Borrowed Wings

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Chapter 8

Jack

Driving in the dark, around the narrow, twisting roads of St. Cloud is something Jack can do with his eyes closed. He knows the island like a lover. Each bend is familiar. The rise and fall of the asphalt trails that traverse and caress it, etched to memory, beloved. This island is home and he has travelled these roads most days of his life.

There are memories embedded in these roads; some he likes to recall and others he tries to forget. But the familiarity is comforting; on these roads Jack knows where he’s going.

Driving in the dark with Raife beside him Jack can only remember where he’s been.

Tonight there is no comfort in the familiar roads. Familiarity rests in the tension that crackles between them - tension felt most strongly here on these roads. Where the last time they drove side by side was the moment one life ended and another began.

Raife looks relaxed, leaning back in the passenger seat, one arm resting against the closed window smeared with rain. Jack hadn’t expected this; the sudden rush of fear, the tightness in his chest and throb in his temples. They say the body remembers.

Instinctual knowledge of the road and its predictable route is gone. Jack frowns, concentrating on each bend, anticipating disaster around each corner. The rain falls steadily and he’s sweating, palms slippery on the steering wheel. As he flips the wipers on high their rhythm becomes frantic, a wild squeal of wet rubber on glass as they push streams of water across the windscreen. The sound does nothing to calm his racing heart.

He needs to settle down. He feels trapped under an incoming tidal wave. Sweating heavily his breath comes short, his chest tight. Panic, fear borne from shadows made physical through denial. If he doesn’t push it away it will stop. Self-talk meant to reassure, is quickly overwhelmed by frustration and anger. He’s a fool - a desperate fool - scared of the past and tortured by his inability to change it. In this car, at this moment, Jack is seventeen and scared, and no-one can help him.

Raife leans his head back, closes his eyes and begins to whistle quietly. The memory is complete; the radio playing the same song, the rhythm of the rain and bleak darkness of night. A drive that’s endless in his memory with Raife - and Lil.

“Stop it.”

Raife stops but doesn’t look at Jack, he stares out through the rain streaked window. “Don’t you like that one? Funny, used to be my favourite, but not anymore.” He traces a line across the foggy glass of the passenger seat window. “Not anymore.”

Jacks hands tighten on the wheel. He’d like to shout, maybe lash out, hit the self-pitying asshole in the face. But he doesn’t. Instead he breathes and drives, focusing on the road and the safe passage of the truck home. What’s between them can’t be solved or healed. They won’t talk about it or try to make it better - they can’t. Jack will wear it. Like he’s always done. He’ll wear it and live it because he deserves to.

As the truck weaves its careful route home, Raife begins to whistle again. Jack doesn’t protest or look around. Beside him the relaxed expression on Raife’s face masks an unforgiving tension in his rigid body.

Pulling into the drive at Frontiere Point Jack breathes, air floods his lungs with welcome relief. The panic has subsided. The vivid images are gone. He turns off the ignition, and flips off the high beams. Heavy rain on the roof is a whisper amidst the thundering silence between them. A series of excited barks break the taut air as Louie and Bets bound through the darkness, coats gleaming wet, tails wagging furiously. Jack opens the door to the rain and wet-dog-welcome as Raife reaches for his arm.

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if things had been different?”

Raife’s voice is sincere, his question disarmingly honest. For a moment Raife’s guard is down and as Jack turns to him, he is sure the pained expression is real.

Frozen by the half open truck door, Jack watches Raife, trying to gauge if this is just another game. “I think about it all the time.”

By the time the words are spoken, Raife’s expression has changed and the air crackles once again. The glimpse of vulnerability gone. He’s out of the car and jogging through the rain to the house with Louie and Bets on his heels.

Jack sinks back in his seat and lets the half open door swing closed. Ahead the light clicks on in the house above the workshop, a watery glow smeared and unfocused though the rain-soaked windscreen. He closes his eyes and sees her, Lil smiling and beckoning him forward. The past is all around, soaking the present red.

Like a conduit to the past, Raife’s presence plunges him back into a sea of regret. Eyes on the light flowing in pale wet rivulets, he wonders if he ever really left that sea. If maybe he’s survived the past few years on an insubstantial life boat. He feels heavy. Maybe it’s the rain and the distant sound of the ocean, but the feeling of sinking is everywhere. His lifeboat is no longer seaworthy.

Jack presses his hands heavily over his face till the darkness behind his eyelids flashes with pinpricks of jagged light. If he’s to have a future, he must reconcile the past. Lowering his hands to his beard he rests his fingers on the course hair, rubbing his cheeks and chin methodically until he knows how to begin.

Billie

Such a lot of rain this month, St. Cloud streets puddle and pool and the skies loom moodily, always threatening downpour. I miss the light. When it remains low and the day stays grey, my mood seems to follow.

For days now, the light has barely lifted from black to inky grey. Sullen skies remain till sunset, when the grey turns gradually darker and dissolves into night. Storms are regular. If you watch closely enough you can see the cycle: the gradual darkening of clouds above, until so heavy with moisture they hang desperate for release, then the first drop, followed by the inevitable downpour.

The bush drips and vibrates with rain. I imagine I can hear the celebration of all those vines and palms as they drink and bathe, lavishing their leaves and roots in the joy of monsoon. Aside from the grey, weighty feel of the skies and the damp air, there’s something else, something quite beautiful. Life becomes a fluid watercolour image of itself. Details are blurred and the edges of form uncontained. From a distance things seem to merge and flow in a way that makes the world seem less formal, less deliberate. And I find myself thinking about just that; the form and outline of life.

Are the edges of our life paths blurry like the watercolour rainy garden? Is the future shaped with the pull of self will or simple fate? Does it merge and flow more freeform than planned path? This lack of rigidity in what I see transmutes to what I feel. I find myself more open to a future that I cannot plan nor predict. So far, trying to control and sway my destiny and that of those I love has been spectacularly unsuccessful.

The air is warm and moisture laden. It’s 11pm and I can’t sleep. Rain is loud on the roof, but that’s not what’s keeping me awake. I’m unsettled for reasons I can’t explain. I can’t sleep. I can’t write. I don’t want to read.

I’m not sure why.

The twins sleep peacefully in two twin beds, not cots. Another change I am getting used to. I lie on the cool floor between their beds and their quiet breath brings me comfort. After the lying, and the listening, and the reassuring myself I’m an okay mother, and contemplating how much I love my children (especially when they’re asleep), I still can’t sleep.

Heading to the deck outside I lower myself into the swing seat. This part of the deck is covered and so I recline back to look out on the damp darkness, and listen to the rain. I hear the sound of a car approaching, headlights shine down Jack’s driveway illuminating his house. The dogs are barking and running. I hear voices, a door slamming and shortly after Jack’s lights flick on.

It’s nice to know he’s there. I imagine what he might be doing, and now I really can’t sleep. Watching his window, I see Raife, not Jack, moving back and forward and I’m momentarily angry. It’s irrational, I know, but he’s spoiled my fantasy.

I extend a toe to push down on the ridges of warm wood below and the swing seat rocks back and forward, creaking on rusty fastenings. Raife stands by the kitchen window where Jack should be, nursing a glass in his hand, and he’s looks over like he can see me. I know that I’m invisible, bathed in darkness, all the lights behind me are out and there’s no moonlight through the low cloud, so I watch him too.

He stares, lifts the glass to his lips then brings a hand to his face, he runs the hand through his hair and seems to be nodding. That’s when I realise that of course he isn’t looking at me, he’s looking at himself, appraising his reflection. The blonde head turns and disappears from the window. Moments later I hear music, turned loud, the sound softened by heavy rain.

“Hey.”

The shock of the voice in the darkness makes me slap my hands to my mouth in fright, pushing back the scream that was about to rush forth. Luckily the scream heads south, but my deft motion sends the swing seat flying and I’m propelled face forward, down on to the deck.

“Are you okay?” Jack steps into my line of vision.

“Jesus Jack! I just lost a life.”

I’m on all fours on the deck, the swing seat rocking behind me, making contact with my butt and nudging me forward. “God, you scared me.” The swing seat comes forward again, “Ouch.” I struggle to stand and he extends a hand to help me up.

“Sorry.”

He guides me to my feet by my elbow. I’m sure I can see the corners of his mouth upturn with the hint of a smile.

“You don’t sound sorry.” I rub my butt and frown up at him. “What are you doing here?” He doesn’t answer. “Scaring the crap out of a lady trying to relax of an evening.”

“That was the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.” He’s still holding on to my elbow.

“Well, good for you. Glad I could help.” I pretend to be annoyed but, of course I’m thrilled to see him.

“I was getting out of the car and saw the swing moving. I figured you might have another touch of insomnia. So I thought I’d…”

“You thought you’d come help the insomnia by giving me a heart attack?”

Now he does smile, releasing my arm and rubbing his beard with a hand. “Something like that.”

“Are you okay?” He looks exhausted. “Want to come inside? I’ll make some tea.”

“I don’t want tea.” Despite the smile there’s something serious in his eyes.

“Okay.” I nod.

He holds the swing seat steady and motions me to sit down. I do and he sits heavily beside me. We swing in silence for a while, but it isn’t awkward. Silence has never been awkward with Jack. It’s another blurry line; the fade between talk and silence, one seamlessly drifts into the other and both always feel natural. The rain batters above. My toes are wet so I lift my feet and hug my knees as we sit side by side, swinging gently in silence.

“Will you do something for me?” He looks ahead into the darkness and the rain, past the light in his window, beyond the place where the music emanates.

“Of course.” I answer without hesitation, and I mean it, although I have no idea what I’m agreeing to.

The air crackles with the possibilities in his question. What would I do for him?

“Will you shave my beard?”

I bite my lip in a bid not to laugh because his eyes are wretched. He watches me carefully; the air between us suddenly charged and expectant. I wonder if he’s joking, but his eyes are dark and he isn’t smiling. The moment is so unexpectedly intimate I look away.

“Will you?”

“You want me to shave your beard?” I smile, my expression incredulous. “Right now?”

He nods without a trace of humour and I realise that this is of course, not about the beard. There’s an entire lifetime of Jack I don’t know, a past I haven’t been part of and might never understand. Consumed by my own struggles, I always assumed Jack was okay, never swayed or unhinged. I’m the one that does the wobbling. Yet here he is unsteady and unsure. For the first time I see him clearly, looking beyond what I’ve always needed from him, to wonder what he might need from me.

Smiling, I lean forward and lay my hand flat on the side of his face, his beard is damp and rough beneath my fingertips. “Let’s do this.”

I can’t say what has propelled him through the rain with this request that makes no sense, but I clap my hands together seriously and assume the expression of someone planning major surgery.

I tiptoe back through the dark house with Jack behind me. In the bathroom I fill the sink with hot steamy water and rummage around for the appropriate hardware necessary for the task ahead. When I return from the kitchen armed with scissors and a fresh towel Jack stands awkwardly in the centre of the bathroom, the low ceiling making him appear much taller then he actually is.

“All systems go.” I brandish my scissors. He doesn’t move. “Come on, you’ll have to sit down. I can’t reach you up there.” His expression is far away and I doubt he’s heard a word I’ve said. “Jack.” I touch his arm, he blinks and smiles quickly. “Are you okay?”

“Sure.”

“I mean, I’m okay with weird, you know me, but this is - well - really weird.”

“I know.”

He begins to unbutton his shirt and I stand before him scissors in hand, pulse quickening. He removes his shirt then pulls his tee-shirt over his head. I’m staring but can’t look away.

Stillness. Jack before me, watching me watching him. A force inside wills me forward. It would be the most natural thing in the world to take a step toward him, place a hand on his chest, reach up and kiss him. But I will my feet to stay where they are as my eyes travel up over his chest to meet his stare. Flushed and unsteady I look at him as long as I dare, waiting for him to look away first. But he doesn’t.

The Jack I know would smile right now and make a joke. I’d laugh too, punch him on the arm and the moment would diffuse - but things have changed. We have changed. Life has changed around us. Jack doesn’t smile, he watches me and I’m the one forced to look away.

“You’d best sit down.”

He does, and sitting on a stool like this his head is level with mine. I take a breath and pray not to sever an artery with the razor. This suddenly seems like such a bad idea.

I’m channelling my grandma again, trying to keep steady. I mustn’t let myself think too much. Okay shearing sheep, that’s the way forward, sheep shearing. Every time that calming, fluffy sheep is fixed in my mind, Jack’s bare chest gets in my line of vision and I have to look away.

“Are you okay with this?” Jack asks as I comb the beard and begin cutting shakily with my scissors.

“Of course.” I smile. “You know there I was, lounging on the deck in the dark, wondering when another hairy guy would come and ask me for a shave. You’ve no idea how busy business is. I hardly get any sleep these days.”

He smiles and I relax a little. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” He pauses. “I just want to start tomorrow fresh.”

“And shaving the beard will help you do that?” I giggle a little. “You could try showering, that always works for me. Although I have to be honest, I’m glad the beard’s getting the heave ho. It gets in my way.”

“It does?”

God, I feel a blush rise quickly and remind myself every thought does not need a voice.

“Be quiet, you’ll make me spear you.” Feigning concentration, I push ahead and dark hair falls in soft clumps on the tiles below. When the scissors have done their work Jack soaps his face and I ready the razor. He sits before me all serious eyes and Santa-Claus-soapy-beard.

I take a moment to capture the image in my head: Jack half naked in my bathroom with white soapy beard. I let the razor warm in the hot water.

“You could have done this yourself.”

“I know.”

I take a step forward and begin the slow smooth glide of blade over skin. “And why didn’t you?”

“Because I wanted you to.”

I don’t pursue this because I like his answer, and I like the deep timbre of his voice as he says it.

Stroke by careful stroke Jack appears. I can’t help but smile. The disguise falls away and soon he sits before me as I remember him: the strong lines of his face and jaw, the curve of lips and square set of his chin. His skin gleams. When I’m sure every hair of the beard is good and gone, I wipe a warm towel across his face gently, drying and stroking, letting my fingers brush the softness of his skin.

Jack’s eyes are closed and his breathing even. There’s no trace that he feels anything other than sleepy, but as I dab the towel around his ear he reaches up and grabs my hand. The hold is tight and I freeze. His eyes flash open and the look takes my breath away. I stand before him unable to move, locked by the hand that holds me. He reaches for my waist and pulls me in. The towel drops to the floor and I let myself fall into him.

The kiss is slow and tender. Jack lifts me gently and I wrap my legs around his waist. He tastes of sadness and soap. And there in the bathroom, amidst the remnants of his beard, we kiss.

As his hands tighten behind me and I feel the press of his chest and thump of his heart, I pull away. He lets me, and we sit like that for a while, foreheads together, lips inches apart. He strokes my back gently, my legs knotted tightly around him. We don’t have to say it, we both know. Not now. Not yet. We must tread carefully; our pasts gather heavily around our ankles.

Much later, after he’s gone, after I’ve swept the bathroom floor and showered in cool water, I return to bed. But sleep is far away. Rain is relentless on the roof and my mind is full of Jack.

Do I deserve two great loves in one short lifetime? Is there room in my packed heart for the love Jack deserves when Evan will always rest there? I think of Cam having lost Mom, content to be alone, with his one great love gone he had no need for another. Then I think of Mom, if she hadn’t made room in her heart for Cam after Dad, then a lifetime of happiness would be lost.

What feels so right and true seems wrong. Is it too soon? Am I fooling myself and Jack? Is it really possible to love fully after Evan, after everything that happened? It doesn’t seem so long ago I’d embraced a stronger, independent self. Alone without Evan I could see how my life had been shaped and controlled by him. I’d become lost in him. I can’t afford to let that happen again.

But is love something we can control? I might fight it forever and live a lesser life; what for? Evan can’t be betrayed now, he is gone. I am the one left here alone. My thoughts leave me exhausted. There are no simple solutions. My heart tells me one thing and my head another. There is so little I seem to be able to control, why would love be any different?

When finally I fall to sleep, my dreams are littered with birds and rain. I dream I am flying but keep returning to the same spot. No matter how many graceful flights I take, my wings deliver me to the same place I started. When morning rushes in I wake unprepared for the day. The rain has stopped. The birds sing, and the morning sun glows pale and promising, rising slowly over the edge of the ocean.

Dog’s breath isn’t the ideal welcome to his day but it’s what he’s used to. Raising himself slowly on to an elbow, Jack yawns and squints through the sharp fingers of sunlight that cross the dusty workshop floor. Louie shifts his position and stretches his body, letting the sun caress his back. Sensing movement, Bets trots from her spot in the corner to lie beside Louie. She flops in the sun behind him letting her head rest on his back and both dogs close their eyes once more.

In the house above Jack hears the thump of feet, walking back and forward. A radio plays and the pipes creak as water flows to an open faucet in the kitchen.

He has overslept; first peaceful sleep in months and his body feels good. A little stiff maybe, but good. Returning from Billie’s last night he wanted to be alone with his thoughts, didn’t feel like dealing with Raife. He’d come straight to the boatshed where he’d lain down on the old sofa with Louie and Bets beside him. He’d fallen asleep amidst the wood shavings with the taste of Billie still on his lips.

He didn’t dream, thank God. The dreams of late have been more frequent; each time another memory in random order, the details different but always Raife, always Lil.

Last night his sleep was black and dreamless, silence in his head for a time. The phone rings but he doesn’t jump to answer it. He sits for a while, stroking the dogs, looking across the workshop at the sunlight. Golden beams slice across the unfinished hull of his latest boat, another labour of love. She’s a real rescue, an old sailboat he found in St. Eloise. Left to age ungracefully on a private mooring, he’d enquired about her and found she’d belonged to an elderly local who passed on two years before. The man’s family had inherited his farm and the unseaworthy boat had been left to the elements. Untended the weathered craft had deteriorated further and the family had been happy to sell it. Jack had arranged for her to be towed to St. Cloud where he’d picked her up at the docks.

She’ll take a lot of work but that’s exactly what he needs. Given time he’ll bring her back to life and be able to sell her for a sweet price. She has good bones. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the rot and neglect to what’s underneath. To see what a boat once was and what she can become again. That’s the part he loves the most, seeing beyond the imperfections and work, the vision of possibility. He’s is a patient guy. He knows what’s worth waiting for and working for. It’s what he’s best at.

Listening to the muffled tone of Raife’s voice upstairs on the phone he rises. The dogs stir then relax as he moves slowly around the dilapidated boat. He lets a hand trail the rough surface of weathered wood stopping where a sunbeam falls on barely visible script. Once brightly painted the letters are faded; sun and sea have robbed her of her name. Jack traces a finger around the washed out script: Galileo.

Ten minutes later he heads upstairs to grab some coffee before a day in the workshop. Raife’s voice can be heard from the top of the steps; deep, silky tones that drift out on to the deck from the open door.

“I will, soon, I promise…No, not right now. I need to straighten some things out first.”

Raife lies on the sofa his back to Jack, feet up; one hand supports his head, the other holding the phone to his ear. He doesn’t hear Jack behind him.

“Yeah, Jack mentioned it… tell Saul to stop fretting like an old woman.” Raife laughs. “They wonder why I’ve been away so long. Between Jack and Saul you’d think…” Jack coughs interrupting the conversation. He walks in through the open doors toward the kitchen.

“Aha, here he is now Jess. Yep, he’s been out all night. No, he’s fine, Jack’s always fine, right Jack?”

Jack smiles, Jess will be checking in, checking up on Raife. She knows him well enough. She’ll want to know when he’s going to go see Joseph and Amandine.

“I’m gonna play some music. I got a gig at Santos. Bastion’s a funny old bastard, had to twist his arm but Josefina persuaded him to let me play next week…Yeah… Hey listen I gotta go. Jack’s making me coffee.”

Jack rolls his eyes and pulls another cup from the cupboard.

“Take care of yourself now. I’m real happy Saul wasn’t firing blanks after all.” Raife laughs, obviously being scolded on the other end from Jess who won’t find the joke at all funny. But then, maybe she will - everyone has a soft spot for Raife. “You want to speak to Jack? No…Don’t get her… I’ll speak to her next…”

There’s a long pause, when Jack turns around Raife’s face has dropped. When he speaks the confidence of before has gone. Jack hears Raife’s voice slow and soften, a tone reserved solely for their mother. He doesn’t want to eavesdrop. Picking up the coffee cups he walks toward Raife. He’ll pass him the coffee then give him some privacy. Raife needs to speak to Amandine alone.

Jack has tried to talk to him about her, but Raife doesn’t want to hear. He shrugs off the topic, telling Jack to ‘quit being the family drama queen’. A conversation with their mother is the only thing that will make Raife take it seriously. Until now it’s a conversation he’s expertly avoided. But now as he hears Raife speak, he can’t help but hope Amandine is lucid, if only to delay the inevitable moment of realisation. The conversation will crush him.

Raife has stayed away for a long time not only to escape from the past, but to put distance between himself and Amandine. Their mother was the only one Raife never tried to wise ass or lie to. She always knew him better than anyone. He couldn’t bear to hurt her and staying away made that easier.

“I’m good Mama…Soon, I promise.”

Raife glances up at Jack as he places the steaming cup on the table before heading to the door and the quiet of the workshop. But Raife raises a hand to stop him, the action a plea. Jack stops coffee in hand, waiting awkwardly by the sofa. He shakes his head but Raife motions again for him to wait. Childish fear flashes across Raife’s face and Jack is transported back in time.

Jack was younger but somehow he’d always been the one to cover for Raife, stand up for him and clean up the mess he usually left behind. He’d grown up knowing that’s what you did for your brother, Raife said so, and he’d always done it. Always.

The look is the same but this is different. He doesn’t want to see Raife crumple, it’s not fair.

“It’s okay Mama. Stop…It’s okay…” Raife looks away and runs a hand over his face. “No… it’s Raife… Mama, it’s Raife.”

There’s a long pause as Raife listens, eyes open, expression closed. When Jack reaches the deck he hears Raife repeat himself; his tone less soft, less sure.

At the bottom of the stairs he hears only the murmur of conversation above. He can’t hear the words or the tone. He waits. Jack stands back to the wall, hands clenched around his cup, eyes on Galileo; no stars.

Moments later Raife’s footsteps beat down through the boards; a few swift strides and a slamming door. Something flies overhead, a sweeping arc of silver and black as the phone soars and spins over the yard before descending gracelessly into the bush. The footsteps retreat and the door bangs a noisy conclusion before silence.

Jack exhales slowly and sets his coffee down on the workbench. He is bound to Raife. He knows what he’s feeling and there’s nothing to be done. Their gatekeeper is slipping into another world?

They were all gone, avoiding life the best they could. They neglected her, wasted time hoping for some kind of repentance, each living out their guilt in different ways. Those years had been hard on Amandine and they hadn’t known, wrapped up in getting through.

They’d neglected their foundation, the mother that built her world on her boys. Amandine had slipped away and they hadn’t been there. Only Saul stayed, his proximity blinding him to gradual change. Facing a confused and upset Amandine, it was easier to blame it on something else, tell himself she was just tired. Now, only when the truth is unavoidable he is forced to face it.

Thank God for Jess, brave and practical. But what now? Now that they can all see it. Now that they can’t pretend or deny, what now? The options are unclear and he’s afraid. He’ll call Saul tonight and talk it through. He’ll give Raife time, maybe then he’ll want to talk. Maybe it’s time they went home together.

All is quiet in the work shed, not a sound now from upstairs. Jack examines Galileo critically, reigning in untidy emotions to store them safely in the confines of the work shed where his tools will make good of them. His attachment to the past and need to recreate it will find its channel here.

Jed

The phone rings out. Where is she? Jed sets the handset on the counter and smiles reassuringly at the line of customers extending out of the door.

“Hell Jed, what’s the deal today? “Felix’s blond head towers over the line of increasingly impatient locals. “Do friends get to line jump?”

Jed doesn’t normally do ‘stressed’ but his cheeks are red and there’s a hum in his ears. “You can get your ass behind this counter and give me a hand.”

“But I can’t make coffee.”

“Get back here anyway.” Customers’ heads turn from Jed to Felix, listening with faint amusement to the exasperation in Jed’s tone. “Come on man. Sadie’s late and I’m on my own! I’ll make you free coffee for the week.”

Felix considers the offer, then weaves his way through Beaujangles to reach the counter littered with orders scribbled on paper, coins, take away cups and paper trays. “You owe me.” He smiles widely at the waiting customer who looks apprehensive.

“Two takeaway lattes and a long black with soy…but I don’t want you making them.”

Felix places a hand on his heart. “I’m crushed.” He rings the order into the till. “Jed did you hear them? They don’t want me.”

Jed slides four coffees along the counter to Felix signalling lids and a paper tray. “Don’t let them get to you. I want you. These are for Marianne waiting over by the window, then take these over to table seven.”

Felix shrugs, smiles at the waiting line and gets to work.

Half an hour later the early rush has passed and Jed leans on Monica, wiping his forehead with the back of his forearm. Felix reaches the cluttered counter with another tray of dirty cups, a tea towel draped over his shoulder and an apron around his waist.

“Thanks man. You saved my life.”

“Who would have known waitressing was my thing.”

“Yeah,” Jed smiles, Felix looks so out of place. “Anytime you need a career change, I’m your man.”

“What time is it?” Felix’s smile evaporates. “Shit I was supposed to get coffee then go pick up Zoe from her doctor’s appointment.” He throws the tea towel at Jed and pulls at his apron strings.

“Sorry man. Tell her it’s my fault. I don’t know where the hell Sadie is. She was supposed to be here at eight.”

“Quick, whip me up a couple of coffees before I run. If I turn up late and without coffee, I’m done for.”

Jed gets to work. “She doing okay?”

“Three weeks to go. She’s grumpy as hell.” He sinks into a chair while Jed finishes the coffee.

The door dings as Sadie enters, she smiles quickly at Felix avoiding Jed’s eyes.

“Hey guys.”

She glances around at the mess of dirty cups and uncleared tables. “What are you sitting down for? Look at this place.” She tries to scurry past Jed, grabbing a few cups from a table on the way past.

“Where have you been? I called home four times and you didn’t pick up.” Jed’s usually easy-going expression is tight.

Sadie shrugs. “Sorry, I overslept.”

“Overslept? Are you kidding me? Its ten o’clock. Jesus Sadie, I was swamped and if it hadn’t been for Felix, I’d have been screwed.”

Her pale face flushes red. “I said I’m sorry.” Turning on her heel she strides to the kitchen.

Felix stands awkwardly, picking up the coffees he heads to the door. “I’ll let you know when I need that career change.”

Jed’s eyes turn from Sadie’s retreating back to Felix, he opens his palms mouthing ‘What the fuck?’

Felix shrugs. “Have fun with those dishes Sadie. Don’t let him work you too hard.”

Sadie’s voice answers from inside the kitchen. “You bet Felix. Say hi to Zoe.”

With Felix gone and Beaujangles empty of custom, the sound of angry dishes clattering in the kitchen rises above the music. Jed stands listening, his arms folded across his chest. As he rounds the corner, he’s greeted by a chorus of breaking porcelain as a tray of cups slips from Sadie’s hands and smashes on the tiled floor splattering his Converse with coffee dregs.

“For God’s sake Sadie! Take it easy.”

She’s already on her knees scooping broken porcelain on to a tray. She doesn’t look up. Shaking his head Jed bends down beside her, lifting shiny white cup pieces, handles, brims and broken motifs; the Beaujangles logo adorning the front of each white cup cracked in two.

“I can do it. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, you sure seem fine.” Her cheeks flush over the pale canvas of her face. “What’s going on?” Jed asks the question before he has time to think about the repercussions of her answer. He feels closer to Sadie than anyone but it’s a closeness he knows she controls. She lets him in, but not all the way. There’s a part of Sadie he doesn’t understand, because she won’t let him. At this moment he has no idea what her answer might be: ‘I’m leaving you’, ‘I’m pregnant’, ‘I have a secret life as a high class call girl’. There are days when he’s pretty sure nothing would surprise him.

Today is one of those days and today he’s over it. He doesn’t do well with high maintenance and lately she’s been testy over a whole bunch of things. He waits for her answer, watching the top of her head bent over the mess on the floor, clearing the debris and salvaging remnants with shaking fingers.

“I’m sorry. I won’t say it again. I didn’t feel great this morning and I slept too long. I didn’t mean to let you down.”

“You can’t just sleep in Sadie. This is my business. If I can’t make coffee for people they’ll start going someplace else. It might not seem like a big deal to you but this café is pretty much all I’ve got. I’ve worked my ass off to make it good and if you were anyone else, I’d probably fire you.”

He feels better getting it all off his chest. Beaujangles means the world to him. He’s built the place up from scratch. He’s proud and it irks him when she acts like it’s not a big deal. She still hasn’t looked up from clearing the mess. “I need to know I can count on you.”

She stops, frozen on her knees, hands full of broken pieces. “You know Jed…” Her eyes close and she takes a long slow breath while he waits for the words she’s struggling with. “I really wish I could give you the answer you need.”

Jed stands, hands on hips, head shaking in confusion. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Her face snaps closed and she turns away. “Just forget it.”

“You’re acting crazy. I just want you to turn up when you say you will. It’s important to me.”

“Will you shut up? I know what’s important to you. I really do. And you want to know what? I think about it all the time, and actually I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired of always thinking about what’s important to you.”

She’s still on her knees, sweeping shards of broken cups along the floor into an open hand.

“Hey, can you stop for a minute? Slow down, what is all this?” Anger makes way for concern. “Here, let me get that.” He guides her up by her elbow but she pulls away.

“I’ll get a brush.”

“Stop, come here.”

Sadie still won’t look up. “It’s fine. I’m on it. Just give me a minute and I’ll get all this cleared up for you.”

Jed reaches out for her retreating back. “Wait up.” He pulls her around to face him. There’s blood on her hands and hot tears course down her cheeks. “Hell Sadie, what is it?” The tension is gone and now he’s worried.

She stands in front of him, eyes pressed tightly closed as he reaches for her hands, cut and bleeding from the broken porcelain.

“Are you okay?” She nods but doesn’t open her eyes and he wraps her hands in a clean tea towel. “Do you want to talk to me?”

“There’s nothing to talk about. God Jed! I was late. I broke some cups. Big deal.”

“Would it kill you to be honest with me, and stop acting like a bitch?”

She pulls her hands away and brings them to her face, covering her eyes completely.

Jed’s anger and hurt are overwhelmed by confusion. He doesn’t get any of this and doesn’t know what to do. Instinctively, his arms reach out and pull her into his chest. They stand there, beside the storeroom, folded around one another till Sadie’s body quietens and the sobs that make her shoulders shake, slow and stop.

He kisses her head and she looks up, really looks at him for the first time that morning. The look is defeated, sorry and sad. Bringing a hand to his face, she smiles and runs her thumb over his eyebrow. Stroking her thumb back and forward, she watches him carefully, his expression relieved and tender. He’s not sure what they’ve just come through, but it was something. The barrier is slowly fading and he just caught a glimpse of the other side.

There’s a shift in energy, from tenderness to something quietly charged. It starts from the rhythm in her fingers, hushed tension that spreads in a careful breath.

“I love you.” She speaks quietly, eyes locked on his, careful and steady.

He blinks, the spell breaks and her hands move to his belt. Jed’s eyes close, his fingers slowly trail her body, finding her breasts loose under a button down shirt.

She pushes him back against the store room door. The light is low. They’re alone.

He knows she’s distracting him. He was too close to the boundary and now he can think of nothing but her hands easing down his Levis, and her mouth - God, that mouth. He whispers her name as his breathing comes fast and ragged.

Hands in her hair, Jed let’s go as Sadie takes him, the act a small substitute for all the things she can’t say. He comes quietly, hands twisted in her hair, body gradually uncoiling, softening and quietening. When he opens his eyes she’s on her knees, a hand on his waist another brushing gently across her mouth. Her eyes watch him but her focus is far away.

Their breathing has barely returned to normal when a voice hollers from the café.

“What is this? Make your own day? Are you even open?” Dan’s voice is irritated. “What kind of a business is this?”

Jed adjusts his jeans, heading through the kitchen and around to the café front, his face flushed and smiling. “Dan, who else would come disturbing my peace? The usual?”

Dan frowns. “Disturbing your peace? Sorry, I thought you were a bustling coffee shop. I must have made a mistake and come into the St. Cloud Centre for Meditation.” He tosses his hair and looks around the empty café still cluttered with dirty cups and plates. “What happened here and where are the customers? Has there been an earthquake I missed?” He turns back to face Jed who is already at Monica loading Dan’s double espresso. “And yes, I’ll have my usual.”

“Hey Dan.” Sadie breezes around the corner from the kitchen, tying an apron around her waist, her cheeks flushed.

Dan looks carefully from one to the other and raises his eyebrows, turning back to Jed. “Really?”

Jed laughs, throwing his hand out toward the mess in the café. “We’ve been packed out, last customers only just left. We haven’t had a chance to clear up the carnage.”

“Uh huh.” Dan nods sagely, hands on hips turning to watch Sadie as she busies herself, loading trays and carrying them to the kitchen. “Why do my busy mornings only consist of snotty noses, viruses and boils? You’re in the right trade kid.”

The opening door disturbs Dan’s stream of sarcasm. In minutes several tables have filled and a new queue has formed. Dan sits at his usual table, opens out the newspaper and waits for his order. When Sadie arrives with his coffee and pastry, Beaujangles is filled with sounds of life.

“Time for a quick sit down?” Dan pats the chair beside him.

“Jed will kill me. I was so late this morning.” She glances furtively over to Jed who is busy making coffees. “Just for a minute.”

“How you feeling?”

“Okay, a little rough this morning. Just tired, first time in a while it’s been that bad. Had to spend an extra hour on exercises. You know, those nice ones where I bash myself good and hard to get my lungs working.”

Dan nods. “Maybe you’re overdoing things.”

“Any good news for me?” She is quick to change the subject.

“Have you spoken to the marshmallow yet?”

She flushes again and examines her hands. “Not yet.”

“Sadie you need to do that. Real soon.”

“I don’t want to force him into a corner.”

“What are you talking about?” Dan watches Sadie’s serious face. Her eyes move from her hands, across the café to the coffee counter and Jed who is singing whilst frothing milk.

“I’m just afraid he’ll start to feel sorry for me and it’ll change the way we are together. That I won’t ever really know how he feels because suddenly he’s trying to take care of me.” She blows out a long heavy breath. “Worse, that he’ll feel trapped into staying with me.”

“Jesus Sadie, how about you give the guy a little credit and let him decide for himself. Don’t you think he deserves that? If the tables were turned how would you feel? Would you want him to lie to you, to try and be the tough guy?”

“I’m not trying to be tough Dan.”

“Really? It sure looks that way. You don’t want to accept help and you won’t tell the guy who’s your ticket to love and happiness what’s really going on. You won’t give him the chance to support you.”

Sadie drops her head. “It’s just that…”

“Listen, don’t say anything else, I don’t want to upset you.” Dan squeezes her hand. “I just emailed you over a bunch of new research papers.” He lowers his voice. “It’s really interesting stuff: latest findings and therapies, clinical trials, new stats and facts on fertility and pregnancy. Things have come a long way in a few years. Have a read and see what you think.”

She dabs at her damp eyes and throws her arms around Dan’s neck. “You’re such a great guy.”

“I know.” Dan shrugs.

“I don’t mean to be a bitch.”

“Who said you’re a bitch?”

“Jed did.” She sniffles again, “I deserved it.”

Dan considers this, eyes fixed across the café at Jed behind the counter. “You know, I think you’re going to find your marshmallow over there is a lot tougher than you think.”

I was going to tell him just before, I really thought I would.”

“And?”

“Well, then we both got mad and then…well…”

“You decided to have a quickie instead?”

Sadie blushes, fanning her face with her hands.” Something like that.”

“Uh oh, you’ve been busted. Here comes the stallion.”

Sadie gets to her feet as Jed motions across the room, heading toward her.

“I’m coming!” She smiles and turns back to Dan. “Thank you. I promise I’ll read your stuff tonight.”

Dan nods “…and then tell lover boy.”

Sadie sighs, “and then maybe tell lover boy.” She winks and weaves her way back through the tables toward an exasperated Jed who rolls his eyes as she approaches, gesturing toward two trays filled with steaming cups.

Dan sips his coffee slowly, carefully folds his newspaper and salutes a goodbye before heading back to the surgery and the snotty noses, viruses and boils that now seem so uncomplicated and easy to treat.

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