‘Your dad must be hoping you’ll made the trifecta,’ Martin said. ‘What’s he up to, today?’
There was a sudden silence, during which Cleo started to clear away the plates. Will should have been here. She knew he should, but… She hurried inside where she placed the plates in the sink, gripped the edge of it with both hands and bowed her head, trying to stop herself from crying. It was crazy. It had been her decision. So why did she feel this sense of loss?
By the time she returned to join the others, carrying the chocolate cake, Cleo had dried her eyes and managed to put a smile on her face.
‘Wow!’ Bev said, when she saw the rich concoction. ‘Ruby will have to look to her laurels.’
‘Not really,’ Cleo said. ‘I can follow a recipe, but I’ll never be up to Ruby’s standard. I wouldn’t even try.’
‘Well, this looks wonderful,’ Ailsa said, as Cleo cut large wedges for everyone.
The remainder of the afternoon passed swiftly, the younger members of the group drifting off to find out if anywhere in town was open – Cleo was glad to see Kerri-Ann join them – while the others enjoyed a second cup of coffee before Ailsa and Martin took their leave.
‘Will you be all right?’ Bev asked, when the two were alone. ‘Tomorrow…’
‘I know. The surf carnival. It’ll be a busy day. I’ll be fine.’ If she said it often enough, maybe she’d believe it herself. It would be good to be busy, less time to think, to picture Will organising the event. It was more important than ever for him this year. Not only was there the possibility of Owen taking out the championship for the third time, to become only the second local surfer to do it, it was Will’s first year as chair of the organising committee.
But when Bev left, Cleo collapsed onto the sofa. Her head was throbbing. Perhaps she’d drunk too much wine.
Her phone pinged with a text.
It was from Will, wishing her a happy Easter.
Cleo hugged the phone to her chest and closed her eyes, tears seeping from them to slide down her cheeks.
Will was awake at dawn ready for the big day. He wished he could share it with Cleo, but he respected her decision. Joy Taylor was an unknown quantity, and it made sense to avoid arousing her anger any more than necessary.
Owen had told him about the barbecue Cleo was organising the previous day, and he’d spent his own day in making final preparations for the carnival in an attempt to forget what might have been. While he couldn’t forgive Joy Taylor for her behaviour, he did wonder if there was some way in which he’d encouraged her to think there might be a future for them together. But, although he racked his brain, he couldn’t come up with any encouragement he’d given the woman. It was all a figment of her overactive imagination.
This morning, there was no time for an early surf. He ate a heartier breakfast than he usually made for himself, aware he might not have time for lunch. Although he would have a band of able helpers, for the first time he was responsible for ensuring everything went well.
After showering, Will dressed in his best board shorts and a new white tee-shirt with the logo,Bay Surf School, emblazoned on it in deep blue. Then he was ready to go. He decided to take the van. Although there would be no board hire today, the logo on the van, matching the one on his tee-shirt, was good advertising, and he never missed the opportunity to promote his business. It was why he’d been so successful over the years.
When Will arrived at the beach, he parked a little away from his usual spot and made his way to where competitors were already lining up ready for what was, for many of them, the most important day of the year.
‘All set?’ he asked Owen, who was standing with a group of other competitors.
‘All good, Dad.’ But the boy looked more nervous than usual.
‘You’ll be fine. Just do your best.’
Then Martin appeared with a couple of other committee members, and Will was caught up in the business of the day.
As Will had expected, he had no time to relax, as heat after heat was completed. He was in his element; the only thing he enjoyed more than competing himself was to see these fit young bodies battle it out in the surf, each hoping to be this year’s champion.
This year, the competition was fierce, but Will was thrilled to see Owen win heat after heat to finally take out the championship yet again. There was a loud uproar from the crowd when the result was announced, and Will felt a surge of pride. His son had done it. Owen had matched Ted Crawford’s feat of becoming champion for three years running. He’d equalled the achievement of the man who was honoured on a mural in the surf club. While he wondered how the club would choose to mark Owen’s achievement, he went across to congratulate his son.
‘Well done, Owen,’ he said, giving the dripping young man a hug. ‘Your mum would have been so proud.’
‘Thanks, Dad. She would, wouldn’t she? I couldn’t have done it without you.’
Will watched proudly as Owen was carried shoulder-high by his peers to a blast of loud cheers. It was a moment he wanted to share. He glanced around to see if he could detect Cleo in the crowd. The café would be closed by now. Maybe she’d have dropped by. But the crowd was too dense.
It had been a long day and, feeling exhausted and in need of a beer and something to eat, Will was about to check in with Martin and Ted, to wind up the event, when he heard a cry.