Temporary Dads

Chapter 8


“Alan, Dave, just the two people I wanted to see.”

Alan exchanged a perplexed glance with the new apprentice before turning around. “G’day, Merry. What’s up?”

She smiled. “Do either of you have plans for the afternoon of Saturday week?”

Dave shrugged. “Not really.”

“Me neither, though we’ll probably be doing something with the boys.” With all the challenges of looking after Troy and Bradley, as far as Alan was concerned nine days away was too far into the future to worry about.

“Good! Then both of you will be able to make it to our place for a late barbecue lunch. Alan, make sure you bring your partner, too. Bob and I want to meet him and the boys. Dave, would you like to bring someone?”

Dave was tentative in responding. “No, Mrs. Burnside. Would you like me to bring any food or drinks?”

“It’s Merry, and no, just bring yourself. You’ll have the option of staying for dinner if you like, but I’m pretty sure Alan will be heading off before then.” She winked. “I can still remember what kids are like at that age.”

Alan smiled. “Thanks, Merry. And that should work out well. My parents should be getting home sometime around then, so this will give them a chance to spend some time with my sister.”

Merideth made a face. “How’s she doing?”

Alan sighed. “She’s got more surgery scheduled for today—a skin graft and something else that I can’t remember—but she says the doctor’s happy with her progress. It’s still slow going, though. She thinks it’ll be another couple of weeks before she’ll be allowed out of the bed.”

“Wish her all the best from us when you see her next. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her.” Merideth got a distant look in her eye, and then she gave herself a shake. “I don’t think I could cope with being stuck in a hospital bed for that long.”

* * *

Scott waited for the customer to leave. “What’s going on? Anyone would think it was the week before Christmas?”

Peter laughed. “It gets like that at times, so why don’t you take advantage of the lull and have a short break?”

“No customers is a break. How are things going at home?”

Peter frowned. “Mixed. Bradley’s still driving me nuts, but last night Troy did the most amazing thing. Alan had just passed on the news of the accident to his mum, and Troy went up and gave him a hug to try to cheer him up.” Peter smiled at the memory.

“Ah, that’s so sweet. Does that change your mind about the kids?”

“What do you mean?”

Scott paused and gave Peter a wry grin. “The last time we chatted, it sounded like you were beginning to hate them and wished they’d go away.”

“I’ve never said I hated them. It’s just…” Peter ran a hand through his hair as he tried to find the words to say what he felt.

“You wished they’d go away.”

“No! Well, yes, but they can’t, so I’ve just got to put up with them.”

“And has Troy changed your mind about that?”

Peter sighed. “No, but little things like that make it easier to cope. It’s not forever, after all. A few months—long, long months—and then Alan’s sister can have them back. That’s when I break out the champagne.”

Scott’s smirk was mocking. “I doubt it. By the time that happens, those boys will have you wrapped around their little fingers.”

Peter crossed his arms. “No bloody way! And what made you an expert on kids? Do you have one tucked away somewhere that you’re not telling me about?”

Scott laughed. “Nope. At least not that I know of, anyway. I’ve always been careful.” He looked out of the shop to a mother pushing a stroller past the entrance. “But one day—in a few years’ time when I’m ready—I’m looking forward to having kids of my own.”

“Yeah, right. Maybe I should make you babysit for Alan and me so you’ll learn the truth. That will make you swear off kids for life.”

Scott’s retort was stillborn as a customer had just entered, and he returned to work.

* * *

“Can Sam have a sleepover tonight?” Bradley asked while Alan was fastening the safety harness.

Alan paused and glanced at his watch. It was still some time before Troy would be out of school. “Is Sam still inside?”

Bradley nodded. “I was playing with him when you told me it was time to go.”

Alan tossed up on whether to leave Bradley while he dashed back inside the Little Bell Childcare Centre but then discarded the idea. He’d heard some horror stories of children being left in cars, and he didn’t want to even give a hint that he was that sort of parent. He unfastened the buckles on Bradley’s child seat. “Come on, champ. Let’s go inside and leave a note for Sam’s parents to ring us.

“Yippee! Sam’s coming for a sleepover!”

Alan lifted Bradley out of the car and pushed the door shut with his body. “Steady on, we don’t know if Sam’s parents will like the idea, and I think it would be better if it was Saturday night.”

“Why?” Bradley asked as he took Alan’s hand.

They started to walk back to the building. “Because both Peter and I wouldn’t have to work in the morning, so we wouldn’t have to rush Sam home.”

Bradley thought about it while Alan opened the childproof door to the centre. “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Alan chuckled and ruffled Bradley’s hair. “Nice try, but yes, I do.” He glanced around and caught the eye of one of the staff members. “Excuse me. I’d like to leave a note for the parents of one of the kids. Is that allowed?”

The young lady frowned for a moment. “What’s it about?”

Alan grinned down at the youngster next to him before returning his attention to the girl. “Bradley here wants to invite one of his friends for a sleepover. I just want to leave my number for Sam’s parents so they can ring me to discuss.”

She smiled. “I can do that. Give it to me and I’ll pass it on. Do you know Sam’s surname?”

Alan glanced down. “Bradley, do you know Sam’s full name?”

Bradley started to tear up. “No! Does that mean he can’t come to our house?”

The girl knelt down to bring her Bradley’s height. “It’s okay, Bradley. All I need to know is what room you’ve been going to, and I’ll work it out. Cheer up. I’ll make sure they get the message.”

“But I can’t remember which room that is!” Bradley buried his head into Alan’s leg.

“He’s in the Silver Bell room.” Alan gave her his phone number. He then he disengaged his nephew and lifted him up onto his hip. “Let’s go, Bradley, and pick up your brother.” He shared a smile with the staff member. “Thanks!”

They were just in time at the school. The students were just starting to leave their classrooms as Alan and Bradley entered the grounds. Alan let Bradley play in the playground while he kept an eye out for Troy. Troy had told Alan at the start of the week that he didn’t want Alan coming to the room to collect him. He was a big kid now, and most of the other kids didn’t have someone waiting outside the classroom. Alan had ignored that advice on Tuesday and had joined the handful of parents waiting to pick up their kids, only to be soundly and loudly berated by Troy. They had discussed it in the car on the way home, and Alan was ‘ordered’ by Troy to wait for him by the playground.

Alan smiled as he spotted Troy trudging his way across the asphalt.

“How was your day?” Alan took Troy’s school bag from the young boy.

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

Alan paused and scrutinised Troy. “What’s wrong? Did you get hurt?”

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

“If you’re hurt, do I need to take you to see a doctor?” Alan scanned Troy for any signs of an injury.

“I’m not hurt!”

Alan kept an eye on the grumpy boy while he called Bradley over. Alan was relieved when Bradley immediately joined them. It would not have been a good time for Bradley to develop selective deafness.

Despite several attempts, Alan still hadn’t found out what was upsetting Troy, but he could see that trying was just making things worse, and he dropped the subject once they reached the car. He was prepared this time and had some Super Scrumptious Cereal Bars in the car for the boys to eat. Alan hoped that Troy would be more sociable after having had something to eat.

That ploy didn’t work. Troy was still reluctant to say anything, so Alan left the two boys alone while he prepared dinner. Troy didn’t seem to be grumpy with his little brother, and Alan hoped that he would be relaxed enough by dinnertime to open up. He had made an appointment to take Bradley to the doctor’s on the following Monday regarding the bedwetting and whether it was a symptom of distress because of the accident. Alan was now beginning to wonder if he should take Troy, too.

Alan was very happy when he heard a familiar voice just before six. He met Peter in the bedroom. “How were things today?”

Peter shrugged before stripping off his business shirt. “Busy. Scott and I only had a few chances to take a break all day. It was like the pre-Christmas rush several months early. How was your day?”

Alan paused and pushed the immediate concerns aside for the moment. “Work was pretty good. No major problems, and we’ve been invited to a barbecue on Saturday week.”

Peter looked up from the drawer where he kept his polo shirts. “A barbecue? Where?”

“Bob and Merry’s place. They told me I had to bring the boys and you.” Alan smiled. “I think they want to find out who I’ve been keeping a secret from them for the last few years.”

Peter smiled before slipping on a clean shirt. “Sounds good. I’m looking forward to meeting them. From what you’ve told me, they’re a great couple.”

“They are. The way they’re looking after me now says it all.”

Peter nodded. “Very true. You can tell real friends by the way they’ll put out for you when you need it.”

“However, there’s a problem with Troy. Something bad happened at school, and he won’t tell me what it is. I’m hoping you might be able to get it out of him over dinner.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “Me? What makes you think I can do any better than you?”

Alan shrugged. “I’ve hassled him enough about it that I think he’ll just turn the tape back on and repeat his I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it phrase. If we wait until he’s had some food and you ask instead of me, you might be able to find out what’s bothering him.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“Oh, and Bradley is still asking about Sam having a sleepover. I’ve left the phone number with the child-care centre and asked them to pass it on to Sam’s parents.”

Peter nodded. “Sounds good, but you might want to ask Troy if there’s someone he’d like to come for a sleepover. Otherwise his nose might get put out of joint.”

Alan blinked. “Good idea! I never thought of that.” He smiled. “I know I’ve said it before, but I don’t think I could do this without you.”

“You’re doing fine, Alan, but I’m happy to help.”

“Thanks, Peter.” Alan moved over and gave Peter a long kiss. “Now I had better get back to cooking dinner.”

“What are we having?”

“Chicken casserole in red wine for us, and sausages and mashed potatoes for the boys.”

Peter’s forehead wrinkled. “Sounds good, but I thought you didn’t want to cook two meals?”

Alan shrugged. “I thought about it, but we’re not going to get anything out of Troy if we have to fight with him to get him to eat, so I thought I’d cook something I know he’ll eat.”

Peter smiled. “I told you you’re doing fine.”

Alan returned to the kitchen, and Peter moved to the living room to check on the boys. They had a set of matchbox cars out and were playing some sort of game that involved each car having special powers. Peter didn’t bother trying to understand it and headed to the study to check emails. He had only been there a couple of minutes when the phone rang. “I’ll get it!”

Peter picked up the phone. “Hello?”

There was a pause. “Hello? Who’s this?”

Happy that it wasn’t a telemarketer, but wondering if it was someone else who didn’t know about the accident, Peter said, “I’m Peter. Who were you after?” He mentally crossed his fingers that they wouldn’t ask for either Lisa or Craig. He’d dealt with one of those, and Alan had taken a couple. They weren’t pleasant calls.

“I’m Carol Smith. I was looking for Alan. Is he there?”

The name sounded familiar, but Peter couldn’t remember from where. “He is, but he’s just cooking dinner. I’ll just see if he’s free.”

“No, don’t interrupt,” Carol said quickly. “It’s just that Mike, my son, really misses Bradley, and I told him that Bradley won’t be at playgroup tomorrow, so he’s been pestering me for another playdate. Could you ask Alan if Saturday or Sunday afternoon would be okay? We can meet at the park like we did last week, or Bradley could come here for a couple of hours.”

Peter smiled as his memory was jogged. “I’m sure that’ll be fine. We don’t have any firm plans for the weekend, so how about we make it Saturday? It’s supposed to be fine, so the park sounds good.”

There was a noticeable gap before Carol responded. “Okay. Shall we say two? My daughter is only a little older than Bradley’s brother, so they can play together, too.”

“Sounds perfect. We’ll see you then,” Peter said, puzzled by her delay in responding.

“Okay. Bye for now.”

It was only after he hung up that Peter realised that she must have been puzzled by who he was and why he was able to make decisions for Alan and the boys. Peter realised that he may have just outed Alan to Carol and possibly the whole playgroup. At the very least, Carol was likely to ask questions the next time she saw Alan.

* * *

Both boys had eaten over half their sausages, so Peter decided it was time to try to find out what had happened to Troy.

“So, Troy, did anything happen at school today?”

Troy’s face crinkled as his eyes narrowed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Alan’s mouth opened and then closed. Peter could tell that Alan was trying to avoid jumping in.

“If something bad happened maybe we can help, but you’ll need to tell us first.”

Troy thought about it for a moment. “I got into trouble today, and it wasn’t even my fault!”

Alan and Peter exchanged glances. “What happened?” Peter asked.

“I was busy finishing my picture, with Ethan helping, and we didn’t hear Ms. Frowley tell us it was time to gather together for a story. She said she asked us a few times to stop, but we didn’t hear her!”

Peter nodded. “I see. But you did eventually join the others to listen to the story, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but it was really, really bad, because we got punished for not listening. It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t hear her!”

“What sort of punishment did you get?” Peter asked, thinking of the few times he had been in trouble at school.

“Ethan and I got yard duty at lunchtime. We had to pick up papers and things and weren’t allowed to start playing for a whole five minutes!”

Peter glanced across at Alan and could see him struggling to keep a grin from his face. Peter wasn’t finding it any easier, but he’d had more practise from dealing with idiotic customer requests. “Five whole minutes—wow! I’m sorry that happened, but maybe next time you should try to pay more attention to your teacher.”

“But it wasn’t my fault!”

* * *

“When’s Sam coming for a sleepover?” Bradley asked for the third time the next morning.

Peter sighed and reminded himself that Bradley was only four. “We don’t know. His parents didn’t ring last night, so we’ll leave another message for them today. We have to wait until they ring us before we can organise anything.”

“But Uncle Alan promised!”

“No, he didn’t. He just said that we would ask Sam’s parents if it would be okay.”

“But Uncle Alan promised!”

Peter could tell it was going to be one of those days. The saving grace for him was that it was only two more days until the weekend and Alan became a full-time parent. Peter couldn’t wait until he could leave his partner to deal with the little challenges that populated the boys’ morning routines.

* * *

Tracey frowned as she pulled into her driveway that afternoon. There was someone waiting on her neighbour’s porch, and she knew that there was no one home. She pushed the button on her garage remote control to open the roller door, but she was concentrating more on the stranger, who appeared to be sitting on something, though Tracey couldn’t make out what it was. One thing seemed clear; the stranger was a woman of middle age or later.

Tracey drove her car into its spot and closed the roller door behind her. She took her shopping into the house but only put the perishables away. She then unlocked her front door and wandered across to Troy’s and Bradley’s house.

“Good afternoon! I’m sorry, but are you waiting for someone?”

The tanned stranger, who on closer examination looked vaguely familiar, smiled. “I am, but I know Alan and Peter will be at work. I got here a lot earlier than expected.”

Tracey blinked as she took in the information, and a suspicion began to form. “Can I ask how you know Alan and Peter?”

The other woman sighed and dropped her gaze. “I’m Alan’s and Lisa’s mum, Rosalie Thrush.”

Tracey swallowed. “Then you know…”

Rosalie nodded. “Alan told me a couple of days ago. I got here as soon as I could.”

Tracey could see a sob shake Rosalie’s body, and she made an instinctive decision. “Why don’t you wait at my place? I’m Tracey Liverpool.”

Rosalie had an appreciative smile on her face when she looked up. “Thank you. I’d really like that. Lisa’s mentioned you quite a few times, and it’s always been good.”

Tracey offered to take the suitcase, but Rosalie declined, saying it wasn’t that heavy. In a few minutes, they were in the kitchen, and Tracey was making them both cups of tea.

“Alan normally gets home just before four,” Tracey said while she waited for the kettle to boil.

Rosalie nodded. “After Troy gets out of school.” She sighed. “I’m so looking forward to seeing the boys again.”

It was a few seconds before it occurred to Tracey to wonder if that included Alan and Peter, but she couldn’t ask. “Can I ask where your husband is?”

Rosalie smiled. “You can. He’s in Queensland at a quaint little town halfway up the west coast of Cape York—more like a village—with a name that I still haven’t learnt to pronounce. He should be ringing tomorrow morning to make sure I got here safely.”

“Would you like to ring him now? You can use my phone,” Tracey said.

Rosalie shook her head. “I don’t have a number for him. He’ll ring from the public phone there.” She yawned. “I’m so sorry. I haven’t had much sleep in the last twenty-four hours. I’ve been so anxious about getting here.”

Tracey smiled. “Why don’t you have a lie down? If you fall asleep, I’ll wake you after Alan gets home.”

Rosalie’s appreciation was painted across her face. “Thank you.”

* * *

Alan had been home for fifteen minutes when the front door rang. His mouth dropped open when he saw who was standing outside. “Mum?”

Rosalie stepped in, put down her small suitcase, and gave her stunned son a kiss on the cheek. “Lovely to see you, Alan.” She looked around. “Where are the boys?”

“In their bedrooms, I think.” Alan picked up the suitcase. It was very light. “Do you have any other luggage, or is Dad bringing it in.” He peered outside, expecting to see his father, but there was no one in sight.

“Your father is still up north waiting for the camper van to be fixed. Sorry I didn’t ring to let you know I’d be early, but I didn’t know if it would work, and once I was on my way, I didn’t get another chance to call.” She smiled. “I’d really like to see the boys now, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure. Troy, Bradley, can you come here, please?

Rosalie put a finger in her ear and twisted it. “Alan, dear, you don’t need to be so loud.”

“Sorry, Mum.” Alan was still getting used to the idea that his mother was there a week before he had expected her. He was very, very relieved, though, and was looking forward to her help. “Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, maybe?”

“That’s okay, Alan. Tracey and I had some tea earlier.”

Alan’s next question was interrupted by two excited kids. “Grandma!”

“Troy, Bradley, it’s so good to see you!” Rosalie bent down to give them each a hug.

“Did you bring anything?” Troy asked.

Rosalie chuckled. “Of course, but I think they should wait until after dinner.” She gave Alan a wink.

Troy pouted “Do we have to?”

“What did you get us?” Bradley asked.

“Well…if you’re both nice and ask politely, maybe I can give you your presents now, but,” she held up a finger, “you can’t play with them inside the house. Deal?”

“Deal!” the two boys chorused.

There was a pause, broken by Bradley. “Where’s my present?”

Rosalie looked down her nose at him. “How do you ask nicely?”

“Can I please have my present?” Bradley asked, followed quickly by Troy.

Rosalie chuckled. “Okay, then. Let me get them out of my bag. Alan, if you would?” She held out a hand.

“Sorry.” Alan handed back her suitcase.

“No peeking!” Rosalie looked up at Alan. “And that includes you.”

Bradley put his hands over his eyes. Troy started but then glanced at Alan. “You have to cover your eyes or she won’t get the presents out.” When Alan hesitated, Troy added, “You have to, Uncle Alan!”

Alan smiled and complied. “Okay.”

A few seconds later, Alan’s mum said, “You can look now.”

“Wow, boomerangs!” Troy said.

There were four of them, each varnished with a dark stain which made the stylised, painted kangaroos and emus appear almost embossed. Alan’s mouth dropped open as he realised these were genuine handmade items, not mass-produced tourist junk. “Mum, you shouldn’t’ve!”

She grinned. “I didn’t. Well, I did, but only two. The other two are a gift to the boys from Rangi and Thomas.”

“No throwing!” Alan called out as the boys took their new toys into the playroom. He turned back to his mum. “Who are Rangi and Thomas?”

“Later, dear. I’m sure Peter would like to hear the story, too.” She paused, and it was as if ten years were added to her age. “How’s…how’s Lisa?” She started to tremble.

Alan gathered her into his arms. “Still not good, but she’s getting better. I rang the hospital yesterday, and her surgery went well. We were going to ring her soon so the boys can chat with her.”

“Surgery!” Rosalie’s hands went to her mouth.

Alan gave her a reassuring hug. “It’s okay. Just some skin grafts and stuff. Nothing serious, but things she’ll need to have done at some stage.”

Rosalie took a deep breath. “You frightened me.”

“Would you like to speak to her now? Once you’ve finished, I’ll put the boys on.”

“Thank you, Alan, that would be very sweet. Can you give me a couple of minutes to regain my composure?”

Alan smiled and kissed his mum on the cheek. “Take as much time as you want.”

* * *

“That was a lovely meal, Alan. Thank you very much,” Rosalie said.

Alan grinned. “You’re the one who taught me that any meal you didn’t have to cook yourself is a good meal.”

She smiled. “Then I taught you well.”

“Can I leave the table?” Troy asked.

Peter gave him a stern stare. “And what word did you miss?”

Troy looked confused, but Bradley had the answer. “Can I please leave the table?”

“Yes, you may,” Peter said.

“Please, can I leave the table, please?” Troy asked. When Peter smiled and nodded, Troy jumped off his seat. “Come on, Bradley! The super cars need the magic boomerangs to beat the monster truck!”

Alan and Peter chuckled as the boys raced off. Alan then fixed his gaze on his mother. “Okay, Mum, can you tell us now how you managed to get here a week before we expected you and why Dad isn’t with you?”

“If you like, dear, but a cup of tea would go down really nicely about now…” She raised an eyebrow.

Peter laughed. “I’ll get it.” He headed to the kettle and started making drinks for all three of them.

“Well, it all started that night after we rang you. Your father and I were very upset, and one of the locals noticed. They’re really friendly up there, and it wasn’t long before they wheedled the story out of us. Rangi, one of the elders, was the main one to call around to see if anyone had a spare part we could use for the van.”

“Elders?” Alan asked. “This was an aboriginal community, then.”

His mother shrugged. “Mainly, though there’s a young, white family there, too. She’s the local teacher, and he’s an electrician. Getting back to the story, none of them had the right part. That was when Marcia had an idea. She’s a lovely young girl—and bright, too—though very shy. She had to tell her brother and get him to suggest it to Rangi, who then passed it on to your father and me.”

She looked over at Peter. “I’m getting rather parched here, Peter dear. I don’t suppose you could boil the water any faster.”

Peter grinned. “And you’re turning into a masterful storyteller. I don’t recall you doing this sort of thing before. Where did you pick it up from?”

She smiled. “We’ve visited lots of people on our trip, and a lot of them, especially the children, want to hear stories of where we’ve been. It may be I’ve picked up a trick or two along the way.”

“Such as leaving us hanging to find out what you’re going to tell us next?” Peter asked, cocking an eyebrow.

She made a play of avoiding eye contact. “Maybe.”

“Peter, make that cup of tea before I try to work out which one of you two is delaying things more.” Alan felt the most relaxed he’d been in two weeks. It was good to have his mother home and to take the pressure off him.

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” Peter snapped off a quick salute.

Alan turned back to his mum. “You were saying something about an idea…”

“Yes, I was.” She paused, continuing just as Alan opened his mouth to say something. “She pointed out that while the mail plane wouldn’t be there for a couple of days, there was a plane scheduled to be at another community the next day. If we could get there, they might be able to take a passenger back to Mt. Isa. From there it should be possible to get a commercial flight back to Brisbane and then on to Melbourne.”

“So that’s what you did?” Alan asked. “How did they know that you’d be able to get on the mail plane?”

She shrugged. “They didn’t, but they seemed confident that I should be able to hitch a ride. The people are just friendly, and I think they expected the pilot would just do it because I needed to get here. They did warn me that I wouldn’t be able to take much with me, so I packed light. Rangi gave me the boomerangs for the boys, and his son Thomas drove me to meet the plane.” She smiled at the memory. “Thomas spent half that night flirting with me while belting along the dirt roads, telling me that if he was only ten years older, he’d steal me away from your father.”

“He’d do what? How old was he?” Alan was horrified at what his mother had experienced.

“He’d just turned eighteen, but he’d been driving for years. He told me that once he had saved up, he was going to drive to Cooktown and get his license. He wanted to drive tourist buses for a living.”

“Eighteen and driving without a license!” Alan was aghast.

“And at night! How long was this trip, and why did you have to go at night?” Peter asked, picking up on a point that Alan had missed as he brought over a cup of tea for Alan’s mother and coffee for himself and Alan.

Rosalie fixed both of them with a stern gaze. “Thomas was a gentleman and a good driver. I won’t hear any bad words about him from either of you. Is that clear?” She waited until both nodded before relaxing. “He drove for about four hours, but that was so there was no chance we’d miss the plane. It was due to land at the airstrip early in the morning, and they wanted me to be there when it came. They all understood how important it was that I get back here as soon as possible.” She took a sip. “Lovely tea, Peter, thank you.”

“You obviously made it in time,” Alan said. “I’m sorry if I said anything against Thomas, but I’m just glad you’re here. I really appreciate him making that happen.”

Rosalie sighed. “It wasn’t all plain sailing. We got to the airstrip after midnight, and he cleaned up the seat so I could stretch out and get some rest while he slept outside. Then, in the morning, he had to argue with the pilot of the plane to get him to take me, but he eventually got his way.” She smirked. “The pilot’s name was Allan, which probably explains why he was so stubborn.”

Alan felt himself going red. “And he took you to Mt. Isa.”

“Eventually. He had a few other places to visit first. I have to say, he was a very dedicated young man. The mail had to go through…though having seen it, I can appreciate why. Those communities only get visits occasionally. We landed at Mt. Isa around five yesterday afternoon, which gave me just enough time to get a seat on a flight to Brisbane. I couldn’t get a connecting flight out of there, though; they were all booked out. I waited at the airport on standby until the last flight and then caught a taxi to a nearby hotel. I thought about ringing then, but I didn’t want to wake you, and I didn’t see that it would make any difference. I was back at the airport this morning and managed to arrive in Melbourne shortly before lunchtime.”

Alan shook his head. “Wow! That’s some trip, Mum. What are your plans now?”

She shrugged. “It needed to be done. Your father will ring in the morning to check if I arrived safely. He probably rang this morning, too, after you were all out, in case I managed to get a late flight that first day, but knowing him, he wouldn’t have left a message. After I speak to him, I’d like to go see Lisa and spend some time with her.”

“Why don’t you take Lisa’s car?” Peter suggested. “Or you can take mine if you prefer an automatic, and I’ll drive Lisa’s to work. We’ll just swap the boys’ seats if you want to do that.”

Rosalie smiled. “Thank you, Peter. I’ll take Lisa’s car if it’s no trouble, so you don’t have to shift the seats.”

“What about longer term? Will you and Dad come back here to help me?” Alan asked.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Rosalie said. “At some point I have to go back. You know your father’s eyes aren’t good enough to drive. I won’t go until I’m sure everything’s settled here, but I can’t stay indefinitely. Your father needs me, too.”

Peter gave her a hard look. “Tomorrow at work, I’m getting you a phone.”

“You don’t have to do that…”

“Yes, I do. Alan and I have been stressed out, and it would have been easier for everyone, especially the boys, if we could’ve contacted you earlier. I’m buying it, and I’ll teach you how to use it, but I insist that you take it with you. I know it won’t work everywhere you’ll be, but it means we’ll be able to leave a message for you if we need to.”

She stared back for a moment and then let a smile creep onto her face. “Okay, Peter. For the boys, I’ll do it.”


Copyright Notice - Copyright © December 2016 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's express permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to thank C James for providing feedback on the early drafts, and rec for his invaluable editing. I would also like to thank Ricky for that crucial final review before publication.