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Smoke and Mirrors

Guest Red Ranger 1

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“Do you know how Ruby is?”Annie asked.

Jai eyed her in surprise.He’d wondered if she had some reason for inviting him to lunch but this seemed slightly out of character for her recently.“You could ask her yourself,”he suggested.

“I did and…she kinda bit my head off.Does she do that with you?”

“No.”Jai saw Annie’s hurt expression and shrugged.“Did you really think you were just going to back to being best pals?”

“Yes,”Annie admitted.She caught Jai’s doubtful expression.“I wasn’t that mean to her, was I?”

“No, Annie, you weren’t mean to her.You just…wouldn’t have anything to do with her.”

“I didn’t mean to be like that, I just…She does things I wouldn’t.”

“You mean the girl on girl action?”

“That’s the latest one.”Annie sighed.“I dunno, maybe we aren’t meant to be friends?”

“Is that what you want?”

“No.But I don’t know how to get things back to the way they were.”

Jai leaned forward.“Okay.You want advice?”

Annie nodded.“Please.”

“Just stop judging her.Stop thinking about all the things that you wouldn’t do or that you don’t think anyone should do and just talk to her, ask her how she’s feeling, support her.”

“Support her.”Annie thought about it.“I can do that.”

The words were beginning to merge into each other in front of Nicole’s eyes.She felt like she’d been revising for hours.She checked her watch.Oh, she had.Everyone else would just about be finishing school now.

Then someone waved a small piece of card in front of her face and she turned round and glared at the person that had interrupted her.“Geoff, what are you doing?”

“Sorry.”He shrugged.“Just needed to tell somebody.”

“Tell somebody what?”

He held up the card again and she saw it was actually an air ticket.“I’m leaving next week.Finally thought I’d do something about all the travelling talk.”

Nicole snatched it from him.“This is for Rome!”She made sure she only had one ticket in her hand before asking,“Where’s the return?”

“Well, I’m not sure when I’m coming back…”

Nicole got to her feet angrily.“Geoff, how can you be so selfish?!”

Geoff looked at her, genuinely perplexed.“What do you mean?”

“How could you go away now?What about Irene and Annie?”

“I’ve talked it over, they’re fine with it…”

“What about me?”

The comment stopped Geoff in his tracks.“Nicole, we’re not together anymore…”

“Yeah, clever, Geoff, I had noticed that.What I mean is…everything’s changed so much these last few months.Roman’s gone and Belle…I’m dating Ruby…I thought you at least were someone I could rely on to stay stable in the middle of all this craziness.”

Geoff reached out and stroked her hair gently.“Look, Nicole, I’m sorry but…Look, I’m only going to be a phone call away.And a couple of continents but…If you need someone to talk to, I’ll make sure I always answer.”

She placed a hand over his.“Thanks, Geoff.”She smiled at him and then, slowly, she kissed him, brushing her lips gently against his, feeling him kiss her back for a few seconds.Then he shot a guilty look over her shoulder and she turned round to see Ruby standing in the doorway, tears in her eyes, before she turned and ran out.

“Oh god, Rube!”Nicole gasped, horrified“Wait there,”she added to Geoff before running after her.She caught up with her on the porch and grabbed her arm.“Look, Rube, Rube, I’m sorry.”

Ruby turned round, anger and hurt on her face.“I wondered if you wanted to hang out but it looks like you’ve already got company.”

“Geoff just came round, we didn’t plan anything, we just…”

“What, you decided you like the boys now?”

Nicole sighed.“I’ve always liked boys, Ruby, you know that.That doesn’t mean I don’t still like you.”

“How long’s it been going on?”

“What?”Nicole looked back at the house, realising how it must have looked.“Nothing’s going on between me and Geoff!That was just…”She stopped.What was it?It had kind of caught them both by surprise.

Whatever the explanation, Ruby wasn’t sticking around to hear it.“I have been through so much to be with you, the trouble I’ve had at school, the friends I’ve lost…And what was it for, huh?What have I got?” Nicole tried to grab her hand, to say she was sorry, but Ruby pulled away, shaking her head.“Just…just stay away from me.”

Annie had been preparing to have a conversation with Ruby when she got home but she hadn’t expected it to start with the sight of Ruby zipping up a backpack on the dining table.“Ruby, what’s going on?Are you moving out?”

There was a slight desperation in Ruby’s eyes as she turned to her.“Do you want to be my friend?”

“Well, yes…”

“Good.Then you can pack a bag and come with me if you like because I’m out of here.”

It took Annie a second to realise what was going on.“Are you running away again?”

“I just don’t want to be anywhere near them at the moment.”


“Nicole and Geoff.”

Annie took in the implications.“You mean they..?But they wouldn’t, I mean…”

“Annie.I saw them.And I am out of here with or without you.So are you going to be a friend or not?”

Annie gulped hard.But she could remember Jai’s words from earlier.Support her.“Okay,”she said at last, “I’ll pack a bag.”

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This chapter exploded slightly and ended up being rather long.Hope you like it.


Charlie looked down at the note.Irene, Ruby and I have gone away for a bit.Don’t worry.Annie."This was all you found?”

Geoff and Nicole looked uncomfortable.“They can’t have been gone long,”Nicole said at last,“We didn’t see her that long ago, did we, Geoff?”

“Ah, no,”Geoff confirmed.

Charlie had a strong feeling something was being kept from her.“So…do you have any idea why they might have gone?”

Nicole glanced at Geoff awkwardly before admitting.“She walked in on us.Kissing.”

Charlie’s expression hardened.“And I take it she was upset?”

Nicole nodded.“I tried to talk to her but…she said to leave her alone.”

“We didn’t mean to upset her,”Geoff added hastily,“We didn’t even mean to…”

Charlie shook her head.“You know what?I’m not interested.I’m going to go down to the station, make a few calls, get the ball rolling on this.At the moment I’ve got two sixteen-year-olds heading to goodness only knows where and I’d quite like to get them back.”

“Charlie, we really are sorry,”Nicole insisted.

Charlie only paused momentarily to look at them before leaving.

Annie had a bad feeling and it was only getting worse.She’d agreed to go with Ruby on impulse and she had a worrying suspicion that Ruby had actually come up with the idea on the same impulse.It didn’t seem as though there was any clear plan about what they were doing.

“Why are we getting off here?”Annie asked as the bus pulled out, leaving them behind.They weren’t even standing at a bus stop, just a point in the dirt track where Ruby had suddenly announced she wanted to get off.

“We’re in walking distance of town,”Ruby answered as they began trooping after the bus.

“But why not actually go into town?”

“Because I know Charlie and she’ll have put officers watching all the bus stations.This way we can sneak in unnoticed.”

The answer didn’t actually please Annie.“Well, maybe you should let Charlie know where you are.I mean, if she’s worried…”

Ruby stopped, taking Annie firmly by the arms.“Look, Annie, you left that note, they know not to worry. Everything’s going to be okay.Okay?”

Annie’s eyes suddenly flashed towards a point just behind her friend.“Ruby, look out!”

Neither of them had given much thought to the man who’d got off the bus with them or to the fact that it wasn’t exactly a normal place for the bus to stop.But he’d sidled closer to them during the conversation and now made a grab for Ruby’s bag, trying to pull it off her shoulder.

Ruby hung onto it, almost by instinct, engaging in a fairly one-sided tug of war.Annie grabbed hold of her arm, adding her own strength, but the man wrenched the bag from Ruby’s grasp and stood there, looking at them angrily.

Ruby grabbed Annie’s hand.“Run, Annie!”She dragged Annie down the road for a few steps, then, changing her mind, she turned and plunged into the trees lining the road, dashing headlong into the woods, the crashing of the angry man pursuing them enough to keep them running.

The sight of Charlie putting together a group of officers pulled Angelo up short.“Charlie, what are you doing?”

Charlie seemed to be having trouble meeting his eye.“Putting together a manhunt.We’ve got two missing girls.”

“Right.Um…could I have a word with you in your office, Senior Constable?”

Charlie hesitated, reluctant to acquiesce, before nodding.“All right.”

Angelo waited until they were behind closed doors before asking,“Charlie, what are you playing at?”

“Ruby and Annie are missing…”

“Charlie, they’re not missing.They ran away.You know the rules as well as I do, you can’t use police resources to search for your daughter.”

“So what am I supposed to do, just sit here?”

“You know the procedure, Charlie, alert all the stations, circulate her details, get them to keep a watch out for her.It’s all you can do.”

Charlie wanted to argue but she knew he was right.“The guys…”

“I’ll tell them the incident’s been downgraded.You just get on the phone.”He saw her hesitate and put a consoling hand on her arm.“She’ll be all right, Charlie.”

“Ruby, stop!”Annie gasped.

Ruby shook her head.“We’ve got to keep moving.”

“Ruby…I don’t think he’s following us anymore.”

Ruby stopped, breathing heavily, a relieved Annie coming to a halt next to her.They listened but there was no sound of anyone moving.“Guess he got fed up with us.”

Annie nodded, breathlessly.“That was scary.”

“Yeah.”She gave Annie’s hand an encouraging squeeze.“Look, don’t worry.We’ll get back to the road and then we’ll be back among people in no time.”

“Right.”Annie looked around.Another worrying thought was occurring to her.“Um, Ruby?”


“Which way is the road?”

Ruby looked around at the apparently identical foliage and realised she had no idea.

Geoff had searched everywhere he could think of within the town boundaries.It was pretty clear that wherever Ruby and Annie were, it wasn’t in Summer Bay.He’d headed home despondently and been surprised to find Nicole still there, sat at the table, phone in one hand and a small book in the other.“Nic, what’s going on?”

Nicole tapped the book.“Ruby’s address book.”

“What, you just took it?”

“I think it’s a bit late to be worried about Ruby’s feelings, Geoff.I’m giving all her old friends a ring, asking if they’ve seen anything of her.”

Geoff nodded.“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

“Does Annie have any old friends they could be with?”

Geoff shrugged.“Only from church, I could give them a call but…”

“They’re not the type to harbour runaways.Yeah, I get it.”

Geoff shifted uncomfortably.“Look, about how all this started…”

“Geoff, my girlfriend, who’s probably now my ex-girlfriend, is missing along with your sister.I really don’t feel like talking about the kiss right now.”

Geoff nodded.He sat down and took out his phone.“Give me half those numbers.We’ll both call them.”

Charlie wasn’t having a lot more luck than Nicole.She’d rung everyone she could think of and initiated all the checks.Now she was just sitting by the phone, waiting.

There was a gentle knock on the office door before Angelo came in and placed a sheet of paper in front of her.“Charlie, I think you need to take a look at this.”

Charlie shot a cursory look over the arrest sheet.“Alan Falcombe.Angelo, why are you showing me the rap sheet of a petty thief?”

“He was lifted after using a credit card we’d asked people to keep an eye out for,”Angelo explained.

Charlie looked at him, not really understanding.“Someone reported it stolen?”

“Not exactly.”

Charlie stormed into the interview room and fixed the suspect with a steely gaze.“Alan, is it?Want to tell me why you were using a credit card belonging to a Miss Ruby Buckton?”

The man shrugged.“Look, I found it, that’s all.Was gonna hand it in but I thought, why not get myself a few items first, as a kind of reward?You wanna book me for that…”

“I’m more interested in what you did to that girl.”

“I’m telling you, I never met her.I just found the card…”

“And you found her whole bag as well?Because the bag you had with you has been IDed as belonging to Miss Buckton by her mother.Who just so happens to be me.”

She saw the man blanch.“Look, lady, I mean, officer, I swear I never laid a finger on them.”

Charlie caught the word.“Them?”

Alan nodded.“She had a friend with her.’Bout the same age, slightly taller…”

His story was starting to sound a bit more plausible.“Go on.”

“I snatched the bag, okay?That was all.I didn’t hurt them.They got a bit scared and ran off, I chased them for a bit, I admit it, but then I let them go.Officer, I promise you, they’re not in any danger.”

It was dark and it was raining.The two girls hugged together for warmth as they staggered through the seemingly endless trees, each step failing to take them any closer to the end of the nightmare, to anything familiar or any sign of civilisation.

“What are we going to do, Ruby?”Annie sobbed.

Ruby was fighting back the tears herself.“I don’t know, Annie.I just don’t know.”

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Wasn't sure I'd have time to update today but I managed to hammer this out.Hope you like it.


“You know, this isn’t really SES business,”Alf pointed out,“Couple of kids running off is down to you lot to sort out.Unless they’re in some sort of danger.”

“They’ve been the victim of a crime,”Charlie reminded him,“Is that dangerous enough for you?”

“Well, again, that’s police business.”

“We’ve spoken to the bus driver,”Angelo put in,“He’s confirmed that he dropped Annie and Ruby off about two miles before they got to Yabbee Creek.”

“Which ties in with what Falcombe told us,”Charlie added.She gestured to the map they’d laid out on the pool table.“He said they ran off into the woods round about here.”

“They could be in Yabbee Creek by now,”Alf pointed out,“Heck, they could be on their way out of the state.”

“Or they could still be out there,”Charlie stressed,“And we’re not going to be able to get enough officers to search the area until tomorrow.”

“Well, by rights, we shouldn’t be going out by night either.”

“You’ve got plenty of volunteers here, Alf,”Miles reminded him.

“Yeah and none of you have been trained.”Alf glanced at Jai and Xavier, who had come into the surf club with the rest of them.“And what are youse two doing here?”

“We just want to help,”Xavier replied.

“They’re our friends too,”Jai added.

Alf looked at Charlie who just shrugged.He threw up his hands in despair.“All right.You’ll probably get me thrown out of the team but we’ll do things your way.Jai can go with you and Angelo…and Geoff and Nicole.Xavier can come with me, Miles and Aden.”He sighed.“And for pity’s sake, stay in sight of each other and don’t drop your torches.The last thing we need is someone else going missing.”

Ruby finished lighting the candles.She supposed they’d been lucky.Candles, matches, even a chest of drawers to rest them on.No beds, unfortunately.Or even a carpet.They’d found some blankets and made up a makeshift sleeping place on the hard wooden floorboards.

“Are you sure you don’t know where this is?”she asked, glancing back at where Annie was trying to get comfortable.

“Why would I?”

“You grew up on a farm, didn’t you?”

“That doesn’t mean I know every other farm.Anyway, I don’t think anyone’s lived here for a while.”

“True.”Ruby clambered into her own makeshift bed alongside Annie’s.“We should probably get some sleep.Maybe when it gets light we can work out where we are.”

Annie rolled onto her side, looking at her.“Ruby…what happened with Nicole?”

Ruby sighed.“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Are you really that upset?”

“Of course I am.Wouldn’t you be upset if you found the person you were meant to be dating kissing someone else?”

“Yeah but…it’s not exactly the same though, is it?”

Ruby shot her an annoyed look.“Of course it is, Annie.We were just like any other couple.At least, I thought we were.”

She could see that Annie was trying to understand.“So, what you…did coupley things?”

“We just kissed.”Ruby thought back to some of their more intense make-out sessions.“Okay, we did a bit more than that sometimes but nothing that was gonna get us arrested.”

“So, what’s it like kissing another girl?”

Ruby paused for a moment then gently pressed her lips against Annie’s, kissing her for a moment.“Bit like that.”Annie looked startled but not outraged like Ruby had been half-expecting.“Well?”

“Bit like kissing a boy.Except you don’t feel like asking him when he’s going to start shaving.”She sighed.“I haven’t been a very good friend lately, have I?”

“I guess it’s a lot to cope with, suddenly finding out your best friend’s gay.”

“Are you gay then?”

Ruby shrugged.“I don’t know.I mean, I like Nicole and she’s a girl so if that makes me gay, I guess I am. But then I liked Xavier and Pat and they’re guys.I suppose I’m still working it out.”

“And if you are gay…would you still want to be with Nicole?”

“Guess that’s something else I’m going to have to decide.”Ruby shot her a look.“Anyway, what about you and Jai?”

Annie looked embarrassed.“What about us?”

“Do you still like him?”

“I like him, yeah, but…I don’t know if I’d want him as a boyfriend again.”

“You know you could have him back like a shot if you wanted to.”

Annie sighed.“Yeah but…I can’t just keep him dangling until I decide what I want.That’s not fair on him.”

Ruby leaned back and groaned.“God, our love lives are a mess.Guess that’s why we’re friends.”

Annie smiled and clasped Ruby’s hand.“Guess so.”

Charlie was leading the party, Angelo bringing up the rear.Nicole shot a glance at Geoff and Jai, making sure they wouldn’t miss her company too much, before quickening her pace to walk alongside Charlie.“Can we talk?”

Charlie sighed.“Nicole, at the moment I’m just concentrating on finding Ruby.I haven’t got time to worry…”

“Yeah, I know,”Nicole confirmed,“But I need you to know that I didn’t mean to hurt Ruby, I was trying to make it work, I wanted it to work, I just…I messed up, okay?Again.”

There was a long silence before Charlie shot her a sympathetic glance.“Look, you found yourself in a relationship with another girl, got a bit freaked out by it and ended up doing something stupid with a guy.I can relate.At least you managed not to sleep with him.”

“I do like Ruby, I…I don’t know.I want her as a friend or a girlfriend, I just…I want to make sure she’s safe.”

Jai flashed his torch to the left.“Hey, guys, is there something over there?”

Angelo peered into the gloom.They could just make out a building, about half a mile away from them, beyond the trees.“Looks like some sort of farmhouse.Do you think someone there might have seen something?”

“Doubt it,”Geoff replied,“That’s Mr.Lawrence’s old place.It’s been empty about five years.”

“So, why is there a light on?”Nicole asked.

Charlie checked.“She’s right,”she confirmed,“Let’s take a look.”

Annie shook her friend anxiously.“Ruby!Ruby!”

Ruby stared back at her bleary-eyed.“What?”

“I think there’s someone in the kitchen.”

Ruby listened.Annie was right, she could hear noises from the room where they first entered the farmhouse.“Do you think the owners have come back?”

“What, all this time away and they come back the night we’re here?”

“Well…maybe it’s someone else looking for a bed for the night.”

“Or maybe it’s that man?”Annie suggested nervously.

Then they heard a familiar voice calling out,“Ruby?Annie?Is there anyone here?”

“It’s Charlie!”Ruby realised, delighted.She raised her voice.“Charlie!In here!”

A whole crowd of people suddenly seemed to be in the room with them.Charlie was hauling Ruby to her feet and hugging her,“Oh, I’m so glad you’re all right.”

“Me too,”Ruby responded,“I’m sorry I ran off like that, Mum.”Charlie looked at her in surprise and she shrugged.“Just thought I’d try it out.”Charlie nodded and smiled.

Annie let Geoff hug her before moving on to Jai, hugging him as well.“Wow, what was that for?”he asked.

“Just…being here for me.”

Ruby suddenly noticed Nicole standing there, looking awkward.“I, er, I’m glad that you’re okay,”she said.

There was a sudden silence.“Ah, maybe we give these two some space,”Geoff suggested.He put his arm round Annie and they followed Jai and Angelo out the room.Charlie gave Nicole one last hug before leaving them.

“Guess we could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if we’d just talked in the first place,”Ruby commented.

“Guess so.”Nicole forced a smile but then she looked guilty again.“Ruby, I am so sorry about kissing Geoff, I…”

“Are you back together?”

“No, that was…Actually, I don’t know what that was.One for the road, I guess, or maybe…”

“Maybe you were missing the boys?”Ruby shrugged.“I guess I always knew deep down you weren’t that keen on the physical stuff.”

“It was okay,”Nicole replied,“I mean, sometimes…sometimes we were pretty hot, frankly.I just…I said at the start of this that I’m not sure if I’m gay and I’m still not.”

“I’m not sure either,”Ruby admitted,“Maybe we would be better off going back to being friends for a while.Seeing how that works.”

“Right,”Nicole agreed,“And if, further down the line, we realise that we still want to pash each other…”

“Then I guess that’s a choice we’ll make at the time,”Ruby agreed.She held out her hand.“So…friends?”

“I think we can do better than that,”Nicole remarked, hugging her.

They released each other and stood there for a moment.“We were hot together, weren’t we?”Ruby commented.

Nicole nodded.“Totally.”

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So, here's that last chapter.Hope it doesn't disappoint.


Geoff hefted a large bag.“That’s the last one.”

“All set?”Nicole asked.

He nodded.“Yep.Taxi’ll be here in a few minutes.”

The two of them stood awkwardly in the front room of the beach house.“It’s gonna be a bit strange around here without you,”Nicole said at last.

Geoff shrugged.“You won’t even notice that I’m gone.”

“No, I will.In fact…there was a time when I couldn’t imagine you leaving town without me.But that seems like a long time ago now.Lot of things happened since then.”

“Yeah.”He attempted a grin.“Who knows?Maybe by the time I get back, you’ll have married Ruby and adopted six kids or something.”He suddenly looked less certain.“You can do that, right?”

She smiled at him.“Now, you see, that’s what I’m going to miss.”She heard a familiar tooting noise outside.“Guess that’s your taxi.”

“Yeah.”He lifted up his bags.“Guess I’ll see you around.”

She paused for a moment then kissed him on the cheek.“Safe travelling, Geoff.”

Charlie was surprised when Ruby turned up at the house and even more surprised when she saw the number of bags with her.“Are you going somewhere?”

“Yes,”Ruby replied,“Home.If my room’s still there.”

Charlie felt her heart leapt and she rushed forward to hug her daughter.“It always would have been,”she told her,“Although I have to admit, I had trouble persuading Leah not to rent it out.”She released her.“What changed your mind?”

“Just that.Change.A lot of things have changed for me recently, Charlie, and you’ve been there for all of it.Which is what made me realise I belong here.”

Charlie had been listening but it was the one word that she’d picked up on.“What happened to ‘Mum’?”

Ruby sighed.“These things take time, okay?Maybe we’ll get there some day.”

Charlie nodded.“So, do you want to curl up with a box of chocolates and watch a DVD or something?”

“Maybe this evening.There’s something else I need to sort out first.”

“Can I sit with you?”

They all swivelled round to look at Ruby:Jai, Annie and Xavier.“Um, yeah, sure,”Jai agreed.

Ruby took in Annie’s welcoming smile before turning to her former boyfriend.“Xav?”

He sighed.“Well…if you and Nicole can split up and still be friends, I guess we can too.”

She breathed a sigh of relief as she joined them at their table.A part of her had been worried that following them to the Diner had been a mistake.“Sorry things have been a bit weird lately.”

“It wasn’t your fault,”Annie told her,“We should have been more understanding.”

“But just so we know,”Xavier added,“are you still a lesbian or not?”

Ruby grinned.“Let’s just say I’m young, free and single…and not sure which sex it is that needs to watch out.”She noticed Jai giving her a curious look.“Something on your mind, Jai?”

He hesitated for a moment before blurting out,“Did you really kiss Annie?”

Suddenly, neither of the girls knew quite where to look.

Ruby dreamed about Nicole again that night.

Nothing x-rated.Just memories.Happy times together.She remembered what Charlie had said to her right back at the start.It hadn’t happened before and it might not happen again but it had been real.She’d had feelings for another girl and she’d acted on those feelings.And she didn’t regret that decision.All part of life’s great experience.

Certainly enough to make her sleep with a smile on her face.


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