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The Prodigal Daughter

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Brad Paisley playing on the radio had Sky tapping her fingers on the steering wheel as she drove over the Isis River.

Sonia Broadbent
2.8 5 reviews
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Chapter 1

Brad Paisley playing on the radio had Sky tapping her fingers on the steering wheel as she drove over the Isis River. Memories came flooding back engulfing her with past regrets. It had been ten years since she had left on the bus to Brisbane all those years ago…ten long years. A lot had happened in that time. She now had a great career as an editor and Illustrator of Children’s books, after years of struggling through University whilst working 2 part time jobs to put a roof over her head and food in her mouth. If it wasn’t for her best friend Annie taking her in, Sky would have been living on the streets. Looking back now Sky knew she owed her friend a lot and would be for ever grateful to her. Annie was the only reason why she was here embarking on this journey now. If it wasn’t for her friend seeing the advert in the paper and insisting that she come back for her grandmother’s funeral Sky would never have come. After all there was nothing here for her now. Sky’s grandparents had raised her when her parents were killed in a car accident when she was thirteen. Margarite and Bruce McKennon had been in their early sixties back then. They had been strict with Sky’s upbringing making sure she towed the line and acted in a respectable manner in which society expected of her.

The McKennon Family were well known in Childers and the surrounding areas. They were a very wealthy family from generations of wealthy land owners. Sky’s great, great, great, Grandfather had struck it rich mining gold back in the late 1800’s. He had travelled over from Scotland with his young wife to make a new life. Sky had a few cousins still living in the area, along with an Uncle and a couple of Aunts on her Dad’s side of the family. As she made her way through the town and pulled into the local motel Sky thought of the Funeral the following day and who would be there. It will be okay. I will just go to the service, pay my respects and leave before anyone asks me too many questions. Besides they probably won’t even recognise me after all these years.

The next morning Sky dressed in a straight, black skirt, a dark, charcoal, silk top and a black, tailored jacket. Brushing her long, dark, brown hair she coiled it up and pinned it into place at the top of her head, with a few short, tendrils escaping to wisp gently about her face. Touching up her lipstick and powdering her nose she took one last look at herself in the mirror before picking up her keys and bag and heading out of the room. There were people everywhere at the Church spilling outside onto the grass around the old building. Sky could hear the organ playing inside as she approached the steps to go inside. So far there wasn’t anyone that she knew and she was relieved as she made her way into the building.

Inside the church the long mahogany pews were packed with people. Sky took a seat in the end row beside an elderly gentleman and his wife. They looked up when she sat down but only nodded and turned back to continue talking to the ladies on their right. Neither of them looked familiar. At the front of the church stood the priest talking to a gentleman with his back to her. For a moment Sky’s heart stopped and her breath caught in her throat so that she had to take a deep breath in to try and calm herself down. As she sat there looking on she thought she recognised him by the familiar way the man was standing. It was hard to tell because the man faced away from her and before she could identify him for sure a large lady in a navy blue dress had blocked him from her view. Wiping her hands on her skirt Sky shook her head and looked away thinking to herself, you are being paranoid, Jason Richards will not be here he will be long gone, living in another state or country somewhere practising law, with a beautiful wife and two point five kids. When she turned back to look again the man was gone and the priest stepped forward and took his place at the podium. Sky quickly scanned the people in the pews at the front of the church but there was no sign of the man. In the front row to the left of the coffin sat a middle aged couple with two teenage children sitting beside them. It was her Uncle Jake and his wife Selene and their two daughters. Her cousins were only toddlers when Sky had last seen them. Beside them sat an old man with his head bowed low. Sky took a quick breath when she realised it was her grandfather. She couldn’t believe how much he had aged since she had last seen him. He was old and frail looking and no longer the tall, strong man Sky remembered him to be. To his right on the other side of the aisle sat her Dad’s two sisters and their families. Sky slid down in her seat a little hoping no one would spot and recognise her, thinking to herself, just a little while longer and then I can leave and go home. The priest stood before them all looking out over the congregation as he began the service. His deep, baritone, voice spoke out clearly as he bowed his head and opened with a prayer. Following that the Priest then gave his sermon, followed by the sacrament being blessed and offered to those that went forward to partake of it from the Priest. After everyone was seated once again the organ began to play and everybody sang Amazing Grace.

Sky held the hymn book up in front of her using it as a shield to hide behind. Once the singing stopped and everyone was quiet once again. The priest spoke out calling her Uncle to the stand to read out her Grandmother’s Eulogy. By the end of the service there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Margarite Mackennon had been a well-respected and much loved member of society who would be deeply missed by all those who had known her in her long life. Sky moved out of the Chapel with her head bowed low and tears welling in the corner of her eyes. Once outside she pulled her Sunnies down to shade her eyes from the warm Spring Sunshine beating down upon her face. Even though she had her jacket on Sky could still feel a chill in the air. Rubbing her arms to ward off the chill she crossed over to the other side of the church yard to wait while the coffin was carried outside and past her towards the little cemetery at the back of the Church.

Sky stood to the back of the crowd standing about the grave. Once the coffin finally made its last journey down into the earth Sky felt the tears drop onto her cheeks and run down her face. She would dearly miss her Grandmother. It finally hit home to her that she never got to say sorry or goodbye. Wiping her eyes with a hanky that she retrieved from her jacket pocket Sky turned around and walked away from the crowd towards her rental car. She had to get away as it was beginning to get too much for her emotionally. She was about to reach for the door handle of her car when footsteps behind her and a firm hand on her arm stopped her. Spinning around and taking a step back Sky froze. Feeling the car handle digging into her back made Sky move forward a little. She looked up into piercing brown eyes that seemed to bore right through her and she gasped. “Jason...I didn’t think you would be here”.

“As I live and breathe... it is you. So the prodigal daughter returns. You are the last person that I expected to see here today. Where are you running off to in such a hurry? Aren’t you even going to pay your respects to your family before you leave? You owe your Grandfather that much a least. Don’t you think?” The deep voice said.

Sky shook her head hoping to clear her mind a little. This can’t be happening. What is he doing here? I have to get out of here. Reaching behind Sky opened the car door. “Excuse me Jason I have to leave. Send my condolences to my Grandfather.” Slipping into the car Sky put the key into the ignition and went to turn it.

“Wait! You can’t go, not yet...not like this. Stop being so bloody selfish for a change and think of someone else other than yourself.” Strong fingers wrapped around her hand crushing her fingers around the keys and pulling them from the ignition. Deftly the keys were taken from her grasp and placed into his other hand. Slipping them into his trouser pocket he looked down at her and stated, “You can’t keep running forever. “

“You bastard! Give me the keys Jason I can’t stay here any longer. I have to go.” Sky glared angrily up at the man standing by her car. He was 6 ft. 3 with deep brown eyes and hair the colour of malt whiskey that curled around his shirt collar. Blond streaks highlighted his hair in places from hours spent in the sun. His skin was golden brown and his shoulders broad and muscular. He had a lean waste and long legs. He must work out at the gym. Sky thought.

“No not until you have spoken to your Grandfather.” Jason replied dismissing her angry look with a curt nod and a frown curling his lips.

“Who the hell do you think you are telling me what to do? It is none of your concern what I do.” Sky snapped getting out of her car once again.

“Oh but it is my dear. It is very much my concern. As your Grandparent’s Attorney and family friend I am making it my business that you don’t hurt your Grandfather any further than you already have. I think you have caused enough hurt for one lifetime. Besides you are required at the reading of the Will. It’s the least you can do before you leave.”

“What do you mean I’m required at the Will reading? There is nothing that belongs to me here…besides my Grandfather doesn’t want me here. He told me so himself 10 years ago. So give me my keys and let me go.”

“You silly, little fool of course he wants you here. He spent years searching for you to try and get you to come home. They both loved you and were worried sick about you. I don’t know what happened between you all those years ago but at least go to him and let him know you are ok before you leave town. He deserves that much. Do it because it is probably the last time you will get the chance. He is not a healthy man and is not long of this world.”

Sky couldn’t believe all that she was hearing. He was telling her that her grandfather tried to find her all those years ago, but why? Her Grandfather had been pretty clear back then that he didn’t want her there. Perhaps she had been wrong to leave the way she did. It didn’t matter anymore anyway. She couldn’t change the past. Perhaps she should go and see him and make peace. “Oay. I will go and see him this afternoon. Is he still living at the old homestead?”

“Yes he is. He has a full time nurse living with him. I will let Bruce know you will be there at two pm. That will give you both a chance to talk before the reading of the will at three pm. Where are you staying in town?”

Sky reached out and took her keys from his outstretched hand. “At the Childers Motel, I am only staying overnight. I fly home tomorrow afternoon”. As her hand came into contact with his an electric shock went through it and up her arm. She snatched her hand away quickly looking down at the ground and away from his penetrating gaze. She could feel her cheeks and ears burning and her pulse was throbbing at her neck and temple. Turning her back on him once again she got back into her car and said a strangled farewell, “Good bye Jason.”

“Okay then. I will see you at the Will reading. Make sure you are there Sky. Otherwise I will come looking for you,” he threatened. With a nod in her direction Jason turned around and strode off back to where the crowd was milling about on the grass around the church.

Sky followed the Nth Isis Rd leading out of Childers and into farming country. Fields of Sugar Cane lined the road swaying tall and gently in the breeze from their stout jointed fibrous stalks to their flowers of silver, feathering the tips. Sky loved this time of year the best, when the cane was fully grown and ready for harvest. She loved the way it looked like a sea of silver, rippling into the distance and meeting skies of blue littered with billowing, clouds of magnolia. The landscape was a kaleidoscope of colour as far as the eye could see, from soils of brown, rich reds, to burnt orange, fields of silver, yellows and greens to skies of blues and white. The cities just could not compete with this kind of sublime beauty, with their overcrowded suburbs, cemented walkways, traffic lights, smoke polluted skies and sky scraper ridden CBD’s. Sky wound down her window and breathed in the sweet, fresh air and smiled. She would have to take some photos to bring back with her, something she could hang up on the wall of her city apartment.

Turning onto a dirt road amongst rows of Sugar cane, Sky drove over some train tracks, past a pump house, over a little bridge, and stopped beside the dam. Looking out the window on her right she saw ducks, pelicans and swans swimming about on the water. Nearby a black, mother swan with her five grey cygnets swam dabbling about amongst the water lilies in search of food. On the water’s edge a lizard lay sunning itself on a flat rock whilst a turtle bobbed its head out of the water amongst the rushes lining the bank. Sky loved coming down to the dam when she was younger to watch the wildlife. Sometime she would bring one of the dogs for a walk and end up having to pull it out of the water when it chased the ducks. Every time had been different, filled with many wonderful moments to remember. After taking a few pictures with her camera, Sky continued driving along the road that wound around the dam to the homestead.

Her Grandparent’s house was a beautiful old low-set Queenslander built in the late 1800’s. The house was built on wooden stumps, with tongue and groove walls, polished timber floors, decorative balustrades and brackets, a high corrugated iron, pitched roof and French doors leading out onto wide wrap around verandas. The house was cool and breezy and surrounded by a beautiful country style garden. There was a trellis of bougainvillea growing along the side of the garden to the left and orange jasmine and a frangipani tree adorning the front of the house. Sky stopped the car at the front of the house and got out. Closing the door she made her way through the front gate of the garden and made her way along the path to the front steps.

The garden was filled with flowers and shrubs that fermented the air with their many scents. There were roses, gardenias, daisies, bluebells, native fuchsias and buttercups, kangaroo paws, lavender, bulbs, herbs, and tubs of perennials and many other flowers clustered about. To the right side of the garden under the frangipani tree there was a bird bath, where a Willie Wagtail was splashing about taking a bath. Climbing the stairs Sky ran her hand along the balustrade where the heritage green paint was peeling in places. Reaching the top step she hesitated a moment. I wonder what grandfather will say when he sees me. Tentatively she stepped forward and rang the bell. Footsteps sounded in the hallway and Sky took a step back from the door and waited. The door opened and Jason Richards stood there looking down at her.

“Hello Sky, I’m glad you made it. I didn’t think you would come.”

“I’m here aren’t I? I wasn’t expecting you here until later. Who else is here?” Sky asked, looking up into his penetrating gaze and hoping her cheeks wouldn’t betray her by turning red.

Jason stepped back so that Sky could walk past, with a slow smile curling his lips.

“Come in, your Grandfather is expecting you. There is no one else here but us and your Grandfather’s Nurse. Bruce is out on the back veranda alone, would you like me to follow you or would you like to go out there alone?”

Sky walked past Jason into the hall. “I would like to go through alone if you don’t mind”. Continuing on down the hall Sky made her way through the house. When she got to the kitchen she paused and took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. Opening the back door she stepped out onto the veranda gently closing it behind her. To the left of Sky sat her Grandfather in a large Cane chair looking out over the garden. When he heard Sky’s footsteps he looked around.

“Hello Grandpa.” Sky said, approaching him.

Bruce McKennon stood up and turned to face his granddaughter.

“Well Lassie. So you’ve come home at last.” Reaching out he engulfed Sky in a long hug. Not daring to let her go in case she disappeared.

“Oh Grandpa I’m so sorry.” Sky cried with tears running down her cheeks.

“There, there, lass, everything is going to be alright.” Bruce McKennon was not normally an emotional man but the last few years had been hard and he found himself filled with heartfelt emotion and tears welling in the corner of his eyes. The love of his life had been laid to rest that morning and with her a part of him had died too. He was not going to lose his granddaughter again because of stupid pride. Ten years ago he had said some cruel things which led to his granddaughter running away. In doing so he had broken his wife’s heart by losing their granddaughter. Tentatively reaching down Bruce McKennon tucked a few loose wisps of hair behind Sky’s ear. “I am glad you have come home. I didn’t expect to see you again after everything I said to you. Can you forgive an old man?” Guiding Sky over to a nearby chair they both sat down looking out of the garden.

“I should never have left all those years ago. I didn’t know what else to do,” cried Sky looking up at her Grandfather. “I just wish I had seen Grandma before she died.” Reaching out and grabbing her grandfather’s hand Sky gave it a gentle squeeze. “I forgive you Grandpa. I’ve been foolish and too proud and in doing so I didn’t get to say goodbye to Grandma and that makes me sad. I hope you can forgive me too?”

“Oh child of course I do. I just hope that we can build bridges and let go of the past. You will stay won’t you?” Bruce McKennon asked Sky.

“I don’t know if I can. I have a job to go back to. My flight is booked to leave tomorrow afternoon. I didn’t think I would be welcome back here.”

“Can’t you postpone you flight for a day or so? I would really like it if you would stay for a little while.” Turning in his chair Bruce McKennon looked over at his granddaughter.

Sky looked into his eyes and could see the pleading look he was giving her. Her heart contracted and she had to blink to keep the tears at bay. He had aged a lot since she had last seen him. He looked frail and under his eyes were dark shadows of lost sleep and the look of grief from losing his wife. In that moment Sky knew what her decision would be.

“I will see what I can do. But it can only be for a couple of day.” Sky answered.

The sound of footsteps in the kitchen made Sky look towards the back door. Jason Richards appeared at the door.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you both but it is nearly 3 o’clock and time to read the will. The others have arrived and are waiting in the dining room. Are you ready to come through?” Jason asked them both, looking over at Sky and Bruce.

Bruce McKennon looked back and replied, “Yes we are ready. Can you help me into my

wheelchair son?”

Sky sat down on the bed in the motel room staring at the mini fridge and contemplating on whether or not to mix herself of Bacardi and coke. What a day. I am so glad to be back here at the motel. I can’t believe Grandma left me her beach house at Woodgate, that and her easel, paints and art supplies. What am I going to do with the beach house? Surely she should have left it to Grandpa, or Uncle Jake, or one of the Aunts. They must have been terribly upset when they heard the Will being read out. Maybe I should have told them that I can’t keep it? Oh what a mess! Then there is this meeting with Jason tomorrow. I wander what it’s all about? What else was written in the Will that Jason didn’t tell me in front of the others? He was acting very evasive. Sky stood up and went and got a can a coke out of the fridge and mixed herself a Bacardi and coke. Taking a long sip she went and sat back down on the bed. Ah…that feels better. Reaching down Sky undid the straps on her platform sandals and slid her feet out. The visit to her Grandfather’s house had been an emotional event and it left her wrung out with a hundred and one things going through her mind.

The reading of the Will had been an event she would rather not repeat because the tension in her Grandfather’s dining room that afternoon had been so thick you could have cut it with a knife. Even though her Uncle and two Aunts had been polite to her, Sky knew they weren’t very happy to see her there and especially not after Jason Richards had read out her Grandmother’s wishes regarding the beach house being left to her. Sky had left the homestead soon afterwards and returned to town to avoid the uncomfortable silence and unspoken accusations cast her way by her relatives. Bruce McKennon had asked her to stay but Sky had quietly excused herself telling them all she was tired and had phone calls to make back at the motel. Jason Richards had followed her outside to her car to ensure that she remembered that she had an appointment with him in town the next day. Sky could still see the smug look which had been on Jason’s face as he closed her car door. Finishing off her drink and laying back on the bed, Sky said to her-self, “I’ll wipe that smug look off your face Jason Richards if it’s the last thing I do”.

Why did that man still get under her skin after ten long years? Sky closed her eyes and remembered back to when she was young to the first time that she had met Jason Richards. It had been just before her 14th birthday, not long after her parent’s had been killed and she had come to live at her Grandparents farm. At first she had hated living on the farm because it wasn’t her home and the neighbours and friends that she had known and loved all lived over 700km away in the little town of Blackwater. She had not long lost her parents and it had been an emotional and rough time for Sky adjusting to living with her Grandparents and changing to a new school. The Richards were the closest neighbours to her Grandparent’s; they lived on the property next door which was an 8 minute drive away by road or if you cut across the fields of peanuts, sugar cane and through orchards of avocado’s and Macadamia nuts it took a good 20 minutes to walk. . It was on a weekend not long after she had moved in that Sky had met Jason and his family at Jason’s mother Marilyn’s birthday party. His mother was turning 38 years old so his father Charles Richards had thrown her a BBQ and had invited some of their closest friends and neighbours over to celebrate.

Sky remembered it had been a cool evening in late August during Crush season. Crush season is always a busy time of year in Childers and the surrounding areas. The sugar cane farmers work long hours to get their crops harvested and sent off to one of the Mills in Childers or Bundaberg. So commuters both locals and visitors had to be careful and keep an eye out for cane trains that crossed over the many roads in the area to avoid fatalities. The party had been a lovely occasion and the people who attended it were grateful for the short reprieve from work it had given them. BBQ’s were just one of the many forms of social gatherings that were popular among the local country folk. In small towns like Childers, everybody knew everybody and there wasn’t much that wasn’t celebrated, discussed or gossiped about between them all. But putting all those things aside the three years that had followed that BBQ had been some of the best years of Sky’s life. Jason and Sky had become the best of friends, to the point where everyone said they were joined at the hip. During those three years they had seen each other nearly every day after-school, on weekends and school holiday. It had gotten to a point where her Grandparents had started to get a little worried that her school grades were slipping so they had limited the time Jason and Sky could spend together during the school week.

But that was a long time ago now. All she felt when she was around Jason Richards now was anger, discomfort, and a strong urge to take flight. Any good feelings that she may have once had for him died ten years ago and she couldn’t wait to see the last of him. Just think Sky you use to love the Jerk. Sky shook her head at the memory and was relieved that she only had to see him once more before she left to go back to Brisbane. She had promised her Grandfather that she would stay for a couple of days but she was sure she could avoid Jason during that time. Besides he hadn’t been very nice to her either when they had seen each other earlier today so she didn’t think he would go out of his way to seek her out once she had signed the paper work and deeds to the beach house. With that in mind Sky lay back on the bed and drifted off to sleep.

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