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Look to the Future


Red Ranger 1

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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

It was the next morning that Irene was getting breakfast and was greeted by the sight of Olivia coming out of her room, followed by Mason.She raised an eyebrow.“I wasn’t aware we had a guest last night.”

  “Told you I should have gone out the window,”Mason told Olivia in a faux quiet voice.

  Olivia took his hand before looking at Irene.“Well, he’s my boyfriend now so I guess that’s to be expected.”

  “Is it now?”Irene replied mildly.She sighed.“I can’t say I don’t like seeing you happy but a bit of information on how many places to set for breakfast might be nice?Go and get an extra mat.”

  As Olivia wheeled herself into the kitchen, Mason wilted slightly under Irene’s glare.“Thanks?”he ventured.

  “You’re welcome.Just don’t step out of line, okay, buster?”

  Olivia came back from the kitchen with Mason’s breakfast things resting on her lap, just in time to see Chris and Sasha coming downstairs looking sheepish.“I get the feeling I’m not the only one who didn’t sleep alone last night,”she commented wryly.

  “Don’t you have a table to set, missy?”Irene retorted before awkwardly turning her attention to the two newcomers,“Sleep well?”

  Chris looked self-consciously at Sasha.“Yeah, yeah, we managed to drop off eventually.”

  “We were really tired,”Sasha agreed, wincing a little before adding,“Eventually.”

  “Good,”Irene replied, doing her best to keep smiling,“Coffee?”

***

Roo was ushering Frank out of her bedroom and out of the flat.“Aren’t we meant to be the adults here?” he protested.

  “Well, let’s just say I’m not really feeling like an adult at the moment,”Roo answered,“Can you just get out of here before..?”

  At that moment, Matt and Evelyn emerged from Matt’s room.“Oh hi, Frank,”Matt greeted him,“You’re here early.”He paused, taking in the fact Frank was halfway out the door and Roo was in her dressing gown.“Or possibly not.”

  “Did Frank stay the night?”Evelyn asked.

  “Yeah, I was trying not to say that.”

  Roo looked at the pair defiantly.“You know what?Yes, he did.And I do not think I need to explain that to people who weren’t even born when I was first with Frank.Go and get breakfast.”The two youngsters exchanged bemused looks and headed towards the table.

  “I’ll…call you later,”Frank decided.He kissed Roo on the cheek then headed down the stairs.

  Roo closed the door behind him before turning to Matt and Evelyn.“Not a word to Dad.”

***

Chris sat down next to Sasha on the couch.Apart from the two of them, the beach house was empty. “So…do we need to talk about last night?”he asked.

  Sasha sighed.“Do we have to?”

  “Well, if you want to pretend it didn’t happen…”

  Sasha looked at him and saw that he was hurt, even if he was trying to hide it.“It’s just…you’re Chris. I’ve never thought of you like that.”

  Chris looked slightly surprised.“Never?”

  “Never.Not until I got back here and I guess I suddenly had all these feelings and realised I’d missed you…and I don’t know if I’ve suddenly got confused and I’m mistaking missing you for something else.”

  Chris considered this.“Last night was pretty good though.”

  Sasha managed a smile.“Yeah, I’ll give you that.But I’m due back at uni tomorrow.”

  “But if you were staying, you’d want to…see if this is real between us?”

  “I guess so but what does that mean?”

  “Well…I have got one idea.”

***

Heath and April were arriving back at the Braxton house, April cradling baby Chandler.Darcy came from the direction of the bedrooms when she heard them enter, dragging Harley after her.“Is that him?”

  April nodded.She crouched down so both of the youngsters could see him.“Your new baby brother.”

  Darcy smiled at the child, before looking at Harley.“Remember when you were that size?”Harley shook his head.

  “Hey, I remember your mum showing you around town,”Heath told her,“You were a funny looking thing too.”

  Darcy scowled at him.“Shut up, Dad.”

  There was a knock on the door.“Who’s that?”April wondered,“Ash and Kat wouldn’t knock.”

  Heath answered the door to find VJ and Billie there, Billie holding Stefan.“Hey there!”Billie greeted them cheerily.

  “Welcome home,”VJ added.

  April did a double take.“What are you two doing here?Didn’t you just get married?”

  “I thought you’d be having some alone time,”Heath agreed.

  “We did get married,”VJ confirmed.

  “And Dexter?”April checked.

  “Him too.”

  April nodded.“I’m glad.”

  “But we needed to pick this one up this morning,”Billie concluded, hugging Stefan tightly.

  April sighed.“Guess that’s something I’ve got to get used to.”

  “Which is why we’re here,”Billie explained,“We don’t have many other new parents to hang out with.”

  “And you two are kind of cool,”VJ noted.

  Heath looked at him in confusion.“Didn’t you think Brax was the cool one?”

  “Yeah, but you did save me from drowning that time.”

  Heath thought long and hard for a moment before his eyes lit up.“Oh yeah.”

***

Dexter and Lottie were sat up in bed, watching the episodes Dexter had recorded the previous night.“I’ve always thought Picardo was a bit underrated in this,”Dexter commented,“We all miss Elizabeth Weir but Wolsey’s kind of cool.”

  “Don’t pretend you’re not watching the hot doctor,”Lottie warned him.

  “Hey, I’ve got my very own hot doctor these days.”

  Lottie smiled.“Hot medical student,”she corrected.

  Dexter glanced at his bedside clock.“How long have we got this room for?”

  “Another three hours.”

  “Long enough.”

  Lottie looked at him with curiosity.“To finish the episodes?”

  Dexter picked up the remote control…and pressed the pause button.He looked at Lottie who smiled in realisation.He kissed her and they lay down again…

  …An hour later, they were asleep in each other’s arms when Dexter heard his phone bleep.Wearily, he reached out a hand to retrieve it.Lottie stirred next to him and saw him reading a message.“What is it?”

  Dexter looked up, somewhat bewildered.“It’s a message from Sasha.She’s heading back to uni this afternoon.”

  “Well, we kind of knew that.”

  “And she’s taking Chris with her.”

***

Irene and Chris were alone in the beach house.Chris brought his bags downstairs and placed them in the middle of the floor.“Guess that’s me done then.”

  “Love, are you sure about this?”Irene persisted,“I mean, unless you’re planning on going to uni and moving into halls…”

  “I’m going to get my own place nearby,”Chris explained,“Sasha’s going to stay on in the dorm.I don’t think we’re quite at the living-together-as-a-couple stage yet.”

  “But are you sure?”Irene persisted,“I mean, this has all happened so fast…”

  “Yeah, it has,”Chris admitted,“But…this is the first time since Hannah that I’ve really felt like I can be happy.”

  Irene looked at him mournfully.“Lord knows, love, I don’t begrudge you that but everything that’s happened this year, with Mick and Billie and what happened to Olivia…I’m not sure I could have coped without you.”

  Chris sighed.“Come on, Irene, you’re gonna make me cry.”

  “Good!”Irene snapped jovially, sniffling slightly,“You deserve it for abandoning us!”

  Chris hugged her and they held each other for a moment.“If you need anything you can call me, right?”

  Irene laughed.“I really will be in trouble if it comes to that!Be happy, you hear me?You deserve it.”

***

Outside, Sasha was waiting by Chris’ car.Grouped around were Dexter, Lottie, Indi, Olivia and, by default, Mason.Dexter was looking the car over.“Are you sure you trust this to get you where you want to go?”

  “Could get Matt to look over it,”Mason suggested.

  “I’d be more worried about the driver getting you where you want to go,”Olivia mused.

  “Chris may have his problems,”Sasha admitted,“But he’s never got lost when driving me somewhere.”

  Lottie gave her a quick hug.“It feels like we haven’t really had a chance to catch up.”

  “Well, you’re my sister-in-law now.Going to have lots of family gatherings.”

  “That we are,”Dexter agreed, hugging his sister,“Make sure you keep in touch, okay?”

  Indi drew Sasha aside.“Are you sure about this?You and Chris?”

  Sasha sighed.“I get that this is awkward for you…”

  “And then some.But I’m more worried about you.Do you really think you can stick this out?”

  “I dated Matt Page.Chris is nothing compared to that.”

  Indi nodded.“Yeah.I don’t think I’d have got through losing Romeo without him.And despite a very dodgy start, I think you probably understand him better than I ever did.”She gave her sister a quick hug.

  Chris emerged from the house with Irene.“Hang on, I need to get in the middle of this.”He put his arms round both Sasha and Indi, causing Indi to push him off with a wry smile.He bent down to give Olivia a hug.“See you, Wheels.Go easy on the bends.”

  “Bye, Chris.”

  He looked around.“Well, guess this it.”

  “Not quite,”Irene replied, nodding up the road.Alf, Roo, Leah, Zac, John, Marilyn, Evelyn and Matt were approaching.

  “A little birdie tells us you were planning to quietly sneak out of town,”John noted.

  “No flies on you, Palmer,”Chris confirmed.

  “Damn straight,”Alf agreed,“You think we’d let you get away with that one?”

  “The Diner won’t be the same without you,”Leah concurred.

  Roo sighed.“Oh, come here!”She threw her arms around Chris, instigating another round of hugging before the couple drove away.

***

Indi walked into Salt and sat down at the bar.“Sauvignon.White.”

  Brody poured the wine without question.“You got any idea where my most unreliable waiter and waitress have got to?”

  “Matt and Evie?They were just saying goodbye to Chris.”

  “Chris has gone?”Brody shrugged.“And I never managed to get his burger recipe off him.”

  “Yep, he’s gone.With my little sister.”

  Brody looked at her closely.“I’m sensing I need to add something to the flow chart.”

  “I’m sensing I need to add something to a lot of things.I’m back in a town I left three years ago and I’m realising I don’t have anywhere to go to.The whole travelling thing kind of took over and I’ve ended up with no home, no job, no degree, no boyfriend…and the one guy I’ve actually felt something for since my husband died just traded me in for the younger version.”

  Brody leaned on the bar, adopting a sympathetic face.“And how does that make you feel?”

  Indi managed a wry smile again.“I guess it could be worse.”

  “So, are you sticking around?With the newlyweds?”

  “Actually, I spoke with Mr.Stewart.Turns out they’ve got a spare room now VJ’s married so…there I am.”

  Brody looked at her with sudden interest.“You any good at timekeeping?”

  “Not bad.”

  “Well, you did say you worked here before, and you are over eighteen now, and I could do with a waitress who turns up on time…”

  Indi tried to piece this together.“Are you offering me a job?”

  “Yeah, I guess I am.”

  Indi smiled and held out her hand.“You’ve got yourself a waitress.”

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And as promised...

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Kat pursed her lips together irritably.“I hope you’re not trying to take advantage of the fact that I’m dating your brother.”

  VJ and Billie exchanged glances.“Never crossed our mind,”Billie claimed.

  “We just thought that you’re a kind and caring employer,”VJ added.The three of them were in the gym together: alone, since it had yet to open.

  Kat looked from one to the other suspiciously.“Okay, VJ,”she said challengingly,“tell me why I should give you a job.”

  VJ hesitated.“Er, because I’m young,”he said at last,“Enthusiastic.Fit.Quick learner.And I know your other employee really well so I’d work well with her.”

  Kat didn’t seem entirely convinced.“And what about childcare issues?I mean, I don’t want to pry into your personal lives but you’ve got a young child together.Do you think you can handle that?”

  “We’ve asked around,”Billie replied,“And there’s a few people who can help look after him.”

  “Mum and Irene are really clear,”VJ appended.

  Kat breathed a sigh of relief.“For a moment, I thought you were going to ask to bring him in with you.” She saw the pair exchange an awkward glance.“You’re joking.”

  “Just now and then,”Billie explained,“We’d keep him in the office.”

  Kat sighed wearily.“Okay, fine.You’re hired.Wait there and I’ll get you a uniform.”

  VJ and Billie high fived each other and then hugged.

***

April was looking down at Chandler, who was in a baby basket in the living room.He seemed to be sleeping quite happily and the baby monitor was set up so she’d know if he woke when she was in another room.

  Heath came in and April looked round.“Did you get Harley and Darcy to your mum’s okay?”she asked.

  Heath nodded.“Darcy’s going to visit Connie and then have a look around the neighbourhood, catch up with old friends.And Mum is wondering when she’s going to meet you and her newest grandchild.”

  April grimaced.“Can’t put it off much longer, can I?”

  “Nope.”Heath put a comforting arm around her.“Hey, don’t worry about it.I think Mum kind of likes you.”

  “Really?Because she kind of hated Bianca.”

  “Only until she got to know her.And don’t worry, I’ll be there to take the punches for you.”

  April smiled in spite of herself.“Well, that’s something I suppose.”

  Heath smiled too and they looked at each other, their faces only a few inches apart.Then Heath leaned in and kissed her.April slowly responded, the pair of them softly caressing each other, until the kiss broke.

  “This is really not a good idea,”April pointed out.

  Heath shrugged.“I have a lot of really bad ideas.”

  They kissed again, softly and intensely.Slowly, continuing to caress each other, they walked towards Heath’s bedroom.

***

VJ and Billie arrived in the Diner to the expectant faces of Roo and Marilyn.“Well?”Roo prompted.

  “You are looking at the newest employee of the Summer Bay gym,”VJ told them.

  “Oh, I’m so pleased!”Marilyn exclaimed, giving him a hug.

  “Where’s Stefan?”Billie asked.

  Roo gave her a wry look.“You may well ask.”She beckoned the pair into the kitchen, where Irene and Leah were bent over the baby basket.

  “I tell you, that was a smile,”Irene insisted.

  “Oh come on, Irene, you know he’s too young to smile,”Leah protested.

  “It was my voice that did it.He remembers hearing me when he was in the womb.”

  “Because I never went near him, I suppose?”

  “I see Stefan’s two favourite grandmothers are keeping an eye on him,”VJ commented.

  Leah turned at his voice and jokingly pinched his cheek.“And how’s my favourite boy then?”

  Irene noticed Billie looking slightly melancholy.“What’s up, love?”

  Billie sighed.“Just thinking about how much Mum would have loved being a grandmother.”

  Irene smiled sympathetically.“Guess you’ll have to tell him all about her when he grows up.”

  Marilyn watched the gathering from the doorway.“I feel quite jealous of them,”she remarked to Roo, “Don’t you?”

  Roo sighed.“Be careful what you wish for, Maz.”

***

Heath and April lay in bed, facing each other.“Well, that was different,”April commented.

  Heath looked at her with a small amount of worry.“Different’s good, right?”

  “Just…different.It was less…rough than we’ve been in the past.”

  Heath nodded.“If there’s anything you want done different next time…”

  April sighed.“Are we actually going to do this?I mean…you and me?”

  “Seemed to go okay.”

  “Yeah but we never did have a problem with that side of it.I mean, when we were together before, if you can remember that far back…were you even into me?Why exactly were you with me?”

  “Because you were hot?”Heath suggested.

  April sighed.“Not very encouraging.”

  “And…because you were nice to me when not a lot of people were.”

  April mulled this over.“Okay, we can work with that.Be nice to each other.”

  Heath moved closer and gently stroked her arm.“I’m not going to pretend that I love you…Actually, scrub that, I think I kind of do.I like being around you, that’s all, and I’d kind of like to have at least one kid who gets brought up by both parents.And you are pretty hot and pretty cool and I wanna give this a shot.”

  April smiled.“Wow, that’s probably the longest speech you’ve ever made to me.And the sweetest too.” She leaned in and kissed him.And then they heard Chandler grumbling over the baby monitor.

  April made to get out of bed but Heath stopped her.“I’ll go.”He slid out of bed, pulling on a shirt, and headed towards the front room.Behind him, April smiled to herself.

***

“Order for table two!”Brody called out from the kitchen.

  Indi collected the plates.“Order for table two!”she repeated,“Matt, take them over.”

  Brody smiled at her as Matt took the plates from her.“How are you settling in as our new assistant manager?”

  “Pretty well, really.”

  “Who exactly is she to be giving us orders?”Evie complained quietly to Matt.

  Matt sighed.“She’s Sasha’s sister.”

  “So?”

  “So I guess it’s genetic.”

  “Er, table for two?”Mason called out.He entered the restaurant carrying Olivia.Matt gestured to a table and he settled her down in one of the chairs there.“I’ll just get your chair from downstairs,”he told her, giving her a quick kiss.

  Olivia looked semi-accusingly at the staff.“You know, you really need to install a ramp or a lift or something.”

  “It’s up to the surf club whether we have a lift,”Brody insisted.

  “But we will make a note and see what we can do,”Indi cut in.She gave Brody a reproachful look. “Public relations.”

***

Alf climbed the stairs to the Diner flat, pushed on the door and found it open.“Roo?”he called.

  “In here, Dad!”Roo called back.There was a slight catch in her voice, as though she was struggling not to cry.

  Alf cautiously entered and found Roo sat on the sofa, staring at a small object that was resting in her hands.He squinted to look at it and his eyes widened.“Stone the flaming crows, is that what I think it is?”

  “It’s a pregnancy test,”Roo confirmed,“And it’s positive.I’m pregnant again, at forty-five.”

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Hope you all like this!

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Alf sat down in a nearby chair.“Strike me roan, Roo, I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone.”

  “There has been someone,”Roo admitted,“It started at the wedding and it’s kind of been carrying on since then.It’s just casual though, we haven’t made any promises to each other…”

  Alf looked at her suspiciously.“Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this?”

  “It’s Frank.”

  Alf was exasperated.“Frank Morgan?You’re pregnant by Frank Morgan?”

  “Unless you know someone else called Frank.”

  Alf let out a deep sigh.“Oh, Roo.”

  “I know.”Roo stared into space for a moment, collecting her thoughts.“It’s ironic, isn’t it?Last time I was pregnant, I really wished Frank could have been the father.Now…he’s just one more part of the mess.” She sighed.“I just didn’t think this was ever going to happen, I thought I’d missed my chance.I hardly had anything to do with Martha.And now I don’t know where she is, she could have children herself by now, I could be a grandmother.Maddy’s like a daughter to me but she was practically grown up when I met her. And now this one gets landed on me.”

  Alf regarded her closely.“You’re pleased, aren’t you?Just a bit of you, I mean.”

  Roo smiled despite herself.“Yeah, I guess I am.Not quite ready to be the glamorous granny yet.”

  “Are you going to tell Frank?”

  Roo shrugged.“Got to, haven’t I?It’s not a conversation I’m looking forward to though.”

***

April entered the living room wearing a light-coloured blouse and black skirt and did a quick twizzle to show it off.“Will I do?”

  Heath smiled at her.“You look great.”

  April looked him up and down.Surprisingly for someone whose wardrobe mostly consisted of boardies, he’d managed to find a proper set of trousers and a green shirt that actually had sleeves.“You’re making an effort.”

  “Well, don’t want Mum to think I’m not responsible.”

  “You think that yet another unplanned pregnancy might give her that idea?”

  Heath smiled.“At least I get to introduce you as my girlfriend.”

  April raised an eyebrow.“Oh, is that what this is all about?”

  “That and a few other things.”Heath put an arm round her waist and drew her towards him.April smiled and they kissed.

  “What are you doing?”Darcy demanded from the doorway.

  Heath and April stood still for a moment.“Kissing,”Heath said at last.

  Darcy sighed.“So is that something you’re going to be doing from now on?”

  “Looks like it,”April confirmed.

  “What are you doing back here anyway?”Heath asked,“You’re meant to be at your gran’s.”

  “I’d done everything so I got the bus back,”Darcy replied casually.

  “Well, we’re on our way there so you can come with us.”

  April had picked up Chandler’s basket.“Want to carry your brother?”

  “Why should I do your job?”Darcy complained.Then she softened.“You make Dad happy, you know.”

  April looked at Heath in surprise but he just shrugged.“She’s right,”he told her,“You do.”

  “So, I’m kind of glad we’re a family.”

  April put an arm round the girl’s shoulder.“Thanks, kiddo.Maybe you could mention that to your gran.”

***

Dexter and Lottie arrived home to the sound of a baby crying.“Ah, that dulcet tone,”Dexter sighed.

  VJ was on the sofa, rocking Stefan, as Billie approached with a bottle.“I’ve warmed it,”she noted, handing it to him.

  VJ attempted to feed the bottle to Stefan, who moved away from the teat a few times before eventually accepting it.He shot an apologetic look at his housemates.“Sorry about this.”

  “That’s okay,”Dexter responded,“We knew what we were getting into when we agreed to this.And it’ll be practise for when we have a little person of our own.”He saw Lottie giving him a sceptical look.“Just a thought.”

  “I don’t think I quite got how much effort it takes to keep someone alive,”VJ sighed, looking down at Stefan who now seemed quite content.

  Billie sat down next to him and put her arms round him.“You’re doing great.”She kissed him lightly on the side of the head.

  Dexter winced.“Okay, I’m just starting to work out how awkward public displays of affection are for other people.”

  Lottie linked arms with him with a smile.“You figure things out in the end.”

***

Heath, April and Darcy were sitting side-by-side on the couch of the old Braxton homestead in Mangrove River.April was cradling Chandler.Somewhere nearby, they could hear Harley running around noisily.

  From her seat, Cheryl fixed April with a glare.“So, you’re the latest one Heath got up the duff?”

  “I wouldn’t exactly put it like that,”April returned.

  “You doing each other?”

  April looked beseechingly at Heath who just shrugged.She sighed before turning her attention back to Cheryl.“We are going to be bringing up Chandler together and…we’re going to be doing it as a couple.”

  Cheryl’s gaze flickered over to her granddaughter.“What do you think of that, Darce?”

  Darcy shrugged.“April’s okay.”

  Cheryl turned to her son.“And what about you, Heath?What’s your take on this?”

  “April’s cool,”Heath replied.April sighed deeply.“Hot?”he attempted.The look she gave him was even more exasperated.He took a deep breath.“She’s a really cool chick,”he said decisively,“And she’s great with Darcy and Harley and she’s going to be a great mum to Chandler.And I really like her.”He looked April in the eye.“Love her,”he amended.

  April felt a slight flutter, at the look as much as the words.She took Heath’s hand and turned back to Cheryl.“Mrs.Braxton, I love Heath and I’m going to do my very best by him and the children.”

  Cheryl looked at her hard for a long time, then gave a grudging nod.“You’ll do.”

***

Frank had been called to the flat where Roo was waiting for him.She gestured for him to sit down. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

  Frank did as she directed.“That sounds fairly ominous.”

  Roo folded her hands across her lap.“I’m pregnant.”

  Frank stared at her hand for a moment.“And it’s…”

  “It’s yours, yeah.”

  “You’re sure?”

  Roo struggled not to lose her temper.“Yes, Frank, I’m sure.A lot of water has gone under the bridge in both directions since the last time I was pregnant, I would not lie about that again.”

  Frank winced.“Sorry.”

  Roo softened slightly.He probably hadn’t meant anything by it, it’s just the whole situation was bringing back bad memories.“I’m not expecting anything of you, I just thought you should know.”

  Frank looked startled.“Roo, I’m not going to walk away from this.I’m here for you.”

  Roo smiled at his sincerity.“Thanks, Frank.I’m not really sure what we’re going to do but I’m glad you’re in it with me.”

  Frank smiled at memories.“Last time this happened, your Aunt Celia demanded we get married.”

  “She probably would again if she was here.”

  Frank’s smile disappeared and he became serious.“So why don’t we?”

  Roo looked at him closely to see if he was serious.He was.“Frank, are you for real?We tried that once before, twice before…”

  Frank moved onto the sofa next to her and took her hands.“Roo, be honest.Since we broke up back in New York, has there really been anyone for either of us?”

  Roo thought hard about this.All the men there had been since:Tim, Sid, Harvey, James…She had been serious about some of them but at the back of her mind, there’d always been an awareness that she didn’t quite feel the same for them as she had for her first love.“Not for long,”she admitted,“But there were reasons we broke up in New York…”

  “Yeah, I know, but we’re not in New York anymore.We’re in Summer Bay, the place where we first fell in love.If there’s anywhere that we’re going to work out, it’s here.”

  Roo kissed him softly for several moments, then rested her forehead against his.“Are we really going to do this?”

  “Looks like it.”

  She gave a rueful smile.“I hate to think what Dad’s going to say.”

  “Well, I guess we need to announce it somehow…”

***

The banner above the bar at Salt read “Congratulations on Your Engagement, Frank and Roo”.People were milling around, drinking and chatting.Frank stood with Tori, Justin and Brody looking up at it. “Thanks, guys.”

  Justin clapped him on the shoulder.“Hey, mate, family is family.We’ve got the restaurant, you’ve got the engagement party.”

  Tori gave Frank a quick hug.“I just can’t believe our big cousin’s getting married!”

  “Isn’t it about time you lot started taking the plunge?”Frank quipped.

  Tori and Justin exchanged looks.“I guess we could do that now,”Tori commented,“Now the witness protection’s finally over.”

  “Plenty of time, isn’t there?”Justin suggested.

  “I don’t know,”Tori replied,“I caught Samantha looking at bridal mags at work the other day.”A look of shock spread across Justin’s face then Tori started giggling.“Sorry, you just had to see your expression then.”

  Frank looked over at his other cousin.“You’re a bit quiet, Brody.”

  Brody was staring hard at the buffet.“I’m just wondering whether putting the canapès next to the creditès was really a good idea.”

  Indi sidled up to him.“Maybe move them to the opposite ends of the table?”

  “Good idea, let’s do that.”

  The other Morgans watched the pair.“Maybe we won’t be the next to get married after all,”Tori suggested.

  Elsewhere in the restaurant, Mason and Olivia were chatting in a corner while VJ, Billie and Zac were checking on Stefan, who seemed to be sleeping through the gathering.Heath was helping himself to a large amount of cakeballs from the dessert section.April nudged him.“I did promise Marilyn we wouldn’t be back late.”

  “What does she care?She only lives next door.”

  “And I need to move my things into your room when we get back.”

  Heath’s eyes lit up.“Good point.”

  “Spending the night together.It’s been a good few years since we did that.”

  Heath smiled then looked serious.“I love you,”he said quietly.

  April smiled back.“Thank you,”she replied and kissed him, prompting him to rest his full plate on a nearby table in order to respond.

  Dexter watched them from the other side of the room.Lottie noticed his gaze.“Do you want to make out with me so she knows you’re not bothered?”she asked.

  Dexter considered the question and the potential pitfalls of various responses.“I want to make out with you but not for that reason?”he came up with at last.

  Lottie smiled.“Right answer,”she confirmed and kissed him.

  Matt and Evelyn were standing by the bar.“So, you’re going to be sharing the flat with a pair of newlyweds?”Evelyn asked.

  “Yeah,”Matt sighed,“Guess I’m going to be the one needing earplugs.”

  “You could always move back to ours.”

  “Live in a van again?”

  “No, I mean there’s room in the house.”

  Matt looked confused.“I thought Indi had taken the spare room?”Evelyn gave him a look and he twigged.“Oh, you mean the two of us…Would that be okay with you?”

  Evelyn gave an innocent smile.“Just being practical.”

  Roo was showing off her engagement ring to Irene and Leah.“Oh my gawd, love, that’s gorgeous!”Irene exclaimed.

  Roo smiled.“Yeah, Frank insisted on taking me out this afternoon and buying it.”

  “Well, good for you,”Leah said defiantly,“I’m all for women our age getting rocks on their fingers.”

  “Hmm, we’ve noticed,”Irene muttered pointedly.

  Roo’s attention was drawn to where Alf was standing, looking up at the banner.“Excuse me, I think there’s someone else I need to talk to.”She cautiously went to stand next to him.“Dad.”

  Alf seemed to re-read the words before looking at her.“Didn’t think I’d see that message again.Hoping for third time lucky, are you?”

  Roo sighed wearily.“Dad.”

  Alf shook his head.“Oh, I know.You’re too old to be taking advice from me.Well, I hope you believe that I want you to be happy.Even if it is with Frank Morgan.A part of me still thinks I should be punching him.”

  “You’re not as young as you used to be,”Roo reminded him.

  “Neither is Frank.”

  “Someone mention my name?”Frank asked as he came up behind them.He nodded to his once and future father-in-law.“Alf.”

  Alf looked at him stoney-faced.“Well, you’re not exactly the fresh-faced youngster I gave a job to all those years ago…which means I can’t threaten to fire you if you mess Roo about.But trust me, I’ll find something to do that’s just as bad.”

  Frank looked at him levelly.“I believe you.”

  Alf managed a ghost of a smile.“Well, in that case…welcome back to the family!”

***

Some time later, everyone else had gone and Brody and Indi were clearing up.“Thanks for all your help tonight,”Brody noted as he moved the rest of the food into the kitchen.

  “It’s what I’m here for,”Indi replied as she wiped down the tables.

  “No, you’ve really been above and beyond.Pretty much have been since you came here.”

  “Well, I haven’t really got much else to do.”

  They were facing each other now, almost nose to nose.“Don’t try and dismiss it,”Brody told her,“You’re a big part of why I enjoy coming into work these days.That and the fact that I’ve always wanted to run a restaurant.But you’re a big part of it too.”

  Indi smiled and let out a theatrical sigh.“Well, I guess you’ve just realised how amazing I am.”

  Brody smiled back.“I guess I have.”

  They looked each other in the eye, then slowly, almost cautiously, their lips came together in a passionate kiss.“We have locked the door, haven’t we?”Indi checked as the kiss broke.

  Brody grinned.“I think so.”

  “Good.”

  They kissed again and he lifted her up onto the table.

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So here we are at the end, I hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

The caravan park house was playing host to a rather unconventional bridal party.Roo, wearing her wedding dress, was sharing a bottle of champagne with matron of honour Leah.Alf rolled his eyes at them.“You two are worse than the young ones.”

  “It’s non-alcoholic,”Roo pointed out.

  “Good thing in your condition.”

  Maddy came downstairs in her bridesmaid’s dress.The sleeves were long enough to cover the stump of her amputated arm, but short enough that much of her other arm was visible.Roo smiled at her.“Oh, Maddy, you look gorgeous.”

  “Thanks,”Maddy replied,“So do you.”

  Leah nudged Alf.“I think this is a mother/daughter moment.”Alf gave a knowing nod and accompanied her outside.

  “Are you sure you’re okay with the dress?”Roo asked,“I mean, we could have got a long-sleeved one and if you wanted to wear your prosthetic…”

  Maddy shook her head.“I’m okay.The one-armed bridesmaid.Anyway, this is your day.And I really wasn’t expecting you to be the one that ended up getting married and having a kid.”

  Roo gave a small laugh.“Yeah, it’s all been a bit unexpected.I think Dad’s still recovering from the news.”

  “I’m pleased for you, anyway.”

  “It’ll be you one day.”

  For a moment, something Roo couldn’t quite identify passed across Maddy’s face.“Yeah, I hope so.”She smiled.“But let’s get you married first.”

  Roo handed Maddy her bouquet.“Are you okay holding it with one hand?”

  “Yeah, I’m adapting.”

  Roo linked arms with her.“Then let’s go do this.”

***

Frank and Justin stood at the front of the church.“You nervous?”Justin asked.

  Frank gave a rueful smile.“Yeah, a bit.”

  “You have done it before.”

  “Yeah, that’s kind of the reason.”

  They both quietened as the bridal march started up.Alf led Roo down the aisle, Leah and Maddy trailing her.As Roo came to stand by Frank, the vicar cleared his throat.“Before the ceremony starts, Frank and Ruth would like to say a few words.”

  Frank and Roo faced each other.“We’ve been here before,”Frank pointed out.

  “More than once,”Roo confirmed.

  “And we managed to make a mess of it in the past.”

  “But that was back when we were young and stupid, not the mature and measured adults we are now.”

  “Roo, I love you and I love this baby we’re having together and this time…this time’s for keeps.”

  Roo smiled.“No argument from me.”

  They moved to kiss…and the vicar cleared his throat.“There are a few more ceremonies to have first.”

  The pair blushed slightly and turned back to him.“You get right on with it,”Roo told him.

***

Salt had been decked out again, this time for a wedding reception.People lined up at the entrance to throw confetti at Roo and Frank as they entered.“Three cheers for the happy couple!”Brody called and the crowd happily complied.

  “Oh, it’s like a fairytale,”Marilyn gushed at John,“And to think I knew them when they were just teenagers.”

  “So were you, Maz,”Roo pointed out as she passed them.

  “Oh, yes, that’s true.”

  Maddy found herself standing opposite Matt and Evelyn.The three old friends shifted uncomfortably. “So…you two,”Maddy said conversationally.

  Evelyn raised an eyebrow challengingly.“You got a problem with that?”

  “No.”Maddy smiled gently at her.“Oscar would like to see you happy.”

  Evelyn’s eyes misted over slightly.“Thank you.”

  “He’d like to see you happy too,”Matt interjected.

  “I am,”Maddy promised him.She looked round.“Roo, can I have the keys to the flat?I need somewhere quiet to use my laptop.”

  “Yeah, sure.”Roo opened up her handbag and handed her a set of keys.“Just make sure you’re back for the bouquet.”

***

Maddy locked the door of the flat behind her.The signal she was about to use couldn’t be traced but that didn’t make any difference if someone walked in.She walked over to the table where she’d already set up her laptop, keyed in a code and a moment later Oscar appeared on the screen.“So how’s Summer Bay then?”he asked.

  “The same in some ways, different in others.”

  “The wedding?”

  “Went well.And Roo looked happy.”Maddy hesitated before adding,“So did Evie.”

  Oscar smiled.“I’m glad.”He paused, examining his girlfriend’s expression.“Something’s troubling you.”

  “Just thinking that…that’s not going to be us.Not any time soon anyway, not while this is all still secret. We can’t get married…”

  “…because everyone thinks I’m dead.”

  Maddy nodded.“If we have a baby, I’ll have to let people think it’s someone else’s.”

  Oscar regarded her cautiously.“You know, like I said, you’re not a prisoner.If you want out, if you want to live a normal life…”

  Maddy smiled and shook her head.“I found out the hard way that a world without Oscar MacGuire scarcely bears thinking about.”

  Oscar looked at her, bemused.“Did you just do a Doctor Who quote?”

  “Maybe.”Maddy kissed the tips of her fingers and touched the screen with them.“Love you.”

  Oscar copied the gesture, so it looked like they were touching through the screen.“Back at you.”

***

Roo and Frank were dancing in the middle of the floor.“Kind of feels like we’ve come full circle,”Frank noted.

  Roo nodded.“We’ll get it right this time.”

  Tori stood at the side of the room, looking around at all the couples:Not only Roo and Frank but also VJ and Billie, Dexter and Lottie, Mason and Olivia, Justin and Samantha, Brody and Indi, Leah and Zac, Heath and April, John and Marilyn, Ash and Kat, Matt and Evelyn…It was hard not to feel like the odd one out.The one left on the shelf.The old maid.

  A man cleared his throat next to her and she turned to face him.“Doctor Morgan,”he greeted her.

  “Doctor Walker,”she responded,“I only ever seem to see you at weddings.”

  Sid shrugged.“I was surprised to get an invite to this one.Let’s say the bride and I have history.”

  “From what I hear you’ve got history with a lot of people,”Tori noted.

  Sid laughed briefly.“Well, I can’t argue with that.”He held out a hand.“Do you want to dance?”

  Tori smiled and let him lead her onto the dance floor.“Why not?”

  Indi and Dexter exchanged a glance at the sight.“Well, that could complicate things,”Indi noted.

***

VJ and Billie were walking along the beach, Billie carrying Stefan.“Why did you have to park so far away?”VJ complained.

  “I figured there wouldn’t be much space near the surf club,”Billie replied,“You can get a say in where we park once you’ve passed your test.”

  VJ rolled his eyes then smiled.“They did look happy though.”

  Billie smiled back.“I know how they feel.”

  They stopped, looking at each other.“I love you, Mrs.Patterson,”VJ noted.

  Billie raised an eyebrow.“Still debating the name.”They smiled and softly kissed each other.

  Alf and Irene stood on the balcony outside Salt, taking in the scene below.“Young love, hey?”Irene remarked.

  “And not so young love,”Alf added,“Given the way Roo and Frank were carrying on back there.”

  “You’re happy for them though?”

  Alf sighed.“Yeah,”he admitted,“But don’t repeat that.”

  “Looks like we’re both going to be new grandparents.”

  Alf rolled his eyes.“Gawd, woman, are you trying to make me feel old?”

  “Well, we could be great-grandparents soon.I mean, you’ve had a couple of near misses as I remember and Fin’s two, Paul and Mark, are getting to that age…”

  Alf stared at her aghast.“Strike me roan, you make it sound like we’ve got one foot in the grave!”

  Irene chuckled.“Well, we’ve been here a long time.”

  “That’s true,”Alf admitted.

  “Seen a lot of people come and go.”

  “Let’s just try and make sure they leave in a better state than they came, okay?”

  Irene smiled in agreement.“It’s what this place should be for.”

  They stood in silence after that, looking out at the scene before them.Summer Bay.Home and away.

 

 

 

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