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Well, I told myself I wasn't going to start this story until either I'd finished it or it was September.It's nowhere near September and I am near finishing it but I've still got one chapter to go.But having spent most of the last week immersing myself in it, I really feel the need to start sharing it.So here it is, my promised sequel to Look to the Future.And if you thought the first one meandered around between lots of characters, you haven't seen nothing yet...

Story Title: The Future is Here
Type of story: Short/Medium fic
Main Characters: Alf, Leah, Zac, VJ, Billie, Olivia, Matt, Evelyn, Josh, Maddy, Oscar, Hunter, Phoebe, Mason and many more
BTTB rating: T/A
Genre: Drama
Does story include spoilers: No
Any warnings: Moderate to strong sexual content
Summary: Approximately ten years from the end of Look to the Future and news brings several former residents back to Summer Bay.What have they been up to since they were last there?And what awaits them?

One last note before I actually start the story: The first chapter doesn't contain any flashbacks but all the others do.These will, hopefully, be clearly marked in italics, with the present day material in normal type.

CHAPTER ONE

The prison guard seemed to be doing the paperwork with agonising slowness, taking an age to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.It didn’t even seem like he was finished when he glanced up.“Surprised you’re leaving us at last, Barrett.You were starting to feel like part of the fixtures.Six years it’s been, hasn’t it?”

  “That’s right, sir.”Josh had actually been in prison eleven years.The first five had been spent in a high security facility before his lawyers had finally managed to get him a transfer to the low security open prison.But he’d learnt a long time ago not to correct guards.He’d had plenty of time to learn that lesson, although not the twenty-eight years that he’d once been looking at.He wondered if his sentence might have been reduced earlier, if not for the unfortunate way he’d started off his time inside…both what had happened before he’d gone to jail, with his and Andy’s disastrous escape attempt, and what had happened afterwards.

  The guard finally seemed to finish whatever it was he considered so important and gave Josh his full attention, even giving him a smile.“That’s it then.You are officially paroled.Try not to come back.”

  Josh managed to smile back.“That’s the plan.”He stepped out of the prison gates and took a deep breath. Freedom.Not even just the small freedom of being allowed out with a guard handcuffed to his wrist but true freedom.

  There was a taxi waiting just outside the gates.The driver eyed him cautiously.“Josh Barrett?”

  Josh nodded as he approached.“That’s right.”

  “You have got money, right?”

  Josh fished in his bag of belongings and pulled out a few bank notes, hoping desperately that they were enough to cover a taxi fare these days.

  The driver seemed to accept them and nodded.“Where to then?”

  “Summer Bay.”

***

“So he’s coming here?”VJ asked.He and Ash were propping up the bar in Salt.

  Ash nodded.“I cleared out of the main house especially.”

  “You going to be okay with that?”

  “Can’t be worse than when Heath and April were in there.”

  “Good job they’ve moved out or you’d have two families living with you.”

  Ash glared at him.“Hey, we can’t all have our own place like you and that sister of mine you married.”

  “It’s not just us living there.”

  “Well, you were the ones that kept on having kids.”

  “And we did our time sharing with Dexter and Lottie.It’s only since they moved to the outback that we’ve had the farm to ourselves.”VJ lapsed back into thoughtful silence.“I’m surprised he’s coming back here, after everything that happened.”

  “Where else would he go?”

  “I dunno, his mother?”

  Ash gave a hollow laugh.“Must have been a real shock for her to get out of jail and find both her boys were inside.Anyway, you know why he’s coming here.”

  “Guess so.”VJ drained his drink.“Well, I’d better get back to help Billie with the wrangling.See you later.”

  Brody and Indi had been standing a discreet distance away behind the bar.Now that VJ was gone, they approached Ash.“What was that all about?”Brody asked.

  Ash almost didn’t answer but eventually he relented.“Josh Barrett.”

  Indi raised an eyebrow.“There’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.”

***

Josh stopped outside the door, unsure if he should knock or not.The house, which he still thought of as the Braxton house even though no Braxtons had lived in it for a long time, hadn’t been his home for eleven years, even if it was the last place that had been.Eventually, he took a deep breath and knocked.A moment later, the door was answered by a boy aged around eight.He looked up at Josh with curiosity and a bit of suspicion.“Who are you?”

  Josh knew he should answer but all he could do was stare at the boy, taking in the messy brown hair, the dark eyes that shone with innocence.

  He was saved by Phoebe who stepped up behind her son and put an arm round his shoulder.“Come on, Jimmy, I told you this.This is your daddy.”

Edited by QUIET ACHIEVER
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So here's the next chapter, where hopefully some questions will be answered!

CHAPTER TWO

Nine Years Ago

Josh was careful not to make any sudden moves as his two guards escorted him down the hospital corridor.He was handcuffed, of course, but despite still being listed as a high security prisoner he was allowed more freedom than when he’d first been imprisoned.They seemed to have finally got it into their heads that he wasn’t going to try and escape again.His and Andy’s first disastrous attempt had cured him of his desire for that.

  The guard on his right stopped at the reception desk.“Erica Sharpe?”A bored-looking nurse gestured in the direction they were already heading.

  Josh paused outside the door to the hospital room.Ricky was sat up in bed, Kyle sat in a chair next to her.Despite the fact that she was wired up to monitors, she was smiling and laughing, as was Kyle.The two of them were holding hands in a way that definitely felt extra-platonic.The kiss they shared afterwards felt even more so.

 One of the guards pushed the door open, then uncuffed Josh from his own wrist and handcuffed him to the bed railing.“We’ll be just outside,”he told him warningly before both escorts left the room.

  Josh looked from Kyle to Ricky as though not sure what to say.Finally he looked at Ricky.“So how are you?”

  “Not bad considering I just had a truck crash into me.The car’s a write-off though.”

  “So long as you’re not,”Kyle told her soothingly.

  Josh found it increasingly hard to ignore the elephant in the room.“Does Brax know about you two?”

  They exchanged a look.“We visited him together,”Ricky confirmed.

  “Thought it might be best to do it with several guards in the room,”Kyle added.

  “He might have calmed down by the time he gets released.”

  “And where’s Casey?”Josh asked.

  “Heath and April are looking after him.”Ricky’s expression became more serious.“How are you?”

  Josh shrugged the best he could given that one of his arms was chained to a bed.“Managing.Keeping my head down.”

  “We are trying to get you out,”Kyle told him,“In less than twenty years, I mean.”

  Josh was grateful but not confident.“What about Andy?”

  “Might be a lost cause there.”

  “What you did was self-defence,”Ricky pointed out,“And everything else was just panic.Andy, on the other hand…But the lawyers are looking for any grounds for appeal.At least get the sentenced reduced.”

  Josh tried to dismiss the subject.He’d had enough of false hope, what with Andy’s escape plan.“So, how exactly did you two end up together?”

***

All too quickly, Josh’s visit came to an end.The two guards escorted him out of the hospital and towards the waiting prison van.Except it wasn’t waiting.Where it should have been standing there was an empty space.

  One of the guards began patting his pockets.“Did you have the keys?”

  “No, you had them!”the other one insisted.

  Josh tried very hard not to smirk.“Looks like it’s been stolen,”he commented.

  The guards looked at him suspiciously but could see nothing to tie him to it.They turned back to each other.“What do we do now?”asked the second one.

  The answer that came was rather surprising.A second prison van pulled into the hospital car park.For a moment, Josh thought it was from the same prison he was kept in, but a quick look at the symbol told him it was from the local woman’s prison.His two guards hurried towards it, dragging him with them.Two female guards alighted from it with their prisoner:Phoebe.

  “You here to visit someone?”one of Josh’s guards asked.

  One of their opposite number nodded.“Friend of someone called Ricky Sharpe.”

  “Really?”The male guard nodded towards Josh.“Him too.Guess a lot of her friends ended up in jail.”

  “And they all get to visit her?”

  “I hear some high-up policewoman, Inspector Watson, looked after the accident.Knows the family, pulled a few strings.”The guard suddenly remembered why they’d come over.“Our van’s been stolen, can we keep our prisoner in yours while we phone it in?”

  The female guard unlocked the rear.“Sure.We can’t spare anyone to keep an eye on him though.”

  Josh’s guard uncuffed him and guided him through the open door.“Well, it’ll be locked.That’s usually enough.”

  Josh spent the next quarter of an hour sat in the rear of a van from another prison.When the door opened, he thought the guards were coming back for him.Instead, it was Phoebe who was shown inside. Then the door was locked on both of them.

  Phoebe gave him an amused look.“Well, I hope you’re happy.We’re stuck here until your guys get a replacement vehicle.”

  “Where are your guards?”

  “Gone for a drink.”

  Josh nodded.“I heard you threw yourself under a bus to get Kyle out of jail.”

  “Well, with Isla dead, it seemed like his only chance.And hey, it’s not so bad.I get a captive audience whenever I come up with a new song.”She sighed.“And here we are, in a cage together like zoo animals.”

  Josh gave a quick laugh.“I think they only lock male and female animals up together when they want them to mate.”

  Phoebe laughed as well, raising her eyebrows.“Well, that’d give someone a shock.”

  They continued smiling but couldn’t help looking at each other.They were both wearing green prison outfits that were designed to be as unflattering as possible.But Josh couldn’t help remembering Phoebe in some of the outfits he’d seen her wear in the past.Possibly she was doing the same.He’d never really thought of her in that way but she was the first female he’d been alone with in nearly three years.Maybe it was the same for her…

  They fell on each other, kissing passionately, their movements so energetic they were in danger of overturning the van.Clothes were discarded for the feel of flesh on flesh, and as ridiculous as the idea of the two of them having sex in the back of a prison van was, it was an opportunity neither of them was going to pass up…

***

That was supposed to be it.They’d laughed and put their clothes back on and waited for the guards to collect them.And yet here Josh was, sat on the sofa in his old home, with the son they’d conceived in the back of a prison van sat next to him.

  “That’s English,”Jimmy told him, handing him text books,“And that’s Maths.”

  “That’s great,”Josh assured him quietly, not fully understanding what he was looking at,“What do you do outside school?You into sports, games?”

  “I play footie sometimes, with Chandler and Stefan and V3.”

  It took Josh a moment to place the names.The fact that Heath was now married to April and Billie married to VJ, and that they both had families, demonstrated just how long he’d been away.“Maybe we could have a kick about tomorrow?”

  Jimmy shrugged.“What are you into?”

  “Well…I used to like art.And buildings.”

  Phoebe had been hovering in the background.“How about you show your dad the drawings you did for class last week?”

  Jimmy dashed off for the bedroom and Phoebe sat down next to Josh.“Thanks for helping me get to know him,”Josh noted.

  “I did always say we could visit you.”

  “He was born in a prison, I didn’t want him spending any more time in one.”Josh gave a brief smile.“I have to admit I never really saw you as the maternal type.”

  Phoebe gave a short laugh.“Yeah, me neither.And after miscarrying the twins, I thought the universe was trying to tell me something.But here we are!”

  “Yeah.Here we are.”

***

“I’m home!”VJ called out as he arrived back at the farmhouse.

  Billie emerged from the living area and kissed him, a kiss that lingered far longer than a simple Welcome Home.“Where have you been?”she asked finally,“Your shift at the gym finished ages ago.I could have used you here, I needed to check on the vegetable patch.”

  “You still planning to turn this farm into a going concern again?”

  “It’ll be nice for the kids.And don’t change the subject.”

  “I went for a drink with your brother,”VJ explained.

  Billie smiled.“That would explain it.”

  “He mentioned that Josh is home today.I was kind of worrying what sort of reception he’s going to get.”

  “Well, this is Summer Bay, land of the second chances.”

  “Guess so.”VJ thought for a moment.“Have you seen Mum today?”

  “No, she wasn’t in the Diner earlier.”

  “She seems, I dunno, a bit out of it.Zac too.I rung earlier but it seemed like she didn’t want to talk.”

  Billie looked concerned.“You think she’s having problems.”

  “Don’t know.Probably nothing.”VJ tried to relax.“So, what else have I missed here, Mrs.Patterson?”

  Billie smiled.“Ten years of marriage and you’re still trying to call me that.Don’t know why I put up with it.”

  “Guess it must be because you love me so much.”

  “Guess it must.”She went to kiss him again but they were interrupted by a crash from a bedroom.

  Their daughter Lucy, six years old and extremely precocious, came running out into the hallway.“Stefan and V3 were wrestling and they broke a lamp!”

  Her two older brothers came running after her and glared at her.“Dobber,”complained V3.

  “That’s enough, Vincent Patterson III,”Billie warned him,“All three of you get back in there while I get the dustpan.”

  VJ waited until their children had gone then turned Billie round and kissed her.“I’ll make a start on dinner,”he offered.

***

Josh was crouched in front of the coffee table with Jimmy, which was where his son had lain out his drawings.Jimmy was in his pyjamas having got ready for bed.Josh was doing a rather simplistic sketch of a porch on a piece of paper.“See, you have four columns at the corners and that holds the roof up.”

  Jimmy nodded slowly.“That’s clever.”

  “Well, I had to listen at school.I hope you do.”

  “Sometimes.”

  Josh smiled at the insolent honesty but his thoughts were interrupted by Phoebe.“Oi, mister!Time for your bed.”

  Jimmy gave a theatrical sigh before giving Josh a hug.“Night, Dad.”He toddled off to his room.

  Josh pulled himself up onto the couch and Phoebe sat down next to him.“He seems to be taken with you,”she commented.

  “Yeah, guess so.Makes it easier, me living here.That’s still..?”

  “Yeah, fine.”

  “I’m thinking of calling Goulburn in the morning, seeing about visiting Andy.”

  “I’m not sure he’s allowed that many visitors.”

  “I haven’t seen him in eleven years and he won’t be out for another twenty.It’s the best I’ve got.”

  Phoebe lapsed into awkward silence.“You hear about Oscar?”she attempted at last,“He had his sentence reduced for that.”

  Josh had heard when the news broke that Oscar hadn’t been killed in the caravan park explosion after all.He was pleased for Oscar of course, and for Evelyn and Maddy, but part of him resented the fact that Andy had had to carry the guilt of supposedly causing his death for so long.“So he’s serving thirty-two years instead of thirty-seven.Not much difference.”He smiled ironically.“You know, Evelyn told me to call her when I got out.Said she’d see me right.”

  “Guess she didn’t think you’d have the mother of your child waiting to step in instead.”

  “Guess not.”Josh looked at her then, really looked at her.She was definitely not wearing a frumpy prison outfit.Instead she’d gone back to her old style of short, tight-fitting dresses.It was a sight he’d not seen in a long time.

  Phoebe seemed to realise what he was thinking, so she hastily got up.“So, maybe you should…”

  Josh took hold of her wrist and turned her round to face him, kissing her.He was worried he’d miscalculated for a moment, then she started kissing him back.He pushed her back against the pillar, a part of him wanting her there and then.

  “Bedroom,”she managed to gasp between kisses.Josh relented and, still kissing, let her push him towards her bedroom.

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Thanks for the comments, hope you like this!

CHAPTER THREE

Nine Years Ago

Phoebe was having an extremely uncomfortable meeting with Governor Stevens.The older woman was attempting to look both serious and sympathetic at the same time.She thought she knew where the conversation was going.Phoebe had a feeling she was wrong.

  “I take it you’re not going to try and pretend these test results are wrong.”

  “No, they’re not wrong,”Phoebe admitted,“I am pregnant.”

  “Then if one of my staff has forced you into something…”

  “The father isn’t anyone here.”

  Stevens looked extremely sceptical.“You’ve been here two years, Nicholson, I hope you’re not going to claim you were pregnant when you came in.”

  Phoebe took a deep breath.“Okay, you remember a month ago, I was let out to visit a friend in hospital…”

  Stevens’ eyes narrowed.“You were allowed out under guard.Officers Sullivan and Frances, as I recall.”

  “Yes.Well, they weren’t exactly with me the whole time.I was left in the back of the transport van for a while and…I wasn’t alone.There was another visitor, he’s an old friend, he’s a prisoner at Wellington, and his transport was stolen so he was put in the same van as me.And…well, to cut a long story short, he’s the father.”

  Stevens was silent for a long moment.“I’ll be speaking with Officers Sullivan and Frances about this breach of protocol.I’ll also be notifying the authorities at Wellington of this incident and making a note on your record.I imagine the same will happen with your friend.Is he aware of this?”

  “Well, if he isn’t, he soon will be.I thought someone should tell him face to face.”

***

Josh looked from Kyle to Ricky in bewilderment, not sure if this was some weird joke and there was a hidden camera crew somewhere.“Pregnant?”he repeated.

  They both nodded.“Not sure if we should say congratulations,”Kyle commented.

  “Yes, we should,”Ricky replied firmly.

  Josh’s head was swimming.Phoebe was pregnant with his child.How was that possible?“But…we only did it the once!”

  “Once is all it takes,”Ricky pointed out.

  Josh was still trying to get his head around the enormity of it.“I’m going to be in here until I’m over forty, that kid’s going to be grown up by then.I can’t be a father like this!”He wanted to get up, pace around, do anything other than sit calmly at a visitor’s table.That wasn’t allowed, of course.

  “When Casey was up on trial for killing Dad, he thought his girlfriend was pregnant at one point,”Kyle explained,“And later he told me that part of him thought it would be the only chance he had to have a child.Now that never happened for him, but it’s happening to you and you’re gonna have a kid out there. Maybe that’s another reason to get through this.”

  Josh found himself remembering when he’d thought Maddy was pregnant, when he’d thought he was going to be a dad.It wasn’t the way he wanted it but the idea had excited him, he’d wanted to prove he could be a good dad.Maybe, somehow, he’d have that chance now.

***

Josh woke up to find Phoebe entangled around him.She shifted, disturbed by his movement, and looked at him.“Morning,”she greeted him.

  “Morning,”he responded awkwardly.

  “Well, at least we had a bed this time.And birth control.”

  Josh wasn’t really sure how to handle the situation.“I didn’t plan this,”he explained.

  “Oh yeah, I know,”Phoebe reassured him,“It’s an instinctive thing.I mean, I wasn’t starved for nearly as long as you but I made sure I jumped Ash as soon as I got out.”She noticed Josh’s shocked look.“Don’t worry, he was single at the time.”

  Josh nodded slowly, then a thought occurred to him.“We can’t let Jimmy see us like this!”He slipped out of bed and began pulling on clothes, while throwing some at Phoebe.

  “I’m pretty sure other kids see their parents in bed together,”Phoebe pointed out.

  “Yeah but they tend to have bedclothes on or something.”

  “Hmm, you may be right.”Phoebe pulled a top on over her underwear then patted the bed next to her. “Get back in when you’re decent.”

***

It was about an hour later:They’d got dressed properly and roused Jimmy, who had been fed breakfast and was on his way to school.They opened the door…and found themselves face to face with Ash and Tori.

  Ash glanced at his girlfriend.“This happened before.”

  Tori raised an eyebrow.“It did.”

  “Yeah, except then you were here with Nate and I was there with Kat.”

  “Thanks for the overshare, Ashford,”Phoebe commented.She nodded towards the father of her child. “Tori, meet Josh.”

  “Hi.”Tori extended a hand.“I’m not sure if we really met before you…went away.”

  “Yeah, pleased to meet you.”Josh looked at them curiously.“So what happened to Nate?”

  “Married Bianca,”Ash supplied.

  Josh nodded thoughtfully.“What happened to Kat?”

  “Well, that’s a story…”

***

“You got the towels?”Kat asked as she entered the gym.

  Justin sighed.“I’ve got the towels, I’ve got the equipment set up, I’ve done everything I need to do.”

  Kat smiled, embarrassed.“Sorry, I guess the senior constable in me’s still coming out.”

  “Right, because it’s not like you stopped being a police officer ten years ago!”

  “I don’t know how you put up with me.”

  “Remind me.”Justin took Kat’s hand and pulled her towards him.They kissed.

  VJ and Billie walked in, looking slightly bemused at what they saw.“Is this a new staff activity?”VJ asked,“Because I’d be quite up to joining in.”Billie hit him lightly on the arm.

  The others disentangled and glared at them.“You were meant to be here two minutes ago,”Kat admonished them.

  “Deduct it from our wages?”Billie suggested.

  Kat sighed.“Okay, let’s just get to work.”

  “Maybe quitting here and becoming farmers isn’t such a bad idea after all,”VJ muttered under his breath as they walked towards the changing room.

  “We’d never be short of milk again,”Billie agreed.

***

Josh came into Salt and stopped for a moment at the sight.It brought back so many memories from when he’d worked at Angelo’s.It seemed a lifetime ago.Indi looked up at him.“Ah, I recognise that face.Josh Barrett, right?”

  “Um, yeah,”Josh confirmed, surprised since he’d never really met Indi before she’d gone travelling.

  She gave a brief laugh.“It helps that you’ve been the topic of conversation around here for a while.”

  “I remember you as well,”Brody interjected,“You came in just after I took over, said you were out on bail and wanted your job back.”He looked slightly worried.“That’s not why you’re here now, right?”

  Josh gave a brief laugh.“No, I just want a beer and a menu for the moment.”

  “Any idea what you are going to do?”Brody asked as he poured the drink.

  “I dunno.I tried to get some qualifications inside and I’ve got my HSC.Thought I might try and get into technical drawing or something.”

  “Hey, Brody, what are the specials today?”asked a voice behind him.Josh froze, recognising it as the person he’d least looked forward to seeing.He turned round and the person recognised him as well. “Josh,”he said curtly.

  “Hunter,”Josh responded.

  Hunter looked at him coldly.“Kind of feels like there’s a conversation we missed out on.You know, about you shooting my mother and leaving her lying in a rock pool.”

  “Um, fellas, can you not break anything?”Brody attempted.

  Josh’s gaze didn’t leave Hunter.“I didn’t mean to kill her.”

  “I didn’t mean to put Olivia in a wheelchair,”Hunter replied,“Doesn’t mean everyone thought it was all right.”Some of the steel left his expression.“You know, believe it or not, I haven’t spent the last ten years plotting to murder you when you got out.I might have stabbed your brother when I thought he did it, but I learnt a few things in jail.They mostly involved not going back there.I hope you have too.Brody, I think I’m gonna eat somewhere else.”He turned and headed back downstairs.

  Indi held a laminated sheet out to Josh.“Specials menu?”

***

Five Years Ago

Heath gave Darcy the most severe glare he’d ever given her.“A town full of guys and you pick him?”

  “You haven’t liked me dating anyone else either,”Darcy pointed out.

  “Yeah, but at least they were better than him!”Heath thought for a moment, looking for a reasonable objection.“You know he’s been in jail?”

  “So have you!”Darcy protested,“In fact, pretty much all our family have!Uncle Brax, Uncle Kyle…”She paused before adding,“Uncle Casey…”

  “Watch it,”Heath told her sternly.

  “I’m just saying, why are you all okay and he isn’t?”

  Heath looked over at April.“Can you say something to her?”

  His wife shrugged.“Hey, I get the attraction to bad boys.”

  “Not helping.”Anything else Heath might have said was interrupted by a knock at the door.Before either April or Darcy could move, Heath stomped over and opened it.

  Hunter hesitated on the threshold.“Er, Mr.Braxton.I’m here to pick up Darcy?”

  “Yes, I’m coming,”Darcy agreed, slipping past her father.

  Heath gave Hunter his scariest look.“If you ever hurt her, at all…you’re dead.”

  Hunter swallowed hard.“Right.Be back by ten.”He hurried away, Darcy with him.

  Heath turned to April.“Think he’ll listen?”

  “I think he’ll be too scared to even argue with her.”

  Heath considered this for a moment, then nodded, satisfied.“Good.”

***

“So how was it seeing him again?”Darcy asked Hunter as they headed into what had been her home for the last few months:A fairly modest two-storey beach property.

  “Well, I didn’t exactly feel like shaking the guy’s hand,”Hunter replied,“But I guess I know what it’s like to have been in one of those places and try and rebuild your life after.”

  Darcy nodded, impressed.“Guess you were lucky you had me to help you out.”

  Hunter smiled.“Guess I was.”He slowly bent down and kissed her.

  They were interrupted by a delighted squeal from upstairs, followed by Heath and April coming into view, their clothes slightly disarrayed, while Heath had his arms round April’s waist and was nuzzling at her neck.

  Darcy groaned.“Really?”

  “We didn’t realise you were home,”April attempted, looking slightly awkward.

  Heath was less abashed.“It’s nothing you and Laughing Boy there don’t get up to when we’re not home.”

  April coughed slightly.“So, what did you get up to today?”

  “Hunter saw Josh,”Darcy blurted out.

  Heath looked at Hunter.“Is he still alive?”he asked casually.

  Hunter scowled, exasperated.“I’ve never actually gone out and killed someone in revenge, you know!”

  Heath shrugged.“Fair enough.Don’t start now.”

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Well, it's a bit later than I liked but here's the next chapter.Thanks for the comments, hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER FOUR

Eight Years Ago

April came back from the bedrooms and collapsed onto the sofa next to Heath.“Chandler’s finally decided to go to sleep.Anything from Harley?”

  “Not a peep.”

  “I’m pretty much ready for sleep myself.”

  “Well…can you stay awake for a bit?’Cos there’s something I want to ask you.”

  April looked at him curiously.Heath reached into his pocket and took out a jewellery box, opening it to reveal an engagement ring.April gaped at it.“Is that..?”

  Heath nodded.“April Scott, will you marry me?”

  “Are you sure?”April pressed,“I mean, we’ve both been married before and it didn’t quite go well.”

  “I know, but…you’re pretty much the only person I’ve ever been able to be myself with.Even Bianca, it was like I was having to put on an act.”

  April nodded slowly.“I guess it was the same with me and Dex, trying to be something I’m not.”

  “Right!And they’re both happy now so…can’t we be happy?”

  A smile spread across April’s face.“Yes.”

  “Yes..?”Heath prompted.

  “Yes, I will marry you.”

  Heath placed the ring on her finger, then kissed her, intensely and passionately, his lips exploring her mouth and neck.“Um, Heath,”April managed to say,“I get that our sex life has never been exactly quiet but can you not unzip my skirt immediately after getting engaged to me?”

  Heath withdrew his hand.“Sorry.”

  April smiled and hugged him.“Love you,”she said quietly.

  “Love you too.”

***

Josh had collected a large brown envelope from a courier and was opening it on the table.Phoebe and Jimmy came over.“What’s that, Dad?”Jimmy asked.

  Josh produced several sheets of paper.“It’s some drawings I did while I was…away.I was thinking of turning them into a portfolio.”He saw Jimmy’s confused expression.“I’m thinking of showing them to people so they’ll give me work.”

  Phoebe took one of the sheets.“This is actually really good.”

  Josh smiled.“Thanks.”

  “No, I’m serious.I mean, take it as one artist to another.”

  “Mum sings,”Jimmy explained.

  “Yeah, I’ve heard her a few times,”Josh confirmed.He looked at Phoebe.“How’s that going?”

  Phoebe sighed.“Mostly just been local gigs the last few years.‘Going away’ kind of slowed me down and Jimmy needs me at home.”

  “Well, you’ve got someone else to help you out now.”

  Phoebe looked at him appreciatively.“Guess I do.”

  Josh put the sheets back in the folder.“Well, I guess I’d better put these somewhere safe.”

  “Right.And, Josh?”Phoebe waited until Josh had turned round, then gave him a kiss that was restrained by their son being in the room but intense nonetheless.“Let’s put Jimmy to bed as early as possible tonight.”

***

Billie heard VJ’s voice as she approached the living area.“Yeah, okay, Mum.If you’re sure.Speak to you tomorrow.Bye.”He hung the phone up.

  “What did she say?”Billie asked.

  “Insists that everything’s fine.I’m pretty sure I could hear Roo in the background though.”

  “Roo?”Billie considered that for a moment and then shrugged.“Well, I guess she and Leah are friends. It’s not that unusual that she’s round there.”

  “Yeah.I got that feeling again that there’s something she’s not telling us though.”

  “Do you think it’s something we have to worry about?”

  “Don’t know.”

  Billie came over and gave him a tender hug.“Well, no point worrying about it now, I guess.”

  VJ held her gently.“Yeah, guess not.”

***

Josh and Phoebe were curled up in bed.“Well, we know one thing,”Phoebe noted,“we don’t have to be completely starved to have great sex.”

  “That’s true,”Josh agreed.He looked at her in confusion.“Are we…dating?”

  Phoebe laughed.“Yeah, I think that would involve going out together.Not just staying in together.”

  Josh didn’t join in the laughter.“Do you want to do that?Go for a meal or a movie or something?I guess I have got ten years of movies to catch up on.Do they still have Netflix?”

  Phoebe started to look awkward.“Josh, do we really have to do the ‘So what does this mean’ conversation?”

  “Well, all I know is I’ve got my own room down the hall and I haven’t used it once.”

  “You’ve only been here two days!”

  “Do you want me to go there now?”

  Phoebe sighed.“No,”she admitted,“But can we just leave it at that for now?”

***

Kat was surprised when Phoebe entered the gym the following morning.“Did you get lost?”she quipped, “Because I don’t actually remember seeing you in here before.”

  Phoebe put her elbows down on the counter and leaned there, looking morose.“I need some advice.”

  “Okay shoot.”

  “I’ve been sleeping with Josh.”

  Kat didn’t attempt to hide her surprise.“Recently?”

  “Pretty much ever since he got out.”

  “Wow, okay.Well, I guess you have got a child together, so there’s obviously an attraction there…”

  “And I think he might be my boyfriend.”

  “Well, I didn’t put you two together,”remarked Billie as she came through from the changing room.

  Phoebe looked more than a little put out at the interruption.“How much of that did you hear?”

  “Pretty much everything.”

  Phoebe sank back down on the counter.“Great.”

  “Well, I guess this was always a possibility,”Kat attempted,“You’ve never made any secret of the fact that he’s Jimmy’s dad.”

  “Yeah, but it’s Josh.I mean, I remember when he was just this random kid that Casey brought home with him to get on our nerves.And now…”

  “If you want a recommendation for younger men, I can give you one,”Billie offered.

  Phoebe groaned.“Why am I talking to you two?You’ve been married to VJ for, like, forever-”she nodded to Billie and then to Kat-“and you end up dating all my exes!”

  “You weren’t with Justin that long,”Kat protested.

  “Thinking about it, I’ve got a cute younger guy who’s pretty good at seeing to my needs and is shaping up to be a decent father.Let’s see how it goes from there.”

***

Six Years Ago

“So did Maddy give you any idea what this was all about?”Leah asked.The comment was addressed to Roo, as the two of them, Alf, Zac and Evelyn waited in the caravan park house’s living area.

  Roo shrugged.“Just said she was coming to town and had something she wanted to tell us all.”

  “And you’ve no idea why she wanted me here?”Evelyn asked,“I mean, I was in the middle of an assignment.”

  “She just said she wanted you here too,”Roo replied.

  “How is uni going anyway?”Zac asked his niece.

  “Well, taking a couple of years out took its toll a bit,”Evelyn admitted,“but I’m getting back there.”

  “You just hang in there, love,”Alf told her,“Hannah and Oscar would be proud that you’ve gone back to it.”

  “I hope so.”

  The conversation was interrupted by Maddy’s nervous appearance in the doorway.Holding onto her real hand, with the prosthetic in place on the other side, was her daughter Felicity, three years old and with a strong resemblance to her mother.Roo’s eyes lit up at the side of the young girl.“Have you got a hug for your Auntie Roo?”Felicity ran into her arms.“And do you know what Mummy’s going to tell us?”

  “She wants you to meet someone.”

  Maddy nodded.“That’s right.I think it’s time for you to meet Felicity’s father.”

  “You’re in contact with him again?”Roo asked, confused.

  “Actually, he’s been with us all along.He’s been living with us in Canberra.”

  Everyone was confused now.“Then why all the secrecy?”Leah asked,“Why tell us he walked out on you when he found out you were pregnant?”

  “Seems a bit fishy to me,”Alf agreed.

  Maddy hesitated, not sure where to begin, then looked back over her shoulder.“You’d better come in now.”

  Oscar stepped into view next to her.“Hello, everyone.”

  They all stared at him in astonishment.Then Evelyn fainted.

***

When Evelyn came round, she was lying on her old bed upstairs.Oscar was crouched next to her.He looked at her fondly.“That wasn’t quite the reaction I was hoping for.”

  Evelyn stared at him, struggling to articulate what she was feeling.“You’re actually here?”She touched his arm for a moment then hugged him, holding him tight for several moments before releasing him.When she looked at him again, there was a trace of anger in her expression.“I’ve spent the last five years thinking you were dead.”

  “Yes, I know.”Oscar looked guilty.“I really wish I could have spared you that but there were rules I had to follow.If I’d been in your life, there are rules you’d have had to follow too.”

  “Like Maddy?She got to have you and I didn’t?”

  “Well, at least Maddy had some sort of life.If you’d known about me, it would just have held you back. You’d never have gone back to uni.”

  “You do not know anything about me!I went to pieces thinking you were dead!And then losing Hannah on top of that, and Josh going to jail…I saw your body!”

  “They faked my death,”Oscar explained,“People that I really can’t talk about, even now.They needed my help with something, something that’s important.”

  “Oh yeah?”Evelyn wasn’t convinced.“Like what?”

  “Like vacuum therapy.”

  That pulled Evelyn up short.“Vacuum..?Oscar, are you saying you cured cancer?”

  Oscar laughed.“Well, not on my own, there was a team of us.A lot of people made money from cancer treatments, they’d have tried to shut down research like that if they knew about.Best way to keep it secret is if the people working on it are dead.”

  “I guess you really have been doing important stuff.”

  Oscar put a hand on her shoulder.“I do wish I could have been here to help you with things.We could have got through what happened to Hannah together.”

  “I’m just glad I’ve got you here now.”

  Maddy came in.“Well, Zac, Leah, Roo and Mr.Stewart have finally stopped asking questions.”She looked nervously at Evelyn.“So on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you hate me right now?”

  “Probably about a 2,”Evelyn replied,“Don’t get me wrong, I wish you’d told me, but you looked after my brother all these years and you’ve given me a beautiful niece.”

  Maddy smiled, relieved.“I’m glad we can be family at last.”

***

Maddy and Oscar were woken by their now nine-year-old daughter bouncing on the bed, holding a telephone receiver in her hand.“It’s Auntie Roo!”she shouted.

  Maddy took the receiver from Felicity.She tried to prop herself up on one elbow…but of course, she’d taken her prosthetic off before going to bed.Instead, she rolled over on her back and sat up.“Roo, hey, it’s me.”

  Oscar pulled Felicity onto his lap despite her protests and listened in to the conversation.It seemed to be short and sweet, since Maddy soon hung up, a worried look on her face.“What was that all about?”

  Maddy looked at him in confusion.“She says we need to come back to the Bay immediately.”

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So, thanks for all your comments and here's the next chapter!

CHAPTER FIVE

VJ and Billie climbed the stairs to Salt.“You heard anything more from your mum this morning?”Billie asked.

  “No, I tried ringing her but just got voicemail,”VJ answered,“Left her a message, hopefully she’ll call back.”

  They paused by the lift and moments later, Olivia came out of it in her wheelchair, followed by Jett in his leg brace.“Nearly beat you,”Jett told them.

  “You win as many as you lose,”VJ replied.

  Mason came forward with menus as they headed to a table.“I hope you’re still appreciating that lift I had installed for you,”he quipped.

  Olivia rolled her eyes.“Do you have to bring that up every time we come up here?”

  “Hey, winding up ex-girlfriends is one of the few pleasures I have.I’m a qualified doctor and Brody still makes me work shifts here twice a week.”He nodded towards Jett.“You still treating her right?”

  “You still treating your current girlfriend right?”Jett fired back.

  “She’s not complaining.”

  Olivia gave Jett a quick kiss.“Neither am I.”

  “Maybe we should order?”Billie suggested.

  “Hey, the gang’s all here!”Phoebe noted cheerily as she and Josh entered,“I think you all know my maybe-boyfriend.”She looked over the group and her gaze settled uncertainly on Mason.“Actually, did you two ever..?”

  Mason looked at Josh with recognition.“I think you yelled at me a couple of times.”

  “Gosh, really,”teased Olivia,“I bet that doesn’t happen to you often.”

  Josh turned to her.“Guess I should say sorry to hear about the accident.”She nodded in acknowledgement and he turned to Jett.“What happened to you?”

  “War wound,”Jett explained,“I was serving in Malaysia and a bullet shattered my knee.So I got sent back here.”

  “Tough luck.”Josh turned to VJ and Billie.“Guess I should congratulate you two as well.”

  “Back at you,”VJ replied.

  “How is parenthood treating you?”Billie wondered.

  “We’re getting there,”Phoebe answered.

  VJ’s phone rang and he looked at the caller ID.“I have to take this.”He answered the phone.“Hey, Mum, what’s been..?”He paused and looked around the table.“She wants us all over there straightaway.”

***

Leah put the phone down and turned to Roo.“They’re coming.”

  Roo nodded in acknowledgement.“Do they know what’s going on?”

  “No, we’ll tell them when they get here.”

  “Hopefully Maddy won’t be too long.”

  Any reply Leah might have given was interrupted by two boys running into the room.The older of the pair turned to Roo.“Can we go up and see Grandpa now, Mum?”

  Roo sighed.“Not just yet, Bobby, I told you.”

  Frank and Zac came into the house, looking apologetically at their wives.“Sorry,”Zac noted,“we tried to keep them outside but…”

  Leah gave him an understanding smile.“It’s okay.”She turned to the younger boy.“Dwight, how about you get drinks for the two of you?”

  Dwight sighed.“Okay, Mum…”

***

Eight Years Ago

“Hey, guys, come in!”Zac greeted as VJ and Billie appeared at the door.Stefan inevitably came rushing past them to the box of toys that Leah always kept in the corner for him.

  Billie was cradling the couple’s second son.“Have you got the bag?”she asked VJ,“Just in case ‘V3’ needs a change.”As ever, she said the name as though she wasn’t quite convinced by it.

  “Still getting used to that one, hey?”Zac asked.

  “You could say that.”

  “Hey, you promised that we could call our next son Vincent Patterson the Third,”VJ reminded her.

  “Yes, but did you have to give him a name that sounds like a World War 2 rocket?”

  “Where’s Mum?”VJ asked, hoping to forestall the argument.

  “She just had to pop out but…”Zac was interrupted by Leah appearing at the back door.There was a smile on her face, the kind of involuntary smile that a person didn’t even know they were making.But Zac seemed to understand the significance.“Did it..?”

  Leah nodded.“Everything is fine.”

  Zac laughed in delight and hugged her.VJ and Billie exchanged confused looks.“Is there something we’re missing?”VJ asked.

  Instead of answering, Leah handed them a photo. They looked at it and then at her.“Is this..?”Billie asked.

  Leah nodded.“My twelve week scan.Looks like you’re not going to be the next one in this family to have a baby!”

  VJ and Billie looked surprised and delighted.“I didn’t even know you were trying,”VJ remarked.

  “We weren’t,”Zac replied,“After that IVF failed a couple of years ago, we’d pretty much accepted it wasn’t happening.But now…”

  “I didn’t want to tell you straightaway because of everything that’s gone wrong with my last two pregnancies,”Leah explained,“I’m sorry.”

  “That’s okay,”VJ assured her,“But things are okay this time?”

  “Looks like it.It’s like a miracle.”

  Billie, prevented from giving her a hug by carrying V3, kissed Leah on the cheek.“Congratulations.”

  Leah smiled.“Thanks, love.It’ll be hard explaining to these two they’ve got a new aunt or uncle though!”

  Zac kissed her on the other cheek and put his arm round her.“Hey, you’re young enough.We’ll be fine.”

***

The car pulled up outside the house and Maddy and Oscar got out.Oscar saw Maddy looking contemplative and walked round the car to comfort her.“You all right?”

  Maddy nodded.“Oscar, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Roo sound that scared.”

  “Well, you’re here now.That’ll make her feel better.”

  Maddy smiled at the compliment, then saw VJ, Billie, Olivia, Jett, Phoebe and Josh coming up the drive. They were accompanied by Stefan, V3, Lucy and Jimmy.The sight of people nearer her own age-even when they were all younger than her bar Stefan-had Felicity jumping out of the car and rushing to join them.

  “You guys get the Bat signal too, huh?”VJ asked.

  Maddy nodded.“Roo called this morning.”

  “Any idea what this is about?”Jett wondered.

  “No, not a clue.”Maddy turned her attention to Josh.“I heard you were back,”she remarked awkwardly, “How long..?”

  “A few days.”Josh’s reply was directed at Maddy but he was glaring at Oscar as he spoke.

  “It’s good to see you,”Maddy told him.

  Josh shifted his attention to her and managed a smile.“Thanks.”

  “Er, maybe we should go in,”Phoebe suggested diplomatically.

  “Kids stay out here?”Billie suggested.Maddy and Phoebe nodded in agreement.“Kids, we’re just going inside!”she called out to them,“Don’t go too far, hey?”

***

Jett helped Olivia lift her wheelchair over the door frame as they went in.The others followed.Leah, Zac, Roo and Frank were all still there, along with the two boys.Dwight came running over when he saw his big brother.“Hi, Veej.”

  “Hey, Dwi,”VJ greeted him,“How are you going shooting the hoops?”

  “Getting better.”

  “Your tribes outside?”Frank asked.The newcomers nodded.“Bobby, why don’t you and Dwight go and check in on them?”

  Bobby rolled his eyes.“They want to have a serious talk,”he told Dwight as they exited.

  “So what’s all this about?”Olivia asked.

  Leah and Roo exchanged looks as if deciding who should go first.“It’s Dad,”Roo said at last.

  There was an awkward pause.“Is he all right?”Jett prompted.

  Roo shook her head.“He’s dying.”

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3 hours ago, pembie said:

Try for tonight if you can it gives me some late night reading :lol:

Your wish is my command!

Thanks for the comments, everyone, hope you like this.

CHAPTER SIX

They all sat in silence, listening as Roo explained.“It’s his heart,”she told them,“He’s had so many scares over the years.Probably should have slowed down long ago.But you know Dad.He was never going to do that.”

  “But they can do something, surely?”Olivia asked.Like everyone else present, she had a hard time imagining Summer Bay without Alf.

  “Only thing that could save him is a transplant,”Roo replied,“And he’s eighty-three.He’d never qualify.”

  “The doctor came this morning,”Leah added,“She said he’s got days at most.He wants to spend them at home.”

  “We kind of thought he’d live forever,”VJ noted.

  Roo gave a slight smile.“I think everybody did.”

  “Can I see him?”Maddy asked.

  There was an awkward pause.“I’m not sure if he’d like that,”Roo admitted,“You’re like a granddaughter to him, he doesn’t like people seeing him weak.”

  “This is why you called us here though,”Billie pressed.

  Roo sighed, admitting defeat.“Okay.But one at a time, okay?”

***

Maddy cautiously made her way up the stairs and knocked on the door.“Mr.Stewart?”she asked cautiously, making her way inside.

  Alf was lying in bed.He looked weak but alert as ever.“Maddy!What are you doing here, love?”Then his face fell as he took in the implication.“Roo told you, didn’t she?”

  Maddy smiled ruefully.“Actually, she told a lot of people.”

  “Typical woman.Never could keep quiet.”

  Maddy sat down on the bed.“I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you more often.”

  “That’s okay.You had your own life to lead.”

  “Which I couldn’t always tell you about.”

  Alf chuckled.“Hey, your young fella’s done good.You both have.I know I was a bit hard on you when you were younger but you’ve turned out all right.”

  “Mainly down to you and Roo.”

  Alf shook his head.“No, love.It’s down to you.”

***

Oscar exited the house and saw Josh standing in front of it.He went over to join him.“So…long time no see.”

  Josh shrugged.“Guess that’s what happens when I’m in jail and you’re dead.”

  Oscar looked closely at him.“I’m sensing a bit of tension.”

  “Well, what do you expect?Andy spent years thinking that he’d killed you.”

  “Yeah and I’m sorry about that…”

  “Then you get to come back a hero and I…”Josh trailed off.

  “Kind of seems like people are pleased to see you as well,”Oscar pointed out, his tone gentle,“I mean, you’ve served your time and people round here are pretty forgiving.”

  Josh sighed.“I handled it badly.”

  “I don’t blame you.If I’d seen Charlotte that night, I don’t know what I’d have done.Remember when I ran over Tamara?I kept quiet for ages.”

  “You owned up when Zac was blamed though,”Josh pointed out.

  Oscar sagged slightly.“True.But whatever mistakes you made, I guess you made up for.And I’m not proud of what I did, letting Evelyn think I was dead for that long.So…thanks for being there for her when I wasn’t, I guess.”

  Maddy came out of the house and went straight over to Oscar.He hugged her and she put her good arm round him, the prosthetic hanging limply by her side.Finally, she turned to Josh.“You going back in?”

  Josh shook his head.“Not just yet.Tell Phoebe I’ve gone for a walk.”

  Maddy waited until he was out of earshot, then kissed Oscar, softly but intensely.“Can we go to a caravan?”

  Oscar raised an eyebrow.“Is that appropriate?”

  Maddy laughed.“Probably not.But I just need to feel close to you right now.”

  Oscar nodded, put his arm round her and led her towards the van.

***

“Is it safe to come in?”Roo asked as she entered Alf’s room.

  Alf glared at her with mild reproach.“What did you think you were doing, dragging Maddy down here?”He noticed her awkward expression and sighed, realising he wasn’t going to like what he heard next.“Hogan’s ghost, Ruth, what have you done?”

  “I kind of contacted everyone on the mailing list.And quite a few of them have said they’re coming down.”

  Alf rolled his eyes.“That’s all I need, a house full of wailing women for Alf Stewart’s last hurrah.”

  “You’d be surprised just how many people you’ve touched.”

  “Mr.Stewart?”came a woman’s voice from the doorway.Marilyn entered, tears flowing as she saw him lying there.“Oh, Mr.Stewart.”

  Alf held out his arms and Marilyn came forward to hug him.Alf rolled his eyes at Roo who smiled knowingly.“There there, love,”he sighed softly.

***

Spencer got out of the car outside the house, taking in the view that had once seemed so familiar.He turned round to see Skye had got out of the car as well.She came round to join him and took his hand. “Feeling odd about coming back here?”

  “A bit,”he admitted,“I haven’t really been back here that much since I moved to the city.But I couldn’t not see Mr.Stewart.”He looked at her.“You didn’t have to come though.”

  Skye smiled cheekily.“What, you think I’d trust you in a town full of ex-girlfriends?”

  “Hey, it’s not like you don’t have history with the place as well.”

  “Fine, we’ll decide who we’re going to make a play for later.”Skye gave him a quick kiss.“Come on, let’s brave the masses.”

***

Nine Years Ago

Spencer and Evelyn sat on the sofa in his campus flat as he poured the last dregs of a bottle of wine into two glasses.He handed one of them to her then took his own, holding it out in a toast.“To student accomodation.”

  “Cheers,”Evelyn agreed, clinking her glass against his.

  “So, any regrets about leaving the Bay?”

  “Nope.”Evelyn grimaced.“Okay, that sounded bad.Nothing against the place or the people.It’s just all that travelling to and fro was getting a bit hard.”

  “Yeah, it’s okay.I don’t have any regrets either and it means I get to spend time with Mum.”He paused. “I got the impression you had more to leave behind than me though.”

  “No, nothing.I’m footloose and fancy free.”And with that, she kissed him on the lips.

  Spencer looked bemused.“Are you drunk?”

  “I prefer tipsy.Definitely coherent enough to know what I’m doing.”She kissed him again, more passionately this time, then raised an eyebrow at his lack of response.“What, don’t you fancy me anymore?”

  Spencer pulled her back in, the kiss decidedly mutual this time.

  Evelyn was the one who pulled back.“I don’t want you falling in love with me, okay?This could be great for what it is, a uni relationship.But I don’t want you saying you’re going to follow me around the world.”

  Spencer chuckled.“You’ve got a high opinion of yourself, haven’t you?”

  “Just saying.”They kissed again, caressing each other’s bodies as they headed towards the bed.

***

Spencer and Skye went into the house.Irene and John were waiting downstairs with Leah, VJ, Billie, Jett and Olivia.Skye gave John a hug of greeting.“How’s Marilyn?”she asked.

  “Upset,”John admitted,“But I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you.”He glanced at Spencer.“You still treating her, right?”

  “Come on, John, remember that you like him better than my last boyfriend,”Skye reminded him.

  “Your last boyfriend was Tank,”John fired back.

  Jett grinned at Spencer.“Anyway how long did it take you to hook up with my ex-girlfriend?”

  “You can talk,”Skye retorted.She gave Olivia a quick hug.“You still putting up with him?”

  “I’m managing.”

  “Well, I’m glad to see you anyway,”Irene told Spencer,“Have you heard anything from Chris?”

  Spencer nodded.“He got your message but he and Sasha are trekking in Peru at the moment.It doesn’t look like they’re going to get back.”

  “Shame,”Billie remarked,“He’d have had an interesting take on things.”

  Spencer looked around.“So who else is coming?”

***

Ten Years Ago

Evelyn looked in exasperation at Matt, who was standing in front of her at the bus stop with a large rucksack on his back.“What do you think you’re doing?”

  “Going with you,”he answered stubbornly.

  “No, you’re not,”she replied, equally stubbornly.

  Matt seemed confused by her refusal.“What, you don’t love me anymore, is that it?”

  “You know that’s not what this is about.I’m going back to uni, which you dropped out of if you remember.What are you going to do there?”

  “I’ll find something!”

  “Your life is here!”

  Matt glared at her.“Yeah, my life is everyone walking out on me.First Sasha, then Maddy…are you really going to do the same?”

  “Matt, think about it.If I drag you away from everything here, you’ll hate me.”

  “You mean like I’m starting to now?”

  Evelyn glanced up the road at the approaching bus.“Look, Matt, this is my bus.I’m getting on it.Alone.”

  Matt sat down at the bus stop.“Fine.”

  Evelyn glared at him.“What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “You think I’m going to wait around here so I have to see you come back, showing off your new life without me?Next bus that comes, wherever it’s going, I’m getting on it.You’ll never see me again.

  Evelyn wanted to argue with him but her bus was there.She got on it and didn’t look back.”

***

Evelyn walked up the drive towards the house.She’d been an infrequent visitor the last few years but somehow it still felt like home.Zac and Leah always made her feel welcome, VJ and Billie had long since made her an aunt to her step-cousin’s children…and Alf, always dispensing pearls of wisdom in his old-fashioned way.The idea that it was the last time she’d see him was hard to accept.

  She heard footsteps behind her and turned round.She stopped at the sight of him and so did he.Her first thought was that ten years after she’d last seen him, Matt was still carrying the same rucksack.

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Well, here we are as promised...ish. Thanks for the comments!

CHAPTER SEVEN

The pair of them stood looking at each other for a long time.Evelyn nodded towards the rucksack.“Where have you been?”

  “Around,”Matt said simply.

  “Your apprenticeship?”

  “Bit here, bit there.What about you?”

  Evelyn managed a smile.“Qualified social worker, would you believe it?”

  Matt nodded.“So, any more surprises at this gathering?”

  “You know Maddy and Oscar are here?”

  “Ah yes, after he came back from the dead to reclaim her.”He shook his head.“We’d better go in.”

  “Yeah.”Evelyn’s gaze fixed on Spencer’s car.

  “Something up?”Matt asked.

  “Just thought I recognised it for a moment.”

***

Josh found Salt nearly deserted.He suspected that the news about Alf was spreading and that that was holding people’s attention.It kind of suited him, because he didn’t particularly want to see people. Unfortunately, one of the last people he wanted to see was currently working the bar:Mason.

  “You not up at the house for Alf?”Mason asked.

  “Neither are you,”Josh replied.He gestured to the pump.“Beer.”

  Mason poured the drink without comment.“Someone had to keep an eye on this place.”

  “How’d you know about Alf anyway?”

  “Tori’s been doing checks on him.He told her this morning that she could let the rest of us know.What about you?”

  “Just ran into some people that knew.I’m not really back in the loop just yet.”

  “I’ve heard a few of your old crowd are turning up though.”

  “Yeah and I’ve had a few too many reunions here recently.So, are you on your own?”

  “Well, my girlfriend’s helping me out.”

  “Did I hear my name being taken in vain?”asked a waspish female voice, as a short, dark-haired young woman in Salt uniform emerged from the kitchen.She stopped as she saw the customer.“Josh!”

  Josh gaped at her.“Tamara?”

***

Five Years Ago

Mason was cleaning a glass when his attention was drawn to the young woman who had just entered.He made sure his hair was brushed just right before asking,“Can I help you?”

  The young woman was looking around her.“This place used to be called Angelo’s.”

  “Yeah, not for a long while though.Not since we took it over.”

  She looked at him sceptically.“We?”

  “Yeah, me and my family.”He held out his hand.“Mason Morgan.”

  She accepted it with great reluctance.“Tamara Kingsley.I used to work here when the Braxtons owned the place.I was quite close to them.”

  “And you wanted your job back?”

  “Well, I’ve finally finished uni and found I couldn’t get a job so it seemed like the best bet.Are you the manager or..?”

  “No, actually I’m a doctor.”

  Tamara didn’t look at all convinced.“Really?”

  “Yeah, I just help out here part-time.Brody!”

  Brody emerged from the kitchen.“Yeah, bro?”

  “The hot brunette at the bar wants a job.Can you tell her I’m a doctor?”

  Brody ignored most of the comment.“I can get you an application form if you want.”

  “That’d be helpful, yeah,”Tamara agreed.

  Mason handed her a slip of paper.“Take my phone number too.”

  Tamara accepted it from him.“The owners of this place have definitely changed since I was last here…”

***

Kyle answered the phone in the kitchen.“Hello.Oh, hey, Tamara.Hang on, slow down.”He digested the news his ex-girlfriend was telling him.“Okay, we’ll be down there as soon as possible.Probably see you tomorrow.”He headed through into the living room where a teenage boy was playing video games on the main television set.“Casey?”

  Casey didn’t look round.“Uncle Kyle.”

  “You know where your mum is?”

  “In the garden, I think.”

  “You know where your brother is?”

  “Tied him up and stuck him in the wardrobe.”

  Kyle smiled at the sarcasm.He and Ricky had been worried that the six-year age gap between the two boys might be a bit much but for the most part they seemed to get on as well as any other Braxton half-brothers.

  Ricky came in, their son Jason, now seven years old, following her and chattering about the latest Transformers action figures.She immediately picked up on Kyle’s mood.“What’s wrong?”

  “Tamara rang.She said a lot of people are heading to Summer Bay.She said…Alf’s dying.”

  Ricky processed this.“Jase, Case, how do you fancy a visit to Summer Bay?”

  “Will we get to see Auntie Marilyn?”Jason asked.

  Ricky smiled.“I’d say that’s inevitable.”

***

Spencer hovered awkwardly by the bed, wondering if he should maybe go and come back another time. Then Alf opened his eyes and stared at him.“Looks like it’s the day for unexpected visitors.You’d think a bloke was dying.”

  Spencer managed a smile.“Maybe you should have done it sooner.”

  Alf became serious for a moment.“No, I don’t think I’m going to wish that.”Then the smile was back in place.“But hey, it brought you back here.And don’t give me a big speech about how much I mean to you or how much of a difference I’ve made to your life or I really am going to want to cark it.”

  “Oh, I’d never do that.”

  “So what have you been doing with yourself?Evelyn mentioned seeing you at college.”

  “Yeah…yeah, that was a long time ago.I’m with Skye now.”

  “Stone the flaming crows!”Alf exclaimed,“How’d you two meet up?”

  “College.Northern District has a lot to answer for.We’re still there actually, we’ve got jobs in the counsellors’ office.”

  “You, a counsellor?”Alf asked in surprise.

  “Well, we figured with my bipolar and everything she went through with her mum, we could give people the benefit of our experience.”

  Alf smiled.“Good on you.”

***

“I wasn’t expecting to see you back in town,”Josh commented as he and Tamara headed up the path to the house.

  “Well, I was gone a while,”Tamara acknowledged,“I’m sorry I didn’t come back for Casey’s funeral. Kyle called and told me but I wasn’t ready to face everyone then.”

  “Yeah, I know the feeling.”Josh led the way into the house.

  “There you are!”Phoebe gave him a hug and a kiss of greeting.“I was thinking you’d run out on me.”

  “No, just needed to clear my head for a while.”Josh looked around and took in the newcomers.“And I think I’ve just seen someone I needed to speak to.”He headed towards the kitchen.

  Evelyn was making coffee but looked up at his approach.“You’re looking better than when I last saw you.”

  “I was in chains last time you saw me.”

  “That’s kind of what I meant.”She looked at him awkwardly.“You didn’t call me.”

  “Well, from what I hear, you hooked up with Matt pretty soon afterwards.”

  Evelyn shot him a look.“Do we need to talk about your son with Phoebe?What’s going on there anyway?”

  “I…think we’re together.”He saw her surprised look and understood.“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it either.”

  “Good luck to you, I guess.”

  “Thanks.What about you, are you seeing anyone?”

  “Not at the moment.”Evelyn suddenly broke off, looking behind him.Josh turned and saw that Spencer had just come downstairs.Evelyn swallowed hard.“Spence…”

  Spencer looked at her coldly and then walked away.

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Thank you for the comments, everyone, here's another chapter for you!

(And, JT, you'll be pleased to know that Dance Academy The Movie was kind enough to arrive on my day off, so hopefully I will have time to watch that this afternoon.)

CHAPTER EIGHT

“Auntie Marilyn!”Jason exclaimed in delight as he ran in through the door of the caravan park house.

  Marilyn gave him a fond hug.“Oh, look at you!You must get bigger every time I see you.Oh and, Casey! Aren’t you a handsome young man?”

  Casey hung back, as befitted his age, but nodded politely.“Thanks, Auntie Marilyn.”

  “Hey, how about you and I get a cricket bat out and knock a few balls round the park?”John suggested, “Stefan, Bobby, Dwight, Jimmy, V3 and Lucy are around here somewhere.”He looked at Maddy.“Is Felicity much of a sportsgirl?”

  “Not that much,”Maddy admitted,“But she’s a big fan of standing around watching.”

  “Hey, we’ll go with you,”Frank offered.

  “Show the youngsters how it’s done,”Zac agreed.

  As the three men and various young people headed towards the park, Roo gave Ricky a hug of welcome.“Kyle not with you?”

  “No, he went straight to Heath and April’s.We’re going to be staying there for a few days.”Ricky’s gaze flickered over those present and picked out a face she hadn’t seen for a while.“Hey, Josh.How’s life on the outside treating you?”

  “Okay so far.”Josh glanced in the direction Jason had gone.“Maybe I’m missing out on something here but I thought you couldn’t have any more children?”He looked at Oscar.“This isn’t another one of your medical miracles, is it?”

  “A bit more prosaic than that,”Ricky replied,“We used a surrogate.”

  “Me,”Marilyn interjected,“I couldn’t have children of my own because of my cancer treatment but everything else was working.”

  “I had the egg, she had the womb,”Ricky concluded,“Seemed like a perfect match.”

  “And Kyle always wanted to be a father,”Phoebe added,“It’s good things worked out for him.”

  “Talking of things working out for people,”Skye continued,“did anyone see where my boyfriend went?”

  “We’ll go and look for him,”Matt offered,“I haven’t managed to wind him up yet.”

***

Kyle poked his head round the door of his brother’s house.“Anyone home?”

  “There is now,”Heath answered as he and April came up the drive behind him.He led the way inside. “You manage to lose Ricky?”

  “She went straight up to the caravan park.I thought you might be down there.”

  “We’re going down another day,”April explained,“I’ve been chatting to some of the old crowd on Facebook, there’s some people coming down later that I’d like to catch up with.”

  “Dexter and Lottie?”Kyle asked with just a hint of joking.

  “Ah, no.Apparently the hospital can’t spare them.”

  “You’re lucky Brax didn’t answer the Avengers Assemble,”Heath remarked.

  “Don’t tend to see him south of Alice Springs,”Kyle pointed out,“Casey hasn’t seen him since last year except on Skype.”

  “Guess it’s one solution to the Braxton temper,”April commented.

  “Are you kidding me?!”Heath demanded as he pushed open the door to the porch area.Hunter and Darcy were kissing on the couch and somewhere along the way Darcy’s shirt had been unbuttoned.They jumped to their feet, hastily trying to get their clothing back in a more acceptable state.

  “Hunter just dropped round,”Darcy attempted.

  Heath glared at the young man.“How many times have I told you not to let me catch you doing that? Every time, you’re running the risk that I might decide to kill you.”

  “Maybe you should go and check on your dad and Leah?”April suggested diplomatically.

  “Yep, I’ll go and do that,”Hunter agreed, cautiously edging around Heath.

  Darcy sighed.“Uncle Kyle, you’re not going to be like this when Casey and Jason start dating, are you?”

  Kyle thought.“Well, I won’t be threatening to beat up their girlfriends.Ricky might, though.”

  “You’re assuming they’re going to be into girls,”April pointed out with just a hint of mischief.

  Kyle smiled.“Yeah, fair point.”

***

Evelyn found Spencer sitting at a table just outside the house.She cautiously approached him, even though he was studiously looking away from her.“Do we need to talk?”

  Spencer didn’t look round.“You never wanted to talk before.”

  Evelyn sighed.“Come on, Spencer, that was eight years ago.Do you really want to bring all that up now?”

  “Oh, I’m sorry if I’m spoiling your homecoming by reminding you of things that make you uncomfortable.”He glared at her.“You got rid of our child, Evie!”

  “Yes.Yes, I did,”Evelyn snapped,“What was I supposed to do, Spencer?We were never meant to be serious!”

  “Well, we got serious.And you couldn’t handle it.”

  “What else were we going to do?Have a child together?Get married?”

  “We’d have managed somehow.”

  “Wake up, Spencer, it would have messed up both our lives.Do you think you’d be with Skye now, be a counsellor, if you had a kid to look after her?”

  Spencer stood up.“All I know is that baby was a part of both of us and you got rid of it like it was nothing.Like I was nothing.”He turned and walked away in the direction of the park.

  Evelyn didn’t think the conversation could have gone any worse.Until she turned round and found Maddy, Oscar, Matt and Josh standing there.Close enough to have heard every word.

  Oscar coughed.“Do we need to talk?”

***

It was starting to get dark when Brody answered the knocking on the door and found his waitress standing there.“Tamara!Is this about your next roster?”He knew very well that it wasn’t.

  “Is Mason here?”

  Brody looked over at the figure slumped on the couch.“Mason, visitor for you.”He let Tamara in and stood watching the couple just long enough for it to make them uncomfortable.“Well, I guess I’m taking Buddy Junior for a walk then.Come on, BJ.”He clicked his fingers at the puppy sat in the kitchen, who came running.

  “Profitable day?”Tamara asked sarcastically once they were alone.

  Mason shrugged.“Finished off a box set.”He looked at her with sudden seriousness.“How was it up at the house?”

  “I could do with a hug.”Mason held his arm out invitingly and Tamara sat down beside him, cuddling up to him.“I don’t know, I don’t really know Alf that well but…he’s just part of the place, you know?”

  “I know,”Mason confirmed.

  “It just feels like the town is going to be really empty without him.And after all that, I didn’t feel like going home.”

  “Well…you can stop over if you like.”

  Tamara’s response was to softly kiss him.

***

“How’s Evie?”Leah asked Zac as he slid into bed next to her.

  “Embarrassed more than anything,”Zac admitted,“I think she was hoping we’d never find out.”

  “You didn’t have any idea?”

  “Not a clue.I knew she and Spencer had a fling while she was in college, but that she got pregnant and then had an abortion?No.”

  “I can’t imagine why she’d want to do that.”

  “I guess she thought it didn’t fit in with the life she had planned.”

  “I suppose.I’m just having a hard time imagining making that choice.”

  Zac bit his lip, aware that what he was about to say was putting him on taboo ground.“Not even if..?”

  Leah shrugged.“Well, Billie managed.”

***

Six Years Ago

VJ helped Billie to sit at the table.“Are you sure you’re okay?”he asked again.

  Billie rolled her eyes.“Come on, VJ, you’d think I’d never been pregnant before.”She sighed.“Although I was hoping for third time lucky without the sore ankles and heartburn.”

  “Is it eight weeks that you’re due?”Zac asked.

  “That’s right.Then we’ve got five kids running around the house.”

  “And I’m not sure Dexter and Lottie have stopped breeding yet,”VJ added.

  “Well, they’ve got Stefan and V3 to handle tonight, so maybe that’ll put them off.”

  Alf came downstairs and looked around.“Hey, you two.Er, Leah not home yet?”

  “No, not yet,”Zac confirmed with just a hint of confusion.

  “She did know what time we were getting here?”VJ checked.

  “I think so.I’ll ring the Diner, see what’s keeping her.”Zac went over to the landline and dialled the number.He waited several rings then looked confused.“No answer.”

  “Try Irene,”VJ suggested.

  Zac rang the number.“Hey, Irene, is Leah with you?Okay, thanks.”He looked round.“Irene says she left Leah to close up about half an hour ago.”

  “Maybe we should get down there, see if she’s all right?”

  Zac nodded.“Alf, can you keep an eye on Dwight?”

  Alf sighed.“Yeah, go on.I’ll try and make sure the rugrat doesn’t put his fingers in any sockets.”

***

Zac, VJ and Billie arrived at the Diner to find the door still open but most of the lights off.Cautiously, they made their way inside.“Leah?”Zac called out.There was no answer but they heard a noise from the kitchen.

  The three of them went through to find Leah curled up in a corner, whimpering.Zac crouched down and reached out to her.“Leah, are you okay?”But Leah just flinched away.

  “Mum?”VJ asked.

  Billie looked cautiousy at Leah.The state she was in seemed horribly familiar.“Guys, move back.”There was enough authority in her voice that they did as they were told without questioning her.Billie crouched down near her mother-in-law.“Leah, have you been raped?”

  Still whimpering, Leah nodded.

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Okay, after that nearly page-long diversion, here's another new chapter, hope you like!

CHAPTER NINE

Six Years Ago

Leah sat alone on the back porch of the house.Zac, VJ and Billie were all congregated inside the main house.“Do you think one of us should say something?”VJ asked.

  Zac shrugged helplessly.“I don’t even know what I could say.”

  VJ looked at Billie.“Couldn’t you talk to her?”

  Billie rubbed her pregnancy bump slightly.“The state I’m in?I’m not sure she’d want to see me.”

  VJ gave her a hug.“Okay, I’m sorry.I just…want to do something.”

  “Where have you all been?”Hunter demanded, as he suddenly entered from outside, hefting a bag,“I told you I was getting out of jail today.I had to walk and find a bus stop and even then they only took me as far as Yabbie Creek.”

  Zac winced.“Hunter, I’m sorry.Some stuff happened yesterday and it just slipped our minds.”

  Hunter wasn’t exactly mollified by the explanation.“Yeah?What stuff?”

  “Mum was raped,”VJ replied bluntly.

  Hunter was instantly contrite.“Look, if it’s going to be a problem me staying here…”

  “No, no, your old van’s waiting,”Zac promised him,“I’ll show you the way.”

  Before they could exit, however, Inspector Georgina Watson appeared.Hunter looked at her warily.“I’ve only just got here.”

  “I’m not here for you,”Georgie explained,“I’m here to see Leah.”

  Leah came through, having apparently heard enough to rouse herself.“Have you got news?”

  “We think we’ve found your attacker.”

***

Leah, Zac and Georgie walked down a corridor to where a one-way window allowed them a view into an interview room.A middle-aged man was sitting there, his face filled with anger.“He’s been in prison so we already had his DNA on file,”Georgie explained,“Once we got a match with your examination, it was just a matter of picking him up.”

  “I…know him,”Leah realised,“He took me and Rachel hostage once, Dan owed him some money.It must be fifteen years ago now.His name was…”She floundered.

  “Dudley Shephard,”Georgie replied,“He spent several years in jail after the incident, his business never really recovered.He’s been living hand to mouth ever since.”

  “And he attacked Leah just because of that?”Zac asked incredulously.

  “Well, Dan’s dead.I guess he wanted to punish someone.”

  Leah didn’t respond to the conversation, just staring into the face of the man who had raped her.

***

Spencer woke up in a caravan, Skye lying in bed alongside him.He put his arms around her and kissed her gently on the side of the head.Skye’s eyes opened but the look in them suggested they were going to have an awkward conversation.“Why didn’t you tell me?”she asked.

  “It was before we met,”Spencer pointed out,“I guess I just wanted to forget about it.”

  “It didn’t look as though you’d forgotten about it yesterday.It looked like it still hurt.And if that’s true, then that kind of means you’ve been holding onto it the whole time you’ve been with me.Which makes me wonder if you’ve always been wondering what would have happened if things had worked out with Evelyn and the baby.”

  “I haven’t,”Spencer promised,“I guess I just…never had a chance to shout at her before.”

  Skye gave him a disapproving look.“Holding onto anger…”

  “…is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die,”Spencer finished,“I remember.I’m sorry.”

  Skye nodded.“So would now be a bad time to tell you I’m pregnant?”

  Spencer’s eyes widened in surprise.“Really?”

  “I did a test but I was waiting for a doctor to confirm it before telling you.But I guess this seemed like the right time.So…what do you think?”

  Spencer’s answer was a tender kiss.

***

When Evelyn came downstairs, she found Oscar at the table.She looked at him suspiciously.“Shouldn’t you be with your wife?”

  “We decided we shouldn’t ambush you.”

  Evelyn sighed.“Well, that’s not a promising start.Are you here to lecture me?”

  “No, I guess I’m going to apologise for not being there.”

  “You mean because you were pretending to be dead at the time?”

  Oscar looked uncomfortable.“Yeah.Because of that.”

  “It’s okay, Oscar.I dealt with it.”

  “Are you sure?”

  Evelyn sighed.“Yeah.I made my decision.And yeah, sometimes I think of what could have happened if I’d gone through with the pregnancy.But I think I did the right thing.”

  Oscar nodded.He got up and gave her a brief hug.“Just…talk to me if you need to.”

  No sooner had he gone however, then Leah entered.“How much of that did you hear?”Evelyn asked.

  “Enough,”Leah answered,“Enough to wonder why you didn’t come to us.I mean, you didn’t think we were dead.”

  “I guess I needed to make the choice on my own.And I didn’t want you always reminding me.”

  “Why didn’t you go through with the pregnancy?I mean, Spencer would have stood by you.”

  “I know, Spencer’s a nice guy.But I didn’t love him.And I didn’t want to have a baby with someone I didn’t love.Does that make me horrible?”

  “No.I’m just sorry you didn’t get to be a mother.It’s something special.”

***

Six Years Ago

Irene sat across the table from Leah on the back porch.“Love, I wish there was something I could say.”

  “I know he’s been caught,”Leah said levelly,“I know he’s going back to jail.But somehow that doesn’t make it any better.I still can’t get past what he did.”She looked hopefully at Irene.“You went through it.”

  “Yeah and I bottled it up for years and damn near ruined my relationship with all my other kids.So don’t use me as a role model.”

  “Billie seems to have handled it okay.I mean, she lied to us at first but VJ stood by her and when you see her with Stefan you wouldn’t think it had happened.”

  “Zac’s standing by you too.”

  “Yeah, I know he’s trying.”

  Zac suddenly appeared, carrying Dwight, who had just hit the toddler stage.“Someone wanted to see you.”He passed their son over to his wife.

  “Mum ’kay?”Dwight asked.

  Leah hugged him.“Mummy’s going to be okay,”she said quietly,“As long as you and your brother are here.”She looked at Zac.“Thank you.”

***

Olivia came trundling across the caravan park to where Skye was walking.Skye couldn’t help looking a bit bemused at the sight of her.“You all right there?”

  “Still haven’t quite managed to get myself an all-terrain transport.”Olivia cleared her throat.“So, I got your text.And I’m pretty offended that I wasn’t the first person you told you were going to be a mother.”

  “Well, I kind of thought Spencer should know first.”

  “Hmm.Okay, maybe I’ll give you that.Come here.”

  Skye looked confused.“Why?”

  “Because it’s hard to hug you otherwise.”

  Skye smiled and bent down, putting her arms round Olivia who did likewise.“You deserve this,”Olivia said quietly.

  They straightened up and looked over at the house.A new vehicle had just pulled up.Five or six people got out and headed inside.“Who are they?”Olivia wondered.

***

“Sally!”Leah exclaimed in delight at the sight of her old friend.Her gaze went over the rest of the party. “Miles!Gypsy!Pippa!Lily!”She looked at the dark-haired girl, around four years old, who completed the party.“And I don’t think we’ve met.”

  “This is Aura,”Miles explained,“Our daughter.”

  Leah smiled at Miles and Gypsy in turn.“I was really pleased to hear that you two had got together. Surprised but pleased.”

  “Yeah, it surprised us too,”Gypsy confirmed.

  Pippa, who was on crutches, hobbled over to where VJ was standing.“Hey, womb sister!”VJ greeted her, giving her a hug.

  “You gonna explain that?”Billie asked.

  “Leah had me for Mum,”Pippa explained,“Mum’s my biological mother, Leah’s my birth mother.”

  “You got a hug for me too?”asked the attractive blonde next to Pippa.

  “Yeah, sure, Lil,”VJ replied, awkwardly complying.

  Lily turned to Billie.“I was VJ’s first girlfriend,”she explained.

  “We were twelve,”VJ pointed out.

  “It still counts.”

  Sally spoke to Leah.“How is he?”

***

Alf sat up slightly as Sally and Pippa came in.“Well, that’s a sight for sore eyes.How on earth did you two get here so fast, jump on the first plane from Yankee Land?”

  “Course we did, Mr.Stewart,”Sally confirmed.

  “Course we did, Alf,”Pippa echoed.

  Alf nodded towards her while addressing Sally.“See?Your daughter knows it’s polite to call people what they’ve asked you to.”

  Sally sighed.“You’ll always be Mr.Stewart…”

  “Yeah, I know that.But I’m not going to have many more opportunities to hear you call me Alf, so can we call it a dying wish?”

  Sally gave a reluctant smile.“Okay, I’ll give it a try…Alf.”

  Alf looked back at Pippa.“Now, how are you?”

  “No better, no worse.”

  “Well, that’s not bad news, is it?There was a time when I thought you might go before me.”He noticed Sally sniffling and raised an eyebrow.“Something up?”

  “It’s just…you’ve kind of been like a father to me and…I’m pretty sick of burying fathers.”

  “I know, love.But this isn’t like Tom or Michael or the others.I’ve lived a long life and an okay one by most standards.I can’t complain.You shouldn’t either.”

***

“It’s good to see you again,”Frank noted, giving Sally a hug as soon as she came downstairs.He stepped back and looked her up and down.“Well, you’ve grown from that little squirt Tom and Pippa took in all those years ago.”

  “Given that it was forty years ago, I should think so!”

  Roo hugged her in turn.“It’s nice to have you back, Sal.”

  “Yes and it’s nice to have you as my sister-in-law again.”

  “Shame there’s no-one on the horizon for you.”

  Sally raised an eyebrow.“How do you know there isn’t?”

  “Milco’s been filling us in,”Frank explained.

  Miles sighed.“I am never going to live that one down…”

  “Well, I had Flynn,”Sally commented.She put an arm round Pippa.“And I’ve got this one.I’m doing okay.”

  “Knock knock,”came a male voice from the doorway.It was a shock for those who remembered him to realise that the young man standing there was Oliver Phillips.“Hi, Miles.”

  “Hi, Ollie,”Miles echoed, his gaze drifting past his one-time de facto stepson to the two people standing behind him.Kirsty.And Aden.

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Okay, notebooks at the ready because here's another chapter!

CHAPTER TEN

Seventeen Years Ago

Kirsty was walking along the wharf.A fishing boat was moored there and workers were unloading crates filled with their catch.One of them stepped out in front of her, forcing her to stop to avoid walking into him.“Excuse me,”she said sarcastically.The fisherman turned round and she started as she realised she knew him.“Aden?”Aden turned away, quickening his pace down the wharf.“Aden, it’s me!”

  Aden sighed, realising that he wasn’t going to avoid the conversation.“Hi, Kirsty.”

  “What’s going on?Do you live here now?”

  “Yeah, I’m living with my brother.Well, sort of.He’s in barracks most of the time.”

  “He’s in the army?”

  “Yeah, it surprised me too.So what about you?I heard you were living with your parents?”

  “I was for a while but I guess I’d been away from home for too long.They were still treating me like I was seventeen.They still help out with babysitting a lot but Ollie and I have got our own place.I carried on my studies, still hoping to be a teacher one day.What about you?”

  Aden sighed.“Look, Kirsty, I haven’t spoken to anyone from Summer Bay since I left the place.I pretty much burned my bridges there.”

  “And you think I didn’t?”

  Aden smiled despite himself.“Guess we’ve finally got something in common.”

  Kirsty smiled back.“Guess we have.”She hesitated before asking,“Listen, do you want to come over for a meal some time?Be social outcasts together?I’m sure Ollie would love to see another familiar face.I know things didn’t work out that well the last time I gave you a dinner invite…”

  Aden felt a slight twinge of guilt.He remembered that Kirsty and Miles had been nice to him when Roman had kicked him out…but he hadn’t been in the mood for people being nice to him at the time, still too busy beating himself up for not being there for Belle.“Yeah, okay.You can usually find me here this time.Come down and see me some time.”

***

Kirsty came out of the house to find Miles sat at one of the tables, indulging in a game of pat-a-cake with Aura.“She looks like you,”she commented.

  “I’d hope so,”Miles agreed.

  “You were always good with children.I think I regretted taking Ollie away from you even more than I regretted losing you myself.”

  Miles gave a brief laugh.“Well, seeing him all grown up definitely makes me feel old.As does you having a younger husband.”

  Kirsty smiled.“I guess it was about time I gave it a try.”

  “Does Kane see much of Ollie?Because I would really pay money to see him and Aden trying to be polite to each other.”

  “It’s a bit of a minefield.Kane spends a lot of his time on long haul boat trips.I think the sea and Ollie are probably the only things that make him feel at peace.I used to but that was a long time ago.”

  “He never remarried?”

  “No.Which is more than I can say for you.I wanted you to be happy but I never really pictured you with Gypsy.”

  Miles thought for a moment.“Yeah, of course, you knew her from when she lived here.”

  “Mmm and she and Dani never really got along.Mum liked her though and I guess I kind of did for the most part.”

  “How is Dani?”

  Kirsty laughed.“You’ll never guess who she’s with now.Angelo!”

  Miles shook his head.“Is there some weird cosmic force causing people who used to live in Summer Bay to hook up?”

  “Seems that way.”

  Miles noticed Aura’s confused look and picked her up.“Aura, I want you to meet Kirsty.She was a friend of mine a long time ago.”

  Kirsty nodded, appreciating the gesture.“And I’m very pleased to meet you.”

***

Spencer emerged from his caravan to find Maddy, Oscar, Olivia and Jett all sat around a table with Skye. “Well, this can’t be good,”he commented.

  “Hey, we just wanted to give you our congratulations,”Oscar assured him.

  “We’re going to have to call you Daddy soon,”Maddy noted.

  Spencer gave Skye a bemused look.“I take it you told them then?”

  “What can I say?I forgot what it’s like to be in Summer Bay.Nothing stays secret for long.”

  Olivia fixed him with a steely gaze.“Just remember, if you ever let her down, my boyfriend knows several different ways to kill you.”

  “That is actually true,”Jett agreed.

  Spencer smiled at Skye and put an arm round her, kissing her on the top of the head.“I’m not going to let them down.”

***

Leah was in the middle of boiling the kettle when Miles came wandering in.“I’ve just been comparing notes with Zac,”he noted,“Nice guy.”

  “You have a lot of things in common,”Leah remarked.

  Miles looked slightly confused.“He’s a master of deadpan sarcasm as well?”

  “That’s one of the things you don’t.”Leah hesitated for a moment.“I know we didn’t exactly part on bad terms but do we need to talk?”

  “Well, we can if you like.I’m not used to having so many exes in one place.”

  Leah smiled.“Do you remember when I was really jealous of you and Kirsty?”

  “Well, I hope you’re not going to be jealous of me,”Gypsy remarked as she joined them.She went over to Miles, who put his arm round her.

  “Of course not,”Leah replied,“It’s good to see you happy again.”

  “Well, it’s been a long road.”

  “But laughter’s always the best cure,”Miles added.

  Leah paused for a moment, looking upstairs.“Maybe not for everything.”

***

“I thought I’d be seeing you sooner or later,”Alf commented.

  Irene raised an eyebrow.“Nice that I’m so predictable.”

  “Only to those that know you well.And there aren’t many people have been around here longer than us two.”

  Irene nodded.“You know, I remember the days when I was the newcomer in town.You and Ailsa and Pippa and Michael and Donald Fisher…I wasn’t sure if I’d ever fit in.”

  “And now it’s you that the youngsters look up to.”Alf looked at her suspiciously.“I hope you’re not here expecting some sort of passing of the torch.”

  “Never crossed my mind.”

  “Good.We’re way past me telling you what to do.You wouldn’t listen anyway.”

  “Oh, because you’ve always been good at listening to other people’s advice, have you?”

  “Damn straight!”Alf replied in mock objection.

  Irene laughed and then became somber.“I actually don’t know how I’ll keep this place together without you.”

  “Oh, you’ll have lots of help.By the way, did I hear that young Kirsty and young Aden are around here somewhere?Together?”

  Irene nodded, slightly bemused.“It’s not something I ever expected to see.”

***

Seventeen Years Ago

“Er, Ollie, you need to go to bed now,”Kirsty pointed out as she watched her son rolling around on the floor with Aden.

  “Not tired,”Ollie complained.

  “Well, if you go to bed and lie down, you soon will be.”

  Ollie reluctantly got to his feet.“Can Aden come up and read to me?”

  Kirsty gave an apologetic look to Aden, who was also standing up.“You don’t have to.”

  “No, it’s okay.”Aden took Ollie’s hand.“Come on, see if you can teach me to read.”

  It was around ten minutes later that he came down again.“Is he okay?”Kirsty asked.

  Aden nodded.“Sleeping away.”

  “Thanks for all you do with him.I think he likes having a familiar face around.”

  “Well...to tell the truth, being here with the two of you is pretty much the first time I’ve felt at home since I’ve moved here.”

  “That’s good because I like you coming over as well.I really like it, Aden.”

  Aden cautiously ran his fingers through Kirsty’s hair, stroking her cheek.When she didn’t object, he bent and kissed her.She responded, putting her arms around him.The kiss became more intense and he began walking her backwards towards the bedroom.

  Kirsty stopped and the kiss broke.“Hang on a minute, are we going to sleep together?”

  “That was the plan,”Aden confirmed,“Is that a problem?”

  “No, fine by me.”They resumed kissing and headed towards the bedroom again, undressing each other as they did so.

***

Passion gave way to exhaustion and then a kind of calm bliss.They lay facing each other, aware that they’d reached the stage where they needed to talk.“So is this the start of something?”Kirsty asked.

  “I don’t know,”Aden admitted.

  “Because I’ve got Ollie to think about, I can’t let him get confused, he’s had enough upheaval in his life as it is.And…I haven’t actually done this with many people.There was Kane and then Miles and now you. So…I don’t really do casual.”

  Aden was silent for a moment.“I wish I could say there hadn’t been anyone but Belle and Nicole and now you,”he said at last,“But there was someone else, some stupid one-off.It was just after Belle died and I guess I just wanted to feel something.And it didn’t work, it didn’t make me feel any better.Didn’t even really enjoy it.So I guess I don’t do casual either.”

  Kirsty tried to piece together his answer.“So, this between us, it’s not casual?It’s…a thing.”

  Aden smiled.“Yeah.It’s a thing.”

  They kissed and the passion soon returned.

***

“Here you are,”Sally noted as she joined Aden on the back porch with two mugs of tea.

  “Thanks, Miss Fletcher…Sally,”Aden attempted awkwardly.

  Sally gave an understanding smile.“Yeah, neither seems quite right, does it?I mean, I haven’t been your teacher for twenty years but we weren’t exactly friendly.”

  “No, I seem to remember you pretty much hated me.”Aden thought for a moment, recalling the day Sally had left Summer Bay High, when he’d been caught up in the collapse of the old Diner.“You did help save my life the last time we met though so thanks for that.”

  “My pleasure.To be fair, I did like you at first, back when you and Cassie were together.And Matilda has always assured me that you were good for Belle, surprising as it was to hear you’d married her.”

  “Yeah.Not that I had her for that long.So what about Matilda, are she and Ric coming?”

  “No, they and the kids are in Thailand for the holidays.The kids are in high school now, can you believe that?”

  “Certainly makes me feel old.”

  “And you and Kirsty?”

  Aden nodded.“Yeah, me and Kirsty.You never remarried though.”

  “No.I think Flynn was it for me.”

  “I seem to remember you nearly marrying Mr.Armstrong?”

  “Mmm.”Sally couldn’t quite believe she was opening up to Aden.“I guess I didn’t really love him, or didn’t love him enough.The crazy thing is, if Flynn had never happened, I’d probably have married Brad and still be with him.”

  “Yeah.Sometimes timing can be everything.”

***

Nicole closed her suitcase and let out a deep sigh.Ruby came over to her.“You ready?”

  “As I’ll ever be,”Nicole answered.

  “We don’t have to go,”Ruby suggested.

  Nicole shook her head.“Mr.Stewart’s like family.If I don’t see him, I’ll feel a lot worse.It’s just there’s a lot of people I’m a bit nervous about seeing again.”

  “You should worry!”

  Nicole gave her a sympathetic look.“From what I hear, most of the Walkers aren’t living there anymore.”

  “That might not be enough.”

  Nicole gave her girlfriend a lingering kiss on the lips.“Well, if anyone does anything, I’ll protect you.”

  “My hero.”Ruby gave her a quick hug then called across the flat,“George!Charles!”

  The two step-brothers, thick as thieves despite the ten years that separated them, poked their heads round the bedroom door.“Yes, Mum?”Charles asked.

  “Yes, Auntie Ruby?”George echoed.

  “Time to get going.”

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