Audrey woke up to the sound of rain. She had a splitting headache. She lifted her head up and peered around the room. Her memory was a bit hazy so she was at first a tad confused as to why she was in a bed that clearly was not hers. Then she remembered. In an instant she remembered everything … the wedding … running to his cabin ….
Jack was sitting at his desk with his back to her, still in his dress pants, with his white shirt hanging loosely from his torso. He appeared to be drawing, with blueprints scattered on the table.
Very quietly, Audrey got up and tip-toed over to him. He was ensconced in his task, his head buried in his art. She appeared at his side, and catching him slightly off guard, she gently took the pencil out of his hand. He looked at her with tortured eyes that had had no sleep.
‘Do you remember what happened last night?’ he asked her. He was sceptical that she would, though he prayed that she did.
She ran her soft delicate hand down his face and tears welled up in her eyes. He put his hand over hers and closed his eyes as he nuzzled his cheek into her hand. He looked up at her. ‘You’re crying.’ There was alarm and surprise in his voice. He stood up and placed his hands on her shoulders to comfort her. ‘Did I do something wrong?’
She shook her head. He wiped a tear from under her eye. ‘Look Audrey, it’s okay. I know you’d had a lot to drink and you didn’t know what you were saying, I understand’ –
She cut him off abruptly. ‘No, Jack, I’m not crying because of that. I’m crying because I meant what I said. I am in love with you and I don’t know what to do.’
For a moment he couldn’t speak. She noted his hesitancy and with trepidation asked him, ‘Did you mean what you said?’ She looked up at him hopefully, clearly expecting him to say no, as her eyes misted up even more.
He took her face gently in his hands. ‘Oh Audrey, I am so in love with you.’
Their faces drew together in agonising slow motion. Jack’s eyes closed as he felt her lips brush ever so softly against his. Unable to contain himself any longer, he pulled her forcefully into him and took her lips with his own. He felt his eyes mist up with violently beautiful emotions as he kissed her passionately. He ran his trembling hands through her hair and down her body. He tenderly grappled with his shirt as she undid her buttons. They stood apart from one another for a moment looking – just looking – with intense, reverent longing. Then their bodies collided like powerful magnets drawing together. The feel of their naked skin meeting for the first time was unbearably divine.
As he lay her on the bed he gazed into her eyes, he whispered, ‘Oh Audrey, what are we going to do?’
There was utter anguish in his voice. The tears rolled from both their eyes as he took her in his arms and let himself surrender to his love for her.
It took every ounce of strength they possessed to pull themselves out of each other’s arms to go to breakfast. Sitting at the table with the elated newlyweds, and a few other stragglers that had ended up passed out in various parts of the house, it was obvious that something magical had transpired between Audrey and Jack, though they both tried to hide it. They didn’t know that Violet and Antonio had both been well aware of their feelings for some time.
When Violet had finished eating she collected Audrey’s plate and whispered, ‘You go girl,’ in her ear as she flounced off to the kitchen.
Audrey flushed bright red and smiled. Then she started to think about the fact that they only had five days left together and she saw her world go dark.
The day was spent in the company of others. They all went to lunch at Antonio’s parent’s house. It was a lovely affair, even though most present were suffering from incurable hangovers. The whole afternoon went by with Audrey and Jack stealing glances of incomparable longing at one another.
Back at the house, when night had fallen, they all sat outside with glasses of leftover champagne, enjoying a break from the rain. Jack stood up and excused himself. Audrey’s heart jumped. She wanted to run after him, but she couldn’t, it would be too rude. Damn it!
As if reading her thoughts Antonio puffed on his cigar and very matter-of-factly said, ‘What are you waiting for Audrey? Go after the poor man!’
The party tittered but didn’t blink an eye. Violet gave her sister a cheeky wink and nodded her head to say, go on!
As soon as she walked through the door Jack grabbed her and threw her against it, grasping her face and kissing her forcefully. They pulled desperately at each other’s clothes, trying not to break their kiss. The world spun around them as their bodies melded together in perfection once more.
Afterwards they lay naked, cleaving together. Jack looked up at the ceiling as he held her in his arms. ‘Audrey, what are we going to do?’ It was a plea. She didn’t answer him. He rolled on to his side and looked at her. ‘You’re leaving in four days, I’m leaving in six, have you thought about that?’
She propped herself up on her elbow. ‘Of course I have. I don’t know what to do.’
They sat in the silence of their predicament. It was Audrey who spoke first. ‘You know, I’m going to have two days in Rome, maybe I could just change my flight and spend those two days here with you’ –
He cut her off. ‘Oh Audrey, that would be beyond wonderful but it doesn’t solve anything baby. We still have to part after that. You need to start your degree and I have to go back to work and to my sister.’
Audrey’s body slumped in defeat. ‘I know. But two days is better than nothing, isn’t it?’
He drew her face to his and kissed her gently. ‘My god Audrey, one minute with you is better than anything in the world.’
The day before they were torn apart, Audrey and Jack lay in a blanket of sunflowers. As if to honour their love the rain had stopped and the sun had graced the world with its presence. They talked about their lives back home. Jack already knew a bit about Audrey’s home life through Violet’s complaints of an overbearing father and a strict upbringing. Audrey told him that after Violet rebelled and left for Europe, that her father, sensing that he had failed with his oldest daughter, put all his energies into his youngest, in the hope that she would choose a good career for herself and marry a stable and respectable man. He was very pleased that she was going to do her teaching degree. Luckily for Audrey, she too was excited about the prospect of being a teacher.
Audrey asked Jack about his family. Jack told her how his dad had left them when he was little, leaving he, his mum, and his little sister behind. His mum had died when Jack was eighteen, leaving him to take care of his thirteen year old sister. Through stifled emotions, Jack told Audrey how his sister had become sick – that she had breast cancer and had just finished her second bout of chemotherapy, but things weren’t looking great as it had spread to her lymph nodes. But she had been doing well in her recovery so Jack had given himself permission to come to Italy with her blessing. As he spoke Audrey tucked herself into his shoulder and placed her hand on his chest. She said nothing, she just let him talk. But she felt for him, and he was comforted by her presence, and by her love for him.
‘Do you want kids of your own?’ Jack asked her after a while.
‘I do, definitely. You?’
Jack thought about it. ‘I haven’t really thought about it that much, even in my relationships. But now – with you – I think I do. Yes, I do.’
She smiled and squeezed his hand.
‘Of course’ he said, ‘The most pressing question is though … what would we call them? Because if we can’t agree on a name now then we may as well call it quits.’
Audrey nudged him playfully and he laughed. She lay back down and imagined having a child with him. ‘Well I think it should have meaning. I don’t know for a boy … or a girl really. I like Faith for a girl.’
‘It’s hideous, but on the right track meaning wise. No, you know what we should call a girl?’
Audrey smiled. It was perfect. They lay once more in silence, each considering the impossibility of a life together …
By the time her mother had gotten to the end of her story, Hope had tears streaming down her face.
Audrey wiped her own red eyes. ‘The day before I was due to go to Rome Jack got a call from his Aunty saying that his sister had taken a turn for the worse, and … that was it … he had to go. And I understood of course. He said we’d meet again, that he would come for me.’ Her voice faded off. ‘But he never did, and then … well, as you know I found out I was pregnant.’
Hope put her hands over her face, speechless. ‘My god … oh, mum.’
Audrey assumed a sudden forceful tone. ‘Hope, I need you to understand something. I love Ian, I do. I really do love him. He’s been damn good to me, to all of us, and he was there for me through this whole thing when I was scared and confused. He got me through it. And I love him, I do, you must know that.’ She broke off as freshly desperate tears began to escape her.
Hope wrapped her arms around her mother. ‘I know mum. I know.’ She pulled away from her and left her hands on her shoulders to try to reassure her that it was okay.
Audrey looked down at the crumpled photo in her hand.
‘What is that?’ Hope asked.
‘Oh … it’s …’
Hope gently extracted it from her mother’s tight grasp. Audrey grabbed a tissue and dried her eyes.
‘Is that Jack?’ Hope asked.
‘Yes. Yes, that’s Jack, and me, at the wedding.’
Hope looked at the photo. She had never seen a picture of him when he was younger. He was actually quite handsome – in a rugged sort of way. He had his arm around Audrey and they were both laughing. It was a beautiful photo.
‘You look so happy together.’
Audrey looked at the photo and said, with blunt sincerity, ‘We were. We really were.’
‘I’m really glad you told me all this mum. It makes me feel … better about it all – knowing that it was real love and not some meaningless fling. I don’t know, it somehow … makes it easier.’ Hope looked at the photo. ‘That’s why you’re both so cold now isn’t it? Because the feelings were so strong?’ Before Audrey could answer, another thought occurred to Hope. ‘Are they still?’
‘Oh Hope … I had hoped that when I saw Jack again the feelings wouldn’t come back. I prayed and prayed that it would be okay – because I love Ian and he deserves my full heart. But as soon as I saw Jack again it all came flooding back. I don’t know how it was for him, but that’s how it is for me, and that means that I need to keep my distance from him – I hope you understand that.’
‘Of course mum, of course I do. I know you love dad and you wouldn’t do anything to hurt him, I know that mum … but still, it must be hard.’
Audrey sighed and closed her eyes. ‘You cannot imagine. And I hope you never have to know what that feels like. But we get on with it – we all get on with it. I have a great life, two beautiful children, a wonderful husband, and I’m so grateful for that and I love my life, I really do Hope, you must believe that.’
‘I do mum. I do.’ Hope embraced her mother again, but only part of her believed what she had said.
Back at his house, in a white singlet and black sweats, Chase stared at his computer screen. He looked vacantly at his facebook page, as he had done thousands of times before.
Just type it in, he said in his mind, over and over. Casey Spencer, Casey Spencer, Casey Spencer. Just type it in Chase! But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He slammed the screen down. He went into the kitchen and swiftly took two Valium. Then he strode outside to chain smoke in the darkness until he could not feel anymore and all the memories went away.
The pills only worked for a while. But eventually, when Chase was sound asleep, the memories came back to haunt him. Images washing through his subconscious; his mother’s face as she told him that he was going to make something of his life, unlike his brother; his mother’s face … cold and dead in the casket. His father – shouting in the kitchen. And then his brother – standing with a group of friends smoking, telling them that Chase was just a dumb kid and to ignore him. Images of Casey flooding in from the darkness …
Chase woke up to the sound of shouting. He padded out of his room in his pyjamas, wearily rubbing his eyes. His twelve year old face looked upon his mother in the lounge room, smoking, with a stony look of determination on her face.
Casey thumped into the room dragging a suitcase. There was hatred and anger in his face.
At the sight of him, his mum sipped at her whiskey and laughed. ‘Where exactly do you think you’re going to go?’
Casey dragged his case to the door and fumbled around for his keys. ‘I don’t care!’ He roared. ‘Anywhere’s better than here!’
His mum gave the evil laugh that she only gave when she was drunk. ‘You’ve got nowhere to go. No one will take you in. No one even wants you around.’
She dropped her smoke on the carpet and put it out with her black slipper. Grabbing another from the pack, she hastily lit it and puffed fiercely as she turned away, her arms folded.
‘Well, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And don’t worry about you brother, WE’LL be just fine – better even.’
Casey stopped and turned around slowly. His fifteen year old eyes looked at his mother with nothing but severe pain. With no malice in his voice, he said, ‘You always do that. Beat on me and then guilt trip me into caring about you – caring FOR you again. Well I’m sick of it. You expect me, and even Chase, to pick up the pieces after you all the fucking time. You’re a drunk! And you’re a terrible mother!’
Chase’s mother’s eyes widened. She swiftly jack-knifed over and slapped Casey hard on the cheek. Casey simply closed his eyes, not even reacting to the impact. He was too used to it by now.
Opening his eyes, he took a step closer to her and held his finger up. ‘That’s the last time mum. I’m leaving. Get your shit together for god’s sake.’
He turned and heaved his suitcase out the door. Turning back momentarily, he looked at Chase, who was peering terrified from the hallway. Then he looked back at his mum. ‘If not for yourself, do it for Chase.’
Chase watched as his brother took one last look at him and shut the door.
His mother swigged at her whiskey and turned around, cold and unfeeling. Only then did she notice her younger son. ‘Come here honey.’ She called out to him, opening her arms.
Chase approached her cautiously. She sat him down next to her on the couch, and put her arm around him, rocking him gently.
‘Just you and me now kiddo. We’re better off … You’re gonna make something of yourself one day, I know it.’ She ran her hand through his hair. ‘I always knew you’d be the one I could count on.’
Chase let himself be rocked as his little mind frantically tried to make sense of what had happened; what Casey leaving would mean for him, and how his mum would react when the effects of the booze had worn off …