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You'll Never Be Alone

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Hi everyone, Happy New Year!!!!

Chapter 11

It was now Christmas Eve and Matilda was standing in her room with outfits all over the place. She was trying to pack to go to Ric’s house but she couldn’t decide what to wear on Christmas Day. She wanted to look drop dead gorgeous but not look as if she’d made too much effort. She finally decided on a halter neck dress that she had brought in Yabbie Creek not long ago. She finally finished packing and then got to the task of wrapping gifts. She hated wrapping and always struggled to make the presents look nice. She had been putting it off but now it had to be done. Finally she went to the Diner to meet Ric for lunch.

“Hey Mattie,” Ric greeted her and then kissed her.

“You know what I hate about Christmas, wrapping presents. What’s the point when it’s going to be ripped off and put in the bin 30 seconds after you give it to the person.”

“So, I guess I know what you’ve been doing this morning,” smiled Ric.

“Yep, and usually I can persuade my mum to do it but she can’t when she’s the other side of the world. They called yesterday and said that they had snow and that it would be a white Christmas. I would love to see snow.”

“Well I’ll take you one day. Where do you want to go? France, England or maybe Iceland.”

“How about all three?” Matilda replied cheekily.

“Okay then it’s settled. In a few years time I’ll take you to France, England and Iceland.”

“Yeah right, like that’s going to happen.”

“Of course it will, anything for my girl,” and he pulled her into a hug.

Matilda went to the counter to order their food and found Irene rushed off her feet.

“Great day for her to call in sick the little madam. She knew we would be really busy, Irene muttered.

“Who’s sick?” asked Matilda

“Belle. She comes back from the US and wants to suddenly forget about what has happened in the past between us. She wants me to forget about what she said to me. Then she asks if she can move in and work here. I should have known better. She’s always off sick or has an ‘appointment’ somewhere.”

“You know, I was with her the other day and she didn’t look right, then she suddenly got all out of breath,” said Matilda remembering the shopping trip in Yabbie Creek.

“Anyway, what can I get you?”

“Umm I’ll have a jacket potato with cheese and Ric will have a hamburger thanks.”

Matilda and Ric finished their lunch and arranged a time for Matilda to come round later that evening.

“Hey, Irene, I have nothing planned for this afternoon, so I was wondering if you would like me to help out. I can’t really cook but I can be a waitress,” said Matilda, once Ric had left to go back to the garage.

“That would be absolutely wonderful dahl but it’s Christmas Eve, don’t you have better things to do?”

“Honestly, I don’t mind.”

Matilda spent the afternoon helping Irene and Leah in the Diner. She had a good time and a laugh. Truth was that it was either this or sit in an empty house waiting for it to be time to go to Sally’s. She was getting to the point where she hated to be in the house. It made her feel so alone. She could hear every creek in the floorboards. When she was younger the house was filled with noise. There was her, Beth, Robbie, Kit and Scott. Then Scott moved out, Kit went to the city for a while and Robbie moved in with Tasha. But then it was full with noise again when Lucas and Tony moved in and Kit moved back. But now it was just her.

She finished at the Diner at 6 and walked home to get her things to take to the Caravan Park. She put the key in the door and opened it. Then her mouth dropped open when she looked inside.

“What ... what is going on?”

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Chapter 12

“What ... what is going on?”

Matilda had opened the door and was greeted by a room full of candles, rose petals and romantic music playing. She would have been over the moon if it was not for the person in a suit standing on the other side of the room.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Lucas.

“What are you doing home and why are you doing this?” asked a shocked Matilda.

“Well I thought I’d surprise you by coming home. It’s been planned for ages and I wanted to surprise you so didn’t tell you. I pretended that I had to stay at Uni.”

“Well I’m certainly surprised,” said Matilda who tentatively moved further into the room. “Why did you set up all the candles and rose petals?”

“Because ... because I want us to get back together. I never really got over you. I know we decided to go our separate ways but I think it was a mistake.”

“Lucas, we can’t get back together.”

“Why? I know this is a surprise for you, but at least think about it. I think we can make it work this time.”

“Lucas stop it. We can’t get back together!” shouted Matilda. “It wouldn’t work and we can’t!”

“But why? Just think about it,” said Lucas.

“Because ... because I’m with someone else.” She hadn’t told Lucas about her and Ric. She didn’t know how to tell him and she hadn’t actually talked to him. She had to keep leaving messages and didn’t want him to find out this way.

“What? Who? Since when?”

“Umm ... well Ric actually. And we got together after I got back from Uni. I wanted to tell you but I kept getting your answering machine.”

“RIC! You’re with Ric,” yelled Lucas.

“Well yes.”

“But he’s not good enough for you. I mean he dropped out of school and is now what, a mechanic or something. I can give you everything, I’m going to be the youngest successful lawyer in the country. What can he give you?”

“Lucas stop it! It’s none of your business who I go out with and for your information Ric can give me everything I want. And he’s not just a mechanic, he has his own garage that is doing really well. I really like him and we’re good together. He knows everything about me and I feel safe around him.”

“Fine, if that’s what you really want but I still don’t think he’s good enough for you.”

“But it’s not what you think that matters it’s what I think!” said Matilda. “Can we just drop this subject. I have to go anyway.”

“Where are you going?” asked Lucas

“I’m spending the night at Ric, Sally and Pippa’s.”


“Because, in case you hadn’t noticed I’ve been here on my own for the past month in this massive house. They invited me so that I wouldn’t be alone on Christmas morning. Then tomorrow afternoon I’m going round to see your brother. By the way I heard you haven’t even seen or asked about baby Katie! She’s your niece and you don’t even care.”

“Why should I, she’s just a baby, a thing that lies there and cries all the time.”

“What has happened to you? You’ve got a serious attitude problem. Now if you excuse me I’ve got to take all this stuff round to the Caravan Park.” She pointed at a huge pile of stuff.

“Who are all those presents for?” asked Lucas, looking at the massive pile.

“Those are for Ric, Sally and Pippa,” she pointed at some of them. “And those are for Jack, Martha and Katie,” she pointed at the rest.

“You’ve brought a lot of presents for people.”

“Well it is Christmas you know.”

“Why have you brought so much for Sally and Pippa?”

“Why shouldn’t I? They have been great to me since I got back. Pippa is the cutest girl and like a sister to me. Sally has been great, helping me figure out me future and being there for me.”

“Who cares, they aren’t family.”

“Jack, Martha and Katie practically are. By the way, another reason we can’t get together, even if I wasn’t with Ric, we are practically brother and sister. Sally has been like a mum to me and Pippa like a sister. In case you hadn’t noticed my mum and your dad are the other side of the world and so I’ve had no one.”

“Do you love him, Ric, do you love him?” asked Lucas suddenly, he had to know.

“ ... yes, I do.”

Ric walks through the open door.

“I love you too” he says, looking shocked.

“Ric, I didn’t see you there,” said Matilda, she was extremely surprised to see him but happy at the same time.

“I’ve been here for quite a while but didn’t want to interrupt. Did you mean what you said about loving me?”

“Yes Ric, I did. I love you!” She ran over and gave him a massive kiss.

“That is the best present I could have asked for this Christmas.”

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Chapter 13

“Right, we’d better get to your house,” said Matilda. She wanted to get away from Lucas as soon as possible.

“Before I forget, Sally got this stuff for you all about what you have to do to become an elementary school teacher,” Ric said as he pulled the papers out of his pocket.

“Thanks! I’ll leave them here and look at them after Christmas. I can’t wait to get started.”

“Wait, hold on a minute. You’re going to be an elementary school teacher!” said Lucas.

“Yeah, why, do you have a problem with that too?” yelled Matilda.

“A teacher, you spend years at University and you’re going to be a teacher. That is such a waste! You can do so much better than that. I can’t believe your going to waste your life.”

“It’s not a waste! It’s what I want to do. In case you’ve forgotten I do have my own mind and I decide what I want to do! You can’t come back here after not seeing me for a year and act as if you know what’s best for me because you can’t! That’s not how it works! It’s my life! Mine! Come on Ric, lets go.” Matilda was getting very angry and couldn’t stand to be in the same room as Lucas. He had changed since being at Uni.

“I suppose this is what happens when you date a loser. You immediately lower your aspirations to fit in.”

“You have crossed a line Lucas!” yelled Ric. “I have just stood outside and listened to you put down everyone I care about, and call me a loser. I love Mattie and she loves me too. Why can’t you just see that and be happy for us. It’s what we both want. Matilda can be whatever she wants to be. If she wanted to run for president I would stand by and support her, if she told me she wanted to work at the Diner for the rest of her life then I would support her. I don’t care what she does as long as she’s happy.” With that both Ric and Matilda grabbed all of her stuff and left. They stopped when they got down the road and looked at each other.

“Thank you for what you said in there. I can’t believe he’s changed so much,” said Matilda.

“So you’re not mad at me for ease dropping?”

“No, I’m glad you did. If you hadn’t then I might not have told you I love you.”

“I love you too.” They stood on the corner of the road kissing for ages.

They walked into the Caravan Park and Sally could tell that something had happened.

“Is everything alright?”

“Well Lucas is back and wanted to get back together and he’s turned into a right arrogant pig. He said some really horrible stuff about me and Ric and it just got me mad that’s all.”

“Lucas is back?” asked Sally shocked.

“Yeah o and he thinks that I’m wasting my life by training to become a teacher. Thanks for the information by the way, I really appreciate it.”

“Sounds like you’ve had an eventful afternoon!” said Sally. “Before I forget, Mr Stewart popped in just before you came back and said that tomorrow evening he’s planning a massive BBQ on the beach for the town. It should be good fun.”

“Yeah we should go to that. We’re going to Martha’s and then we can go after that,” said Matilda. It was this kind of thing that she loved about living in a small town. It was one of the reasons she came back. She loved the community spirit, everyone getting together.

“Okay, cool,” replied Ric.

“Mattie! Mattie, it’s nearly Christmas!” Pippa came running into the room and hugged Matilda. “Are you going to stay at out house tonight because Ric said you are,” she said.

“Yep I sure am. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes! You can play with me and read me a bed time story.”

“Yep. We’re going to have a great Christmas.”

Later on, after Matilda had read Pippa three stories, her and Ric were cuddled together on the sofa watching a film with Sally sat in a chair next to them. Sally looked over at Ric and Matilda and smiled. Since getting together with Matilda, Ric had been the happiest she had ever seen him. He had been through some tough times but Sally was confident that this was the end of it. In her opinion he couldn’t have found anyone better than Matilda.

“I’m going to bed you two okay. Don’t stay up too much longer or you’ll be tired tomorrow, o and stay in your own rooms please,” Sally said.

“Don’t worry, we’re taking things slow,” replied Ric.

Sally left and they heard her go upstairs.

“Ric, we are still taking things slow aren’t we? I mean I know I said I love you and that was a big step but I’m not ready for anything else,” Matilda said, looking worried.

“Babe, of course. I know you love me and I love you but nothing is going to happen until we’re both ready.” Matilda snuggled up to Ric.

A while later they both went up to bed, kissing each other goodnight. Both lay in bed for a while, they had taken their relationship to the next level and both were happy. Slowly they both fell asleep, in their separate rooms, but at about the same time. Tomorrow would be Christmas, and both wanted to know what would be lying under the tree in the morning.

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Chapter 14

Matilda woke the next morning and heard a gentle tapping on the bedroom door.

“Come in,” she called out sleepily. It was Ric carrying a cup of coffee for her. He came in and sat next to her on the bed.

“Merry Christmas,” he said and he put the coffee on the table and then leaned in to kiss Matilda.

“Merry Christmas,” Matilda replied. She looked across at the clock and saw that it was 6 o’clock.

“Sorry about the early time,” said Ric. “Pippa really wants to open her presents and I didn’t think you’d want to miss it.”

Ric left to go downstairs while Matilda got dressed and put some make up on. Then she went downstairs to be greeted by a very hyper Pippa and a tired looking Sally.

“Merry Christmas everyone,” she said as she walked into the room. She sat on the sofa next to Ric who put his arm round her and pulled her close to him.

Within half an hour the room was unrecognisable. You couldn’t see the floor because of all the wrapping paper Pippa had ripped off and chucked. She had opened all of her presents and so had Sally. Ric and Matilda had got together to decide what to get Sally. Matilda had come up with the final idea. Sally was now wearing a locket that, inside, had a picture of herself on one side and Flynn on the other. She was touched at the thought.

“And now I get to give you your present,” said Matilda to Ric. She handed Ric quite a big box. She smiled when he opened the box and found another box. He laughed as well. After he had got through about 5 boxes he found an envelope. Inside was two tickets to a motor show that was taking place in a couple of weeks time about an hour’s drive away.

“I can’t believe you got tickets. These must have cost you a fortune,” Ric said. He really couldn’t believe she would spend that much on him. He loved cars and had wanted to go to this show for years.

“I thought we could make a weekend of it, go down the day before and stay in a hotel. I’ve booked us two separate rooms,” she added, looking at Sally.

“I have the best girlfriend in the world,” and Ric gave Matilda a massive kiss. “And now it’s time for your present.” He handed her a box.

She opened it to find a heart locket. Inside was a picture of her and Ric. Inside another box was a charm bracelet that Matilda had said she liked when they had been shopping in Yabbie Creek.

“I can’t believe you’ve got it for me. I love it Ric,” she said. She kissed him and then got him to help her put them on.

“Every time something significant happens in your life, you can get a new charm. See, it’s got a little book on it which symbolises you graduating Uni.”

They had a relaxing couple of hours watching Pippa play with her toys. Then Matilda and Sally got started on lunch.

“Hey Matilda, thanks for the locket, it was really thoughtful. And I’ve been thinking, with Lucas coming back and saying what he did yesterday, you can stay here for as long as you want.”

“Thanks Sally. That means a lot. You’ve been great to me, your like a second mum.” This really touched Sally.

“I’m going to start crying in a minute,” she said smiling and hugging Matilda. “Ric can you come and deal with the turkey please, I think that’s a job for you.” They enjoyed their meal, everyone sat round talking, joking, pulling crackers and putting on the paper hats. Once everything had been cleared away it was time for Matilda and Ric to go round to Jack and Martha’s.

“Hey there cousin, how’s your Christmas been?” said Martha to Ric when she opened the door.

“It’s been great thanks. Mattie got us tickets to the Motor show and we’re going next week end.”

“That’s great,” replied Martha. “Come in and there might be some presents under the tree for you both.”

Ric, Matilda, Jack and Martha all sat round talking while Katie rolled round on the floor on her new playing mat. Everything was going great until the door rang.

“Lucas, I thought you weren’t coming round til later?” said Jack when he opened the door.

“What, you have a problem with me visiting my brother?”

“No, it’s just that we have company,” Jack said, pointing into the room. He and Martha had heard about what had happened the previous day. Lucas walked in anyway and sat down on the sofa across from Ric and Matilda.

“Oh Mattie, you got a call earlier from Belle,” said Lucas.

“What did she want?” asked Matilda.

“I don’t know, I hung up once she said her name.”

“So you don’t know why she called. What if it had been important?”

“Since when are you hanging out with her? She’s horrible.”

“For your information, she’s changed and now we’re friends. But I wouldn’t expect you to understand that people can become nice. Ric, I think we should go. Thanks for the presents Jack, Martha.” Matilda leaned down to where Katie was playing on the floor. “Bye bye darling, see you soon.” They left and headed down to the beach to the BBQ.

“Was it something I said?” asked Lucas once Ric and Matilda had left.

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Chapter 15

Matilda and Ric arrived at the beach just as the first people were arriving for the BBQ.

“Merry Christmas Grandad,” Ric said as they walked up to Alf.

“Yeah, merry Christmas Mr Stewart.”

“Have you two lovebirds had a good day?” asked Alf.

“Yes thanks it’s been great.”

They got drinks and sat next to the bonfire for a while. They watched as other Summer Bay residents arrived. There was Leah, Dan, VJ and a sulking Ryan, who they guessed was angry to have been pulled away from his presents. Colleen was making her way round all of the groups of people asking what everyone got for Christmas. Irene was talking to Drew who looked as though he didn’t want to be here. Then Belle came up behind them,

“Merry Christmas you two!”

“Hey Belle, I like the hat,” said Ric. Belle was wearing a Father Christmas hat.

“Well, someone needs to show some Christmas cheer. Drew has been in a right mood all day which has put a damper on things.”

Eventually Belle moved away to talk to Leah and they were alone again.

“Listen up everyone,” called out Alf. “I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to everyone and I hope you will now join me in singing some carols.” Slowly everyone started to sing until everyone standing on the beach was singing Silent Night. Matilda looked around and smiled. She couldn’t think of anywhere that she would rather be.

“You still have one more present you know,” whispered Ric in Matilda’s ear.

“What do you mean?” asked Matilda, looking confused.

“Come with me.” Ric pulled Matilda up and led her away from the beach.

They got to the Caravan Park and went round the back to the garage.

“What are we doing here?”

Ric blindfolded Matilda and opened the garage door.

“Your mum asked me to set this up. She told me to wait until now to give it to you.”

He took the blind fold off and she gasped.

“I don’t believe it.” She was staring at a little silver convertible car. It was the one she had always dreamed of owning. “How could she afford this?”

Ric was watching the excitement on his girlfriends face.

“There’s a card on the passenger’s seat,” he said.

She walked round and opened the card.

To Mattie,

Merry Christmas. Sorry I couldn’t be there but I trust that you have had a good day with Ric, Sally and Pippa. This car was brought with money that your dad left you in his will. He had life insurance and so you got some of that as well. It has been in a trust fund since his death and so I used that, combined with some of my own money to buy the car as a graduation present and a Christmas present. I asked Ric to pick it up and he was in charge of revealing it so I hope he did a good job. Also in this envelope is a letter that your dad enclosed in his will and I thought that now would be the appropriate time to show it to you. Once again Merry Christmas, speak to you soon,

Lots of love, Mum xxx (and Tony).

Matilda opened the letter and read.

To my darling little Mattie,

As you are reading this it means that I am gone. Your mum, forever the organised, has decided that we should write letters to all of the children just in case anything happens and so here goes. As I write this you are 12 years old and are my darling little girl. I know that you don’t understand the decision to send you to boarding school but I know that in the long run you will benefit enormously from it. It is my dream that you be whatever you want to be and so I tried to give you the best possible education. You may say that I favour some of the others (yes I know you think that!) but that is not true. I love you, and all of your brothers and sister equally. If you haven’t already got married (I don’t know when you will be reading this) then I wish you every bit of luck on your wedding day and am sorry I can not be there to walk you down the aisle. If your mum finds love again then don’t not love him because of me. It is my wish that your mum be happy. Finally, I wish you every success and I know that you will make me proud in whatever you do.

Goodbye my darling princess.

Love dad.

Matilda finished reading the letter and tears were rolling down her cheeks. Ric was prepared for this, Beth had told him what was in the letter. He walked over to her and put his arm round her, she clutched the letter from her dad close to her chest.

“I can’t believe I have my dream car,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.

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Chapter 16

Matilda continued crying for ages. The letter brought back memories of before they moved to Summer Bay, when they lived on the farm and her dad had still been alive. She remembered the school holidays when she would come home from boarding school and run round the garden, feeling free. Scott would be helping her dad to fix the tractor, Robbie would be working on another ‘amazingly wonderful’ invention, Kit would be moaning about having to help her mum around the house, Henry would stay in his room with music blaring from the CD player and she would be sunbathing on a deck chair in the garden trying to get a tan. She thought back to the times when she was at boarding school and she hated her dad. He had wanted to give her the best possible start. That is what it had said in the letter and now she could see that he was right. She could now be whatever she wanted to be. She had gone to University, got good grades and was going to train to be a teacher.

“I’m sorry about all the tears,” she said. Ric had been standing with his arms around her, comforting her.

“That’s alright, I understand,” he replied.

After a while Matilda wiped the tears away and smiled at her car. She still couldn’t believe it.

“Can we go back to the beach?” she said. Ric looked surprised.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, my dad wouldn’t want me to stand around upset for ages. He would want me to have fun. Anyway, I can drive my car!” she said smiling.

“Whatever you want.”

They pulled up at the beach and turned a few heads.

“Mattie, where did you get the car?” Belle came over.

“It’s a long story,” she said.

They drove back to the Caravan Park a couple of hours later with Sally and Pippa in the back seats. Ric had already told Sally about the surprise and Sally was pleased to see Matilda happy with her dream car.

“It’s been quite an emotional day,” said Sally to Matilda, Ric was putting Pippa to bed.

“Yeah it has. Getting that letter from my dad ... it was brilliant, but sad. It was strange to hear from him again after all these years. It has made me certain though that he would be proud of me.”

“Of course he would. I know you miss your mum as well, especially as it’s Christmas.”

“I thought it would be worse than it was. Yeah my family are all elsewhere, but you lot have been like my family over these past few weeks. I feel as though I have two families.”

Sally smiled and went up to bed. Ric came down the stairs and cuddled up to Matilda on the sofa.

“It’s been a long day,” he said.

“It seems ages ago since we were exchanging presents. You know, I was thinking, maybe we could go into Yabbie Creek this week and get another charm for my bracelet.”

“Sure, what charm were you thinking?”

“A heart,” she said, “because we declared our love for each other.”

“Sound perfect.”

They went up to bed not long after. Matilda lay in bed for a while reading and re reading the letter. Eventually she put it next to her bed and went to sleep.

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Chapter 17

The next few days were spent relaxing. Ric and Matilda went into Yabbie Creek in her new car and got a heart charm for her bracelet. Pippa spent hours everyday playing with her toys. Sally made sure that no was hungry by cooking huge amounts of food. They spent time on the beach messing around, building sandcastles, eating ice cream and playing in the sea. They saw Lucas a few times, each time he said that they were making a mistake being together and that Matilda would be better with him.

New Years Eve soon came and they were planning on going to the beach where a lot of the town were gathering. In the morning Matilda and Ric were both helping Alf set up on the beach. They were building the bonfire and moving chairs from the surf club down to the beach. They were having fun chucking sand at each other when Lucas walked over.

“Look Matilda, this is your last chance to be with me. I’m going back to Uni now. I can see that you really don’t want to be with me and so there’s no point in me being here. I only came here because of you. Now I’m out of here. I’m sick of this small town, with nosy people who want to know everything about everyone.”

“So you’re not coming back?” asked Matilda

“Not if I can help it. Once I’m a top lawyer I’ll be living in Sydney and this dump will be way behind me. If you had any sense you’d get out of her too, not teaching at the local school and wasting your life.”

“Goodbye Lucas. I can make my own decisions and I love it here.” Matilda and Ric turned around and walked away, down to the sea where they started to splash each other.

“By the way, nice car,” called out Lucas. He had walked past the convertible at the top of the beach. It was like the one he wanted to get once he had more money. He turned and started walking back to his car. He drove through the town making one quick stop on the way, but he never looked back.

“Looks like I can move back home,” said Matilda as they sat on the sand gazing out to sea.

“I’m going to miss seeing you first thing in the morning, when your hair is all messed up and you haven’t got any make up on.”

“Thanks,” she said laughing. “Anyway, I’m going to get lonely being there all by myself all of the time so maybe sometimes you can come and stay, in the spare room I mean.”

“Of course. That would be fun.”

Ric helped Matilda move her stuff back into the Hunter house. When they opened the door they found that all of the candle’s and rose petals were still all around the room.

“Typical Lucas, leave the tidying for someone else,” said Matilda.

“I’ll help you clean up then we have to get ready for tonight.”

They spent an hour cleaning the house then Ric went home to change. Matilda went into her room and put the letter from her dad (Ric had put it in a frame for her) next to her bed. She saw an envelope on her pillow and she knew immediately who it was from. She opened it and read,


I’m sorry about how I have been behaving. It was a shock finding out about you and Ric. The truth is that I’m struggling at Uni. I’m on a course that means I can graduate early but it’s all getting too much. I can’t handle all the work. I want to go back to the original course but don’t want to look like a failure. I can’t tell my dad that I couldn’t handle it. To make matters worse, I’ve been going out with a girl who dumped me a couple of weeks ago. That is why I came back, I was planning on spending Christmas with her. I did mean those things I said about still fancying you, but, now I’ve had time to think, it would have been a bad idea. We are almost brother and sister after all. I am sorry for the way I have reacted. I have just come back from the beach, saying goodbye to you and Ric. I wasn’t going to tell you all of this, but I wanted you to know why I haven’t been my usual self. I couldn’t leave it like I did. Hopefully you can forgive me.

Love From Lucas

P.S. I’ve always thought there was something between you and Ric, certain chemistry. Just make sure he treats you right.

Matilda picked up the phone and called Lucas.

“It’s me, Matilda.” She said when he picked up. “I’ve just read your letter and I’m sorry. You’re not the only one who acted like a jerk. I did too. And not just while you were here. I should have called more, made more of an effort. Then maybe you would have confided in me sooner.”

“Mattie, it’s not your fault. It was my decision to hide what was really going on. As you know, revealing my true emotions isn’t really my strong point.”

“No it hasn’t. I want you to know that this hasn’t ruined anything between us. I still really care about you, but in a way that any sister would care about their brother. I had no idea that you were struggling at Uni.”

“Well why would you? I didn’t tell anyone.”

“You should tell your dad. He would want to know what’s going on. He may be the other side of the world but he can offer advice and talk it through with you. He still wants to be involved in your life.”

“I know he does, but I don’t want him to think of me as a failure.”

“He won’t. You’re not a failure. The course you’re on is one that only a couple of people succeed in. That’s what you told me anyway. Just because you’ve realised you’re not a superhero who can do everything, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You can talk to your tutor and get back on the original course. You’ll still be the best lawyer in the country, it’ll just be a bit further into the future.”

They talked for another hour and completely cleared the air between them. She told him about the car and the letter from her dad and both agreed to call each other more often. Matilda came off the phone feeling loads better. It was all clear why he was acting so strange. It had happened before. When he and his dad had first moved in with her and Beth, Lucas had gone off the rails as he wasn’t used to having a mother figure and didn’t want to forget his mum.

Matilda called Ric and told him what had happened and he too was relieved that they had got to the bottom of the strange behaviour.

“I’ll be at your house in about an hour so we can walk to the beach together,” said Ric as they said goodbye.

“An hour! That doesn’t give me much time to get ready.”

“You need longer than an hour?” asked Ric.

“Well, I need to decide what to wear, do my make up and do my hair. I want to look beautiful for you babe,” she said.

“You look beautiful to me whatever you wear. I think you look beautiful when you get up in the morning when you have no make up on and your hair is a mess. You’re perfect, my little darling.”

“Thanks, but I still need longer than an hour,” she joked.

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Chapter 18

Exactly an hour later Ric knocked on the door.

“I told you I needed longer than an hour,” Matilda said when she answered the door wrapped in a towel. “I haven’t decided on what to wear yet.”

“Well, why don’t I help you?” He went up to her room and found clothes all over the bed. He picked up a little black strappy dress. “I like this one.”

Ric left the room while she put it on. She touched up her make up, made sure her hair was perfect and went downstairs.

“Wow, you look ... amazing,” said Ric, lost for words.

They walked down to the beach and found it all lit up by candles, with a big bonfire in the middle.

“I’m so happy I’ve sorted things out with Lucas,” Matilda said after they had got a drink.

“I know. I’m glad we got to the bottom of his strange behaviour.”

Music then came on from a portable CD player and everyone started to dance.

“Come on,” said Matilda, grabbing Ric’s hand and pulling him to where people were dancing.

“Do we have to? Can’t we just sit over there and talk. Anything but dance,” he said jokingly.

“Yes we do have to dance.”

They spent the next hour dancing. Belle came over for a while, with Drew in tow.

“Irene says I have to introduce him to people so he can make friends.”

“Hi Drew, I’m Matilda, or Mattie, and this is my boyfriend Ric.”

“Hello,” Drew said shyly.

The four of them danced for a while and then went to get hot dogs from Alf who was in charge of the BBQ.

“So Drew, where did you live before Irene’s?”

“Well, I sort of went from foster family to foster family. Mostly they were the other side of the city. But no one really wanted me because of my age. Who wants to adopt a 15 year old?”

“Must be hard for you. Sally, she’s my foster mum. My mum died when I was young and my dad died when I was 15. I moved in with Sally when it was discovered that Alf, Mr Stewart, is my grandfather.”

They talked for a while longer before Drew went to find Irene.

“He must be really lonely,” said Matilda. “I mean he doesn’t have any friends of his own. He’s just spent hours on new years eve with a bunch of people in their early 20’s.”

“He’s a pain, that’s what he is. He follows me everywhere,” moaned Belle.

Before long it was 10 minutes until midnight. Everyone was getting their champagne glasses filled and finding the people they love. Matilda and Ric moved to stand with Sally.

“Hey have you got any new years resolutions?” asked Sally.

“Well, mine is to do well at college and become a teacher.”

“Umm well to have a successful business and to be a superb boyfriend for my darling Mattie.” He out his arm round Matilda.

“Ahh that’s so sweet,” replied Matilda.

“Hey guys. Not long now!” said Leah, coming over to see Sally. Seeing Dan coming over as well, Matilda and Ric moved off to be on their own.

“10, 9, 8,” people started counting down. “7, 6, 5,” Matilda and Ric smiled at each other, “4, 3, 2, 1, HAPPY NEW YEAR!” everyone shouted. Ric hugged Matilda and kissed her passionately on the lips. She kissed him back just as passionately.

“I love you Ric,” whispered Matilda in his ear.

“I love you too and I can’t wait to spend the next year with you. Nothing is going to come between us, I won’t let it.”

Sally moved towards them. “Happy new year you two,” she said hugging them both.

After several “Happy new years,” Matilda and Ric were alone of the edge of the group of people.

“Did I mention that you look drop dead gorgeous in that dress,” whispered Ric.

“Thank you, this hot guy I know picked it out of me,” she giggled back,

People started to make their way home and Ric said that he would walk Matilda home.

“My shoes are killing me. I should have worn flip flops,” moaned Matilda.

“Come here,” said Ric and he swept her off her feet so he was carrying her in his arms.

“Ahh how sweet of you,” she said.

Once they got to her driveway he put her down and walked her to the door. She found her key and opened the door.

“Do you have to be back straight away or can you come in for a bit?” asked Matilda.

“Sally will go to bed as son as she gets home anyway so she won’t notice if I’m late.” Ric came in and Matilda found out a bottle of wine and opened it.

“I’ve decided that this year will be the best year ever,” said Matilda. “No more University where I’m away from home, I get to train to be a teacher and I have the best boyfriend in the world.”

“You’re right. I have a successful business, the woman of my dreams has come home and I have a loving family,” replied Ric. They sat cuddled up on the sofa for a while before, slowly, they both fell asleep.

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Chapter 19

Matilda woke up on New Year’s Day and was surprised to find that she was on the sofa in the lounge. She looked around and saw Ric walk into the room with a cup of coffee for her.

“We must have fallen asleep,” said Matilda, yawning.

“Good morning.”

“Won’t Sally mind that you spent the night?”

“Nah she’ll be cool. She trusts us and adores you so she’ll understand.”

Matilda went upstairs and changed into a halter neck top and mini skirt. While she was fixing her hair, the phone rang.

“Ric, can you get that please?”

Soon after, Ric came upstairs and walked into Matilda’s room looking worried.

“That’s wrong baby?” asked Matilda.

“That was Rachel at the hospital. She said that Belle has been admitted in the middle of the night and that she’s been asking for you. Rachel wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, she said that was up to Belle to tell us.”

“Oh my god, we have to go to the hospital.”

They arrived half an hour later and ran up to the desk where Rachel was writing up some notes.

“Where’s Belle? Is she okay?” asked Matilda. She was frantic with worry. Despite all the things that had happened in the past she felt close to Belle now. They had spent a lot of time together, getting to know each other properly.

“She’s through here,” said Rachel leading them towards a closed door. “Now don’t worry about all the machines, they are just so that we can keep an eye on her.”

Matilda and Ric went in and Matilda gasped. Belle was asleep but woke when she heard them enter the room. She was lying in the bed surrounded by machines that were beeping at regular intervals, there were lots of tubes and wires also.

“Belle, what’s wrong with you? Why are you here?”

“Umm well, you’d better sit down.” Matilda and Ric looked at each other, Matilda was scared. There was only one chair in the room so Ric sat down and Matilda sat on his lap.

“Well, I haven’t been truthful about why I left California. About 3 months ago I was diagnosed with skin cancer.” Matilda felt tears forming in her eyes and hugged Ric closer. Belle tried to keep strong. “I was told that it was quite far advanced and that it was unlikely that treatment would work.” Matilda now had tears streaming down her face. “And so I decided not to bother and to just take however long I’ve got. I didn’t want to spend the last months of my life in California where I had no friends and so I came back. I couldn’t bear to die knowing all the hurt I caused and so I vowed to make amends. I was so happy when I saw you had come back from Uni Mattie. It meant that I could make up for all the hurt I caused you. I really wanted to be your friend and for you to forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you,” she said through sobs of tears.

“That is why I got all breathless when we were in Yabbie Creek. In the past few weeks it’s been getting worse. That’s why I’ve been having appointments at the hospital and why I kept having to phone in ill at the Diner. Last night I must have over done it dancing and in the excitement. I got home and collapsed so Irene brought me here. She didn’t know either, until now.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because ... I didn’t want you to forgive me just because I’m sick. I wanted you to want to be friends with me. You think I’m stupid don’t you, for not telling anyone.”

“We don’t think you’re stupid. But if you’d have told us we could have supported you.”

One of the doctors came in to check on Belle.

“We’ll wait outside,” said Ric. They stepped out of the room and Matilda immediately broke down into Ric’s arms. She cried while Ric supported her. He too had tears running down his face.

“I thought this would be the best year ever. It lasted what? ... 10 hours,” said Matilda. “What’s going to happen now? She won’t have treatment so we have to just watch her waste away until she can’t so anything.”

“We don’t know how long she has left,” replied Ric. “We have to be strong for Belle. I know this is hard but think how it is for Belle. She’s been going through this alone. At least now she has us.”

The doctor came out and said that they could go back in. Matilda tried to wipe her tears away before going back into the room.

“Belle, me and Ric are going to be here for you every step of the way. We’re not going to let you go through this alone.”

“Thanks you two. And I’m really sorry to spring this on you. I know you were finally happy Mattie.”

“Hey you don’t have to apologise,” she said, trying her best to smile.

“Umm ... you said that you weren’t having treatment and that you’d had the umm cancer ... a few months so ...” said Ric, breaking off when he couldn’t find the words.

“You’re trying to ask how long I’ve got left aren’t you?” said Belle.

“Well ...”

“It’s alright Ric. I’ve got used to it. The doctors said that it’s quickly getting worse. Over the last week or so they said that it has been getting faster... they say that they don’t know exactly how long I have ... but they predict a couple of weeks.” Belle broke down. This was the first time they had ever seen her cry and it made Matilda cry too. She walked over to the bed and hugged Belle. She didn’t know what to say. She had just been told that one of her friends had cancer and only had a couple of weeks. Inside, she wanted to just curl up in a corner and forget this was happening. She wanted to block it out but knew that it wasn’t the way to handle it. She was an adult now and had to act like one. She wanted to break down and cry but tried to stay strong, for Belle’s sake. She looked over at Ric and knew he was also trying to be strong. Everyone thought he was a macho guy who never cried. But Matilda knew better. She knew he had a sensitive side, which is one of the reasons she loved him. She knew that he felt like her. He had also got friendly with Belle and had got to think of Belle as a friend. Matilda thought back to the night before. Now it felt like a lifetime ago. She thought back to them dancing, laughing and having a fun time. Little did she know then that Belle had this massive secret she wanted to hide. She knew that over the next few weeks, or however long they had, she had to be strong. She had to be there for Belle. Apart from Irene and Drew, Belle didn’t really have anyone except her and Ric.

“Umm does Amanda know?” she asked tentatively.

“Yeah she does. I told her before I came back here. She just said to have someone let her know when I die.”

“What? But she’s your mum, she doesn’t care at all?”

“It’s this new guy she has. She just stopped caring about me because he hated me. She’s drinking lot again, because that’s what he and his friends do. I even think she’s started taking drugs but she wouldn’t tell me anything. I kept asking but she didn’t care about me. She told me that she never wants to see me again. Once I got back here I rang her, she hung up.”

“Well, we’ll be here for you. If you ever need to talk or just need someone to be here, day or night, just call me,” said Matilda. “We won’t let you go through this alone.”

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Chapter 20

“So I was wondering if I could stay at Mattie’s house for the time being. I don’t want her to be alone but she wants to be in her own house.” Ric was talking to Sally. He had Matilda had driven back from the hospital and had gone to the Caravan Park. Matilda was playing with Pippa, trying to keep her mind off the events of the day. Ric had told Sally about Belle and how he wanted to move into the spare room at Matilda’s house so that he could be there to support her when she needed him.

“I think that’s a very thoughtful idea and I can see how much you want to be there for her. Yes of course you can,” said Sally. “And if I can do anything just tell me.”

“Thanks Sally. I might take Matilda home now, it’s been a draining day.”

“Of course and give Belle my love when you see her.”

Ric packed up some things and they went to Matilda’s house. He went and unpacked while Matilda ordered a Chinese takeaway, neither could be bothered to cook. When Ric went back downstairs he found Matilda cuddled up in a ball on the sofa, crying her eyes out. He went over and put his arm round her. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know whether to tell her everything would be alright because that would be a lie. He wanted to tell her that he would be there for her no matter what, but that seemed so trivial. She had just found out that her friend was dying. He too felt like breaking down but knew that it wouldn’t help Matilda if he did. She needed him to be strong. They stayed cuddled up on the sofa until the door rang and the Chinese was delivered. They put the TV on and ate it while watching Friends. It was the one where they were in Las Vegas. It cheered Matilda up a little and she even laughed at some of the jokes. Ric was amazed that even though she had seen it a thousand times before, she still found it funny. He had never really watched Friends before, until he and Matilda started going out. She had vowed to show him every episode.

When Matilda went up to bed she lay for hours, tossing and turning, for hours. She couldn’t stop thinking about how much Belle had been going through and how much more there was to go. Eventually she gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs to watch TV. She got downstairs and saw Ric sat on the sofa. He turned around when he heard her and she could tell that he had been crying. She went over and cuddled up to him.

“How are we going to get through this?” she asked.

“Well, honestly ... I have no idea,” replied Ric.

Eventually they both fell asleep, once again cuddled up on the sofa.

As soon as they were up and dressed in the morning they headed over to the hospital.

“Belle’s been taken for a scan so won’t be back for a while,” said Rachel. “Why don’t you go and maybe do some shopping and I’ll phone you when you can visit.”

“Thanks Rach, we’ll see you later.”

They walked into Yabbie Creek and looked around the sales.

“Hey, I have an idea,” said Matilda. She took Ric’s hand and led him towards a shop called the bear factory. “We’ll custom make a bear for Belle and then she’ll always have company. I know it seems like something a little kid would think of but ...”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Ric.

They spent the next half an hour making a bear. They chose the design for it’s jumper (a bell) and stuffed it and put it’s heart it. Then they got to choose a song for its music maker. They chose Belle’s favourite song – ‘Always look on the bright side of life’.

“Now every time she presses the hand she can hear her favourite song,” said Matilda smiling at Ric.

They went back to the hospital and went in to see Belle.

“How are you feeling today?” asked Matilda.

“Not too bad. Better than yesterday but they’ve given me loads of painkillers and other drugs so that might be why.”

“We’ve brought you a present. You might think it a bit young but we thought we’d get you it anyway.” Ric pulled the bear out of the bag.

“Ah it’s sweet,” said Belle reaching out and taking it. “It’s even called Belle. Thanks guys I love it. I’ll keep it with me next to me in my bed.”

Ric left to try and find somewhere to buy some coffee which left the two girls.

“So, how are things going with you and Ric? You seem really close.”

“They’re going really well,” said Matilda. “In fact he’s staying at my house for a while.”

“That’s great. So have you too ...” asked Belle cheekily.

“No we haven’t. We’re taking things slow.”

“Yeah sounds like it. He’s moved in with you!”

“Yeah but that’s different. I get lonely in the big house all on my own and so he’s keeping me company.” She didn’t want to say that the real reason is that she needed support and that she kept breaking down in tears.

Belle started to look tired and so Matilda said that she would leave so that Belle could get some sleep.

Matilda found Ric coming down the corridor.

“There is no where in this place that sells coffee,” he said when he saw her.

Matilda drove them back to the bay in her new car. It seemed ages ago since Christmas.

She dropped Ric off at the garage, he wanted to go and check that there weren’t any problems. He had said that he was taking the next few weeks off and had left the assistant manager in charge.

Matilda returned home and played the messages. The first was from Lucas.

“Hey Mattie! Happy New Year. Sorry didn’t call sooner but I’ve been really busy. You will be pleased to know that I’ve swapped back onto the original course and my tutor was really supportive. I’ve told dad too and he, just as you said he would, was very supportive. Now we said that we weren’t just going to leave messages all the time so I will call back later. Or you can call me. Speak to you soon.”

Matilda picked up the phone and called him.

“Hi Lucas.”

“Mattie, hey, how’s it going.” She took a deep breath,

“Actually not so good,” and she told him all about Belle. She was crying again by the time she had finished.

“I don’t believe it. I saw her a week ago and she looked fine.”

“She hid it until yesterday. She didn’t want people feeling sorry for her. Lucas, she only has a few weeks left.”

“Do you want me to come back?”

“No, no it’s okay. I have Ric. He’s staying with me while we go through all of this.”

“Okay then but if you ever need to talk to someone, call me, okay?”

“Okay. I’d better go, I’m meeting Ric at the Diner and I’m going to be late.”

“Cool okay then, speak to you soon.”

Matilda walked to the Diner and saw Ric approaching from the other direction.

“Hey babe, how’s your afternoon been? Have you been okay?” asked Ric once he’d kissed her hello.

“I’ve been ... okay. I called Lucas, he’d left a message earlier. I told him all about Belle. He offered to come back but I told him there was no need.”

They went in and saw Irene, she looked exhausted.

“Hi you two, Belle tells me she’s told you ... about ...”

“Yeah, we know,” said Ric, wrapping his arm round Matilda to comfort her.

“I feel so awful,” said Irene, “I’ve been giving her a hard time about all the shifts she missed. I thought she was just making up excuses for not coming in.”

“It’s not your fault. None of us knew what she’s been going through. What about everyone else? Do they know?”

“Yeah they do. I saw Belle yesterday and she gave orders for me to tell Colleen so now everyone knows. I just wish she would have told me earlier.”

They ate at the Diner, and then walked home. Both were really tired as the hadn’t got much sleep the night before.

“I’m going to go straight to bed I think. Then we can go and see Belle again in the morning, I don’t want her to be on her own too much,” said Matilda.

“Good idea,” replied Ric. They kissed goodnight and Matilda went up to bed. She looked at the letter from her dad before going to bed. She remembered how she felt when her dad died and couldn’t bare to go through it again. She didn’t know how she was going to manage it, but she knew that she had Ric there to support her.

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