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‘I guess we might see you on the weekend then,’ Martin said to Will. ‘Ailsa and I have been roped in to help Nate, and I guess you’ll be helping this one?’

‘I expect so. Be interesting to see their new place.’

Owen shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ‘It’s pretty rundown, Dad.’

‘Not how Nate described it,’ Martin chuckled. ‘He said it was one step up from the old caravan where he’s been living for the past few months – and that was one step up from the backpackers where he stayed when he first came to the coast.’

It wasn’t long before they all rose to leave. Owen headed off to his workshop, leaving Will to return to his van which was parked on the beach. He hadn’t booked any classes today but knew there would probably be a few who wanted to hire surfboards and he didn’t want to disappoint them. Before closing up the day before, he’d left a notice to say he’d be gone all morning, but it was now two o’clock. Time to go to work.

Just as he reached the beach, his phone vibrated in his pocket. Taking it out, he saw it was another text from the woman who was pursuing him.

Hi, Will. Missed you this morning. Where were you? Joy xx

Damn! He still hadn’t figured out a way to deal with her.


It was the first time Cleo had taken a Sunday morning off, but Hannah had asked for her help with the move, and she was keen to see what the house her daughter described as ‘old but quaint’ was really like. She also wanted to meet Hannah’s new housemates. She’d have preferred to meet them before now but had given in to her daughter’s pleas to be considered old enough to make her own decisions about who she would share with, and Bev had vouched for both boys.

Before leaving the café the day before, she’d prepared as much as she could and planned to be back before the lunchtime rush. It was lucky she had good staff who were willing to step in.

‘I think that’s the last lot.’ Hannah dumped one more box into the boot of Cleo’s car and stood back, strands of her blonde hair sticking to her forehead. It was a hot morning and Cleo was perspiring too as she surveyed the loaded vehicle. Where had it all come from?

‘Are you sure you have everything you’re going to need?’ she asked, sarcastically.

Hannah thought for a moment. ‘I think so, Mum, but if not, I can always pop back, can’t I?’ She grinned, making Cleo want to hug her tightly and plead with her to change her mind and stay.

Hannah had left home before. She’d gone to university, stayed in one of the halls of residence, been gone for three years. But this was different. This was Hannah choosing to leave home, to share with two boys who were strangers to Cleo, to leave Cleo alone in the home she’d made for them in Bellbird Bay. She wouldn’t be coming back home for holidays. The only plus was she wouldn’t be far away.

From the outside, the house Hannah and the boys had chosen to rent looked not unlike many others in the neighbourhood. It was an old weatherboard place which had seen better days but appeared to have had a recent coat of paint and it did, as Hannah said, look quaint with its bow windows and arched covering over the doorway. The front yard was a mess with overgrown grass and cracked pavers bordering the remnants of what had no doubt once been a flourishing garden.

‘We’ll soon fix it all up, Mum,’ Hannah said, seeing the direction of her mother’s gaze. ‘It’ll be fun. Isn’t it great,’ Hannah enthused, when they got out of the car.

Great was possibly an exaggeration, but Cleo could see how excited her daughter was with her first step to independence. Not wanting to dent her enthusiasm, she agreed.

Inside was a flurry of activity. Cleo recognised Ailsa McNeil who was a frequent visitor to the café, and Martin Cooper, Bev’s brother. The tall dark-haired guy must be Ailsa’s son.

‘Hello, Cleo. Have you met Nate?’ Ailsa asked, confirming this.

‘Hi, Ailsa. Good to meet you, Nate,’ she said to the smiling young man, and gazed around the now crowded kitchen.

The man standing by the kitchen bench was wearing a pair of old board shorts, a Hawaiian shirt open to the waist and his feet were bare. He looked as if he hadn’t a care in the world. His faded blond hair was tied back in an untidy ponytail and although his skin was tanned, lined and ravaged by the sun, he couldn’t be much older than she was. Was this Will Rankin, father of Hannah’s other housemate?

Cleo immediately felt a surge of something she couldn’t identify. Her stomach churned. With his sun-bleached hair and lazy grin, he reminded her of Stan, of how her husband had been so laid back, of his carefree attitude to life. Unable to bear life without him in a place which held so many happy memories, she had come to Bellbird Bay to start her life over and didn’t want this reminder of what she’d lost.

‘You must be Hannah’s mum,’ he said, moving towards her, hand outstretched. ‘We haven’t met, but my son introduced me to your lovely daughter the other week at the surf club. I’m Will Rankin, and Owen’s around here somewhere.’ He glanced around as if expecting the boy to suddenly appear.

‘Cleo Johansen,’ she said, taking the outstretched hand and wondering if the son was like his father, if Hannah was moving in with a couple of hippies, if her daughter was making a huge mistake, one she’d come to regret. Though Nate McNeil didn’t look too bad, apart from his lanky build and longish hair. And Ailsa and Martin were respectable. But she didn’t know about Will. She stifled the temptation to leave, to go home and pretend they’d never met.

He seemed to hold her hand for just a moment too long before releasing it. Flustered, Cleo looked down at her feet.

‘Want to see my room before we get everything in, Mum?’ Hannah asked to Cleo’s relief, and she allowed her daughter to lead her off along the narrow hallway to a tiny bedroom a fraction of the size of the one she had at home.She was leaving her comfortable bedroom in their modern home for this?

‘It’s very nice, Han, but are you sure there’ll be room for everything?’ Cleo looked at the small single bed pushed against one wall, the old-fashioned wooden wardrobe with the speckled mirror, the small chest of drawers, the wobbly bedside table. It was like looking back in time. Cleo remembered her first room at Byron Bay. She had been younger than Hannah was now, and the room hadn’t been very much different. But it had been a room at the back of someone’s house, not one in a house she was sharing with friends.

‘Isn’t it great?’ Hannah asked again, oblivious of Cleo’s thoughts. ‘Wait till I have my bedspread and cushions and put a few pictures on the wall. I can probably fit in the small bookcase and desk from my room at home, too. It’ll feel like home in no time.’

Cleo suppressed a sigh. She didn’t want to dent Hannah’s optimism but felt a pang at the prospect of her denuding her bedroom back home to make this one into her new home.

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