When the present echoes the past, it can never be forgotten.
She stands at the window, watching the road below. The hot sun shimmers the air. The red soil of the dirt road is lifted by occasional gusts of wind. Still no sign of him. She turns away and resumes her pacing.
He watches her as she pours a drink, puts it down and forgets it. Her dark silky hair swings as she moves, brushing her naked shoulders. Her slim long-fingered hands with their red-painted nails grip and flex. Her fine features are taut, her blue eyes strained. He dreads the boy’s arrival, but wishes he would come.
‘He should be here by now. Brian said he left before ten. It should only take a couple of hours to get here.’
‘He could have stopped off for a coffee. Just to delay, maybe. You know he’s not keen to come.’
‘He might not come at all, do you think? Stand me up? A phone call any moment now? Sorry, Lori, the car’s overheated. Can’t make it?’
‘Standing there won’t make him come any sooner!’
He comes at last. They hear tyres on the gravel driveway, car doors opening and slamming. She races down the stairs to him and stops. Two get out of the car. The girl has dark hair, fine features, red-painted nails.
‘Lori, hi. This is Sarah. I thought I’d bring a friend. I hope you don’t mind.’
Her smile barely changes. ‘Of course not, Michael. Hello, Sarah. This is Rod’
‘Lori. Rod.’ She shakes hands firmly.
Lori clasps her empty hands. Holds the boy with her eyes. ‘How’s Brian?’
‘He’s well. Sends his love.’
‘Good. The rest of the family?’
‘All well, as far as I know.’
Rod breaks the spell. ‘Lori, the sun’s blistering out here. How about we get them inside?’
Lori ushers them in, to the room she has so carefully prepared. ‘Michael, this is your room. I’ll have to get another one ready for you, Sarah. I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were coming.’
‘It’s all right. I can share Michael’s.’ Her wide-eyed smile challenges the poised hostess.
‘Of course. I’ll leave you to it then. There’s an en suite through there and plenty of cupboard space. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.’
‘Thanks. I’m sure we’ll be right. Won’t we, Michael?’
‘Thanks, Lori. We’ll be fine.’
She finds her drink. Swallows it in one gulp.
‘Didn’t Brian say anything about a girlfriend?’
‘No.’ He can hear her voice constrict. ‘He’s old enough to have a girlfriend, I guess.’
‘But not old enough for that one. She’ll eat him alive. What was her name again?’
‘Lori, this is a fantastic house. I love your bedroom.’
‘Come and see yours, Sarah. It’s just as big as mine. You can have it any colour you like. Mum said so. Dad said she should get it painted before you came, but she said it would be better to wait until you got here so you could choose your own colours. She wants to get you a new bedspread and everything.’
‘It’s nice. I like the view.’
‘Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? Right over the golf course. Only it’s not a golf course any more. Just a park, now….Hey, Sarah. Are you crying? Ssshhh.’ Lori puts her arm around the other girl’s shoulders. ‘Everything’ll be all right. You’re with us now. We’ll take care of you. Promise.’
‘Lori, this is a fantastic house.’
Sarah has found her in the kitchen, steadying her nerves by finely slicing the fruit. She finds the right kind of smile.
‘It’s Rod’s house actually. I’m really just a guest myself.’
She watches the younger woman prowl around the room, checking out the tasteful fittings, measuring the view over the ocean beach.
‘I thought you and Rod were living together.’
‘It’s not that formal an arrangement. We both have our own places in town. We’re just here for the holidays.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘What else has Michael told you?’
‘Not much really. You’re his step-mother, or something, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I was married to Brian for a while. Have you known Michael long?’
‘About three months. We were at uni together.’
‘Were you in his class?’
‘Hardly, I was in my last year. No, we met in the coffee shop. I just thought he was kind of cute, and my friends dared me to proposition him. It’s this game we play.’
‘How did you go? Was Michael an easy pick-up?’
‘Not really. It took about a week.’ She watches for a reaction.
‘Brian must have brought him up well then.’
‘Yeah. He’s a great lover, too.’
‘I love you so much, Michael.’
‘I love you, too, sweetheart. But we’ll have to cool it for a while.’
‘You’re on their side, aren’t you? You don’t really love me at all, do you?’
‘For God’s sake, Lori, be reasonable. If your parents find out we’re still seeing each other there’ll just be more trouble and in the end they’ll separate us for good. You know your old man keeps threatening to take that job overseas and take you away.’
‘I don’t care what they say. I love you. I can’t live without you…I won’t live without you…’
He watches Lori from the doorway of the kitchen. The sharp sunlight is refracted in her dark silky hair as she moves. Her long, red-nailed fingers and slender arm stretch up to reach for the glasses. He reaches up from behind her, takes the glass she can’t quite reach.
‘Michael, you’re here. I thought you’d be with the others.’
‘Rod’s taken Sarah down to the beach, I think.’
‘They won’t be long. Rod knows I’m getting lunch. You hungry?’
‘As usual.’ He smiles, the shy boyish smile she remembers.
‘Brian didn’t mention you were bringing a friend.’
‘He didn’t know. It was sort of a last minute decision.’ He is studying the pattern on the kitchen benches. ‘When did you last speak to him?’
‘Did he seem all right to you?’
‘Sure. Why? Is there anything wrong?’
‘I’m just a bit worried about him. He doesn’t go out much these days.’
‘He might not want to go out much these days.’
‘He did when you were around.’
‘It’s my fault, is it?’
‘Why don’t you come and see him any more?’
‘I thought you wanted me to leave the two of you alone.’
‘God, Lori, that was years ago. I didn’t understand. He misses you.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘How would you know? You only ever talk to him to hassle about me.’
‘What else should I talk to him about? You’re the only thing we have in common now.’
‘I was the only thing you ever had in common.’
She can see the anger in his blue eyes. He marches out. She stands for a moment, gripping the edge of the bench.
Michael joins them on the beach. Walks beside them, hands thrust in pockets, seeing nothing. It is a while before his silence dampens their conversation.
Rod says, ‘I might go and see if Lori needs any help with lunch. I’ll call you when it’s time,’ and leaves them alone.
‘You two seem to be getting on all right.’
‘Rod’s very nice, don’t you think?’
‘If you say so.’ He can be so immature sometimes.
‘Michael, talk to me. I don’t know what I’ve walked into here. You just turn up on my doorstep and drag me along and don’t tell me anything.’
‘What more is there to tell?’
‘Oh, God, Michael.’
He watches Lori from the doorway of the kitchen. Her movements are emphatic. Draws and cupboards are slammed shut.
‘Are you all right?’
‘I thought I’d get Sarah away. Give you two some time together.’
‘You needn’t have bothered.’
He’s guessed right.
‘She’s sharp that one. Asked me a thousand questions about you.’
‘What did you tell her?’
‘As little as possible. But I wouldn’t underestimate her. She’ll have you figured out soon.’
‘What’s there to figure out?’
‘Oh, God, Lori.’
Apart from the basic courtesies, lunch is a silence broken only by Sarah and Rod’s flirtation. Eventually their pleasure in the game pales. Their targets take no notice of them. Under cover of the others’ banter, they eat in silence raising their blue eyes only occasionally to seek out the other’s.
Lori watches as Sarah giggles and flirts with him. It makes her feel so old, to watch them. Can’t he see what’s going on? He’s supposed to be so much more mature than she is. Surely he can’t be so easily taken in. Her stomach constricts whenever he smiles at her. She just wants to go up to them and slap her face, but the others would see, tell her she’s acting like a jealous child. But he’s her boyfriend, not Sarah’s. Everyone knows that. Finally she catches Michael’s eye, and he blushes.
Later, outside in the darkness where no one can see them, he comes to her. ‘I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to hurt you.’
He holds and kisses her. Her frozen heart melts. She’ll always love him. No matter what they say, they’ll never be able to keep them apart. And no matter how hard she tries, Sarah will never take him from her.
Sarah and Michael have gone down to the beach. Lori wouldn’t join them. She watches them from the terrace. Rod stays with her. He watches her while pretending to read.
The swim has lightened Michael’s mood. They stretch out on the sand together, breathing in the sun’s warmth.
‘I can’t see your father and Lori together. You wouldn’t think they had much in common. Rod’s more her style. Attractive, debonair, sophisticated.’
‘And Lori’s so glamorous, beautiful, really.’
‘How long were Lori and Brian married?’
‘About three years.’
‘How did they get together?’
‘She was a friend of my…oldest brother’s.’
‘No, Michael. He died a few months before I was born. I was named after him.’
‘I’m sorry. You never mentioned him.’
‘I never knew him, and we don’t talk about him much.’
‘He must have been very young.’
‘Nineteen. My age. Anyway, Lori used to know him. She’d been overseas for a long time. She came to see us after she got back.’
‘Did she seduce Brian away from your mother?’
‘No! Mum had died about a year before. What would make you say that?’
‘She seems the type. Did they marry in haste, then?’
‘Wrong again. They got married about a year later. Now, leave it, Sarah, please.’
‘All right, all right.’
He finds it hard to see her like that and keep still. He can see despair in her blue eyes, tension in her clenched hands.
‘Lori, don’t you think you should tell the boy the truth while he’s here?’
‘No, not yet.’
‘When he’s a bit older. When he can understand.’
‘I think he’s old enough to understand. He’s as old as we were then.’
‘Things are too tangled right now. I can’t risk it.’
‘Perhaps the truth will untangle them.’
‘No, he’ll only hate me more.’
Or love her less?
He finds it hard to see her like that and keep still. He reaches out to stroke her dark hair. She swats him away with her painted nails. He persists. He runs his hand along her shoulder and gently down her spine, undoing her bikini top in passing. She sighs and turns to face him. He kisses her lips, her neck and continues down until his tongue finds her nipple.
‘You know she’s watching us.’
She stretches her hand out to him. ‘Come here. Let’s give her something worth watching.’
‘No. I think I’ll go in for another swim.’
She stretches her hand out to him. ‘Michael, not yet.’
‘I’ve got to go, your parents’ll be back soon. Sarah said…’
‘Just one more kiss.’
He leans towards her, strokes her dark hair. She looks longingly into his hazel eyes, kisses him deeply.
‘You’ll get your own place soon, won’t you? Then we can really be together.’
‘I’m working on it.’
‘Michael, I really do want to…to be with you.’
‘I know, sweetheart. So do I.’
She watches Sarah come languidly up from the beach, meet Rod, exchange a few words with him and then continue up to the house. Rod’s gaze follows her for a while then he continues down to the beach. Lori retreats to her room.
Rod joins Michael in the surf, vies with him in catching waves. Cold and exhausted they find their towels, rub themselves down, sit for a while watching the surf.
‘You glad you came?’
‘It’s a great place.’
‘You know that’s not what I mean.’
‘She doesn’t make it easy.’
‘Neither of you is making it easy. She…cares about you, you know that, don’t you?’
‘And all she wants is…the same from you.’
‘You make it sound so straightforward. If only it were.’
When Michael gets back, Sarah is showered and dressing.
‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since I got back.’
‘I’ll have a shower then.’
She stretches her hand out to him. ‘Michael, not yet. Let’s finish what we started down there.’
He leans towards her, strokes her dark hair. She takes his hand and eases him back onto the bed. Leaning on his shoulder she traces the features of his face with a long, painted nail.
‘Do you know your eyes are exactly the same colour as hers?’
He gets up abruptly, forcing her aside. ‘It’s a common enough colour. I’d better have that shower. Rod’s booked a restaurant.’
They gather in the lounge room for a pre-dinner drink. Dressed and made up, Lori is stunning. Even Sarah’s youth cannot compete. From behind her drink she watches the two men. Lori is their focal point.
The restaurant’s subduing surroundings force the conversation into a mundane groove. Sarah watches and listens. Hears how little is said, how much is not said. Sees how the men look at Lori, and how Lori looks at Michael, their blue eyes constantly, reluctantly drawn to each other’s.
After dinner they take a walk along the waterfront. The younger couple draws ahead, come to a stop at the end of the jetty.
‘She’s very attractive, isn’t she? …How old were you when Lori came back?’
‘She must have seemed so beautiful to you then.’
‘She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.’
‘She still is, isn’t she?’
He puts an arm around her shoulders.
‘She must have bowled your father over.’
‘You make it sound like love at first sight.’
‘No. Far from it. They started quarrelling almost straight away. She even stopped coming around, but they kept arguing over the phone.’
‘I don’t know. He never told me.’
‘But he still married her?’
‘After a while it stopped. She started coming to see us again. Then one day, Dad told me they were getting married.’
‘How did you feel about that?’
‘You’re angry with her sometimes.’
‘She really hurt Dad when she left. I don’t think he’s ever got over it.’
‘Why did she leave?’
‘They started arguing again.’
‘What about this time?’
He turns away and watches the sea. She leans her face against his shoulder.
‘About me mostly. Or about my brother, maybe. I couldn’t always tell.’
The older couple sees them in a close embrace and decides to leave them alone for a while. They walk past the jetty.
‘She’s very attractive, isn’t she?’
‘She reminds me of you.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘I’m sure she reminds Michael of you.’
‘Don’t try to read too much into it. Not all men prefer blondes, you know.’
‘Do you still think he hates you?’
‘And sometimes he doesn’t. Look at her.’
‘Now you are reading too much into it. Let’s see if those two are ready to go home.’
It’s a hot night, too hot to sleep. He finds her on the terrace hoping for a sea breeze.
‘Is Sarah asleep?’
‘Yeah. And Rod?’
‘I find it hard to sleep in this weather.’
They sit for a while watching the moon reflected in the sea.
‘Are you glad you came?’
‘That’s not a fair question. Are you glad I came?’
‘You’re right. It’s not a fair question.’
They watch the moon a while longer.
‘I’m sorry that I hurt Brian. I didn’t mean to.’
‘Sometimes you do things for what you believe are good reasons and then you find that you were only fooling yourself. I shouldn’t have married Brian in the first place. By the time I realized what I was doing to him, the kindest thing I could do was to leave him.’
She looks at him but he is still watching the moon. ‘I never wanted to leave you.’
He turns to look at her. ‘I know.’
Sarah wanders sleepily into an already warm kitchen. She finds them there, hair wet, laughing and breathing heavily.
‘Good morning, sweetheart.’
‘Have you been for a swim already?’
‘It was too hot to sleep.’
‘I didn’t think you liked swimming, Lori?’
‘No. Lori’s a great swimmer, aren’t you?’
‘And a good runner. I beat him back to the house.’
‘That wasn’t fair. I stepped on that shell.’
Their blue eyes sparkle in the morning sun.
Sarah’s cold fury is barely contained. ‘You could have woken me. I would have gone with you.’
‘You were sound asleep and Lori and I were both up. Neither of us could sleep.’
‘You two have so much in common, haven’t you?’
‘Lori and I never see each other. I came down here especially to spend some time with her. OK?’
‘Suddenly you make it sound like you wanted to come?’
‘I wouldn’t have come otherwise.’
‘You made out to me that this would be a real drag, that you were only coming because she was hassling your father, because she wanted to see you. But that’s so obvious.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Haven’t you noticed, then?’
‘That she never takes her eyes off you?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘She follows you around with those beautiful blue eyes.’
He is standing behind her. His hands grip the back of her chair. She can see his reflection in the mirror but his eyes are elsewhere. She wonders if she has gone too far but when he speaks his voice is strangely subdued.
‘It’s not what you think. It’s not me she sees. It’s Michael.’
‘They say I look a lot like him.’
‘Was Lori in love with him?’
‘I don’t know. She was only sixteen when he died.’
‘I was in love at sixteen. Don’t you remember being in love at sixteen?’
‘Yes. Yes, I do…’
Lori saw the suppressed fury and heard the raised voices. Now she searches his face as they join them at breakfast, but he won’t meet her eyes. Rod, too, has heard the raised voices and the laughter before that. He watches them now, sees Lori’s disappointment, Michael’s withdrawal and how Sarah watches them both.
Rod has proposed a run on the beach, the older man challenging the young pretender. They have stopped at the jetty. Michael is bent double with a stitch while Rod leans one arm against a pylon trying to stay upright.
‘I think it was too hot for this.’
‘Maybe we should swim back.’
They laugh weakly between gulps of air.
Recovering his breath Michael walks into the sea and dives into a wave. Rod follows him in, looking for the younger man’s strong, smooth shoulders and arms as he surfaces and dives in again. Surfacing close to shore Michael stands shaking the water from his hair.
‘Let’s walk back. There’re a couple of things I want to talk to you about.’
Michael shrugs and follows him ashore.
Rod isn’t sure where to begin. Michael isn’t known for listening to good sense, especially from his mates.
‘Listen mate, be careful.’
‘I’m always careful.’ Ever the cocky young lover.
‘What about Sarah?’
‘You know she’s trouble.’
‘She’s helping us.’
‘She’s jealous of you and Lori.’
‘Yeah, well, she’s not the only one.’
‘Shit, man. That’s not what this’s about.’
Rod isn’t sure where to begin. ‘I heard the two of you laughing this morning.’
‘We’d been for a swim.’
‘I thought for a while there you were actually getting on.’
‘It didn’t last long.’
Michael shrugs and walks on. Rod follows.
‘Don’t you think it would have been easier without Sarah?’
Michael walks on.
‘She’ll do your cause more harm than good, you know?’
‘How would you know what my cause is?’
He sprints away.
He knows that he should leave them alone, but he needs to know how Michael is getting on. ‘Hello, Lori? It’s Brian here. Michael got there all right then?’
‘Is he around now?’
‘No. He’s out at the moment. He went with Rod for a run on the beach.’
‘In this heat?’
‘How are things going?’
‘For God’s sake, Lori, is that all you’re going to say?’
‘There’s nothing much else to say. Things are going as well as could be expected.’
‘That bad, ha?’
‘Oh God, Brian, have I ruined everything? Did you know he brought his girlfriend along?’
‘Did he? Lori, you’ve got to talk to him.’
‘You know what. Tell him the truth.’
‘It’s too late for that. You should have let me tell him to begin with.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. But I didn’t know then how things were going to turn out. You might not even have stayed. Why destroy his whole world?’
‘What about my world?’
‘I tried to make that up to you.’
‘I know. I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t, Brian, please. It’s too late.’
‘Give Michael my love.’
Seeing the child for the first time has stunned her. ‘He looks just like him, doesn’t he?’
‘Yes, I’ve always thought so.’
‘Does he know much about Michael?’
‘Only as an older brother.’
‘You’ve never told him?’
‘And I never will. Why destroy his whole world?’
‘What about my world?’
‘It was all a long time ago. You’ve made a life for yourself since then. He’s all I’ve got.’
‘You have six other children.’
‘They’ve all grown up and gone. Since Maureen died he’s all I have left. I’d be alone without him.’
‘What would you know about being alone?’
She is roused by a drop of cold water on her back. Michael is squatting beside her, cold water dripping from his hair. He is shivering.
‘Did you bring another towel?’
‘No, have this one.’
Sarah shakes the sand off her own towel down wind of him then wraps it around his huddled shoulders. She wipes the wet hair off his forehead and tries to see into his eyes, but he avoids hers. She wonders if the redness she sees there is entirely from seawater.
She is roused by a drop of cold water on her back.
‘Lori? Are you all right?’ Still wet from a final dip in the surf, Rod is standing over her on the terrace. ‘Have you been crying?’ He sits down next to her, trying to see into her eyes, but she avoids his. ‘What’s wrong?’
She turns away.
‘What did he say?’
‘He wanted me to tell Michael the truth.’
‘He’s a fine one to talk…but he’s right.’
‘How? How do I do it? What do I say?’
‘Would you like me to do it?’
She looks at him gratefully.
Rod finds the old photograph where Lori has hidden it. Four young faces around a festive table. Michael has his arm around Lori, while Rod and Sarah look on. He has waited for the right moment. Both the women are having long showers. He finds Michael on the terrace watching the sea.
‘Hi. Beautiful, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. Listen, I’m sorry if I was rude down there on the beach.’
‘I know. No one wants to hear what an old fogy has to say.’
Michael smiles. ‘Not so old.’
‘Old enough to have old memories. Have you seen this picture before? I remember we all got copies. It was taken before you were born. Our first grown up ball.’
Michael takes it reluctantly. ‘Yeah. I found it once in an old photo album at home.’ He hands it back and looks back over the sea.
‘Do you know who they are?’
‘Michael and Lori. And you, I guess.’
‘The other girl is Lori’s cousin, Sarah.’
‘The girl who was killed with him in the accident?’
‘Who told you about her?’
‘Dad. He told me once that there was a girl called Sarah in the car. I guess I assumed then that she was his girlfriend.’
‘Now I know otherwise.’
‘Michael, Lori has asked me to talk to you.’
Michael gets up abruptly. ‘Another time, maybe. I promised Sarah I’d take her for a drive down the coast this afternoon.’ And he is gone.
Michael left so abruptly with Sarah that Rod was forced to follow them on his motorbike. He has come to a stop beside the crumbled car. He can see blood splattered across the shattered windscreen. The wheels are still turning and steaming in the air. It is silent. He was hoping, as he was racing down the steep winding side streets, down to the creek bed, that he might hear their cries for help, to be able to assure them that help was coming. But he hears nothing. Only the screaming sirens.
He has to concentrate hard to tell the police his story. The ambulance men, unable to help the others, have treated him for shock.
‘Sarah came to get him. I think she had something important to tell him. They got into the car and raced off. He’d left me behind so I jumped on my bike.’
‘Why did you follow them?’
‘I was worried. I just didn’t like the look of things.’
‘Had the driver been drinking?’
‘No. We were at work. It was her. I didn’t really trust her.’
‘Were you close behind the car when it went over?’
‘Yeah, just behind them.’
‘How fast was the car going?’
‘Not too fast. A bit over the limit maybe, but nothing he couldn’t handle.’
‘So what caused him to go through the barrier?’
Sarah was fighting him for the wheel, that’s what, but he can’t say this to the policeman. ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t in the car, was I?’
An ambulance man rescues him from further questions.
She is combing out her wet hair when he comes in. He stands behind her chair watching her reflection. The strained look on his face disturbs her.
‘Do you still want to go for that drive?’
‘Back to town?’
‘If you like. But what about Lori?’
‘It’s best this way.’
She is combing out her wet hair when he comes in.
‘What’s happened? What did he say?’
‘I didn’t tell him. He was in a hurry to go.’
Before Rod can elaborate Lori is out of her chair and into the living room in time to see Michael and Sarah open their bedroom door carrying their bags.
‘Are you going? Now?’
‘I’ve got to get back to town tonight.’
‘Sarah’s got to get back tonight.’
‘But you needn’t go yet. You were going to stay for another few days. You promised. This morning. You promised.’
‘We’ve got to go.’
‘Lori, Michael can come back another time.’
‘No, he promised. It’s you, isn’t it? You’re trying to take him away from me.’
‘He can’t stay here. You know that.’
‘What the hell would you know?’
‘I know what I’ve seen here.’
‘There’s more to this than you could ever see.’
‘Which is exactly why he has to go. Michael.’
Lori grips his arm. ‘Michael. Don’t go, please. I’ve got to talk to you. There’s something I have to tell you.’
Michael prises her hands off his arm. ‘No, Lori, no. Let me go, please.’
Behind her, Rod takes her by her shoulders and pulls her away. ‘Get going.’
And Michael is gone.
He holds on to her until he hears the car drive away. She runs to the window. There is only a cloud of red dust in the distance.
‘You could have made him stay.’
‘He wanted to go.’
‘No, it was her. She wanted to get him away from me.’
‘Lori, you’re being unreasonable.’ He tries to put his arm around her.
‘Leave me alone. You’re just as bad as her. You were always jealous of him. I should never have trusted you. What did you say to him? What did you say to make him run away like that?’
‘Nothing. I told you.’
‘What did you say to him?’
‘Nothing. There was no need to say anything. He already knew.’
‘Knew? How could he know? Who would have told him?’
‘No one, necessarily. He might have worked it out for himself.’
‘So he does hate me.’
‘For God’s sake, Lori.’
He leaves her crying hysterically. When he comes back he can see that she has been drinking. She refuses to speak to him.
‘Lori… Lori, you’ve got to see reason… Can’t you see why he had to go?… Let him go, Lori… Nothing can bring Michael back to you.’
She turns away from him. Gets another drink.
He comes up close to her. His voice is low, dragged from his depths. ‘Lori, you’re not alone. I love you. You know I’ve always loved you.’
She walks further away from him. He wants to touch her but her back is cold and distant.
‘That’s all I’ve ever been to you, isn’t it? Someone connected to Michael?’
She doesn’t soften. Doesn’t turn.
‘And that’s all he is to you. Someone who’ll keep Michael alive for you. No wonder the poor bastard’s hurting so much.’
Lori barely notices when his car drives away.
After a while she begins to feel chilly. The long promised cool change has finally arrived. She goes into her bedroom and puts on a plain windcheater and a pair of jeans, the only warm clothes she brought down with her. For a while she sits at her mirror, considers putting on make-up but doesn’t see the point. Instead she ties her hair up in a ponytail like she used to wear it as a kid. Now only her long red-painted nails remain of her older self.
She remembers something else she brought down with her, just in case, and rifles through the draw. She takes a couple. They make her feel dizzy. Perhaps she shouldn’t have taken them after drinking so much, but what the hell, she isn’t going anywhere. She has to wait here for Michael to come. Sarah has gone to get him. She said she would bring him to her so that she could tell him her news. No, Sarah has taken him away from her. Forced him to leave when he wanted to stay. But he’ll come back. That’s right. That’s what she’s waiting for. He’s just taken her home and then he’ll come back.
The house seems dark when he pulls up. He wonders if she’s all right. He hears her voice as he lets himself in through the front door.
‘Michael? Is that you?’
‘It’s me, Lori.’
She throws herself into his arms and kisses him. He tries to push her away. She takes it as playfulness and steps back, taking both his hands and pulling him back into the room.
‘I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve been waiting for you. Is Sarah safely home?’
‘Yes, I dropped her off. Where’s Rod?’
She shrugs. ‘Safely home, too, I guess. I’ve waited so long to be alone with you. No one’ll disturb us. No one knows I’m here. Sarah promised she’d cover for me with my parents.’
This time her kiss is more passionate, harder to break.
‘Ssshhh. Just kiss me. Don’t worry about anything else. You do love me, don’t you?’
‘Yes. Yes, I do….’
The early morning light is filtering through the curtains. Michael is stretched out on the bed. He would like to get up but is afraid to move. Her dark head is on his shoulder. Her blood red nails rest like a gaping wound on his chest. Slow tears run over his face. He turns it away from her in case one should wake her, but even that slight movement has disturbed her.
She stirs and stretches. She moves her head so as to kiss him and her hand stretches and moves slowly, caressing him. Suddenly he grabs her hand and holds it still. Startled she raises her head and looks into blue eyes just like her own. She sits up and looks at him more closely. Still holding her hand he raises himself onto his elbow and looks at her. She shakes her head, confused. ‘You’re Michael.’
‘But not him?’
She shakes her hand free. Noticing her nakedness she pulls a sheet around herself and goes into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
He sees Michael’s car outside the house and curses. Why the hell did that bloody fool come back? He finds him sitting alone on the terrace. ‘Where’s Lori?’
‘She’s locked herself in the bathroom and won’t come out.’
‘What the hell has happened here?’
The boy’s distressed look tells him all he needs to know. The inevitable.
‘Why did you ever come back?’
‘I was worried about her. She rang Dad looking for me. Dad said she sounded in a bad way. Strange. As though she’d been taking something. She didn’t know what she was doing.’
‘But you did, didn’t you? You poor bastard.’
When he finally gets into the bathroom he finds her alive at least, but her eyes are dead. He has seen her like this before. She is very cold. He picks her up and lays her on the bed, piling as many blankets as he can find on her. He goes back to Michael.
‘I’m going to call an ambulance.’
Michael blanches. ‘What has she done to herself?’
‘Nothing, but she’ll need help.’
Waiting for the ambulance, watching over Lori, they are finally able to have that talk. Although it is early in the morning Rod has given Michael a whisky.
‘Will she be all right, do you think?’
‘Eventually, maybe. After Michael died she didn’t come out of it for months. Even when you were born. She was in no fit state to look after a baby.’
Michael is filling in the missing pieces of his life. ‘So Michael’s parents took me.’
‘And Lori’s parents took her overseas. She came back for you. She tried to get you back, but she lost the case.’
‘And married Dad instead.’
‘I guess with all those arguments it was inevitable that you would find out eventually.’
‘That, and the photograph.’
‘Brian refused to tell you and Lori was always so afraid that you would hate her if you knew.’
‘I did sometimes. I hated her for what she was doing to Dad, for what she was doing to me. She turned our lives upside down, then walked away. And then, when I found out, I thought she had done it before, walked away.’
‘If only she had….When did you find out?’
‘When it was already too late.’
Rod can see the boy’s pain, but there’s one more thing he knows he must say. ‘You know you can’t see her again, don’t you?’
For a moment Michael’s eyes flash denial, but then the fire dies and he nods.
They hear the ambulance pull up outside.
© Pauline Montagna 2016
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