“I can’t wait another minute!” Martha’s eyes sparkled as she reached for Thomas’ hand.
“Always impatient.” Thomas kissed her fingers. “What will you be like at the airport?”
“I quite like airports. Good place to read. Now where is my ticket?”
“Where it will be safe.” He tapped his jacket. “Can’t have it falling into the ocean.”
“Never let me forget it, will you?”
The words were meant to be under her breath, but Thomas heard. With a grin, he checked his watch. “Hope those two get back before the bus arrives.”
Martha bit her lip and he took her hand again. “She’ll be here when we return.”
“But, what if she isn’t? I’ve only just found her.”
“Now, come on. Why wouldn’t she stay? She has the cottage and Martin. And really, who would leave Randall?”
“You’re leaving him.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
“Thomas! I’m being serious. What if something happens?”
“It won’t. Listen to me. Better yet, turn around.”
Hand in hand, Christie and Martin hurried out of a Green Bay shop. Christie said something and Martin burst into laughter.
Thomas put his arm around Martha’s shoulders. “Never heard the boy laugh that way until she came along.” He glanced behind. “Our ride’s arriving.”
“Oh, I’m sorry we took so long!” Christie threw her arms around Martha as the bus pulled in. “I wanted you to take this.” She held out a box. “It’s a small camera. All you need to do is point and shoot.”
“I shall miss you, dear!” Martha kissed Christie’s cheek, then reached for Martin. “You too, young man.”
Martin offered his cheek. “We’ll miss you as well.”
“What about me?” Thomas demanded.
“What about you?”
“Hmm. Trying to get rid of me so you keep the dog.”
“Randall is already my dog, Granddad.”
Passengers alighted from the bus and the driver followed, opening the cavity underneath. Martin and Thomas carried the luggage over and helped stow it.
Martha whispered to Christie. “Stay safe, my darling girl.”
“Of course I will!” Christie hugged her great aunt. “Enjoy Ireland, take lots of photos, and when you get home we can work out where you two will be living.”
“Have a perfectly fine house in the mountains.” Thomas held his arms out for Christie. “That’s where my bride and I will be.”
“It isn’t settled yet!” Martha tapped him on the shoulder. “Come on, old man.”
The driver climbed back into the bus. Thomas guided Martha up the steps, his hand on her elbow. They found seats at the front and settled in as the front door closed with a whoosh.
Here they were, beginning their honeymoon. Martha reached for Thomas’ hand as the bus left town. The man who had haunted her dreams for a lifetime was finally her husband.
The last time she had been on this road, in this direction, she had been running away – in December, 1967.
Martha had no idea why they had to leave almost before dawn, but Patrick, her father, was insistent. He liked to take his time, to be careful through the hairpins.
She couldn’t remember the whole family going to Melbourne together; certainly not since her early childhood. Now, though, her mother Lilian sat beside Patrick, keeping half an eye on his speed. Dorothy dozed beside Martha.
This felt wrong. Every mile took her further away from Thomas. Further away from making up with him. Almost a week ago, in the midst of a violent storm, she had broken their engagement after seeing him with her near-naked best friend. Ex best friend.
His words went round and round her head. “I will wait for you, Martha! Every morning at the end of the jetty.”
Their jetty. The one she had slipped off during the storm, into waves which sucked her under and would have claimed her life. But Thomas found her.
Why, oh why, did her pride do this? Make her say things she didn’t mean and, even worse, take action like now. This was no simple visit to the city. Martha was staying with Dorothy for a while, until she worked out her future. Lilian was joining them.
“We will spend some lovely time together. Just the three girls seeing what Melbourne has to offer.” Lilian had been so excited that Martha allowed herself to be talked into this. After all, it was only for a little while, until Thomas apologised and made everything better.
Now, Martha blinked a few times to clear her vision and reminded herself she was in a much happier part of her life. The bus wound smoothly around those same curves, a vivid blue ocean on one side and saltbush on the other.
“What are you thinking?”
Martha smiled up at Thomas. “I can’t wait to show you my little house in Ireland. Introduce you to my friends. It’s so pretty you will want to paint all the time.”
He squeezed her hand. “Anything else?”
The same engagement ring she’d thrown into the sand during the storm was again on her finger, exactly where it was meant to be. Even if now her hands were aged and her once strong body weakened with each passing year.
Tears brimmed. “So much lost time.”
“Then we shall make sure that not another moment is wasted. My beautiful girl, time doesn’t matter anyway. Now, tell me more about Ireland.”
Christie and Martin waved until the bus was out of sight. As one, they lowered their arms. Martin reached out and pulled Christie in for a cuddle. “They’ll be fine.”
“Of course they will.”
“Thomas is very responsible and careful.”
“And Martha is well travelled. She knows airports and passports and all the stuff Thomas doesn’t.”
“Yes. So you can stop worrying.”
Christie leaned back a little to look at Martin. “Me?”
“Well, I’m not worried.”
“Though I am concerned that pile of junk Thomas drives won’t make it back to River’s End.”
Christie giggled. “No wonder they insisted on catching the bus. I doubt it would have got to Melbourne.”
“If you had a sensible car with room for the luggage, we could have driven them all the way.”
“Me? What about if you just had a car, instead of a decrepit motorbike! And don’t knock my beautiful Lotus!” She slid her arms around his neck. “You are impossible. But I do love you.”
“Which is a good thing, or else you’d be walking home. Insulting my most prized possession.”
Christie raised herself on her toes to touch her lips to his. “Anyway, they’ll be home in a few weeks. And I’ve got a cottage to renovate.”
Martin took her hand as they walked down the road to where Thomas’ old Land Rover was parked. “Thomas is determined they’ll live at his place.”
“But you’ve said it is old and run-down now. Surely moving into town will be better for them?”
“Do you think we’ll make it back without a stop to cool it down?” Martin opened the passenger door for Christie.
She hopped in. “Shall we make a bet?”
“Nope. Let’s just hope for the best.” Behind the wheel, Martin turned the key. After a splutter, the motor roared. With a bit of force, he got it into gear and onto the road.
“Did you know that my great-grandfather’s grandfather won Palmerston House in a game of poker?” Christie asked.
“A good reason not to gamble.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Imagine suddenly having a property through nothing more than luck and being in the right place at the right time.”
Martin glanced across in amusement. “Yes, imagine.”
“You mean the cottage? I guess so. Much as I love it, sometimes it feels like a great weight. You know, all the tragedy around it and now, all the work it needs.”
“Anything good about it?”
Christie’s face lit up. “Nothing at all. Except bringing me to River’s End to meet the love of my life.”
Martin squeezed her leg. Now out of Green Bay, the twisting road took his attention and Christie was content to gaze out at the ocean. Never did the powerful majesty of the sea fail to touch her. Some deep, primal part of her soul needed to be near it.
Born in the outback, her first sight of the ocean was at the age of seven from the aeroplane that had brought her to Melbourne after her parents died. She went to the beach at St Kilda for the first time a few months later. Gran forbade her to swim in the sea, her fury terrifying Christie the one and only time she disobeyed.
“Hmm? Oh, just thinking.”
“About me, I hope.”
“Kind of. More about the ocean. But if you were in the ocean, I’d be thinking about you.”
Christie sneaked a glance at him. Dressed in a checked shirt with rolled-up sleeves and his favourite jeans, he was so good-looking that keeping her hands to herself was a struggle. “I didn’t know you could drive.”
“Why wouldn’t I drive?”
“You don’t have a car.”
“Not a fan of cars.”
“Well, you drive really well.”
“I probably observe the speed limit and conditions a bit more than you do, young lady.”
“To celebrate Martha and Thomas heading to Ireland, shall we go out for dinner?”
“Changing the subject.” Martin observed. “Okay. Let’s go and toast their honeymoon. Their incredibly overdue honeymoon.”
The River’s End sign came into view. Martin slowed, indicated, and turned into Christie’s street. The old Land Rover complained in the lower gear, but was great for navigating the potholes on the other side of the disused railway line.
In the driveway, Martin let the motor idle. “At the pub tonight?”
“Sounds good. I’ll walk down.”
Martin leaned over and touched Christie’s face. “I love you, sweetheart. Thomas and Martha will have the time of their lives. So, we need to be living ours.” He kissed Christie with a sweet tenderness. Heart racing, she closed her eyes and surrendered to the knowledge that she was loved. Absolutely loved.