Another of the councillors rose to speak. ‘It has been a difficult decision,’ he said, peering over a pair of oversized glasses. ‘The committee has thought long and hard about this, aided by several papers both for and against the proposal to build an eco resort at Dolphin Beach.’ He paused, and someone in the audience called, ‘Get on with it.’
The man glared at the speaker before continuing. ‘As I said, it was a difficult decision.’ He took a deep breath. ‘However, while advice from the police regarding the underhand tactics by representatives of the developers may have influenced our decision, the undoubted risk to the environment of a herd of endangered dugongs in the waters of the bay couldn’t be ignored. Hence, despite the ongoing attempts to influence the committee by members of the business and tourism community…’ he glanced up to meet the eyes of several in the audience, ‘…it has been decided to reject the proposal. No further discussion will be entered into, and no appeals considered.’
There was an uproar in the room – supporters of the development booing, while those in Will’s camp were demonstrating their approval with loud applause and cheers.
‘Well done, mate.’ Martin clapped Will on the shoulder.
Will grinned. ‘I couldn’t have done it on my own,’ he said, as Owen and his housemates surrounded him with their congratulations, Kerri-Ann following hesitantly. ‘It’s thanks to you, too,’ he said to her, giving her a hug.
But, while accepting all the congratulations, including those from others in the crowd, Will’s eyes were searching for the one person who mattered to him. Where was Cleo? She’d been at the meeting. He’d seen her sitting there with Bev. But she seemed to have disappeared. There was no sign of Bev, either.
‘Coming to the club for a drink to celebrate?’ Martin asked, when most of the crowd had drifted off, leaving him with Martin and Ailsa. ‘Some of the others have already gone there. You’re a local hero, mate.’
‘No thanks, Coop. I think you can call off your guard duty now the decision is made. I’m going home. It’s been a rough week.’
‘Are you sure, mate?’
But Will had no intention of going home. He had more important business to take care of, if he hadn’t ruined things for ever.
Cleo was conflicted as she fitted the key into her door. While thrilled Will had won, and the development proposal had been rejected, she couldn’t help wishing things between them could be different. She’d seen the people crowding around Will outside the council chambers, slapping his shoulders, hugging him, and offering their congratulations, and wished she could be part of it. But he’d made it very clear he wanted nothing more to do with her.
She’d hoped, with Joy Taylor out of the picture, he might have had a change of heart, but had heard nothing from him. Maybe it was just as well. If his feelings were such that they could turn off so quickly, it was better she find out now rather than later when she was more invested in the relationship.
Bev had suggested they join the others who were heading in the direction of the surf club. But the last thing Cleo wanted, was to be in the same room as Will and have him ignore her, so she’d declined. She’d catch up with Hannah and Kerri-Ann tomorrow. Kerri-Ann must be pleased, too. She’d played an important role. Cleo was glad now she hadn’t warned the girl about the risk she ran from the men who had set fire to Will’s van. Surely all that was behind them now, and they could get on with their lives as if it had never happened?
But it had, and it had changed Cleo’s vision of a future with Will. Now she was alone, she allowed the tears to fall, letting them stream unhindered down her cheeks, as she reached into the fridge for the bottle of white wine with which she intended to drown her sorrows. She had gone as far as to take a glass from the cupboard and unscrew the cap from the bottle when she heard someone knocking at the door.
Sure it was Bev, come to persuade her to go to the surf club, she put down the bottle and glass and went to the door, ready to tell her friend to leave her alone.
But, when she opened the door, the words dried up on her lips. Standing there, a penitent expression on his face, was Will.
‘Can I come in? We need to talk.’
Silently, Cleo led him into the kitchen. ‘I was about to have a glass of wine. Join me?’ She had no idea where the words had come from. She should be berating him, or congratulating him, not offering him a glass of wine.
Will didn’t appear to think it odd. ‘Thanks, Cleo,’ he said, taking a seat on one of the high stools by the bench.
Her hand shaking, Cleo poured two glasses of wine, taking a large gulp out of one before carefully replacing the bottle in the fridge and sliding the other glass across to Will, while keeping the kitchen bench between them.
Why was he here? He wanted to talk? What more did they have to say to each other?
Will took a sip of wine. He twisted the stem of the glass with his fingers, then raised his eyes to meet hers. ‘I’m sorry, Cleo. I’ve been stupid. I’ve missed you.’
Cleo felt her heart melt. The hard rock that had sat there for the past week began to dissolve. This is what she wanted to hear. But a tiny part of her was still dubious. Did he mean it? It all seemed too sudden. But what was there to gain for him to come here like this if he was pretending?
‘Can you forgive me?’ he asked. ‘I thought it was for the best, that I was protecting you. But it made me miserable. It made me realise how much you mean to me. I don’t want to be without you, to live without you in my life.’ Will reached his hands over to cover Cleo’s on the surface of the bench, the touch of his hands reminding her how they felt caressing her.
Cleo’s breath quickened, a wave of desire pulsating through her body. This was Will. He was here. He was telling her what she’d dreamt of hearing. He still wanted her. ‘Will,’ she breathed.
Then he was on her side of the bench, his arms around her, his lips on hers. And her world was spinning out of control.
On the morning of Anzac Day, Cleo opened her eyes to see Will’s face gazing down at her. It was still dark. She put up one finger to touch his cheek, still unable to believe she was here, that they were together again, this time for good.