Jacaranda Plains

Chapter 28

"And the teamsters out on the Castlereagh,
when they meet with a week of rain,
And the wagon sinks to its axle-tree,
deep in the black-soil plain,
When the bullocks wade in a sea of mud,
and strain at the load of wool,
And the cattle-dogs at the bullocks' heels
Are biting to make them pull."

From "Saltbush Bill's Second Flight" ~ Banjo Patterson

It’s no wonder I’m feeling a little flat. Jemimah sighed as she peered through her back window at the overcast sky the following afternoon. Although the rain had stopped a while earlier, heavy clouds still hung over the plains, thunder rumbling through their bellies.

It wasn’t even five o’clock, but the dim light made it seem later - and Jemimah was tired. It had been very late when she and Angie finally got back last night, yet she’d found it hard to sleep. Her ribs still ached from the fear that had gripped her during the cattle truck chase, and every time she started to drop off into a half-sleep, she’d jolt awake with her heart pounding. God had graciously made their escapade turn out okay in the end, but in the early hours of the morning it was hard not to dwell on what could have happened …

The sordid possibilities didn’t seem to impinge on Angie’s sleep, though. She lay in until late in the morning, and when she emerged was no more out-of-sorts than usual ‘first thing’. The previous night’s misadventure hadn’t tempered her penchant for scheming either, and over brunch she asked Jemimah about her plans for the school holidays.

“You’re going back home to Newcastle aren’t you?” Angie checked as she finished her second cup of coffee. “Because Sonja Winslow - you know her parents from church - said ages ago that I was welcome to go and stay with her in Sydney anytime. I’m due two weeks off, I could travel with you to Newcastle and catch a train the rest of the way. And I’d do all of the driving if you wanted.”

“Oh, yes!” Being rescued from the ordeal of driving was all the incentive that Jemimah needed to embrace the plan. “Would you plan to travel back with me too?”

Angie nodded. “Uh-huh. When were you planning to head off to Newcastle?”

“On the Saturday morning, the day after school breaks up. Would that suit you?”

“It would be perfect! I could even sleep over here after the Friday night social and then I wouldn’t even have to see my brother until we get back.” Angie chortled with laughter, but her light-hearted words vaporised Jemimah’s enthusiasm.

Of course she’d known that heading home to Newcastle meant she’d have little chance to see Michael Turnbull when he returned to Jacaranda Plains for the holidays - but she hadn’t thought there’d be no chance.

Even now that school and everything else had become more manageable, Jemimah’s heart had continued to count down the days towards the holidays. She longed to be home with her family, having a rest from making decisions and solving her own problems - but equally she longed to see Michael Turnbull again. She just hadn’t fully accepted that she could have only one or the other.

Jemimah knew her crush on Michael was as pointless as it was unfading, but she craved with a physical ache to hear his beautiful voice and see again the warmth in his eyes, no matter how briefly. She’d postpone her trip home until after the Sunday, so at least she’d see Michael at church - but it was her birthday that Monday and her mum and dad were counting on her being back before then, and spending it with her family. How could she have not realised until now what it would mean?

She walked back into the kitchen and put the kettle on again, desperately trying to make one and one equal three. She couldn’t leave later than mid-Saturday morning … but if she were able to stop in at the Turnbull’s to collect Angie, perhaps she’d see Michael before they left. Even five minutes would be better than nothing. And then if they came back to Jacaranda Plains before he left for Sydney she might just see him again …

“No, you’d better not sleep over the night before the trip,” Jemimah turned to Angie, forcing herself to smile as though there was nothing more at stake. “After what happened last night I’m going to make sure there’s no chance of anything interfering with a good night’s sleep and an early getaway. I think it would be safer for me to pick you up on the way to Newcastle.”

Angie shrugged. “Yeah, okay. But I don’t know what you’re complaining about with last night though - it’s not you that everyone will be laughing at once Jack Hart gets the story around. You weren’t made to look like an idiot.”

“Not yet,” Jemimah gave a great big sigh. “But I will once he tries to teach me to drive a manual.”

“You didn’t think he was serious, did you?” Angie asked. “He was just playing the big man again. I bet he doesn’t even remember saying it - though he’d have a good laugh if he knew he’d made you worry about it. He won’t come.”

As it turned out, it looked like Angie had been right. There’d been no sign of Jack before Angie had gone home after lunch - and now the day was as good as over. Jemimah had just decided to have a light tea and an early night when she realised that what she thought was another roll of thunder was actually the sound of a vehicle on the gravel drive.

A quick glance through the front window revealed it to be only an old white ute. Probably just one of the farm workers heading for home, she decided, and returned to the kitchen. The sooner she got to bed and to sleep, the sooner she could stop feeling miserable about the slim chances of ever spending much time with Michael Turnbull.

“You ready, Jemimah?” Jack’s voice boomed through the open door as he strode up the steps to her verandah. He was already inside the living room, Jamie two steps behind him before Jemimah had realised what was happening.

“It’s so late, I assumed you wouldn’t be bothering about it today …”

“Yeah, had a bit more to do around here than I reckoned,” he explained and then smirked. “Got to slip in a bit of work around rescuing silly girls, you know.”

“How about we leave it for today, it was very kind of you to offer but …”

Jack rumbled with laughter. “It wasn’t an offer, Miss Sparky, it was an arrangement. I know very well you don’t want to learn to drive a manual, but if you’re going to run around the countryside with a hare-brain like Angie Turnbull you need all the help you can get. Are you right to come?”

“It doesn’t sound like I have any choice.” Jemimah picked up her purse and tucked it under her arm. She followed them down the steps but hesitated beside the white ute. “But - whose car is this?”

“Just the old farm ute - you didn’t think I was going to let you loose in mine?” Jack replied. “Now hop in and let’s get started. How much experience have you had in a manual?”

Jemimah climbed into the driver’s side, dismayed to find her feet a good foot short of reaching the pedals. It was an older style bench seat, and there seemed no way of moving it forward

“Just the one attempt,” she admitted, trying to perch herself on the very edge of the seat as the boys got in from the other side. “It wasn’t very successful.”

Jemimah winced, remembering the sound her father’s car had made when it had rolled back over their mailbox. She stretched as far as she could, and just managed to reach the pedals with the very tips of her toes.

“What on earth are you doing?” Jack had slid in beside her, and shook his head at her contortions. “Hadn’t figured on driving a midget. Should see if Marlene’s got a spare booster seat you can borrow.”

He laughed at his own insult, and told Jemimah and Jamie to get out again. And at this point I realise I’m breaking the rule in every how-to-write-fiction book that one should NEVER have more than one character with the same first initial. Jemimah, Jack, Jamie, Jarrah - fair dinkum! Maybe no-one will notice?
Jemimah sighed, and climbed back out while he slid the whole bench seat forward. She was ordinarily very sensitive to remarks about her lack of height, but somehow Jack’s comments didn’t have the same sting. Still, she did have to repress her unholy delight when he cracked his shins against the dashboard as he climbed back in.

With the bench far enough forward for Jemimah to reach the pedals, both boys had their knees up near their chins - but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to deter Jack from sticking with his objective. Jemimah tried to follow while he explained the process of gear changing to her - but as soon as she started the car and tried to drive off, it was clear to all of them that it hadn’t made any sense.

She found it impossible to co-ordinate her feet on the pedals in sequence with the gear-stick - and the resulting sound of grinding gears made her eyes water and Jack groan. The harder she concentrated on the gears, the less she could control the steering and braking, and more than a couple of times would have put the ute off the road and into the scrub if Jack hadn’t jerked the wheel back in line.

Things were no better half an hour later when Jack’s mobile phone rang as the dust settled around the car after another bone-jarring stall. Jemimah took the opportunity and jumped out of the ute while he answered the call. Jack might have been as doggedly determined as ever, but Jemimah’s nerves in were in shreds and even Jamie was looking decidedly green.

She started across the driveway but barely had chance to surreptitiously wipe away her tears of frustration before Jack hollered for her to get back in.

“Hurry up,” he called, “I’ve just got to drive over to the shed and give Dad a hand with something. Won’t take long.”

Jemimah seized on her chance of escape. “I’ll just walk back home then. Thanks for everything, Jack.” She turned determinedly away, but the ute was crunching along the gravel beside her before she’d even gone two steps.

“No, you don’t, Sparky! We’re not stopping the lesson until you can do this – no-one quits on me. Now stop sulking and get in the other door.”

She did as she was told, hanging her head as she climbed in the passenger side beside Jamie. Maybe she should have ignored Jack and run off across the scrub back to her cottage - but that would have been even more humiliating. And Jack being Jack, she wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d followed anyway, road or no road.

As soon as Jack pulled up in front of a huge machinery shed, Jemimah slid out of the car again. Jamie followed but she didn’t even glance at him, too embarrassed by the hot tears that were welling in her eyes again. No-one had ever pushed her this hard to do something she just couldn’t manage. Why couldn’t Jack accept that it was too difficult for her? Did he enjoy making her suffer?

“Have you ever seen a clutch, Jemimah?” Jamie began conversationally, as though it were normal to chat with someone who was staring at the ground. “You know, like when someone’s taken it out of a car to repair it?”

When Jemimah shook her head, he continued, “’Cause I’ve got one in pieces in here. Come and have a look.” He headed off into the recesses of the shed, and as much to avoid Jack and Mr Hart - who had both crawled under a large tractor - she followed Jamie inside.

The huge aluminium shed was like an Aladdin’s cave of everything mechanical and it smelled of grease and diesel and dirt. High under the metal roof, thin flouro tubes struggled to light the vast interior. Jemimah kicked her toes a number of times before she reached the back of the shed where Jamie rustled amongst a heap of machinery beside an old car.

“Here you go,” he said, dragging a large metal thing onto a clear patch of ground. He perched a portable light on the bonnet of the car and arranged the parts like a medical student might lay out a skeleton. Jemimah tucked her skirt between her knees and crouched on the ground beside him.

“You see, when you press down on the clutch pedal, this lever pushes this thrust pad, which pulls up the pressure plate. When you let the pedal go - the pressure plate presses against the clutch plate again. That’s what makes the wheels turn.” He demonstrated with the mechanism as he spoke; merely smiling when Jemimah stared at him blankly.

“Here, I’ll do it again. If you press the pedal down - the two flat surfaces lift apart and you can change gears because nothing is connected. Then when you let the pedal up this plate comes back down, and the surfaces connect together in the new gear.”

It was completely opposite to what Jemimah had thought happened, but Jamie patiently repeated the demonstration until the concept began to make sense. Usually he was too self-conscious around her to chat so freely, but absorbed with explaining what made the vehicle jump and stall he slipped into talking as though she were one of his peers. His ability to simplify the concepts so she could understand him impressed Jemimah, and she wondered if it had ever crossed his mind that he might have a gift for teaching.

“Thought you could hide from me in the corner did you, Sparky?” Jack thumped the car bonnet with the flat of his hand, making Jemimah jump.

“I was just showing her …” Jamie started to explain.

Jack snorted. “Wasting your time, little brother. Can’t you see her eyes are glazed over? C’mon, time to hit the road again.”

The break had done Jemimah good, and she took a deep breath and followed Jack outside, prepared to give it one more try. A splot of rain hit her in the face as she reached the driver’s door and she hesitated, looking up at the heavy clouds above. A firm hand propelled her inside.

“It’s not gunna melt you.” Jack shut the door after her, and he and Jamie came in the other door.

Jemimah started the car, and held her breath as she put the ute into first. Keeping in mind the concept of the clutch Jamie had shown her, she managed to move off relatively smoothly.

“Finally!” Jack grunted. “Now see if you can get into second. Straight down.”

Delighted to repeat her success and change up to second, Jemimah leaned forward past Jack to mouth a silent ‘thank you’ to Jamie. He winked and gave her the thumbs up.

“And up to third,” Jack directed, his hand coming down over hers on the gear stick when she went blank for which direction to move it. “To the middle, to the right and up.”

The change was a little rougher, but Jemimah was thrilled to actually be accomplishing it. Biting her lip in concentration, she managed to bring the ute back down through the gears as they approached the gate.

“Out you go onto the road,” Jack told her. “We’re going all the way into town and back.”

“Please no!” In her consternation, Jemimah let the car slow too much and it shuddered and stalled again. “Can we do that another time?”

“Uh-uh. Now I’ve finally taught you how to change gears, I want you to do it over and over until it’s etched into your brain,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “And at every crossroads we’re going to change down to first, and then work back up to fourth again. Understand?”

Jemimah felt she ought to point out that it was Jamie who’d made all the difference in her understanding the whole clutch thing - but a glance over her shoulder revealed a vehicle in the distance and she was instantly too busy trying to restart the vehicle to argue the point.

It was pitch dark when they began the return trip home from town, and although exhausted from her sustained concentration, Jemimah was chuffed with how well she was managing the gears. Jack hadn’t asked for any more “practice” changes since before they’d entered the town, and now she hoped she could relax a little and coast in top gear the rest of the way home.

Her fingers were aching from her tight grip on the wheel, and she had just lifted one hand off to flex her painful knuckles when a massive streak of lightning tore the sky apart in front of them. The huge boom that followed a few seconds later made her jump two inches off her seat.

“It’s close.” Jamie commented just as huge drops of rain began to splatter on the windscreen. Soon the rain was pelting down, and Jack leaned across Jemimah and turned on the wipers.

“Jack - please can you take over?” Jemimah asked as another crack of thunder left her shaking.

‘No - this is good experience for you. You can slow up a little if you want, but it’ll be good for you to drive in a storm. We’ll take the back way home - so you can feel what it’s like driving on mud. After what we had this morning, I reckon it’ll only take five minutes of rain like this to make Cooper’s Lane greasy.”

Jemimah clenched the wheel, her face taut with concentration. Ahead she could see almost nothing except the streaks of rain, lit brilliant white by the headlights for a few seconds before they exploded against the windscreen. Her resentment grew at Jack’s harshness in not caring how desperately she wanted to stop. No-one ever treated her like this. Was it that he didn’t understand her - or that he did and just didn’t care?

Angry tears welled in her eyes until Jamie made some conversational comment and was quickly shushed by his big brother.

“Just relax Sparky,” Jack said with the faintest touch of sympathy, “Forget it’s not your car - you don’t need to change gears or anything for this whole stretch to the crossroads. Just relax and stay on the road.”

So he knew how she felt … and was prepared to bear with her. Jemimah blinked back her tears, her heart pounding as fast as the wipers. Perhaps that was why she’d managed to finally drive a manual today - when no-one else had succeeded in teaching her. Her father had stopped the lesson as soon as she’d gotten upset, agreeing that it was probably more than she could manage. But Jack … he didn’t care how much she was hating it, and maybe that was a good thing.

Praying for the courage she knew she didn’t have, Jemimah drove on, frowning hard into the rain. The trip seemed to take forever, and she jolted nervously when Jack spoke again.

“Okay, change down to second, and turn right in Coopers Lane just up ahead.”

“Where? There’s no road!”

“Yes, there is - just past that big gum,” he replied calmly.

“I still can’t see it!”

“Just change down now,” Jack commanded and leaned across and turned the wheel to the right, “See, here it is.”

“Oh, yes.” Jemimah was flustered, and stalled the car as she negotiated the change poorly. “Sorry!”

“Never mind,” said Jack, “We’ve got to go into four wheel drive here anyway.”

“But - but … you’re going to drive, aren’t you?” Jemimah’s heart picked up in panic as she stared at what seemed nothing more than a track that twisted into the bush.

“No way - you want to learn how to drive on mud, too. Otherwise, the next rainy Friday night you come back from someone’s cotton property, I’ll end up having to winch you out of the bottom of an irrigation channel. Okay, Jamie - get out and engage the hubs.”

“Why me? It’s pouring!”

“Why do you think you’re here - for a free ride?”

Jamie groaned and got out, slamming the door after him. When he climbed back in after locking the hubs on both front wheels, he was soaking wet.

“Thanks, Jamie.” Jemimah leaned across Jack to smile at Jamie who was scowling at his older brother.

“Just concentrate on your job, Sparky,” Jack said as he elbowed her back into place. “Now, when we’re driving on mud - just do everything exceptionally smoothly. Forget you even have a brake. If you slam on the brakes, you’ll lose control and it will be like skiing. When you start to slide just ease off the accelerator and steer gently back towards the centre of the road. Okay, now give it a go.”

Jemimah blew out a long breath and restarted the car. In her nervousness she stalled again, and when she started moving off Jack reached across to move a lever near the gear stick.

“What are you doing?” she asked, too frightened to take her eyes from the road.

“Just putting it into four-wheel-drive. It’ll make it a bit easier.”

It didn’t feel any different, so Jemimah gingerly changed up into second, and then third. Suddenly the car slewed left. She screamed and went automatically to the brake.
“Don’t touch the brake!” Jack shouted, kicking her leg before her foot reached the pedal, “Just steer gently to the right!”

Jemimah pulled to the right, and the car skidded in the opposite direction.

“Easy does it!” Jack reminded her, but Jemimah overcorrected several times before they were back in line with the road. She was breathing hard now, and she knew she was shaking - but she held on, determined to get it right. For the next several kilometres she practised bringing the car back under control every time it began to slide - and gradually began to relax. The rain had nearly eased off, and with the wipers only flicking across the windscreen every few seconds controlling the car seemed more manageable.

“Hey, I think you’ve got it!” Jamie called out when they were nearly home, “See Jemimah, you can do it.”

Jemimah laughed, giddy with the sense of achievement. “Sure, there’s nothing to it!”

“Forget the cheer squad and watch this next bend,” Jack warned, “there’s water over the road. Go down to second.”

As she changed down Jemimah was vaguely aware of Jack doing something with the 4WD Four Wheel Drive. gear stick, but didn’t take her eyes off the road. As the wheels hit the water, they began to slide, but Jemimah carefully tried to correct it.

Nothing happened, and she panicked as they continued sliding sideways toward the side of the road. They weren’t going fast, but the vehicle wouldn’t respond to her steering.

“Jack! Help me!” she begged, “I can’t control it! We’re going off the road!”

Jack didn’t move and his voice was unconcerned as he spoke. “I thought there was nothing to it - just remember what I told you to do.”

“I’m trying!” she cried, but no matter what she did the ute slipped further off the road until it finally came to a stop on an angle in the ditch. When she tried to drive out of it, the engine revved, but the vehicle didn’t move - and she stalled the car again and again in a desperate attempt to get it free.

As she went to turn the key in the ignition one more time, Jack put his hand on her arm. “This is what is known as bogged, Jemimah - we’re stuck, you can’t drive out of this. All you’re going to achieve now is to flatten the battery.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry!” Jemimah put her head in her hands, “What do we do now?”

“But Jack ...” Jamie started but Jack silenced him with a look. Jemimah wasn’t sure what passed between them, but when Jamie sat back calmly she felt things mightn’t be so bad after all.

“You two will have to get out and push, and I’ll see if I can get it back on the road. Jamie, you know where to get Jemimah to push, don’t you?” Jack spoke each word deliberately. “Make sure you get her in the right spot.”

“Don’t worry Jack, I know what do,” his little brother replied with a confident smile. He opened the door, and Jemimah dumbly followed him outside, a little taken aback at being asked to get out and push.

The spitting rain stung her face, and she struggled to stay upright on the slippery ground, the oozy mud squeezing inside her shoes as she made her way to the back of the car. She’d never been expected to do something like this before, and it rankled. Didn’t Jack realise that she wasn’t very strong or good at things like this?

She raised her head and a stab of guilt deflated her indignation when she saw Jamie waiting for her by the tailgate, hunkered down into his collar. Getting bogged had been completely her fault, and if Jack needed her help to unbog it, giving it her best shot was the least she could do.

“Okay, right here,” Jamie indicated, getting Jemimah to place her hands and lean with all her weight on the tailgate just above the back passenger tyre. Jamie moved over beside her, and leant just above the number plate in the centre of the tailgate. Jack had turned on the spotlights that ran along the roll bar behind the cabin of the ute, bathing the immediate area in an unnatural light. Jemimah felt the car vibrate as Jack started the engine again.

“Now push!” Jamie yelled. As Jemimah exerted every ounce of strength, the car shot suddenly forward. She fell flat on her face in the mud, the spinning rear wheel spraying a fountain of watery mud over her.

It filled her nose and mouth and she had to scrape it away from her eyes to see Jamie doubled over with laughter. She remembered that while she had put all her weight against the tailgate as the ute began to move, Jamie had stepped back at the last moment. As she struggled to her knees, Jack appeared around the side of the ute, sobbing with laughter. He slapped his brother on the back. “You did know what to do Jamie! Well done, mate.”

“You set me up?” she gasped. Unfamiliar anger welled up in her and she scrambled to her feet - only to slip and fall straight back down on her bottom. Jack laughed even harder.

“Yep, sure did. I didn’t think you noticed me put it back into two-wheel-drive coming up to that water crossing. It wouldn’t have matter what you tried, I don’t think you could have kept it on the road.”

Jemimah sat there, shaking with indignation. The shock of discovering that they’d planned this, wanted to do this to her hit her like a hard slap. She’d felt so bad about losing control of the ute, of getting it bogged - and they’d set her up. She was cold and wet, mud was in her nose, her mouth, her hair and all over her sandals and clothes. Her mouth hung open as she stared at them, teetering on the verge of bursting into tears.

Jamie’s face dropped as he saw her reaction, and instantly looked a picture of guilty misery. He moved quickly toward her. “Jemimah - I’m so sorry - are you okay? It was a terrible thing to do - let me help you …”

Realising how she must look to the two guys - helpless and pathetic and unable to take a joke - gave Jemimah a sudden jolt of dissatisfaction with herself. For the first time in her life she’d been treated like any other person, not the fragile child most people perceived her as - and she reacted so badly. She hadn’t been hurt, and surely it wasn’t the end of the world to be wet and cold and muddy?

In fact, it felt strangely good that she’d been included in a joke like that. It was kind of nice that Jack and Jamie had felt they didn’t have to treat her with kid gloves but could muck around with her like anyone else.

But that doesn’t mean I have to let them off too lightly, she decided, and waited forlornly while Jamie made his way across the slippery mud, holding out his hand to her.

“Thank you,” Jemimah said as she grasped it, but as she got her balance, she swept her foot under his nearest leg and sent him toppling face-first into the mud. By the time Jamie had begun to struggle to his feet, Jemimah was standing over him.

“Oh, I’m sorry - did I trip you?” she smiled sweetly at him, and pushed him back into the mud again, laughter bubbling up at her own audacity. Her own balance in the slippery mud was tenuous, and when Jamie grabbed her wrist and she tumbled beside him, and they both sat laughing in the mud.

“How could you do that to me?” Jemimah demanded, when she got her breath back. “You made me stand right behind the wheel knowing exactly what would happen!”

“Hey - don’t blame me - it was Jack’s idea!”

Their eyes met and they turned as one to look at Jack as he stood at the back of the truck, still laughing at them.

“Get him!” they yelled in unison. Jamie sprung to his feet and dived to tackle him, but Jack sidestepped him and ran back to the safety of the cabin. Jemimah headed around the front of the vehicle to cut him off, but lost her footing and slid instead straight under the bull bar. By the time Jamie dragged her out Jack was in the driver’s seat.

Jemimah tried the door, but it was locked, and Jack shook his head laughing. Jamie was already at the passenger door - but he’d locked that too. Jamie pounded on the window, “Come on, Jack - let us in! It’s freezing out here!”

“You’re joking - neither of you are getting in the ute covered in mud like that!” Jack opened his window just a few centimetres. “Imagine how much cleaning I’d have to do.”

“Jack - please let us in!” Jemimah pleaded.

“No way - get in the back!” he laughed. “And the sooner you do, the sooner you can get home for a hot shower.”

Jemimah stared at him in disbelief, then made her way to the tailgate, where Jamie had already clambered onto the tray.

“Is he really serious?” she asked, as Jamie took her hand and help her up.

“Yeah - we won’t get anywhere arguing with Jack. Just hold on to the roll bar behind the cabin - it’s my guess it won’t be a smooth ride home.”

The ute started off and Jemimah gripped the large bar tightly. “I still can’t believe you did this to me.”

Jamie laughed, flicking his muddy fringe back and leaving a dark stripe across his forehead. “Well, you got your own back, didn’t you? But gee I’d like to get even with Jack - imagine leaving us out here in this weather, I’m freezing.”

Contrary to Jamie’s prediction, Jack was driving pretty slowly, but they still slid about on the metal tray of the ute in their wet clothing.

“He’s going the long way,” Jamie explained. “Avoiding the house. I reckon Jack doesn’t dare risk Mum seeing us out here on the tray. He’d get shot doing this to you!”

“Good. He’d deserve it!” Jemimah laughed, imagining how Mrs Hart would react seeing her covered in mud, and clinging to the back of the ute in the drizzling rain.
She doubted anyone could imagine her in this situation - and an hour earlier Jemimah wouldn’t have either - nor contemplated that it would have made her feel utterly exhilarated.

So this is what it feels like to be alive, Jemimah mused as she lost her grip and slid into Jamie as they went round the final curve before her cottage. He caught her round the waist, and helped her out of the tray as the ute came to a stop. Now he’d relaxed around her, Jamie seemed just like the younger brother she’d never had, and she felt richer for his comfortable comradeship.

Jack stayed safely within the locked doors of the cabin, keeping the engine running as Jamie found her sandals and handed them down to her.

She started to thank him for his help and then laughed. “Hey, what am I doing thanking you? Traitor!”

Jamie grinned in appreciation and clambered back to his position by the roll bar. “Hey, Jemimah?” he called out as she started up the steps. “What time do you come home from school in the afternoon?”

The question caught her by surprise. “It’s not always the same time - but usually somewhere around five,” she replied, curious about what lay behind his question. “Why do you ask?”

He shrugged in the way only teenagers can. “Just wondering.”

The ute was already moving off, and Jemimah shivered and headed quickly inside. There’d be plenty of time when she was warm and dry to figure out what Jamie was scheming - and right now the most pressing thing was a long hot bath.

© R. L. Brown 2007

Eos Development