Authors: Karly Lane
First published in 2011
Karly Lane 2011
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For my grandparents May and Ray Lane, Keith and Eliza Hunter
Heat waves shimmered in the distance and Kate thanked God, yet again, for airconditioning. It seemed like the temperature had risen five degrees since they'd left the city.
She hummed along to a country song on the radio, a smile touching her lips as she caught sight of Liam in the rear-view mirror. He was bent over a Gameboy, a scowl of fierce concentration etched on his face. Her smile faded slightly as she took in the hunched bundle of animosity that was her fourteen-year-old daughter, Georgia. Tiny earphones blocked out the sound of everything around her, including the âmother from hell who had managed to ruin her entire life'.
With a sigh, Kate focused her eyes back on the road and shifted her thoughts to the tasks that lay ahead.
Not for the first time in the last three months, tiny niggling doubt scratched at Kate's insides, so she switched her thoughts to the positives instead. Her decision to move two childrenâunder protestâto the middle of nowhere was a risk, but given her circumstances, there was very little choice.
âMum, I'm hungry,' Liam announced yet again.
Kate reached into the esky she'd packed last night with sandwiches and drinks.
He eyed her offering with a healthy dose of contempt. âI'm sick of sandwiches, Mum.'
Kate took a deep breath. âJust eat the sandwich and I promise that once we get to Widgerry I won't feed you another slice of bread for the rest of the month.' She reached back to offer a sandwich to Georgia, keeping her eyes fixed on the road ahead. When she received no response, Kate yelled louder and nudged Georgia's knee. âTurn that music down.'
âIt's not even loud.'
âIf you can't hear me calling you inside the car, it's too loud.'
Kate gripped the steering wheel tighter with one hand, the other still held out behind her. âJust take the sandwich, Georgia.' She caught sight of her daughter's screwed-up grimace in the rear-view mirror, but chose to ignore it, focusing instead on the endless russet-brown plains spreading before them.
It had been an atrocious year, one Kate would rather erase from memory. Having their rented flat sold from under them by the landlord and trying to find a new place to live, while fighting to hold her family together, would have been hard enough. But dealing with an ex-husband determined to drag her down the minute she made any headway had tested her usual level-headed method of dealing with problems. Her grandfather's bequest had been a life raft thrown to her moments before she went under.
The cloud of uncertainty surrounding her return to Widgerry stirred up an almost queasy feeling inside her, and again Kate forced her thoughts back to more pressing thingsâlike her plans for the next few days. She was determined to make this move a positive one right from the start.
As the day dragged on, they played I Spy and counted signposts. When they ran out of those, they counted road kill, until even Liam lost enthusiasm, and fell asleep just to escape the monotony.
It was almost six when the flat empty fields stretching either side of the bitumen gradually began to show signs of civilisation. A large billboard advertised the Drop Inn as
motel to stay in when you visited Widgerry; another sign with pictures of frosty glasses of amber-coloured beer attempted to lure the weary traveller into stopping for a drink at the local pub. The population sign, hanging a little wonky, boasted Widgerry's population at eleven hundred and forty-seven.
Kate gave a small scoff. Bit of false advertising on the council's behalf. Widgerry consisted of a modest main street and thirty houses at the most. The inflated population was made up by including the surrounding properties that extended into one of the largest shires in the state.
The late afternoon sunshine softened the edges of the small oasis that sprang up out of the dry, whiskey-coloured landscape around it.
They drove down the deserted main street, passing a rural supply store, butcher and co-op, and a small department-style store, all of which were already shut for the night. There was a takeaway shop and small grocery store further along, though, both with their doors open.
Part of her felt like a teenager again. Passing the cafÃ© where she and Jenny, her best friend, would escape to whenever they were in town, she remembered skipping piano lessons after school just so she could hang out with the town kids and escape the isolation of North Star for a few hours. Looking back now, she felt a surge of guilt. She'd barely given a moment's consideration to the fact that her grandmother had paid a hefty sum for those lessons she'd so casually ditched.
Kate wondered what had happened to Jenny. She'd probably moved on years ago. Not many kids stuck around after high school unless they married a local farmer. Still, once they were all settled, she might make some enquiries and see if she could track down her old friend.
As she drove further down the main street, with its original bull-nosed verandahs shading old-fashioned store fronts, Kate half expected to see her grandmother step out of the fabric shop. She felt an unexpected ache in her chest at the thought of her lovely gran no longer being around.
The Drop Inn appeared at the far end of the main street, across the road from the only pub. It was funny how this place had always seemed so exotic to her growing up.
âLook, kids, there's a pool. We'll grab the key and have a swim before dinner.'
Liam rewarded her with a big smile but Georgia just rolled her eyes.
When Kate finally unlocked the door to their motel room she was dying to slump down onto one of the beds for a moment, but Liam raced in to change into his swimmers.
âCome on, Georgie, get into your swimmers and come and cool off. It'll be nice,' she said, but Georgia brushed past and flopped down on one of the single beds, arms crossed defiantly.
Kate pursed her lips and ran her hands through her brown hair. She was tired, hot and emotional and it was all she could do not to give in and have a good cry. But she had two tired, cranky and very confused kids to worry about, and a mile-long list of things to do.
The cement, still hot from the sweltering heat of the day, felt wonderful beneath her bare feet as she headed towards the pool. Bright paint and terracotta pots went a small way towards cheering up the pool area, though they failed to hide the fact that the little motel was long past its prime.
Watching Liam playing around in the water brought a weary smile to her face as she lowered herself into the pool. For the first time in a long while his little face was beaming with joy.
Sinking beneath the surface, Kate let out a sigh as the cool water closed around her, washing away the tension of all those endless hours spent driving. It was wonderful to have finally arrived, although of course they weren't exactly
The property her grandfather had left her was a few kilometres out of town, and she had to pick up the house key and sign the last of the paperwork at the solicitors before they could finally move in. So splashing outâliterallyâon a few nights in a motel was not only a treat but also a necessity.
Widgerry. Kate let out a long sigh. It felt almost surreal to be back. So many memories jockeyed for position inside her head. It was strange seeing the town through adult eyes, to be here now with children of her own. Had it really been that long since she'd left this place? It seemed like only yesterday she'd been Georgia's age. The thought sobered her; there was very little about her teenage years that she wanted to remember, except maybe Jenny.
A sad smile touched her lips. Would Jenny remember her after all this time? And if she did, would she forgive her for leaving the way she had?
The sun had all but set and it was growing dark when Kate finally summoned the strength to climb out of the pool. With hands like prunes, she dragged Liam from the water; the two of them laughed as they compared wrinkly skin. She'd just wrapped herself in a large beach towel when a white four-wheel drive pulled up in the car park, imposing red and blue lights bolted to its roof. Her heart plummeted as she caught a glimpse of her daughter slumped over in the back of the vehicle.
Kate hurried over and pulled at the gate, cursing the latch that refused to open. Eventually she stood back and allowed the police officer to release the lock for her.
âThÂ .Â .Â .Â thank you, officer,' she stammered, her eyes searching his in alarm. What on earth was her daughter doing in his car?
âI'm Senior Sergeant John Cafferty, the local constabulary around these parts. I take it this charming young lady belongs to you?' His voice was deep and held a hint of sarcasm.
Kate stared at Georgia's sullen face through the window. âShe was in the roomÂ .Â .Â .Â Oh God, what has she done? Is she okay?'
âShe's fine and she isn't in troubleÂ .Â .Â .Â yet. I saw her heading into the bottle shop up the road.'
Kate's face paled.
The police officer held up his hand. âIt's okay, she said she was lost and just wanted directions.' There was a slight twinkle in his eyeâclearly he hadn't bought the story either.
âWe just arrivedÂ .Â .Â .Â We've moved here from Sydney,' Kate said, the knot in her stomach easing as she realised her daughter wasn't about to be arrested.
âSo I understand,' he replied dryly. No doubt Georgia had given him her colourful views on that one.
âI thought she was in our room resting.' Kate's mind was racing. What was she going to have to do, tie Georgia up? They'd been in town barely two hours and already Georgia was being picked up by the police!
âNo harm done. I just wanted to make sure she got home okay,' the policeman said with a shrug and opened the door to let his surly passenger out of the car.
âGeorgia, thank the policeman,' Kate hissed, mortified at having to instruct her daughter to use basic manners in front of a stranger.
âThanks,' Georgia snarled and stomped into the motel room without another word.
Kate watched her daughter's retreat bleakly. âShe's not handling our move very well. It's been a bad few months. I'm hoping that coming here might make her a little moreÂ .Â .Â .'
âI'd settle for civil,' said Kate, forcing a smile.
âAh well, teenagers.' He shrugged as though that explained it all.
âThank you for bringing her home. We'll be moving out of town soonâI've just inherited my grandfather'sÂ propertyâso you shouldn't have to worry about GeorgiaÂ .Â .Â .Â getting lost again.'
âYou're going to be living at Henry Campbell's place?' he asked, appearing surprised.
âYes, I'm his granddaughter.' In a place this small it obviously wasn't too hard to figure out which property she'd been talking about.
He eyed her with renewed interest and Kate shifted on the spot uncomfortably. âIs there a problem?'
âNo, I'm just surprised that you're planning on moving inâeveryone figured the new owner would sell. The place is in pretty bad shape. You might want to stay in town a little longer once you've taken a look at it.'