Once we all got moving, the walk was quite a pleasant one, with even the grumbling parents seemingly enjoying themselves. Our little troupe quickly strung out, with some really stepping out and powering along, while others chose to take it more easily. Aaron and I fell into the latter category, as did Mike and Carol, and Jess and Kellie.
We chatted as if the years that had come between me and my siblings had never existed and we caught up on a lot of what we had missed out on. Aaron too joined in, telling them about some of the things that had happened to him, even if going light on some of the detail. He held my hand tightly as he spoke, and I squeezed his hand several times, to support him and let him know that I knew what he was going through.
We learned from Carol that she lived in one of the small villages along the coast road between Thompsonville and Macquarie Harbour, which was one I hadn’t often travelled, due to it being a much quicker route by sticking to the main drag, as the roads were far better. We also learned that they didn’t make it that far last night after they had left the party, instead parking at one of the scenic points along the route and spending most of the night sitting up and talking.
‘Do you mean to tell me he didn’t even try to put the moves on you?’ I asked, somewhat incredulously.
‘Your brother was a thorough gentleman,’ Carol replied, while slipping an arm through Mike’s as we all continued to walk.
‘I’m pleased to hear it,’ I replied.
Before long we had passed the bend in the road which was just along from Avalon and looking up ahead I could see the entrance to Bayview, standing out in the morning sun.
I noticed Luke look back at me a couple of times as we drew closer, then once we were almost there I jerked my head sideways while he was looking my way, indicating he should turn into the driveway. I wasn’t sure if he figured out the message or not, but realised he had when he dragged Matt with him and said, ‘Come on guys, how about we check this place out? They tell me the views from on top of the hill are breathtaking.’
‘We can’t all go in there,’ his mother protested.
‘Why not? No one lives here or ever comes here. The house is just going to ruin. Someone should just buy it, I reckon,’ he replied.
‘But what if we get caught?’ Jess asked.
‘Don’t worry, we know the Sarge,’ Matt replied. ‘You met him last night, didn’t you?’
‘Come on guys. I’m game if you’re game,’ I said. ‘I’ve been up there before, and Luke is absolutely right about the view … they didn’t call the place Bayview for nothing. There’s nothing to worry about, though … unless of course you’re here at night and you meet the ghost that lives out back.’
‘What?’ squeaked Carol. I could only grin at her.
‘Oh yeah,’ Luke continued. ‘The old lady who used to own the place died out in the garage behind the house. I don’t know if she’s still hanging about, but it’s definitely true about her dying there. A group of kids found her bones there one day when they were up to no good.’
‘Oh man, that’s just too creepy,’ Kellie said.
‘Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sure going to take a look,’ Mike said, then grabbing Carol by the hand added, ‘Come on!’ and started dragging her toward the entrance, with a group of the others hot on their heels.
‘Are you sure we won’t get in trouble?’ Jess asked me.
‘No, Jess, it’s all good.’
She looked at me strangely for a moment, as if she knew something was up, then eventually just shrugged her shoulders and set off after Mike and Carol, hand in hand with Kellie.
‘So, did I do good?’ Luke whispered to me after most of the gang had set off up the short driveway toward the locked gates, then started climbing over the fence to the side.
‘Perfect,’ I replied.
‘Just what are you pair up to?’ Aunt Helen demanded when she heard him.
‘All in good time, my dear Aunt,’ I answered, then set off after the rest of them, leaving her looking at me with a quizzical expression on her face.
Ahead of us we could hear the excited chatter of our family and friends as their leisurely morning walk had suddenly turned into an adventure. Everyone seemed to clamber over the fence without too many problems, even Aunt Helen and Matt’s mum, then we began the climb up the hill toward the house.
About half way up we came to a stop, as the road was blocked by our group, who had all stopped and were looking back out toward the bay.
‘Oh wow, just take a look at that!’ someone said.
‘Oh my,’ Aunt Helen gasped. ‘What a beautiful view!’
‘Holy shit. That’s spectacular!’ added Mike.
‘Come on, it’s even better from the top,’ I told them, and just kept walking.
When we reached the house a few minutes later, Aaron and I stood on the edge of the stone verandah at the front of the house, leaning against a pillar, and simply waited for the rest of them to join us. It didn’t take long before my brother and Carol stepped up beside us, with Jess and Kellie on the other side. While the rest of them were still dawdling the girls walked across the verandah and took a look inside through the huge plate glass window.
‘Very nice,’ Carol observed. ‘I just love the polished timber floors.’
‘Yes, it’s lovely. And with views like that, the whole place is just too beautiful,’ Jess added, as she came back over to where we were standing and looked out toward the bay.
It was a stunning summer morning, beneath a clear blue sky. From where we stood we were looking down across the front paddock of the farm, which was lush and green, then across the tops of the trees between the road and the beach, then out over the deep blue waters of Hidden Bay, which were spectacularly framed by the two deep green headlands, upon one of which the lighthouse stood out brilliantly, with the sun shining on its white-washed walls.
‘Take a walk around and check out the rest of the place,’ I suggested to them. ‘It looks to be a great house. Such a waste it’s empty.’
The girls led the way, taking a look through each of the windows, starting with the bedroom on the end, just past the living room, while Mike, Aaron and I just tagged along behind them.
We went around the back of the house and they continued their inspection, giving all the appropriate sounds when they looked in on the kitchen and the other rooms. It was then that we found a surprise, noticing that a pane of glass on the door into the laundry had been broken.
‘That wasn’t like that when we were here the other day,’ Aaron said, frowning.
‘No. It definitely wasn’t,’ I replied.
‘What? You think someone has broken in since then?’ Mike asked.
‘Sure looks like it. Probably just some kids,’ I mused. ‘We better check it out though … and anyhow, it’ll give us a good chance to take a look inside now, won’t it?’
Mike tried the door handle and it opened easily, then pushed the door open. I think we all expected there to be a pile of broken glass on the floor, but when we looked down there was nothing there but the tiled floor.
‘If we find this burglar I think I might have to invite him round to my place,’ Carol quipped. ‘He’d have to be the neatest break-in artist in history.’
Aaron and I exchanged glances. We didn’t even own the place yet and already we were feeling as if we had been robbed, or been violated.
‘All the same, I’d best let the Sarge know later,’ I eventually offered, as I stepped through the door for the first time, wanting to ensure that we made the most of this opportunity.
The house smelled musty, from having been locked up for so long, no doubt, but for the most part the interior still looked remarkably new and clean. I remembered the guys telling us about the renovations that had been carried out before the last owner had disappeared, so it was quite a relief that there would only be minimal work required to finish off making it liveable.
From the laundry we entered a hallway, which ran along the centre and for most of the length of the house, opening at one end onto a large sunny room at the end of the house, and into the living area at the other end. Off both sides of the hallway there were several rooms, with those facing the front having uninterrupted views of the bay, through French doors.
It was in one of these front facing rooms that we found our second surprise; a pile of rags and clothes and a couple of old curtains and blankets, which appeared to have been shaped into a rough bed in one corner on the floor. There was also a little rubbish scattered about, indicating that whoever it was that had been calling the place home had been here for a little while at least.
In here the musty smell of the place seemed even stronger, while being accompanied by another underlying odour that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place.
‘What a place to squat, eh?’ Mike remarked. ‘Looks like there’s only the one of them though … so far.’
‘That’s more than enough,’ said Aaron.
‘Yeah,’ I thoughtfully replied.
Leaving everything where it was, we went back out into the hallway, checking some of the other rooms as we went, before eventually finding ourselves in the large living area, and then beyond that the main bedroom, where the view of the bay through the French doors and rather large window was simply breathtaking.
We all stood at the window looking out at the view. I had one arm draped over Aaron’s shoulder, while his was wrapped around my waist. Outside we could see Luke and Matt and everyone else milling around on the verandah or simply sitting on the front lawn. After we had found ourselves inside the house I had almost forgotten that they were even with us.
‘Oh, wow! Could you just imagine waking up to a view like that every morning?’ Jess remarked, while letting out a huge sigh.
Aaron and I glanced at each other and grinned, then Aaron chuckled quietly, which instantly had everyone’s attention.
‘What?’ Jess asked. ‘Did I say something funny?’
‘Well, it actually is kind of funny you should say that,’ I replied, as casually as I could.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Because … well … this is where Aaron and I will be waking up every day for the rest of our lives.’
‘What?’ Mike exclaimed.
‘Yup. I’ve just bought the place. That’s why I wanted you guys to come along this morning, so I could show it to you.’
‘Bullshit!’ Mike spat, the sound of his voice echoing throughout the room.
‘No shit! I’ve got to spend my money on something … and after I realised that I wanted to come back here anyhow, I decided to keep my eyes open for something I liked,’ I calmly replied. ‘Then, when I found out this place was empty, I got my agent to do a little digging. He tracked down the owners, and they finally accepted my offer yesterday.’
By this time both of my siblings were pacing around, while Aaron and I simply continued to remain where we were, with our arms reaching around each other.
No doubt seeing the activity inside the room, Luke came over to the French doors and motioned for me to open them, which I soon did. Not far away from us, the rest of our family were watching on.
Luke stepped through the door and took a look around, nodding his approval.
‘So, you really are moving back here, just like that?’ Jess asked, after stopping right in front of me.
‘Yep, just like that. I have told you this already, haven’t I?’ I teased.
‘Yeah, I guess you had,’ she chuckled. ‘I just wasn’t sure how serious you were, that’s all.’
‘Let’s just say I’m serious enough to want to get my family back together … even if it is costing me a million bucks to do so.’
‘You’ve got a million bucks?’ Mike bellowed.
‘Not for much longer,’ I laughed.
A gasp came from the small group gathered just outside. It sounded like it could have been Aunt Helen, but I couldn’t be sure of that. I glanced across at Luke and saw him grinning at me.
‘So, having said all that,’ I continued, ‘I guess what I really wanted to say, is that if you guys want to wake up to that view every morning as well, then you’re more than welcome to come and share it with us. There’s plenty of room.’
‘You actually are serious, aren’t you?’ Jess asked.
‘Absolutely! Can you imagine a better place to live and raise a family?’ I replied. ‘I know that you haven’t seen much of the town yet, but just ask all these guys … it’s a good place. It’s a really good place. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only place I’ve ever truly been able to call home, and I can think of nothing better than to have my family back together and living here with me and Aaron.’
‘But what about work?’ Mike asked. ‘We’ll all need to be doing something.’
‘Can you push a lawn mower?’ Aaron asked.
‘Yeah, of course I can.’
‘Well, I could always use some help, so if you don’t mind doing that, there’ll be enough work for you to do.’
‘And us?’ Jess asked.
‘We have lots of friends around here. We’ll find you both something,’ I answered. ‘And if we can’t find it right here, Macquarie Harbour is only twenty minutes away, so I’m sure there’ll be jobs going there. Anyhow, you’ll have a baby to worry about first, won’t you?’
‘We’ll still have to eat.’
‘I think we’ll manage,’ I chuckled.
‘You know what I mean, Tony,’ Jess scolded.
‘C’mon, let’s take a walk around the rest of the place. You don’t have to say yes straight away, but I hope you will at least consider it,’ I said.
‘Of course we’re considering it, you great doofus!’ Jess gushed, as she reached out and hugged me.
As we started to move Luke stuck his head out the door and told everyone to come around to the back of the house, while he then locked the doors and windows, before following us out through the living room and eventually outside.
‘Nice place,’ he said to me as we pulled the laundry door closed behind us.
‘Yeah, it certainly is. I’m sure we’re going to love living here,’ I grinned.
‘And we’ll love having you as neighbours,’ he cheekily replied, while giving me a slap on the back, just as the rest of our party came around the end of the house and headed our way.
We had gathered near the barbeque area at the back of the house, which I had no doubt would become the scene of many a soiree in the not too distant future, once the weeds that were growing up between the pavers had been taken care of, and the fading woodwork had been touched up with some fresh paint.
I could see that Aunt Helen was looking around and nodding her head in approval, as were Katie and Samantha and some of the others, obviously impressed by the surroundings. Behind the house there was a large open area which led down to the garage and workshop, as well as the small cottage I had seen on my previous visit.
Some of the visitors picked some bunches of grapes from the vines that covered the pergola at the rear of the house, and most of us soon followed, finding the deliciously sweet dark fruits more than hard to resist.
It was while we were all busily chewing on these that young Jake pointed toward the out-buildings and innocently asked, ‘Who’s that boy?’
‘What boy, Jakey?’ his mother asked.
We all turned to take a look for ourselves, but all we could see were the buildings and the long summer grasses that surrounded them.
I squatted down so that I was at face level with Jake and asked, ‘Did you see someone down there, Jake?’
He nodded his little blonde head in reply, then suddenly went all bashful and grabbed hold of his mother’s leg and tried to hide behind her.
‘It’s okay, mate. We’ll go and take a look,’ I said to him, while trying to reassure him that everything was indeed, okay.
Getting up I noticed Aaron was talking to Aunt Helen, so I motioned for Mike and Luke to come with me and we set off toward the buildings, unsure if we would find anything, or anyone, but knowing that we had to at least take a look.
‘Looks like the squatter could be a kid, then?’ Mike asked as we headed off.
‘Maybe,’ I replied.
‘Squatter? What squatter?’ asked Luke, sounding rather surprised.
‘We found a window in the laundry door broken, that’s how we got inside the house,’ I said to him.
‘Then there was a pile of clothes and blankets and stuff in one of the bedrooms,’ Mike added. ‘It looks like someone had been calling the place home, for a little while at least.’
‘Think we should call the Sarge, then?’ Luke asked.
‘No, I don’t think so. We’ll see what we can find first, and if it is a kid, I think we should find out what his story is before we go getting too carried away,’ I replied.
‘Sounds good to me,’ Luke replied, although, judging by the expression on his face, I don’t think Mike was in total agreement.
‘It’ll be fine, Mike,’ I said to him. ‘We’ll just see what we’ve got first, okay?’
‘Whatever you reckon, bro,’ he replied.
We walked quietly along the front of the garage, past the three closed doors, until we reached the smaller access door. It looked like it must have been locked at some stage, but judging by the splintered area around the lock it had offered little resistance to any intruder. Cautiously I tried the handle and the door opened easily, giving a slight squeak as it did so.
Peering inside, the place looked like a black void, but after stepping through the doorway and giving our eyes a few moments to adjust, we could soon make out various shapes and shadows. It helped that a shaft of sunlight was coming through the window along the closest side wall, streaming down onto the concrete floor, with dust drifting aimlessly through the light.
It soon became apparent that even with the large bench, which ran along the side wall and part of the back wall, with numerous cupboards above it, the place was empty and without any real places suitable for a boy to be hiding in.
‘Is this where they found the body?’ I asked Luke.
‘Yeah, or so legend has it.’
‘Well, I hope the old dear isn’t still hanging around.’
‘Maybe we could get the girls to stay out here one night to find out?’ Mike offered.
‘We’ll let you make that suggestion,’ Luke instructed.
‘I don’t mind,’ Mike replied, while sporting a rather mischievous grin.
I started looking around the room and then walked over to the nearby work bench, upon which I found a thick layer of dust. As I walked along I could see that it had been disturbed in a number of places, with fingers having been dragged through it, most likely by whomever had dared to break into the place. It was then that I looked down at the floor.
‘Hey, check this out,’ I said to the others, while pointing at the dusty, oil stained concrete.
‘Foot prints!’ Luke exclaimed.
‘And only small ones too,’ added Mike.