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Driftwood


Ludub

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So, this is a bit different because it's not my usual cast of characters (although I couldn't resist bringing one or two of them in anyway, lol!) Hope you like it!

 

Title: Driftwood

Type of Fic: Long Fiction

Main Characters: Roo, Matt, Alf, Maddy, Leah, Irene, Josh, Evie, Kyle, and lots of other main characters

Genre: Drama / Romance

BTTB Rating:  A

Does it contain spoilers: No

Warnings: Adult Themes. I will give additional warnings at the start of each chapter if necessary.

 

Summary: It was Alf’s birthday, and in true Home and Away fashion, everyone decided to go on a pleasure cruise to celebrate, but there was trouble in store. A massive storm broke out and they all ended up shipwrecked and clinging to flotation devices and rafts out in the middle of the ocean. Everyone was fished out of the water in a huge rescue operation, over a couple of days, but after two weeks of looking the search for Matt and Roo was called off. They were still missing but were declared ‘missing at sea’ and presumed dead. Four years later, a group of men on a fishing trip stumble upon a small island and find the castaways alive and well. How will they cope with their return to the Bay? How will everyone react to them coming back from the dead?

 

N.B. In this reality the whole Charlotte storyline never happened. She and Hunter never came to the Bay, so none of that murder storyline took place. Josh is still blind (just because I like writing blind Josh) but he and Evie have broken up and have different partners. Kyle never went to prison.

 

Chapter 1

 

The wind and rain lashed in around them with a fury. The shelter that they’d tried to build for themselves wasn’t doing much at all to keep them warm or dry. Every strong gust threatened to lift the roof off and carry it away. They were both freezing and miserable, and what was left of their clothes was absolutely soaked through. This was the third storm in as many days and Roo was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to let up. She gazed down at Matt’s sleeping face, as he lay with his head on her thigh, and gently wiped the sweat and rainwater from his burning forehead. He was in a very bad way. She didn’t know a lot about medicine but she knew enough to know that they were in trouble. That deep and nasty wound on his side wasn’t looking too good, and his poor battered body was having trouble fighting the infection that was obviously raging through his bloodstream. In normal circumstances a course of antibiotics would have taken care of it in a matter of days but they didn’t have that luxury. He was burning up! He gave a low moan and shifted a little with a pained expression on his face. “I’m cold” he whispered to her with chattering teeth. She nodded at him in sympathy and then gently lifted his head off her thigh so she could move down beside him and use her own body heat to warm him. She pulled in close beside him, laying her head on his chest, and putting her arm across him. She knew that he was cold, more because of the infection than anything else, but she was still going to try to help him. She needed him. The terrible thought that he would die and leave her there alone just wouldn’t leave her. She was terrified! He’d gradually been getting weaker and weaker, not helped by the fact that they’d had no food for days, and they were strictly rationing their water. What if he just stopped breathing?! She didn’t dare go to sleep… She reached up and gently stroked his hair behind his ear and began to cry. It was becoming less and less likely that they were going to be found. They’d been there almost a week and they hadn’t seen a single sign of life. Maybe the rescuers had even given up looking?! She listened to his laboured breathing and laid her hand on his heart to feel the rise and fall of his chest. As long as he kept breathing she would be okay. She could get through this as long as she wasn’t alone…

“Hey, wake up” whispered Matt in a soothing voice, as he pulled in close behind her so they were spooning, and hugged his arm around her shoulder, “It’s okay, you were just dreaming.”

She opened her eyes and gave a little sigh of relief when she realised that they were in their bedroom and not on the island anymore. They’d started using a little nightlight so they could always see where they were. Waking in the darkness was still a little frightening for them both. In the dim light she could see the outline of the heavy wooden furniture in their room and she could feel the softness of the mattress and the bedclothes. It had taken some time to get used to sleeping in a bed again. Four years of sleeping on sand had taken its toll and for the first little while when they’d got back they’d actually slept on the floor. Turning her head to give him a little smile, she took hold of his hand to pull him in a little closer. “Sorry if I woke you.” she whispered.

“Was it the same dream?” he asked, planting a gentle little kiss on her shoulder and looking at her in concern, “You were crying.”

She nodded and gave a little sigh again. “I just don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost you! It still frightens me so much!”

“Hey, you didn’t lose me… and I’m not going anywhere.” he assured her, leaning over to give her a proper kiss. “We’re safe, we’re home… Everything’s going to be okay.”

She smiled and rolled over to face him, running her fingers through his hair, and pulling him in for a deep and tender kiss. “I love you” she whispered, pulling back from the kiss and gazing into his eyes, “I hope you know that.”

“I love you too” he said, giving her another soft little kiss and flashing a slightly mischievous smile at her that she picked up on immediately. He laughed as she pushed him over onto his back and rolled over so that she was on top of him.  They started to kiss in a more passionate way and Roo sat up, straddling him, and began to pull his t-shirt up over his head. She leaned down and started to kiss his chest allowing her long dark hair to tickle him a little.

“Mamma!” came a little voice from just across the room, and they both turned to look at the chubby little face peering at them over the bars of his wooden cot. He was bouncing up and down on fat little legs and gazing at them with a worried look. “Mamma?!” he called again, beginning to look a little frustrated as though he was on the verge of crying.

“Great timing, Alfie!” exclaimed Matt, laughing as he sat up to look at him. “What do you want, eh?!” he teased, tilting his head at him and giving Roo a disappointed little head shake. They both knew that Alfie was finding it a big adjustment to sleep on his own like this. He’d slept snuggled up with them every day of his life from the moment that he was born. Suddenly having to sleep on his own in a strange environment had come as an enormous shock and he was only beginning to settle now. They still hadn’t tried him in a different room yet. One step at a time! He looked at his little boy’s big blue eyes and his ridiculous mop of curly hair and his heart just melted. He couldn’t say no to him. “What? You wanna come cuddle with mummy and daddy?”

“You wanna sleep in with us?” asked Roo, laughing a little at Alfie’s grumpy little face, and then rolling her eyes at Matt as she climbed off him. He rolled out of the bed and walked over to Alfie, putting his hands under his son’s arms, and hoisting him out of the cot and onto his hip. “C’mon then!” he said, smiling over at Roo as she rolled back to her side of the bed, “What fun would it be if you couldn’t ruin mummy and daddy’s ‘special hugs’ eh?!” He gave him a little kiss on the cheek and carried him over to the bed.

 

*****

 

“Morning Mr S” said Matt, as he walked into the living-room and approached the breakfast table a little anxiously, “You doing a spot of fishing today?” He was doing his best to hide his nerves and pretend that things were good between them. Alf had made it pretty clear since they’d been back that he really didn’t approve of him and Roo as a couple. He certainly wasn’t making things easy for them.

Alf lowered his newspaper for a moment, giving him a disapproving look, and snorted a little. “What if I am?” he growled at him, before snapping the paper back up in front of his face and lifting his coffee cup. He didn’t like being mean to Matt but he just couldn’t get his head around this whole relationship. It was making him angry and anxious, and he couldn’t hide the fact that it creeped him out a little. Roo was nearly twice Matt’s age, and if anything, their relationship had been more like mother and son before the shipwreck had happened. In his mind this whole thing was something akin to incest.

“I was just asking” muttered Matt, looking decidedly wounded and slumping back in his chair in a defeated sort of way. He could see that Alf was doing his best not to look at him. He’d been behaving like this since they’d come home and everyone had discovered that he and Roo came as an item now. After the initial shouting matches when they’d first come home, things had settled into quiet hostility. Having Alf tolerate them in the house but act in such a cold and unfriendly manner was putting Matt’s already fragile nerves on edge. It really hurt that Alf would treat him this way. It made him feel incredibly sad. Before all of this had happened, he’d sort of thought of Alf as a grandfather figure. It was one of the reasons that they’d agreed on the name ‘Alfie’ for their little boy. He and Roo both loved her dad dearly and they’d wanted to give their baby that tie with family that they thought he might never actually get to have in person. Matt gave a sad little sigh and poured himself a bowl of cereal. “You know” he said quietly, “I’m trying really hard here, Mr Stewart… Things between me and Roo …just happened… but I love her and she loves me… and I thought that would count for something with you.” He picked up the bowl of cereal and a spoon and walked slowly towards the back door to eat it outside.

Alf was secretly watching him as he moved away. He could see the hurt expression on Matt’s face, and he did feel a little guilty for being so hard on him, but he just couldn’t let go of his resentment. He’d lost his daughter all those years ago and he was still finding it hard to come to terms with her being back again. For four years he’d believed that she was dead. Grieving for someone and learning to let them go, only for them to reappear, was really hard.  But for her to turn up again with some indecently young toy boy in tow was just a little hard to take. Especially because it was Matt! In some ways it felt like his daughter and his grandson had hooked up with each other, and he really didn’t know how to feel happy about that!

Before leaving, Matt turned to look back at him for a moment, “We kept each other alive for four years on that island…” he said, shaking his head at the man hiding behind his newspaper, and speaking in a really sad voice, “…and we gave you a grandson… Couldn’t you just be happy that we got to come home …instead of you beating me up all the time? Maybe I’m not the man that you wanted for your daughter but I think I did a good job of looking after her when it mattered.” He wiped a little angrily at the stray tear that had rolled down his cheek and then walked outside.

Alf let out a loud sigh and stared at the empty doorway, wishing that he could call Matt to come back and have a friendly bit of banter with him, like in the old days. He wished that he could be a little less stubborn and put an end to all of this unpleasantness, but every time he thought about them sharing that room up there his blood just boiled. What he really wanted was for things to go back to how they used to be and that just wasn’t possible.

“Grampy!” yelled baby Alfie, as he ran into the room with Roo following frantically behind him. “Grampy!!!” he shouted again, as he arrived at Alf’s knee and held his arms up for Alf to lift him.

“Well, what do we have here?!” exclaimed Alf, as he threw his newspaper on the table and smiled down at the toddler. “Are you coming up to see your Grandpa Alf? Is that what you want? C’mon then!” he laughed, as he hoisted him up onto his knee, hugging him and giving him a little kiss on the cheek.

Roo gave Alf a disapproving look and went over to the breakfast bar in the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She took a sip, and gazed back over at her father as he lifted Alfie into the air repeatedly, making silly noises and getting him to giggle. “Dad?” she asked, giving a heavy sigh, “How come you can be so kind and welcoming to our little boy …and still be so horrible to the man that I love?!”

“Because he’s not a man” huffed Alf, still playing with the baby and starting to bounce him on his knee. “That, out there… he’s a boy… and you’re twice his age, Roo! You should have known better!”

“He’s 24 years old, dad!” she yelled at him, slamming down her coffee cup and startling the baby. They both turned to look at her with eyes wide with shock. “What age were you when you got married? Huh?! ‘That… out there’ as you put it?! He’s more of a man than most of the men in this town! He got me through four years of hell, dad! You have no idea what it was like for us on that island! No idea!” She was breathing really heavily at this stage, with veins standing out in her neck, as she glared at him from across the room. “He nearly died! I nearly died! All we had was each other!”

“Alright, alright, Roo.” said Alf, lifting Alfie off his knee and setting him down on the floor again, “We’ve been through all of this before… I don’t want another screaming argument!” He got up from the chair and began to walk out towards the hallway.

“That’s right, dad! Just walk away, like you always do!” Roo called after him as she began to cry. “I just wish you could be happy for us” she added quietly, but he was already gone. She looked down at her little boy who was happily playing with a small toy car in the middle of the floor and smiled through her tears. “At least your grandpa loves you, eh Alfie?!” she said, laughing a little sadly.

Matt had reappeared at the door and had overheard most of the argument. He walked back in, shaking his head in an exasperated way, and gave Roo a worried sort of look. He could see how upset she was and really wished that he could make Alf see how unreasonable he was being. It was such a pity that they couldn’t count on his support. It was what they both needed right now. Roo needed him more than anything in the world! She needed her dad in her life. That was definitely true… But living here with him, like this, wasn’t going to do any of them any good. Getting used to being back was hard enough for them, without Alf’s attitude and hostility making things so much more difficult. They needed a place of their own… and soon! The problem was that their assets had been frozen and it was taking time to get everything sorted out. If they’d been missing a few more years, then they’d have been declared officially dead, and that would have been even more difficult to undo. It meant that they were both beholden to Alf, at least for the time being. “Roo?” he said in a quiet and soothing voice, as he walked over to stand beside her. He looked at her with big sad eyes and took her hand in his. “There’s no point.” he said, shaking his head at her and leaning in to give her a light kiss on the forehead, “Your dad needs time to come to terms with all of this and he can’t really do that while we’re living here on top of him… And if I’m supposed to be this ‘man’ that he’s talking about, then I need to show him that I can take care of my family…” He put his arms around her waist and leaned in for a little kiss. “As soon as I get a job, we’ll get our own place and we’ll give your dad some peace.”

 

*****

 

Matt sat at one of the tables in the diner staring around him and feeling a rising wave of anxiety in his chest that he couldn’t quite explain. Well, he could, but he couldn’t… Everything just seemed so fast and chaotic! There were so many people everywhere and he couldn’t tune out all the voices of the people at the tables on all sides of him. Everyone seemed to want to shout all the time. He knew that the way he was feeling was because he’d just spent four years on an island, with only Roo and Alfie, for company. It had been so blissfully quiet there, with no traffic, or people, or loud noises of any kind. Just the swishing of the waves. His world had been one of peaceful tranquillity apart from the occasional tropical storm. He wasn’t used to the hustle and bustle of the world back on shore and it was freaking him out a little. He was self-aware enough to know that he was probably suffering some kind of post-traumatic stress as a result of the prolonged isolation, but being aware of it didn’t really change how it felt. Or how frightening it was! He was scared and anxious a lot of the time. He was jumpy all the time. His heart would suddenly start racing for no reason and he’d feel like he was suffocating. He hated people moving too fast around him or making sudden noises. Crowds of people were the worst! He felt claustrophobic and scared around them. He’d had his first full-blown panic attack at their welcome home party about a week after they’d arrived home. It had just been a bit overwhelming! So many people hugging all round him and making so much noise! He couldn’t cope! Nate had said to come see him about it but he hadn’t done that yet. He was trying to deal with it on his own.

He looked up from his menu and glanced around the faces at the other tables. He didn’t recognise any of the other diners but he wondered with a little flutter in his stomach if any of them recognised him. He and Roo had been all over the news for weeks and for the first while they’d been hounded by the press and approached by random strangers on the street. Surviving for years on an island and shacking up with your ex-girlfriend’s ‘mum’ tended to draw a lot of interest. The questions that people asked were so incredibly inappropriate even when the person asking hadn’t actually intended any offence. The newspapers had carried headlines like ‘Castaway Cougar” and multiple references to Roo being a ‘cradle-snatcher” and Matt being a “granny grabber”. The reaction would have been so very different if it had been an older man and a younger woman.

He turned to look at the door and saw Josh tapping his way towards the counter with his cane. They were meeting for lunch and Josh had suggested meeting there without realising how nervous it would make Matt. “Josh!” he called out, getting to his feet and going to meet him over by the counter, “Good to see you, mate!” Josh smiled and he led him over to the table and helped him find the seat of the chair.

Josh sat down opposite him and folded up his cane. “So… how are you doing with everything?” he asked, furrowing his brow and looking a little concerned. He knew from the way that Matt had sounded on the phone that things didn’t seem too good for him at the moment. He seemed stressed and on edge. Josh couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to settle back into life in the real world after being cut off from it for so long. He’d been so surprised when Oscar had called him at work to tell him that Matt had been found alive on an island after all this time. Everyone had come to terms with his death eventually and moved on. It was literally like he’d come back from the dead! To find out that Matt and Roo were in a relationship, and that they had a little baby, had been both shocking and heart-warming in equal measure. To think that they’d had each other through this whole nightmare was some sort of comfort at least. It was just a pity that so many people had reacted in such a judgemental way. They’d been through so much together, it seemed unfair of people to judge them for seeking comfort in each other’s arms when there had literally been no-one else. If they made each other happy, he couldn’t see what the problem was! “How are things with you and Roo?” he asked, somehow sensing Matt’s anxiety without him having to say anything.

“Yeah, good…” said Matt, fidgeting a little nervously in his seat and spinning the menu round on the table, “We’re good” He looked across at his friend and thought how different he looked now. Four years down the line and Josh had become such a grown up. No more t-shirts and jeans. No more leather wrist bracelets. No long surfer hair. Here he was with his short and tidy haircut, all dressed up for work in a shirt and smart trousers. Josh, the psychologist! How on earth had that happened?! It made Matt sad to think how much of his friends’ lives he had missed.

“Mate, I know you wanted to talk to me about something…” said Josh, running his hand through his hair, “So… if it’s not Roo…”

“It’s just…” Matt began to say, flushing up a little red in the face and feeling grateful that Josh couldn’t see his discomfort, “It’s just that I need a job… I need a decent job…” He needed someone to talk to about this and there wasn’t really anyone else. He didn’t feel that he could talk to Roo about it because he felt ashamed that he couldn’t contribute financially and support her and the baby, and he definitely couldn’t speak to Mr Stewart for the same reasons. He hadn’t really rebuilt his relationships with anyone else all that well. He was feeling incredibly cut off. He’d kind of latched onto Josh though, probably because of his blindness. Matt didn’t really like people looking at him now and he often found it difficult to maintain eye contact. His time on the island had certainly taken its toll! Talking to Josh was easier than talking to anyone else. He gave a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair, “No-one wants to hire me… I mean… I have no qualifications and no experience…The only thing I did before was deliver pizza and… I didn’t get to finish my apprenticeship at the garage so…” He shook his head a little sadly at the sinking realisation that he was a bit of a lost cause. He shrugged and frowned down at the table in a shame-faced and frustrated sort of way. “When they find out who I am, they all just start… they start making jokes…”

“About you and Roo?” asked Josh, feeling bad for him. He could see how difficult it would be for Matt to start again from scratch at this age. Matt was 24 years old, and as he’d said, he had no qualifications and very little experience. Getting qualifications at this stage would be very hard for him, with the responsibilities of a new baby, trying to fit back into a world that he’d been cut off from for so long, and the post-traumatic stress that he was obviously experiencing. He certainly didn’t envy him this particular challenge!

Matt nodded and then glanced up at Josh in embarrassment when he realised that he couldn’t see him. “Yeah” he muttered, looking back down at the table and flushing red with anger, “The usual rubbish about cougars and granny grabbers… I’m just so tired of it.”

“That sucks” said Josh, shaking his head and frowning, “People can be such jerks!”

Matt nodded and scratched at his beard a little. He hadn’t shaved it off when he’d come back, because he’d kind of grown attached to it over the years. He felt like Alfie might not even recognise him if he shaved it off, and if it was gone, then that part of his life would truly be over. In some ways he wanted to go home to the island, to where it was safe, but he’d never admit that to Roo, or anyone else for that matter. He put his head in his hands and rubbed his face. “I just need a job, Josh!”

“Maybe I can get Ash to find you a garage… One of his mates or something… somewhere you can finish your apprenticeship?” said Josh, thinking it was a pity that Ash and Andy didn’t have the garage anymore. They really hadn’t been the best businessmen but Ash did have some legitimate contacts at least, some competitor garages run by friends, and maybe he could help Matt get his foot in the door. It was clear that Matt needed all the help that he could get! It would be something!

“Thanks” said Matt, feeling grateful for Josh’s help, but the thought of having to do an interview was making his heart beat that little bit too fast. Still, if he could just get a job, then maybe things would start to get a little better? Maybe he would start to feel like he actually belonged in this world and stop spending his days wishing that they hadn’t been found. He knew that Roo was delighted to be home, and couldn’t have been dragged back to the island if her life had depended on it. She was settling back into life in the Bay like a duck to water, whereas for him, every day was a struggle. He would go back to the island tomorrow if he had the chance! He missed it. Life was so much harder here! So complicated... He just wanted to go home!

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Just now, Kristen said:

You're back?! Lol you must be obsessed with fan fictions

A little, yes lol! :blush: I'd kind of half written this one already. I have most of the plotline worked out so I was kind of writing a rough version parallel with Chimera and Escape. Just wanted to post the first chapter and see if anyone's interested in reading it. Won't be able to update again for a little while though.

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Great start! :) 

Roo and Matt together is certainly interesting! And spending 4 years together, alone on a deserted island with everyone thinking they're dead. And now they have a little boy too! I cant imagine Alf being happy about all of this, and it must be very hard to come to terms with not only his daughter being alive, but being with Matt! At least he's great with Alfie :) But Roo and Matt are adults, and Alf can't judge them too harshly after everything. It must be so hard adjusting to life back home, I'm glad Matt's got Josh to talk to. 

I look forward to more :) 

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This is hmmmm different in a good way :) Question did Roo and Matt get jiggy with it while on the island and have Alfie while they were there? If so I guess there's not much else to do :lol: I like that Matt feels the only person he can talk to and trust is Josh and that's because of Josh's blindness that's cool.

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5 hours ago, pembie said:

This is hmmmm different in a good way :) Question did Roo and Matt get jiggy with it while on the island and have Alfie while they were there? If so I guess there's not much else to do :lol: I like that Matt feels the only person he can talk to and trust is Josh and that's because of Josh's blindness that's cool.

Thanks Pembie! Yep, pretty much... there wouldn't be much else to do on a desert island lol! :P I'm thinking Alfie's coming up on two years old (talking and walking). Roo and Matt are only back a very short while (maybe 5 or 6 weeks). Glad you enjoyed it.

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Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to comment. I've been so busy this week that I really haven't had the time to write so apologies for the big delay. Really hope you like this chapter x

WARNING: ADULT THEMES

 

Chapter 2

 

Leah smiled down at the two small children playing on the floor with an array of plastic and wooden toys. She thought it was nice for Maisy to have someone near her age to play with, and Alfie was clearly enjoying his first friendship with another child. It was amazing how quickly he’d adjusted to things. Coming from a place where he only had his mummy and daddy for company, to a world with people coming and going all the time, and lots of people wanting to hold him and cuddle him. His world had expanded so suddenly, and with absolutely no explanation. She couldn’t help wondering what he’d made of it all. What had gone on in his little mind? Looking at him now as he offered Maisy one of his Lego blocks, he certainly didn’t seem to be any worse for the transition. He was all smiles and giggles. So was Maisy. She wondered at the resilience of small children and their ability to just readjust to their new surroundings. Maisy had only taken a few weeks to settle in with them and now it was as though she’d always been there. She was such a happy child. The more she thought about it, Alfie and Maisy had a lot in common. They’d both had to accept a massive upheaval in their little lives but they’d both come out the other side smiling. When she and Zac had gone to get Maisy at the adoption agency she’d already been 18 months old. Her world had changed just as suddenly as Alfie’s. The women who had cared for her so well in the orphanage in Vietnam would just fade from her memory over time, just as the island would fade from Alfie’s, and Summer Bay would seem to them as though it had always been their home. Would either of them remember anything of this early part of their lives? Would they know that they’d been ripped from one environment abruptly and placed in another? Would it have any long lasting effect?

“No, really Leah, you should all come for dinner!” exclaimed Roo, interrupting Leah’s train of thought. “We could have a barbecue and get everyone together…” she continued, smiling from ear to ear as she carried a tray with tea and biscuits over to the coffee table. “We’d love so much to see everyone!”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out…” said Leah, furrowing her brow at her friend a little. Roo’s smile seemed a little strange and forced, “…and there’s a lot of us at the moment with VJ back from Uni with Olivia… and Matt didn’t seem too comfortable with a crowd the last time.”

“Don’t worry about Matt” replied Roo, shaking her head and leaning over to pat Leah’s knee, “He’s going to have to get used to people coming and going again… It’s just a bit of an adjustment, that’s all.” She reached out and began to pour the tea for both of them, before handing Leah her cup and saucer with a big over-excited smile. “Why don’t you call Oscar and Evie as well and we’ll make a bit of an evening of it?! I’m still trying to keep track of who’s with who! So much has changed since we’ve been away!”

Leah tilted her head at her with a slightly concerned look and bit her bottom lip. She didn’t know whether to agree to this dinner this evening or not. She couldn’t help being worried about both of them. Roo and Matt had come home in the end but they both seemed very different to the people that had gone missing all those years ago. Neither of them seemed to be dealing with their return to shore all that well. The cocky and sarcastic Matt, that they’d all known and loved, rarely made an appearance now. He was trying to be that person again with all his heart, and sometimes there was a little flash of that old humour, especially when he was talking to Alfie. But he just seemed so much more quiet and serious now, and his shyness and inability to maintain eye contact for long were a little disconcerting too. She’d noticed that Roo was acting a little strangely as well. She seemed almost manic in her need to constantly surround herself with people and kept trying to organise lunches and dinners so she’d never have to be alone. She seemed to crave company at all times. The more people she had around her the happier she was. It was like she was terrified of feeling that isolated again. She and Matt just seemed to be poles apart in the way that they dealt with things. He wanted nothing but peace and quiet, and she wanted loud and raucous gatherings. Given Matt’s reaction to the welcome home party, she wondered if this was such a good idea.  “Don’t you think that might be a bit too much for Matt?” asked Leah a little cautiously, “So many people?”

“Let me handle Matt...” said Roo with a little smile as she lifted her cup to her lips. “I’ll get dad to get some steaks and snags before he comes home and we’ll make an evening of it…”

 

*****

 

Matt stared out across the water as white frothy waves crashed in against the rocks. He hoped that no-one would see him here. He’d climbed out to a rocky outcrop just far enough away from the beach and inaccessible enough to be off limits to the average tourist or fisherman. Anyone venturing this far off the beaten track would have to be pretty determined to find a secluded spot away from prying eyes. Not only was it dangerous because of the sheer drop down to jagged rocks below if you were to lose your footing, but the rocks underfoot were incredibly sharp and unforgiving too. Getting to where he was now sitting certainly hadn’t been for the faint of heart. He smiled at himself for a moment, thinking of how hardened and outdoorsy he had become. Not that he’d had a choice, but it was a far cry from the skateboarding teen he had once been. The rocks he had climbed over to get here today would have easily cut his feet to shreds if his skin hadn’t been so toughened by four years of barefooted foraging on that island. He still wasn’t used to wearing shoes again so he’d left them behind on the beach before he’d set off. He didn’t really like wearing them anymore. To climb something like this he needed to be able to grip with his toes.

Life on the island had been more than tough. They’d struggled in the beginning to find enough to eat, desperately gathering anything that they thought might be edible and then tentatively eating small quantities of it in case they poisoned themselves.  He’d often set off on small expeditions to explore the island and see if he could find any new source of food. There were the occasional berries that they’d been incredibly cautious about, and they’d discovered some sort of bitter tasting root vegetable that was only vaguely edible, but that would at least ward off the hunger pains for a little while. They’d worked out which seaweeds were edible by trial and error. Pickings were very slim. Shellfish were in abundance though if you knew where to look for them but often required difficult and dangerous climbs out to hard-to-reach places. His feet were permanently cut to ribbons in the early days, from climbing over sharp volcanic rock, and he’d often come back from a day’s foraging or fishing with hardly any flesh left on the soles of his feet. On particularly bad days he would leave a trail of blood across the sand. Over time his feet had developed a thick leathery skin and now he hardly felt the rocks at all. Roo had started teasing him about his ‘hobbit feet’.

He gazed out at the horizon and tried to picture the island in his minds-eye. That place where they had spent over four years of their lives that would gradually become a distant memory now… He had hated it with all his heart when they’d first found themselves stranded there and all they’d done for weeks and weeks was talk about being rescued. They had fantasised about what they would do when they got back, who they would talk to, what they would eat and drink… They had lived for the fantasy and taken pleasure in the telling of each other’s stories. But as the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks to months, he had grown to accept it as his new home. No-one was ever coming. They weren’t going to be rescued. This was where they would live out the rest of their lives so they needed to stop staring out at the horizon, and praying for their rescue, and they needed to get on with living some sort of a life. Something had changed then for both of them and they had begun to look at each other very differently. Suddenly they were just a man and a woman, free to do what they wanted in blessed seclusion, and all other considerations hadn’t seemed so important anymore. There would be no judgemental whispers to tell them that what they were doing was wrong. Nothing about it felt wrong. Just the opposite really! Soon they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and the days and weeks had blurred into a whirl of passionate lovemaking, only interrupted by the relentless need to search for food. Life had seemed bright and exciting again. The island had begun to look very beautiful to him and everything in it. The arrival of Alfie had filled his heart with such love and joy, and he’d felt a deep sense of pride in his little family, living in their own private paradise. It was like they were the only three people on earth. Like Adam and Eve.

When the rescue had finally happened it had been like someone driving a knife into his heart and what had been his dream only a few years previous had become his worst nightmare. He hadn’t wanted to leave! If he could have sent the boats away, without Roo knowing, he would have. Now that he’d been returned to this loud and chaotic, often cold and cruel world, all he could feel was a deep sense of longing. He wanted to go home. He wondered if their little hut was still standing or if it had finally been blown away by one of the storms. He wondered if someone landing on the island now would see that people had lived there once. Would they see that they had become a family there and that for the most part they’d been happy? If he were to go there now would there be any trace of that old life left?

Sitting cross-legged in the sunshine, he gave a heavy sigh, and rested his head on his fist. Another disaster of an interview! He didn’t know how he was ever going to get a job. Trying to explain his lack of work experience and the glaring gap in his employment history was always going to be hard. It stood out like a sore thumb and it was nearly always the first thing that anyone asked about. He didn’t really know what to tell them. He didn’t want to talk to them about the island and he definitely didn’t want to have to answer stupid questions about how they’d survived out there. He knew that it was just pure curiosity and that some of those asking didn’t really mean any harm by it, but he couldn’t help feeling like he was being attacked, or ridiculed in some way. Worse still, were the ones who treated the whole thing like it was some big joke and started asking questions about him and Roo. “How long did it take for the old cougar to jump your bones, eh?! Haha!” How was he meant to let someone speak about her that way?! Was he meant to just smile and take it?! All he wanted was to be treated with a bit of respect. Was that too much to ask?! In some of the first interviews that he’d done he’d tried to lie about it and said that he’d been away travelling, but things had quickly unravelled when he’d been unable to answer even the most basic questions about where he’d been. He’d never been overseas unless you wanted to count the island. He had no idea about backpacker’s hostels or full-moon parties. He knew nothing… and that always became abundantly clear within minutes, exposing him as a liar and a fraud. He’d begun to think that it might actually have been easier if he could just have invented some story about being in prison. Being an ex-crim might have been preferable to a castaway known for ‘granny-grabbing’. In any case, it never took long for people to recognise him and to start putting two and two together. Then came the inevitable teasing. The jokes would start immediately and before long he’d be shouting something in their faces or storming away in anger. He didn’t know why he couldn’t keep his temper under control anymore. He was angry all the time. He’d never been angry like this on the island!

It was anxiety more than anger though, and he felt anxious all the time. He felt like he was always just teetering on the edge of having a panic attack. Like any small thing could set him off. It was something that he carried around with him now. Like a ball of fear and fury just clenched in the middle of his chest, and no matter how much he tried to pretend that things were okay, it just wasn’t getting any easier. He knew that a big part of it was the feeling that he was useless. On the island he had been the provider for the most part. He’d been the one who went out to forage in the hardest to reach places, the one who’d grown skilled at spear-fishing, the one who’d built the fires, the one who’d made sure that they didn’t go hungry… Here, he had no purpose! Not only that, but he had no way of providing for Roo and the baby now. Everything was taken care of by someone other than him! They were both beholden to Alf for their food and shelter, and reliant to some extent on his handouts. He hated it. It made him feel every inch the immature teenager that Alf still thought he was. Standing there putting his hand out pocket money! It made him feel like he was just a boy and that he didn’t deserve to have a woman as amazing as Roo in his life. It didn’t help that Alf felt the need to point it out to him at every available opportunity.

He could see that money was going to become a bigger and bigger issue if he didn’t get himself a job soon. It was bad enough having to take money from Alf, but once Roo’s money came through things would be even worse! Then he really would feel like some young toy boy taking advantage of his ‘sugar momma’s’ generosity and goodwill. He needed to have money of his own, and soon! He laughed a little bitterly and shook his head at the thought of the letter that had arrived for him this morning. $247.15…That was it! The extent of his wealth! His poor little bank account had sat there untouched since they’d gone missing, and now after nearly two months at home, the bank had finally seen fit to unfreeze their accounts, and in two weeks’ time, he’d have the princely sum of $247.15 at his disposal! It was pathetic! They’d both had letters from their solicitor to say that their assets would be made available to them again within 14 days. He knew that Roo was over the moon about it because she was desperate to do some clothes shopping and buy lots of new things for little baby Alfie. She’d shown him the balance on her accounts with a great deal of excitement and wittered on about what they were going to do with it and how much fun they were going to have. Her rental properties had proved to be incredibly lucrative businesses over the last few years and the money had just been sitting in an account for her, to be released to her estate once officially ruled ‘dead’, or returned to her if she were to ever turn up. The balance was looking decidedly healthy, and Roo couldn’t wait to get her hands on it! She’d made it clear that cautious and prudent investment was most definitely not on the cards anymore. Money was there to be spent! She’d told him that if she’d learnt one thing on the island, it was that life was to be enjoyed, and that you could never tell what might happen from one moment to the next. She was determined to savour every minute and take full advantage of all the little pleasures that life had to offer. He knew that she was excited, and he could understand why, but it made him feel a little sick. All he wanted was to make sure that they’d be safe, and that they’d never go hungry again, but it wasn’t his money to spend. If Roo wanted to blow it all on hats then that was really up to her!

He took the crumpled up notes and coins out of his pocket and looked at them a little sadly. Here he was, a grown man with a partner and a baby, and all he had to his name was the money in that pitiful little account, and the $18.35 now sitting in the palm of his hand. They were still trying to sort out social security payments, but it turned out that going missing for four years and then just showing up again posed more than a few problems. They had to prove that they were who they said they were from a legal perspective. Their solicitor was helping with that too. In the meantime, they were completely dependent on their friends and family for help. This pitiful little pile of money in his hand wasn’t even his money. It was his ‘pocket money’ handed over to him begrudgingly by Alf with a look of disapproval. He’d never felt more pathetic. He wished that he could just go to the grocery store and pick up some food for dinner. He wanted more than anything to be able to put his hand in his pocket and feel that he was spending money that belonged to him, and not living off of handouts. Even when he’d met Josh yesterday he’d been embarrassed when Josh had insisted on paying for him. There was nothing worse than feeling like some kind of charity case, even if that’s exactly what he was. Even the clothes that he was wearing weren’t his. All the clothing belonging to him and Roo had been donated to charity after a couple of years when they hadn’t come back, and now he was having to make do with hand me downs from VJ. To be fair, he didn’t know if his old clothes would have fit him now anyway. He was such a different shape! In truth, he really didn’t care that much about his clothes. Wearing the same pair of trousers cut off into shorts for four years tended to make you a lot less fashion conscious. All he really wanted was to feel that he was providing for his family in some way and that he wasn’t a complete waste of space.

He looked down at the water below and began to smile a little. He had an idea…

 

*****

 

“I brought some desserts!” called Leah, as she and Zac walked into the kitchen. “Just a lemon cheesecake and a pavlova.”

Zac lifted Maisy off his shoulders and set her onto her feet on the floor, laughing a little as he saw her take off at high speed to go and find Alfie. He was all that she’d talked about since Leah had brought her home.

“Can we do anything to help?” asked Leah, setting the desserts down on the counter among the huge selection of salads and nibbles. Roo had obviously been very busy since she’d been gone!

“Oh, my god Leah! That is just fantastic!” exclaimed an over-excited looking Roo, as she spun around to look at Leah’s desserts, “That’s so kind of you! I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed your cooking… or anyone’s cooking really!”  She laughed a little nervously at her own joke and leaned back against the counter, wiping her hands on a tea towel and giving a big sigh. “Are Oscar and Evie going to come?” she asked, looking at Leah hopefully, “I’d really like to see them.”

“Yeah, they said they’d be here…” said Leah, glancing at Zac in a worried sort of way. “Oscar’s bringing Callie, and Evie’s bringing Brody, I hope that’s okay?”

“Of course!” laughed Roo, giving a little snort and shaking her head in wonderment. It seemed like the whole town and all its relationships had been flipped on its head while she’d been away. Everyone was with someone new, and every time she sat down to talk to Leah or Irene about things, there was some new revelation. Keeping track of who was with who, and who now had history with each other, was all so very complicated. Oscar’s girlfriend Callie had seemed liked quite a nice girl, when she’d met her at the welcome home party, although she hadn’t really got a chance to talk to her all that much. It was nice that Oscar had found someone at Uni and that they seemed to be on a similar wavelength. Evie and Josh’s breakup had been a bit of a shock to her, but it was refreshing to see that they’d been able to remain friends after everything that they’d been through. She never would have put Evie with someone like Brody though, but who was she to judge?!

“Where’s Matt?” asked Zac, looking around the room as though he might just not have noticed him.

“He’ll be here” said Roo, nodding at her mobile phone on the countertop, “He text to say he’s on his way back.”

“So… what do you need us to do?!” asked Leah, gazing around the kitchen for signs of something that needed done. Everything seemed to be under control though.

“Nothing… it’s all done!” said Roo, looking very pleased with herself. “Look at this!” she said, turning a knob on the cooker and laughing a little manically as the clicker ignited one of the burners on the stove, “Four years of rubbing sticks together and now I can just do this!”

Leah walked over and put her arm around Roo’s waist, cocking her head to one side and giving her a sympathetic smile, “It must have been so hard…”

Roo nodded and smiled a little wistfully as she stared into the blue flames on the gas burner. For a moment she seemed to be a little lost in her own thoughts as her mind drifted back towards the island…

 

“I’m telling you… there’s no point!” huffed Roo, as she watched Matt blowing softly into his cupped hands while he lay on his stomach on the sand, “You have no idea what you’re doing… You might as well just give up and let us both freeze to death!” He’d been desperately trying to get a fire started for over 4 hours now but she was convinced that the kindling was still too wet from the rain the night before, and watching him fail over and over again like this was just making her angry. She knew that it wasn’t fair to be angry at him. None of this was his fault, but there was a growing sense of resentment building inside her every time she looked at him. He was all that she had. He was the only person that she could be angry with. He was trying so hard to light that fire but she couldn’t help snapping at him and undermining him at every available opportunity. It was as though making him feel as bad as she did, would make her feel better in some way. It wasn’t working, but she didn’t know how to stop. She knew that he was still in a lot of pain and that all he was trying to do was build them a fire so that they could both warm up and maybe not feel so miserable. Being mean to him really wasn’t fair! She wondered why she couldn’t just stay quiet and let him get on with it. “My dad would have had that fire lit in five minutes.” she spat at him, unable to stop herself.

Matt glanced up her for the first time in a while and gave her a wounded sort of look. He’d been trying to ignore her as best he could. She was clearly in a stinker of a mood today and nothing that he did was going to make it any better. He’d just decided to ignore her and try to get on with it. The pain in his side was subsiding a little, but every so often it would give him a little jolt, and he’d feel like something with sharp teeth was chewing a hole in his abdomen. That piece of metal that had hit him had nearly gone the whole way through. He didn’t really know why he was still alive. He’d been sure that he was dying a few evenings ago, and in those cold dark hours, he’d actually made his peace with that. He’d been in so much pain that he’d have been happy to go. But he’d woken up, morning after morning, continuing to breathe, and that putrid smell from his open wound was starting to fade now. His body was overcoming the infection gradually of its own accord. He’d been able to eat some of the seaweed that Roo had found for them, as revolting as it was, and he’d even managed to catch them a fish yesterday which they’d had to eat raw. He was beginning to gather a little strength and now he was going to try to get a fire started. It had been overcast all day and what was left of their clothes was still damp. He’d never felt so cold.

He’d found some sort of woolly stuff inside a seedpod on the ground and thought that it might make decent kindling. He was trying a method that he’d seen on TV and a couple of times he’d nearly got It going. He’d seen a little bit of smoke but it just hadn’t ignited fully. He’d managed to find some dry leaves as well and he had those on standby.

Roo hugged her arms around herself, rubbing her hands up and down her arms in a desperate attempt to warm up, and began to cry. “This is never going to work, is it?” she sobbed quietly, “No-one knows that we’re here and we’re just going to die here on this godforsaken island… just me and you!”

He pulled himself up onto his feet, holding the wound in his side protectively and letting out a groan with the pain. He came over slowly and sat down beside Roo, tentatively putting his arm around her shoulder and pulling her in for a hug. “Roo…” he said quietly, “I’ll get it going… I will… and someone is bound to find us soon… I mean how many islands can there be out here?”

She rolled her eyes at him and wiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks. “You’ve never looked at a map of the Pacific then, have you Matt?!” she laughed.

He smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “They’ll find us” he said, reaching for her hand and leaning his head against hers. “They will… You just have to have faith.” They sat in silence for a moment side by side and stared out at the ocean as the waves crashed in relentlessly onto the white sandy beach. If they hadn’t been shipwrecked, injured, hungry, and thoroughly miserable, this might have been a nice place to spend a few weeks on holiday. “I’m gonna try again.” He said, nodding down at the pile of firewood and clambering back onto his knees with a little gasp of pain. He crawled back over and began to work at it again.

Roo continued to stare out towards the horizon and wondered if anyone else had survived that night. Had they been the only ones to make it to land? That night when they’d all been shipwrecked, she’d thought that the storm would never end. Blinded by the beating rain and the howling wind, and the crashing of waves over the side of the raft, she hadn’t been able to see who was in the boat with her. Matt had been there, that was clear, but there had been others in the beginning. She didn’t know what had happened to them. Matt had tied a rope around her waist and lashed it to the raft. He’d done the same with his own. The raft had overturned on numerous occasions, but they’d managed to flip it back over and clamber back in. The others hadn’t been so lucky. She had no idea how far the raft had drifted or where they’d ended up. It had felt like days. They’d eventually hit land and scrambled onto the beach where they were now. They could be anywhere! How were they ever going to be found?!

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Yessss!!!!” shouted Matt, suddenly rising onto his knees, “I did it! I did it, Roo! Look!”

Suddenly there were flames leaping and the fire had taken off. The wood that Matt had collected and built into a sort of steeple shape was being engulfed in flames and he began to add more and more to it. He leapt to his feet, forgetting for a moment the gaping wound in his side, and began to hop from one foot to the other excitedly. “Man make fire!” he shouted in a mock ‘caveman’ voice as he turned and grinned at Roo. He beat his fists off his chest in an exaggerated way, and then ran to Roo, throwing his arms around her and dragging her onto her feet. “Man build fire… woman bask in its glow!”

 

“Roo?!” exclaimed Leah, giving her friend a little squeeze around the waist to get her attention, “Are you okay?”

“What? Yeah…” replied Roo, turning to give Leah a little smile, “Sorry, I was miles away…” She pulled away from Leah’s hug and went to lift a large bowl of potato salad off the counter. “Can you, um… can you give me a hand to carry these out to the table? I think VJ and Olivia are already out there with dad.”

Leah and Zac exchanged worried glances and shrugged at each other, before following Roo out into the garden with as many dishes each as they could manage. Roo had set up a couple of large patio tables end to end, and there was enough food to feed an army, stretching from one end of the table to the other. It looked like some sort of medieval banquet!

“Mum!” shouted VJ, as he made his way towards her with Maisy. She was holding VJ’s hands and he was walking her across the garden with her feet on top of his. “Are the others here yet?” he asked with a big smile, as Maisy giggled loudly, “I wanted to ask Oscar a ‘sciencey’ question… or that brainy girlfriend of his…”

“No, not yet…” she said, shaking her head at him and laughing a little. Callie was certainly brainy but she probably wouldn’t like being called that! “What are you two doing?!” laughed Leah, setting the dishes down and putting her hands on her hips in a scolding sort of way. Maisy looked up at her with a mischievous grin and held her arms out to be lifted. “Okay, you coming up to see mummy?” she asked, lifting her up onto her hip and carrying her over to say hello to Alf. Olivia was holding baby Alfie up so that he could see what was being cooked on the barbecue, and everyone was laughing at something that Irene had said.

Suddenly there was a burst of loud laughter and Zac led the remaining guests into the garden. They all seemed to have arrived at the same time. Everyone was giggling loudly about something that Oscar had said, and his girlfriend Callie was smiling up at him as though he’d just uttered the most amazing thing in the world. Her eyes were shining like stars. Billie was leaning her head on Kyle’s shoulder in a shocked sort of way and covering her mouth with her hand to stop herself from laughing. Their five year old daughter Lucy was skipping along beside them and Kyle was carrying their new little baby boy, Joseph, in a car seat. Evie and Brody were following along behind with a wicker basket full of desserts from the restaurant.

“Hey Roo” said Kyle, giving her a sympathetic sort of head tilt as he approached the table. He sat down on one of the seats close to her, setting the car seat down and carefully lifting baby Joseph out and onto his chest. Billie sat down at the table too and began to get some things out of their changing bag to go and change Joseph’s nappy. “How are you settling back in?” asked Kyle, kissing Joseph softly on the top of the head and rubbing his back gently. He peered around the garden trying to see if he could spot Matt. “How are you two doing anyway?” he asked, looking a little concerned. He’d tried to have a chat with Matt at the welcome home party but it hadn’t got much past a few basic pleasantries comparing notes about fatherhood, and then Matt had done a disappearing act for the rest of the party. From the few times that he’d run into him since then, it didn’t seem like he was coping all that well.

“Ah, you know… we’re getting there.” said Roo, flashing him a big white smile and checking her phone again to make sure that Matt hadn’t called. He hadn’t… and he wasn’t answering either!

VJ made his way slowly over to the table, with Maisy and Lucy skipping on either side of him, and holding a hand each. “Hey Billie… Kyle…” he said in a slightly cold tone, as he gave each of them a curt little nod. Things were still pretty tense between them. The revelation that the baby wasn’t his had ripped his heart out, and he’d been sure for a long time that he would never get over it. He’d grown so incredibly attached to the theory of that baby over the time that they’d been together and he’d been looking forward to being a dad. Finding out so close to the birth that she’d lied to him and used him like that had been soul destroying! It was almost as though the baby had died. He’d grieved for her, the baby that had never existed, and gone to pieces for a while. Seeing Billie with Lucy in the months that followed had been too hard. He’d tried to be a dad to her for a short while, but Billie’s betrayal had just soured things so much that he hadn’t been able to bond with her in the way that a dad should. Once Kyle arrived on the scene, it had all become so much more complicated, and he’d decided to take a step back. Getting his HSC and going away to Uni had definitely been the right decision. He didn’t regret it… and if he hadn’t chosen to go, then he and Olivia probably wouldn’t have gotten together. Still, seeing Kyle playing dad to the child that should have been his really hurt, and he wondered what things would have been like if he’d forgiven her the lies and stayed with her anyway. Maybe they’d be the ones playing happy families now and they’d have a second little baby just like Joseph? He couldn’t help feeling a little jealous.

He turned to look at Roo and gave her a sad little smile. “Any idea how long Matt’s gonna be?” he asked, “It’s just… Mr Stewart says we’re ready… everything’s ready.”

She gave a heavy sigh as she looked back towards the house. He was nowhere to be seen. Frowning down at the screen on her phone again, she saw that he hadn’t called and he hadn’t sent a text. “He should have been here by now.” she said, dialling his number and pressing call…

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