Will let out a sigh of relief. When he rushed here from his last client, he hadn’t been clear what he was going to say. He’d never been toThe Pandanus Cafébefore and was impressed by how it was all arranged around a large pandanus tree. But it was the woman who emerged from the kitchen who drew his attention. Dressed in a white tee-shirt with a green pandanus logo and black pants, her dark hair caught up in a bun with only a few odd strands around her face, not hanging around her shoulders as it had been the previous evening, Cleo looked formidable. She was holding a plate of cakes and appeared to be in danger of letting it drop.
For a moment, he was tongue-tied, afraid she was about to lay into him verbally or throw the plate of cakes at him. But now, all was well. She’d agreed to continue to see him, to put aside the pretence and begin what could turn out to be a genuine relationship. The idea scared him, and if it scared him, it must scare her, too. But there was something, something he couldn’t identify, that made him eager to pursue the connection.
Will realised Cleo was waiting for him to speak. Now she’d agreed to continue seeing him, the next step was up to him. He hadn’t thought any further ahead, dreading her reaction. He cleared his throat. ‘Umm, how about… we could have dinner again.’
Cleo smiled faintly and looked down at her hands.
Will felt at a disadvantage. He reddened and pushed a hand through his hair, wishing he’d taken time to shower and change, but he’d wanted to catch her before she went home.
‘Dinner sounds good,’ she said. ‘Why don’t I cook for us? Friday, my place?’
Will exhaled again, glad Cleo had taken the initiative. He’d said dinner without thinking. He didn’t want to take her to the club again, to be the butt of Nate’s amusement and have Joy Taylor glaring at them. He hadn’t forgotten she was the reason they’d got together in the first place, but it now seemed irrelevant.
‘Sounds great,’ he said. ‘I’ll bring the wine.’
Cleo’s stomach was still churning when Hannah pushed open the door.
‘It’s me, Mum,’ she called, coming straight through to the kitchen. ‘Wow, something smells good.’ She sniffed appreciatively.
‘Just roasting some chicken legs, honey.’ Cleo held up her face for Hannah’s kiss, her hands full of peelings from the vegetables which were to accompany their meal. ‘Let me get rid of these and pour you a glass of wine.’
‘I’ll do it. Red or white?’ She pulled a couple of glasses from the cupboard and placed them on the kitchen surface.
‘Red, I think.’ Cleo disposed of the peelings, put the vegetables on to cook and dried her hands.
‘How was your week?’ she asked, when they were settled in the sunroom with their wine, having left the dinner to cook. The dying sun was sending a stream of light across the tiled floor of Cleo’s favourite room, and that, combined with her daughter’s presence, was helping calm her nerves which had been frazzled since Will left the café.
‘Amazing. It’s so different now I have my own class, Mum. I knew I liked teaching, but never realised how much, and how rewarding it can be. Do you know, some of the little girls follow me around on playground duty and want to hold my hand. It’s so cute.’
‘I’m so glad, Han. It’s important to love what you do.’
‘But what about you, Mum? Owen says you and his dad…’ She grinned. ‘Is it true?’ Without waiting for a reply, she continued, ‘I’d love you to find someone. I know you’ve been lonely since Dad died, and especially since I moved out. I want you to know I’m perfectly okay with it. Owen is, too,’ she added with another wicked grin. ‘It would be so cool.’
Cleo was too stunned to reply. She took a gulp of wine to cover her surprise. It was one thing for her and Will to want Joy Taylor to think they were a couple, for them to be seen at the surf club and the gallery opening. But it was quite another for Hannah and Owen to give them their blessing.
‘We’re not…’ Cleo began, but it was to no avail.
‘Nate said you were at the surf club together, and you were at the gallery opening with his mum and Martin. I did wonder when you were both round at our place, but you seemed to get so uptight at the suggestion of surf lessons. What was that about?’
‘I had a bad experience once.’ Cleo tried to brush it off.
‘When? Did you and Dad go surfing… before I was born? I don’t remember…’ She screwed up her face.
‘Not with your dad, no. Though I believe he did surf a lot in California, before he came to Australia.’
Cleo had a flashback to Byron Bay, to the day she tried so hard to forget, the day when she’d run gaily into the surf only to be almost drowned when a couple of surfers decided to come straight towards her. Until then, she’d been considering taking lessons. After all, wasn’t surfing what living by the beach was all about? But the experience had cured her of that ambition.
She still loved the beach and the ocean, but these days took care to stay away from any sign of high waves – or surfers with their boards. ‘It was a long time ago.’ Cleo didn’t want to go into detail with Hannah. In retrospect, she may have overreacted, but the feeling of fear had stayed with her, along with a distrust of the surfing fraternity.
So, what was she doing starting a relationship with a man who had not only been a champion surfer but also ran a surf school? Was she mad?
‘But youareseeing Owen’s dad?’
‘We’ve agreed to spend time together, to get to know each other better. He’s coming to dinner tomorrow night.’ As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Cleo wished she could take them back.