The night before Audrey and Ian left to embark on their cruise was to be a fateful one for Tanner, Hope and Chase. None of them knew it, but the events of that night would set off a butterfly effect of consequences that would see them all altered in the end.
After spending a significant amount of time with Amy, Tanner had decided that she was ready – ready to be introduced to the lake. It was his special place for reflection. He had never taken anyone with him before. It was up in the hills, so he usually took a bus out there. He had told Amy that he wanted to take her somewhere special, and she had agreed. He said he’d pick her up from work when she finished her shift at 9pm. Hope, who had plans with Chase, had lent her little red Festiva to Tanner.
As Tanner got ready, pulling on his history jeans and a white collared shirt, he felt that tingling, fluttering, sick feeling in his stomach, familiar to anyone who has been freshly in love.
Tanner and Amy looked out at the water. The moon paraded glimmers of hope across the sleek surface of the lake. Tanner sat down on the velvety black sand of the bank. Amy peered down at the dirt, unsure about getting her shorts grubby. Who cares? It’s the middle of the night and I don’t even know where I am, she thought. Decidedly she joined Tanner and crossed her legs, feeling the coolness of the earth beneath her. Tanner embraced his knees carelessly as they sat side by side. There was a sublime beauty to the night. Both souls felt it in their bones.
‘What do you want to do with your life Amy?’ He gazed out pensively at the ripples of moonlight as they danced upon the lake.
Amy knew by now to just go with the flow of Tanner’s questions without too much logical contemplation. ‘Well, you know what I do – I work at the servo.’
‘Yes obviously, but what do you really want to do? What do you want out of life?’
Amy considered the question. ‘I don’t know. I haven’t really thought that much about it I guess. I’m just trying to save some money so I can travel.’ She was lying. She had thought about it more than she cared to admit.
‘Where will you go?’
‘Everywhere. Europe. Paris – Rome.’
‘A magnificent plan.’
Amy ran her hands through the dirt and felt the grit of a different reality stick to her skin gleefully.
After a while Tanner interrupted her inner musings. ‘You lied before. You think about it all the time.’ He looked directly at her. ‘So tell me, what do you really want in this life?’
She felt herself shy away at the intensity of his brilliant blue eyes, and the depth of his questioning. Yet she felt as though he was reaching out to some untouched inner confines of her being. It felt scary – scary, but good. Instead of answering him, she turned to him and asked, ‘What do you want Tanner?’
He gazed serenely outwards. There was no hesitation or uncertainty in his voice when he replied. ‘Well, apart from the obvious, I just want to feel life. I want its every fibre to mould me into who I already am. I want to feel everything intensely – to know happiness, to know pain – and to let it shape me into something wonderful. I want to see the world, to feel it – to know nature intimately – to have affairs with the seasons. And I want the cliché – to love another, for who they really are, and to have them love me back, unconditionally.’
Amy stared at him, speechless. She had never heard anything like it, and would never have thought of putting it like that – yet some part of her registered the deepest sense of truth in his words. It made her heart vibrate.
Still, she could not stop herself from asking the superficial question that was at the forefront of her mind. ‘What is the obvious thing?’
When he met her gaze there was fierce truth in his eyes. ‘You know the answer to that already.’
Amy went to answer, but Tanner abruptly got up and began stripping off his clothes. Momentarily distracted, she exclaimed, ‘What are you doing?!’
She breathed a sigh of relief when he left his white underpants on. He stood unabashed, contemplating the water, with his hands on his hips. ‘Going swimming of course.’ He turned and waded in, before swiftly diving under.
He’s mad! He’s completely mad, she thought. She stared after him with her mouth open in amazement until he surfaced and lay floating on his back, gently swishing his limbs about. She watched him glide through the water. She just watched. She felt her heart begin to burn. Of course she knew what the ‘obvious’ was – it was her; but she longed to hear him say it. Even though she knew that her response would not be what he wanted to hear, that she would disappoint him and have to look into his sad, dreamy eyes – still, she selfishly craved the words I want you, so that she could replace her own ones of self loathing. Because she knew that he really did want her. And not in the way other guys did. It was the real her that he wanted.
At the same time as Tanner entered the water, Hope and Chase lay down on the grass in the middle of the oval. They lay there in silence, both reflecting on their lives, as they had done many times this past month.
‘How did your mum die?’ Hope asked, looking up at the sky.
Chase closed his eyes and grimaced. So, she had finally asked. He wanted to tell her. He felt the truth of it all burning up inside him. Oh, how he wanted to unburden it all. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t make himself say it.
‘I don’t really want to talk about it, sorry.’
‘It’s really hard for you to think about it, even now, isn’t it?’ There was a gentle tenderness in her voice that made Chase’s heart flutter painfully.
‘It is, yes.’
Hope propped herself up on her elbow. ‘You know, it might be good to let it out, to talk to someone about it.’
Chase sighed and ran his hands down his face. ‘Yeah, I know. But I can’t. Not yet … I’m sorry.’
Resigned, Hope lay back down. My god, she thought, what had happened? She knew from his reaction both times his mum had been mentioned, that it must have been awful. She was intensely curious, and she wanted to reach out to him, and to help him, like he had helped her. ‘Was she sick?’ she asked gently.
Chase sat up abruptly. ‘Look, I mean it. I don’t want to talk about it. So can we just drop it, please?’
Though he said it with firm resolution, there was a pleading in his voice that made Hope respect his need for it to remain inside him, at least for now. ‘Okay, I’m sorry,’ she said.
Chase lay back down. ‘No, don’t be sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just … not ready yet.’ He prayed to a god that he didn’t believe in that his hesitation would not drive her away, yet he said nothing.
Amy looked at Tanner’s body in the moonlight. Desire swelled in her veins.
She quickly chastised herself sharply to snap out of it. This is fucking reality Amy! He’ll sleep with you and then toss you aside, just like they all do. She hated those thoughts. The problem was that she believed them. No, she would not let anything happen between them. It was too nice, what they had – far too nice to ruin.
Still, the water was so beautiful. He was so beautiful.
As if reading her thoughts, as he always seemed to do, he called out to her. ‘What are you waiting for?’
Yes, Amy thought, what the hell am I waiting for? There’s no harm in a little dip, a little flirt. Slowly she stood up and begun unbuttoning her shirt, both fearing and longing for him to see her, and to be overwhelmed with desire. He stood up in the water and he looked. If he was overwhelmed he hid it well. She didn’t realise that he was beyond being overwhelmed. As she stood there, in her white bra and panties, she was the most supremely beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Approaching the edge of the water, Amy dipped her tiny foot in and withdrew it quickly. ‘It’s cold!’
Tanner floated on his back. ‘It’s invigorating. Don’t worry about the cold you big baby, just feel it.’
Without further thought she ran in, very girly like, and threw her head under. She surfaced agonisingly close to Tanner, but not near enough to touch him.
Smiling, he looked deep into her vulnerable eyes. ‘You put the moon to shame Amy Helen.’ Her face lit up and she laughed, abashed.
Paddling their hands in the cool water they gazed intently at one another. The intense silence made Amy shudder inside. To cover her nerves she broke the silence. ‘Can I ask you something?’
She looked down for a moment. ‘Have you ever been with a girl?’
He laughed aloud and paddled away from her. ‘Of course.’
Amy was genuinely surprised. ‘Really?’
Tanner cocked his head to one side. ‘Why do you sound so surprised?’
Immediately she tried to correct herself. ‘I’m not … Okay, well, maybe a little.’ She looked at him. ‘It’s just – it’s just you seem too, oh I don’t know, too … innocent, and sensitive, and young.’
He laughed again. ‘I am sensitive. Innocent … not so sure. It might surprise you to know that I do quite well with the ladies. I don’t mean that the way it sounds. Well I kind of do – I know what to say to them, and when I was a bit younger I used that to get them into bed – I am a guy after all. But the thing is, I was never really that interested in them. I always wanted more from them, more of who they really were, and they didn’t want to give it to me. So I lost interest. There was never any real emotion there.’ He paused. ‘Until now.’
He swam up close to her. He did not touch her yet she could feel the heat between their bodies. ‘Now, can I ask you something Amy Helen?’
‘Since when do you ever ask first?’ She giggled.
‘Have you ever been touched?’
Amy was puzzled by the question. ‘Yeah, of course I’ve been touched! I’m older than you remember? More times than I care to recall.’ She rolled her eyes as she registered how it sounded. ‘Not that I’ve been with heaps of people or anything I just mean that’ –
He cut her off. ‘No, I mean has anyone really touched you?’
He was insufferably close to her now. She stifled her mounting feelings of swirling, purple longing. I can’t let this happen she told herself. I just can’t. ‘I don’t know. What do you mean?’ She said it quickly, afraid that the depth of her longing would leak out.
Moving tantalisingly close, Tanner whispered, ‘Like this.’ He raised his hand out of the water and drew his fingertips, like burgundy feathers, down her face. At his faintest touch her every pore tingled. With his hands delicately placed on either side of her face he edged his lips toward hers and held them there so she could feel the heat of his breath. Her mouth openly involuntarily to welcome him. But his lips did not meet hers. He moved them to her cheek and tenderly brushed them over her skin. Fire burned within her. Her soul was alight.
He stroked her hair and pressed his soft cheek against hers, rolling his skin along hers tenderly. With her face still in his hands, he moved his head away from hers and gave her such an intense look that she feared she would shatter.
Still, her familiar nagging consciousness crept up. I can’t let this happen. I just can’t. But she could not tear her eyes away. She was paralysed by his stare. Crushingly slowly his lips glided closer to hers. She caught her breathe in a strangled whisper as his lips caressed hers ever so slightly. The heat between them was almost violent, and it surprised her.
With fierce abruptness she pulled her body away from his and stumbled backwards in the water. A tear broke free of it own accord and slid down her cheek. The words came out in a mumbled tirade, ‘I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I know you think you want me, but you don’t, not really, not me, not really. I’m not what you want; I’m no good for you! I’m damaged goods … you’re too good for me, too … pure. If you knew the things that I’ve done you wouldn’t want me, you really wouldn’t’-
Tanner simply walked slowly after her as she backed away. When he was close enough he gently braced both of her arms with his hands.
‘Stop. Just stop,’ he said, trying not to laugh. ‘I don’t care what you’ve done. I know who you are. And I do want you. All of you. Your horrid bits are most welcome in my life.’
Amy’s frozen heart dissolved in a scream of yearning. She surrendered to his body, wrapping her arms tightly around his. She cleaved to him. His hands slid around her back as he returned the desperation of her embrace. Pulling away from each-other they gazed a stare of searing intensity. Tanner leant in and kissed her forehead. Amy closed her eyes and slowly moved her head upwards as his lips finally discovered hers. The gentle passion of their kiss crushed their souls together in a tangible utopia. Their lips became more desperate, surrendering to the depth of their longing. The hunger of their two spirits manifested itself in the slowest, most intoxicatingly long kiss in the history of humanity.
‘Have you ever been in love?’ Hope asked Chase.
Chase thought about it. ‘No. Not really.’ It was true, he hadn’t been in love before, although now he wasn’t so sure.
‘Were you in love with Dean?’ Chase felt himself tense up with irritation as he said it, but he needed to know.
‘Yes, I was. But I think there’s different levels of being in love, if that makes sense? I loved him, but it wasn’t like the love … like mum and Jack had.’
She had told Chase all about her mother’s history with Jack as soon as her mum had opened up about it. They had come down to this very oval, and Hope had relayed everything her mum had told her. Chase had never heard anything like it. It was a real Romeo and Juliet tragedy.
Chase remembered all Hope had told him about Audrey and Jack. ‘Well, they were really lucky. I think a lot of people just miss out on that kind of love altogether.’ He paused. There was another question that he wanted to ask her, but he feared her response. In the end his curiosity won out. ‘Are you still in love with him?’
Hope took her time replying. Noticing her hesitancy, Chase felt his own heart sink. ‘No, I don’t think so. I mean, I care about him; I think I’ll always care, we did have something special and I’ll always think he is a good man. But I want what mum and Jack had. Dean and I never had that.’
Chase felt marginally better from her response, though he still didn’t like how hard she had to think about it. He was falling for this girl, and falling hard.
Hope flopped her head to the side and looked at Chase. ‘Is that what you want?’
‘I think that’s what everyone wants deep down.’
Silence settled between them again as they contemplated love in its many forms.
‘You know what I really want though?’ said Chase
‘What’s that,’ Hope replied, curious.
‘Just to make my being known to the world. And to have someone love it beyond reason.’
Hope looked back up at the stars. For some reason what he had said, with its beautiful simplicity, made her want to cry. She gently took his hand in hers and squeezed it tightly, as her growing feelings for him swelled inside her core.
Tanner’s beautiful fingers found the back of Amy’s bra. He gently undid it and gave it to the water. Her body was sublime with golden abandonment. Her skin pressed against his. The warmth of their bodies defied the coldness of the lake. So desperate were they in their longing for each-other, they could not bear to pull away. Lips, mouths and fingertips danced over naked, glowing skin. Amy pulled back from him and fumbled with his white jocks as his lips kept drawing in hungrily for hers.
As she felt him, she had none of the usual tiny tremors of fear jolt her. The vision of him with his eyes closed in surrender, alighted feelings only of desire in her tortured body. He looked so breathtakingly beautiful. She had never wanted anyone so much in her life. She wasn’t even certain that she had wanted anyone at all before this moment.
His hands slid down in seductive brilliance and stripped her of the pants she was finding insufferably present. Their naked bodies collided, as if knowing that they belonged that way.
When he entered her the breath was knocked out of both of them – so unthinkably divine was their union. Amy wrapped her legs and arms around Tanner tightly as he moved gently inside her.
The landscape blurred into a paradise of dappled colours. They saw love falling from the heavens to craft perfection around and inside of them. The taste of madly fated rightness saturated their mouths. The smell of the world at its most glorious enveloped them.
He pushed himself into her with inexplicably tender passion. Faster. Harder. Bolder. Beautifully. It was unbearably blissful. Their bodies melded together with the crushing vulnerability of their innately fragile souls.
Indigo shafts of wonderment shivered across the water.
Faster. Deeper. Deeper than it is possible for the human spirit to go. Deep into a body. Deeper into a heart. Deep into the core of the soul. No breath. No thought. No logic.
Their physical love stripped the existence of all reason and tragedy from the earth. The world was made inarguably perfect. Faster. Deeper. More intense. Hands running over skin. Fingers digging in. Aching consummation.
Amy rolled her head back in supreme ecstasy. Her fingernails dug into Tanner’s shoulders. They moved together as one entity – gorgeous in the furious, crushing beauty of the sheer feel of each other.
She closed her eyes on the verge of some unthinkably majestic precipice.
‘Open your eyes.’
It was the most unexpectedly beautiful sound she had ever heard. The green of her eyes opened to find the blue of his. He melted into her. Her grip tightened around him as he thrust deeper into her very being. As he came inside her she saw the force of his love for her pouring from his eyes.
Winding themselves into a tight portrait of serene comfort they held each-other, endlessly.
Hope and Chase, alone in their separate beds, in their separate houses, could not sleep. It was as though the image of the other was burned into their minds. Chase wanted her so desperately that he could barely stand it. There was something so deep and … and sacred about what they had. The realisation of it terrified him. He had spent so many years avoiding getting that close to anybody – and for good reason. Before he met Tanner and Hope, he had genuinely come to believe that you could not count on anyone. He believed that people never failed to let you down, disappoint you, and abandon you. Even love could not be relied upon. When the people you loved abandoned you it hurt more. The solution was to not allow love into your life. This philosophy had worked for Chase. It had protected him. But now, as love made its foreign presence known in his heart, he wondered where it would take him, and if he should shut it down before it was too late.
Hope tossed and turned, trying to approach her feelings logically. It was too soon to consider anything romantic. She was on the rebound, so it wouldn’t be fair. It would only end in disaster. She had nothing to offer, she was too freshly hurt and raw. All these negative thoughts swirled viciously through her mind. But she also couldn’t help thinking about her mum and Jack; and when she did, a deep part of her registered that she could love Chase that way, if he let her in.
Tanner was still soundly asleep when Hope left the next morning to take her parents to the airport. He was dreaming about Amy; reliving the perfection of their union in his slumber.
He could not have anticipated what was to come next – none of them could have. Tanner, Hope, and Chase, each on the edge of utopia, did not see what was coming at all. They did not know how the events of the next day would change them. They did not know that by the time Ian and Audrey returned, each of them would be so very different. And it would not be just the three of them who were affected … No, another six lives hung in the balance … unknowingly waiting for fate to intervene in a most unexpected way.
The next day was Monday … The day of possibilities.