the grass where Evie flings herself on to my lap and introduces me to Boobee the blue peg. The irony of her peg name turns my blush to a smile and I take Boobee the blue peg and join in a short game of peg families. Evie has a yellow peg who is Boobee’s sister so peg play begins and the washing is forgotten for a bit.
It doesn’t take long before Evie’s attention wanders from peg friends and she’s off to check out Sunny’s cart to be sure he hasn’t got any cool stuff in there she should fight him for. I stand to resume my laundry hanging when I hear the low growl of a familiar car exiting Jack’s driveway in a hurry. I’d recognise Dan’s Chevy anywhere.
Running to the fence I see him in a blur as he revs past, accelerating along the road. I’m waving wildly because I’d love to see him and, well, angry driving isn’t like him and I hope he’s okay.
At first I think he hasn’t seen me and my hand drops limply to my side, damn. Then there’s the sound of brakes screeching as the Chevy halts abruptly one hundred meters along the road, reversing quickly back to where I stand. The car pulls level and Dan raises his arm in a feeble salute.
“Where are you heading in such a hurry?” I lean in to kiss him on the cheek.
“Away darling, away from this hell-hole.” He smiles and blows a kiss at Evie who is charging toward the car grinning.
“Hell-hole? That’s a bit much.” I try to examine him a little more closely, but he’s shielding his eyes from the sun. “Please have coffee with me, I need you. Stay with me in this hell-hole for another half hour.”
“No can do sister. Just stopped so you can smooch me, I’m a busy guy.”
“I have Tim Tams.”
“Damn you,” he smiles weakly. “Double dip?”
“I’m coming in.” He revs the engine and pulls into the parking bay as I clap my hands together.
Evie and Sunny run to greet him and soon we’re inside where the twins climb on him like an indoor Jungle Jim and I brew some fresh coffee.
“So what’s up fella? I miss you.”
“I miss me too.” He grins, flashing those shiny, straight white teeth. “No, no, no, I don’t. I take it back.” He yelps as Evie pulls on his ears and Sunny tickles him. “I miss you guys terribly. I’ve been so busy, mercy. Save me Billie, and get me a Tim Tam.”
Half an hour later and half a packet of Tim Tams down, Dan is fully reclined on the sofa. Evie snuggles under his arm and Sunny has a pretend stethoscope around his neck and is studiously taking Dan’s vitals.
“So Muriel is driving me crazy, she keeps rearranging the furniture, and get this, yesterday I came in to a big vase of plastic carnations on the front desk and The Carpenters on the sound system.” I nod sympathetically. “I mean, who can work in those conditions?”
His phone buzzes, his eyes snap open and he fishes around in his pocket whilst Sunny continues prodding him with his toy doctor set. Dan’s face pales at the number on the screen.
“Muriel, hi! Yes, sorry. Won’t be long darling got caught up on a home visit.” He winks at me. “I’ll be there soon.” He snaps the phone closed and shrugs. “She’s a scary old dragon. I’m going to have to keep the plastic blooms but maybe I can sabotage the stereo.”
Sunny and Evie take off, realising they are no longer the centre of Dan’s attention. He sits up, brushes down his shirt and trousers and smiles at me. “You look good.”
“Thank you. I’m not sure I’m deserving of such a compliment, but I’ll take it anyway.”
“You do, best I’ve seen in a long time. Sort of shiny happy…wait I feel a song coming on… hang on, R.E.M. already covered it.”
“Stop it.” I laugh.
“So, do I take it that things are getting better?”
“Much better.” I nod, “Then some days they’re not, quite spectacularly not in fact. But for the most part I have more good days than bad.”
Dan smiles warmly. “I’m proud of you girl.”
I want to say thank you and accept this compliment too, be gracious and mature, but I don’t. “I’m not sure if you should be.”
“Oh God, here we go again.” Dan rolls his eyes. “What is it now? Did the play dough turn out the wrong shade of blue? You can tell me? Dr Dan is here to absolve you of all parenting guilt.”
I laugh, embarrassed. “I hit on Jack.”
“Excuse me?” Dan’s face is a picture, his mouth forms an exaggerated Oh but his eyes are twinkling.
I can’t even look at him, but I have to tell someone. “God, I did Dan, it’s terrible. I really threw myself at him last night.”
“And what happened?”
“What happened?” I repeat in disbelief. “Well, he turned me down but that’s not the point.”
“He did?” Dan looks surprised. “Well, I didn’t expect that, the guy’s full of surprises.”
“Dan are you even listening to me?”
“So you’re looking for a little comfort. It’s what we’re all looking for, a little love, a little joy and some good sex. So what? Go easy on the guilt. A little jiggy jiggy would do you the world of good.” His mouth is set but his eyes are definitely laughing. “Besides, Jack would be a great lay.”
“Dan!” This is not the reaction I expected.
“What?” He shrugs like none of this is a big deal.
“Aren’t you going to tell me I’m terrible person, and that it’s too early, and it’s wrong, and I’m rebounding and all of that other friendly advice?” He sits quietly, an odd expression on his face. “Well?”
“Well, what would you like me to say Billie?”
The twinkle has gone, and I’m unprepared for his question. “I’m not sure.” I search his face for a clue. Is he disappointed in me? “Just tell me what you think.”
“Okay.” His face has lost all humour. “I think Jack loves you and I don’t want you to hurt him. I think it might be too soon and I worry you might not be ready. But more than anything I think that you’re lucky Billie, you’re damn lucky you have that kind of love - and you know what else? I think I’m a little jealous.” The serious expression quickly transforms into a gentle smile. “Jealous of all those great loves.” He shakes his head again and looks at me carefully. “There are no rules to who we love and when we love them. I know how much you loved Evan, but I also know how hard things were.” He turns away to look out of the window. “Your feelings for Jack have always been clear Billie.” Turning back, his blue eyes meet mine. “I knew this would happen sometime, I’ve always known, and I wonder maybe if Evan knew too.
“Dan…” I bring a hand to my mouth and extend the other one to him palm up, to urge him to stop. This is not what I wanted to hear, not at all.
“I’m not giving you the sugar-coated version sweetie, you’re too smart for that. Love’s complicated, hell is that ever the truth.” He runs a hand through his hair.
“Is it wrong?”
He looks surprised. “How can it be? Love’s never wrong,” he pauses to rub his temples, “although it can sure feel that way sometimes.”
I’m trying not to cry. God I’m sick of crying and it’s the only thing I seem to be able to do without mammoth effort these days. Dan folds me into his arms and hugs me while I dampen his shirt - not for the first time-with warm tears. “It’s not wrong darling, just take your time and let Jack take his.”
“Feeling something real for someone else doesn’t change anything. Evan understood you better than anyone and he’d understand now.”
Dan hugs me until Sunny and Evie come running back into the room and look at us with bewildered expressions. “What did you do to Mommy?’ Evie asks suspiciously, noticing my wet cheeks.
Dan laughs and raises his hands like he’s surrendering, “Nothing, are you kidding me? She’s been tickling me and teasing me and I only just stopped crying myself.”
Evie frowns, her little arms folded across her chest.
“Listen, I’d better go before Muriel begins redecorating.” He squeezes my arm. “You okay?”
“Sure.” I shrug, “No Tim Tams for you next time, I was hoping for a few laughs.”
Dan winks and kisses me on both cheeks. “Love you girl, go easy on the big guy.” He gestures toward Jacks house and I punch him playfully in reply.
We walk to the car arms linked. “I didn’t even ask how you are.” I sniff apologetically.
Dan waves my words away with a free hand as he opens the Chevy and hops inside. “We wouldn’t have time darling. The things I could tell you. I’ve already reduced you to tears once.” He grins playfully and pulls out of the drive, Lyle Lovett crooning from the stereo.
I watch the red Chevy disappear and think about Dan, and wonder who listens to his worries. Who makes it better when Dr Dan is the one who needs fixing?
I wander back inside feeling humbled. In the kitchen my shopping list dangles on the fridge, secured by a magnet that says Carpe Diem. “Whatever.” I grumble, grabbing a pen and scribbling Tim Tams in bold shouty capitals.