When Wendy moved to Sydney, Jeff was the first friend she made. She had been working as a receptionist in the plumbing company's front office for about a week. She was there alone most afternoons, which suited her fine. The boss, Mr. Johnson, stayed in his office when he was there. Harriet, who kept the books, was company in the mornings.
Harriet was married with two grown sons. She was friendly toward Wendy in a maternal way. The older woman felt for the younger one, working so hard, all on her own, and thought her little boy was too precious. Harriet could not imagine life without her devoted husband. They did everything together; he even took her to and from the office. Harriet tried to talk to her, but Wendy kept very much to herself.
The company employed a staff of about a half dozen plumbers, and one of her duties was to give out the dispatches. On her second Monday, just after lunch, she received two back-to-back calls. The first was a request for service. The second was the daycare, calling to say her three year old son had fallen off the top of the playground slide and been injured. He was at the emergency room of the local hospital.
The color drained from Wendy's face. "I've got to go. Dillon's at the hospital," she said to Harriet as she rose, unsteady on her legs and unsure of what to do next. She had no car, and the hospital was a good eight kilometers away. Each morning she and Dillon would ride the bus to the daycare, then she would ride on alone to the office. Each evening they repeated the routine in reverse.
Jeff had worked for the company since getting his plumber's certificate two years before. He was in his early twenties, like Wendy. He was handsome and athletic with wavy brown hair and green eyes. Jeff was good-natured and friendly with everyone. He always smiled at Wendy and had a joke for her and Harriet but Wendy barely acknowledged him. He came through the door just as Wendy was hurrying around her desk toward it.
One look at her ashen face and he knew something was very wrong. "What's up?" he asked.
Wendy did not take the time to answer. She stepped quickly past him, out onto the pavement and took off at a sprint.
"Wendy!" Harriet called after her. She turned to Jeff in exasperation, "Well don't just stand there! Go get her!"
Jeff ran out the shop front, jumped in his truck, and took off after Wendy. Pulling alongside her, he threw open the passenger door. "Get in!" he shouted.
Relief flooded Wendy as they entered the emergency room and she saw Dillon sitting and smiling up at the pretty young nurse attending him. A bruise was forming at his temple and there were some scrapes on his arms and legs. He had hit his head hard, so they had brought him in for observation.
"Mum!" The smile on his face flashed bright before quickly disappearing. He tried so hard to be her little man, as she often called him.
Wendy scooped him up, "Baby, I was so worried about you!"
Safely in his mother's arms, he could fall apart. He clung to her, his tears wetting her neck and her blouse. She held him, talking softly and stroking his hair as he calmed down.
"He's apples, he is. He just took a nasty tumble," reassured the nurse.
Jeff, who had lost his own mother very young, thought they made a beautiful pair. Both had curly dark blonde hair and expressive brown eyes. Dillon pressed his forehead against his mother's and Jeff realized how alike they looked. He said as much to her as he drove them back to their house.
"Yes, it's a blessing he looks like me, really. That way I never have to see his father again," she replied.
Jeff glanced over at her, trying to read more to the story than her words gave him. Wendy sat expressionless, looking straight ahead through the truck's windshield at something only she could see.
It was only after Jeff had pulled up in front of the big old house she rented with two other girls that Wendy remembered. "Shit!"
"What is it?" he asked anxiously, looking toward the boy seated between them.
Wendy smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Back at the shop. Before the daycare called. I was supposed to send you on a service call. They'll fire me for cert! Walking out in the middle of the day and then ignoring a customer," she said. Wendy had remained calm for her boy, but now she was close to tears. It was a good job and she desperately needed to keep it for both of them.
Jeff saw them to the door. "No worries," he said, feeling suddenly protective of the pair he had helped. "I'll tell the old man what happened. So will Harriet. She likes you. It will be okay. You'll see," he said, his voice soothing to Wendy's frayed nerves.
From then on when he came in the shop, Wendy matched his smile and laughed at his jokes. Sometimes they took their lunch together. The other young men in the office jockeyed for her attention to no avail. She needed a friend, and she shared easy confidences with Jeff, but she didn't want a lover.
Wendy had decided that men and sex were nothing but trouble to her, and she had no room for that kind of trouble with Dillon in her life now. She always dressed in bulky sweaters or high-collar blouses, knee-length skirts, and flat shoes. She didn't wish to call any attention to herself. She sometimes felt like the oldest twenty-three-year-old in the world.
Jeff was delighted with his new friend. Being a social creature, he had missed the kind of intimate conversation and laughter he shared with Wendy. He had been through a very painful break-up with his last boyfriend and sympathized with Wendy's self-protective instincts. The other blokes at work or his footy mates did not offer him the same kind of friendship.
Jeff invited Wendy and Dillon over to one Sunday. Actually, it was his dad Harry who insisted, after Jeff had told him about his friend from the shop. Wendy liked Harry immediately. She thought he was just like Jeff, only more so. Warm and outgoing, he made her feel instantly at ease.
The men had tried to make it a special occasion. The bungalow was neat as a pin. Jeff had even tidied his room. Harry had tried to cook a roast. Unfortunately, he had forgotten about it while watching Jeff play on their tiny back lawn with Dillon. Wendy and Harry sat on the old glider swing, tinnies in hand.
Jeff tired to show Dillon how to catch the football, lobbing it soft and low. The ball repeatedly bounced off Dillon's chest and the boy soon grew frustrated.
"Come on Dillon! Try to get it from me," Jeff encouraged, tossing the ball hand to hand just out of reach. Jeff pulled a silly face and zigzagged slowly around the yard with Dillon squealing in pursuit. The boy grabbed hold of a leg and Jeff cooperatively fell to the ground. Dillon's face puckered uncertainly, wondering if he had hurt his new friend or was about to receive a scolding. He looked ready to cry, until Jeff pulled him down as well, tickling his belly until Dillon's giggles pealed through the quiet neighborhood dusk.
"Again! Again!" cried Dillon, and Jeff tirelessly replayed the chase and tackle game.
Harry confided to Wendy, "That's my only real regret with Jeff. No hope for grandchildren, you know?" Harry gauged Wendy's reaction to make sure she did know. He sensed that she had had some hard knocks in life already. He did not want to see her disappointed about Jeff.
"Gay couples adopt, you know," she said, with out missing a beat. "He just has to find the right partner first." Wendy tipped her head and smiled sideways at Harry. She clinked her can to his in toast of Jeff's future family.
"What about yourself, where's your family?" Harry pried.
Wendy's cheery expression faded. "They're not part of our lives anymore."
"But they're grandparents! Don't they want to be part of their grandchild's life?" Harry was incredulous.
Wendy took a sip and considered her answer before looking him in the eye. He was so unlike her own father it made her want to cry. "They're deeply religious people, and I was their only child. We don't see eye to eye. I left home at eighteen when I started at college, and worked to pay for classes. When I got preggers at twenty and didn't marry Dillon's dad, my parents cut off all ties with me. Mum came to see us once, when he was a few months old, then nothing. I've given them up," she said with a shrug.
She turned her attention back to the roughhousing on the grass. Jeff was playing like he couldn't get out from under Dillon who was sitting on his chest, tickling him in the neck and armpits.
"So what's your secret dream? What do you really want to do?" Harry loved to ask people this question. He was an incurable romantic.
"Dad," Jeff, sounding pained, tried to interrupt Harry.
"I mean, you're working in Jeff's shop now for your crust, but what is it you'd really like to do?" Harry, as usual, ignored Jeff.
"I'd like to finish college and teach kids. I only have one year left to go," she answered.
Both men looked at her. "Why'd you leave school?" Jeff asked.
"I wanted to get away?from everything. And I needed to work," she said.
Harry could not look away from her. She was so young! He wanted to rant about what fools her parents were but he controlled himself. He took her completely by surprise, crushing her in a huge bear hug, squeezing the breath from her. Wendy was surprised to see him wiping tears from his eyes.
"I'd better check that roast," he said as he stood and excused himself. Jeff caught her eye and shrugged as if to say, don't mind my old man.
The neglected roast came out dry and tough as shoe leather, and smoke was rising from the pot of vegetables on the stove. Jeff and Harry began to argue over who was at fault. Wendy quietly got up and began poking through their orderly pantry shelves and fridge. She salvaged what was still edible of the roast, chopped it up with an onion and tomatoes, and found a potato without too many eyes. They were eating omelets and chips in no time. They sat at the little chrome and Formica table in the kitchen, chewing amicably, peace restored to the Mitchell house once more.
Later as Jeff drove Wendy and Dillon home, he began the apologies he was used to making after bringing a friend home. Wendy quickly stopped him, touching two fingers to his mouth. "I think he's sweet. It's plain he loves you. I wish I could feel that about my mum and dad," she said.
Jeff smiled sheepishly. "He's got a big heart and not enough chance to use it since Mum died," he said.
"Were they very much in love?" she asked wistfully.
"Yes. He adored her. At the time, I thought they were embarrassing, but after ?. Well what is it they say? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?" he said quietly.
"Hmm, I wish I could find someone who would love me like that," she said.
"So do I," said Jeff. He looked across at Wendy curiously, and began to consider which of his straight friends might make her a good match. "Maybe we can do something about that," he said.
She frowned at him. "Don't."
"Don't what?" he asked innocently.
"Jeff, I mean it, don't start plotting for me. I don't want any part of it," she said emphatically.
The boss's daughter Evie, a student at the university, liked to come by the shop and flirt with the men on the pretense of visiting her dad. Evie was there talking to Harriet and Wendy one day when Jeff came in.
"How you go Evie, Harriet?" he asked politely before coming to sit on the edge of Wendy's desk.
"What's up with you?" asked Wendy. She knew that look. Jeff could never keep good news or a juicy secret to himself.
He leaned toward her. "You know that little place next to us? There's a 'For Rent' sign on it this morning," he said as he laid an application down on Wendy's desk. "Fill this out and I'll leave it off." Dad's going over to ask the bloke to hold it," Jeff winked.
Wendy had told him that she was afraid she was going to have to move further west, maybe as far as Canberra. The two girls who shared their large rented house were unhappy and Wendy did not think she could afford a place in Sydney on her own. They complained that Dillon put a crimp in their romantic lives when he was ill or cried out in the night from nightmares. They swore and hollered when they stepped on his small, sharp toys. They also walked about half undressed and talked openly about their love lives. It was true that Dillon was still very young, but he had begun to repeat a few of their more colorful phrases and Wendy did not like it.
She blinked and looked at the application, then at Jeff with a mixture of disbelief and hope. "The little bungalow?" she asked.
Jeff nodded. "The bedrooms are tiny but there are two, and there's a little yard that borders ours out back."
Wendy looked at the application again. "The rent is only fifty more a month than I pay now! This would be perfect!" she exclaimed then bit her lip. "But what if someone else grabs it first?" she asked.
"No worries," he said and winked. He tousled her curls affectionately. "Gotta run. See you tonight?" he asked. Wendy nodded. He turned his attention to the other two women. "Evie, looking good as always. Harriet, don't let any of these bastards," he said, meaning the other plumbers, "give you any trouble." In a flash of long legs and wavy chestnut hair, he was gone.
Evie's eyes narrowed, as she looked Wendy over carefully. She supposed some would find Wendy cute, but there was nothing outstanding about the girl. She was slim, with narrow hips and small breasts, too small for cleavage. Wendy had begun running with Jeff after work and her naturally trim form had become strong and athletic. Evie had just decided that Wendy was really quite plain, nothing to write home about, when Wendy looked up. Evie realized that Wendy did not wear make up because she had flawless skin. A smoky fringe of lashes ringed her large, dark eyes and freckles dusted the bridge of her nose, giving her a fresh, wholesome look. Filled with hope from Jeff's news about the rental flat, Wendy's face was open and pleasant, matching her unaffected manner. It irritated Evie no end.
She sidled over to Wendy's desk. "My, my," she cooed, "If I didn't know that boy was gay as Paris in springtime, I'd say he had a thing for you."
The guardedness that had been so prominent during Wendy's first weeks in the shop slipped back over her features. "We're just good friends," Wendy said, and was annoyed at how meek her voice sounded. She felt the color rise in her cheeks.
"You do know that he has gone both ways before, don't you?" Evie asked, cocking her head.
Wendy did her best to meet Evie's intrusion straight on. "Jeff has been a great friend to me and Dillon since we came here. I really don't see how it's any of your concern," she said politely but firmly.
"It doesn't concern me at all, sweetie. I'm just offering you a little caution. We all get lonely, even someone as gorgeous as Jeff, but he won't change his ways. Not for you or for any woman," said Evie. She slipped her sunglasses down from the top of her head and masked any other thoughts behind them. "Have a lovely day, girls!" Evie called as she exited the shop.
Wendy stared after her for a moment, then shook her head as if to rid it of Evie's comments. "That was certainly odd," she said and turned to find Harriet watching, her brow creased with concern. "And why are you looking at me like I've got two months to live?" Wendy asked in dismay.
Harriet waved dismissively toward the door that Evie had just exited. "Pay her no mind. She is just jealous," she said.
Wendy gave a short, humorless laugh. "Of what?" Her hands and her feet suddenly felt cold and tingly.
"The attention Jeff pays you. She probably hoped to convert him," said Harriet. She looked at Wendy wistfully. "He is such a nice boy. I have hoped that maybe if he met the right girl, he might settle down," she said and sighed. "But she is likely right and you had best mind your heart."
Wendy was gob smacked. "You don't mean it's true?"
She had reckoned that Jeff was gay soon after starting the job. It was not as though he tried to hide it. The shocker was learning that he had slept with girls as well. She found that news highly unsettling.
Harriet nodded. "Oh yes, there was the girl that had your job two summers back. They had gone out, a whole group of them, lots of times, dancing and whatnot." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. Wendy was uncertain whether she really wanted to hear, but she leaned toward Harriet to catch her words anyway.
"When Jeff's fella took off with some other bloke one night, he turned to her for, em, comfort, if you catch my meaning," she arched her brows above her reading glasses. Wendy caught it all right. It felt like a kick to her stomach. "And when Evie found out about it, well, she set her cap for him. I'm surprised she admits it ever happened. She threw herself at poor Jeff. He couldn't avoid her no matter how he tried. She kept after him until she caught him on another bad night. That boy has got a melancholy problem, he has," Harriet nodded sagely again.
Wendy sat upright and rolled her secretary's chair backward, as though she could retreat from the truth of Harriet's words. "Never mind!" said Wendy abruptly. "I don't want to know anymore. It's none of my business anyway."
"I hate to agree with Evie, but I think you had best make it your business," Harriet said.
Wendy tried to busy herself by sorting the work invoices from the call dispatches on her desk, but her hands shook so that she fumbled everything she touched. She was grateful when lunchtime came and she could escape the office. When she came back, Harriet was gone, but she had a pounding headache for the rest of the afternoon.
Wendy had been at the shop for four months. She practiced what to say the morning after Jeff told her about the rental during the bus ride in. Then she walked straight into Mr. Johnson's office and asked for a raise. To her great surprise, he agreed. She had kept the office running efficiently and had missed work only once, when she had gone to pick Dillon up from the hospital. That clinched the deal and she took the tiny house next to Mitchell's place that afternoon.
"You're a right pair of hens," Wendy told Jeff and Harry, who were each holding an end of her sofa as they carried it through the front door. Father and son had been needling each other all morning, and neither would let her lift any of the heavy furniture or large boxes. "If you can't stop arguing then I want the both of you to just go on home. I'm sure I'll still be able to hear you anyway," she said.
Despite the scolding, she felt incredibly lucky to have found such wonderful friends. Besides being a confidant to her, Jeff had quickly become very important to Dillon. Jeff did not have any younger siblings or cousins, being Harry's only child, so Wendy reasoned he might not be able to tolerate the constant demands of her young son. She was wrong. Jeff seemed to have infinite patience with Dillon. He was always repeating things Dillon said that had amazed him.
Wendy often met Jeff at the park to go running, as he was finishing footy practice. She had seen his team mates, and it was plain from the long looks her direction that they saw her as well. Jeff repeatedly asked her to let him introduce some of them, but she refused. She waited what she felt was a safe distance away until he said goodbye to the others and trotted over to her.
They ran up and down the hilly coastal suburban streets until they were exhausted and drenched in sweat. They would start out apace; matching each other's stride, but Wendy was significantly shorter and had to take more steps. Several minutes into the run, she always began to fall behind. Jeff ran backwards, he zigzagged and doubled back, everything he could possibly do to give her time to catch him. He even tried to gently goad her. It worked for awhile, but eventually she grew frustrated and told him to go on ahead. What Jeff did not realize was that Wendy had discovered a benefit to lagging.
When he was safely in front of her, she watched his legs. It alarmed her, the first time she realized she was doing it, but she could not seem to help herself. She had no romantic illusions about Jeff, yet there was no denying that he was lovely to look at. She thought he had the most beautiful thighs and rear she had ever seen on a man, and they were well on display in his footy shorts. It made her wonder why she had never really noticed men's legs before. She began to look more closely wherever she went, but she could not find any that were as gorgeous as Jeff's. She finally decided that indulging this one tiny pleasure was harmless. Especially since Jeff did not know she was ogling him. She rationalized that the view helped keep her pulling up the hill.
When Jeff's direct appeals to hook Wendy up with one of his mates failed, he decided to play dirty. He began talking about the weekend footy matches every time he was with Dillon. Wendy finally caved in to Dillon's pleading and took him to a game.
Jeff was over the moon when she told him. He opened her closet, uninvited, and began rummaging through her clothes.
"What are you doing?" she asked from the doorway.
"I'm looking through your clothes," he replied, head inside the closet. He extracted a shirt and held up for a better view.
"I can see that. But I'm not your size. You'll stretch my things out," she smirked.
"Ha ha. I'm looking for something for you to wear to the footy match. Crikey. Don't you have anything that shows a little?" he looked at her and waved his hand vaguely in front of his chest.
Wendy frowned in annoyance. "I only have a little ?" she said, imitating his gesture.
He rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant. Your work clothes are not very sexy. Seriously love, you could show a little leg. Do you even own a skirt?" he asked, impatiently shoving hangers to one side or the other.
"Right. Get out of there," she said, taking a step toward him.
Jeff held her smallest pair of blue jeans aloft victoriously. "Your ass looks great in these. Absolutely grab-able," he said.
"I don't want my ass grabbed, thank you very much." She took the jeans from him and hung them back up. She closed the closet door and turned her back to it, blocking him, but he was over at her dresser, rifling through the drawers. "Hey! Those are my ? get out of there!" she cried, crossing the room quickly.
He held up a pair of thong panties. "Do you have a push-up bra, love?" he asked, brow arched.
"Give me those!" she said, half laughing, half ready to strangle him. She shoved the panties back into the drawer and slammed it closed, just as he pulled his curious fingers free. "Get out of my room right now!" she ordered and shoved as hard as she could at his chest.
He wavered slightly then caught her hands in his. For an instant, Wendy felt her heart stop. He was so close, leaning over her, studying her face. She held her breath. She had seen that look on men before. He was going to kiss her. Caught between panic and desire, she chose not to think. Her eyes fluttered closed, then back open a second later when he released her.
He was looking at her with the oddest expression. "Don't pull your hair back," he said softly, reaching out to tug loose a stray curl. "It looks beautiful down."
As Jeff had expected, his footy mates were very interested to meet Wendy. After the game, he brought a young man over to where Wendy and Dillon had been watching. Ignoring Wendy's distressed looks, Jeff led Dillon off to play. He tried to look like he was not watching, giving them time to get acquainted, but he did not let them out of his sight. When that failed to produce a date, he chose a different mate the next weekend, and repeated the matchmaking attempt. After three unsuccessful attempts in a row, he began bringing young men home with him for dinner. He and Harry made certain to invite Wendy and Dillon to dinner as well; acting like it was a surprise when Jeff's friends turned up.
Early one Saturday morning after just such a night, she was hanging laundry in the back yard. "Lazy bastard, baking in the sun again, I see," said Wendy over her shoulder as she pinned Dillon's jumpers to the wash line. She had fallen into the habit of talking to Jeff over the low fence that separated their back yards. He would come outside within minutes whenever she appeared.
"So did you get lucky last night?" she called.
"Me? I wish," he said. He stood and walked over to the fence.
Wendy left the wash and went to meet him. "I thought you and Evan were hitting it off well," she said.
Jeff studied her neutral expression for a moment and then ran his hand over his face in exasperation. "He didn't come over to see me
," he said. She continued to look at him blankly. He sighed. "Those blokes are coming round here to crack onto you." He looked at her pointedly.
Wendy blinked. "They're your
friends!" she exclaimed. She could see he was unhappy with her, but she kept playing dumb, hoping he would give up.
"How many gay men do you think there are in Sydney? Okay, a lot, I'll give you that, but not these blokes. They're all men's men, spit on the floor, and what sheila did you root last night, mate? I have to meet my dates in the pubs, you know that," he said accusingly.
"Well maybe since I'm not interested," she said, her voice rising to meet his, "I hadn't noticed." She could feel her throat getting tight.
"I think the way they look at you would be a bit of a clue. Or the way they try so hard to get your attention. For fuck's sake, even a blind man could see!" he said.
Wendy turned away, bending to get another wet garment from her basket. "I wish you wouldn't try to set me up," she said to the tiny shirt she was pinning.
"Are you going to just give the game away then?" he asked. He knew his anger with her was unreasonable, but he could not seem to stop. "You've got opportunity beating down your door, yet here you sit with your movie magazines, like some old hen, every Friday night."
Wendy blinked back tears and fought to control her voice. "It's not that easy, Jeff."
"Oh yeh? Well hell, I wish I had those kind of pickings," he said.
She whirled to face him. "I've got Dillon to think about," she said.
"Dad's offered to baby sit for you any time. Harriet too, you know that," he countered.
"That's not what I mean. Most men want a quick root, no strings. Then they're done with me. How do you think I got Dillon?" she asked, eyes flashing. "These fellas you've brought sniffing - they don't want a kid hanging around. Or if they're in a family mind, they want a girl with a clean slate," she said as her voice quavered. "I tried, Jeff. You don't know. I've been through it all - more than a few times. I thought I had the real deal with Dillon's dad, but I was wrong again. I'm done, do you get it? Leave me alone!" Wendy turned and fled toward her back door.
Jeff placed his hands atop the low fence and vaulted over easily. He was to Wendy in three strides, just as she reached for the door handle. He caught her around her middle, pulling her off her back step, and spun her so that he was between her and the door. Jeff clasped her against him with one strong arm so that she could not escape.
"I don't want a blue with you," he said softly. "I think the world of you, Wen. Some other bloke will too," he said. As he looked into her warm brown eyes, he felt that fluttery feeling in his stomach again. He had a strong urge to protect her and see her happy. He reasoned that she must be like the little sister he never had.
Wendy was amazed at how easily he had apprehended her, at how strong he was, and at how good his arms felt around her. It made her dizzy. She ducked her head, trying to prevent him from reading her thoughts. "You Mitchell men hug more than any blokes I've ever known." She laughed weakly.
Without thinking, she pressed her hand against his broad chest to feel his responding chuckle reverberate deep within. Jeff gently kissed the top of her head. "Don't you ever want to get rooted?" he asked, still holding her.
"What?" she startled.
"You know, just for shits and giggles. Don't you ever get randy?"
"Yes, of course," she said and stepped backward, out of his arms.
"Well would it be the worst thing in the world if you went out and had a little fun, even if it didn't turn into forever?" he asked.
Wendy knew that Jeff had blue moods as well, despairing that he would ever find a lasting partner. She looked at him thoughtfully.
"How about you? Hmm? You like the way you feel after those one night stands?" she asked. Her voice was quiet, but there was an edge to it.
Jeff held her steady gaze. "That's not fair. I told you how it's been for me since Kevin. Sure I want something more, but I'm not dead," he said.
"And now I've told you how it's been for me and I don't want to have to tell you again. We both want the same thing - a real relationship," she said. Wendy turned and marched purposefully up her back steps, fearing he would grab her again.
"Yeh? And how are you going to find that then unless you leave yourself open to it?" he called, but did not follow her again. Wendy went inside without answering and shut the door on him, hoping he had not seen her shaking.
Jeff looked thoughtfully at the door. "I might not like how it feels the next morning, but I still get randy," he muttered to himself before jumping the fence back into his own yard.
"Let's go!" Jeff was calling through the latched screen door. It was Sunday and they were going to the beach.
"Hang on a tic!" Wendy sang from inside. Dillon ran to the screen and pushed up the latch to let him in.
"Aren't you ready yet?" Jeff asked as he popped his head into her bedroom.
Wendy was pulling up her suit, facing away from him. She spun around, holding the top of the suit up, startled to hear his voice so near. "Geezaloo, you almost caught me in the nick!"
Jeff shrugged and smiled indolently. "Dillon let me in. You should really teach him not to let strange men in when his mum is putting on her ? don't you have a bikini?" He gave her one-piece swimsuit a critical look.
She threw her beach towel in his face. "He knows you. Although you are very strange," she smirked. "And no, I don't have a bikini. Babies do things to your body that you can never erase, you know."
Jeff rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You look good to me. What's taking you so long?" he asked.
Wendy glared at him. "You try getting him ready!" she jerked her head in the direction of Dillon's room. "Ever since you taught him to play hide and seek, he runs away and hides when I tell him it's time to go. I almost missed the bus twice this week," she said.
Jeff was across the floor in a flash. He smacked her bottom, hard. "You should get a bikini. You're as tight as a drum, love," he said.
"Rack off, you poofta!" she exclaimed, laughing.
Wendy tried to return the smack but he leapt out of her reach. She could hear him cackling as he went to find Dillon. She turned to her mirror and tried to restrain her wild curls with a band. Mutineers danced around her face, but it was up off her neck and shoulders.
Jeff chased Dillon past, toward the front door. Wendy followed them down the hall and surveyed her son's costume. He was wearing a flannel check shirt, shorts, and blunnies. "Thanks for dressing him. He looks daggy."
"What's wrong? I think it's a good look," he said somewhat defensively.
"I know," she replied, rolling her eyes.
The weather was hot and perfect for lying about on the sand. Dillon chased the surf, squealing and running back toward them when it chased him back. When he tired of that game, he made motor sounds as he played with the trucks Jeff and Harry had given him for Christmas, which they had celebrated together.
It was not long before he engaged her in what had become one of their favorite games. "How about that one?" Jeff asked. Wendy followed the tilt of his head in time to see a young, fit blonde, lunge for a volleyball.
She grimmaced. "Too pretty," she said, dismissing the blonde. The young man in question began pumping his fist in the air and whooping. "And too hyper. I've seen ten year olds more mature than that," she said. "He's probably a git."
"I don't know," Jeff mused. "He doesn't look like the type to rabbit on. I bet he just likes to root, drink beer and watch footy. Might be fun." They continued watching the crowd, periodically shooing flies from their faces.
"How about that one over there?" Jeff asked a few minutes later, indicating a middle-aged man with a small, soft tummy, and dark hair shot with silver.
Wendy pushed her sunglasses down lower on her nose for a better look. "He might do," she mused with interest. The man came closer, then sat down on a towel near a woman and two teenagers.
"Poo," she pouted, "he's taken."
Jeff smirked. "He looks ready for a mid-life crisis. You might just fit the bill," he said. They continued watching the man surreptitiously.
"Look! I think he is checking out the volleyball player!" Wendy said. "He's secretly gay, like every other supposedly straight man in Sydney."
"See this one?" Jeff asked, eyes lighting on yet another young, bronzed man. This one had close cropped, bleached hair. Shiny rings hung from his pierced nipples. He was wearing leopard print swim shorts that fit like a second skin.
"What about him?" Wendy asked.
"Secretly straight," he said. They laughed at each other's snide observations until their stomachs ached. Wendy had packed a picnic and Jeff complained, as he frequently did, that she was making him fat. She pushed her sunglasses up high on her nose, hoping he could not see that she was watching him most of all. He had erected another pup tent in his shorts. It was the barometer of his good moods. She stifled a giggle as he adjusted himself without a trace of self-awareness.
She lay back and closed her eyes, remembering the day before. She and Jeff had just finished a run. Harry sometimes picked Dillon up from the kindy when he left the ferry. He liked to take the little boy with him on errands and it gave Wendy a needed break. The duo had not returned yet as she followed Jeff into his house.
"You sweat a lot for a sheila," Jeff teased.
"Yeh? You look like someone turned a hose on you," she shot back, trailing behind him to his room. She spied a book on his dresser that caught her attention and walked across the room for a closer look.
Jeff had been trying to distract himself for the past hour, but it was harder to ignore the way her tank top and shorts clung to her body here alone in his bedroom. He sat down on the bed, watching as she lifted the book and turned it over, absorbed in what she read. He tried to speak, swallowed with effort, and then announced, "I'm rooted. Gonna take a quick shower."
"Okay," Wendy said absently.
A sudden movement caught her eye and she turned in time to see him pull off his sweat soaked tank. His arms and torso glistened in the dim light. He caught her looking and hesitated a second before peeling off his shorts and jocks in one quick movement. She gasped. He waited for her to drag her eyes back up to his face. His eyes smoldered as he held her gaze a long moment. Wendy was too surprised to move or speak as he strode past her.
She heard him turn the water on and sat down in the indentation he had just left in the bed. Her legs felt too wobbly to stand. She was trying to make sense of what he had done when he marched back into the room. He was wearing his bath towel slung so low she could see his short and curlies.
Jeff cleared his throat. "Hello? I said I'm going to pop down to the pub tonight. Do you want to come?"
Wendy was mortified to realize she was staring again. "Um, er, I should stay and give Dillon a bath. You go on," she stammered, feeling her cheeks flush with heat.
"Suit yourself," he said and took a step toward the door. He paused, turning back to face her. "Would you want to come give me a bath?" he asked.
Jeff's heart was pounding so hard he wondered if she could see it. He had not anticipated feeling like this. At first, he had tried to deny it. Then he had fought to ignore it. He could not figure out how to root her and keep her as his best friend. It was making him mental. Somehow, it got all complicated with Wendy. She gave him true friendship, something he had been desperately missing. He found himself lying in bed awake and frustrated most nights, trying to sort his feelings.
Wendy had suspected Jeff was hitting on her for some time, but his confusion showed in his attempts. One minute he would radiate desire so intense that it seemed his eyes might burn her skin. The next, he was roughhousing and making it into a joke. She pushed down her own desire, telling herself that this awful tension would pass as soon as he found another boyfriend. She enjoyed their time together so much, but knew that a romance with him would likely lead to more heartbreak.
"Jeff," she said with a sigh and reached out, stroking her finger tips down his arm, not certain what else to say.
He bent his head toward hers and kissed her carefully. He pulled back and watched her reaction. They searched each other's eyes, both anticipating the long delayed start of their affair. Jeff's heart was pounding fiercely as he hovered, still uncertain. He clenched his jaw and vowed again that he would not let himself hurt her. He saw her flinch ever so slightly away from him and her own lust, and passion slid sickeningly into pain. The unanswered longing hung intolerably heavy between them in the warm dusk. He was out of the room again before she could speak. Wendy remained sitting on his bed, willing her heart to stop hammering. Finally, she slipped out of the house and waited out front until Harry came home with Dillon.
The previous night's tension continued to linger through the next day, though neither dared mention it. Dillon pulled Wendy out of her reverie as he ran up to them, shaking saltwater like a dog.
"I'm rooted!" he cried as he flopped down on his towel.
Wendy looked at Jeff accusingly. "Maybe he is spending too much time with you," she said.
Dillon was exhausted from a hard day's play and could barely stand up when they left the beach, late in the afternoon. Jeff carried him into the house and laid him on his bed. Wendy was rinsing the sand off of Dillon's playthings with the garden hose in the front when Jeff came back out. He leaned against the porch railing, watching her.
"Why don't you come over while he's asleep and watch the game on telly with me? We'll order a pizza. You can hear him if we leave the windows open," said Jeff.
"Where's Harry?" asked Wendy, avoiding his question.
"Hot date," said Jeff.
"Good for him," she smiled. She glanced down and noticed that Jeff's semi was now approaching full-mast.
Jeff caught her look and held her eyes. "I wouldn't hurt you for the world, Wen," he said quietly. "How about it?"
Wendy turned off the hose, still ignoring his real request. "I need to clean up. I've got sand everywhere," she said.
He took a step toward her. "I can help you with that," he said, toying with a stray ringlet.
Wendy pushed his hand away. "Jeff, let's not do this," she said, still avoiding his eyes.
He moved even closer. "Let's not do what?" he asked. He let go of the curl to rest his hand on her hip.
She touched his shoulder tentatively with a trembling hand. Her gaze lifted slowly, lingering on his sweetly sensuous mouth. Jeff saw the invitation and bent toward her. Wendy blinked rapidly and stepped backward, stumbling over the hose. Jeff caught her by the arm. Her brown eyes, wide with alarm, looked into his hooded aquamarine ones. There was determination there and in his grip as he tugged her closer.
She stepped willfully into temptation as his soft, warm lips covered hers. Slow and sweet to begin, he grew bolder and more insistent as he felt her cleave to him in response. He ran his hands down her back and squeezed her bottom, pulling her snugly against him. He wanted her to feel his arousal, to know just how badly he wanted her body as well as her friendship. She gasped against his mouth as he ground against her almost painfully. Wendy moved her hips against his, urging him on. Both were oblivious to making a public spectacle in the front yard, but Jeff had just enough restraint left to say, "Come on, let's go inside," in her ear as he took hold of her hand and attempted to tow her along.
"I don't want to lose you," she said breathlessly. It took every bit of her will to wrench her hand free and stand her ground.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said just as softly. "I want to be with you Wen. You make me happy. You and Dillon. I haven't been this happy since I don't know when," his voice trailed off and he shrugged.
Wendy winced at her son's name. This was turning into a big enough mess, never mind how it would affect Dillon. "Since Kevin?" she asked pointedly.
Jeff's eyes grew remote at the mention of his former lover's name. "Since whenever," he said quietly. "Everything with you is ... I don't know ... easy, natural. I didn't plan to feel this way. You must know that," he said and reached for her again. She allowed him to draw her in. It felt so good to be in his arms. "I love you, Wen. Tell me that you don't feel the same," he said.
you Jeff. Please don't make me give you up," she pleaded. She could hardly breathe.
"Tell me the truth," he insisted.
"Yes Jeff, I love you! Deeply, madly. I've never wanted anything more than I've wanted you. Damn you for making me say these things!" she said, pushing him away.
Jeff threw his arms open in frustration. "This is working! Why can't you give it a chance?"
Wendy shook her head. "It would just be a matter of time," she said miserably, as tears began to slide down her face.
"Before what?" he demanded, voice rising in frustration as he felt her slipping away again.
"Before you break my heart, you bastard!" she cried.
"Wen!" he pleaded. "You've got to know! I would never, ever ...." He tried to get hold of her again, but she pushed his hands away. "Who's to say what could happen? Maybe we're different. Maybe we get to make our own rules," he said, tears in his eyes now as well.
She shook her head sadly. "I never asked you to love me. I accepted you for who and what you are. I cannot let you ruin both of our lives."
"But you love me and you want me, you just admitted it," he said, the giddy euphoria he had felt just moments earlier sliding into despair.
"Never mind me. How can you lie to yourself like this? " she demanded.
Jeff shook his head sadly. He had waited until he could not stand it any longer, and still it seemed he had rushed her. Maybe she would change her mind if he gave her more time. "I'm not lying to anyone. Nothing's changed. You and Dillon are all that matter to me," he said wretchedly.
She watched as he turned toward his house. It was the saddest walk she had ever seen. Guilt and regret tore at her heart. She called out, "Maybe I'll come over later."
Jeff opened his front door and let the screen bang shut behind him without turning back.
Wendy's thoughts remained confused and difficult as she showered and changed clothes. She went out on the front porch to listen. She could not hear anything from next door. She started to go over, then stopped. Harry should be home soon, and then it would be safer. She checked on Dillon again. He was still sound asleep. Looking for a way to kill time, she picked up the washing basket and went out back to fetch the clothes off the line.
Cold Chisel blasting from the radio and the pungent scent of marijuana told Wendy that Jeff was in his backyard. As she walked across the yard to the clothesline, she could see he was sitting on the glider, flipping through a magazine. She hoped she had not been too hard on him earlier. She did not believe that Jeff would ever deliberately cause her pain. With a pang of guilt, she set the wash basket on the ground and walked toward the fence.
She was about to wave to him, but stopped. He hunched forward over the open magazine in his lap, rolling a joint. There was no way he would hear her over the radio if she called out. He ran the tip of his tongue across the edge of the paper. The gesture made her shiver.
The long summer day was finally surrendering to the night. Unable to gain his attention, she knew she should go back to the laundry until he came out of his marijuana haze and noticed her, yet she could not seem to move from the fence. Jeff leaned back against the glider, long legs stretched out before him. The rapidly lengthening shadows partially hid his face. The tip of the joint glowed red as he took a long hit, held it, and slowly exhaled. Feet flat on the cement, Jeff gently rocked back and forth. The sight of his bare legs, muscles flexing and lengthening as he moved, mesmerized Wendy once more.
It was nearly dark by the time he finished his joint, and she doubted her could see her even had he known she was there. He crooked his left arm behind his head, and reached his right hand into the waistband of his shorts.
Wendy fell to her hands and knees, crouching next to the fence, afraid to breathe. She knew she should just go back in the house, as quickly and quietly as possible. If he were to catch her spying on him, she did not know how she would explain herself. Heart hammering in her ears, she crept forward in the warm and crumbly garden soil toward a knothole and looked through. His movements were slow, but the activity was undeniable. He leaned forward, his face coming into the patio light, and it seemed he was looking right at her.
She jumped away from the fence as if it had an electric wire, and fell hard on her rear. She cried out a little and clapped her hands over her mouth, terrified of discovery. She crawled on her hands and knees back to the hole and looked through again. The muscles in his arm tensed with the movements of his hand. He leaned forward, brows knit together in earnest concentration. Then he shuddered and his movements slowed until he fell back against the seat again. Wendy was wrought up watching him. It made the need to touch him unbearable.
She pushed away from the fence, debated a second, then crouched and ran across the yard, knowing he might yet see her. She tried to open the back door silently and slipped inside. Jeff slowly raised his head and looked across the top of the fence at her back door.
Wendy accepted her first date since moving to Sydney the next week, with a man who worked in the bank down the street from the plumbing shop.
Jeff was less than enthusiastic. "Why Mr. Pale and Dull?" Jeff wanted to know, "What's wrong with my mates?"
"Because I can pick my own dates, ta," she replied and angled her chin up. Her look dared him to disagree with her. A series of business types with smart suits followed, but none of them made it to a second date with Wendy. "Maybe you were right," she finally confessed. "They are all so boring!"
She agreed to date one of Jeff's footy mates, Brian. He was tall, handsome, and polite when he asked her out. The first two dates went well and she began to feel a flicker of attraction for the first time in many months, other than what she felt for Jeff. Wendy had avoided Jeff's mates for a number of reasons.
"Third date rule." Jeff said. He had come over and was loitering about, under the pretense of playing with Dillon, while she got ready for another date with Brian. "After you go out with him three times no one will think you're a slut if you sleep with him."
"That rule was clearly made up by a slut," she said.
"Takes one to know one," he observed.
She stuck her tongue out. "Harry already told me Dillon could stay all night. You two are incorrigible," she said.
Brian took her to a game and introduced her to his friends, which made her feel good. His team won and he wanted to celebrate. They went to a pub where the band was decent and danced. His hands were all over her. She let him get her slightly drunk. Somewhere past one in the morning she made up her mind. She did not pick up Dillon that night.
At six the next morning, she woke to the sounds of him looking around his bedroom for her clothes. He tossed them on the bed and said that she had to leave because his girlfriend was returning that morning from college. It was Sunday and all the little old blue haired ladies were on their way to early church services. Wendy walked to the corner, hair disheveled, in the same wrinkled clothes from the night before. She avoided looking at anyone and hailed a cab. She felt sick, in part from the effects of drinking too much the night before, but more from the feeling she had given it away all too easily again.
The worst came the next day, however, when Brian made the mistake of bragging that he had been the first in town to root her. He elected to broadcast this information to the entire footy team at practice. Jeff was in an uncharacteristically mean mood. His weekend had gone no better than Wendy's as he suffered the end of another disastrous romance.
He cut Brian's bragging off almost before it started. Brian suffered a groin injury, a laceration to his right hand and a blackened eye during practice. When Wendy accidentally came across Brian at the grocer's late in the week, he pretended not to see her and quickly left.
"What the hell happened to him?" she asked Jeff at home later. "He looked like he was hit by a truck."
"Practice injury," Jeff said.
"All over his body?" she asked incredulously. He shrugged and looked away. "Jeff?" she asked suspiciously. "What did you do? Oh God, you didn't, did you? You did! You bastard!"
"What?" he asked, dodging then clasping her hands so she could not swat at him any more. "It happened at practice when he wasn't paying attention. I wanted to make sure I had his attention."
"Yes, I'm sure they all got the message! Not only am I easy, but if anyone else asks me out, you will beat the holy crap out of them. I told you to stay out of my romantic life. Thanks for nothing!" she huffed.
They were sitting in his back yard, consoling themselves with a couple of coldies. After a few minutes, he began to giggle. She looked at him crossly. "He did look pretty bad, didn't he?" he asked, an edge of pride in his voice.
"Gay, straight, you're all just a bunch of wankers," she said and drained her tin. They had just finished their run and were cooling off. The days were getting shorter, the weather had been cooling off, but the strength of the sun this May afternoon made it seem like summer had crept back for one last visit. It was so lovely that they had snuck off early from work together. Dillon was still at the kindy. Harry was still at work piloting his ferry.
"It simply isn't fair, is it?" Wendy asked no one in particular. "Other people find love, have families, live happily ever after. Yet here we sit - two perpetual losers."
Jeff joined her rant. "Like two stale bottles of piss. All I want is someone to share a laugh and a cuddle with. It shouldn't be too much to ask, you know?"
"Yeh," she said, her curls bouncing as she nodded her vigorous agreement.
Jeff lit the joint he had been rolling. When he offered it to Wendy, she waved it away. He continued to hold it out for her each time he took a hit, and the way he waved it beneath her nose and wiggled his eyebrows made her laugh. Finally, she leaned forward and allowed him to hold it to her lips. She inhaled and choked a little on the pungent smoke. He chuckled. "Hey! I don't do this as often as you, you stoner," she said and grinned.
The first thing that Wendy noticed about getting high with Jeff was that it made her incredibly randy. "Are you getting me high so I'll do the naughty with you?" she wondered. Jeff's eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned. "Did I say that out loud?" she asked, confused.
"Yes, love," he replied and handed her the joint.
Wendy started to ask him if he meant yes, he wanted to have sex with her or yes, she had said her thought out loud, when she got distracted looking at the sky. They lay on their backs on the lawn, watching the clouds float past. Wendy felt she could lift off and float with them.
She looked over at Jeff and thought how much he had come to mean to her since they had met. She reached out to stroke his silky hair without thinking. She blinked, alarmed by what she saw in the aqua eyes looking back at her. He propped up on one arm.
"Any bloke would be lucky to have you. You're a great mum, and a lot of fun. You're pretty easy on the eye too," he said with a voice as warm and languid as the day.
"Yeh?" she asked, feeling nervous excitement dance in her belly. "What do you know?"
"I know," he said softly.
Wendy knew he was ticklish and loved to make him laugh until he begged her to stop. It had long seemed a safe way for them to have physical contact. She reached a hand out, feeling strangely shy. Her fingers danced across his torso, but this time he did not laugh. That same look was still in his eyes. She pulled up his shirt and brushed her lips against his warm belly. He sucked his breath in a rush and slowly blew it out as he lay back. Wendy followed the trail of chestnut hair with her tongue, tugging his shorts down to explore further. Jeff was rubbing slow, gentle circles on her back, encouraging her. She took him in her mouth.
"You make me crack a fat every time you smile," he moaned. He stroked her hair until he knew she must stop if he was going to last. "Come here," he said, lifting her up and over him.
She felt his breath on her face and then he was kissing her deeply, pulling her further and further out of her world and into this perfect, warm space with him. The sun felt delicious on her back as they kissed. The heat drew toward her center and began to pulse between her legs. She felt as if she were melting into him. He slid his hands up under her shirt and undid her bra, pulling both off so that he could caress her breasts.
Jeff rolled, flipping her onto her back. Wendy tugged his T-shirt over his head, desperately wanted to feel his warm skin next to hers. He tugged her shorts and panties down over her knees with one hand and she kicked them free. They rushed to reconnect before the perfect spell could be broken and someone would have to admit this was a bad idea.
Jeff planted his mouth back on Wendy's and wrapped his strong arms tightly around, pinning her beneath him. She was lifting her hips, encouraging him to hurry and take her. Jeff wanted to nail her to the ground right there and then but restrained himself.
"Wen, wait," he said softly but urgently as she wrapped her legs around his back and nearly succeeded in getting him inside.
"No!" she exclaimed. "I want you in me now!"
"Wait, love, get the franger. There's some in my shorts, over there."
An image of Jeff out on an all night pub crawl flashed in her mind. She turned her head to the side and saw his shorts. Fishing in the pocket, she pulled out a handful of condoms. "Crikey, Jeff! What did you plan on doing today?" she asked with humor and surprise.
"I was hoping to root you until you couldn't walk, same thing I hope for every day," he said as he took a packet from her and tore it open with his teeth. She placed it on him and carefully rolled it down, savoring the velvety feel of his skin in her hand.
"Ready?" he asked needlessly. He matched her answering smile, transfixed at the emotions playing on her face as he filled her and began to move over her. He could not remember a woman ever looking so beautiful, or enjoying one so much. Wendy felt her insides go all liquid as the world faded out and all that remained was the connection between them. Jeff was kissing her again, and his probing tongue sent her over the edge. He moaned into her mouth as he met her in oblivion.
When Wendy had allowed herself to imagine making love with Jeff, she always pictured immediate regret and recrimination. All she felt now was wonder. "So that's how it feels with someone you really love," she said a little breathlessly, eyes wide.
Jeff looked around and then back at Wendy, brows raised. "We're naked! In the back yard!" he said and giggled.
"Maybe we should go inside?" she said and gingerly removed the grass blades embedded in her backside. They quickly pulled their clothes on, acting more like naughty children afraid of getting caught after doing something really fun but forbidden, than doomed lovers.
The second thing Wendy noticed about being high was feeling incredibly hungry. They raided the fridge. They were eating sandwiches when Harry came home with Dillon. One look at them and he knew.
"You're a giant rabbit!" laughed Wendy as an ever-eager Jeff gave her a playful shove, knocking her back onto his bed. Both their beds had been a perpetual tangle of sheets, legs and arms since the first time they had made love, nearly a month before. Not only the beds, but the shower, the kitchen counter, the back yards, his truck, the bathroom at the office and once at night on the beach. He let himself into her house and climbed into bed with her, every single night. They made love in every way they could think of and they went at it as if sex might end for the rest of their lives at any moment. They did it until they rubbed each other raw. It was a frenzy to touch, taste and do it all before their time was up.
As they lay exhausted once again, wrapped around each other, Jeff tenderly traced the tiny silvery marks on Wendy's belly with his thumb. "See? That's what I meant when I said there are things a baby does to your body that you can never erase," she said, watching him self-consciously.
"You're beautiful. It shows where you carried life inside you," he said and looked into her eyes. "Wen? Have you ever thought, you know, about having another?" he asked.
Wendy knew then the answer to the decision she had been trying to make for the past week. The next day she invited Harry and Jeff over for dinner. She made them a lovely leg of lamb and all the things she had learned they liked best. They sat on the porch after, Wendy and Harry watching as Jeff played with Dillon on the lawn in the fading twilight. They had really and truly become her family over the last year. She waited until Harry had cracked his VB, took a deep breath, and plunged in. "I've been accepted at Uni, into the teaching program," she said.
Harry gaped momentarily before recovering. He stood up and embraced her. "Good onya love! Congratulations! You're following your dream."
Harry may have been a romantic, but he was no old fool. He had seen the sexual tension between Jeff and Wendy for months. If the way Jeff had been acting these past weeks was any hint, he guessed his son had finally worn the girl down. It made him want to shake Jeff, what was the boy thinking anyway? As if the poor girl hadn't been through enough already. Harry could see by the anxious way Wendy was watching Jeff that his suspicions had been right. It was better for her and the little fella to go now before things got to be any more of a mess. Harry felt the tears well up in spite of his resolve to support her.
Jeff heard Harry exclaim and was on the porch in two seconds. He held the ball under his arm while Dillon hopped impatiently from one foot to the other, waiting for him to come back and play. "What's all this?" he asked.
Harry set his jaw and placed a steadying hand on his son's shoulder. "Wendy's been accepted at Uni. Isn't that wonderful?" he asked.
Jeff did not attempt to hide his shock. "When did this come up?" he asked Wendy.
"I applied months ago, I told you that ... " she began to stammer, and stopped, trying to maintain her composure.
"Yeh, but ... " he replied.
"But I just got the answer," she finished. Wendy willed him with her eyes, please be happy for me.
"But you've got a home here, Wen! With us. And a good job. What about Dillon?" he asked, his voice dangerously close to breaking.
"Dillon and I will go to Melbourne next week to get set up before the semester starts. For once, it helped to be a single mum. The school is giving me a grant for half the tuition, and a part time job," she explained, forcing what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "They will help me find a full time teaching job when I graduate."
Jeff could not yet get past his loss to see her future. "Why do you want to go and pack your kit? Dillon is happy here. We're like his rellies now?" Jeff shook his head at her in bafflement. That old sickening feeling of betrayal was back. "Couldn't you go to college in Sydney?"
"For heaven's sake, Jeff, it's not like Melbourne is that far away. We will come back and visit on the hols," she said, a slight note of exasperation creeping into her voice. Jeff felt the pain and rage within mounting to a dangerous level. He turned abruptly before he said something he might regret forever. "Oh Jeff, don't?." Wendy hated herself. She stood and reached out to him, but he was striding across the lawn to his own house. He banged the door behind him. They could hear him stomping around inside.
"I know how he feels," she said miserably to Harry. "Even worse because it's my fault he's upset. There was no good way to tell him."
"No, I don't reckon there was. But you're doing the right thing darlin', don't you doubt that for one second," he reassured, patting her on the knee. "Jeff will be okay," he said without any certainty of it at all.
Dillon was fretting and wanted Wendy to go over and bring Jeff back. Harry pulled the boy over to him and distracted him for a bit while they sat and talked a little more about her plans. Before long though, Harry thanked her for dinner and excused himself.
Much later that night, Harry found Jeff sitting on the ground in the back yard, getting drunk. He watched his son for a while before he finally asked, "So what did you hope would happen, Jeff?"
"I love her, Dad," said Jeff simply. The rage and tears had passed leaving a pounding headache, but he was calm. It tied Harry's gut up to think of Jeff slipping back into the ennui that had claimed him after his break up with Kevin.
"I know you do, son. But tell me this: could you ever wholly and completely give yourself to her, the way she deserves to be loved?" Jeff would not look at him. Harry continued, "I know you think you've got all the pieces of the puzzle, son. You get on great with her, you're best mates in fact, you share everything. And you love the boy. It's also no small miracle that you're genuinely attracted to her. But can you tell me you'd be faithful to her for ever and ever? That you'd never want anything else?"
Jeff looked at his dad, his eyes red rimmed and old beyond his years. "No."
"She knows that, Jeff. That's why she has to go. She still has to build a life for them, while she's still young enough. So may I suggest you let her go with grace? And then maybe you can keep your friend," said Harry.
Jeff nodded silently. He knew his dad was right, but it did not make it any less painful.
"Good. Don't stay out here too long, son," said Harry.
"I won't, Dad," said Jeff. He looked dubiously at the empty bottle of scotch propped between his knees where he sat cross-legged on the grass.
Harry and Jeff helped pack Wendy and Dillon a few days later. Jeff drove them to the station and put them on the train to Melbourne. There were tears but more kisses, hugs and reminders to call if she needed anything, anything at all. He made her say she would come back at the holidays twice. Wendy and Dillon waved goodbye and watched as the train pulled out of the station and Jeff receded from sight until he was gone. Wendy forced a smile through her tears, hugged Dillon tightly to her and whispered, "We're on our way."
Copyright Tamara 2000/2006