"When the gentle off-shore breeze,
That had scarcely stirred the trees
Dropped down to utter stillness, and the glass began to fall,
Away across the main
Lowered the coming hurricane,
And far away to the seaward hung the cloud-wrack like a pall."
From “The Ballad of the Calliope” ~ Banjo Patterson
Jemimah’s heart thudded as Angie and Michael’s footsteps crossed the patio. She hadn’t been able to hear what had passed between them outside, but the moment Angie walked through the door it was clear she was on the defensive.
“Nice of you to make an appearance,” Pastor Turnbull said as Angie put down her parcels on the dresser, her posture more than usually erect.
“It wasn’t my fault! I had no idea until I got there that Mrs Winslow still had to pick up Sonja’s things from Wee Waa. And then she took forever in town. There was nothing I could do about it.” Her eyes flashed as she turned back to face her father.
The screen door clicked shut behind Michael. “You could have told Mrs Winslow you had an arrangement to leave at ten and that she’d have to send the parcels on some other way.” Michael’s voice was quiet, but there was no missing the edge in his tone.
“You try telling Mrs Winslow anything!” Angie retorted hotly.
“I have to admit I’m really disappointed, Angie,” Pastor Turnbull said, “You’ve been pretty thoughtless. You made a commitment and you didn’t trouble to keep it. That should have been your first priority.”
“You make it sound like I planned this! Look, I told you I couldn’t help it. Mrs Winslow just kept chatting to everyone she ran into in Wee Waa, even though she knew I was travelling today.”
“Perhaps you would have communicated it more clearly if you cared a little more about honouring the commitment you’d made to Jemimah, and a little less about trying to fawn over Mrs Winslow,” Michael suggested cuttingly.
Jemimah squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she had slipped off home before Angie had returned. The atmosphere in the room was oppressive - like being caught in an open field as black storm clouds rumbled menacingly overhead. Neither man had raised their voice, but there was no missing the strength of emotion behind the chilly restraint.
Although Angie’s brother’s and father’s attitude was probably justified, and they were only voicing Jemimah’s own thoughts about Angie’s willingness to put her out instead of Mrs Winslow, she could imagine Angie would see herself as being unfairly ganged up on by her family.
This was only the first day of Michael being home, and already Angie was offside with him and her dad. No wonder she complained about how similar Michael and her father were - and why she was so keen to get away for the holidays. The censure of one Michael Turnbull would be hard enough to bear - let alone two!
Jemimah opened her eyes again to see Angie shoot a look of pure venom at her brother then open her mouth to retaliate.
“It’s okay Angie,” Jemimah said quickly, desperate to do whatever she could to diffuse the situation. “I understand how it must have been for you. I know if it had been me with Mrs Winslow I would have had even less chance of getting her to do something I wanted. We’ll still get away for our holidays - just not today.”
“Can’t we still go now? It’s not even one-thirty!”
“You’d never get to Newcastle in daylight,” Pastor Turnbull said firmly, “Especially if you get caught in holiday traffic, you could be in the dark before you even got as far as Muswellbrook.”
“We’ve got one headlight - we can go carefully. I’m the one who will be doing the driving anyway,” Angie persisted, much to Jemimah’s dismay. When she’d been pulled over outside Narrabri, the policeman had let her off without a fine because she gave her word she wouldn’t drive in the dark again before the light was fixed. There was little chance they’d pass the same police officer, but that wasn’t the issue.
Jemimah licked her dry lips, but couldn’t find the courage to oppose her friend.
“No - there’s no point in taking risks like that,” Nan said from the other side of the breakfast bar, “It’s not legal, and it’s not safe. You can’t force Jemimah into doing something like that - even if you’re prepared to do it.”
“Well, if it’s just the light that’s the problem, why don’t I take Michael’s car - he could use Jemimah’s or Dad’s over the holidays, and I could drop Jemimah off and go straight through to Sydney tonight. He’s always saying how well it handles the trip.”
“Not on your life, Angie!” Michael said firmly. “You’re not going to take on Sydney traffic for the first time at night and on your own. If you want to try it - come down some time when I’m in Sydney and I’ll come with you. Now is not the time.”
“Besides, if you did that Jemimah would have no car the whole time she’s on holidays,” Nan pointed out.
“You don’t really need a car while you’re home, do you Mimie?”
Jemimah groaned on the inside as Angie turned to her expectantly. With both her parents taking their cars to work everyday, she’d be stranded at home without her car, and not be able to do any of the things she’d planned. Not that there was any point trying to explain that to Angie in her present mood. Fortunately it wasn’t the only reason.
“Angie, I’ve got to take my car - it’s booked in for getting the headlight repaired on Tuesday - and they’ve ordered the parts. I’ve already rung my parents and let them know we’re not coming tonight. We’ll just start out bright and early on Monday.”
“What? Why would we wait until Monday? If you won’t agree to go this afternoon, why wouldn’t we just go tomorrow morning? You can sleep over and we can leave first thing - I’m already packed.”
“Jemimah isn’t comfortable travelling on a Sunday.” Pastor Turnbull explained, “And I respect her for that. Some things are more important than just getting away on your holiday, Angie.”
“Oh, I see!” Angie spun around, her hands on her hips “If I want to travel to Sydney on a Sunday, I’m obviously in the wrong, yet it’s okay that every time Michael travels to Sydney it’s on a Sunday! There are two sets of rules for everything in this family, aren’t there?”
Jemimah was shocked by the nasty edge to Angie’s voice, but more so by the fear she’d somehow got it all wrong in thinking she shouldn’t travel home on a Sunday. First her mother’s reaction, and now she’d even put Michael in a bad light about his decision to travel on Sundays.
“I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to infer that Michael was doing anything wrong - I wasn’t judging anyone else’s choice - it was only personally how I felt in my conscience -” she began to explain, but Michael caught her eye and gently silenced her with a warm smile.
“It’s okay Jemimah, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The Lord’s Day is intended as a break from our normal occupations to free us for His worship and service, and not for our indulgence. I didn’t make my choice to travel on Sundays lightly - but if I left the day before every time I went back, I’d lose that last opportunity of fellowship with my own church. The Bible doesn’t give a set of black and white rules for the minutiae of what we should and should not do on the Lord’s Day, but my conscience is clear that I’m seeking to glorify God, even if I do what another might not. So I’m comfortable with my decision.”
“Well, I’m comfortable with my decision too!” Angie said. “I feel perfectly clear in my conscience about leaving tomorrow morning - I’ll go to church in Sydney tomorrow night and Jemimah can go to her own church like she’d always planned to.”
Pastor Turnbull sighed. “That’s not the point - Jemimah has said she’s not comfortable about travelling tomorrow, and you have to be considerate of her.”
“What about me? Why do we automatically choose what she wants? Nothing I want can ever be valid, can it?”
Michael laughed. “Have you forgotten that this is all your fault Angie? You were the one who spent three hours socialising with Mrs Winslow instead of being ready to leave like you arranged!”
“But she didn’t mean for that to happen,” Jemimah sprang to her defence. Angie had let her down, and it hurt that Angie had been so keen to belittle her scruples to get her own way, but even though Angie wasn’t the easiest person to get along with Jemimah treasured her friendship. Now that Michael and Pastor Turnbull had already vented her own feelings about Angie’s thoughtlessness, she didn’t have a need to add any more to her friend’s discomfort. Instead she felt responsible to somehow smooth over the breach between them.
She frowned down at her hands. “Maybe I’m making too much about tomorrow … I don’t mean to force Angie to do something she isn’t--”
“No, you don’t, Jemimah!” Pastor Turnbull wagged his finger at her. “Don’t cave in against your convictions to make things easier just because someone has a bit of a whinge. Remember that ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.’ If at some point you’re convicted you’ve misunderstood the Bible, consider changing your approach then - but not just because you’re feeling pressured.”
Jemimah nodded, sighing. Her only motivation was trying to make Angie happy, and that wasn’t right if she chose that instead of aiming to honour God.
“I’m sorry, Angie … I just don’t feel right about it,” she admitted. “But I’ll come by first thing Monday morning - we can get drive-through breakfast at McDonald’s at Narrabri if you like.” Jemimah looked up at the rest of the Turnbull’s, trying to smile. “Thank you all for having me for lunch. You’ve been very kind. I’ll go now, and see you all tomorrow at church.”
Angie had been glowering at the floor, but looked up at that. “Why don’t you just stay over here until Monday morning, Jemimah? It won’t seem so bad then if I’ve got company.”
“Yes, do stay!” Nan added from the kitchen. “You’ve packed up your house for two weeks Jemimah - you won’t have any milk or fresh food or anything for the weekend since you weren’t expecting to be here. We’d love to have you, and then you can both make a really early start on Monday morning.”
Jemimah hesitated. While her first preference was to escape the tension that was still simmering between Angie and her family, Nan was right. She had made sure that she’d used up all her perishable food, and the thought of returning alone to her cottage after expecting to be at home with her family was less than enticing.
And - she felt guilty acknowledging her mixed motives even to herself - this was probably the only opportunity she’d have to spend any time with Michael for another ten weeks of term.
At least her being there might take some of the pressure off Angie. She knew her friend well enough to know she would not back down graciously - and she was fairly certain that Michael and Pastor Turnbull hadn’t said everything that was on their minds yet. If she could somehow distract Angie from brooding everything might blow over much more quickly.
“If you’re sure you don’t mind,” Jemimah finally answered, “I’d really appreciate it.”
“Of course we don’t mind, sweetheart!” Nan said firmly, “Now let’s have that cuppa.”
“I’ll take mine back to my study with me, if you’ll all excuse me,” Pastor Turnbull said, following Nan into the kitchen. Jemimah wasn’t sure if the sigh that escaped Angie as she dumped herself into a dining chair was relief at her father’s departure or not, but her annoyance was still patent. Aware of Michael’s fulminating gaze on his sister, Jemimah slid into the place beside her, keen to move the conversation into safer areas.
“At least staying for the weekend means we can go along to the social night at the Sainsbury’s now.”
“That should be good - the Sainsbury’s always put on a good night.” Nan quickly backed up Jemimah’s effort to lighten the heavy mood, “I know they’ve had special theme nights in the past - what are they planning this time?”
She placed a china mug in front of Jemimah, and Jemimah met her eyes with a grateful smile.
“I don’t know - because we were going to be away I wasn’t involved in the planning, but I’d really like to be there. I hadn’t realised until yesterday how disappointed some of the young people were that we were missing it, otherwise I might have tried to arrange things differently anyway. Do you want to go tonight, Angie?”
“May as well, I suppose,” she conceded. Her tone gave the impression she was merely choosing the lesser of two evils, but at this stage that was encouragement enough for Jemimah.
“Great. I think I’d better give Mrs Sainsbury a call and let her know we’ll be coming along and see if she needs us to help with anything. Do you mind if I use the phone?” she asked Nan, rising from her place.
“Of course not - their number is in the little directory on the counter,” Nan replied, and passed Jemimah’s cup across to her. “Take it with you, otherwise it will be cold by the time you get off the phone!”
Jemimah took the cup, sipping from it as she waited for the phone to answer. Angie was pulling sullenly at a loose thread on the tablecloth, but Michael had picked up a book from the dresser behind him and begun leafing through it as he drank his tea. Hopefully that meant he’d decided to let his argument with his sister drop.
Mrs Sainsbury’s voice was as distinctive over the phone as it was in real life.
“Hi Mrs Sainsbury - it’s Jemimah Parker.”
“Jemimah? I thought you’d be well on the way to Newcastle by now. Where are calling from, dearie?”
“I’m at the Turnbulls at the moment. There’s been a change of plans … we’re not leaving until Monday now. Are Angie and I still welcome tonight?”
“What a question! Of course you are - I’m so glad you’re coming! Actually, you can’t know how glad!” she bubbled. “Marlene’s just rung to say that Karen and Colin Anderson are on the way to Tamworth Hospital. Apparently Colin’s father had a stroke or something this morning - it didn’t sound like he was too badly affected - but they’re going to be away at least overnight. And Gabi and Ashley were going to be helping us out tonight, but Ashley’s gone over to the Anderson’s to look after their place while they’re away, and Mrs Hart is coming down with the flu - so Gabi’s going to stay with Marlene’s children, and Marlene won’t be able to get here very early because she’s going to go out and pick up Leanne and Richard Anderson and then have them stay with the Hart’s while their parents are away.”
“Oh,” was all Jemimah manage to slip in as Mrs Sainsbury took a breath before continuing at the same pace.
“So, it is just Providence that you two are coming after all! We’re expecting quite a few folk and there’s so much to get organised. We picked a truck stop theme - with hamburgers and greasy chips and all for tea - wrapped in butcher’s paper just like a real truck stop! But I was counting on Marlene and Gabi’s help with all that and hubby’s flat out getting everything ready outside - we’re having ride-on mower races, and the kids are going to decorate them with cardboard to look like big rigs - so if you and Angie could possibly come as early as you can, I’d really appreciate that.”
Jemimah opened her mouth to answer, but before she could speak Mrs Sainsbury was talking again. Michael and Angie and Nan were watching Jemimah from the table and exchanged knowing glances as she shut her mouth again.
“Now - you’re at the Turnbull’s you say? Is young Michael home yet for the holidays? I could use his help too. The boy’s usually back first day of the break - can’t get out of the city quick enough. I don’t know why he doesn’t just move back here and have it done with! Now there’s a nice young man, Jemimah,” Mrs Sainsbury’s tone was suddenly full of meaning, “you should get to know him while you’ve got the chance. I’m sure he’d make a lovely husband - I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. What do you think about him, sweetie? Should I start praying about it?”
For once Mrs Sainsbury waited for an answer, but Jemimah was completely lost for words. Although she knew the Turnbulls couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, she felt as though Mrs Sainsbury’s comments must be written all over her blushing face.
“It’s a little hard to say right now, I’m sorry,” Jemimah managed finally.
Mrs Sainsbury burst out laughing. “Oh - Michael’s right there is he! I didn’t even stop to think, but that’s even better, you can ask him straight away if he’ll come too. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to throw you together tonight. Just tell Michael Hubby needs his help - he was counting on Colin Anderson and Ashley to give him a hand.”
Feeling slightly faint, Jemimah put her hand over the mouthpiece and reluctantly turned to Michael. As nice as it would be to have Michael go along with them, the last thing she wanted was to become an unwilling conspirator in Mrs Sainsbury’s match-making endeavours. But she didn’t have any option but to pass on the invitation.
“Michael - Mrs Sainsbury has asked if you could come along too if at all possible,” she said and briefly recounted the circumstances. “She wants us all there as early as possible.”
“How did she know I was home? Just what I need the day after escaping school - more teenagers!” Michael grimaced, although it looked like he didn’t really mind. “I suppose I can’t get out of it now she knows I’m here anyway.”
“Nope.” Angie smirked as she shook her head in confirmation. “And it serves you right for being so high and mighty before.”
“I guess I can keep you two out of trouble, anyway,” he retaliated, a teasing glint in his eye. “I’ve heard about the kind of things you’ve been getting up to on Friday nights - chasing cattle thieves and all.”
Angie turned an accusing glare on Nan, but she merely laughed and shrugged. “Oh, Angie - it was too good a story not to share!”
Jemimah bit her lip to keep from smiling too, and uncovered the phone. Her own embarrassment had been supplanted by Angie’s discomfort at her brother’s hands, and she couldn’t resist evening the score a little.
“Michael will be delighted to come, Mrs Sainsbury,” she said, trying not to laugh at the look of exasperation Michael made at her generous reinterpretation of his sentiments.
“Terrific, dearie! I’m looking forward to seeing you all. And don’t forget to dress in theme, will you?”
“Oh, I’d forgotten about that - what do we have to dress as?”
“Truck drivers of course! Oh my, look at the time. Must go.” Mrs Sainsbury hung up even before Jemimah had moved the phone from her ear.
“So what do we have to go dressed as?” Angie asked as Jemimah returned to the table. Jemimah smiled, pleased to see the distraction had worked and Angie seemed to have forgotten her earlier petulance. Even Michael was watching her with interest.
“Truck drivers! It’s a truck stop theme night complete with hamburgers and greasy chips,” she replied, and then shuddered at the unpleasant memory Michael’s mention of their cattle-thief chasing had brought up. “I won’t be dressing up, though. I’ve had enough of stubby shorts and blue singlets to last a lifetime!”
Michael and Nan laughed at her expression, but Angie shook her head sternly.
“No, no, no! If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it properly - otherwise Jack Hart will never let us hear the end of it,” Angie insisted. “We’ll come up with something good.”
“Aren’t most drivers these days professionals who wear uniforms and reflective shirts?” Michael asked.
Angie rolled her eyes. “How boring! The idea is not super accuracy - but to capture the stereotype. I think the point is just to look rough and manly.”
Rough and manly? Who was Angie kidding? Jemimah winced silently, then glanced up at the sound of Michael’s gentle chuckle. She looked away just as quickly, unsettled by the expression in his eyes that responded appreciatively to her unspoken thoughts.
Unware of the exchange, Angie persisted in her scheme. “Surely you’ve got a pair of old jeans at least, Mimie? We could pick them up from your place on the way.”
“No, I haven’t got any jeans, old or otherwise,” Jemimah admitted, her blush increasing when Angie ribbed her about it.
“I can easily lend you a pair of my jeans, Jemimah,” Nan offered, getting up from the table. “And we have so many old navy singlets and flannelette shirts hanging around this place that you can take your pick if you want to go along with Angie’s plans. In any case, Michael had better go and deal with Aspro if you want to get to the Sainsbury’s in good time.”
Michael groaned at the reminder and then looked hopefully at Angie and Jemimah. “Since I’m helping out with your social night, how about you two give me a hand washing Aspro? The sooner that’s done, the sooner we can all go.”
Jemimah shook her head vigorously, “I’m sorry Michael, but there is no way I’m going anywhere near that dog again!”
“Yep, you’re on your own there, big brother. She’s your dog!” Angie added with a laugh, “Besides, we’ll need all that time to get dressed and ready!”
“And what about me?” he retorted.
“You’re already suitably dressed - and if you skip the shower before we leave, you can add an authentic ambience to the truckie atmosphere too!” Angie snorted, and ducked into the hallway laughing as Michael threw a cushion at her head and missed.
Jemimah bent to pick it up, and held it out to Michael as he came across the room to collect it.
“You’re a good sport, you know, Jemimah,” he said quietly as he reached out for the cushion. “I don’t think Angie knows how blessed she is to have a friend like you.”
The warmth in Michael’s voice brought the heat back into Jemimah’s face. Not daring to meet his eyes for more than a moment in acknowledgement of his compliment, Jemimah escaped into the hall after Angie. Her heart was still skipping like a jittery lamb as she heard the front screen door close after him, and she pressed her hand to her chest as though that would somehow still it.
The day couldn’t have turned out any more differently than she’d anticipated, but she had no regrets now. The threatened storm had passed right over, and unexpected sunshine had broken through the clouds to suffuse her world in an unearthly golden glow.
Not only had she had the incredible experience of spending so much time with Michael already - she had his company at the social evening to look forward to as well.
She paused just outside Angie’s room, chiding herself at the selfishness of her thoughts. Surely there was more to God’s plans than just to keep her in close proximity to Michael Turnbull? She normally went to the social nights with a prayerful heart regarding the young people - but that aspect hadn’t crossed her mind once since Mrs Sainsbury had asked her to invite Michael.
Turning back, Jemimah retraced her steps to the phone in the now empty kitchen. Perhaps Jarrah would come along after all if Jemimah let her know she and Angie would be there too?
© R. L. Brown 2007