Absolution
Author:Amanda Dick

Too early to make phone calls to invite everyone over later, she had ended up in her studio, staring at the blank canvas she had placed there a few days before. She stared at it for a long time, the events of the past few weeks playing on her mind. Finally, she picked up a brush and began to paint.

 

Slowly at first, almost shyly, she waited for the ideas to stop swirling around in her head and solidify into something she could use. Then she began to work in earnest. The more she painted, the more the ideas came, until by the time she eventually put down the brush a couple of hours later, the wisps of an idea had blossomed into a fully-fledged plan. Satisfied with her efforts, she smiled at the canvas, forcing herself to take a break in order to gain some perspective. She already looked forward to coming back later to work on it.

 

She showered, changed and made the phone calls over coffee, filling everyone in on the plan. Maggie and Jane arrived mid-afternoon and by the time Callum and Jack arrived, the majority of the food was already prepared. She directed Callum to clean the grill, bribing him with a beer, and Maggie and Jane set about preparing the table outdoors for the barbeque.

 

Jack came up behind her while she was at the kitchen sink and swept her hair aside, kissing her neck.

 

“You smell good,” he murmured.

 

She smiled, shying away from him as she struggled to concentrate. “It’s not me, it’s the food.”

 

His fingers lightly traced the line of her neck down to her shoulders, sending sparks of electricity shooting through her.

 

“Nope,” he whispered, nuzzling her again. “Definitely you.”

 

She wriggled away from him again, holding onto the counter to stop herself from toppling sideways.

 

“I can’t concentrate if you’re going to keep doing that,” she scolded, only half joking.

 

He backed away, hands in the air, smiling. “Okay, okay. Sorry.”

 

He moved next to her instead, putting his bottle of beer down on the counter and turning to lean against it, facing her. Watching him curiously, wondering what had come over him suddenly, he indicated the tiny heart pendant she wore and smiled.

 

“I’ve missed it,” she said.

 

He reached up to run his fingertips over the heart at the hollow of her neck, his touch feather-light against her skin. She shivered with anticipation as his eyes rose to meet hers. As he leaned closer, she held her breath until his lips were on hers. Everything else faded – the room, the house, the world – all of it, gone. Nothing mattered anymore.

 

“For Christ’s sake, will you two get a room?” Callum groused, stomping into the kitchen and throwing a filthy rag into the sink. Ignoring her blushing silence, he continued. “Grill’s clean. Where’s the meat?”

 

She cleared her throat, willing her cheeks to return to their natural colour as she indicated the fridge with a nod of her head. “In there.”

 

“Need a hand?” Jack offered, picking up his beer from the counter again and throwing her a crooked smile.

 

“Yeah, that’d be good. We’ll take it in turns. First, I’ll flip the meat, sup on my beer and talk bullshit, then we’ll swap. Sound like a plan?”

 

“Works for me.”

 

Jack followed Callum out the door into the backyard. Ally smiled, watching them through the window. They seemed closer, these past few weeks. Callum was more tolerant, Jack had begun sharing snippets of his recent past. It was a show of trust, from both of them, and she could see the bond of friendship between them growing stronger because of it.

 

Something they all seemed to realise was that things had changed forever, between all of them. Things could never go back to being like they were, but there was still common ground, and a new normal could be found. Different didn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It was a slow process, and she didn’t expect miracles, but she could see that the bridges weren’t all burnt beyond repair – hers and Jack’s included.

 

They sat around drinking and eating for most of the afternoon, the vibe relaxed. They moved from outdoors to indoors once the temperature dropped, sitting around in the living room, reminiscing.

 

Eventually, the number of yawns outweighed the number of stories. By mid-evening, Maggie started talking about heading home, and Jane and Callum agreed to catch a lift with her, leaving Jack to help Ally clean up. It was a pleasant way to spend the evening, and she was looking forward to spending some time alone with Jack. He seemed especially attentive tonight, and she was relishing it.

 

She put on some music while Jack took a bathroom break. Standing there, waiting for the music to fill the room, she smiled to herself as the warm glow of the evening washed over her. She was tired, but there was also a fair measure of anticipation fuelling her too. She wished every day could be like this one.

 

“Do you need another drink while I’m up?” Jack called out from the kitchen.

 

She had been nursing a warm beer for the past couple of hours. “Sure, why not.”

 

Jack came through to the living room with two bottles, putting them on the coffee table behind her.