|"Kiama - Short Story by Rachel Brown"
“I think it’s the next left,” Mia said from the back seat, but her voice was lost amongst the three other young women exclaiming at the cafés and boutiques that lined both sides of the road.
Mia double-checked her creased tourism guide, then leaned across a backpack, garment bag and a bulging beauty case to tap the driver of the hatchback on her shoulder. “This is it, Ashley - turn left!”
The sign to the Kiama Tourist Park flashed past and Mia sucked in her breath. She’d been looking forward to this trip for months, and every delay that evening had been agonising.
“Settle down, girl - it’s not going anywhere,” Vivian, seated opposite her in the back seat, teased as the car swung around in a sudden U-turn. They pulled up in front of a boom gate, and Mia bounded out of the car almost before the engine had stopped.
Ashley stretched lazily as she unfolded herself from behind the wheel, and the front seat passenger swung a designer handbag over her shoulder as she stepped out of the car. An assistant fashion editor, Fiona was the unchallenged arbiter of style and behaviour of the group, and she glanced over her shoulder at Mia where she stood by her open door.
“Let’s not all go in.” Fiona’s tone was designed to put Mia in her place, but Mia barely noticed. Her mind was far away as the two women strutted toward the office to pay the balance and collect the key to their cabin. It was too dark to see anything beyond the area lit around the park office, but she could hear the wind dragging the sound of the surf through the giant Norfolk pines, and taste the salt of the ocean.
Mia was the youngest of the group of single women who worked for a Sydney magazine publisher. While she was cognizant of the honour of being included in the annual girls’ weekend, she’d actually been sold on the trip more by the Tourist Park brochure than anything else. The glossy pictures showed spacious cabins perched on a headland that jutted into the Pacific Ocean and overlooked crescent beaches nestled on either side. Even in midwinter the tariff wasn’t cheap, but the four way split made it achievable on Mia’s salary as a first year graphic designer.
She’d bookmarked the park’s website, and spent her idle moments alternately daydreaming over the enticing images and worrying that the place wouldn’t live up to her expectations. Childhood holidays in caravan parks had taught her that a careful camera angle could hide a multitude of sins. Mia breathed in the briney air tentatively as her eyes adjusted to the low light. So far at least, the park seemed to be everything the brochure had promised.
Ashley and Fiona took ages in the office, but Mia forgot that the moment they parked behind a fancy new cabin. Their sophisticated reserve forgotten, the four girls spilled out of the car and onto the decking ramp that ran between their cabin and the neighbouring one. The cabin next door was alive with light and music, and as the girls crested the ramp to the boardwalk that connected the cabins, their neighbours were revealed to be half a dozen young men, sitting around an outdoor table.
This unexpected bonus raised the girls’ voices an octave as they called out a passing hello to the guys, and Mia found herself giggling with the others as they huddled around their front door, waiting for Ashley to unlock it.
“And not a woman amongst them!” noted Fiona with satisfaction, casting another glance over her shoulder.
“Probably all got girlfriends or wives waiting for them back home,” Vivian dug Fiona in the ribs.
“So? What’s it matter - they’re not here, and we are!”
The door slid open, and the older three girls flowed into the cabin on a current of excitement. Mia hesitated, her eye caught by the glint of moonlight on water. She walked back to the edge of the deck, thrilled to discover a vista of the ocean framed by the giant Norfolks. The sound of crashing surf floated up to her, and the surrounding darkness gave the illusion she was standing on the prow of a ship with nothing but the thick rope handrails separating her from the ocean below.
She pulled herself away from view to join her girlfriends inside. They were moving from room to room in a chaotic dance of activity as they checked out the inclusions and bartered over the allocation of beds. Vivian and Ashley had already discovered the in-house movie guide and Fiona the spa bath, but Mia stood still and took in the beauty of the cabin.
“It’s so pretty,” she murmured, smiling at the light wood panelling and the denim blue feature wall that set off a series of cute nautical-themed teddy prints to perfection.
“If you like fake seaside-kitsch,” Fiona replied, rolling her eyes as she came back into the room. “Let’s go and unload and then we can start getting ready for the evening.”
Ashley came out of one of the bedrooms, still haggling with Vivian over the bunks. “Oh, and Mia - you won the draw for the main bedroom, though you’ll have to share the wardrobe - there’s no cupboard space in our room.”
Mia raised her eyebrows as the girls swept past. She’d never imagined having the luxury of the double bed herself. As the newest addition to their group, it was gratifying she’d been included in the “draw”. The thought crossed her mind, though, that it might have suited the other three better to share the second room between themselves, than with her.
It was amazing how much had been crammed into the hatchback. Each girl seemed to have packed enough clothes for a month and, despite their plans to eat out each night, enough food for the rest of winter.
They’d just loaded their arms with as much as they could carry when a face appeared around the corner of the neighbouring deck.
“Like a hand?” Not waiting for an answer, the dark haired man of about thirty, turned back to his friends. “Come on guys - let’s get the ladies’ luggage for them.”
The girls had barely made it halfway up the ramp before they were surrounded by the men from the next cabin. Mia bit her lip as a long-limbed young man with wavy brown hair quietly offered to take her bags.
“Thank you,” she said, and watched him go out of sight around the boardwalk before she returned to the boot to collect the rest of her gear. She’d barely hauled it out before the same young man was back by her side, taking the load as though it were weightless.
Mia wanted to ask his name as she walked alongside him, but he deposited her bags on the couch before she’d had chance. Ashley had turned on the charm and stood half blocking the doorway, but their chivalrous knights seemed immune to her spell and disappeared from the cabin as quickly as they’d arrived. All Mia managed was a hurried “Thanks again,” before her young man turned to follow the rest of his friends, but the smile that lit his green eyes as he’d replied “My pleasure,” left Mia feeling warm.
Vivienne saw Mia’s blush and grinned. “Well, they are a bonus we didn’t read about in the brochure! Maybe we’ll have more fun if we stay in tonight.”
Fiona swung round, her manicured eyebrows lowered. “No - we are not staying in! I’ve booked a table for eight-thirty, remember? I’ve been dying to check out this restaurant since Edwina did that review.”
“Me too.” Ashley picked up her suitcase. “I’ve still got that photo of the chef pinned on my fridge, and I’m determined to meet him. Let’s get moving.”
Mia had been out on the deck watching the moonlight dance on the ocean for a good quarter of an hour before the rest of the girls emerged. The aroma of expensive perfume obliterated the more attractive scent of the sea, and Mia reluctantly unfolded herself from her chair to join them. Freshly made up and dressed to kill, the girls were a walking advertisement for the fashion industry.
Despite her eclectic outfit sourced from her favourite inner city op-shops, Mia didn’t feel at all intimidated. She knew from the male attention she’d gained when they’d gone out together in the past, that what she lacked in fancy labels she made up for with the sheer youthfulness of her slim figure. Vivienne had complained more than once that Mia could have thrown on a garbage bag and still looked good.
The girl’s spirits were high as they tapped across the boardwalk in dangerously high heels, and they expected a good reaction as they passed by their neighbours who were still gathered on the deck next door.
“Heading out for the evening, ladies?” The offhand comment was the only sign of interest before the men returned to their own conversation.
Mia stifled a smile as Ashley tossed her blonde streaked hair and leaned over the railing separating the boardwalk from the adjoining deck. Used to catcalls and extravagant compliments, Ashley seemed piqued by the underwhelming response of these particular males.
“Sure are. Want to join us?”
“Thanks anyway, but we’ve got our own plans,” the oldest of the men replied, a twinkle in his eye. “We’re all set for night of Bible study.”
The girls hooted with disbelieving laughter, and Ashley returned a snappy, “Yeah, right!” as she strode past. Mia glanced back over her shoulder as she followed, heat rushing into her cheeks as she saw that the guys all had books spread out on the table in front of them. Perhaps they hadn’t been just teasing Ashley - but really were having a Bible study.
How weird, she thought as she climbed into the back seat of the hatch. Whose idea of fun was that?
The guys and their Bible study - or whatever it was they were doing - were soon forgotten, and it was well after one a.m. when the girls returned to the cabin. Having drunk only a couple of Bacardi and cokes, Mia had been voted the designated driver and judging from the way the other girls staggered up the ramp on their return, Mia was glad she’d driven. Their voices were even louder than usual, Vivienne was singing the chorus of some song over and over, and Mia cringed for the occupants of the dark cabin beside theirs. She doubted anyone could sleep through so boisterous a homecoming.
There was a small conflict over the single bathroom, but eventually the cabin was silent and Mia switched off the lights and shut the door to her own room. There was no reason for it - unless it was the caffeine in the drinks she’d had - but the moment Mia lay down, she felt wide awake.
She opened her window to listen to the surf, but soon her room became too cold and made her even less sleepy, so she closed it again and began to fiddle with the built-in clock radio. She turned the tuner past some woeful operatic piece, then some rap music that was far from peaceful, and had just about reached the end of the dial when she picked up the sound of a pop/rock song. It was unfamiliar but seemed pleasant enough, so she settled herself down in bed to wait for sleep to come.
After the second song by the same singer, Mia assumed it was a radio station featuring a couple of songs by the one artist, but when the fourth has started without any interruption by ads or an announcer, she realised it was more like she was listening to a CD than a radio program. And what was more … the songs all seemed to be about God.
Mia had nothing against religion, but she’d never had anything to do with it either, and she felt quite strange listening to song after song describing God and Jesus in a way that was both personal and reverent. For the first time in her life, it seemed like the “Him” mentioned in the songs might actually be real - and the way the singer described his relationship with this God and his love for him made Mia feel like she was really missing something.
The music and arresting lyrics went on, song after song, as though they were speaking directly to her. In the stillness of the night, every word seemed to resonate in her ears with unnatural clarity.
Mia watched the clock pass two and three, and she wasn’t really sure when she finally dropped off. When she woke as sun filtered in through her window around six a.m., her radio was silent. Strangely disturbed by the memory of the music, she ran the tuner up and down the dial for several minutes, but there was nothing like it anywhere on the dial. Had she dreamed the whole thing? Was it some kind of vision from God?
The other girls were still fast asleep, and wanting to get out into the fresh air to breathe and think, Mia pulled on a tracksuit, grabbed a blanket to throw around her and headed outside. The sun glinted off a dark denim ocean that stretched as far as she could see, and a steep path drew her down to the golden sand of the beach below.
Mia raised her face to the faint warmth of the sun, and looked all around as she walked. Even that early the Norfolks guarding the cliff-top park were alive with the morning songs of birds, keen walkers traversed the headland path and the undulating waves beneath were dotted with surfers.
The beauty of it all nearly robbed Mia of breath. This was what she lived for, and the thrill of being there, able to drink it all in without limit, made her light-headed. She wandered along the shoreline, picking a path amongst the shells abandoned by the night tide, and sat down where she could watch the waves. Nothing soothed Mia’s soul like the ocean, and after her strange night it was exactly what she needed.
She had no idea how long she sat and watched the water wash over the pale golden sand, stretching out a reflection of the blue sky that glistened like the surface of a magical mirror, until it disappeared into the wet sand - only to be painted anew a few moments later. Each wave that curled into shore thrilled her with its vast palate of colour. Deepest blues and luminous greens and tans blended into each other to transform into shades she had no name for, changing every moment. It was a feast for her mind and her heart.
Mia watched the white foam that trickled from the top of each cresting wave, dancing wildly with a life of its own, until it was festooned like a fringe of cloud along the glassy mirror on the shore. It was a painting come to life with thick oil pigments that rose from the canvas, applied with passion. She longed to recreate it, mentally selecting the brushes and colours she’d use. Yet depicting one moment of a wave could never capture with the way it moved, transforming constantly - alive and vibrant and stunning. Mia longed to take it all in, to capture the beauty within herself to keep forever.
One of the surfers caught her attention as he rode a wave close into shore, right across her line of vision. He moved with a grace that made him seem as much a part of the ocean as the waves themselves, and she watched him paddle back toward the sea, the bright orange panels of his long black wetsuit marking him clearly from the handful of other surfers. Mia swam, but had never learned to surf, and she watched with longing as he rose with the waves that passed beneath his board, one with the ocean.
Dark water swelled behind him, and Mia caught her breath, silently willing him to catch the wave as it formed. He propelled his board with long easy strokes, gliding to his feet as the ocean caught hold of him and possessed him in its relentless surge. It was a pleasure to watch him skim across the surface of the water, a hostage to the power of the sea yet seemingly in control of his destiny as he cut across it.
When that wave was spent, another rose up, and as he paddled for it a second surfer headed for it from the other direction. Mia had seen surfers battle over a break before, but before she’d even realised what was happening, the one with the orange-panelled wetsuit had slipped back over the wave and left it to the other surfer. Mia felt the interloper didn’t make nearly as good a ride of it as her surfer would have and was pleased the orange-panelled guy picked up an even larger wave only minutes later.
Intent on watching his board rip across the concave wall of water, Mia was jolted back to shore when two sets of shoes passed only metres in front of her. The damp sand was criss-crossed with the triangle footprints of seagulls, and Mia cringed as the walkers strode heedlessly across them, obliterating a whole section of her perfect canvas.
She sighed, and rose slowly. She really ought to get going - the other girls would be waking soon, full of plans for the day and not wanting to be held up.
Mia walked slowly up the headland, trying to imprint every last moment of the view on her memory. At the top, just before turning back to her cabin, she went over to the safety rail and leant on it, to drink in one more heart-full of the incredible deep blue ocean. Its colour was all the more vivid against the paler sky - dark and glinting with sunlight all at once, smooth yet constantly moving - its surface pulled by the marks of a long rip.
“You’re up early after such a late night.” A male voice behind Mia made her jump, and she turned to see the surfer in the orange-panelled wetsuit standing beside her, barefoot and dripping water onto the grass.
“Oh, you’re from the cabin next door!” she said, recognising the tall young man with the vibrant green eyes and sun-streaked brown hair who had taken her bags the night before. She grimaced as she registered what he’d said. “Oops. You heard us come in?”
He grinned, but didn’t need to answer. Mia knew as well as he that no-one could have missed their arrival.
“Sorry,” she gave an apologetic shrug then said, “I’m Mia, by the way. I was watching you before, from down on the beach, but I didn’t realise it was you. You made me jealous, though. It must be wonderful surfing on a morning like this.”
“I’m Sean,” he held out his cold, wet hand in introduction. “And, yes, there’s nothing like it. Being out in the ocean is my favourite place in the world - under the sky, caught up in the power of the sea. Out there I’m one with the whole of creation, really feeling it, part of it - not just looking on.”
“Yes! That’s just what I was thinking earlier. The waves and the beach and everything seem so much realer than anything else, almost too real to be true,” Mia breathed. “It’s like I can lose myself in them, find real peace. If only I could stay there, or at least keep the feeling of that inside me forever.”
Sean nodded, his teeth white against his tanned face as he grinned. “Yeah. I feel like I really see so much of God when I’m out there. His power in creating something like this in the first place, his sheer strength in every surge of the water, his incredible artistry in the hues of the water and the sky.”
Mia felt her eyes widen. It was so weird for him to say all that - to understand how she felt about the ocean, and to speak about God as if he knew him, just like the music that had been going through her mind all last night.
“Do you mean you know about God from all of this?” That idea almost made sense of everything to Mia, how this morning on the beach she felt she could so nearly understand everything, nearly grasp the vastness of … she didn’t know quite what. Perhaps it was God?
“Not exactly,” Sean answered with a shrug. “I wouldn’t know who God was personally if I didn’t know him from the Bible, but I do learn more and more about him from seeing what he has made and what that reveals about him. I mean, I just can’t get over the sheer magnificence of a morning like this - or our ability to see it with our eyes, feel it with our skin, to breathe in the salt and more than that, to appreciate it with our heart.”
He spread his hand over his chest as he spoke and then chuckled at himself. “My mates would kill themselves laughing if they heard me go on about the beauties of the morning like this, but it’s true. We’re not just animals - we’ve got souls. We’re made in the image of God to be able to appreciate what he appreciates. He’s created us to delight in him.”
He paused and looked at Mia, as though unsure of whether to go on or not. His eyes were the colour of a turning wave, and Mia knew she could listen to him all day. She smiled encouragingly.
“I do believe God has revealed himself through his creation - who he is and what he is like, but we suppress that knowledge, that understanding of God because of our own wickedness. If we let ourselves stop and admit the truth, we can’t escape the fact there is a God - a magnificent, extravagant, almighty God - but because of our sin we can’t find our way to him except through the gospel message of Jesus in the Bible.”
Sean stiffened, his gaze sharpening far over Mia’s head. He gripped her arm suddenly, and she glanced over her shoulder to see what had taken his attention just as he said, “Look! Whales!”
Mia followed his outstretched arm, her heart jumping as she made out a dark shadow under the water, a few hundred metres off shore. The dark shape rose from the water, and then a huge black side and one extended flipper was clearly outlined against the blue sky. Mia squealed with delight, but just as suddenly it was subsumed by the ocean. She stared after the whale, longing for it to reappear.
The surface of the ocean was still for several moments, and then a fountain of white spray erupted above its surface. She grinned as Sean’s hand tightened on her arm, and she glanced up to see his face enraptured. When she looked back at the water a second whale spouted beside the first, and Mia’s whole body tingled with excitement. She had seen the plumes of dolphins before, but the whale’s spray was huge in comparison. Sean had let go of her arm and moved to the rail beside her, and they both watched in awed silence as the huge creatures made their way toward the next headland.
Several more spurts of water appeared further off shore, and it was a long time after the last one disappeared that Mia gave up straining her eyes across the glistening ocean. She turned to Sean apologetically. “I’d better go. The girls will be wondering where I am. Thank you so much for showing me the whales, I would have missed them. It was … incredible.”
“My pleasure.” Sean tore his gaze from the sea and smiled down at her. “It’s always better seeing them with someone, or else you wonder if you just imagined it all.”
Mia saw that his lips were blue and he was shivering all over. “Sean - you’d better go and get a hot shower before you get hypothermia or something.”
He laughed through chattering teeth. “Yeah, I didn’t even notice the cold while I was watching, but I certainly feel it now. Catch you later.”
Sean tucked the board under his arm and sprinted across the grass to his cabin. Mia followed more slowly, her thoughts returning to the conversation they’d been having before the whales had appeared. First that music about God that had played all night … and then that guy talking about God like he knew him. Weird.
Her mind still grinding over the new ideas that had been so unexpectedly introduced, Mia let herself back into the cabin. The living area was filled with the aroma of strong coffee and Ashley and Fiona were moving slowly around the kitchen. She began to tell them about the whales, but they paid only cursory interest, making it seem a dumb thing to be excited about it.
Mia filled a bowl of cereal and sat cross-legged on the couch, where she could look out on the water. It wasn’t dumb to be excited about the whales. She’d experienced one of those rare moments, a glimpse of something that meant more than a whole year of ordinary days. And it wasn’t just her. Sean had responded just as strongly; when he’d grasped her arm she’d sensed the intense emotion that coursed through his body. His transparent delight had warmed something inside her.
Vivienne emerged from the shower, a towel wrapped like a turban around her head and nodded briefly in Mia’s direction as she passed through to the kitchen. She made herself a cup of coffee and joined in the other girls’ desultory chatter.
As they laughed over their night out and tossed around ideas for the day, Mia felt more than ever that she was alone in her own inner world. It was always like that at work, but there it was part of the job - her mind taken up with colours, layouts, and artwork and only half aware of the people around her. Now, away from the distractions of work, the chasm was even more apparent.
Mia knew there was no way she could even begin to explain to these girls the strange new thoughts that churned like a stormy sea within her mind and resonated deeply in her heart. None of them understood anything about the way she felt … but Sean had. This stranger had summed up her feelings about the earth’s beauty in his own words, and then pointed to a doorway of mystery she’d never even contemplated.
The idea that it was possible to connect with, to understand the … person … behind this incredible, incomprehensible world … to actually know God.
Mia put down her empty bowl and stared out at the ocean. Sean wasn’t like anyone she’d ever met before - and she hoped she could talk to him again.
There probably wasn’t much chance of that though, Mia sighed as she rose and added her bowl to the cups in the sink. From the sound of it, the girls had every moment of their day mapped out.
A few hours later, Mia stood by the famous Kiama blowhole, grinning widely as salt spray blew across her face. The wind had picked up, its penetrating cold having chased Ashley, Fiona and Vivienne away from the lookout some time earlier.
Mia had talked them into stopping there first that morning, and while the others had climbed down the steps to the blowhole willingly enough, when five minutes passed without producing anything more impressive than a few small splashes through the vent in the rocks, they were unanimous in their desire to relocate to a warm coffee shop. Wanting nothing less than being trapped indoors, Mia had surprised them by saying she’d stay on at the blowhole while they went off to visit the boutiques and cafes in the main part of town. She explained how she wanted to explore a bit more around the coastline and would meet them back at the cabin before it was time to head out again for the evening.
They looked at her in annoyance until Vivienne had chuckled, saying she’d seen Mia chatting up the guy from next door that morning and suspected she hoped to run into him again. This seemed to satisfy the girls, and they left Mia with the cabin key and a teasing admonition not to do anything they wouldn’t.
Mia hadn’t consciously thought of trying to meet Sean again; her immediate motive was only to be alone with her thoughts and to make the most of the beauty of the coast. Her choice to stay was soon rewarded though, when a sound like thunder boomed beneath the rocks at her feet and a magnificent rush of water thrust high above her head.
It seemed the temperamental blowhole had decided to put on its best performance for her, and Mia leaned over the rail, caught up in the cycle of anticipation and appreciation with a changing crowd of tourists for nearly three quarters of an hour. For a while, the hypnotic effect of the water and the rushing of the wind in her ears arrested the thoughts in her mind … but in the end only served to drive her focus back onto the mighty force of nature.
Force of nature? she mused, as she relinquished her place at the rail to a group of eager children, or voice of God?
Mia walked slowly along the headland, shaking her head at the warning signs that depicted stick people being swept from the rocks. Wasn’t the power of the sea as it smashed into the coastline obvious enough? Didn’t everyone feel how easily the sea could consume them, how inconsequential they’d be in its grasp?
Again she felt that sense of exhilaration at being overwhelmed by something far bigger than herself, and wished that Sean were there with her. She wanted him to explain how the vastness didn’t make him feel small and insignificant … but gave him that glow of assurance and purpose.
Mia stood aside to let an elderly couple pass her, and then made her way down toward the harbour. The brightly painted fish market caught her eye and she bought a large fresh fillet for her lunch, and tucked it under her arm as she began the circuitous walk back around the headland toward the Tourist Park.
She was literally on the edge of the world - or of the continent, anyway - and the ocean stretched out before her like dazzling blue foil. She scanned it constantly for any sign of whales, but saw none, and decided to cook her lunch on the barbecue on her balcony and eat outside, where she could continue her lookout unimpeded.
Sean had just seared the dozen pieces of steak on the barbecue plate on their balcony when he heard footsteps crossing the boardwalk. He glanced over his shoulder to see Mia, the young lady he’d chatted to that morning on his way back from the beach. He was surprised to see her - when the girls had left in their car that morning he’d assumed they’d be gone all day.
Mia looked up as well, and when their eyes met, she paused briefly and gave Sean a small wave and a shy smile. She disappeared into her cabin and Sean released the breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. He’d gone out on a limb that morning, sharing his love for God with a stranger like that. While everything he’d said was true and vitally important, he was so used to it being rejected or ridiculed that he’d become wary of people’s reactions. But this girl, Mia, hadn’t raised the barriers like everyone else; when he started talking about the God who made the universe it seemed as though something had opened behind her warm brown eyes.
“Time to turn, little brother!” Patrick called out from the doorway, and Sean grimaced and flicked the steaks back over to their original sides. In their family cooking the perfect steak was a proud tradition - and he’d nearly stuffed up the searing.
Patrick appeared by his elbow and tipped a bowl of onions onto the corner of the hot plate. “Was that the girl you spoke to this morning?”
Sean nodded. “Yes. But I can’t stop thinking that I really didn’t say enough. I mean, she seemed interested when I told her about God - but I didn’t tell her about the gospel or anything else. I guess you can’t think of everything at the time.”
“And it mightn’t be the right time, either.” Patrick pulled a chair over from the table and leant with one foot on its arm. “Just make the most of the opportunities which God sends you, and leave the results to him. You know, one plants another waters … the things you share about God might be just one little link in a long chain that God uses in bringing a person to know him. Who knows what someone else had already said to this girl - or who might be the next one to witness to her? If God is working in someone’s life, he’s got the big picture in mind - we don’t need to know the whole plan to do our part. And we mightn’t even find out the results until heaven.”
“I know. It would just be nice to know if your prayers or what you said did lead someone toward Christ,” Sean said with a sigh. All morning he’d found himself praying that God would reveal himself to this girl who he couldn’t stop thinking about. Mia didn’t appear to know Jesus as her Saviour … and yet she’d been able to communicate with Sean on a level that even his brothers didn’t touch.
“Yep, don’t we all wish we got to be the last link in the chain? After countless other Christians have faithfully done their work, to be the one to lead the person to Christ?” Patrick smiled and gave his brother a friendly shove. “Just because we don’t see it happen, doesn’t mean it won’t. God will use us as it pleases him to bring his sheep into his kingdom.”
His encouragement made Sean feel a little guilty. He knew that simply doing God’s work should be his most important priority, but somehow the thought of never seeing Mia again, even if someone else led her to Christ, didn’t appeal. It was stupid, he was thinking more like a besotted male than a servant of God, just because this girl with freckles across her nose and golden rays in her warm eyes had seemed genuinely interested in him.
Sean pressed the steak with his tongs, and whipped half of them over. He couldn’t answer for the taste of his mates who liked the life cooked out of their meat - but he and his brothers would have theirs rare.
“Got a plate ready in the oven, Patty? Our steaks are--” Sean broke off when he heard light footsteps and swung round to see Mia heading across the boardwalk towards them. His brother turned round in interest as she stopped at the bottom of their step.
“I’m so sorry, but--” Mia began, giving her shy smile as she looked from one to the other of them, “I can’t get our barbecue to heat up. Could one of you please …”
“We’re nearly done - why don’t you just bring your meat over and do it on ours,” Patrick called back to her. “It’s all heated and ready to go.”
Mia blinked a couple of times then nodded. “That would be great. Thanks.”
Fearful of catching his brother’s eye, Sean turned straight back to the meat sizzling on the plate. If he’d made the offer to Mia himself, he would have been suspicious of his motives, but since it had been Pat’s idea …
Sean took a deep breath, and began to pray for her and for wisdom to know what to say. He barely registered as Patrick held out the plate for the first batch of steak, and he piled the meat on it on autopilot.
“Smells good. Just about ready?” Sean’s middle brother, Kyle had joined them on the balcony. Sean had barely nodded before Kyle had raised his hands to his mouth and bellowed “Grubs up!”
The other three young men from their study group swarmed around the outdoor table, plonking plates, cutlery and tomato sauce in a heap in the centre. Sean had just scooped the last steak from the barbecue when a sudden silence from the guys alerted him to Mia’s return.
“We’ve got a guest, have we?” Red-headed Scott grinned as Mia walked toward the barbecue, bearing a long foil-wrapped package on a plate.
Sean turned, and seeing the nervousness in Mia’s eyes gave her a reassuring smile. “This is Mia from next door, her barbecue wouldn’t start. Seemed easier to just cook it here.”
“What are you having, Mia?” Scott asked, nodding at her parcel.
“Fish. I bought a fillet of whiting down at the harbour.”
“That won’t take a minute. Stick ours in the oven until Mia’s is cooked, Sean.”
“Oh, no - don’t wait for me!” Mia raised her hands, “I’ll just cook it and go.”
Sean tried not to smile as Patrick leaned inside the cabin to pull out an extra chair. “Nah, we can’t eat in front of you. We’ll wait and you can join us. We don’t bite - you’ve met Sean, I’m his big brother Patrick, this is the middle one Kyle, and our friends Tony, Scott and Jason.”
Mia looked back at them shyly for a moment and then nodded. “Thank you. I’ll go get my salad.”
“So, what’s the story?” Kyle demanded as soon as she was out of earshot. Sean caught Patrick’s eye, but his big brother merely shrugged and said, “It’s our good deed of the day. ‘Chivalry is not dead’ and all that stuff.”
“Ahh, so chivalry is why Sean’s blushing?” Scott teased.
“It’s the heat of the barbecue,” Sean shot back, “if you’re offering to take over--”
Mia ran lightly across the decking, a plastic container of greens in one hand and a bottle of salad dressing in the other. Tony pulled out a chair for her and Patrick retrieved the platter of steak from the oven.
“This fish is all but done if you want to say grace,” Sean called out, and Patrick got to his feet and bowed his head. Sean couldn’t help wondering what Mia would think as all the men followed suit, their heads quietly bowed and eyes closed. Patrick thanked the Lord for the meal, for his mercy in providing for all his creatures and especially for his grace in providing Christ as the living bread. No matter if nothing more was said through the meal, Sean thought as they all said “Amen”, even that prayer might be something more of a witness to her.
Somehow, inbetween delivering Mia’s fish to her plate and putting the tongs in the sink, Sean discovered that the only empty chair turned out to be right beside Mia. He swallowed hard and made his way around the crowded table, taking infinite care not to let his legs brush hers as he climbed into his place.
“Aren’t you having anything with it?” Mia paused self-consciously halfway through tipping her salad onto her plate.
“We’ve got steak, cooked to perfection. What else is there?” Scott replied with a grin.
Mia giggled. “Well, you know, vegetables. The whole balanced meal thing?”
“Hey, we’ve got meat and veg. See - there’s onion,” Scott pointed to his plate with a flourish of his steak knife, “and there’s tomato in the sauce. Doesn’t get more balanced than that.”
The meal continued along that light-hearted tone, and Sean was pleased to hear Mia describing her experience at the blowhole that morning. His brothers might grin in a way he knew indicated their opinion of people who got all fussed about water running over rocks, but he understood how Mia felt. He couldn’t help wishing he’d been there with her. There was nothing nicer than enjoying those moments with someone who simply wanted to be there and soak it all in - not merely tick it off on a checklist of things to do and move quickly on to the next stop.
While Sean found himself too tongue-tied to ask Mia anything directly, Patrick had no such qualms and over the course of the meal he drew her out to talk about the area of Sydney that she came from, a little of her family background and what she did for a living. The easy interaction also helped Sean see why he’d instinctively found this young lady so attractive. There was a sense of grace and thoughtfulness in her every movement and while she preferred to listen to the others rather than talk about herself, beneath her slight reserve glowed an open and warm personality.
The meal seemed to be over in minutes, and Sean’s heart began to thud as Mia rose with her plate after they’d all finished eating.
“Thanks so much, it was very nice of you to have me,” she said, her smile taking in everyone around the table. Sean stood and pulled back his chair to let Mia pass, but nearly lost his balance when she abruptly changed course and took a step toward the open door of the cabin. She stared inside, her eyes strangely vacant.
“That music … where is it coming from?”
“What? That song?” Sean nodded inside to the music he’d left playing before lunch.
“Yes,” Mia ducked her head through the doorway. “Yes - what is it?" she asked, almost urgently.
“Oh, just some Steve Camp songs. He’s a Christian musician,” Sean added in explanation, “I love his music - I’ve ripped all my CD’s onto an MP3 player. The guys are probably sick of me by now; I’ve been playing it all weekend through the built-in radios in the cabin.”
Mia was frowning now. “But how?”
Sean stepped inside and pointed to the small player sitting on the window sill. “See - I’m using a little radio transmitter that plugs into my MP3 player--” Sean broke off when Mia grinned suddenly, running her long fingers across her forehead.
“That explains it then. I heard it all night, through my radio. Couldn’t figure out what it was.”
“I’m so sorry!” Sean was aghast, “I had no idea it would transmit that far - I’ll turn it off.”
“Oh, no - don’t do that, I liked listening to it. I could have easily turned it off if I wanted.” Mia looked down at her feet and laughed softly. “I just didn’t know where it was coming from. That’s how silly I am, I thought maybe I was getting a message from God.”
Sean’s heart beat harder as he tried desperately to get the right words. “Maybe you were. Look, Mia - if you want to learn about God and how you can really know him, you need to look where he reveals himself to us - in the Bible. Can I give you one to read?”
She looked up at him, wide-eyed with surprise. “Okay. Thanks.”
Before she could change her mind, Sean ran through to his bedroom and snatched up his Bible from the shelf by his bed. He grabbed it by the covers and turned it upside down, shaking it to make the various book marks, church bulletins and notes rain to the floor before he ran back with it to the balcony.
He thrust it into her hands. “Here, you can keep it.”
“Oh.” Mia looked down at the book in her hands, blinking. “Thank you.”
Sean felt too embarrassed to watch as she walked away, so he went straight back inside. After pacing aimlessly back and forward through the cabin a couple of times, he went to the sink, filled it with hot water and began on the dishes.
Had it been dumb to just give her his Bible like that? Would she think he was an idiot - had she just taken it because she didn’t want to say ‘no’ to his face? Sean attacked the dishes with vengeance. It was done now, and he’d have to leave it in God’s hands. Whatever else was going on in the big picture, Mia had a Bible now - and maybe God would lead her to read it.
Even if he never knew about it himself.
The wind finally tugged the ends of Mia’s scarf free and she rewrapped it around her neck with a sigh, then stood and tucked the Bible under her arm. She’d been sitting on cold sand of the beach since first light, and although half a dozen or so surfers zig-zagged across the breaking waves there’d been no sign of one particular long-limbed surfer with the distinctive orange splicing on his wetsuit.
It had touched her profoundly when Sean had given her his Bible after lunch yesterday. She’d hardly known what to say, but had gone straight into her empty cabin, climbed onto her bed and began to read. She just started from the beginning and kept turning the pages until the lack of sleep from the night before finally caught up with her. The Bible was still open on her lap when she woke abruptly a few hours later, roused by her girlfriends’ knocking on the door of the cabin. Feeling slightly dazed, Mia slipped the Bible under her pillow and ran to unlock the door. The girls teased her as she let them in, saying they’d thought she mightn’t be alone when they returned - but Mia had hardly noticed their jibes, her mind churning with unsettling thoughts.
As it was churning again now.
Mia paused at the top of the path, and went over to the railing where she’d met up with Sean the morning before. It was another clear day, and she could see across the beach to the lighthouse on the next headland. Heavy booms echoed across the water as huge waves disintegrated against the jagged rocks on the opposite shore. There were no whales in sight, but the whole scene was beautiful – throat-achingly beautiful.
She looked at it differently this morning, too, after what she’d read in Sean’s Bible yesterday. About a God who’d spoken the world into being. Spoken the light, the water and the land into existence. Created the whales and created the birds that wheeled across the sky and cast their crisp shadows at her feet - created them out of nothing but his own words. Weird, but it almost seemed believable now.
Mia rubbed her cold nose with her sleeve. Sean and his mates believed it. That was weird too, seeing grown men close their eyes and pray like that. Ashley had thought they were joking last night about having a Bible study - but they weren’t. Over lunch they’d told her they’d come away for a few days to study a book of the Bible together. And to eat steak, the one called Scott had added as he snatched a third piece of meat while Sean was distracted.
Mia smiled at the picture in her mind. They were some of the nicest, funniest guys she had ever met and, like Sean, they all seemed dead serious about God. It was weird the way all this stuff about God had come out of the blue, and Mia wasn’t really sure what she thought about it all … or where to go with it now.
She’d guessed it would all be clear in the Bible Sean had given her, but not long after the beautiful story of creation and the Garden of Eden - it all went yucky. There was the serpent’s deception, and then Adam and Eve’s disobeying God and instantly feeling ashamed, and after that everything had been spoiled. It just kept getting worse. And then she’d got to the part about the flood and Noah’s ark. Mia had always thought the story of Noah and the ark was a bright smiley story, but now she saw it was all because God was so unhappy with the wickedness of the people on earth that he destroyed them all with the flood. Only Noah and his family, who knew God, were saved in the ark with the animals while everyone else drowned.
It made her think about her first conversation with Sean when he’d said that everything in the world revealed God - but people didn’t know him because of their wickedness. Mia had never thought of herself as wicked, but she knew she didn’t know God like Sean and his friends did, and it wasn’t nice to have the feeling that she was somehow locked outside of the ark.
Tired of feeling gloomy, Mia had decided to put it out of her mind and gone out for the evening with the girls. But when she’d got back home early the next morning and dropped her head on her pillow, she’d felt the unyielding Bible beneath it and all the banished thoughts had flooded back into her mind.
As she lay in the darkness trying to think her way out of her gloom, she remembered Sean’s music, and wondered if he might still be playing it through the transmitter. His cabin had been in darkness when they’d arrived home, and Mia was certain all the guys would be fast asleep … but perhaps if Sean knew she might be listening …
Almost frightened of disappointment, Mia turned on her radio - and her skin tingled all over when Sean’s music drifted from her speaker. He had been thinking of her, too.
She nestled her head into the pillows and let the music wash over her. It was so different listening now that she knew they were songs Sean loved, songs about the God he knew - and perhaps the way of life he knew too. The lyrics seemed to mean more than they had the night before as well, some describing the mercy of this Jesus in dying for people’s sins, others the gratitude of the singer and his desire to live for God. Mia had a nebulous idea that the whole thing with Jesus somehow tied in with the mess from Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, but she really wasn’t sure how.
Even after she’d drifted into sleep, the music played into her dreams - drifting into the tunnels of her mind and echoing there through the dark hours - just as it continued to echo through her mind this morning.
Mia cast one more sweeping gaze across the surfers and sighed. She really wanted to see Sean’s wide grin and smiling eyes again. She’d relived those precious moments of standing beside him on the cliff top a dozen times - only in her imagination his long arms wrapped around her and drew her close against him, where she could feel his heart beating against her as she snuggled her head under his chin.
A strong gust of wind swept the fantasy away, and left Mia standing on the cliff top alone with her thoughts - and acutely aware of the cold. She turned and made her way back toward the cabins. She was still wondering why Sean hadn’t been out surfing that morning when, between her cabin and the next, she glimpsed a tall young man tying a surfboard onto the roof racks of a four-wheel-drive station wagon.
Her heart began to race - even before she was close enough to see the sun picking out the golden highlights in his wavy hair, she’d recognised Sean from the graceful movements of his long limbs.
She took a deep breath and walked over to him. He hadn’t heard her approach, but when he had tightened the strap on the roof rack he stepped back and saw her reflection in the car window.
“Mia.” A huge smile lit Sean’s face as he turned quickly toward her.
Warmth flooded through Mia’s whole body at his obvious pleasure in seeing her, and she walked up to him, noting his dry hair, neat jeans and hand-knitted jumper.
“You didn’t surf this morning?”
“No - we’re heading off soon.” Sean didn’t take his eyes off her face as he stuck his hands in his jeans pockets and leaned back against the car, “We want to be back in time for church this morning.”
Mia nodded. Yesterday they’d mentioned they were from Canberra, about two and a half hours away. She’d just assumed they’d be staying until the following morning, like she was.
So this was it.
“I’d better give you this then.” She thrust the Bible toward him. “Thank you for letting me borrow it, but I can’t take it.”
When she’d opened it yesterday afternoon she’d read in the inscription in the front cover that he’d been given it for his twentieth birthday, and when she’d flicked through the pages she’d seen underlined passages and notes in the margins in small, neat handwriting. It was more than just a book - it was something incredibly personal of his.
Sean kept his hands in his pockets. “Please, I’d like you to have it … if you want, that is?”
The sudden anxiousness in his expression tugged at Mia’s heart. “Yes, I really would - I want to read it and understand it - it’s just, it’s yours … and it must be special to you.”
He shrugged, although there was nothing indifferent about his expression. “I’d really like you to have it, Mia. There’s nothing more important in this world than knowing God. If you really do want to read it, maybe you could start with the Gospel of John and read about Jesus--”
“Seeaaan!” Scott’s face appeared around the corner of the balcony. “Is your gear all packed?”
Sean frowned and called back over his shoulder that it was all in the car. He turned back to Mia, and shrugged a little awkwardly. “I’d better go in, and help with the last tidy up.”
Mia’s chest felt so tight that it hurt. “Thank you for giving me your Bible.”
“It’s my pleasure.” He swallowed and took a deep breath. “It’s been nice meeting you, Mia. I’ll be praying for you.” He stepped away from the car, as though he was about to walk off.
Mia clenched her jaw. Was this really it, then? Would she ever see him again? What if Sean wanted to see her too, and was just shy? She couldn’t believe she felt so strongly about this young man so soon after meeting him, but she did.
“Sean!” Mia took a couple of steps toward him just as he turned to go. “I’d like to keep in touch. Could I have your number or email or something?”
Sean stood stock still as he regarded her, the brisk wind playing through his hair the only movement. Mia’s mouth was dry from taking such a big risk, but there was no sign of rejection or embarrassment in his expression. She’d never seen him looking so serious.
The silence dragged on, punctuated by the painful thuds of her heart. It was as though he just didn’t know what to answer … but if he really didn’t want to see her again surely he’d just say so?
Mia wasn’t honestly sure whether she wanted the whole God thing or not, but she knew now how much she wanted Sean, and tried the one approach she was sure would work. “I’d like to be able to ask you more about the Bible, more about God. I want to understand what you were telling me about it yesterday. No-one’s ever explained things to me like that before.”
“Mia,” Sean took a deep breath and stepped forward to close the gap between them, “I really want you to understand it too, it’s just--” his voice was quiet but earnest as he continued. “It’s just I don’t think I’m the best person to help you. Getting in a right relationship with Jesus Christ is so incredibly important - it’s just not worth getting distracted by anything else. But if we keep in touch, I think we might get distracted from that.” He gave an embarrassed smile, “I think I would, anyway.”
Mia blinked hard a few times, feeling heat rush into her cold cheeks. His eyes were so warm as he looked at her, that she found it hard to understand exactly what he was saying.
“Sean!” Sean grimaced at the sound of Patrick’s voice calling from the cabin’s balcony, “Are you watching the time, little brother?”
Sean raised his hand in reply, and turned once more to Mia. “Just seek after Jesus, Mia,” he said urgently, “Don’t let yourself think about anything else until you know you are saved by faith in him. Nothing else matters in comparison. Look, I’ve got some good friends near where you live in Sydney - they’re a lovely couple and I know they’d be delighted to talk to you about Jesus, to take you along to church with them if you want. I’ll give you their details and phone number, and the address of their church.” He ducked his head through the open car window and retrieved a notebook from the glove box. “I’ll tell them all about you, so you won’t need to feel awkward or anything if you give them a call.”
He tore off the page and thrust it into her hand. “I’m sorry, Mia, but I’ve got to go.”
Still trying to take in what had just occurred, Mia watched him run back up the ramp to his cabin. She let out a slow breath and walked along the boardwalk to her own balcony, and was taken completely by surprise to be met at the door by her three girlfriends.
“Way to go, girl! So you’ll be seeing that cute guy again?” Vivian asked, her face lit with excitement.
Mia frowned. “I don’t know. Probably not.”
“But I saw him give you his number!” Vivian insisted, “We were watching through the window.”
Mia blushed, still trying to work it all out for herself. She looked down at the neat handwriting on the paper he’d given her. “No, it wasn’t his number - he didn’t want to give me that - he’s putting me in touch with some friends of his near where I live.”
“What?” Ashley laughed incredulously. “I saw the way that boy was looking at you. You can’t tell me he didn’t feel something for you!”
“Yeah, I think he really did, too,” Mia said with a smile, suddenly making sense of what he’d done. Something told her he cared a lot, and somehow that meant more to her than knowing she’d see him again straight away.
She walked through to her bedroom, and carefully folded the paper he’d just given her. When she opened up the Bible to slip it inside the cover, her eyes caught on the neat handwriting inscribed on the flysheet.
Mia’s hand flew to her mouth as she remembered Sean’s full name, address and phone number had been carefully printed there all along. Had he, too, forgotten that when he’d insisted on her keeping the Bible?
She bit her lip as she placed the Bible back under her pillow. Sean had clearly thought that her finding out about Jesus first was more important than anything else, and the stuff that had been going on inside her over the last few days made Mia think he could be right.
For the moment, she was content to follow his advice and figure out what she thought about God before she did anything else …but it was nice to know about that inscription.
Maybe one day, if she knew it was the right time to find him, she could.
~ THE END ~
© R Brown 2007