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Thanks for the comments, everyone! This doesn't have the whole story of Nicole and Ruby but hopefully it's enough to keep you happy...

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Nine Years Ago

Ruby collapsed onto the sofa next to Nicole.“Thanks for letting me stay here.”

  “No problem,”Nicole answered,“You get all your things settled in your room?”

  “Yeah.The legacy of a failed marriage.”

  Nicole looked at her sympathetically.“You and Xavier are definitely over?”

  “About as over as you can get.”Ruby sighed.“I don’t know, it was just a colossal mistake.I didn’t love Xavier like that, I’m not sure I ever did.It’s just he’s been a good friend to me and I guess I mistook it for something more.”

  Nicole nodded.“Yeah, it was much the same with me and Angelo.He was there for me when I was lonely and needed someone.I thought it was love.But things fell apart pretty much as soon as we got here.”

  “At least you were smart enough not to marry him.”

  “Mmm.True.”Nicole gave a smile.“So, just the two of us?Girls together?”

  “Sounds fine to me.”Ruby saw Nicole open her arms invitingly and hugged her.

  What they expected to do at that point was to disengage and maybe open a bottle of wine or something. But instead, they pulled apart just a few inches, their faces just a tiny bit apart.And then Nicole closed the gap, her lips touching Ruby’s, softly at first but with a great intensity.

  Ruby pulled back slightly.“What are you doing?”

  “Kissing you,”Nicole answered,“Is that okay?”

  “I’ve had worse.”

  They kissed again, growing more passionate.Nicole pulled Ruby to her feet, still kissing her, and began steering her towards her bedroom.Ruby pulled back again.“Wait a minute, you don’t just want to kiss me, you want to sleep with me?”

  “Yeah!”Nicole confirmed eagerly.

  There was a moment’s silence.“Okay,”Ruby said at last.

  Nicole resumed kissing her and resumed the journey to the bedroom.She pushed Ruby down on her bed and began undressing her.

***

“Anyone home?”Nicole asked as she led her family into the caravan park house.

  Leah, Zac, Roo, Frank, Marilyn and John were all there.Marilyn gave a cry of delight.“Nicole!Oh my, you look beautiful!And is this George?Haven’t you grown!”

  “Hey, everyone,”Ruby said awkwardly.

  “Hey, Ruby,”Leah replied with a smile.

  “Do you want a drink or something?”John asked.

  “Kettle’s on,”Frank added.

  “It’s on pretty much all the time at the moment,”Zac explained.

  “Actually, is it okay if I go straight up and see Mr.Stewart?”Nicole asked.

  “Sure,”Roo confirmed,“I think I heard him stirring.”

  Nicole went up just as Maddy, Oscar, Spencer, Skye and Evelyn came in.They all stopped on seeing someone unfamiliar there.“Hello,”Maddy greeted cautiously.

  Ruby looked at them uncomfortably.“Hi.I’m Ruby.I used to live here a few years ago.”

  Marilyn lowered her voice as she spoke to Roo.“Do you think Indi and April know she’s here?”

  “I don’t think they’ve got a clue.”

***

Josh was at the breakfast table with Jimmy, helping him work out the puzzle on the back of his pack of Coco Pops.Eleven years in jail and the back of Kellogg’s Multipacks still hadn’t changed.He glanced back at Phoebe, who had been clearing her own things away.“Are we going to the caravan park today?”

  “Not sure.Maybe we should go down the beach first?”

  “Beach!”Jimmy voted quickly.

  Phoebe smiled.“Okay, go and get your things.”

  Josh waited until Jimmy had run out, then got up and put his arms round Phoebe’s waist.He pulled her towards him and kissed her.“Did I mention how much I’m loving being here?”

  “I love you too.”

  Josh was surprised.“Really?”

  Phoebe looked slightly bemused.“Not sure.It just felt like the right thing to say.We’re heading that way, right?”

  “Yeah.Yeah, I guess we are.”

  “Knock knock!”called Kyle as he entered.

  Phoebe looked at him in delight.“Kyle, what are you doing here?”

  “I just heard about something I had to see to believe:Phoebe Nicholson getting domestic.”Phoebe rolled her eyes and Kyle turned to the other person present.“Good to see you, Josh.”

  “You too.”

  Jimmy came running in, wearing a sun hat and carrying a bucket and spade.“Ready!”

  “We were just heading down the beach,”Josh explained to Kyle,“Do you and Ricky and the boys want to join us?”

  Kyle smiled.“Yeah, that sounds good.”

***

“So you’re all good?”Alf checked cautiously,“No unsuitable men hanging around?No visits from the cops?”

  Nicole rolled her eyes.“No, Mr.Stewart, I’m an upstanding citizen these days.”

  “Good.And your dad, how’s he?”

  “Still pretty reclusive but he’s getting there.”Nicole sighed.“He shouldn’t have spent all that time in jail.”

  “It was his own choice,”Alf said gently.

  “Yeah, same as it was Ruby’s.Can’t help feeling they both deserved better though.”

  “Well, it’s a shame your dad isn’t going to make it down.Miles would have liked to have seen him.Er, not that he won’t be pleased to see you.”

  “Nice catch, Mr.Stewart,”Nicole commented ironically,“Well, I’ll be pleased to see him as well.It was the two of you who made me feel like I still had a family after losing Dad.And Aden and Kirsty, of course.” She wrinkled her nose a bit.“Can’t wait to see them again…”

  Alf coughed slightly.“And, er, you and Ruby?That’s still…going well?”

  “It is.”

  “Well…if it makes you both happy.”

  “It does.”Nicole thought back for a moment.“Eventually.”

***

Nine Years Ago

Ruby woke up lying naked in Nicole’s bed with Nicole lying alongside her.She swallowed hard, feeling even more uncomfortable than she had done the previous night.She looked around the room, wondering if she could make a dignified exit before Nicole woke up.

  No sooner had the thought entered her mind then Nicole woke up.She propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Ruby with a smile.“Well, morning, lover.”

  Nicole leaned over and kissed Ruby, while placing a hand on her leg.It was clear it wasn’t going to stop at kissing until Ruby pulled away.“George is around,”she pointed out.

  Nicole nodded slowly.“Right.We don’t want him walking in on us.”

  “We should get dressed.”Ruby rolled out of bed and began gathering up her clothes, looking at Nicole as little as possible.

***

It was later that morning when Nicole checked on George in his play room.“You okay on your own in there?”she asked.George gave her a murderous look.“Okay, ask a silly question.”She turned round… and saw Ruby standing there with her bags packed.“What’s going on?”she demanded.

  “I can’t do this,”Ruby admitted,“When you first suggested I come and stay here, I thought it would be great but…I can’t do what you’re asking me to.Not again.”

  “What I’m asking you to..?”Nicole repeated.

  “What we did…last night.”

  Nicole felt uncomfortable at the look on Ruby’s face.“I…thought you enjoyed it.”

  “You’re not a guy, Nicole,”Ruby snapped,“Just because I moaned in the right places doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.I’m not gay, okay?”

  “And what, I’m some sort of predatory lesbian?”Nicole was upset and it was making her angry.“I didn’t plan this, I didn’t have some evil scheme to trick you into coming here and then seduce you.I just saw you as friend until last night but when we hugged…I felt something.And yeah, things moved quickly but we’re not teenagers anymore.I had feelings and I acted on them.I made love to you last night and now you’re acting like I forced you to sleep with me!”

  There was a passion in her voice that made Ruby feel slightly guilty.“I’m not saying I didn’t consent, I did.And I’m not saying it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.But I came here needing a friend, not a lover.”

  There was an olive branch in there somewhere and Nicole accepted it.“Okay, then I’ll be your friend. You can sleep in that room like we planned and I won’t do anything like that again.I don’t want to lose you as a friend, Ruby.”

  Ruby nodded slowly.“Okay.We’ll give it a try.”

***

The new younger crowd had been nice enough but in the end Ruby had detached herself from them, heading out into the caravan park.That was when she saw a disparate group coming across the field:VJ, Billie, Brody…and Indi.VJ’s face lit up at the sight of her.“Ruby!”He came over and gave her a hug.

  “Hey, Veej.”Ruby responded.

  VJ released her and gestured to Billie, who was looking at her suspiciously.“This is Billie, my wife.”

  Ruby held out a hand.“How do you two know each other?”Billie asked as she accepted it.

  “Me and my mum used to live with him and his mum,”Ruby explained.

  “We’ll see you up at the house,”VJ offered, sensing there was a conversation that Ruby needed to have without them there.

  “Do all your old friends look like that?”Billie asked grumpily as they walked away.

  Ruby turned her attention to Indi.It wasn’t a meeting she’d been looking forward to.“How has everything been?”

  “Fine,”Indi replied without much inflection.

  Brody looked from one to the other.“Is there some history here that I’m missing?”

  “You could say that,”Indi confirmed.

  Ruby nodded.“Saying ‘I’m sorry I tried to kill you’ seems a bit inadequate.”Brody raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

  “It’s enough,”Indi replied,“Let’s face it, everyone lost Romeo in the end.”

***

Seven Years Ago

Xavier brought his patrol car to a halt.It was night and the rain was coming down hard on the windscreen.Pulling his regulation issue raincoat around him, he clambered out.

  The area was a popular one for the homeless but most had sought refuge somewhere else for the night, in abandoned buildings or at least in doorways and under bridges.But one person sat motionless by the road, only a blanket pulled up over their head protecting them from the elements.

  Xavier approached cautiously.“Are you all right?”

  She looked up at him.

  Xavier gaped at the dirty, rain-streaked face.“Mink?”

***

It was an hour later.Xavier’s shift was finished and he was in the flat making a warm mug of cocoa.Mink was sat on the sofa.She had exchanged her soaked blanket for a large towel which she was rubbing herself dry with.Xavier brought her cocoa over.“Here, this should warm you up.”

  Mink accepted it but looked at him more than a little suspiciously.“I don’t tend to have much luck with people wearing uniforms like that.”

  “Well, it is me wearing it this time,”Xavier pointed out.

  Mink nodded.“First time I met you, you were hiding the profits of crime from the police.How’d you get from that to this?”

  “Grew up, I guess.”

  Mink bristled.“And I didn’t?”

  “I didn’t say that.Mink, how did you end up like this?”

  “Well, what else was going to happen?I’ve got nothing left.I spent two years in juvie protecting my mum and my brother and guess what?They’re both dead.The only thing I’ve ever been good at is surfing and I had that taken away from me by some disease.Might as well finish the job.”

  “Don’t say that,”Xaver insisted,“You have still got a lot going for you.You’re smart and tough and gorgeous.”

  Mink took his words in for a minute and then pulled him into a kiss.

  Xavier pulled away.“I didn’t mean that.”

  Mink looked at him angrily and then got up.“Fine, I’ll leave then.”

  “You know you are a really hard person to help!”Xavier snapped as she walked towards the door.She stopped and looked back.“I don’t want you to go, okay?I want you to stay.”

  Mink looked at him suspiciously.“Why?”

  “Because it’s what Romeo would want if he was here.And because I kind of thought we were friends.”

  Mink softened a bit.“A nice guy.I wasn’t sure if they existed.Okay, officer.Looks like you’ve got yourself a house guest.”

***

Nicole and Ruby were sat on the couch, speaking in hushed tones.“How’d it go with Mr.Stewart?”Ruby asked.

  “Okay,”Nicole answered,“He’s pretty much the same as always.Just makes it harder to believe.”She glanced over at Indi.“How’d things go with her?”

  “Surprisingly okay.I think maybe we’ve made peace at last.Which just leaves…”

  “Anyone got the beers?”Heath asked as he and April entered.

  “We weren’t actually drinking them at the moment,”John said testily.

  “We have got some though,”Frank offered.

  “Okay,”Heath noted,“Let me know when.”

  Ruby stood up, making sure April saw her.April looked at her with a great deal of annoyance.Then Heath stepped between them and gave Ruby a hug.“Good to have you back, kiddo.”

  “Heath, what are you doing?”April asked angrily.

  Heath continued looking at Ruby.“What Brax and Case would do if they were here.”Ruby nodded gratefully and Heath stepped back.

  April stared at Ruby for a long moment.“Dexter never blamed you, you know,”she commented.

  “But you did,”Ruby pointed out.

  “Yeah.But I guess it was a long time ago.Dexter’s happy, I’m happy, Indi’s happy.And I guess you are too and I guess that’s okay.So…truce.”

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So...hope you all enjoy this one!

CHAPTER TWELVE

Nine Years Ago

Nicole and Ruby arrived home giggling but were pulled up short by the sight of the bespectacled teenage girl from next door down sat on their sofa reading, a slightly disapproving look on her face.“Did George behave himself?”Nicole asked, trying her best to look responsible.

  “He was fine,”the girl asked,“How was your works do?”

  “Fun, yeah,”Ruby offered.

  “We said twenty, didn’t we?”Nicole asked.The girl nodded and Nicole handed her a $20 note.“See you again some time, Nell,”she added as the girl left.

  Ruby breathed again as she headed towards the living area.“Why do I suddenly feel like a teenager who’s stayed out too late?”

  “Probably because we’re still far too young to be the grown-ups,”Nicole answered as she followed her.

  “Thanks for inviting me along.”

  Nicole put her arms round Ruby’s waist from behind and rested her head on her shoulder.“It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”

  Ruby felt things rising in her at the touch, things she’d been trying to ignore for most of the four months they’d been living together.She turned round and kissed Nicole on the lips.Then she pushed Nicole down so she was sitting on the sofa and slid onto it next to her, kissing her again.

  The kiss broke and Nicole looked at her like someone trying to keep her emotions under control.“That was nice but…didn’t you say you didn’t want us to do anything like that again?”

  “I know, I know.I freaked out when we slept together.”Ruby sighed.“No, that’s wrong, I was freaking out before we slept together.I went through with it for all the wrong reasons, because I didn’t want to upset you, because I wanted you to like me…”

  Nicole sighed.“You’re not exactly doing much for my self-esteem right now.”

  “You’re hot.”

  “Okay, that helped.”

  “And I love you.”Ruby hesitated.“No…I’m in love with you.I can picture the two of us growing old together, living together.”

  “Yeah but…as a couple or as friends?Ruby, I am really attracted to you, okay?I’ve no idea why because I’ve never felt like this about another woman before.But I’m just saying…if that’s not what you’re after, then I’m okay with that.”

  “Nicole, I spent tonight watching you dancing in front of me and I just really wanted to kiss you and rip that dress off you…”

  Nicole blushed.“Okay, that’s enough details about your fantasies, okay?”

  “I could show you.”Ruby kissed her again.

  Nicole looked at her tentatively.“You take the lead this time, okay?We’ll do whatever you want.”

  Ruby smiled.“I’ll hold you to that.”She kissed her, pulled her to her feet and pushed her into her bedroom.

***

Nicole found Aden sitting on a wall outside the house.She sat down next to him.“So…I think we need to have a talk.”

  Aden sighed.“Do we?”

  “Well, you kind of disappeared without trace after a fairly messy break-up.Bit hard to ignore that, although I’m sure you’ve been trying your best.”

  Aden glared at her.“You’re still annoyingly insightful, you know that?”

  “One of my many virtues.”She smiled and kept smiling until Aden joined in.

  “I’ve missed you, Princess,”he admitted.

  “I didn’t expect anything less.”

  “And I’m sorry about how I left things.”

  “Well, I didn’t do much better.I pretty much drove you away.”She looked at him seriously.“I regretted that for a long time, you know.For months, years afterwards, I kept hoping at the back of my mind that you’d turn up one day, say you’d made a mistake and you loved me.”

  “Well, I thought about it,”Aden admitted,“There was a time when I thought you were the only person I was ever going to be happy with again.I spent months kicking myself for not telling you I loved you.”

  Nicole shook her head.“I was in love with you for years, you know that?All the other guys:Geoff, Liam, Angelo…It didn’t work out because they weren’t you.”

  “Well, I guess it worked out for the best in the end.I found the love of a good woman and turns out so did you.”

  Nicole smiled.“True.”

  “And I’m glad you got to be a mum.You’re pretty good at it.”

  “You and Kirsty never..?”

  “She’d had two miscarriages.I don’t think she wanted to risk it again.But I got to be a step-parent.”

  “And that is definitely an experience.”Nicole looked at the car that had just drawn up and the two people getting out.“Is that Xavier and Mink?”

  The pair came over.“Er, hi, guys,”Xavier greeted awkwardly,“I think you know my wife?”

***

Six Years Ago

Xavier watched with something approaching bemusement as Mink wiped down the kitchen surfaces. “Since when did you turn into a domestic?”

  “Hey, I can keep a place clean.I’ve just never had a place to keep clean before.”

  “Well, you’re adjusting well.How did you go with that job?”

  Mink grimaced.“Working in a shop.”

  “A surf shop,”Xavier pointed out.

  “Surprisingly I got it.”

  “Well, I guess having a former professional surfer on the books is good for them.”

  Mink nodded.“Thanks,”she said awkwardly.

  “What?”

  “Don’t make me say it again.You’re the only reason I’ve got back on my feet.When I bumped into you eight weeks ago, I was pretty much cursing that I had to deal with people but…you helped.”

  “I told you, I like you.”

  “Really?How much?”Mink waited for him to respond.When he didn’t, she closed the gap between them and kissed him.“You going to push me away this time?”

  “No.”They resumed kissing, becoming more intense and passionate.

  Mink paused, resting her forehead against his.“I’ve never actually done this before.”

  “What?”Xavier asked worriedly.

  Mink fixed him with a steely glare.“I’ve had sex,”she told him firmly.

  “Okay.Good to know.”

  “Lots of times.”

  “Thanks for sharing that.”

  Mink hesitated.“I’ve never had a boyfriend,”she said at last,“That’s what you want us to be, right? Boyfriend and girlfriend?”

  “Yes.”

  She thought for a moment.“I’ll give it a try,”she said at last.They resumed kissing and started to undress.

***

“I heard you were around here somewhere,”Xavier noted as he found Ruby sitting on the grass.

  Ruby rolled her eyes.“This really is turning into an exes’ convention, isn’t it?”

  “Seems that way.But I guess is you have a bunch of Summer Bay residents coming back for an impromptu reunion…”

  “There’s bound to be a bit of history.So, where’s your current wife while you’re back here talking to your ex-wife?”

  Xavier screwed up his face slightly.“Last time I saw her, she was chatting to VJ’s wife.They seemed to be getting on pretty well.”He sat down next to her.“What about us, are we good?”

  “Yeah.We always worked better as friends anyway.But you helped me pick myself up when I got out of jail so…thanks for that.”

  “Hey, turns out I’m a sucker for lame ducks.”

  Ruby put on an expression of mock outrage.“Thank you very much!”

  “By the way, is that boy I saw running around yours?Charles?”

  “That’s him.”

  “So is there more to Nicole than meets the eye or..?”

  “Anonymous sperm donor.”

  “Would have been my next guess.”

  “I love George but I just wanted a baby of my own.And Nicole’s great with him.What about you and Mink?”

  “She’s got kidney damage.Guess it’s her old lifestyle.We tried but…didn’t happen.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Yeah, it would have been nice.Mink hasn’t got any family left and I’ve only really got Brendan…and Uncle Tony and Lucas and Harry, of course.But hey, sometimes you have to deal with what life gives you.”

***

Alf opened his eyes and found Billie and Mink standing there.“It’s official,”he announced,“If you two are both here, then I really have gone to hell.”

  “That’s not very nice, Mr S,”Mink remarked jovially.

  “You should have told me you had another surfer chick living with you at one point,”Billie added.

  “Must have slipped my mind,”Alf said acidly.

  “Shame you never let me teach you,”Mink suggested.

  “I’ve got better things to do than messing around on some board.Now if you wanted me to take you fishing…”

  “Maybe we could do it when you’re feeling better,”Billie offered.

  Alf sighed.“No, love.I think them fish are going to be sleeping easy from now on.”

  “So at least someone’s happy,”Mink attempted.

  Alf suddenly gave a gasp of pain and clutched his chest.“Mr.Stewart?Mr.Stewart!”Billie ran out onto the landing.“Leah!Roo!I think something’s wrong!”

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Thanks for the comments.I must admit I'm really not sure about this chapter, it's even more makeshift than usual, but let me know what you think.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Tori came out onto the landing where Roo, Sally and Leah were all waiting.“He doesn’t have long,”she noted.

  “How long?”Roo asked.

  “A day.Maybe two.So, if you want to get everyone together, now might be a good time.”

  “There’s a few people that aren’t in town yet,”Sally noted,“But they should be here soon.”

  “Maybe we should tell him that,”Leah suggested,“It might make him hold on.”

  “It might,”Tori agreed.

  “I’ll talk to him,”Roo decided, heading into the room.

  Sally took Leah’s arm.“Come on.Let’s go and talk to people.”They headed downstairs, Tori following them.

  The living area was packed with people:Zac, Frank, Ash, Miles, Gypsy, Lily, VJ, Billie, Maddy, Oscar, Evelyn, Matt, Spencer, Skye, Josh, Phoebe, Heath, April, Kyle, Ricky, John, Marilyn, Irene, Olivia, Jett, Aden, Kirsty, Nicole, Ruby, Indi, Brody, Justin, Kat, Mason, Tamara, Xavier, Mink, Hunter, Darcy, Pippa…even Ollie.“It’s not going to be long now,”Sally told them,“So if any of you want to see Alf, this is the time.”

***

Roo sat by Alf, who looked weaker than ever.“Just hold on, Dad,”she said softly,“We’re all waiting for you here.”

  “I’ve been holding on a long time,”Alf said quietly,“Not sure I can do it for much longer.Roo…if I haven’t told you often enough, I hope you know I’m proud of you.I know we’ve had our disagreements over the years but you’ve carved out a good life with that bloke of yours and that kid.”

  “I’m sorry for all the times you haven’t been proud of me.”

  “I’m sorry for all the times I haven’t been a good enough father.”Alf gripped her hand.“Have a great life, Roo.That’s all I ask.”

***

April was sat on the wall when Xavier came over to join her.She gave him an amused look.“Wondered when you’d get round to me.”

  “Hey, it could be worse,”Xavier noted as he sat next to her,“At least Sasha isn’t here as well.”

  “Ah, yes, I’m not sure if you ever really met Chris.If you think the people Ruby and I ended up with are bad…”

  “Where is Heath, anyway?I’m not in danger of getting beaten up here?”

  “He’s off playing footie with Harley and Chandler and their friends.”

  “He’s definitely Mr.Fertile.I’m surprised you didn’t have any more kids.”Xavier saw a shadow pass across April’s face.“Touchy subject?”

  April sighed.“We nearly did.A couple of years after we got married, I got pregnant.But I lost it.It never happened again.”

  Xavier nodded sympathetically.“I guess he’s had more than his share of tragedy in his life.Rocco…”

  “Yeah.Sometimes I think what if Rocco had lived.Would we never have had Chandler, would Heath and Bianca still be together?I mean, he was my nephew.But if he was around, my life could be very different.”

  Xavier shrugged.“Best just to get on with it, I guess.”

***

With so many youngsters around, Kyle and Josh had volunteered to go outside and keep an eye on them. An impromptu kickabout was in progress, with V3 and Dwight having nominated themselves as team captains.Stefan and Chandler were acting as goalkeepers.Bobby tackled Jason and took a shot, which Jimmy blocked…only to end up flat on his back.

  Josh came running forward anxiously.“Jimmy, are you okay?”

  Jimmy got to his feet and scowled at him.“Dad, you’re embarassing me!”

  Josh awkwardly retreated back to Kyle, who looked at him knowingly.“Guess you’ve definitely got your dad credentials.”

  “I don’t really know what I’m doing,”Josh admitted,“I mean, I barely remember my own dad.Andy tried his best but I want better than that for Jimmy.And I’m raising him with Phoebe!”

  “And jokes about domestication aside, you’re not doing too bad.I mean, look at me and Ricky.On paper it’s ridiculous but it works.Same with Heath and April.And if it’s worth anything, I think the way Jimmy’s taken to you means you’re a good dad.”

  Josh smiled.“Yeah.That means something.Thanks.”

***

Ash found Tori sitting on the back porch.“You okay about all this?”he asked her.

  Tori sighed.“You always know, as a doctor, that if you stick around long enough, eventually you lose every patient.It’s just about keeping them alive a bit longer.But I’ve run out of tricks with Alf.”

  “I guess when it’s time, it’s time.”

  Tori smiled at him.“You know what I love about you?”

  He leaned forward.“Well, I could make a few suggestions.”

  “You’re straightforward.”

  “Not many people have said that.”

  “It’s kind of refreshing when I’m overthinking things.”

  “Well, I’m always happy to help you stop thinking.”He kissed her softly.

***

Alf opened his eyes to find a young man in the garb of a church minister stood in front of him.He shot the newcomer a warning look.“I hope you’re not here to give me my last rites”

  Geoff smiled slightly.“Anglicans don’t really go in for last rites, Mr.Stewart.”

  “Good thing too.The bloke upstairs can take me as he finds me.”

  “You know, visiting the sick…”

  “Dying,”Alf corrected.

  Geoff nodded, accepting the admonishment.“Visiting the dying, it’s something I’ve had to do a lot but it’s never easy.Especially when it’s someone you know.”

  Alf rolled his eyes.“Are you going to tell me your life story?Because I haven’t got that long.”

  “Sorry.”

  “Is that wife of yours about?”

  “Downstairs.”

  “Good.At least she’s someone worth talking to.You hit gold there.”

  “Yeah.I know.”

***

Fifteen Years Ago

Geoff fanned himself with a wide-brimmed hat and looked about.He was beginning to feel over-dressed in his t-shirt and shorts.He’d been in Cambodia for two years, ever since he’d decided he wanted to be a missionary to better prepare himself for entering the ministry.Those two years had been spent in the capital, Phnom Penh, helping out at an orphanage and various relief efforts, but when his mission leader had said volunteers were needed at a charity project he’d jumped at the chance.He hadn’t really thought about the consequences of jetting off to some remote village.

  An older man in a loose-fitting shirt came over.“Geoff Campbell?I’m Klaus Hansen.”

  Geoff gratefully accepted the man’s hand.“Pleased to meet you.”

  “You ready to get stuck in?”

  “Just tell me what to do.”

  “Well, we’re in the middle of building a well for this village.We’re bringing in bottled water to keep them tiding over but it’s not going to last forever.”

  “How many of us are there helping out?”Geoff asked as he followed Klaus over to the construction site.

  “Twelve with you.Actually, one of them’s from your part of the world.About your age as well.Here she is now.”

  Geoff looked over at the figure approaching:A blonde girl a little younger than him, dressed in a vest top and knee-length shorts, with a light-coloured shirt tied around her waist.But it was her face that drew him up short…a face that had once been very familiar to him.

  “Melody?”

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On ‎05‎/‎08‎/‎2017 at 1:17 PM, pembie said:

I look forward to my late night reading :wink:

Well, after that, how could I let you down?

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Fifteen Years Ago

It was a water break.The hard work of digging out the well pit was something that couldn’t be carried out for too long in the heat.But with the scarcity of water, the workers were given one bottle between two, which had to last them the whole shift.Geoff had arranged to share with Melody and they had retired to a private spot, passing the bottle between them and taking gentle sips, just enough to wet their mouths.“So how did you end up here?”Geoff asked.

  “Well, I finished school last year, New Zealand school,”Melody explained,“Got my NCEA.”

  “You didn’t want to go on to college?”

  “Mum wanted me to.But when I told her I wanted to join a Christian charity project, she couldn’t really object.”

  “Guess not.But was it really what you wanted?”

  “Well…I love Mum and I’m glad things are better between us than they used to be, but I’m not sure the two of us living together much longer would go that well.But yeah.I made a lot of mistakes, I think I needed to make up for them.What about you?”

  “Much the same.I guess I felt I’d got a bit lost, moved away from the church a bit too much.This was a way of getting back to it.”

  “You still want to be a minister?”

  “Yeah, I’m planning to apply next year.”Geoff glanced over at the work site.“I think we’re needed again.But can we talk later?”

  Melody smiled.“I’d like that.”

***

Melody was sitting on the sofa at the caravan park house with Nicole and Ruby, showing them a series of photos.“That’s Matthew, our oldest.He’s twelve now.And that’s Gabriel, he’s ten.We left them with a friend, we didn’t want to drag them out of school.”

  “Is that Geoff’s church?”Ruby asked, pointing to another photo.

  “Mmm-hmm.It’s north of Sydney, a small rural area.”

  “I still can’t believe you two actually did it,”Nicole remarked,“Him a minister, you his wife.”

  “It was a bit of a rough ride,”Melody agreed,“But I guess if something’s meant to be…”

  Ruby looked at her girlfriend with a slight smile.“No matter how unlikely it might seem.”

  “Like Bible Boy producing two kids,”Aden added, having come up behind them.

  Melody shot him a long-suffering look.“It’s nice to see you haven’t changed, Aden.”

  “Just as lovable as ever.”

  Geoff came downstairs and Melody went over and hugged him.“Are you okay?”she asked.

  “Yeah.”Geoff nodded towards the stairs.“He wants to see you.”

  Melody nodded and headed up.Irene grabbed Geoff and pulled him over to where she’d been chatting with Olivia and Jett.“Come over here, you.You have been far too long in between letters…”

  Nicole and Ruby headed into the kitchen where Maddy and Oscar were making the latest round of tea. “Who was that you were talking to?”Maddy asked.

  Nicole sighed wistfully.“The girl that Geoff loved and lost…and then found again.”

***

Fifteen Years Ago

It had been days since Geoff had first arrived and most of his free time had been spent with Melody, either alone or with other project workers or with the locals.But while he had spoken freely to others and begun to form friendships, she was the one he sought out most, whose company he most enjoyed.“Do you remember that Halloween party?”Melody asked with a smile.

  “The one where you and Nicole just happened to turn up in the same outfit?”Geoff returned, with a raised eyebrow.

  “Well, I was trying to get your attention.”

  “I think you got everyone’s attention!”

  “It was enough to make you agree to take me to the formal.”

  “Yeah and that went well.”Geoff sighed.“I made some pretty idiotic decisions back then.”

  “I think I can trump you on that.”

  “I guess so but I do wish I’d made some different choices back then.”Geoff hesitated and then kissed her.He broke off and looked at her questioningly.“Was it okay doing that?”

  “I don’t know.Why did you do it?”

  “Because I’ve been thinking about doing it ever since I first saw you here.”

  “Really?”Melody didn’t sound convinced.

  “Really.”Geoff kissed her again but then Klaus called over.

  “Geoff!Melody!Time to get back to work.”

  Geoff and Melody disentangled, both blushing slightly.“Can I see you this evening?”Geoff asked.

  Melody nodded, trying her best not to smile like an idiot.“I’d like that.”

***

Alf looked Melody up and down.“Well, you’re dressing more sensibly than when I last saw you.”

  Melody gave a slight smile.“I was going through my black on black phase at the time, wasn’t I?”

  “You didn’t look much like a vicar’s wife, that’s for sure.”

  “I guess I’ve had to be a bit more conservative as I get older.”

  “That’s one way of putting it.So…how did your mother feel about your choice of husband?”

  “She wasn’t entirely happy with me marrying an Anglican minister but I told her I wasn’t going to convert, not that that makes a difference at Geoff’s church, and I guess she’s learned that making decisions for me doesn’t always work out well.”

  “Wonders will never cease.”Alf smiled.“I’m glad you’re happy, love.You deserve it.”

***

Fifteen Years Ago

Normally the project workers ate together but Geoff had managed to borrow a table for the small one-room building that counted as his quarters and also cook a bit of food himself on the wood stove outside. The meal was now laid out on the table waiting the turn of his dinner guest.

  When Melody arrived, she had changed into a lighter vest top and put a skirt on;Geoff himself was wearing a light shirt and full-length trousers.They exchanged smiles as she entered.“Do you want to sit down?”he suggested.

  Melody did so.“Geoff, this is really nice,”she noted as she started eating.

  Geoff sensed she was talking about more than the meal.“You’re still not sure though?”

  “I just know that I once did some pretty crazy stuff because I wanted to be with you.And every time you rejected me.”

  “You rejected me first,”Geoff argued.

  “And it didn’t take you long to get together with Nicole,”Melody returned,“So if we did get together, how do I know you won’t like someone else?”

  Geoff thought long and hard, trying to put his feelings into words.“Because Nicole and I weren’t right for each other,”he said at last,“We were too different and in the end that broke us up.So after that, I tried not to be so different from the girls I dated, because I didn’t want it to end like it did with Nicole.But I ended up not being true to myself.Melody, you’re the only person I’ve ever really been myself with.And I still love you.That first day we ran into each other here, I realised that.”

  “I still love you too,”Melody admitted,“But how would we work?It’s only by chance that we me up again…”

  “Could you stay here after this project’s finished?”

  “I guess so, the charity always needs workers here.”

  “Well, maybe I could get my mission leader to let me stay here with you.And…if I get accepted to theology college next year, would you go with me?”

  “Back to Australia?”Melody thought a moment.“I guess it’d been a while.Yes.”

  “Then we’ll make it work.”The meal finished, Geoff helped Melody to her feet and they kissed, softly but lovingly.“So are we…dating?”he asked.

  Melody smiled.“I think we are.”

***

“What exactly is this you want to show me?”Evelyn asked as Maddy and Oscar steered her through the caravan park.

  “You’ll find out in a minute,”Maddy assured her.

  “Well, it had better be worth it…”Evelyn broke off as she saw Josh and Spencer steering Matt in the opposite direction.The two groups converged so Evelyn and Matt ended up standing either side of a small table.

  “Does anyone want to say set-up?”Matt asked.

  Oscar cleared his throat.“Okay, all of us have gone to a lot of trouble to get the two of you here so the least you can do is to sit down and talk.”

  “And you’d be the first ones to do matchmaking usually,”Josh pointed out.

  “I’ve just heard about a couple who dated in high school and it didn’t work out,”Maddy added,“Then they met up years later and realised what they’d thrown away.So if they can do it, so can you.”

  “What she said,”Spencer agreed.

  Matt and Evelyn took their seats and the others walked away.“So, what should we talk about?”Matt asked,“The weather, the latest AFL season, whether Chris Bowen would make a good prime minister or not, what you thought of the She-Hulk movie…”

  “I shouldn’t have gone off without you,”Evelyn said.

  Matt paused, becoming more serious.“I shouldn’t have just disappeared like I did,”he said at last.

  “I guess all that happened with Josh, thinking we were going to last forever and then it not happening…I didn’t want to get my hopes up with you and stupidly that meant I ended things.”

  “And I spent all my time in relationships I knew wouldn’t last:First Sasha, then Maddy…I was really hoping it would work with us and then it didn’t.”

  “And things have gone so well for us since.”

  “Spencer?”

  Evelyn sighed.“He was a good friend, until I ruined it.”She looked at Matt.“If the baby had been yours…I might have kept it.”

  “Maybe one day it will be.”

  She looked at him even more closely, seeing if he was joking or not.“Do you mean it?”

  “Well, I’m a qualified mechanic now, right?If I went back to the city with you, I wouldn’t have trouble finding work.”

  Evelyn slowly took her hand in his.“I’d like that.”

  They leaned across the table and kissed.

***

When Alf opened his eyes the next time, it was to the sight of his three sisters-Morag, Celia and Barbara-and Donald Fisher.“It really must be doomsday to have you four here together.”

  “Our flights all came in at the same time,”Barbara explained.

  “So what have you been doing, just sitting in here?”

  “Well, I met Marilyn’s new husband,”Don noted,“He’s an interesting fellow, isn’t he?”

  “John Palmer is certainly an acquired taste,”Morag agreed.

  “Still, it’s nice to see her surrounded by people that care about her again.And you too, Alf.”

  “Oh, Alfred, it’s so terrible,”Celia noted tearfully.

  Morag gave her a withering look.“Well, if anything’s going to send him into an early grave, it’s you, Celia.”

  “Oh, Morag, what a thing to say!”

  “They’re only like this because they’re worried,”Barbara told Alf in a mock confidential manner.

  “Well, ah, yes, that’s true,”Morag admitted.

  “Don’t worry, Celia,”Alf assured her,“I’m too old to be in an early grave.So what are you all doing now?”

  “Well, I don’t think we’ve got anywhere else to go, have we, ladies?”Don asked.They all shook their head.

***

This time it was Morag who led the way downstairs to those waiting for news, the others trailing her.“I’m afraid Alfred passed away a short time ago,”she told them.A few people burst into tears, others hugged those closest to them.“He knew that all of you were here and I’m sure it brought him great comfort.Thank you for being here for our family.”

  “I’m sure Alfred would like to thank you too,”Celia added,“Wherever he may be now.”

***

Alf looked around in confusion.Everywhere was white.A kind of endless whiteness stretching as far as he could see.It was like a paint factory gone wrong.

  A young, dark-haired woman was sitting on…well, on thin air by the looks of things.The area around her was the same whiteness as everything else.Even more perculiar, she seemed to be dressed in a full-body rabbit outfit that only left her face and a few strands of hairs visible.She gave him a cheeky smile.“What’s up, doc?Good to see you again, Mr.Stewart.”

  Alf looked at her curiously.“Have we met before?”

  “Well, not exactly.But I have seen you before.”She jumped to her feet and looked at him expectantly.He simply stared.“Do I have to spell it out?”She produced a carrot from nowhere and took a bite from it.

  Then it hit him.She was older but still…“I saw a drawing of you once.You’re that girl young Miles was seeing.Rabbit, wasn’t it?”

  Rabbit smiled broadly.“Mr.Stewart, you remember me!”

  “Weren’t you meant to be the ghost of his daughter or something?”

  “Hmm, let’s leave that bit vague.”

  “So what are we both doing here?”

  “Well, I volunteered to welcome you.”She took his hand.“Come on.There’s some people you’ll want to see.”

Edited by Red Ranger 1
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Well, as they said on Star Trek: "And now the conclusion!"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Fifteen Years Ago

It was two weeks on from that first kiss.The project workers had been told to rest that afternoon because of the temperature and resume work in the evening.Instead, Geoff and Melody were lying alongside each other on his bed, kissing.It was innocent enough until Melody started removing Geoff’s shirt.He stopped her and pulled back.“What’s wrong?”she asked.

  “It’s just…it should be something special, for your first time.”

  “My first..?”Melody looked amused.“Geoff, I’m not a virgin.”

  Geoff blinked in confusion.“You’re not?”

  “No.There was a boy in my year, Paul.We went to the school formal together and afterwards we…slept together.”

  Geoff’s eyes narrowed slightly.“So what happened to him?”

  “We carried on seeing each other for a bit afterwards, then I came here.”Melody looked at him challengingly.“You’re not actually going to judge me, are you?After Nicole and Claudia and Ruby…”

  “No, no,”Geoff promised hastily,“But do you really want to just…do it, because we’ve got the afternoon free?”

  “Geoff, I’ve wanted you to make love to me for a very long time.I’m ready.”

  Geoff accepted her word and resumed kissing her…

***

Geoff adjusted his robes nervously in the vestry mirror.It wasn’t even his church but somehow he’d ended up being specially requested.He wasn’t sure if he was up for the job.“You’ll be all right,”Melody assured him.

  Geoff looked at her uncertainly.“Will I?”

  “You always are.”She adjusted his collar for him and kissed him lightly.“I’ll see you out there.”She headed out into the public part of the church.Geoff waited a few moments, then took a deep breath and followed her.

  The church was packed, of course.Summer Bay residents past and present come to pay their respects to someone they’d known so well.Geoff took his place in front of them.“We’re here to celebrate the life of Alfred Stewart, a man who lived in this town for eighty-two years.He was married twice, had four children, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren.But I think really everyone who lived in Summer Bay was his family.He was involved in every area of town life and I think all of us knew him as well as we knew our own families.That’s how he’d like to be remembered.”

***

“You did a good job,”Ruby told Geoff when she and Nicole joined him after the service.

  “Thanks,”he answered.

  “Are you heading straight off?”Nicole asked, looking over to where Melody was waiting by the couple’s car.

  “Yeah, we need to get back.”

  Nicole’s gaze lingered on the woman she’d once thought of as a rival.“I think you ended up with the right girl.”

  “And that’s coming from two people who once thought they were the right girl,”Ruby added.

  Nicole noticed Geoff looking uncomfortable.“You’re not feeling guilty about your checkered past, are you?”

  Geoff shrugged.“It’s just…when I was young I didn’t expect to be with anyone but my wife.”

  “Yeah, but name one couple who’ve never slept with anyone but each other,”Ruby argued.

  “Jai and Annie?”Geoff offered.

  “Apart from them.”

  “Did they really wait until they were married?”Nicole asked,“I didn’t think Jai would hold out that long.”

  “I guess after losing her once it didn’t seem that big a sacrifice,”Ruby suggested.

  “And they did manage to get married before me,”Geoff pointed out.He looked around.“I need to say goodbye to Irene.It was nice to see you again.”He gave both of them brief hugs then made his excuses.

  VJ accosted him on the way to the car.“So, I hear your family used to run our farm…”

  Ruby took Nicole’s arm.“I think it’s time we were making tracks as well.”

  They headed towards their car but found Aden and Kirsty waiting there.“You trying to sneak off, princess?”Aden asked.

  “I thought that was your trick,”Nicole fired back.She hugged him.“Don’t wait too long before calling this time.”She gave Kirsty a hug as well.“Or you, ‘Mum’.”

  Kirsty grimaced.“I could really do without you calling me that.”

  “Any idea where you’re going now?”Ruby asked her.

  “We’re going to go and see my sister Jade and her husband Nick in LA.Could maybe do with a change of scene for a bit.”

  Nicole glanced at Ruby and smiled.“Change can be good.”

  Not too far away, Xavier and Mink were chatting with VJ and Billie.“So you guys were sharing with Dex?”Xavier asked.

  “Yeah, he and Lottie still send us updates from time to time,”VJ confirmed,“Four kids now.”

  “They always said they’d beat us,”Billie recalled.

  “So, are you heading back to the city?”

  “For now,”Xavier confirmed,“But I’ve had a word with Inspector Watson and I’m thinking of getting a transfer back here.”

  “I’ve missed having a beach,”Mink agreed,“Even if I can’t surf on it.Maybe I should put my experience to good use.”She fixed her gaze on Billie.“Have you ever thought of surfing professionally?”

  “Er…no.”

  “You should.You’re still fairly young.And you’ve got a one-time champion to give you coaching…”

  Nearby, John and Marilyn were saying goodbye to Spencer and Skye.Marilyn gave Skye a tight hug.“Oh, I’m going to miss you.”

  “Remember, there’s always a place here for you and your baby,”John told her.“And your boyfriend,”he added as an afterthought.He glared at Spencer.“Make sure you look after them.”

  “Oh, John,”Marilyn scolded,“Spencer’s a nice boy, remember?”

  “I’ll look after them, John,”Spencer promised.

  “And I’ll look after you too.”Skye linked arms with him.“Come on, we’ve got a home to go to.”

***

Josh, Phoebe, Ash and Tori walked up the dividing area between their homes.“Can we leave you alone?” Ash asked.

  Phoebe rolled her eyes.“No, we’re going to be helpless without you.”

  “We’ll manage,”Josh promised.

  Tori nudged Ash.“We’ll be just across the path if you want to talk,”she told the others as they head into the annexe.

  Josh and Phoebe headed into the house.“They must think I’m jinxed,”Josh noted,“I come back to town and within a few weeks Alf Stewart’s dead.”

  “I don’t think they can blame this one on you,”Phoebe suggested.

  “Give them time.”

  She put her arms round his neck and kissed him lightly.“Well…I’m glad you’re back.”

  “Yeah?How glad?”He kissed her back, more passionately…

  Ash knocked on the door.“Oh yeah, someone just dropped this off.”He ushered Jimmy in.

  “Mum, Dad, I got a gold star at school!”Jimmy noted excitedly.

  Phoebe glanced over at Josh with a smile.“Looks like someone else is glad you came back as well.”She picked up some letters from the mat and scanned through them.“One for you.Do you know the handwriting?”

  “It’s Mum.”Josh opened it up.“It’s a visiting order for Andy.She thinks maybe I could go and visit him with her next week.”

  “Do you want to?”

  Josh looked down at his son.“Jimmy, how about your mum takes a photo of me and you together?I think your Uncle Andy might want to see it.”Jimmy nodded.

  “Probably want to see you too,”Ash pointed out.

  Josh smiled.“Yeah.It’s kind of mutual.”

  Someone appeared in the still open doorway.John.“Ah, sorry to interrupt but there’s something I should have told you before.The last surf club meeting that Alf went to, he had a proposal for the committee. We’ve got some refurbishments planned and he’d heard of an up-and-coming youngster returning to town who might have a few ideas we might use.Suggested we offer him a consultancy role and let him submit some designs.Well, the committee weren’t exactly going to turn down his last request so, how about it, Picasso?”

  Josh was close to being overwhelmed.“Me?”he asked, not quite willing to believe it.John nodded.

  Phoebe smiled at him.“And I bet you thought Alf didn’t really like you.”

***

“Are you sure?”Leah asked for what seemed like the hundredth time.

  Sally glanced back at the car where Miles and Gypsy were waiting with the girls.“I’m sure.”She looked around the caravan park.“This place is meant for a family and there’s no family I’d rather have staying here than yours.Stay as long as you want.”

  “You sure you don’t want to come back?”

  “Maybe one day but…there’s still plenty more world out there for me first.”She hugged her old friend. “Look after the place for me.”

  “I will.”Leah watched the party leave, then took a deep breath and headed inside to the future.

 

 

 

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