Author:Amanda Dick

She looked more embarrassed than I did.

“I know you’re busy,” Bridget said, making her way back over to the table with a takeaway coffee and a paper bag. “I didn’t mean to drop you in it. Maybe you could think about it, and let Maia know at the party tomorrow night?”

I smiled graciously, as if we hadn’t had this conversation only moments ago.

“Coffee for you, chocolate éclair for the old man,” she said. “I’ve put an extra one in there, too – it’s for you, not for him, so make sure you stake your claim. You know what he’s like.”

She set the coffee and paper bag down in front of me.

“The chocolate éclair’s look lovely,” Maia said, indicating the brown bag. “I’ll have to try them. I had a chocolate and raspberry muffin earlier – to die for.”

“Bridget’s a great cook, and she makes a mean coffee,” I said, grateful for the subject change, snatching at the small-talk like a life preserver in an unforgiving sea. “If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in the right place, too.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Oh, I do. I can see myself eating my way through the menu while I’m here, that’s for sure.”

“I make no bones about the fact that I think chocolate can pretty much cure most things,” Bridget said, blushing slightly at the compliment. “One of the great things about being in business for yourself, isn’t it love? Being able to do what you like, without being answerable to anyone?”

“Oh? What is it you do?”

I suddenly felt inadequate, as I always did when talking about how I spent my days. Pushing around a lawn mower, pulling weeds, digging flower beds – hardly the dream career everyone longs for.

“I mow lawns.”

“Ha!” Bridget scoffed, turning to Maia. “He’s being modest. He’s probably the most under-paid landscape gardener you’ll ever meet. He does a beautiful job – lawns, weeds, planting, planning – the whole lot. If it wasn’t for Heath, there’d be a lot of ragged-looking holiday homes around here.”

Compliments were something I never knew what to do with, but I did my best to take it like a man. As if laughing at me, my body rebelled and I could feel the back of my neck heating up again. Bridget pimped me out like a pro, but the truth was much less glamorous.

“Hardly,” I mumbled, reaching for my coffee and the bag of cakes. I needed to get out of there before I lost it completely. “Anyway, it’s been really nice meeting you, but I have to go. I have a cantankerous seventy-nine year old waiting for his chocolate éclair. If I’m late, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Maia smiled. “Sounds intriguing. I better not hold you up.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” I kissed Bridget on the cheek then turned to Maia. “Nice to meet you. Sounds like I’ll see you tomorrow night, at my brother’s party.”

“See you then,” she smiled.

I PULLED UP OUTSIDE Henry’s house, grabbing my coffee and the éclairs from the centre console of the truck. I’d have to tell Henry about Maia. If the two met, I didn’t want the old man to have a stroke, and the possibility was a very real one, going by my own reaction.

Even ten minutes after I’d left the café, my heart was still racing. I didn’t know what the hell to think. First there was hope, then confusion, then disappointment. Now – and this really shook me – curiosity. Who was she, and what the hell had just happened? I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. Whatever it was, it was discomforting. I thought I had things under control, more or less. Apparently, I was wrong.

This was a shitty time to meet someone, especially someone who looked like she did. I was scared to move on, and afraid of what would happen to me if I couldn’t look back. So where did that leave me? Stuck in the middle, as usual. In limbo, just like I had been for the past five years. It felt like home. I’d mentally moved in, rearranged the furniture to my liking, redirected my mail and sat down to wait. But wait for what? Or, who?

My bloody head hurt just thinking about it.

I walked up the driveway, the gravel crunching beneath my feet, the sun beating down on the top of my head. Glancing up at the small, pale blue weatherboard cottage, I spied Henry perched on the roof. What in the hell was the old bugger up to now? His attention was so captivated by whatever it was he was doing, he didn’t even see me, and suddenly I forgot all about Maia and what had happened at the café.

Henry was a legend. The whole town knew him. He’d lived here his whole life, married Emily’s grandmother here, raised Bridget and her brother, owned a business and retired here. Part of me harboured a deep-seated hero-worship of him, and the other part of me sometimes felt like I was charged with babysitting a head-strong five-year-old. The old man had no idea the amount of mini-strokes he had caused everyone in recent years, due mainly to his fierce independent streak. Should I tell Bridget about this latest stunt? Probably best to find out what was going on first. I stopped still and stared up at the roof.

“Henry! What the hell are you doing?”

I startled him, but he managed to keep his balance. “Jesus, boy! What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?”

“Give you a heart-attack? That’s bloody rich! What’re you doing up there?”

“Checking the hot water cylinder overflow valve.”

“I could’ve done that for you, y’know.”

“I’m not in the grave yet,” Henry grumbled, his full head of steel-grey hair glinting in the sun.

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