It was well into that same night when Tanner woke up. Chase had fallen asleep on the couch, still in his white t-shirt and jeans. He was woken by Tanner shaking him. In a haze, he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
‘What’s up, what’s wrong?’ Alarm bells sounded in his mind as his brain attempted to remember everything that had happened in the last few days.
Tanner crouched beside the couch, wrapped in his white blanket. He looked ill.
With innocent but determined eyes he said, ‘I need to go somewhere. I need to be near the water – on the water. I have to get away from here, and off the land, I need – I need my feet off the ground for a while.’
Chase tried to quickly rouse himself and work out what the kid was on about, but it was difficult due to how sleep deprived he was. He tried to process Tanner’s strange request. He looked at the clock, which read 12:06am.
‘Tanner, it’s the middle of the night. Where do you suggest we go?’
Tanner kept crouching, and thought hard. ‘I don’t know. I just want to be near the water.’
Chase’s mind, now fully present, immediately attempted to solve this dilemma by presenting numerous impractical solutions. There was an urgency in Tanner, Chase felt it acutely. He realised that this was important to him, and that the kid’s desire to do anything, after barely moving for days, had to be a good sign. He needed to make this happen.
‘Okay mate, put some warm clothes on. Give me five minutes. I’ll sort something out.’
Tanner beamed and ran from the room. He popped his head back in. ‘Chase?’
Chase looked up as he searched for his phone, as Tanner said, ‘I love you man.’
Chase smiled as he flipped through his phone. It was too cold to swim. Off the land? What they needed was a boat. There was no one in his phone contacts who could help – all useless acquaintances! Then, after another minute, another thought occurred to him. He looked at the sheet of phone numbers that Hope had left. There was only one person Chase knew who had a boat. His name was last on the list. Chase had no choice but to make the call and hope for the best.
After Laura had gone to bed, Hope went to find Dean. She opened the bedroom door and found him sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at his feet, still in the black suit he had worn to his father’s funeral.
He looked up with pained, sleep deprived eyes. ‘How’s mum?’ he croaked.
‘She’s okay. She’s gone to bed. I think she’ll sleep tonight.’
Hope sat down on the bed next to Dean. He ran his hands down over his face and let them drop into his lap. ‘How are you?’ she asked gently.
Dean leaned forward, his elbows propped on his knees. For a moment he said nothing. Then, all of a sudden, he started sobbing – heart wrenching, primal sobs, of shock and hurt. He covered his face with his hands, his body shaking with the violence of his emotions. Only just now, after having to be so strong all day, was the reality of his loss sinking in.
Hope felt her eyes tear up in sympathy with his. She wrapped her arms around him tightly and rocked him. He turned his body to her and gripped onto her. They sat there, rocking, both still in disbelief.
Dean pulled away from her and wiped his eyes forcefully with his sleeve. ‘Does this make me more lovable Hope?’ He stammered.
Hope furrowed her brow in confusion. ‘What? What do you mean?’
He was still trying to get his emotions under control. Through tight lips he strained to get the words out. ‘Now that I’m not happy … that I’m upset … does that make it easier to love me?’ His voice broke in a sob.
Hope felt her heart clench painfully with guilt. ‘Oh Dean. No, no Dean, no.’
She held him tightly to her, as the sobs took hold of him once more.
Jack, wearing a white hooded jumper and grey sweats, anchored the boat in the middle of the Swan River. The water was a serene sheet of black ice. Not a breath of wind, no other signs of human life, just the lights of the city glowing in the darkness. The world was sleeping. Tanner sat at the back of the boat, wrapped in his white blanket. He had felt his body relax, and his mind begin to be kind to him again, as soon as they had left land.
Chase, in his jeans and a white sweater he had borrowed from Tanner, leaned against the side of the boat, taking in the view. Jack was fiddling with the anchor, wondering why he had been asked to do this in the middle of the night. Chase had not had time to fully explain the situation over the phone. Jack had tried to make sense of what he was saying, but not knowing Tanner very well, and therefore not being accustomed to his odd requests, Jack had struggled. In the end Chase had given up on trying to explain it logically and simply said to him – the kid’s got a broken heart man, he needs this. That had been enough for Jack; that he understood all too well.
Jack handed Chase a beer and leaned against the other side of the boat. Tanner sniffed out the presence of mind-numbing alcohol and pricked his ears up. ‘Where’s mine?’
Jack looked at Chase for some sign that this was okay. ‘Just give him one,’ Chase said, too tired to argue.
Jack took one out of the cooler bag and walked over to Tanner. ‘I’ll give you one – but only if you tell me what we’re doing out here.’
Tanner snatched the beer, and exclaimed, ‘Ahh! a session of manly truth! Happily Jack.’ He nestled himself cross-legged in the bottom of the boat. ‘I, like many men before me, am in the unfortunate position of being in love with a girl who either does not love me back – or worse, does love me back but is too stupid to realise it.’
Tanner paused for emphasis, before continuing, ‘You see, after courting the said girl for many months I finally got her to go out with me. We started seeing each other a lot. Then we slept together. And then I saw her kissing some other horrid, Robert Patterson look alike, a mere few days later. Mad with jealousy and not thinking straight, I immediately set my sights on poor Lola – a girl from uni who had been giving me the sexy eye for some time. I lied to her, manipulated her into thinking that I had true feelings for her, slept with her, then asked her to leave, but not before giving her the honest explanation that I was in love with someone else. So now two people are broken instead of just one, and I can’t bear to even look at myself, and things never work out the way you want them to, so I want to just fade away … and I’d like to see if you can top that for a tragic love story Jack.’ He drew in a deep breath and sighed.
Jack was speechless. He had never heard such brutal honesty from a man – a boy no less – in all his life. ‘Well, shit Tanner, that’s a tough one.’
He swigged his beer and thought about Tanner’s challenge; to come up with a more tragic love story. The thing was that he could … oh, how he could. He had lived it – he was living it. But he couldn’t tell the kid that.
Of course, Jack had no idea just how perceptive Tanner could be. Tanner looked into his eyes and saw the heartache that Jack had successfully masked from the rest of humankind for years upon years upon years. Tanner saw it all in an instant.
He cocked his head to one side with curiosity. ‘You know Jack, I’ve got a funny feeling that you just might be able to top my story after all. Come on! Let’s hear it then – this is a session of manly truth after all, is it not?’
He looked at Chase and then back at Jack, who both laughed with insecurity. Yet they felt strangely comfortable in the presence of one another.
Tanner was not going to leave it alone. ‘Come on Jack, out with it. Why did you not end up with my mother?’ He sipped his beer and waited for an answer.
Jack was extremely taken aback. He didn’t know how to respond to such insight, particularly from Audrey’s son. And the kid seemed so matter-of-fact about it too. Chase sensed Jack’s hesitancy and thought to himself, good luck mate! He’ll have it out of you in two seconds. And if he was honest, Chase was also interested to hear what Jack had to say. Maybe he would have some insight to give Hope when she got back. He had heard most of the story from her, but something about it didn’t sit quite right. And besides, they only knew Audrey’s side of it.
Jack mulled over the request. ‘Tanner, I don’t know if I should talk to you about that stuff, it’s all in the past and you’re Audrey’s son, I don’t want to disrespect your dad.’ It was true, he really didn’t.
Tanner was unperturbed. ‘That’s a cop out Jack. You’re not disrespecting my dad; as you say, it’s in the past, and furthermore the truth is the truth. And I have a feeling that your truth is beautiful. So what is it? What is your truth Jack?’
Jack gave a half-hearted chuckle. Wow, this kid was really something. But still, he was hesitant. Tanner also picked up on this quickly, and knew exactly how to get around it.
He looked down forlornly. ‘And besides Jack,’ he said, ‘I need to know that I’m not alone. Perhaps I can derive some small measure of comfort from knowing that other men have loved the way that I have loved, and then I can make some sense out of the inconvenient fact that sometimes that just doesn’t seem to matter.’
Jack was convinced. Okay, here it goes! He took a deep breath. Just before he began Tanner said, ‘Remember Jack, brutal honesty. How often to you get the chance to bond with two other blokes over tragic love tales in a boat in the middle of the night?’
They all laughed, taking in the extreme unlikelihood of what they were doing.
Jack considered his words for a moment, and then he just let it all come out, almost involuntarily. ‘It wasn’t something I had planned, or could have foreseen, but it only took me a few days to realise that I loved your mother very deeply. We were thrown together by circumstance I guess. Violet and Antonio were so busy before the wedding that Audrey and I found ourselves spending a lot of time together.
You know we spent three weeks together, and it was perfect. I fell for her each second I was with her. She was conflicted about going home, but in the end she knew she had to. I was going to go to Rome with her before she left. Then I got a call – my sister was very sick at the time, and she had taken a turn for the worse. I had to go back to America straight away. There was no choice. On the flight home I thought okay, I will be there for Anna and deal with the situation, and then I will work out what to do about Audrey. I couldn’t just leave it the way it was – it was unfinished, and I loved her too much. But when I got home my sister was much worse then I had expected.
I spent the next few months caring for her as she steadily declined, but, in the end, it wasn’t enough – she didn’t make it. When she was dying I told her about Audrey, and asked her what she thought I should do. She told me that love was the most important thing in the world and that I should fight for it with everything I had in me. She made me promise to go to Australia.
After the funeral I thought about what she had said. I lay in bed one night torturing myself over it. I remembered the time I had with Audrey. In that moment I decided to find her. I got straight on a plane, no luggage or clothes or anything … But I was too late.’
He stopped there, as the old emotions stirred within him. He was unsure whether he should go on. Tanner and Chase were both listening with baited breath.
‘You can’t stop there! What happened when you got here?!’ Tanner yelled, and Chase too found himself demanding that Jack go on.
Jack smiled through his emotions. ‘Well, the only address I had was Audrey’s parents – your grandparents Tanner. So I went there. It was pouring with rain and it was the middle of the night. I hadn’t even considered what I was going to say, I just knew I had to try. Bill came to the door with a sort of mixture of anger and concern. I guess he was pretty surprised – some strange American rocking up at his door, soaking wet, in the middle of the night! I told him that I needed to see Audrey. Of course he demanded an explanation. I told him that we had been together in Italy and that I loved her and needed to see her. I didn’t even think about the fact that that may not have been information he wanted to hear.’
Tanner was mad with excitement and anticipation. ‘What did he say?!’
Jack looked at Tanner, and then down at the floor of the boat, trying to stifle the pain of the memory. ‘He said that I was too late. He said that Audrey didn’t live there anymore – that she had moved in with her husband – and that they were expecting a child.’
Tanner sagged back into the side of the boat. Even though he knew it obviously hadn’t worked out for the two of them, through the story he found himself really rooting for Jack. Chase had as well, and both of them felt strangely disappointed.
Tanner sighed. ‘Shit man! That sucks balls.’
Chase was deep in thought. ‘But that child was yours Jack.’
‘Yes, she was mine – is mine. But I didn’t know that then.’ He looked up at the sky. ‘And, come to think of it … I think Bill figured out what was really going on pretty quickly, and he just wanted to get rid of me.’
‘So what did you do then?’ Chase asked.
‘Well obviously I got inordinately drunk. I wrote Audrey a letter. I wanted to tell her that I loved her, but that I understood she had a new life now. I needed her to know that I had come for her, and what she meant to me. I took the letter to Bill the next day and begged him to give it to her. I told him that I was leaving, and had no intention of ruining things for his daughter. He assured me that he would give her the letter … I’m not sure if he ever did.’
Tanner considered this. ‘I don’t think he did … Pop, you old bastard!’
Chase was even deeper in thought now. But he wasn’t quite sure how to handle what he had just found out. ‘Jack’, he said after some time, ‘I know that he didn’t. Hope has talked to me a lot about this Jack; she’s been desperately trying to piece her mum’s past together, and make sense of the situation. Audrey resisted her questions for a long time, but lately she’s finally opened up about it. She would have mentioned a letter.’
Chase instantly realised the gravity of what he had just found out. ‘In fact … I’m certain that she doesn’t know you came looking for her at all.’
Jack registered it too, as did Tanner. They stared at each other. It was Jack that spoke first. ‘No, she doesn’t know … And she mustn’t.’ He gave them a stern look. ‘You got that boys? She mustn’t find out. She has a good life, she’s happy with your father Tanner, I don’t want to come between them – you must believe that.’
Tanner pouted and sighed. ‘Okay, I get it. But I still think that you should tell her. The truth is the truth.’
The boys sat in the silence of heavy truth. After some time, Tanner piped up again. He gave Chase a coy look. ‘So that just leaves you Chase.’
Chase shook his head. ‘No Tanner, leave me out of it. I think we’ve had enough truth for one night!’ He held his hands up in defense.
Tanner twiddled with his stubby. ‘Well, I don’t know Chase … I don’t see why you should get out of it, when poor Jack and I, with our bleeding hearts, have poured our truths out into these waters.’ He appealed to Jack. ‘What do you think Jack?’
Jack smiled, and then assumed a fake serious look. ‘No, certainly he should not get out of it that easily.’ He looked at Chase and sipped his beer. ‘Think you can match my story?’
Bu it was Tanner that answered for Chase. ‘Oh, I think he could give it a good crack Jack.’
Jack raised his eyebrows in interest.
Tanner paused for effect before continuing. ‘You see Jack, unlike us – who have opened ourselves up to love and been burned, but known love nonetheless – poor Chase here finds himself in a different kind of torture.’ He knowingly smiled at Chase mischievously. Chase gave him a don’t you dare look. But, of course, it didn’t work.
‘You see Jack, young Chase here happens to be madly in love with your daughter. But, unlike us, has not yet had the balls to tell her how he feels, so he now finds himself in the aggravating position of waiting for her to get back from consoling her ex-boyfriend, hoping that they have not reunited and that he is not, in fact, too late.’
Chase closed his eyes and shook his head. ‘You’re a fucking bastard Tanner.’ He was half-laughing as he said it.
Jack was not surprised by this information. He had figured out that Chase had feelings for his daughter; he just wasn’t sure to what extent. ‘Hope, hey Chase?’ He considered the implications of been told this. ‘Does this mean that I should have the, if you hurt my daughter I’ll kill you, conversation?’ He laughed. ‘No, I’m just kidding, I’ll leave that to Ian … But seriously though, I would rather that you didn’t hurt her.’
Chase sighed and drew his hands down his face. ‘I have no intention of it mate. Besides, I don’t think that she feels the same way about me. She’s probably already back with Dean, and I am, as Tanner so delicately put it, too late.’
Tanner looked at him and shook his head. ‘You’re a dick Chase. You’d have to be an idiot not to realise that she does feel the same way, and you let her go anyway.’ He turned his attention to Jack. ‘Just like you Jack. Honestly boys, you both need to grow some balls. At least I went after my girl brazenly, open and ready to be wounded.’ He smiled smugly and sipped his beer.
Jack piped up. ‘Now hang on just a minute my young foolhardy chap! I object to the accusation that I possess no balls. As I’ve just relayed, I did go after my girl, but circumstance made me too late. There was no other way I could have played it.’ He pointed at Chase, and half-joking, said, ‘It’s Chase that lacks the balls.’
Tanner nodded. ‘Point taken and accepted.’
Tanner and Jack both diverted their attention to Chase.
Chase threw his shoulders up in exasperation and held his hands out. ‘Oh, come on guys, give me a break! It’s complicated. Hope and I have both been going through a lot of crap, we’ve each had our own stuff to deal with, and she’s going through a lot right now, so I just don’t think it would be right’ –
Tanner cut him off. ‘You hear that Jack? The old it’s complicated line – the downfall of all man. Do we think that’s an acceptable excuse?’
Jack furrowed his brow and shook his head, genuinely amused at the antics of the kid.
Tanner continued. ‘No, we don’t accept that. Try again.’
Chase sighed. He didn’t know what to do or say. Jack looked at him intently. It was obvious that this man really cared for his daughter. He saw the same look in Chase’s tortured eyes that he did in his own when he looked in the mirror. After a moment he assumed a more serious tone, and said,‘Chase, if you love her, then don’t let anything get in your way … Trust me, you will spend the rest of your days reliving it and wishing that you had done it differently.’
He looked down at his feet, then back to Chase. ‘It seems that Tanner and I are out of luck, although I still think Tanner may have a chance to rectify the situation. But you – you still have a chance.’
Jack might not have been able to be with the woman that he was in love with, but by god, he could see to it that his daughter ended up with the man she was meant to be with. This was clearly that man. ‘One chance mate. Once chance to live the life that I always wanted.’
‘Yeah Chase,’ Tanner added. ‘Don’t be such a selfish bastard. If you’re not going to do it for yourself, at least do it for the rest of us unfortunate souls who aren’t so lucky.’
The three of them laughed as silence nestled between them again. Each thought about love as they swayed softly on the water. Tanner thought about his increasingly dire need to apologise to Lola, and of his hasty judgement of Amy. Chase thought about what Hope was doing with Dean this very moment. He felt a surge of optimism. Yes, perhaps he should tell her. No … he must tell her.
Jack thought about Audrey and felt himself freshly break, as he did each day. Then he thought about his daughter, and this man standing before him who loved her. A feeling a peace and contentment entered his being, as he imagined Hope living a life of happiness with her soul mate. He was suddenly overwhelmingly grateful that Chase had called him, and that the three of them had had this night together. He felt that all three lives would be changed for the better because of it. How wonderful and unexpected. But then – the best things in life were always annoying unexpected.