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An American Girl

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Title: An American Girl

Type of Story: short/medium fic.

Main Characters: Ella Hunter (age eighteen) and a mysterious young man named "Bo."

Rating: T

Warnings: SC, L

Summary: “I should never have let her go there,” [Robbie] lamented. “This sort of crap only happens in Summer Bay.”

This was just one of those fics that wanted to be written, so I had no choice but to write it... I'm not really sure what the point of it is exactly but... it's here, so I guess that's my job done. It averages out to be about 30 pages, but I've broken it up into eight chapters to make it easier to read. It's still being proofed though so I can only offer you the first chapter to begin with.

I hope you like it :mellow:

An American Girl


The railing was scarred by generations of school kids, or those who’d stayed here on holiday, and a few carefree adults who had carved their names, loves, and social commentaries into the aging piece of wood. Perhaps they had hoped to keep a record of their lives here forever, but the weather had dissolved the marks over time, scouring the graffiti with salt, sand, and rain. Whole sections had been splintered or rotted into obscurity, and it was no longer clear who ‘MM’ had pledged his or her immortal soul to.

The girl ran her fingers over a faded and misshapen heart. ‘RH 4 TA’ stood proudly in capital letters at the center. She smiled, wondering if she knew who those initials belonged to.

The damp crept up through the sleeves of her jacket as she rested her elbows on the railing. The Pacific ocean stretched out before her, and it mesmerized her that somewhere beyond that grey mist and swell, her parents would be sitting down to dinner without her. Here it was still day, though the dullness of the sky made it hard to tell.

A young stranger approached her, but that was hardly unexpected. Everyone was a stranger here. He seemed to be around the same age as she was, eighteen or so, and his casual smirk told her that he might be a good person to make friends with.

He stood beside her and watched the sea spray mingling with the wind.

“It’s supposed to be blue,” said the girl. She kept her eyes forward and dragged a dark strand of hair away from the corner of her mouth, which the wind had caught when she spoke. “The sky. My parents said it would be blue.”

The boy’s smirk deepened. He was impressed with her lack of formality. “It’s winter,” he informed her.

“Winter still happens in a place called Summer Bay?” She crossed her arms to feign stubbornness, as well as to keep warm. “Well that’s just false advertising.”

He noticed she had an accent, but he couldn’t quite place it. “I take it you’re not from around here?”

“America,” she said pleasantly.

“You don’t sound American.”

“I don’t sound Californian,” she grinned. “I’m from Boston. No ‘arrrrrrrrs’ where I’m from.”

He laughed. “You almost sound Australian,” he observed. “Almost.”

“My parents lived here before I was born,” she said. “So did my aunt. I guess I might have a bit of it left in me.”

Bawston,” the boy mimicked her, “aaahnt. Now I hear it.”

“Hey, don’t tease me maaahyit! It’s rude to tease someone when you haven’t even introduced yourself.”

The boy hesitated for a moment, and then offered his hand to her. “Bo,” he said.

“Is that your name?”

“Sort of,” he said. “It’s a nickname. My real name sux.”

“What’s your real name?”

“What’s yours?”

She squinted playfully at him as if to say ‘touché,’ and then took his hand. “Ella.”

Instead of shaking it, Bo lifted Ella’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it as if she were a Jane Austen heroine. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, milady.”

Ella slowly, but not rudely, withdrew her hand. “Did we just travel back in time to the nineteenth century?”

“Sorry,” Bo apologized. He scratched the back of his head - a nervous habit, Ella thought. “I guess you’re not one of those girls who goes in for that sort of thing.”

“Not really,” she admitted. “But… thank you, Bo. That was… sweet.”

“It was weird.”

“That too,” she laughed.

“Sorry,” he muttered, scratching his head.

“You said that already.”

Bo looked like he was about to apologize again. He was still scratching. Ella pulled his arm down away from his head. “Relax, would you? You’re starting to make me think you have fleas.”

Bo stopped. “I don’t…”

She smiled gently. “I’m not that intimidating, am I? I don’t want to scare you off already. You’re the first person I’ve really talked to since I got here.”

“Really?” Bo’s confidence flooded back.

“Yes,” Ella assured him, happily. “You’re a local, aren’t you?”

“Is it that obvious?”


Bo lifted his hand to scratch, but caught sight of Ella watching him. He put it in his pocket instead. “So… do you want to get something to eat? I could take you to the Diner.”

“Forget eating,” said Ella. “I’m in Australia! I wanna get something to drink!

Ella was suspicious when Bo lead her into a building that seemed to be frequented by teenagers in board shorts and thongs. (Her dad had made sure to teach her the proper meaning of that word in Australia, lest there be any confusion). She became even more suspicious when she glimpsed the title of the establishment: ‘The Summer Bay Surf Club.’ The row of surfboards against the wall did little to encourage her that this wasn’t the local - and very dry - hang out for the town’s youth.

“Um, isn’t there a bar somewhere around here?”

“Yeah,” Bo assured her, “We’re getting there.”

“But there are kids in here…”

“Keep walking.”

They passed a beat-up looking pool table and came to a set of French doors. The sign above read, ‘Noah’s Juice Bar.’

“Juice wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” Ella grumbled.

“Don’t sweat it,” Bo said, dragging her inside, “It’s only a juice bar during the day.”

“But it is the day.”

“Yes, but you’re still on American time. It wouldn’t be fair to make you wait.”


“Trust me, there’s booze behind the counter, and I know the owners. I can get you a shot of something. It’s cool.”

Ella proceeded with caution, wondering why she felt like she was about to commit a criminal offense. Maybe Bo was right, maybe she was still on American time, and still on American morals. Somewhere in her mind, her father’s voice was telling her, ‘Don’t do drugs, don’t drink until you’re twenty-one, and if you sleep with anyone before you’re thirty and have a ring on your finger, I’ll kill the guy and send you to a convent.’ Ella doubted her father’s ability to coerce nuns into doing his bidding if he’d just committed murder, but nevertheless, she felt an unsettling twinge of guilt now that she was settling onto a stool at the bar, and an array of liqueurs and spirits were in sight. A withered old man was hunched over the sink beneath the shelf, washing up glasses.

“Alf,” called Bo. The old man didn’t respond. “He’s half deaf,” Bo explained quietly to Ella. “Almost blind too. They keep him around during the quieter shifts to make him feel useful. He doesn’t do too bad a job, considering. That is when he knows there’s a customer. ALF!”

“What!?” The old man started and shuffled around. Ella had expected him to straighten up when he put a glass down and moved away from the sink, but she saw now that he had a permanent slump from his age, which had to be nearing a hundred years by the look of him. “Flamin’ heck, you kids!” he blustered. “Don’t you know better than to shout at an old man’s back! You’ll give me a flamin’ heart attack!”

Ella believed it.

“We’re sorry,” she said sincerely, and in a strong, clear voice to be sure he understood her. “We were just wondering -”

“Who’s this then?” Alf asked Bo, squinting at Ella through bad eyes. “You got yourself a new girlfriend young fella?”

Ella blushed, although she wasn’t sure why. Bo quickly denied the assumption to spare her.

“No Alf, this is Ella. She’s on holiday from America.”

“Strewth!” said Alf, apparently impressed. “We’ve had a few from the Bay go that way over the years, but not too many of your lot ever come here. The internationals are more interested in your Bondis and your Bells and your Barrier Reefs. What’s left of it.”

From the derisive tone of his voice, Ella got the impression that this Alf person was very fond of his home town and didn’t think much of the ‘internationals’ who consistently passed over it.

“Well, I think Summer Bay is lovely,” said Ella dutifully, despite the rain.

“‘Course you do, Love,” Alf beamed proudly. “No better place in the world. Now what can I get you?”

“Vodka and orange for the lady,” Bo ordered presumptuously.

Alf chuckled. “You’re kiddin’ aren’t ya?”

“Come on Mr Stewart…” Ella suspected that Bo was using Alf’s proper title to pander to his ego. This boy was clearly adept at getting what he wanted. “Just one shot in the juice to celebrate her coming all the way here to visit us? We won’t tell anyone. ”

“Not likely - your mother’d have me strung up for the crows! How old is this Sheila anyway?” Alf queried, squinting at her again. It was impossible for him to tell through his cataracts whether she was fourteen, or forty, or anywhere in between.

Bo looked to Ella. He assumed she was legal.

“Eighteen,” Ella answered.

“Eighteen,” Bo repeated to prove the point to Alf.

“Yeah, right,” said Alf skeptically. “I’d ask to see some ID but we both know that wouldn’t do me much good, would it? Can’t read a thing to save meself these days. ”

“Come on Mr Stewart,” Bo pleaded again, “you know you can trust me.”

“Like Hell,” Alf scoffed. “You’re your father’s son, and your mother’s! Bloody smooth talkers the pair of ‘em! Even if I believed you missy,” he said to Ella, “and I’m not saying I don’t, I can’t serve you alcohol until 5PM, and that’s nearly six hours away. If you come back then with your ID in hand, I’m sure someone’ll be happy to give you that shot you’re after. Now…” He grabbed a clean glass from the rack by the sink, “How about some juice?”

They walked out of the Surf Club with their Noah’s cups in hand (they had passed up the glasses for a more mobile option) and sipped on their non-alcoholic beverages.

“That didn’t exactly go the way I planned it,” Bo stated.

“It’s okay,” said Ella. “Now we have an excuse to come back at five and get hammered.”

“You’re not an alcoholic much, are you?”

“I was raised by Australians, what do you expect?”

“Well, I hate to rain on your St Patrick’s Day parade, but I don’t think the 5PM staff will let me get ‘hammered.’”

“It’s already raining,” Ella reminded him, pulling up her hood with her free hand to shield her from the drizzle, “and why won’t they let you? You’re eighteen, aren’t you?”

Bo avoided the question by sipping his juice. Ella stopped walking as she realized what his silence meant. “You’re not eighteen, and you were trying to order me a drink at a bar?”

“It’s not like I was going to drink it,” Bo protested. “Anyway, there’s another place we can go to, a restaurant. It’s just expensive there, that’s all.”

“I think the juice will be fine for now,” Ella said, taking a resolute sip. “So, Bo, how old are you?”

“Almost eighteen.”


“In nine months…”

“Great. So I could get pregnant and give birth just in time for you to become a man.”

“Woah girl, slow down. We should get married before we have kids.”

“Yeah, and you’d probably need your parents permission to do that.” She rolled her eyes.

“Hey, what happened to not scaring me away? Be nice. I bought you that drink, didn’t I?”

“No you didn’t, Mr Stewart gave it to me on the house!”

“Yes, but who lead you to that house? Me. You would have had to pay for that anywhere else, and if you didn’t have a local boy pleading your case you would have had to pay for it at Noah’s too. I saved you the money, so that’s as good as buying you a drink.”

“A juice drink.”


She shook her head in amusement and kept walking along the fence line which barricaded the eroding sand dunes from human interference. Bo followed her closely.

“Mr Stewart was right about you,” Ella noted over her shoulder, “you are a smooth talker.”

“Is that a good thing?” Bo smirked.

“We’ll see.”

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They walked down to beach, not minding the rain now that they were already wet. It seemed to be getting lighter anyway.

“So how long have you lived here?” Ella asked.

“Since I was five,” Bo shrugged, not thinking this was a terribly interesting topic. “My parents couldn’t afford to send me to a private school, and the public schools in Sydney were scary, so they moved back here.”

“They lived here before?”

“Yeah, they met here. I guess they had good memories of the place.”

“So were their memories right? Is it good here?”

“Um,” Bo bit his lip, “it has a pretty high crime rate for a small town, but most of that is from people passing through. They know the police force here is virtually non-existent so they think they can get away with whatever they want.”

“That doesn’t sound too good.”

“No. I haven’t had much trouble myself, but some of the stories my parents have told me are pretty rough.”

“Are they okay now?”

“Yeah. They’re a bit screwed up from it though. I think dad’s stricter on me than he wants to be sometimes. I know it’s because he’s freaked out that something will happen to me like it happened to him.”

“What happened to him?”

Ella knew that Bo was uncomfortable with the question even before he said, “Can we talk about something else?” so she changed the subject.

“Well, my family have some horror stories too. I almost didn’t want to come here! They kept telling me about a cult and a stalker…”

“The Summer Bay Stalker?”

“You know about that?”

“Yeah, my dad - ” He broke off, fearing that he was talking about things that weren’t his business, and certainly weren’t Ella’s. “My dad told me those stories too.”

“So maybe our parents knew each other then?” said Ella, not wanting to push.

“Yeah, maybe.”

They walked back up the beach and headed for the road.

“My house is just a few streets away if you want to go there and hang out for a while.”

“Yeah,” said Ella, suddenly feeling butterflies. “Sure.”

She sat very still on Bo’s lounge, hands on her knees and her knees pressed tightly together. She never really understood what the point of this was when a girl was wearing jeans, but her Aunt Josie had taught her that it was the proper way for a lady to behave, especially around strange young men.

Bo certainly was strange. Mysterious, even. And quite nice to look at. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with strawberry blonde hair and dark blue eyes. Ella just now noticed as he took off his jacket that the sudden downpour of rain that hit them before they reached the house had soaked through to his singlet (he’d forgone the shirt), making it cling to the lean muscles of his chest and stomach. His arms and collar were dappled with streaks of water, his hair dripped and curled with it, touching the flawless structure of his face.

She heard her father’s voice again: ‘I’ll send you to a convent!’’ But surely what he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him… and it certainly wouldn’t hurt Bo. Ella doubted very much that her father would be bothered coming all the way to Australia just to hunt the boy down for having sex with his daughter.

Now she really was jumping the gun. She’d known this guy less than two hours and she was already considering making him her first holiday fling. She had joked about it with her friends, finding some ‘Bronzed Aussie Surfer’ to make a woman out of her, but now that she was here in Bo’s house, watching him going through the top cupboards of his kitchen, she couldn’t imagine laughing unless it was due to some sort of nervous fit. Oh God, she hoped that wouldn’t happen…

“Found it,” Bo announced, pulling a clear bottle out of the cupboard. He set it down on the bench and got a bottle of juice out of the fridge. “There’s more than one way to get a vodka and orange around here.”

Ella stood up and approached the bench. Was he planning to get her drunk so that he could take advantage of her?

No, she reminded herself calmly, it was her idea to drink in the first place. Bo was just being a good host.

He set a tall glass down in front of her and filled it a quarter way with vodka.

“Isn’t that a bit strong?”

Bo scoffed. “I thought you said you were raised by Australians.”

“Australians, not Russians. That’s the sort of dosage you drink to stop yourself freezing to death in a blizzard.”

“Well,” Bo reminded her, “It is the middle of winter, and it has been known to snow here.”

“Since when?”

“Since Global Warming. Polar Ice Caps melting, weather getting all screwed up. It’s all very scientific. Now are we getting hammered or what?”

Ella nodded for him to add the juice. Once he’d done so, she took a brave swig of the lethal concoction. “Dear God!” she rasped, choking on the burn.

“Cheers!” Bo said heartily and clinked his glass against hers.

And then they woke up.

Ella managed it first, just barely. It was difficult to keep her eyes open while the room was spinning so fast. She crawled across the bed, gripping the ridges in the sheets as if she were on a vertical cliff and if she didn’t have something to hold on to, she’d fall off. Groping in the darkness, her hand landed on something firm yet squishy. But when it moved, she let go, as it was clearly not a reliable thing to take her weight.

Bo moaned and shifted under the few inches of quilt he had somehow managed to cover himself with. Presently he kicked that off too so that, to Ella’s shock as her eyes vaguely adjusted, he was lying naked beside her.

For a moment she forgot where she was and who he was and screamed as loud as her crackling voice could manage. Bo jumped so high from his pillow that he wasn’t quick enough to catch himself on the downward fall. He wanged his head on the headboard. “Ow!” was his fist reaction, and then “What did you scream for!?”

“You’re naked!” Ella pointed out, literally pointing. “You’re naked!

“Yes!” he shouted back at her, finding the covers and pulling them up over himself. “This is how I sleep! If you’re going to come into my room in the middle night and scream in my face, then you’ll just have to deal with it!” Once he’d gotten over the initial shock of being woken up like that, he started to think about it. “Wait, who are you?”

Ella was suddenly more angry than anything else she was feeling, except maybe queasy. “Who am I!? I’m the girl you got wasted and screwed, that’s who I am!”

“You’ll have to be more specific.”

Ella growled and whipped the pillow out from underneath Bo’s head, then started bashing him with it.

“Hey!” Bo put up his hands. “Hey! Stop! I don’t even remember you! How do I know if I slept with you!? You don’t even have all your clothes off!”

Ella halted her actions so suddenly that she felt the contents of her stomach might proceed without her. She looked down at herself and saw that she was still wearing her underwear.

Bo used the distraction to slither out of the bed, trying to hide his shame with the quilt as he went. He managed to find a pair of pants on the floor. He put them on and turned back to the strange girl who still had a lazy grip on his pillow. “Tell me again who you are and what you think you’re doing here.”

“I’m Ella,” she answered him through grit teeth, though he couldn’t be sure that the gritting wasn’t in part an effort to make sure she didn’t throw up. “Ella Hunter. We met on the beach, remember?”

“Hunter?” Bo repeated. “That’s impossible. Ella Hunter is my cousin’s name, and she lives all the way in Amer-”

They stared at each other for an extremely uncomfortable moment as some of their memories flashed back. Bo remembered meeting Ella like she said, he remembered taking her to the juice bar, and bringing her home. He remembered everything she’d told him about herself, and how none of it had clicked until just this second. He remembered the vodka…

Ella remembered the long, deep kiss, his hands sliding all over her chest and thighs, and him suggesting that they should take off their wet clothes. She remembered that he’d told her how beautiful she was, how the darkness of her hair matched the soulfulness of eyes perfectly. She remembered thinking that his ocean-colored eyes were captivating too, and how she felt so safe with him, so familiar…

They remembered that their parents must have known each other.

“Bo…” Ella began shakily, “What’s your real name…?”

He swallowed. “Archie…” he choked. “Archie Hyde…”

Ella stared at him across the disheveled bed, her mouth falling open in horror. “Oh my God!” She buried her face in the pillow, rocked forward onto the mattress and started sobbing.

“Hey,” said Bo - or Archie, as it turned out - “We didn’t do anything. I mean, I don’t remember doing anything, do you?” She shook her head furiously, but wasn’t consoled. He sat down on the bed and patted her cautiously on the back. “Well, even if we did… we didn’t mean to. We didn’t know.”

“But what if we did do it?” demanded Ella hysterically. “What if I’m pregnant!? What if I give birth to an inbred freak!?”

“That’s not going to happen. If you’re pregnant, we’ll get it aborted.”

Ella howled and buried her face again.

“It’s not going to happen,” Archie told her, “We didn’t do anything. We’d remember. We’d have to remember!”

“This never would have happened if you’d told me your real name! WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOUR REAL NAME!?”

“I told you, my real name sux!

“Oh, and Bo is so much better?” yelled Ella, frustrated beyond belief by his stupidity.

“Yes! Archie’s not a name, it’s a word you’d use to describe an arch!”

“Bo isn’t a name either, it’s a random syllable! It’s just two fricking letters! If you’re going to make up a fake name for yourself, you could at least make it better than the one you already have!”

“For your information it is not two letters, it’s three: B.O.W., and I didn’t make it up, my mates did!”

“How do you get Bow from Archie!?” Ella shrieked, simply exasperated. She was quite sure that she didn’t care, but she was also sure that if they could stick to this silly topic of name calling, she wouldn’t have to think about the real issue at hand. Bo - Bow - Archie - felt the same way.

“Archie sounds like ‘archer,’” he explained, “and an archer uses a ‘bow’; ‘Bow’ B.O. W. sounds like ‘Bo’ B.O., which is a perfectly acceptable mainstream name to use, and when it’s spelled B.E.A.U. it means masculine beauty, which I have plenty of, so there!

“Modest too,” mumbled Ella. It didn’t come out as catty as she wanted it to. It was a regrettable full stop to that part of the conversation, and the next sentence was one that neither of them wanted to start.

“This is all my fault,” sighed Archie, putting his head in his hands. “I should have known who you were. I should have realized. God, if I’d just remembered that ‘my cousin Ella’ was from Boston…

Archie finally seemed to be grasping the gravity of the situation. Ella thought he was right to blame himself, but couldn’t let him take that bourdon alone.

“Look,” she said, “It’s my fault too. I should know better than to go home with a strange boy and drink so much. My dad’s going to kill me.”

Uncle Robbie, you mean?” Archie added darkly.

“Don’t even say that,” Ella shuddered. She looked around the dark room and managed to focus on the clock radio beside Archie’s bed. “It’s almost 7AM,” she read. “Shouldn’t the sun be up by now?”

“I told you before,” Archie remembered, “It’s winter.”

“So the sun doesn’t even come up in the morning?” She rolled her eyes. “So much for my holiday to a sunny sea-side village.”

“Wait,” said Archie, examining the glowing dots on the clock, “It says PM. It’s 6.53PM.”

“So… is it the same day, or did we miss one do you think?”

“I don’t think my parents would let me miss school on Monday no matter how much I had to drink.”

“You’re still in school?” Ella was horrified again. She’d finished high school the year before, and she couldn’t remember how old Archie said he was. She prayed he was sixteen at least, not wanting to add pedophilia to incest.

“I’m in year twelve,” Archie said, “Final year.” Ella breathed a sigh of relief. She knew then, and in fact remembered, that he was seventeen.

“So your parents…” she couldn’t bring herself to think of them as her aunt and uncle, “will they be home soon?” She assumed that they weren’t already, for no one had interrupted the screaming.

“Mum’s got a shift at the bar tonight,” he answered, “But Dad should be home from the Gym soon.” He scratched at the back of his head.

Ella hugged the pillow to her mostly-bare torso. “I should probably try and find my clothes then.”

Archie walked out first, then motioned back to the hallway that the coast was clear. He had found a dry t-shirt to go with his tracksuit pants. Ella wasn’t so lucky; her clothes apparently hadn’t made it to the bedroom with her, and she now emerged wrapped thickly in Archie’s quilt.

She quickly looked left, then right, then left again, and darted out towards the couch, tripping over the excess fabric in her haste. She yelped in fright and landed heavily along the length of the couch. Archie couldn’t help but laugh at her clumsiness.

“You must get your balance from your dad,” he chuckled. “My parents always said he was a klutz.”

“Shut up,” Ella growled with an angry blush, rummaging through the couch cushions as if she had intended to end up in this position all along. She found her shirt wedged beside the armrest, and dragged it out to validate her lunge. “See?” She held the damp bundle up for Archie to see. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Uh huh.”

“You could help me, you know.” She shimmied the quilt down to her waist so that she could put the shirt on. It was freezing. “We’re kind of on a time frame here.”

She crossed her arms and rubbed them. Archie could see the goosebumps forming on her pale skin from where he was standing.

“Take the shirt off,” he sighed.

“What?” Ella fidgeted with the quilt, pulling it up over her exposed arms.

“You’re obviously cold, and you’ll get sick if you keep that on.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve said that to me before?”

“Look,” said Archie, “I’ll get you some of my mum’s clothes. She won’t mind you borrowing something to wear back to…wherever it is you’re staying.”

“The Sands.”

“Seriously? That place costs a fortune. Why didn’t you just organise to stay here with us? I don’t think Mum and Dad even mentioned that you were coming.”

“They wouldn’t have. They didn’t know.” She looked down at her lap, and Archie could see the quilt moving sheepishly as she played with her hands. “I didn’t tell them I was coming, because I didn’t want them to feel obliged to have me here. You guys don’t even know me. I didn’t want to put you out. And I thought it might have been a nice surprise if I just showed up unannounced.”

“It was a surprise alright.”

“Yeah, but not a nice one.”

Ella looked so sad and ashamed. Archie walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “It wasn’t all bad,” he said sincerely. “I remember the juice was nice.”

Ella smiled meekly, and nodded that that was true.

“I’ll get you something to wear.”

Archie left Ella alone in the lounge room as he went to raid his mother’s wardrobe. She glanced around, spotting her jeans and jacket in a ball on the floor. They were just as cold and damp as the shirt. She took it of, preferring the warm quilt to be closer to her skin, and leaned over the edge of the lounge to gather up the rest of her clothes.

The front door rattled. Ella froze, one arm outstretched to the floor as the other clasped the quilt to her chest. The door creaked open and she heard Archie’s footsteps running up the hall.


Kim Hyde stood staring at his only son, who was clutching a modest bundle of his mother’s clothes and looking extremely shocked by his father’s interruption.

“Archie,” Kim said slowly, lowering his gym bag to the floor, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing!” said Archie, much too quickly.

“Archie,” Kim repeated in a stern yet potentially understanding voice.

Ella realized what Archie’s dad must have been thinking, and decided to save them both the embarrassment. As she peeked her head over the back of the couch, and saw two pairs of blazing blue eyes turned on her and waiting for an explanation, she wanted to slink back into hiding.

“Who are you?” Kim asked angrily. He shot an unimpressed glare at Archie. Apparently having strange girls in the house were against Mr Hyde’s rules.

“I-” she stammered, “I’m Ella. Ella Hunter. I’m your niece, from America.”

Kim was clearly skeptical, but the longer he stared at her - his eyes never losing their ferocity - he seemed to recognise her face. “Ella?” he said cautiously. He couldn’t tell exactly what she was wearing from where he was standing, but her smooth teenage shoulders looked awfully bare, apart from the bra straps. “What…” he glanced from her to Archie, who still looked extremely guilty and interrupted, “What are you doing here?” Neither of the kids answered him, and his glancing became much more rapid as his desperation grew. “Archie?” Surely there was an innocent explanation, and this wasn’t what it looked like? But Archie didn’t say so, and neither did Ella. “Oh…Jesus!

Kim pushed past his son and headed to the kitchen. He reached for the top cupboard, before he noticed that his quarry was already lying empty on the bench in a sticky pool of dried juice. He picked up the bottle, examined the few remaining drops of liquor, and slammed the heavy glass bottom down to the bench. “You drank my vodka!” he fumed. “You drank all of my vodka!” He threw his hands up and rolled his eyes dramatically. “That explains it then!” He shook his head in dismay, and when he’d finished doing that, he noticed that, from this angle, he could see that Ella was indeed stripped down to her underwear, although she was still clinging tightly to Archie’s quilt. “Oh, God!” Kim cried, shielding his eyes. “Put some clothes on, please!” He shifted his hand behind his head, keeping his eyes shut tightly as he scratched at his graying hair.

Archie hurried over to the couch to help Ella stand up without tripping. He handed her the bundle of dry clothes, and ushered her towards his parents’ bedroom. “No!” Kim called him back, “You stay here!”

Ella gave Archie an apologetic, and frankly frightened look, and shuffled past him to the bedroom on her own. Archie turned back to face his father’s wrath.

Ella heard them yelling through the door as she pulled on her Auntie Kit’s clothes. She dressed herself quickly, but didn’t come out straight away. “We didn’t know!” she heard Archie say.

“How could you not know!?” Kim bellowed back. “She’s your cousin!”

“She moved to America before I was even born! I’ve never met her before! How was I supposed to know!?”

“An American girl named Ella tells you that her parents used to live in Summer Bay, and you don’t know!?

“I’m sorry, okay! I was an idiot! But what do you want me to do about it!?”

“How about not being an idiot for a change! I don’t want you to make the same damn mistakes I did by sleeping with anything that moves and thinking you’ve impregnated every girl from here to the city, and that includes your own cousin!”

“I’m not you, Dad,” Ella heard Archie growl clearly as she cracked open the door, “and I’m sorry if I was a mistake, but I don’t even know if I slept with her! Yes we woke up in bed together, but our clothes were wet, we were cold! Maybe we just got undressed and got under to covers to warm up!”

“Oh don’t give me that!” Kim whined, too disappointed with Archie to notice Ella creeping forward from the hallway. “You’re my son - this kind of stupidity is in-built!” He grabbed at the vodka bottle again, sliding it roughly over the countertop. “I thought your mother’s DNA might have just saved you on that account, but I guess you picked up a few of her bad habits as well, eh?”

“That’s not fair,” Archie glared at him. “I’m a teenager, Dad. Teenagers drink, remember? One hard night doesn’t make me an alcoholic!”

“You think your mother would see it that way if she came home to find you’d been binging like this? Hm? Found you passed out, or throwing up, or in bed with some girl who’s last name you didn’t even catch?”

Archie clenched his jaw, wanting to argue but not finding anything to say.

“It would kill her to think you’d inherited her disease Archie, and you know it. Why do you think she wanted to buy the bar in the first place? So you’d grow up seeing what alcohol can do to you, and knowing how to drink responsibly.”

“But the booze is still the first thing you reach for when things get too real, isn’t it Dad?”

Kim glared at his son and let go of the empty bottle in case he crushed it in his anger. He stalked out of the kitchen, purposely shouldering Archie as he left, and gathered Ella’s shirt, jeans and jacket up off the lounge room floor. Ella stared at him as came towards her, her dark brown eyes stretched wide enough to literally look like a deer’s in headlights.

“Where are you staying?” Kim asked her gruffly.

“The Sands hotel,” she answered, feeling a strong urge to add a ‘sir’ to the end.

“I’ll drive you,” said Kim, and it was clear that Ella didn’t have the option of saying no. “You,” he ordered Archie, pointing back into the kitchen, “clean up the mess you made.”

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It was possibly the most uncomfortable car ride of Ella’s life, and not just because she was on the wrong side of the road. It was worse than that time when she was fourteen and her Aunt Josie caught her kissing a boy at the school gate. Josie had driven her straight to the doctor’s office to get a prescription of birth control pills, and bought her a packet of condoms at the pharmacist on the way home for good measure. Ella never went on the pill though. Her mother threw them in the bin as soon as she found out about it, fearing the unnatural effects that chemical contraception could have on a developing young body. Ella’s dad maintained, as always, that abstinence was the best form of contraception. He confiscated the rubbers and promised to give them back when she was eighteen. He didn’t.

Ella wished that Josie had taken her back to get another prescription. She wished that her mother wasn’t such a hippie freak. She wished that she had listened to her father, or that he’d at least kept his promise. But wishing wasn’t doing her any good now, and her uncle kept giving her wary looks, as if she were some amoral sexual predator who had seduced his naive son and might have her sights set on him next.

“I swear we didn’t mean to,” she muttered, feeling that it wouldn’t do much good.

“I know,” said Kim mercifully, “but it was still stupid, Ella. It mightn’t be my place to say this to you, but you should know better than to go home with some guy you just met. You’re almost lucky it was Archie. Anything could have happened to you.”

“It doesn’t get much worse than accidentally sleeping with your cousin though, does it?” Her voice trembled and Kim saw tears forming at the corner of her eye. He felt sorry for her.

“You really don’t remember what happened?”

She shook her head, snuffling, and refused to look at him.

“Then,” he sighed, “maybe Archie’s right.” He didn’t believe it for a second, but he had to say something to calm the poor girl down. “Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding.”

“It’s not likely though, is it?”

“Stranger things have happened in this town,” Kim assured her. “Trust me.”

They pulled up to The Sands, and Ella got out of the car.

“Do you want me to come in with you?” Kim asked her.

Ella shook her head, hugging the bundle of clothes to her stomach. “No, I’ll be okay.” Neither of them were sure of that, but Kim nodded anyway.

“Uncle Kim?” It broke his heart to hear her call him that; she sounded as innocent as her mother, and so lost. “Can you take me to see a doctor tomorrow?”

“What for?” he asked, concerned.

“If I’m pregnant…” She took a deep breath. “If I’m pregnant, I should find out as soon as possible. I might even be able to stop it if I go there first thing in the morning.”

Kim had a bizarre flashback to the first girl he ever slept with, Brooke, and the conversation they had had about aborting her unplanned pregnancy. They were just kids, like Ella and Archie. Just stupid kids.

“Sure,” Kim answered her simply. “If that’s what you want.”

Ella shrugged, and another tear rolled down her cheek. “What choice do I have? I’m eighteen, I’m going to college next year. Archie’s still in high school, and we’d be living on different sides of the world. And…” She hugged the bundle on her stomach tighter, staring down at it as she felt it cradled beneath her arms. “And the baby,” she said sadly, “It’d be sick, or deformed or something. We’re…” She lowered her voice to little more than a croaky whisper. “We’re related. It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be right to do that to a kid.”

Kim understood now that Robbie and Tash had never told her the truth. And it wasn’t his place to tell her now… was it?

“Ella,” he said gently, “I think you should talk to your parents about this.”

“I can’t,” she cried, “they’d be so disappointed in me!”

“Probably,” Kim agreed, “but you still need to tell them. And you need to tell them that you might get pregnant to Archie, and what you’re thinking about doing if that happens, okay? Promise me?” He trusted that his friends wouldn’t let their daughter terminate their first potential grandchild, or his, without knowing all the facts.

Ella nodded meekly, and Kim hoped that she meant it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. Say about eight?”

She nodded again, and she and Kim said goodbye.

Ella watched him drive away, and then walked coldly into the hotel. She hadn’t thought to borrow a jacket, so the heated lobby was a noticeable change from the frigid night air outside. It didn’t make much difference to her though; she still felt numb.

She fished her keycard out of her jeans pocket, and wiped a light film of water off it onto the foreign pants she was wearing. With any luck, she thought, she hadn’t removed it all and she would get electrocuted and die when she swiped the card in the door of her room. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and the door opened without incident.

She dumped the clothes onto the bathroom floor and tossed the key onto the table. She crawled onto the perfectly made bed and laid down without disturbing the covers. She looked over at the bedside table. The stark black screen of the hotel phone stared back at her. She thought about how much easier this sort of thing must have been in her parents’ day, when they only had to disguise their voice with laughter to make everything seem okay. If she woke them up now, they’d see that she’d been crying, and she’d only start bawling again when they asked her why.

The next day was the worst day of Ella Hunter’s life. It began with her uncle picking her up as he said he would, but when the car rolled up, her Aunt Kit was scowling at her from the passenger side. Ella was relegated to the backseat, where Archie already sat staring evasively out the window.

“So,” began Kit, “Ella. Welcome to Australia. I’d say ‘make yourself at home,’ but you’ve already done that.”

Ella didn’t say anything. Archie lifted his head off the window to glare at his mother’s spite, and Ella got the impression that her uncle wasn’t too impressed with his wife either.

“Did you call your parents?” Kit asked.

“Yes,” said Ella.

“And you told them everything?”


“What did they have to say?”

Ella glanced at Archie, but he was already staring out the window again.

“They said…” She hesitated, struggling to find the words. “They said they were disappointed in me.” They all knew that would be the case. “They’re really upset that I got myself into this position, and they don’t think it’s fair to have an abortion just because a baby’s inconvenient.” That sounded like something they’d say. “But…” She glanced at Archie again. “But because it’s with Archie, they agree it’s the only responsible thing to do.”

“Because you’re related?” Kim questioned her, watching her in the rearview mirror as he drove. “By blood?”

Ella looked him in the eye and nodded.

Kim seemed annoyed by her answer. “Did you really speak to them?” Kim asked again.

“Yes,” said Ella, offended. “You told me to and I did.”

Kim shook his head and set his eyes back to the road. (Not a moment too soon, thought Ella, before she remembered that he was supposed to be driving on the left side.) She didn’t understand why he doubted her story, or what she’d said to make him seem so dissatisfied. She didn’t dare to ask though. In fact, no one spoke again until they reached the hospital.

The waiting room was awful. Actually, the room itself wasn’t so bad - it was more of a corridor, really, and there was always someone wandering by as a source of distraction - but the waiting… the waiting was excruciating.

Ella scolded herself for being so worried. This part was nothing to get upset about. They didn’t even know if she was pregnant yet, or if she would get pregnant. And even if she was or could be, this was the good part; this was the part where it could all go away with a drug or a procedure, and they could all get on with their lives and pretend that nothing had happened.

And maybe nothing had happened. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. She was a virgin before this, and maybe the doctor would examine her and laugh at her foolishness when he told her that she was a virgin still.

Or maybe he would confirm beyond all hope of a doubt that she had in fact lost her virginity to her cousin while she was too drunk to remember the experience.

She felt sick. Watching Uncle Kim pacing back and forth in front of her wasn’t helping at all. She watched him watching at her, watching Archie, stopping to think if he should say something to Aunt Kit, who consistently rolled her eyes away from him, and then he would pace some more.

“I have to make a phone call,” Kim announced suddenly, “Don’t do anything until I get back.”

Ella considered herself relieved from the motion sickness, until she asked herself who he’d be calling. The nausea returned tenfold.

“Robbie Hunter,” Kim spoke clearly into his phone once he was outside the hospital. The screen flashed with a chirpy ‘connecting’ icon. Any other time, it might have amused Kim that this ‘advanced technology’ still perpetuated the image of an obsolete receiver ringing off it’s hook, but for now he just concentrated on the icon and willed his friend’s face to replace it.

It did. “Hello?”

Robbie somehow managed to look like a precocious twelve year old even at the age of thirty-seven, in spite of his square-rimmed glasses and the silvery-brown beginnings of a comb-over.

“Hey, Kimberly!” he said happily as his side of the conversation became clearer. “Long time no talk. What’s up?”

Kim got the feeling that Robbie was being playfully smug, and trying not to laugh. Which wouldn’t make sense if Ella had told him.

“Your daughter is here,” Kim broached the subject.

“Ella?” Still playing, his bastardized accent becoming more noticeable as the conversation progressed. “Ah, I thought that might be why you called. I would have told you guys she was coming, but she wanted to surprise you. So, are you surprised?”

“You could say that.”

Robbie sensed that there was something Kim wasn’t telling him, something serious. “Is everything okay?” It scared him when Kim didn’t answer right away. “Kim?”

“Not really,” Kim confessed. “Archie… he didn’t realise who Ella was, and she didn’t recognise him either… and they sort of…” He sighed. There was no way to sugarcoat it. “They sort of slept together.”

Robbie’s smile faltered, only slightly. “I’m sorry, what?”

“We’re at the hospital now checking it all out, and seeing if they‘ve… you know… conceived.”

Robbie kept smiling, but it was only because he didn’t quite know how else to react.

“You’re joking, aren’t you?” he asked. “You are joking?”

Kim shook his head.

“No,” Robbie assured him, “It’s not possible. No offense to Archie or anything, but Ella’s not like that. She’s been in Australia - what, two days? There’s no way she’d sleep with someone that soon.”

“From what I hear it was more like two hours.”

Robbie wasn’t finding this funny anymore. “No,” he said defiantly. “I’m telling you she knows better than to -”

“She knows better, Rob, but she still did it. She’s a kid, remember? They’re idiots. Don’t worry, I gave her the lecture already.”

“Well you can take it back because my daughter is not an idiot and she is not… fast!

Fast? You sound like Colleen Smart.”

Robbie grimaced. “Questioning my little girl’s virtue and then mocking the dead. Nice.”

“I’m not questioning anything, Rob. Ella made a mistake, that’s all. It happens. And I think she might be about to make another one if you don’t talk to her and tell her the truth.”

“What truth? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Jonah.”

Robbie frowned defensively, glaring at Kim through the screen as though he’d just said a four-letter word. “Don’t you dare say that name to me,” he warned. “If you even think of mentioning him to Ella -”

“Rob, she needs to know that your not her biological father.”

“I’ve been her father for eighteen years - longer! Since before she was born! What’s biology got to do with it?”

“Everything, Rob! You didn’t see these kids. You didn’t see how dirty and disgusted they looked when they realized what they’d done. What they thought they’d done. Ella was in tears. It’s not fair to let her carry that around. It’s not fair on Archie either.”

“Why? As far as I’m concerned, they are cousins and if what you’re telling me is true, they did do something disgusting and wrong, and it’s their own stupid fault that it happened!”

“What if Ella’s pregnant?” Kim asked him. “What if our grandchild is growing inside her right now?”

“Stop it,” Robbie cringed at the thought.

“No, you need to consider this. If she is pregnant, I don’t think she’ll want to give up the baby. The way she was talking last night, it was like she’d only be doing it because she has to. Rob, it would be a massive mistake to let her do this just because she thinks there’ll be something wrong with the kid.”

“What are you talking about? There is no kid! It’s only been a few hours, hasn’t it? All that would be there is a barely fertilized egg, if that!”

“That’s not the point!” Kim rolled his eyes away from the screen in frustration, and then looked at his watch. “Look, Ella will be going into her appointment any minute now. I have to get back.”

“Don’t you dare tell her.”

“Oh Robbie, if you’re so paranoid that she’s going to reject you for not being a blood relative, then how do you think she’ll react however many years from now when she finds that out anyway, and then finds out that you let her terminate her first pregnancy to protect the lie?”

“I can’t believe you’d say that to me,” Robbie said bitterly.

“I have to,” answered Kim. “This is my son’s kid as well.”

Robbie, although he didn’t say anything for a few moments, finally seemed to understand.

“Okay,” he said quietly. “You can tell them. But only if she’s pregnant, and only about me. Nothing about Jonah, or the Believers, or what they did to Tash. You got that?”

“Yep,” Kim nodded appreciatively. “Rob, you’re doing the right thing.”

Robbie shook his head, despairing in his vain attempts to make sense of all he’d heard. “I should never have let her go there,” he lamented. “This sort of crap only happens in Summer Bay.”

Kim couldn’t help smiling.

“Let me know how it goes,” said Robbie wearily, and then he hung up the phone.

“Will do,” Kim promised the ‘connection lost,’ icon.

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When Kim returned to his family, Kit was already speaking to the doctor, who just happened to be his ex-wife, Rachel Armstrong. They’d long ago put their differences behind them in the interest of moving on with life, but there was still an underlying tension between the three of them, seventeen years after the fact. Kim cringed to see the knowing look in her eye as Kit explained to her how Archie and Ella had gotten themselves into trouble. He knew what she was thinking, that it was his fault for raising his son to be an irresponsible womanizer, but in spite of all that, Rachel was the best and most experienced doctor in the Bay. Small towns sucked sometimes.

“Dr Armstrong,” he addressed her formally for the kids’ benefit; Ella needed to know that Rachel wasn’t just a casual acquaintance, she was also a professional to be trusted.

“Mr Hyde,” Rachel replied, playing his game with amusement. Kit rolled her eyes at them both.

“Listen, Rachel,” she said, blowing the façade, “Can we just get on with this please? I’d like to know if I’m going to be a grandmother, or a great-aunt, or both.”

“It may be too early to tell,” Rachel admitted, “but we’ll have a look and see what’s going on with you, okay Ella? Would you like to come with me?”

No, thought Ella, of course she wouldn’t like to come, but as usual, she didn’t have a choice. She stood up shakily from her chair, almost wanting to hold Dr Armstrong’s hand as she did so. Rachel put a comforting arm around Ella’s shoulder to guide her down the corridor.

Archie stood up too, but Rachel turned and stopped him. “This is actually a private examination,” she said. Ella silently thanked God. “Of course,” she continued, “If we find anything, we’ll come back and discuss the options with you all.” Ella hoped that the doctor was using the royal ‘We,’ because she had no intention of discussing anything; she knew what had to be done if it came to that. “But let’s not jump to any conclusions,” Rachel rationalized. “There’s no guarantee that fertilization has even occurred.”

She glanced at Kim, and for a crazy moment he thought she was accusing him of having something to do with that.

Dr Armstrong lead Ella away, and the Hyde family waited impatiently for her to return.

About ten minutes passed. Kit was rambling about something or other, but Kim and Archie weren’t listening. Kit, thinking ‘What else is new?’ finally stopped talking to herself and decided she was going to get a coffee.

Archie stared at the floor, counting the specks in the faux white-granite linoleum. Kim watched him, wanting to say something reassuring - they’d both had enough of the lectures for a while.

“How are you doing?” Kim tested him.

“Not great,” mumbled Archie, not one to pretend for the sake of other people.

“I know this is hard,” Kim said, “But you’re handling it really well. Way better than I did.”

“I know. Lucky you’re not the school principal, hey? We’d have to leave town.”

Kim didn’t bite at Archie’s obvious attempt to rile him. Instead he rubbed his son’s back roughly to tell him it would take more than a few mean insults to scare him off. “Not all mistakes turn out so bad,” he said pointedly.

“What if she’s pregnant, Dad? What if she doesn’t want to get rid of it?”

“Let’s just deal with that when and if it happens, okay?”

“I just wish I could remember. I don’t even know what happened. One minute we’re drinking and laughing, and then next we’re in bed together, screaming at each other about stuff we don’t even remember doing.” He scrunched up his face, and turned up his hands in disbelief. “I mean, who does that!?”

He looked at his dad, and found that he was trying not to laugh.

“It’s not funny, Dad!”

Kim shook his head. “No, it’s not. I’m sorry.” But he couldn’t help himself, and began grinning broadly.

“What’s wrong with you? I’m talking about having sex with my mother’s brother’s daughter, and you’re laughing!”

“No,” said Kim honestly, “It’s not you. It’s just… your mother’s brother…”

“Uncle Robbie? What about him?”

“He and I,” Kim laughed silently at himself, “we woke up like you and Ella did once.”

Archie stared at him. “What?”

“It’s true. We were drinking - way too much - and I guess one thing lead to another…”

You slept with Uncle Robbie!?” Archie hissed in shock, raising his voice to an ultrasonic pitch so that only his father and dogs could hear him. “You…!? And he…!? What about Mum!?

“I wasn’t with her at the time. I’d just been dumped by Hayley -”

Aunt Hayley!?

“Well she wasn’t your aunt back then! Archie, you’ve got to remember this was almost two decades ago.”

“What, it was okay to sleep with all your friends and relatives in your day!? God, no wonder Ella and I are so screwed up!”

“Look, I don’t know if Robbie and I actually did anything - I blacked out and I never remembered a thing. Robbie swears that nothing happened, but…” He shrugged. “At least neither of us had to worry about getting pregnant.”

“Why are you telling me this? Do you just want to get all the traumatic conversations of my life over in one hit!? Because you could have mentioned this when you were telling me about Santa Claus or where I came from!”

“Archie, I’m telling you this because I love you. I don’t want to see you beating yourself up. What you did was stupid, and I don’t want you to forget that, but you’re not the only guy in the history of the world who’s ever done a stupid thing. Even something this stupid. Do you understand?”

Archie thought about the advice, and nodded that he was taking it on board. Then he screwed up his face again. “I can’t believe you slept with Uncle Robbie.”

“If it makes you feel any better, he kind of looked like a girl when he was younger.”

That didn’t help at all, but at least, Archie realized, he wasn’t stressing about Ella anymore.

She sat on the edge of the hospital bed, looking as shameful as she felt. “I’m so embarrassed,” she muttered.

“Don’t be,” Rachel said, “You did the right thing by coming here.”

“But I’ve caused all this trouble.”

“Well, I think Archie Hyde caused some of it too.”

“I’m such an idiot.”

“Ella, you woke up in your underwear with a naked boy lying next to you. It’s perfectly logical for you to assume that he’d had sex with you. For all you know he could have drugged you. I can test your blood for that if you’d like. It’d only be procedure. Just because the guy passed out doesn’t mean he didn’t have other plans.”

“No,” Ella said definitely, “Archie’s nice, he wouldn’t do that.”

“You’d be surprised what nice guys are capable of, Ella.”

Ella shook her head. “Nothing happened, so it doesn’t matter anyway. We both got drunk and passed out. That’s the end of it.” She slid off the bed. “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“You haven’t wasted anyone’s time. It was a very brave decision you made to come here. Despite putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation with Archie, you really are a very smart and responsible young woman.”

Ella gave her a weak smile to thank her for her kindness, but smart and responsible were just about the last words she’d use to describe herself.

Archie and Kim stood up anxiously as Ella and Rachel approached them. Kit was already standing with a cup of coffee steaming in her hand. “So?” she demanded expectantly.

“So,” Rachel smiled, belying Ella’s shame, “She’s not pregnant.”

“Oh thank God,” breathed Kim, and he patted Archie on the back in relief. Archie was still tense.

“You’re sure?” Kit asked.

“Definitely. In fact,” said Rachel, seeing that Archie needed to be put out of his misery, “they didn’t sleep together at all.”

“What?” said Kit and Kim together. “Are you serious?” added Kit in disbelief. Kim cast an apologetic yet wary eye onto his son.

“Yes,” Rachel confirmed. “I won’t go into details, but in my professional opinion, there’s no doubt that Ella and Archie are in the clear. Congratulations, you two,” she said to the teenagers, “You can relax!”

Neither of them did.

“Are you okay?” Archie asked Ella quietly. She hadn’t looked anyone in the eye since coming out of her examination.

“I just want to go home,” she told him.

“How about we take you back to the hotel?” said Kim. Ella nodded, and they left.

Archie walked her to her door. Kit didn’t like the idea of letting her son go up to her niece’s hotel room alone, but as Kim pointed out, now that they knew they were cousins, they were hardly likely to try anything.

“Thanks for coming up with me,” Ella said, swiping her key. “You didn’t have to.”

“Yeah, I did,” Archie told her. “I needed a break from my parents.”

“Oh.” She rested her fingers on the door handle. “Did you want to come in then?”

Archie looked tempted, but he shook his head. “I better not. If I’m gone for more than five minutes, I think Mum will be up here with a fire hose to cool us off.”

Ella laughed. “Well, we wouldn’t want that. Being cold and wet hasn’t done us any favours so far.”

They both grinned half-heartedly at the joke, but they were still struggling to find their predicament funny. It was a huge weight off their minds that they hadn’t actually slept together, but they still remembered the things they did do: the kissing, and the touching… the attraction they’d felt for each other…

Ella broke the tension by opening the door. Archie peered into the empty apartment.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay here by yourself?”

“Yeah,” said Ella. “I’ll probably call my parents and tell them what’s happened. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to if it all worked out, but I think your dad’s already blown my cover.”

“Yeah, he’s good at that.” Archie remembered that she had lied to them about this in the car, and couldn’t help but be a little impressed. She seemed so innocent, but clearly she had an underlying cunning that he could relate to and respect.

Archie looked over Ella’s shoulder again. The room behind her was smaller than he expected for the prices this place charged. And it was so dark with the curtains drawn.

“Maybe I should just grab those clothes of my Mum’s you borrowed,” he thought out loud. “Sort of a peace offering to take back to her. She’s not impressed with us.”

“I know,” said Ella, walking into the room and letting Archie follow her. “I think she actually hates me.”

“Well sure,” he said, “You lead her baby boy astray.”

Ella glared at him, and he smiled.

Ella gathered Kit’s clothes off the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said, handing them to Archie, “I haven’t had a chance to wash them.”

“I didn’t expect you to.”

“Thanks for letting me borrow them,” she said, feeling even more awkward now that he was in her room. “I really was cold.”

“I know,” he said, “I saw the goosebumps.” He touched the back of his free hand to her arm. The goosebumps immediately returned.

“I think you should go,” Ella said softly. “Uncle Kim and Aunt Kit will be wondering what’s taking you so long.”

“Are you staying in town long?” Archie asked her.

“Two weeks,” she said. “Well, a week and a half now.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around then,” he said.

“Yeah,” she answered, “I’m sure you will. After all, we’re family.”

Archie sighed and backed off. Of course… family.

“See you later then,” he said, backing out towards the door.

“See ya,” said Ella.

She went to the threshold and watched him until he left the hallway. Then she closed the door behind him.

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In a much larger apartment in Boston, the telephone screen was alerting the owners that there was an incoming call.

“Ella!” Robbie answered on the second ring, crashing down in front of the screen as if he’d just run in from another room. “Tasha!” he called his wife, “It’s El!” Tasha, who’s long wavy hair had darkened slightly with age around her still beautiful face, lowered herself delicately into a seat beside her husband and stared into her daughter’s dark eyes.

“Hello Ella.” Her voice sounded like she held the knowledge of the world in her soul, but the wisdom in her heart not to speak it.

“Hi Mom,” began Ella easily. “Hi Dad.” They waited for her to go on, but she’d already run out of things to say. “How are you?”

“Ella, your Uncle Kim called here earlier. He said there might be something you need to talk to us about.”

Her parents looked as nervous as she felt.

“Um, yeah…” she stalled. “I met my cousin Archie yesterday…”

“Just tell us what the doctors said, Sweet,” Robbie sighed. He had no interest in playing games.

“It’s okay,” said Ella, understanding that Kim had already told them the story, “I’m not pregnant. We didn’t even sleep together. It was just a misunderstanding. I’m really sorry for worrying you both, I really am. I swear I’ll never do anything like this ever again. I’ll never touch another drink, I won’t go home with strangers - I won’t even talk to another boy as long as I live!”

She was telling them everything they wanted to hear, but they still looked like they were about to cry. Maybe it was relief?

“So you’re definitely not pregnant?” Robbie made sure.

Ella shook her head, no.

“And Kim didn’t say anything to you about the conversation he and I had?”

“No,” said Ella, growing suspicious. “Should he have?”

“No,” answered Robbie quickly.

“Robbie,” Tasha whispered to him, taking his hand, “Maybe we should…”

Worry lines deepened on her father’s brow as he gave her mother a sad and serious look. He shook his head, barely moving it from side to side, as if he couldn’t even bring himself to plead the word, ‘No.’

“Ella…” Tasha began, and Robbie closed his eyes in defeat. He didn’t want to do this, but if Tasha didn’t want to live a beautiful lie anymore, he couldn’t force her to. “Darling,” Ella’s mother continued, “there’s something we haven’t told you. It’s about your father.”

A stab of panic leapt through Ella’s heart as she looked to Robbie. “Are you okay?”

“She means your real father,” Robbie answered her bitterly. He stared down and away from the screen as he said this. The fact that she had been worried about him made this hurt even more.

“What are you talking about?” Ella laughed nervously. “You are my real father.” Robbie still avoided her. “Dad…?”

Tears were forming in Robbie’s eyes. “I can’t do this,” he announced, and stood up from his chair. He appeared on the screen seconds later, pacing behind Tasha. Ella couldn’t see his face anymore, but his anxious movements worried her.

“Ella,” Tasha began again, “When we were your age, we had a big fight and we separated for a few months. I went to live with some people who I thought were my friends, but they weren’t. Do you remember we told you about the Believers?”

“Yeah,” said Ella, confused, “But that was just a story. Something about a witch named Rose who stole a baby because she thought it was special. But it was just something you made up to scare me when I was a little girl. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life.” Tasha didn’t say anything, she just stared into her daughter’s eyes until she understood.

“Mama Rose was real, Ella. You were the baby she stole. She wasn’t a witch, but she thought she was a goddess, and so did The Believers. They were a group of people who followed her around and worshipped her and her teachings. I went to live with them because I wanted to be one of them.”

“You were in a cult?”

“By the time you were born, I’d come to my senses and gotten back with your father - with Robbie. But Rose still wanted you. She thought you were special because…” Tasha hesitated, trying to decide if Ella really was old enough to hear the raw truth. “You were her grandchild. Her son, Jonah… He’s your biological father.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to her over the phone,” Ella heard Robbie mutter in the background. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to her at all!”

“She has a right to know,” Tasha hissed back at him.

“Why?” asked Robbie. “What good will it do? I’m her father, Tash. And you heard what she said, she and Archie didn’t even do anything! There’s no reason for this! It’s just causing trouble where there shouldn’t be any!”

Causing trouble, Ella repeated silently to herself. She was getting good at that.

“Guys, please tell me what’s going on,” she said patiently. “Who’s Jonah, and what’s Archie got to do with this?”

Robbie sighed and sat down heavily in his seat again. “Kim only called us because he wanted us to tell you the truth - that you and Archie aren’t related by blood.”

Ella paused; somehow that hadn’t occurred to her yet.

“He was worried that if there was a baby, you’d get it aborted straight away without knowing all the facts.”

“We wouldn’t have let that happen,” Tasha interjected, as if that somehow made all this secrecy and plotting okay.

“No,” Robbie agreed, “But we shouldn’t have dumped this on you for no god damned reason, either.” He said this mostly for Tasha’s benefit.

“Archie’s not my cousin?” Ella tried to understand.

“Yes he is,” Robbie said defiantly. “He is your cousin because you are my daughter. Blood doesn’t change that, Ella. It doesn’t take away all the years I’ve loved you and been there for you. It doesn’t make our family any less real.”

“But…” Ella said slowly, “you lied to me. My whole life. If blood doesn’t change anything, then why did you lie?”

Robbie was ashamed of his answer, knowing how weak it would sound. “It was just easier. If people thought you were mine, they wouldn’t ask questions.”

“What questions!?” Ella snapped. “What are you hiding from me!?”

“Ella…” Tasha tried to calm her down, but Ella was furious with them both.

“Who is my father!? Who is Jonah!?”

“Jonah’s the man who raped me.”

For a moment, Ella thought that she’d left the door open, or a window, because a sudden chill swept over her. She didn’t move and didn’t speak. What was she supposed to say?

Robbie could see the devastation and helplessness on Ella’s face, and recognized it for his own; he’d felt the same way when Tasha had first told him all those years ago. Ella was his daughter, no matter what the biology said, because his daughter knew what selflessness and compassion were. She was nothing like her ‘real’ father, and he knew for an indisputable fact that she never would be.

“Mom…” Ella finally managed, although she wasn’t sure she’d spoken. Her voice felt useless. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Darling,” said Tasha sympathetically. “You didn’t know.”

How could her mother have sympathy for her when she’d just berated her into admitting something so terrible?

“How…?” Ella asked before she could catch herself. What kind of an insensitive question was that?

“Jonah,” Tasha struggled to say his name now that she was going into detail, “pretended to be my friend. He seduced me by talking about a natural, peaceful way of life with Mama Rose and the Believers. I thought they were sincere. I thought they cared about me. But they were just using me to get to you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Ella. “How could they get to me if I didn’t even exist until he… ?”

“That’s just it,” Robbie explained, “they only ever wanted Tasha because Mama Rose had some vision of ‘The Chosen One’ - a girl who looked exactly like your mother - who would bear her son’s child and lead the whole lot of them into spiritual enlightenment or some BS.”

“The special child,” Ella remembered the story.

“Jonah tried to get close to me, but…” Tasha looked across to Robbie. “I still loved Robbie. He was still my husband, even though we weren’t together. So…” she breathed, “Jonah decided to drug me instead. I didn’t even know what had happened until after he and Mama Rose were in jail, and that’s when I found out I was pregnant with you.”

“You couldn’t have been my father?” Ella asked Robbie hopefully. He shook his head.

“The times didn’t add up. We’d been separated too long.”

“So,” Ella choked, almost laughing, “my father’s a rapist?”

“I’m your father, El.”

Ella looked into Robbie’s dark brown eyes. It’s funny, she always thought that she’d got that from him. But now that she looked closer, she saw that his were almost hazel - not like hers at all. And besides, if she had inherited her ‘father’s’ eyes, wouldn’t she need glasses by now?

“I have to go,” Ella said slowly.

“Ella,” Robbie pleaded with her, “please don’t hang up.”

“I have to go,” she repeated.

He said her name again, leaning into the screen as if he could get close enough to her to grab her arm and stop her from running away. Ella saw her mother’s face, mouth set in a thin emotionless line, eyes down cast beneath a wave of golden-ash hair. She didn’t even think to say goodbye to them before the screen went black.

She found herself on the balcony a few moments later, staring out over the ocean. The sky was clear today, that brilliant azure that her parents…

That brilliant azure that her mother and stepfather had said it would be.

She could hear the waves from where she was standing. The wind was strong, and cold as ever, but she stood there listening to how the water fought against it, tying itself in swelling knots, dipping and swaying to keep the tide from being blown off course.

She turned back into the hotel room and rummaged through her suitcase until she found a hot pink bikini. An hour ago, scrubbing away the humiliation of the past 24 hours in the shower, she hadn’t imagined ever wanting to show off her body again, but now the thought of being tossed around helplessly in open water with the chance of it carrying her off to anywhere but here (or America) seemed much too enticing to let a silly thing like modesty get in the way.

The sand was freezing. It had that dark honey colour to it, which suggested that the top of the beach was holding only slightly less moisture than the soaking shoreline. Her dad - her stepdad - had told her that she’d probably need to walk on a towel to get to the water or risk burning the souls of her feet, but there was no danger of that now. Her towel was wrapped tightly around her shoulders, and she wished that she’d taken to the Australian custom of board shorts more quickly. As it was, her jeans lay discarded with her shirt and jacket, and she only had to drop the towel to be exposed to the elements.

She did, and she was. She made a dash to the ocean, which, as she had hoped, was mercifully warmer than the air outside. Coming up for air after her first dive was, ironically, cold enough to take her breath away.

The waves rolled around her, the pull of the tide strong enough to suck her down to the bottom if she wasn’t careful. She swam out further to avoid the crashing swell.

There was hardly anyone on the beach. The lifeguards had put up a sign, which she ignored, that the conditions were too dangerous for swimming. She supposed that had kept away the tourists. There were a few dedicated locals walking the sand but they were too far away to worry her.

She swam out further behind the bigger waves where she could bob pointlessly in the current. The sea changed it’s mind by the second, sometimes wanting to carry her back safely to shore, and sometimes wanting to condemn her to the wide blue oblivion of the horizon. Since Ella couldn’t decide herself, she just stayed exactly where she was.

Archie wandered down the beach with his surfboard under his arm. He’d had a rough morning and he still felt hung over. Whether that was a residual symptom of alcoholic dehydration or because of everything that had happened with Ella, he didn’t know. And he didn’t care. Nor did he care that the beach was closed, or that there’d be no-one to save him if he got into trouble. He’d be in trouble either way when his parents found out that he was skipping school - like he could concentrate on it anyway.

He saw a towel near the water’s edge and a bundle of clothes. He looked around and couldn’t see anyone else at this end of the beach. He tried to look past the waves, but they were too high and angry to see anything very clearly. He felt sure that he wouldn’t be able to hear anyone calling for help over the roar.

He picked up the clothes and examined them - definitely a girl, and a slender-built one at that. There’d be no way she’d be strong enough to save herself if anything happened out there.

“Bloody tourists,” Archie muttered, and ran with his board to the water.

He paddled out with some difficulty, struggling to keep the surfboard on a steady course. “Hey!” he called out as he crested a wave and rolled down its back. “Is anyone out here!?

“Archie?” Ella’s voice called back, and he looked around and found a little drowned head, almost lost in the depression of the waves.

“Hold on!” Archie paddled with urgency.

Ella watched him curiously, wondering why he looked so panicked. “I’m okay!” she told him, thinking he must have misread the situation, but Archie didn’t hear what she said. It just sounded like another cry for help to him.

The water was smoother here, easier to negotiate. Archie got to Ella in no time at all and grabbed at her arm.

“Hey!” she fought against him. “What - ?”

“Don’t waste your energy talking, just get on the board!”

“What? Why? Get off me!” She splashed him in the face, not at all playfully, and pulled her arm away. She backpedaled under the water to put some distance between them. “What do you think you’re doing!?”

“I’m rescuing you!”

Ella scrunched her face in confusion. “What are you talking about? I don’t need rescuing!”

“But you’re out here all alone.”

“So are you!”

“Yeah, but I’m -”

“A boy?”

“A surfer,” Archie rebutted her feminism. “I’m on the swimming team at school, and I know this beach. Have you ever even seen a beach before?”

“Yes,” Ella glared at him, “And I’ve seen swimming pools too. I’m not stupid, Archie.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Would you prefer Cousin?”

He sat back on his board and rolled his eyes.

“I wouldn’t have come out here if I couldn’t swim,” she said obviously.

“Well I’m sorry for trying to save your life. I’ll let you drown next time.”

“That’s all I ask.”

Both of them realized that that comment was slightly suicidal, and the awkwardness between them returned.

“You’ve probably been out here for a while,” Archie guessed.


“So, I know I’d be getting pretty tired if I’d been treading water in this surf for as long as you have. Let me take you in.”

“I don’t need your help.”


Despite her stubbornness, Ella actually was rather tired. Archie, regrettably, was right: her pride wasn’t worth dying for. She spat out a mouthful of seawater and rolled her eyes at him. “Fine, if it will make you feel better, I’ll go with you.” She looked askance at the surfboard. “How do I get on that thing?”

“You’ve never been on a surfboard?”

“Why are you surprised? A minute ago you were acting like I needed water wings.”


“Never mind. Just help me up.”

“I thought you didn’t need help?”

She gave him a look which threatened to end the conversation. He grinned and offered her a hand. He pulled her up on one arm, keeping the board steady with the other. The surface of the water broke over her chest, running down the bare crease of her breastbone and dripping from her taut stomach. Ella felt heavy and weakened by the transition to gravity. She folded onto the board in front of Archie, lifting her hot pink behind out of the water. Archie’s hand hovered over it, wondering if he should keep helping.

“Now what?” Ella panted, unexpectedly winded by the effort.

“Um…” Archie hovered. He wasn’t sure what to tell her. He couldn’t paddle back with her lying across the board the way she was, but to ask her to position herself properly…


He shook his head and shuffled backwards on the board. “Lie down in front of me.”

“I am.”

“The other way. Lengthways.”

Ella looked up at him, noticing how wide and muscular he looked straddling the board from this angle. “I won’t fit,” she said. “There’s not enough room.”

“Sure there is.” His heart raced as he placed a cautious hand on her hip. “Just move around and put your legs either side of the board.”

Ella pushed herself up on her hands and slid one of her smooth legs over the wax underneath her. She sat forward with her back to Archie, her legs dangling in the water. “Like this?”

Archie nodded quietly to the knotted string at the back of her neck, until he remembered that she couldn’t see him. “Yep,” he obliged, rasping. He cleared his throat. “Now lie down, and I’ll lie on top of you.”

Ella shot him an intently skeptical glare over her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, it’s all above board,” he assured her. “So to speak. Trust me, Ella, I’m your cousin.”

You weren’t my cousin yesterday. She thought bitterly of making out with him on his couch. And you’re not really my cousin now. Was it so wrong if part of her wanted to go there again?

Ella shook herself free of inappropriate thoughts. She might have known the truth, but Archie didn’t. And if she wanted to respect her mother’s privacy, she couldn’t tell him. She knew he wasn’t going to try anything.

She laid down at the bow of the board, and Archie laid across her from the rear. There was naught but a thin layer of wet lycra clinging between them.

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“You’re still awake,” she observed. Robbie looked like he hadn’t moved from his spot in front of the phone since they’d last spoken. “Is Mom in bed?”

He nodded, eager to move on. “Sweetheart, I’m so glad you called back. Are you okay?”

She thought of saying no. She thought of telling him what this secret had done to her, how betrayed she felt, how confused. But all she really wanted to know was, “Why didn’t you tell me, Dad?”

She was so hurt and disappointed. Robbie wished he was with her, and that he could have given her the biggest, warmest hug of her life when she called him ‘Dad’ in spite of it all.

“Because you’re mine, El.” Ella could see tears forming behind his glasses. “You’re my daughter, no matter what anyone says. You’ve always been mine. I was there when your mother found out she was pregnant. It was our official wedding day - do you remember we told you about that?”

“Yeah,” Ella smile weakly. “Everyone thought you must have known already.” She used to think it was such a sweet and funny story. Not anymore. “Would you have married her if you knew?”

“In a heartbeat,” Robbie said without thinking.

“Even though she was pregnant to another man?”

“It wasn’t her fault, Ella, and it wasn’t yours either. I loved her and I loved you. I always have and I always will.”

“I know you love me, Dad.” She could see it meant a lot to him that she was still saying the word out loud, but it felt hollow to her. “You just didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth.”

“You were my little girl. I didn’t want to confuse you. All you needed to know was that we were a family - you, me, your mom and Aunt Josie. That’s all that mattered. That’s all that should matter now, don’t you see that?”

“Did you think I wouldn’t love you as much as you love me if I knew?”

“A child can never love a parent as much as a parent loves a child,” Robbie quoted. “I was scared that you wouldn’t feel obliged to love me at all if you knew you weren’t stuck with me as your dad.”

Ella thought that he might have been joking, but it wasn’t funny.

“Obliged?” she repeated. “Stuck with you? Dad, you’re the most important person in my life. I’ve always been closer to you than to Mom. I am your little girl. And it hurts that you’d think I don’t know that. It hurts that you’d think I’d be so shallow.”

“I never meant it like that.”

“I know you didn’t mean it, but that’s what you’re saying - you can love me but I can’t love you, because I’m just a kid and I’d care too much about stupid biology. Well I do care. I care that you didn’t trust me, because now I don’t know if I can ever trust you the way I used to.” Robbie nodded as if he’d been expecting that. “It’s not because of blood, Dad, it’s because you lied to me.” She meant it when she called him Dad this time.

Robbie understood why she was upset, and this was the reason he had put off telling her for so long. He couldn’t bear to see her like this, and he couldn’t stand that it was his fault.

“I’m sorry, Ella. I don’t know what I can do to make it up to you.”

“You can stop lying.”

Robbie was confused. “El, I’m not lying to you.”

“Not to me, to Archie.”

Robbie sighed and put his head in his hand. “Ella…”

“He has a right to know.”

“No, he doesn’t. It’s our business, not his.”

“His parents know, don’t they?”

“Yes, but -”

“And I know now too, so it’s not fair for Archie to be the only one left out.”

“Left out? Ella, this isn’t some juicy schoolyard gossip, this is your mother’s life you’re talking about, a very traumatic part of it. She has a right not to let people know what happened to her. Kit’s my sister and Kim is our best friend - they were there with us when all this stuff was happening - but the truth is we don’t know Archie that well, and you didn’t know him at all until yesterday.”

“Well maybe I want to know him,” said Ella. “It’s my life too, and I don’t want to have to lie to my own cousin about it. I don’t have to tell him what Jonah did to Mom, just that we’re not related.”

“What will you tell him when he starts asking questions?”

Ella hadn’t thought that far.

“El, this is the whole point. If you tell him that I’m not your father, then he’s going to want to know why. Your mom and I were already married in our own way when Jonah… did what he did… so anything you say is just going to make her look bad, and nobody wants that, especially when we know the truth.”

“Then why can’t I tell him the truth? He’s family, Dad. It’s not gossiping. He deserves to know.”

“Why? Why is it so important to you that he knows you’re not related?”

“I don’t know, it just is.”

“That’s not good enough, El. If you’re this serious about wanting to tell him then there must be a reason.” Robbie got the distinct feeling that there was something his daughter wasn’t telling him. “Ella, did something happen between you and Archie?”

“We didn’t sleep together,” she was quick to reiterate.

“That’s not what I asked.”

She turned away from the screen to avoid his eyes. There was something about the way she sighed that reminded him so much of Tasha.

“We kissed.”

Robbie groaned and put his head in his hand.

“It happened yesterday, before we knew.”

“So you remember that part?” he asked, and she nodded sheepishly. “Well…” he didn’t want to ask, but he had to know what he was dealing with, “what kind of kiss was it? Was it just a quick peck, or…?”

“It wasn’t quick,” she muttered. “It was… deep.”

“Did he touch you?”


“Ella! I think I know why you’re telling me this and I need to know how far it’s gone!”

Ella thought about hanging up - it would be so much easier - but she pressed on. “I don’t really remember,” she confessed, looking everywhere but at his face, “I guess he did, a bit.”

“Do you like him?”

She stared out the window, refusing to answer. That was good enough for Robbie. He sighed.

“El, you know you can’t take this any further. You said it yourself, he’s your cousin, he’s family. Blood relatives or not, it’s wrong.”

“I know.”

“Telling him the truth won’t change that. If anything, it might make him want to pursue you, which is not going to happen.”

“I know.”

“Ella, look at me.” She glared at him. “You know this can’t happen, so don’t even go there, okay? Just forget anything ever happened, and enjoy the rest of your holiday, away from Archie.”


“Ella, I’m serious. This isn’t one of those situations where I forbid you to see a boy and then you see him anyway. Archie is your cousin.

“I know, you said that already.”

“Go find some other nice Australian boy to make out with if you have to -”


“- but remember what I said about that convent, okay?”

“Yes, Dad.” She rolled her eyes.

“Good. Now stop thinking about how messed up your family is and go have some good, clean fun in Summer Bay.”


She looked so sour, like she was seven years old and he’d just told her to go to bed. Robbie smiled. “I love you El.”

“I love you too Dad.”

Ella spent the next few days in Sydney, doing the tourist thing and avoiding Archie. Her dad was right, she knew he was right, but she couldn’t help feeling that it was unfair. Not just that Archie was being kept in the dark, but that she couldn’t have the chance to get to know him as well as she’d like to.

She visited all the landmarks that she’d seen in the guide book, and was dutifully impressed by them all, but it wasn’t the same for her as it was for the other people who were pointing things out to their friends and looking so happy to be experiencing it all with their families. Ella was alone.

She soon found herself back at Noah’s bar, staring through the bent old man at the sink and waiting patiently for him to turn and see her.

“Ella,” Alf Stewart finally said, “how long have you been sitting there?”

“Not long,” she lied airily.

“Well what can I get you?”

“Same as the other day,” she said. “Just an OJ.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to charge you this time, Love,” he said. “Mrs Hyde got a bit snarky about that last drink I gave you. I honestly didn’t think she’d mind, especially now that she knows you’re family. But she said she can’t afford to have me giving away her profits…”

“It’s fine, Mr Stewart. I’m sorry I got you into trouble.”

Alf made a dismissive gesture and poured her a drink.

“Mr Stewart,” Ella began, “have you lived in Summer Bay a long time?”

“All my life,” he answered proudly. “I’ve traveled a bit from time to time, but there’s no place I’d rather be than right here.”

Ella smiled. “You would have known my parents then.”

“Young Robbie and Tasha,” Alf beamed, almost as proud of them as he was of the Bay. “Wonderful kids, the pair of ‘em.”

“You liked them better than Archie’s parents?” She remembered that Alf had said he didn’t trust them very much.

“Oh I wouldn’t put it like that, Love,” Alf said diplomatically. “Kim and Kit have always been a bit of a handful, that’s all. Even now you never quite know what to expect from them. But your mum and dad,” he smiled at her, “they were good honest kids, just like you I bet. Not a peep of trouble from either of them in four years. Well, your dad was a bit of a galah sometimes, but he always had everyone’s best interest at heart.”

The juice wasn’t sitting right in Ella’s stomach; it felt cold all the way down. “What about the Believers?” she asked boldly. “Did you know anything about them?”

Alf cast a wary and partially-obscured eye over her. “You’d do better to speak to your folks about that, I reckon.”

“I already have.”

Alf drew a slow, shallow breath. “I see.”

“Do you know anything about Jonah?”

“I know that he changed his name to Michael when he got out of prison. Michael Abrahams.”

Ella’s stomach lurched. It had been almost twenty years. Did she really expect him to still be behind bars?

“How long ago was that?”

“Not long after your parents left. He came back here looking for work. Got a job on the Campbell’s farm and really started turning his life around.”

He shouldn’t have had that luxury, Ella thought.

“He even dated my granddaughter for a time,” Alf reminisced. “Martha. She’d probably be a good one to talk to, but she left the Bay years ago.” He seemed sad about that. “I could give her your number if you’d like?”

Ella didn’t like to think what might have driven Martha away, and she didn’t feel like pestering her about it. She shook her head and held up a hand to say that it was okay.

“Is Michael still here?” Ella asked.

“Well he was gone for a long time after he left Martha. But when young Reverend Campbell bought his family’s farm back from the bank a few years ago, he tracked Michael down and asked him to come help run the joint.”

“So he is still here then?”

Alf still looked wary. “Love, is it really that important?” He could see this girl dragging up a lot of old history that might be better left buried.

“It is to me. Can you give me his address, please?”

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Standing on the rustic porch, preparing to knock on the screen door, Ella had second thoughts. If she hadn’t just blown a huge chunk of her spending money on a cab to get out here, and if the driver wasn’t staring at her and undoubtedly enjoying the profitable sound of the meter ticking, she might have turned back. As it was, she steeled her resolve and knocked.

A feisty border collie dog came pelting at the door, barking and jumping up on the screen for her to state her business or die trying. A minute later, a tall blonde man dressed all in black, except for a priests’ dog-collar (the actual dog wasn’t wearing a collar of any sort), answered the door.

“Get down!” he ordered the dog, “Annie! Down!” But Annie rushed passed him to sniff at Ella’s knees and then returned to her owner, nuzzling him excitedly to tell him what she’d learned about the stranger. “I’m sorry,” the Reverend said to the young woman as he tried to calm the dog with a scratch behind the ear, “I shouldn’t have named her after my sister. She never listens to a word I say.”

His joke didn’t put her at ease. Being raised by such open-minded, spiritual people, Ella tended to feel nervous around those who devoted themselves so strongly to any one denomination. (Particularly when they had an excitable dog that was just looking for an excuse to bite someone). She couldn’t imagine a sane person letting their own relationship with God be so strictly controlled by the words of others.

“Can I help you?” asked Reverend Campbell.

“I think so,” Ella answered, keeping a wary eye on the dog. “I’m looking for Jonah.”

“You mean Michael?” he corrected her.

“Yeah. Is he here?”

“He’s working in the stables. Can I ask what this is about?” Her use of Michael’s former name had clearly gotten the conversation off on the wrong foot. She wasn’t the first curious neighbour who had come to spread gossip about his farmhand. Annie whined at her.

“It’s personal,” Ella answered honestly.

The Reverend looked down on her with suspicion, then retreated into the house. “Come in,” he told her.

“I can’t stay,” she answered, looking back at the cab. “I can’t afford to.”

Reverend Campbell walked back onto the verandah and looked out to the driveway. “Have you paid him for driving you out here?”


He sighed and went back into the house. Annie stayed to keep an eye on Ella. A moment later the man returned with his wallet and left Ella standing on the porch as he went and paid her fare. Annie rushed after him, and Ella watched as the driver nodded his thanks to the clergyman and pulled the car away.

Ella’s heart stopped as the car’s back wheels kicked up dust and sped away down the isolated country road. The collie tore off chasing after the car as if she were a racing greyhound. When it was too far gone, she trotted back, panting, to her owner.

“You’ve got old Scruff’s chase instinct, don’t you?” the Reverend said, roughing up the dog’s monochrome mane.

Ella suddenly found herself stranded in the Australian Outback (or it might as well have been as far as an American girl from the city was concerned) with a man who she knew to be her mother’s rapist, a priest who had just shoed away her only means of escape, and a dog who still looked like it could turn. This was bad. This was very, very bad.

She stood frozen on the porch as the Reverend and his salivating collie returned. Ella thought she might run, but there was nowhere to go, and that dog had already tried to take down a car…

Her mother had taught her the importance of self-defense (with damn good reason, she now realized.) She ran through all the moves in her mind, preparing to break out everything she’d learned - ‘Go for the groin!!’ her inner monologue screamed - but she didn’t move an inch. Besides, how was she meant to deal with Annie? She stood perfectly still, possibly hoping that man and beast would forget she was even there and walk straight past her if she didn’t do anything to draw attention to herself.

“I’ll drive you back into town after you’ve seen Michael,” he told her, foiling her plan. “Come in.”

“I’d rather not,” said Ella wisely. The dog was staring at her.

The Reverend smiled. “It’s okay, she doesn’t bite. Neither do I.”

Far from easing her mind, Ella now worried that he was in fact trying to suppress the urge to bite her right then and there. “I’d still rather not,” she told him.

He nodded. “Okay. Wait here then. I’ll go get Michael for you. What did you say your name was?”

“Ella,” she answered him. “Ella Hunter.”

The Reverend paused to consider her more carefully. “Tasha’s daughter?”

Ella nodded. Maybe Jonah - Michael - had told him.

Annie whined again.

Suddenly her owner didn’t seem so defensive anymore. His eyes looked on Ella kindly, and she almost thought he felt sorry for her. “Wait here,” he repeated.

He went back into the house. Ella expected Annie to go with him, but the border collie simply made a depressed sort of noise for her master leaving, and laid down next to Ella’s feet.

Ella heard a second screen door opening and closing on the back end of the house. She noticed a wrought-iron bench to her right (Annie was to her left), it’s paint chipped and faded down to expose the underlying rust. She wasn’t convinced that it was safe to sit on, but her legs were struggling to keep her standing.

She sat down carefully, took a deep breath, and waited for the two men to return.

Annie didn’t seem interested in her at all now that the Reverend was no longer there to impress. They both stared out at the road. How far would Ella make it if she tried to walk away right now, and if Annie didn’t care to stop her? Did she even remember the way back to the bay?

Then, as if God himself was answering a prayer to protect her from his own devotee, Ella saw a car driving up the road towards her. Annie lifted her head and swept her tail across the wooden floor boards.

Was it the cab driver? Maybe the Reverend had short-changed him? If that was the case, would Ella get in the car and go, or would she just make up the difference and send him back on his way?

That decision never had to be made. As the car drew closer, Annie stood up and barked excitedly, and Ella saw that it wasn’t the cab. It was a beat-up and dusty looking green thing that could have only been purchased on a poor priest’s salary. The driver almost looked like the man she had met already, and as he drove the car into the carport beside the house - Annie rushing down the steps to meet him - she wondered if he might have been the Reverend’s brother.

The car disappeared from her sight, and a second later she heard the door open and close. More barking, and a response between annoyance and amusement. Whoever this new person was, he was walking towards her and staring at her suspiciously as he climbed the steps with Annie in tow.

“Who are you?” he asked rudely.

“Ella Hunter,” she answered, not wanting to get him offside too.

“Who are you when you’re at home?”

Ella stayed silent. She didn’t understand the question; she’d already told him her name.

The blonde man rolled his eyes and pressed on. “Are you here to see Geoff?”

“Who’s Geoff?”

“Reverend Campbell.”

“Oh. No, I’m here for Jo-” she caught herself. “Michael.”

“Joe Michael?” he repeated smartly. “No one here by that name, Sweetheart.” It wasn’t a term of endearment, the way her father used it, this was a patronizing put down.

Ella took an instant disliking to this man.

“Reverend Campbell’s gone to get him for me,” she informed him. “He told me to wait here.”

“Whatever.” He proceeded to call Annie into the house and closed the screen door behind him.

Ella couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard an adult say ‘whatever.’

She heard the back door go again, and then the new man calling out for, “Geoffrey!”

Ella stood up and peered through the front screen, trying to see into the house. Annie jumped up at her again, but this time she looked happy, her shoulders shaking with the wag of her tail.

“It’d be easier to see in if you opened the door,” the blonde man told Ella from inside the house. He could obviously see her better than she could see him.

Ella huffed and opened the door. Annie seemed alright now, and she wasn’t afraid of this guy at all. No one this arrogant could possibly have anything on their mind but themselves. She walked into the house and waited for her eyes to adjust, taking care not to let Annie trip her in her excitement. The dog barked once - a shrill and sharp noise - but Ella saw now, as her tail was still wagging, that this was just a plea for attention.

She scratched the dog behind the ear and took a look around.

There were photos on the wall. A young woman with long brown hair and a mischievous smile - the original Annie, Ella guessed - and an old man standing in front of a flock of sheep. There were photos of the blonde man and the reverend together. In the largest one, they were both dressed in suits, the blonde man in white and the reverend in black, as Ella felt he must always be. He wasn’t wearing the collar in the photo though. It almost looked like they had just been married.

“See anything you like?” the blonde man asked. Ella glanced down at his hand - sure enough, there was a gold ring on his finger.

“I…” Ella said, trying not to sound surprised. “I didn’t think priests could get married.”

“Good thing Geoff’s a reverend then.” He stalked around her, deliberately making her feel uncomfortable, and then sat down at the kitchen table. “You’re American aren’t you?”


“Hm. They legalized same-sex marriage over there yet?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “But I don’t make the laws.”

“Ten years here,” he announced smugly. “Although it took another three to find a church that would accept Geoff for who he is. Funny how this town can be open-minded when it wants to be. They weren’t so understanding when we first got together.”

“Have you been together long?” she asked politely.

“Fifteen years,” he said, again, smugly. “What about you?” he asked. “What’s your story? What brings you to our humble little home?”

Ella tried not to laugh at the word ‘humble’ passing his lips.

“Michael knew my parents,” Ella said carefully. “I just wanted to meet him.”

“Well,” he said, “isn’t that nice? I’m Aden, by the way.”

He offered her his hand, and she walked over to shake it. As soon as she extended hers, he moved his away. “Psych!”

“What are you, twelve!?”

Annie barked at her for raising her voice to him.

Aden laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said, calling Annie over to him to calm her down. “We don’t get many teenagers around here and the ones we do get are religious freaks. You seem fun, that’s all.”

“You’re married to a priest - sorry, a reverend - but you don’t like religious people?”

“Geoff believes in God,” Aden stated the obvious, “and so do I. Now. But that doesn’t mean I have to like everyone who still blesses themselves in fear every time they see me holding hands with my husband. It’s okay to be gay in this country, as long as you don’t ‘flaunt it.’ Geoff wants to help people by teaching them how to love and respect each other, as well as God. That’s fine by me. But I keep him in line. I make sure he doesn’t take his parishioners back to the Dark Ages of thinking they’re better than everyone else for believing in different things. And when you’ve got these little groupies running around him making him think that the sun shines out of him for reading words off a page, then I don’t like that. It’s too easy for him to forget who he really is, and to become what they want him to be - a shining beacon of light unto us all. If he was so perfect, I wouldn’t stand living with him.”

“You’re a very cynical person, aren’t you?”

“Sometimes life gives you lemons,” Aden said philosophically, “so why not use them to squirt citric acid into a few choice faces?”

The back door opened and Ella breathed a secret sigh of relief… until she saw him.

“Michael,” Geoff introduced them, “this is Ella. Ella, Michael.”

Ella wondered why Annie wasn’t barking. She thought that animals were supposed to be able to sense evil.

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Michael ventured to say, “Hi.”

Ella didn’t respond.

“Well,” said Aden, “that was worth the trip.”

“Shut up, Aden,” his husband scolded him.

Aden glared at Geoff and stood up from the table. “Sorry!” he said dramatically. “I know when I’m not wanted!” He patted his leg for Annie to follow him, even though he wasn’t quite sure where he was going yet.

“Come on,” Geoff rolled his eyes, grabbing Aden by the wrist, “I’ve got a job for you to do in the stable.”

“Geoffrey!” Aden feigned embarrassment and bent down to cover Annie’s ears. “Not in front of the kids!”

Geoff realized Aden’s childish innuendo. “You know I’m going to have to pray for you now, don’t you?”

“I like to keep you busy,” Aden said playfully, taking Geoff by the waist. He kissed him, but Geoff broke away, knowing that this wasn’t the time or place for romance. Besides, Annie was jumping up on them. She wanted to join in with the hugging.

“We’ll leave you to it,” Geoff told Ella and Michael as he lead Aden and Annie out of the kitchen. “Ella,” he added, “I’ll only be out the back, and we won’t be doing anything important.” He made a point of saying that to Aden, who came over very sulky. “You come and get me when you want a lift home, okay?”

Ella nodded. The reverend really was on her side, then.

But now, as he and his irritating husband left and Michael offered her a seat at the table, she realized that she was on her own again.

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They sat silently, each waiting for the other to say something because they couldn’t think of anything to say themselves. It was more awkward than being alone with Archie.

“How are you?” Michael eventually asked - the same standby that Ella herself had used on her parents. She laughed at herself; she’d already picked up something from him before they’d even met. Michael wasn’t expecting that reaction.

“I can’t believe you’d ask me that,” Ella continued to laugh, thinking it silly. “I just found out that my father isn’t my father, and that my real father is actually a rapist from Australia who I’d never even heard of, let alone met. How do you think I am?”

Michael hung his head. “I’m sorry, Ella. If I could take it back -”

“But you can’t, can you?” She wasn’t laughing now. “You ruined my mother’s life. You ruined my father’s life. You…” She wondered how his eyes could be so dark; almost as dark as hers. “You’ve made me wonder if I should even have a life at all.”

“Of course you should,” Michael said sincerely. “Your parents love you.”

“Don’t talk about them!”

“Then what do you want to talk about?” Michael asked calmly.

Ella’s previous bout of laughter had left her with a few tears in her eyes. She wiped them away now before Michael could know that the meaning behind them had changed.

“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I don’t know why I came here. I just thought I ought to meet the man responsible for my existence.”

“I think you might want to talk to Robbie about that,” he said gently. “I heard that, early on in the pregnancy, Tasha was thinking about having you aborted.”

Ella shivered. She hadn’t thought of that at all, especially with her mother being so adamant about the right to life now. But really, it made sense that she must have considered it.

“It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t yours either. It was mine. Tasha just couldn’t deal with what had happened.” He rephrased. “What I’d done to her. But Robbie helped her to see past that, and to see that you were worth fighting for, in spite of what I’d done. He’s the reason you’re alive, Ella, not me.”

Ella didn’t say anything. Part of her acknowledged that Michael had done her a great service by telling her this, and reaffirming her love and trust in Robbie as her rightful father, but she couldn’t bring herself to be thankful to this man for anything.

“There’s something else you should know,” he said cautiously. “Ella… I’m not really your father.”

“What?” She stared at him in shock. “But you just said -”

“I said that it was my fault that Tasha got pregnant, and it was. I’m the one who gave her the drugs that knocked her out, and I did…” He hesitated. “I did… rape her… but I’m not the one who impregnated her.”

Ella still stared, not believing or understanding how what he said could be possible.

“After I went to jail, and started having therapy to reverse what my mother had done to me - what she’d done to all of us - do you know about the Believers?”

“I know,” she confirmed.

“Mama Rose brainwashed us. She made us all think that Tasha had to fall pregnant with you. She made me think that I had to be the one who fathered the child… but it was all lies. She knew from the beginning that I couldn’t do it. When I was a little boy, I got sick. It left me infertile as an adult. So I could never have been your father Ella, and she knew that, but I didn’t. She knew how much I cared about Tasha, but she still made me hurt her and let me think you were mine, just so it would look like you were her grandchild. She must have sent someone in after me to finish the job.”

“Who?” Ella asked coldly.

“I don’t know,” said Michael truthfully. “I’m sorry, but it could have been anyone. When I found out Tasha was pregnant, I really thought you were mine. And I wish you had been, Ella. I loved your mother. If I could have had a daughter like you with her any other way…”

“If you loved her, you wouldn’t have done it.”

“It wasn’t that simple.”


“Mama Rose was threatening to kill Robbie. She’d actually tried to drown him already, so I knew she was serious. She might have killed me and Tasha as well if I didn’t do as she said. She was a dangerous woman, Ella. I couldn’t afford to go against her. I couldn’t. After I found out I was infertile, I wanted so much to believe that the memories I had of that night were false, that Mama Rose had somehow brainwashed me into believing that part too. But they were too real, too vivid. No matter how much I tried to deny them, the memories came back. I know exactly what it is I’ve done, Ella, and I wish I knew how to ask you to forgive me.”

Ella tried to let it all sink in. She looked around the room, at the family photos on the wall. Geoffrey and Aden - they looked like such normal people.

“Do they know what you’ve done?”

Michael followed her eyes to the wedding photo. “Yes,” he said. “Aden didn’t like having me here at first, but we worked it out.”

“I suppose the Reverend’s forgiven your sins?”

Michael nodded despairingly. “He might have, and God might have too, but I haven’t. I remember it every day, Ella. What I did Tasha. What I caused. I suffer for it, and I don’t want to let go of that because I know I have no right to. I didn’t give your parents that option, and I haven’t given it to you either. I know that, and I truly am sorry. But I’ll be carrying this around with me until the day I die.”

Ella stared deeply into his dark brown eyes and knew he was sincere. He was older than her parents, and it showed in the worried lines of his face. But his hair was still dark, and almost as long hers; she knew it would have fallen just past his shoulders if he hadn’t tied it back for farm work.

The similarities to her own features were just a coincidence. Or maybe Mama Rose had planned it that way. Ella would never meet the nameless pawn who really shared her genetic traits. Her mother’s other rapist, the one Michael had left her defenseless for, and apparently never bothered to mention. Eighteen years on and with no real information, it wouldn’t do any good to tell her now.

Michael had a pleading look in his eyes, as if he expected Ella to say something reassuring - that she forgave him, that she understood.

Ella looked back to the photo on the mantle. It was so good of Geoff and Aden to give Michael his life back. A life full of misery and regret, and her family’s pain haunting him forever.

“Good,” she said, satisfied, and then stood up from the table to go find Geoff.

The weather turned again. There’d been a good run of sunshine throughout the last few days of her first week in Australia, but now the second week had started with a thunderstorm, and Ella had been caught daydreaming on the sand.

At least she wasn’t alone. The clouds had rolled in so quickly that dozens of tourists and local kids surfing after school had been forced to flee for shelter. Ella retreated to the overhang of the surf club, but didn’t go inside. She ignored the shirtless boys as they carried their boards past her and gave her fleeting leers of interest. They looked nice enough, but then Ella remembered that Jonah must have looked nice to her mother once too.

‘You’d be surprised what nice guys are capable of,’ she heard Dr Armstrong say.

She crossed her arms over her chest and shivered, thankful of her decision to dress for a chance of rain. She bet that it was warm in the surf club, but it wasn’t worth the risk of running into her aunt or uncle who worked there, and God help her if she ran into Archie - she didn’t know what she’d say. She was just as likely to blurt out a confession to everything and demand that they both give into their urges - because what did it matter now anyway? - as she was to relieve him of his manhood in case he tried to touch her.

She was very confused.

“Hey.” Archie approached her, and Ella felt certain that it was a good thing she wasn’t holding anything sharp. “I haven’t seen you in a while. I was starting to think that you’d got your travel plans mixed up.”

“No,” said Ella obviously, “I’m still here.”

“So I see. Do you want to go inside and get something to drink?”

“It’s talk like that that got me into this whole mess in the first place.”

Archie sighed. “Well, I’m going in, and you’re welcome to join me if you want.”

Ella crossed her arms tightly, stubborn and cold. Archie shrugged and walked on. Ella grudgingly followed.

They sat at the bar. Ella eyed the vodka on the shelf with equal parts intrigue and revulsion. She wasn’t interested in getting blind and sick, but she did remember a warm and pleasant numbness before that part. Alf wasn’t working, and neither, thank God, was Kit. Instead some girl that Archie hardly knew was working the bar and asking what they’d like to drink. Ella took out her phone and glanced longingly at the time - 4.29PM. It wasn’t worth the wait.

“OJ,” she ordered robotically.

“Again?” Archie teased her. “Come on, live a little. She’ll have a mango and pineapple juice, thanks Chrissie. Same for me.”

Chrissie got to work mixing a drink that Ella didn’t order, and Ella couldn’t help noticing how Archie’s hair colour was strikingly similar to Aden’s. Was this a blonde thing? Arrogance for males, stupidity for females? Then she remembered that her mother was blonde, and felt truly awful for mocking her naivety.

“Why the long face?” Archie inquired.

“You don’t wanna know.”

“Sure I do. We’re in a bar. This is the place to pour out your deepest darkest secrets to people you barely know. Even if it is only over juice. Besides, I’m your cousin. If you can’t talk to me, who can you talk to?”

She gave him a pensive look, ignoring the unwanted juice as Chrissie set it down.

“Archie,” she said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

“Not here.”

Archie tried to work out what her problem was, and guessed that it must have been pretty serious if it required a change of location. “Sure,” he said. “Chrissie, can we get these to go?”

They were walking in the rain again and sipping on juice. The irony was not lost on either of them.

“Archie,” she said seriously, “if I tell you something personal about my family, do you promise not to say anything to anyone?”

“I thought I was your family?” It worried him that Ella didn’t smile.

She stopped, not caring that the rain was beginning to soak through to her skin. “That’s just it. You’re not.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My father,” she said guiltily, “is not my father.”

“Is this a riddle?”

“He and my mom were separated for a while before I was born,” Ella confessed. “Mom was living with a friend of hers… a male friend… and he…” She didn’t want to be dishonest, but Archie really didn’t need to know the whole truth. “They got drunk one night,” she lied, “just like we did. Except that they did sleep together, and Mom did end up getting pregnant. But it was a mistake, and she never stopped loving my dad, and he never stopped loving her, and they got married knowing that I wasn’t really his, and they never told me any of this because they just wanted me to grow up thinking that we were a normal family, which we were, but they told me everything just a few days ago when I…”

It must have been something huge if it could pull her up mid-rant like that.

“When you what?” Archie asked.

“When I told them that…” She sighed at her own stubbornness. She might as well tell him too. “ I like you.”

Archie seemed to be struggling to settle on an emotion - somewhere between bewildered and exhilarated might have covered it.

“You what?”

“I like you, okay? And I know it’s wrong, because you’re still my cousin even if we’re not really related, and I -”

Archie kissed her. Ella still tried to mumble her words through his lips for a second, before his tongue caught hers and silenced her completely.

He broke away and looked into her eyes.

“What was that for?” she asked breathlessly.

“Because,” Archie grinned, “I like you too.” He kissed her again, but then suddenly broke away. “Wait a minute. This ‘male friend.’ It wasn’t my dad, was it?” That man had slept with just about everyone else in the family, so why not Aunt Tasha too?

Ella laughed nervously. “No.”

“Good,” Archie kissed her again, “‘Cause that would have been gross.”

He felt her settle into his arms, neither of them caring for the rain or the wind or the cold, because they found all the warmth they needed within the closeness of each other’s body.

“I’m really glad you came here,” said Archie, resting his head on her shoulder.

“Me too,” said Ella, and she meant it. It had been the worst week of her life, but at least now she knew the truth of who she was: she was Robbie Hunter’s and Tasha Andrew’s daughter, and she was all the stronger for having confirmed it. They wouldn’t approve of her being with Archie, but this blissfully uncomplicated moment with him was starting to make her forget about that.

“Archie,” she remembered, “we can’t tell anyone about this. There’d be too many questions.”

It was a stroke of luck that the rain would obscure their faces from anyone foolish enough to be out spying on this outdoor PDA.

“Okay,” Archie agreed. He understood that her mother’s reputation might be damaged if people learned they weren’t cousins, and their own would be ruined if people saw them kissing, still thinking they were. It wouldn’t be too hard to keep quiet. What more could they have together than a than a week anyway?

“I really like you Ella,” he assured her again, “but since we’re laying down ground rules, will you do me one favour?”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t call me Archie.”

She grinned and kissed him on the cheek.

“Okay, Bow. What do you say we go back to my hotel room and get out of these wet clothes?”

Bow nodded - he would like that very much.

His parents wouldn’t approve of this at all, and neither would Ella’s, but the two teenagers didn’t really mind. They weren’t blood, and it wasn't like they grew up together. And anyway, Ella thought, she shouldn’t be worrying about following any rules that she didn’t want to. She was on holiday.

At the end of the week, the old railing at the top of the beach had a new message carved into it: ‘EH 4 BH - 1 WK IN ‘24.’



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