Women’s Fiction / Romance
Date Published: 12/30/2013
A beautiful Australian para-equestrian, Eleanor, is rudely awakened the morning after her twentieth birthday to face two pressing problems: the first, though she refuses to accept it, is that she’s been told by many acquaintances and relations that she’ll never find true love, and the second being, though she doesn’t know it yet, that she can’t even get up the steps to visit the blasted night-club with her mates! What no one knows is that one random act of chivalry, at the hands of a handsome American naval flight officer, is about to turn her world upside down. The heartfelt and sometimes harrowing journey that follows is as humorous as it is inspirational.
A Canter of the Heart is the romance of a new millennium, a story that you’ve never heard before, and one that should take its place amongst the iconic romances of our time. But most importantly, it is a romance that will speak, most unapologetically, to your heart. A Canter of the Heart is the first book in ‘The Equestrian and the Aviator’ trilogy that sets our intrepid heroine on the journey of a lifetime. The first thing that you will no doubt discover is that Eleanor, fickle girl that she is, has already found the love of her life – her inspiring love of horses.
This trilogy is based on a true story, and is a testament to the therapeutic riding programs offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. It is dedicated to the many remarkable, selfless people who made and continue to make those programs possible.
This was a fun and interesting read. Although it took me a while to get into the story, I still found it enjoyable. The heroine a young lady encounters many changes in her life. Some of the changes are for the better but like all changes, it takes some getting use to. Overall, I would recommend this story, it was very original and not like many things I read before.
A Canter of the Heart
The bedroom was freezing, I realized, shivering in brief spasms while pulling the covers higher up under my chin. It wasn't bad enough waking up with this nasty belly wog, I had to be born at the start of winter too? I loved Carol and Annette, but why on earth did they have to buy me that horrible blue drink? Still, you only turn twenty once, and that was the first and the last time I'd have turps like that.
I didn't know if it was worse to lie here or to try to get out of bed. The guinea fowl were chattering and making such a racket that it was impossible to sleep anyway, but I did my best to ignore them as I laid in bed a little longer, pinching my eyes shut in an attempt to squeeze out an errant ray of morning sun as it snuck through the gap in my bedroom curtains. I only wished I could've squeezed out this niggling headache as well.
“Oh, sod it!” I thought. “The sun's up, I might as well be too.”
Haltingly, I tried to sit up, only to pause while allowing my stomach to settle before laying back down and pulling the covers up to my cheeks. On the third attempt I managed it, accepting that my stomach ache would persist, no matter what I did, so I resolved myself to greet the day. Sliding my legs out from under the covers and off the side of the bed, I positioned my Quickie wheelchair and lifted myself across, pulling my feet up onto the footrests before heading off down the hallway to the kitchen.
Mum, who'd just returned from milking at the Roberts' dairy, was adding some jarrah to the cooking stove's fire-box, getting ready to make breakfast and heat up the water for the house. It was warmer in the kitchen, and a nice hot bath would be brilliant later. Dad was sitting at the dining room table reading his paper.
“Morning Mum,” I barely whispered.
“Morning Mouse, care for an egg?” Mum replied brightly, looking askance from the stove. “Feeling crook?”
“I think I'll survive,” I replied too soon, squinting as a wave of throbbing pain returned to my temples. I raised my hand, as if asking permission for the room to stop spinning, then added while waving it back and forth for emphasis, “No eggs, thanks, Mum,” then continued toward the dining room as something caught my eye. “There's a scorpion next to your foot, Mum,” I warned as I rounded the kitchen table.
Mum crushed it with her slipper, reached down and flung it into the fire.
“Blasted things are coming in off the woodpile again.”
“Sorry Mum, next time I'll run him over for you.”
I proceeded into the dining room, taking my place next to Dad.
“Morning Dad, how's your foot?” I said in as loud a voice as I could muster, which wasn't much on this particular morning.
“Bloomin' gout's agony, but it won' get tha better o' me, nowt as long as I've somethin' to say about it. 'Ow about you then, 'ave a right good time at the pub did ya? Givin' the blokes a bit o' trouble?” he replied in his usual gregarious manner followed by a hearty chuckle.
Unlike Mum and myself, Dad spoke with a pronounced Devonshire accent, moderated only slightly by his years at boarding school in Brighton. Living amongst the farming communities of southwest England before moving to Australia accounted as much for his skills as a farmer as for his accent. My own accent was a mixture of what some would call 'posh' or 'proper' English as learnt from Mum and Gran mingled with Australian as taught at private school and a smidgen of Yank thrown in from the American romance novels that were my mainstay - much to my family’s chagrin. Next to my Aussie mates, I didn't have much of an Australian accent. Anyway, I loved talking with Dad as, no matter what state he was in, and he'd been through a lot between his gout and his heart condition, he never failed to make me feel better.
I smiled, “No Dad, it was a girls’ night out at the Lord Forest. We're supposed to go out again tonight to a dance exhibition. It's something called the Lambada that Carol wants to see and it's meant to be quite the event.”
We almost never went out to pubs, let alone a posh place like the Lord Forest, but Carol simply had to see this dance exhibition and I'd already told her I'd go, but now I wasn't quite sure that I'd be up for it.
Mum took her seat next to Dad. “I brought back some fresh cream for your cereal.”
“Thanks Mum, that sounds great.”
“Thanks love,” Dad replied, removing a portion of Weet-Bix from the box and crushing it into his bowl.
Dad may not have been the tallest of blokes, but he was stout with the massive hands of a farmer and anyone would think twice before crossing him. There had been a bloke who'd threatened him with a shotgun once but Dad simply yanked the shotgun out of his hands, punched him in the nose and that was that.
“Looks like another beautiful day, Dad, but I could see my breath in bed this morning.”
“Aye that'd be about right, nearly a record aye 'ear, and nowt for rain in the forecast. Aye 'ope we can make it through another year o' drought with the bore, if the 'ouse well dries up... Might 'ave ta put in a rainwater tank. Rainwater's good for laundry 'n' cleanin', but nowt much for drinkin', there's nothin' like a good well for drinkin', but water off a bloomin' dirty roof? Aye don't care for it m'self. Got the bloomin' birds dirt, mice, possums and tha like, it's no good for drinkin'. Should boil it, aye'd say. Other's may no' mind, but I don't fancy it a' tall. Aye'd rather drink the ruddy bore water than that, it might 'ave a bit o' iron an' a few ruddy stains, but it's a good bore, never run out and likely never will.”
“I'm sure we'll get rain soon, Dad, the drought can't go on forever.”
“Aye 'ope your right, the paddocks need a good soak too, even the jarrah's dyin' off an' those trees 'ave been round near a thousan' years.”
“You up for a potter about on Snowy after brekkie?” Mum asked me with a wry smile.
“Of course Mum, whenever you like.” I'd have to be bedridden before I'd pass up a ride, and even then I'd probably find a way.
Mum smiled as she cut off the top of her soft-boiled egg.
I finished breakfast, changed into my riding clothes and headed down to the tack-shed. Mum had already brushed and tacked Snowy and was cinching down her girth when I stopped to make a fuss over Snowy, giving her a pat and a hug. “Can I pick her hooves, Mum?”
“It's done, are you ready?”
“Yes, Mum.” I backed up to make room before Mum bent down and lifted me up to the saddle. I scooted back onto the saddle, lifting myself with my arms then lifted my leg over Snowy's withers and repositioned myself properly before taking the reins. “Thanks Mum.” I smiled as I rubbed and patted Snowy.
“Have a good ride, Mouse,” Mum said before turning to go about her work. With Dad's gout, Mum had twice the work to do round the farm, but had been helping me ride since I was four and knew how important it was. My physio would always marvel at how strong and well developed my muscles were, right down to my toes. Most folks in my position were a mess of atrophied muscles and a never-ending variety of ailments that came from an absence of good exercise, but not me – thanks to Mum and Snowy.
It turned out to be a lovely day despite the belly wog, which was my only real complaint. Having a potter about the farm always brightened my day. It gave me a feeling of freedom that was far more than simply being out of the wheelchair. I couldn't fully explain it, except to say that somehow Snowy and I had become best mates. A friend had once remarked that it was like her horse had become her legs and followed her subconscious thoughts, but for me, I felt a connection with Snowy that made me a part of her world, and her part of mine. As we meandered about the paddocks, I felt such an incredible sense of inner peace and tranquillity that I couldn't help but smile. I was truly free.
There were, unfortunately, our share of disagreements as Snowy could be headstrong and had a bit of a temper that could leave me sprawled in the middle of a dusty paddock, but she was a good horse regardless. And when Snowy did manage to tip me off, Mum would simply pick me up off the ground, throw me back on the saddle and smack the rotten animal for being a pain, though Snowy never seemed to take much notice. Of course it could take Mum a while to realize I was on the ground, but that gave me time to collect my thoughts and get over the fall. At least Snowy was only fourteen hands – only a pony really – so the tumble was never too bad, and as long as there wasn't a dugite slithering by, I was happy enough to wait. Snowy was pretty handy at stomping snakes anyway, as long as she was in the mood to oblige.
The rest of the day was pretty much a dead loss. I had some lessons to work on, but couldn't concentrate with my head and stomach in such a state. I even skipped lunch, which was usually a really bad idea, but I had a Flake bar to tide me over.
Mum was preparing a guinea fowl for dinner – serves him right, I thought, for carrying on this morning. Maybe I'd be able to sleep in tomorrow. Even though it wasn't this morning's noisy guinea fowl that we'd be dining on, I thought it a good joke all the same.
“Guess I'd better figure out what to wear tonight,” I thought as I entered my bedroom. There in the middle of my bed, where I'd forgotten to pull the sheets back up, were Toby and Sooty curled up together fast asleep. “You're getting hair all over my sheets you rotten things,” I scolded them, but as I was about to turf them off my bed, I thought better of it.
Toby, our Jack Russell terrier, was the main reason my friends hated to come out to our farm – he was very protective and a bit of a menace. He would snap at any stranger that came up the road to the house, and most people wouldn't even get out of their cars. At our previous farm, Toby and Ruff bailed up a solicitor in the dunny for several hours before Mum got back from work and rescued him. Sooty was our dwarf black cat that Mum picked up at work one day as a tiny kitten. At first Toby didn't know what to make of her, but finally took a fancy to her and even helped raise her, letting her nurse on the tips of his ears when she missed her mum. She also loved curling up inside my jumper on my lap and would spend hours purring away there. Anyway, Toby and Sooty were so cute curled up together that I had to let them have their cuddle and snapped a picture of them instead. It was my fault for not making my bed this morning, and now I could use the photo for art. What's a little hair between bed-mates anyway?
Now, back to the real problem – what was I going to wear tonight? It was going to be right cold, so I'd better rug up. Maybe my best pair of jeans and my pink floral knit jumper over my embroidered blue denim shirt – that'd keep me warm enough and still look tidy.
If only my stomach could get over itself.
Being the furthest one out of town, I usually did the driving – which worked out well as I usually didn't drink, and after last night, had no intention of ever drinking again. When we pulled up to the Lord Forest, it looked like the whole town of Bunbury had come out to see the exhibition. It was as well I'd left plenty early, having no idea how long I'd have to wait for Carol and Annette, otherwise we probably wouldn't have gotten in at all. Better luck than judgement I always say.
“Crikey, what a mob,” Carol exclaimed, “Ian said a few of 'is mates were comin', but I 'ad no idea it'd be like this.”
“Those must be the dancers,” Annette said, pointing to a small group of women in tight-fitting but very colourful and very short dresses, who were in more than a hurry to get inside. “Bit draughty for that sort of thing this time of year,” she added, smiling.
I was very glad I'd worn the jumper as simply looking at the skimpily-dressed dancers gave me the shivers.
“All right girls, we'll 'ave to park out a bit and walk back. Chuck a leftie on Victoria and 'ead up toward the light 'ouse. We'll find a spot up there.”
Carol was a chef at the Rose Hotel on Victoria Street and knew her way round Bunbury much better than I did. I came into town once or twice a week to help Mum with shopping, posting letters or to catch up with Carol and Annette over a bite or a visit to salon. Between riding, art and school, I spent most of my time round the farm or a short distance up the road at the Riding for the Disabled Association. The RDA was a volunteer organization that offered therapeutic horse riding to those who could benefit from it, and were helping me improve my English dressage skills for some upcoming competitions.
“There's a spot.” Annette pointed to a vacant curbside parking place. That figured; I hated parallel parking, and it was always iffy getting out with traffic dodging round you. Still, it was better than squeezing out with a car parked right next to you. Oh well, we always managed.
It only took me four attempts to get close enough to the curb to call it good, and no one ran me over. “Touch wood,” I thought, tapping myself on the head.
The walk was refreshing, and helped calm my stomach. The guinea fowl had made for a beautiful tea, but nothing seemed to settle well today. Maybe he was getting me back for my little joke.
The Lord Forest had an impressive grand atrium with interior balconies and hanging vines to seven stories above the lobby. It left a large reception area for events, plus an open restaurant in the centre and a more isolated bar. The dance exhibition was set right in the centre of the atrium between the pub and the restaurant, so you could see the demonstration no matter where you were. Annette had worked as a receptionist for the hotel and arranged a great table in the pub where we could see the dancers and still have a drink. The service was slow, but that was fine as we were in no particular hurry – it was simply nice to be out and to see so many people having a good time.
“Evening girls, me name's Gabe and I'll be servin' ye tonight. Our drink special is Alexander's own Blue Lagoon, with vodka, Blue Curaçao, and lemon squash. We also 'ave a wide array of beers and wines and inside our drink list is our lite bites menu...”
“Let's all 'ave a Blue Lagoon,” Carol jumped in to get things moving. She was always very organizing, which was undoubtedly the reasons she was such a great chef.
“That looks good to me,” Annette added, staring at a bloke at an adjacent table.
“I'll have a cola, thanks.” I knew I was going to get a prodding from Carol, but there was no way I could face any more alcohol, let alone anything blue! And sure enough, here it came...
“Aww, come on luv, it'll make ya feel better. I recall you were in a party mood last night.”
“Sorry Carol, my stomach's been off all day, and I need to drive us home as well,” I replied, trying not to whinge.
“We won't be drivin' 'ome for hours, luv,” Carol said, then no doubt sensed my resolve. “Well, all right then, two Blue Lagoons and one lolly water for our little wowser.”
Gabe smiled. “Thank ye, laadies, it'll be a few minutes, the barman's flat out.” He gave a bit of a wink then added, “Keep your receipt, and you can get free admission at the West End night club, I'll be workin' there later.”
It was a good thirty minutes before Gabe was back with our order. Simply seeing those blue drinks made me feel queer, so I tried to keep my focus on the dance exhibition as I sipped my soda. The dance was right tawdry and a bit over the top, which may have accounted for the large turn-out.
“What do ya think of the Lambada?” Carol asked. “The song made it to number one on the wireless ratings this year,” she added.
“I see why they call it the forbidden dance. It's a great one for an exhibitionist. I only wish the men wore less,” I said with a strong emphasis on men, and smiled as innocent a smile as I could muster.
“You're so, so bad,” Carol chastised, sniggering with Annette.
“I love the sexy rhythm,” Annette added. “A lot of the dance comes from the Carimbo, which is also known as the forbidden dance, but the cadence is different and look how they tease each other with the rhythm. Talk about erotic! That'd get my heart pumping! Mmm... it's so sensual, so colourful, what an amazing dance. I love it.”
Annette was an artist, and endeavoured to see things from a deeper perspective.
“I think I can see why it was forbidden,” I remarked. “Still, it looks like it would be a lot of fun.”
We all laughed.
“Hey, I heard The Lambada was still showing in Perth – should we drive up and see it?” Annette asked.
“I heard it got horrid reviews – which is great, as I always hate films that get good reviews. That sort always puts me to sleep,” I mused.
“Yeah, that'd be spot on,” Carol agreed. “Sounds like a ripper – 'ow about next week?
I smiled. I always enjoyed spending time with Carol and Annette; they were the best mates anyone could ask for.
People were starting to leave, so we finished our drinks and payed up, keeping our receipt, as Gabe suggested. We decided to go for a walk, and maybe check out the night club. It was still early, and we were nowhere near ready to go home yet. Leaving the bar, we casually strolled through the lobby.
“Lots of spunk blokes about, don't you think?” Annette said. “No doubt on their way to that night club.”
Heading out onto the sidewalk, the air was brisk and refreshing, and there were lots of smartly-dressed people walking about, holding hands, without a care in the world. So romantic. I was daydreaming, picturing what it would be like, when we reached the entrance to the night club.
“There must be a dozen steps up to that place,” I said incredulously, “I'm not sure this is such a good idea.”
“Yeah, no dramas luv. There are lots of pubs round 'ere where we can 'ave a fine time, and they don't 'ave any stairs. Anyway, looks like they've done a bodge job of it an' probably ‘ave sod-all for decent music,” Carol added, making light of it.
As we were standing there deciding where to go, a tall bloke with dark hair came down the stairs and was about to head down the street when his eyes caught mine. He stopped, taking a brief look at my Quickie, then he turned towards me with a handsome smile.
“Evening ladies, are you in need of some... assistance?”
We all looked at the bloke. He was fit, a little thin but spunk, wearing jeans and a jumper, but he had an air about him that I couldn't explain. And, oh yes, he was obviously a Yank. Carol, Annette and I looked at each other, exchanging a silent shrug of approval ratified with a smile.
“Thanks mate, why not. She'll be apples. I'll take the 'andles, and you lift down there,” Carol quickly organized.
“You need to hold onto the frame here.” I took his hand and moved it to the solid aluminium frame, partly for self-preservation, but primarily out of a prurient interest in the gentleman. “Don't hold onto the footrests, they come off,” I added.
He looked into my eyes, smiled and said, “Thank you, I love your sweater, and please, call me David.”
I felt a twinge in my stomach, like butterflies, only much more squidgy and pleasant, and felt a warm flush from my toes up to my cheeks. I was relieved at the onset of twilight, as I hoped he wouldn't see me blush.
“Are you ready mate?” Carol asked.
“No problem here... On the count of three then, one, two, three!” He started up the stairs, his expression becoming more serious as he concentrated on the task at hand, which I thought was cute.
“Much easier than it looked,” he added. “No problem at all.” David smiled again and gave me a wink.
“There you go luv, no worries,” Carol said as we reached the top.
“I'm on my way out, but perhaps I'll be back later in case you ladies need help back down,” he remarked as he made his exit, smiling at each of us on his way out.
“Thanks mate, see ya round,” Carol replied. Then she said in a quieter voice to us, “He seemed in a bit of an 'urry, I 'ope he wasn't a ruddy spruiker. Shall we get a table?”
The night club was not very busy, which made it easy to find a table, and we also didn't have to worry about the cover charge as the DJ hadn't started yet. We sat down at a table facing the DJ and the dance floor and ordered a round of drinks. I had another coke, which was starting to settle my stomach a bit.
“He seemed a nice enough bloke. What did you make of him?” Annette enquired as she surveyed the room.
“Yeah, nice enough for a Yank, but he was in a bit of an 'urry – didn't even give us 'is name.” Carol bit her lip in thought. “Come to think of it, we didn't tell 'im ours either.”
“His name was David,” I said. “But you're right and I didn't tell him mine either. I wonder if he'll be back like he said.”
“I don't think I'd count on it, sweetie,” Annette shrugged. “You simply can't trust a Yank, but there are plenty of spunk blokes around this place.” She winked.
Once again, I was very thankful to have Carol and Annette as best friends. Over the years, I'd been told so many times by so many schoolmates, rellies and all and sundry odd-bods – who couldn't manage to keep their mouths shut – not to expect romance in my life. I should be content to grow old as a spinster with caring parents, but otherwise be alone with my animals and my art, and should somehow be thankful for that. I attribute my addiction to romance novels to such unsolicited advice. I always read them overtly to dissuade future busy bodies who might feel so inclined to dish out such wisdom. Carol and Annette, on the other hand, were good mates and dreamers like myself. They believed I could do anything I set my mind to, and whenever I was with them, I felt I could.
“I don' know, luv... If I didn't know better, I'd say 'e 'ad a thing for ya, an' 'e'll be back if 'e did.”
I smiled – even if it wasn't true. Carol always made me feel better.
“You should've seen Toby this morning, cuddled up with Sooty, right on my sheets in the middle of the bed. It was my fault for being slack and not making up my bed, but they were the cutest little things.”
“Toby? That naughty little blighter?” Annette recalled Toby like a bad dream. “Every time I think of going to your farm, I only have to think about Toby attacking my car or trying to bite me and I change my mind. He's only a little dog, but he's a devil... Thinking of him cuddled up with tiny little Sooty is really precious, and such a paradox that it's comical.”
“Yeah, I love dogs, but that Toby, 'e's a menace every time you 'ave me over,” Carol agreed. “But that'd make a cute photo.”
“I took their picture. I was going to make a charcoal sketch of them for art. I'll show you when I'm done, I think it'll be really sweet.”
The night club was starting to get busy and the DJ began his show, which made it more of a challenge to carry on a conversation.
“Hello ladies, how's your evening?” We all looked up, but no one said a word. It was the bloke who’d helped me up the stairs. He smiled and then continued, practically yelling over the music. “Please excuse my manners, I forgot to introduce myself properly earlier. I’m David. Do you mind if I join you?”
We looked at each other as before, but this time I smiled my approval first.
As usual, Carol was the first to answer. “Of course mate, love to, but we're short a seat.” Not thinking I gave her a sharp look, then quickly caught myself and smiled. Hopefully he didn't catch that.
He smiled. “Not a problem,” he said, then disappeared into the crowd.
I gave Carol another sharp look.
“Can't make it easy for the bloke, luv. If ‘e's worth anything, ‘e'll be back,” Carol explained, in response to my stare.
Before I could say much, David was back with a chair and a beer, and again nearly yelling over the music. “Borrowed it from that 240-pound rugby player a few tables over. He's on his way to the bathroom anyway so he won't be needing it for a while!” Setting the beer down, he added, “Borrowed his beer while I was at it, cheers!” He smiled and gave me a wink.
We all laughed.
“I'm sorry, but I don't recall your names.”
We’d neglected to introduce ourselves before.
“How ya goin’ David, I'm Carol and these are me mates Eleana, and Annette.”
David leaned closer to hear better over the music, and then moved his chair opposite Carol's. He extended his hand to each of us, repeating our names as he shook our hands. “Nice to meet you, Carol... Annette, enchanté... and Eleanor, a pleasure.” He smiled, looking directly into my eyes with a handsome smile, but dropping his gaze slightly as if a little shy, though he really didn't seem at all shy. I felt my face flush again, and felt tingly all over as if my heart skipped a beat. Before letting go of my hand, he again caught my eyes with his and smiled.
I'd never been prone to such feelings, though I read about them in my romance novels and thought they were absolute rubbish. I half wondered if I was coming down with something or maybe it was from that horrid blue drink. It wasn't like he was a cover model off one of my books, but I thought him handsome enough. And there was something about him that bothered me, but in a pleasant way.
He sat down across from Carol, but facing the DJ. “So Carol, you seem to be the leader of this mob, what's your claim to fame round these parts?”
“I'm not much on talking ‘bout m'self really.”
“Carol's our lead mare all right! When it comes to getting things done, she'll make them happen, but she can be a little shy. Carol's a head chef at the Rose Hotel, only a few blocks from here. You should try it, the food's lovely, but make sure you go when Carol's cooking,” Annette smiled.
“Yeah, don't listen to Annette, the food's always great at the Rose, but if you let me know, we can do ya somethin' special when ya visit.”
“Really? I'll have to give that a try. I had the dinner buffet at the Lord Forest this evening. I was lucky to get in before the crowd swelled. Not bad food, but what were those tiny lobsters called – I've never seen them before.”
“We call 'em Joogies, yabbies or some blokes call 'em mud-bugs. They live in fresh water estuaries, streams and such. So ya liked 'em, did ya?” Carol asked
“They were great, everything else was good, but they were the highlight.”
“So where abouts are you from? You're a Yank, aren't you?” Annette asked
“Yes, that's right, I'm from San Diego, California. At least I’m stationed there, I’m actually on shore leave off of the USS Carl Vinson. It's anchored off the coast of Fremantle. We're finishing up our West-Pac deployment, then we'll be headed back to San Diego.”
“So you're a sailor, are you?” Annette asked
“Sort of, I'm a naval flight officer. I'm part of Carrier Air Wing Fifteen deployed aboard the Vinson. I fly as a tactical commander on the S-3A Viking. How about you, Annette, tell me about your career?”
“I'm an artist and a psychic. I have some works in some local galleries; some oils, watercolours and a few sculptures. I'll be opening my own gallery in Bunbury very...”
Abruptly, and with his big friendly smile, Gabe appeared at our table. “Glad to see ya ladies took my advice, I 'ope yer 'avin a good time. Can I get ya anything? Another round maybe?”
“What do ya think laadies, one more wouldn't 'urt, and 'ow about you, David? Can we get ya another beer?” Carol looked round the table for approval.
“Thanks Carol, that'd be great,” David answered, then turned around slipping Gabe some money and saying something that we couldn't hear as he pointed at the large bloke standing three tables over. Gabe nodded, then turned back to Carol.
“Great laadies, one more round for the table and a beer for the gentleman.”
“That's brilliant, Gabe,” Carol answered, then turned to us, announcing expectantly, as if asking a question, “Excuse me laadies, but I need to visit the loo...”
“Yes, I could do with a freshen up,” Annette said immediately as she stood up too.
I smiled at Carol, saying in as ladylike a manner as I could manage while still being heard over the din, “I'm fine, thanks.”
Carol and Annette both gave me a look then, with an imperceptible shrug, went without me. David smiled at me for a moment as Carol and Annette disappeared into the crowd, then moved around the table taking Annette's chair.
“I was hoping for this opportunity... I like your friends, they’re very nice, but I really wanted to talk to you. There's something about you that I can't quite explain and find very... Sorry, sometimes I tend to say more than I should. I am, however, very interested in hearing about your life here. What's it like to live in Australia? Maybe you could tell me, what should I see while I'm here? I don't know if you could hear what I said to Carol and Annette, but I'm on shore leave, and need to be back aboard my ship by Sunday evening, so I'm trying to see what I can of Australia in the short time that I have left. I'm sorry, I seem to be doing all the talking. Would you like to tell me a little about yourself?”
I thought about it for a moment, about what I should say, then I had a better idea but I wasn't going to tell him right away.
“I was born here in Bunbury,” I started, “and I grew up round Boyanup on my parents’ farm.”
“How far is Boyanup from here?”
“About twenty, twenty-five kilometres, roughly a thirty-minute drive from here. The farm isn't huge, it's not a large station – some of those are thousands of hectares or more, as large as a small country – but ours is over forty hectares of nice land with a good bore. Not enough to irrigate, but enough water for stock. Mum and Dad keep cattle and sheep for the most part.”
“What's it like, living on a farm?” David bellowed over the music.
“It's great. I ride my horse Snowy most days – she's a quarter horse and a little over fourteen hands. I usually see roos grazing on the paddocks, especially on longer rides. We have chickens, ducks, peacocks and guinea fowl, and Mum has her budgies and a peahen in the aviary. The guinea fowl usually wake me up in the morning – they do carry on a bit – but they're good to eat. Dad calls them the poor man's pheasant, but they have a lot more meat on them than a pheasant. And then there's Ruff and Toby, which are Mum and Dad's dogs, and Sooty, our dwarf black house cat. Scamp is my little dog that I raised from a tiny pup. Mum has a garden with passion fruit, oranges, lemons, herbs, beets, marrow, garlic and all manner of veggies. We even have a macadamia nut tree. Everything's fresh, fresh eggs. There’s nothing like fresh cream for cereal, good beef, mutton and poultry.”
“That sounds really great! Before we pulled into Australia, we had pretty much run out of anything that was fresh aboard our ship. Even our milk was this nasty-tasting UHT that’s supposed to have a shelf life of more than six months and doesn't ever need to be refrigerated. We were pretty much out of any fresh vegetables, and I don't think I would remember what a fresh egg should taste like. I think they were using powdered eggs when we pulled into Fremantle. We’d been in the Persian Gulf for quite some time – they actually let us pull out of the Gulf a little early to come here, which was great. So what are your parents...”
“Gone for a minute and the bloke takes my seat too? You know you simply can't trust a Yank,” Annette teased with a smile. “I only hope I don't have a footy fight over this one. Then again, that could be fun.”
“So what are you two getting up to over there? Having a bit of private time are we?” Carol chided.
Having been leaning over to hear me better, David sat up and turned toward Carol and Annette. “That's a fantastic idea! Why didn't I think of that myself?” Turning back towards me, he asked, “Why don't we have a stroll outside and get some fresh air. It would be easier than trying to yell over the DJ.”
I smiled my approval – it was getting a little close with people packed everywhere, and I couldn't hear for toffee. “Yes, I'd like that,” I added but was hopelessly drowned out by the clamour.
He turned back to Carol and Annette, who looked a touch puzzled.
“Thank you ladies, I believe we'll have a stroll around Bunbury, but if we're not back within the hour, feel free to send search and rescue.”
He quickly moved Annette's chair to make an aisle then helped clear a pathway through the crowd as I followed.
As I looked back, Carol and Annette both appeared slightly perplexed, but neither was about to stop me.
As we reached the stairs, he asked, “How would you like me to do this?”
“Make sure you hold on tight to the handles, tilt me back, and go down forward, one step at a time. She'll be right... I hope. Take it slow, and I'll help with the wheels,” I said, placing my hands over the handrims to help us roll over the steps.
He looked at the stairs and then looked at me and said, “As you wish,” briefly shaking his head, but then gave me a reassuring, confident and quite handsome smile.
In no time, we were halfway down the stairs and, without another thought, we were on our way down the sidewalk.
“I can take it from here,” I said, so he walked beside me as I led us through Bunbury.
“It's a beautiful night for a stroll, the stars are brilliant. Are you warm enough?” he asked.
“Yes, the exercise is helping. You should see the stars from our farm. It's miles away from any lights to speak of and so they're breath-taking, like a brilliant blanket of tiny lights covering the entire sky.”
“I know what you mean. Sometimes I'll go up on the flight deck at night, after flight ops, and it's hard to believe how many stars you can see out in the middle of the ocean. The sky's almost white you can see so many.”
I stopped for a moment to look up at the stars. As he started to point out a constellation, he looked down and realized that I was staring at him. It was too dark to matter, but I could feel my whole face blush as he bent toward me, placing his hand behind my neck. Instinctively I tilted my head back as his face moved closer, his eyes reading mine, his lips open slightly as he kissed me gently at first, then more adventurously as we closed our eyes. My face was on fire with new sensations. I felt my heart pounding through my entire body. My leg jumped as his hand brushed my thigh, nearly burning everywhere he touched, as it moved up my thigh, then around to the small of my back, which I arched as he rubbed it with his strong fingers. My whole body ached for more as he slowly kissed me harder, as his tongue caressed first my lips, and harder still as our tongues danced experimentally together. I hoped it would never end as I lost myself in this timeless place that I'd only known from the shadow worlds of my dreams, but never truly understood until now. Time itself had vanished until we stopped for a breath, and though I felt thoroughly elated, I felt selfishly betrayed. Why did it have to end?
David stood up taking a deep breath, then bent down so that we were again face to face, brushed the hair out of my eyes, cleared his throat and said, “Shall we continue our stroll?”
I smiled, leaned forward then said, a touch sheepishly, “Of course... but... could I have another kiss first?”
David smiled that roguishly handsome smile before kissing my grateful open mouth. I ached with anticipation and desire as his free hand surreptitiously brushed up my right thigh, finding its way under my floral sweater and made itself at home massaging my side and ample bosom. I was on fire, and pleasantly out of control, breathing in short gasps between wild passionate kissing that I prayed would never end. It was clear to me now that he was the one: when breathing takes a distant second to unbridled passion, the answer becomes obvious. He was the one, straight out of my dreams. He was the one. I had no idea how much time had passed, and really didn't care. Truthfully it wouldn't have mattered to me if the streets were full of people and we were blocking everyone's way. I had found the one man I was told didn't exist, and I wasn't about to let him go. At least not yet.
We did eventually finish our tour of Bunbury, chatting away, discussing all manner of things as if we had known each other for years and, of course, we stopped for the occasional warm-up along the way. When we did get back, Carol and Annette were already on their way out of the night club, looking a trifle concerned about our absence.
David put on a serious look. “Have we used up our hour already?” He looked pathetically contrite, staring at his watch, shaking it by his ear, knowing full well that we had been gone for nearly three hours.
“Exactly what sort of trouble have you two been getting into?” Annette interrogated with mock frustration.
“I don't suppose that you've heard of the Aviator's creed?”
“The Aviator's creed?” Annette elected to play along.
“Yes, the Aviator's creed is that it's always better to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission,” he punctuated with a wink.
“So are we still on for tomorrow?” David said, turning back to me. “Or should I say, later this morning, at your parent's farm.”
I smiled blissfully. “Of course, don't be late, it'll be fun.”
David bent down and kissed me for a good minute followed by a lovely, heart-warming hug while Carol and Annette exchanged glances and tried to stay warm in the frigid night air. I, on the other hand, felt toasty warm and wide awake for the drive home.
“Good morning ladies,” David said to Carol and Annette, “it's been great meeting you both, and next time I'm in town it'll be my shout.”
He turned around and walked off into the darkness.
“This is gonna take a bit of explainin’, young lady,” Carol jested as we returned to the car.
We chatted and laughed until our sides hurt most of the way home.
A Canter of the Heart
I watched in awe as the sunrise set the gum trees afire with yellows and reds and then lit the horizon with a halo of ambers and golds while the rest of the canvas sat eerily still, as if waiting for the final brushstrokes of a perfect morning before daring gasp its first breath. I had no idea how much sleep I'd had, though it couldn't have been much. But despite that, I felt full of energy, and nearly jumped out of bed when the guinea fowl commenced their time-honoured soliloquies. They were better than an alarm clock in so many ways, I mused, as I daydreamed about last night. I even beat Mum to setting up for breakfast this morning, adding a bit of jarrah to the firebox as it was still right frigid in the house. Mum had already been up for hours, and was only now getting back from milking, so it wasn't much of an accomplishment, but considering when I got home last night, I surprised myself simply being awake.
“Morning Mum, wasn't that a beautiful sunrise?”
“What are you doing up, Mouse?” Mum asked with a puzzled look on her face. “We didn't even hear you get home last night.”
“I know Mum, it was more like this morning, I'm not sure when.”
“You must be exhausted, why don't you go back to bed?”
“I can't, Mum. Anyway, I'm not tired. I need to get dressed. I promised that I would go riding at ten thirty, and then go for a drive down towards Cape Leeuwin, and maybe stop at a winery for lunch in Margaret River.”
“Promised who? Are Carol and Annette coming over?”
“No Mum, I met a... gentleman last night, and I told him I would show him the roos in the back paddock, give him a tour of the farm, and then show him a bit of Australia while he was here. And I'm still wearing last night's clothes, I need a bath, my car's a mess – how am I ever going to be ready in time?”
Mum and I stared at each other for a moment, then, with the hint of a wary smile, she said, “Have a little brekkie and I'll give you a hand. There should be enough time, and it won't hurt him to wait either.”
She gave me a hug then we went back to fixing breakfast.
When ten thirty finally arrived, I felt fairly ready but I was still nervous. I wasn't even sure that he would show up. Maybe I'd imagined the whole thing, or maybe he had to get back to his ship, or maybe he was completely lost from my directions and had headed back to Fremantle. By now I was absolutely certain that he wasn't coming, but, right on schedule, someone was driving up the access road.
I was outside grooming Snowy in the front driveway next to the utility shed. I'd thought about staying inside until he arrived, but Snowy needed some grooming before I took her out. David pulled up in a blue Subaru Outback and parked in front of the hay shed, got out of the car and walked straight over to me.
“Good morning, Eleanor,” he said, as he gave me a hug and a sweet little kiss.
He was dressed a bit smarter than last night, with slacks, dress shoes and a fresh jumper.
“Did you get any sleep?”
I couldn't help but smile. “No, not really, how about you?”
“I got a few winks,” he laughed, “but enough if you'd still like to take that drive together.”
“I wouldn't miss it. Do we have time for my ride first?”
“Of course, all the time you wish, but don't forget your promise.”
I'm not sure why, but I blushed as I remembered last night. “I won't forget. Now why don't we go inside and say hi to Mum and Dad, and then I'll take you round the farm.”
“After you, my love.”
David followed behind as I made my way up the path to the veranda where Mum and Dad were having a spot of tea.
“Would you care for some tea and a bikkie?” Mum asked David.
“Thank you, ma'am, if it's not too much trouble.”
Dad stood up with some difficulty, using his cane for balance while keeping the weight off his gammy foot, and extending his hand. “Come an' 'ave a seat. Me name's Michael, Eleana's father. Eleana tells us you’re a sailor off an American ship.”
“Yes sir, my name's David. I'm a naval flight officer.” He shook Dad's hand. “Our ship's at anchor in Fremantle, the USS Carl Vinson.”
“You'll 'ave to speak up, me 'earing's not wha' it used ta be,” Dad said loudly as he sat back down, with apparent relief. “Cane's for me bloomin' gout. Seems if somethin's worth eatin', it makes me gout worse. Still, aye can manage a bit o' gin, so all's not lost,” he gave out a hearty chuckle, “and it doesn' keep me off tha tractor.”
Mum came back with a cup of tea for David and a packet of chocolate biscuits.
“Thank you ma'am,” David said, standing up and taking the cup of tea, “and please forgive me, I neglected to introduce myself earlier. My name's David,” he said, extending his hand.
“Sally,” she replied, shaking his hand in return, “Eleana's mum. Care for a bikkie?” She offered David the biscuits.
“Yes, thank you,” David said, taking a biscuit from the packet and handing it back.
“Mum, can I have one too?” I could never pass up a chocolate biscuit.
“Would you like some of my tea?” David offered, noticing that I was the only one without a cup.
“No thanks, I can't stand the stuff.”
“Is that allowed? I always thought drinking tea was a prerequisite to being English,” David smiled.
“Aye, now ya know our family’s dirty laundry,” Dad added with a bit of a laugh. “Eleana's grandfatha' was a tea taster, and couldn't abide by any tea after tha'. Eleana no doubt gets it from 'im. Aye understan' yer only 'ere for anothe' day and then you’re on yer way back 'ome.”
“Yes sir, that's right, I have to be back aboard my ship Sunday afternoon, otherwise I have to swim home. I'm afraid that I'm imposing on your daughter's good nature to show me a bit of the real Australia before my ship leaves, but the truth is I've become very fond of your daughter in the hours since we've met. I hope we can stay in touch after I leave.”
“Don' ya blokes 'ave a lass in every por'?”
Mum and I gave Dad a hard look, but he was smiling, paying no attention to us, and was definitely up to no good.
“No sir... well, not yet anyway,” David replied with a bit of a grin.
Mum got up. “Mouse, you and I should get Snowy ready for your ride, and I'll set out a pair of wellies for David.”
David stood up, immediately realizing his error and flashing me a penitent smile. “Thank you ma'am, I'll be right there.”
I followed Mum, and David sat back down to finish his talk with Dad.
Mum and I tacked and brushed Snowy and Mum was helping me on when Dad and David came out talking and laughing. David was wearing the oversized gum boots that Mum set out.
I heard Dad wish us both a safe trip, telling David to stop back by before buggering off to America.
Seeing us waiting, David jogged over to us. “Are we off, then?”
“Yes, off you go. Eleanor will show you how to deal with the gates. Have a good ride, Mouse,” Mum said.
We started off at a fast walk, side by side, with David jogging to keep up. I was feeling charitable, so we slowed to a walk and I took care of the first few gates on the way to the back paddock.
“I love the trees, they’re so different from back home. What are they?”
“Those are blue gums,” I said as I pointed with my riding crop, “and those are red gums. That bushy one over there is blackboy and that one's jarrah. We also passed a macadamia nut tree on our way out.” I pointed back behind us. “Most of the fence posts are made of jarrah, as it's a very hard wood that can last fifty years or more.”
“Any crocodile around these parts?”
“No, not round here, it's not wet enough for crocs, but you should mind the snakes, the redbacks and scorpions. Then, if you fancy a swim, keep an eye out for sharks, box jellyfish, the blue ring octopus, stonefish, stingrays, sea snakes and an assortment of other hazardous creatures. Oh, and watch out for the cone shell snail – they have pretty shells, but they're deadly too and they can shoot you with a tiny poisonous harpoon before you know it.
“That'd be embarrassing, being killed by a snail.”
I laughed, “Most won't bother you unless you bother them, and if you're quick enough, they have anti-venom for most of the dangerous ones. Except for the blue ring octopus, sea snakes and a few others that are pretty much fatal. And the box jellies are extremely painful and can put you in a coma, or worse.”
“Sounds like a rough neighbourhood, but it doesn't seem to bother you too much.”
“Nah, there are worse things, all kinds of nasty viruses that you can catch around estuaries and creeks from mossies, bities or even swimming in fresh water.” I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go down this road yet, but I supposed there was no time like the present and he seemed too much a gentleman to ask, which was good, as I hated when people came up and asked why I couldn't walk – it was none of their blasted business!
Anyway, here goes. “My legs, for instance. I was only two years old when I got the virus that did this. They never did figure out what it was. Mum thinks I picked it up while visiting hospital for shots. Still, it could have been much worse. When it happened, nothing worked from my neck down, and look at me now, I have feeling down to my toes, and I can even wiggle them. When I'm on my horse, I'm absolutely free.” I looked over at David as he smiled at me. “I actually use my legs all the time, they're really strong. I was in hospital for a long time trying to get everything to work again. The physio thought she could get everything working too, but the surgeons wouldn't wait and cut out some muscles that helped stabilize my legs and hips. They made it so I could sit in a chair, but without those muscles there was no way I'd ever walk again. Mum and Dad couldn't stay at hospital with me, they had to work the farm, but when they found out about the surgeries, they got me out of there and took me home before they did any more damage. They were under a lot of pressure from surgeons, doctors and all sorts of odd-bod busy bodies that thought I'd be better off in hospital – for the rest of my life – but Mum and Dad and Gran and Grandpa wouldn't have it and fought to take care of me themselves. I still have nightmares about hospital and the surgeries they did – they hurt so much, and I was all alone. I'll never trust a surgeon or hospital as long as I live.”
There, it was out.
Approaching the gate for the back paddocks, I asked, “Can you get the gate for me? Just untwist the wire loop and pull it through.”
“No problem, I hope.” He ran up and looked at the mangled wire. “Okay, I see it. It looks simple enough, I think...” He fiddled with it for a minute then threw the wire back and swung the gate wide.
“See, you'll make a jackaroo yet.”
“Make a what?”
“A jackaroo, a farm hand.”
“Thanks, that actually sounds like it could be fun. Beautiful weather, fresh food, minutes from the ocean for a refreshing swim after a hot sweaty day, an ice cold beer and my sweetie to give me a back rub, and maybe a wee bit more,” he said, looking up with that devilish grin. “Yep, sounds better every time I think about it.”
He looked at me like he was going to ask me a question but stumbled on a piece of wood, not quite falling down, but looking a bit embarrassed.
“Tripped on a dugite, did you?”
David looked up with a slightly mischievous look, “Yeah, hope I didn't hurt the little guy.” Then he went on, “You do look at home on that animal – you seem truly happy and con...”
“Look, over there in that bushy spot next to the boundary fence. I see maybe two dozen in the mob, plus a joey or maybe two.”
“I see them, about two o'clock. They're standing there like they haven't seen us.”
“Don't worry, they're used to Snowy and me. They'll let us get a bit closer before they bolt.”
We continued without a word, getting half as close again before stopping.
“The joey is still playing. If they were concerned about us, the flyer would call out and the joey would jump into her pouch before the mob takes off,” I said in a hushed tone.
“That'd be really something, I'm really looking forward to seeing that.”
“There's actually an Aboriginal story that tells how the kangaroo got her pouch – it's very sweet. It begins as a kangaroo mum, or flyer, is grooming her joey when an elderly wombat stumbles by them. The wombat is whinging and carrying on about how she's old and blind and has no friends and she's hungry and thirsty and can't find food or water. The flyer takes pity on her, agrees to be her friend and lets the wombat hold onto her tail while they go search for food and water. It takes quite a while, but they get the old wombat her water and food, only to realize that the flyer's joey has wandered off, which happen every time the flyer turns her back. She finally finds her joey asleep under a blue gum tree and decides to go back to check on the wombat, only to find her being stalked by a hunter with a boomerang. The kangaroo gets the hunter to follow her to spare the wombat, then manages to lose the hunter before returning to her joey. He’s waking up from his nap only to find that the wombat is a great god who has descended from the sky world to find which of his creatures had the kindest heart. The god is so pleased with the kangaroo that she gives her a pouch to hold her joey as a gift of thanks and recognition, but the kangaroo's heart is so kind that she only wants the gift if she can share it with all the marsupials, and that's how all the marsupials got their pouches.”
“That's a cute story.”
“Yeah, the Aborigines have lots of stories about the animals and the land. They call them dreamings and pass them down from generation to generation. I don't know why exactly, but I'm fond of that story. It really suits the flyers, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy watching them so much.”
We stood there watching the kangaroos until they sensed something was amiss and, as I'd predicted, the flyer called out, her joey climbed into her pouch and off they hopped.
“Wow, that's so cool – it's exactly what I'd hoped to see.”
“You’re the only person I've ever brought back here except Mum, and she brought me.”
“Thank you, I'll always remember Australia this way.”
“Do you want to head back now?”
“You’re the guide.”
On the way back I thought I'd get a little payback. A girl in every port, eh? We’d have to see about that. It was a sunny day, and David had already stripped off his shirt and jumper, tying them round his waist. He was already sweating quite a bit, but now it was time for a little fun.
“Time for a little exercise. Let's see if you can keep up,” I said as I urged Snowy into a trot and we quickly moved ahead, but much to my surprise, David caught up in no time. He seemed to have less trouble keeping up at a trot than he did at a walk, though he was mucking about with the gates a bit as he caught his breath back up. Still, I'd have to say he gave it some welly, especially in those oversized gum boots.
When we got back, Mum met us and helped me slip off Snowy and back onto my Quickie. David was standing in front of Snowy holding her reins, sweat dripping off his body as he caught his breath. His T-shirt, soaked with sweat, clung to his body leaving little to the imagination. He was a little thin, but obviously in good shape. He must do more than sit behind the controls of a jet, I mused, then quickly averted my eyes as I realized I was staring. Hopefully no one noticed, but I felt my cheeks tingle with embarrassment.
Mum came over and handed me some carrots.
“Did you two have a good potter?” Mum asked as she unhitched Snowy's girth strap.
“Yes, thanks Mum, it was great.”
David reached over and handed Mum the free end of the girth strap over the saddle. “You have a beautiful farm, ma'am, I really enjoyed seeing it.”
“I had a nice trot on the way back,” I said to Mum as I gave Snowy a pat and fed her the carrots as she proceeded to drool all over my jodhpurs in appreciation.
“I saw that. You had quite a long trot, well done Mouse.”
I gave Snowy a big hug before Mum lead her back to her paddock then I turned to David.
“So, what did you think of our ride?”
“I thought it was a great workout... and I think I fell in love... with Australia... and you.”
David bent down, surveying my face with his eyes, and with that wonderful smile, he put his arms around me and he held me tight. I did the same, still hot and sweaty, dishevelled and covered in horse drool, but I couldn't think of a better way to end a ride, I felt completely and utterly loved, oddly enough, in a way that was so candid and sincere that I had trouble breathing as I held back a tear.
After a quick change of clothes, we decided to take David's Subaru Outback for our drive south as I was pretty knackered from lack of sleep, and he felt awake enough to drive – even on the wrong side of the road, as he put it – so long as I kept an eye on him. Even so, he started off helping me in on the wrong side of the car, but once we got going, everything went pretty smoothly.
“How are we doing, my love?” David asked, driving south on the Bussel highway.
“We have a way to go before the turn-off at Margaret River, it's well signposted.”
“So tell me about your parents. I'm not sure your mother approves of my sense of humour.”
“Is that what it was?” I looked at his face with hint of concern, but mainly amusement. I had absolutely no reason to be jealous, but neither did I wish to become one of his port-calls, especially if that position included a clutch of ankle-biters to go with it. But let's be fair, how could anyone reasonably be jealous after knowing someone for less than a day? “Dad was only having a go at you, so I don't know why Mum would even take notice. She's used to Dad's little jokes.”
“Your Dad has quite a sense of humour. I really enjoyed meeting him, even though I had a bit of trouble with his accent. I hope we have time for another chat before I have to go.”
“Mum and Dad are really great, they always went out of their way to make things work when I was growing up. Mum made sure I had a horse to ride, and Dad took a landscape and maintenance position at Boyanup Primary so he could help me on and off the bus, up and down stairs or take care of any of the other issue that would come up from time to time. I couldn't ask for better parents.”
“You do have a great life, I'm really envious. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my own life, but, to me you have everything that you could ever want at your fingertips – great weather, beautiful beaches, incredible parks, I even love your trees. To grow up on a farm here, I couldn't imagine anything better.”
“I see your point, and yes, I know I have a lot to be thankful for. There's only one thing that I can think of that I don't have.”
“Really, what else could you possible want?”
“I want you... I only want you.” I turned my head, looking out the side window to hide the tear in my eye.
We both sat quietly for a bit as we continued our drive south, both lost in thought, not knowing where to go from here.
“There's our turn up ahead, make sure you stay left of the centre line.” I still wasn't sure what to say, but at least this would give us something to do while I tried to figure it out. “The turn-off for the winery should be about a kilometre further on the left side.”
“That's great, I'm really getting hungry, and you must be famished too,” David said as he started the turn. “And don't worry so much, you have me at least until Sunday.” He reached over and rubbed my shoulder.
My eyes opened wide as I quickly exclaimed, “LEFT, KEEP LEFT!”
David looked up quickly, widening his turn to avoid the oncoming traffic. “Unless I kill us both, in which case you can have me forever,” he added with a smile, as he continued to rub my shoulder.
The winery was stunning. Even the car park was impeccably landscaped with indigenous plants, vine-covered gums, blackboy and flowers of every colour and variety. David came round and opened my door
“I'd no idea! This is paradise...” Looking down he realized that he'd forgotten my Quickie. He went back and opened the boot and quickly retrieved it, bringing it round to my door.
He hadn't yet unfolded it, so I demonstrated. “You push down here on the seat like this.” I reached over, gave it a push and the Quickie popped open and was almost ready to go. “Now all we need is my cushion.”
“Cushion? Of course...” He went back and opened the boot again, grabbed the cushion and brought it round.
“This is the front, so turn it this way, set it on the velcro and, as we Poms say, Bob's your uncle.” I transferred myself over onto the cushion, positioned my feet on the footrests and backed away from the car door.
David closed the door, appearing amused but still a tad befuddled, so as he started to walk by, I caught his hand and gently pulled him toward me. Turning my Quickie closer to him, I placed my other hand behind his neck and when his face was level with mine I kissed him deeply and with the full force of my passion for him. He placed his hand in my lap to steady himself as his other hand went behind my head, returning my kiss with almost reckless abandon.
In a few minutes, as if remembering where we were, he straightened himself and looked questioningly into my eyes, “Are you sure you've never kissed anyone before?”
“Well... there was this bloke once, outside the Lord Forest – not a bad bloke, really,” I said with a smile. Then I leaned forward and pulled his face close to mine and said softly into his ear, “Thank you... for taking me here today.”
Rubbing his cheek gently against mine he replied softly in my ear, “Thank you... for showing me paradise.” Then, kissing my ear, his lips traced a line back to my open mouth as we continued our passionate embrace.
“Shall we venture inside?”
At a loss for words, I gave a slight nod, to which he responded with another kiss.
The oversized front doors opened into a grand entrance revealing a reception desk, a bottle shop attached to the reception area, a tasting room in the far corner and a large formal dining area. An attractive young blonde woman in an orange and cream floral pattern sun-dress with an open back was seated behind the reception desk and stood up to greet us.
“How ya goin' mate, are ya 'ere for tha tour?” the receptionist asked David.
“We would actually like some lunch, if you're still serving.”
“Yeah, no worries, 'ave a seat where ya like an' I'll bring some menus.”
“Actually... Emily,” he said, quickly reading her name tag, “do you have something a little more private?”
She looked at him as if she thought it an odd request.
“Something a little more intimate, perhaps,” he added, flashing her a smile.
“Yea... of course,” she responded as if it took her a minute to comprehend. “Me favourite table is in tha garden, but ye 'ave ta go down a few steps.”
“That's no problem... no problem at all,” he said reassuringly.
“No worries then, right this way,” she said, picking up our menus.
It was only three stairs and a short garden path to a little round table under a red umbrella with pretty sprays of flowers all around. It was completely off on its own. David removed the extra chair, then moved his chair next to mine, giving me a lovely kiss before sitting down.
“Thanks Emily, this is perfect.”
“Ace!” She smiled, then continued, “We 'ave two specials t'day, we 'ave a lovely chicken pot pie for two with garden fresh veggies an' we 'ave a beautiful pan fried barramundi with chips.”
“Eleanor, would you like to share a chicken pot pie with me?” David asked, sounding hopeful.
“My stomach is still a bit queer, but I'll have a little, if I can have a lemon squash to go with it.” I really didn't feel much like eating, but I'd pay later if I didn't have something.
“All right, then,” he said turning to Emily, “we'll share the chicken pot pie, but can I have a garden salad to start with?”
“Of course, sir, an' what can I get ye ta drink?”
“I'll have a glass of your Chardonnay, and Eleanor would like a lemon squash. And can we have a look at your dessert menu?”
“No worries... an' it'll be about twenty minutes for the pot pie, but it's worth the wait and I do fancy the chocolate soufflé m'self, which takes ten minutes to cook, but we can start it when we serve your dinner.”
“What do you think, my love, are you up to sharing a chocolate soufflé?”
“Sounds scrummy, could we?”
“I thought your stomach was upset?” he teased with an inquisitive smile.
“Chocolate always makes me feel better – it's the only true miracle cure.”
He chuckled, then nodded agreement.
“Okay, it's settled, we'll have your chocolate soufflé. Thanks Emily.”
“Matthew'll be yer server an 'e'll be right out with yer drinks. Enjoy you two,” she added as she left us to our cosy little table.
“I love this place,” David said, taking my hand in his. “In fact, I've loved everything about this trip since I left Perth and headed down this way. This is the Australia that I'd hoped I'd find; the warm, friendly Australia of my dreams. And now you'll always be part of that as well.”
“I want to be part of your life, not your dreams,” I said, without thinking.
David sat back with a distant stare. “I wish it was that easy, but I have duties and obligations, and they take me a long way from here.”
“I'm sorry, I know it's impossible,” I said with a mixture of hope and trepidation. “I'm not completely daft. I've known you for less than a day and I already want to be part of your life? While my mind tells me it's absurd, my heart tells me something else.”
Catching me completely off-guard, David leaned forward, kissing me with such uninhibited passion that I closed my eyes and lost myself in a dreamy world where our two naked souls danced and played, and when our lips did part, it took me a moment to come back, feeling all warm and tingly, still clinging to the memory of his lovely warm embrace...
He smiled contently then sat back down. “Eleanor, have you ever realized that our lives are defined by a series of brief but beautiful moments, starting with the moment we're born, first ride a horse, drive a car, fly a plane, our first kiss and so on, until the day we move on from this world... and we spend most of that life trying to get from one beautiful moment to the next. What if this is that beautiful moment, and we missed it? What if we look back one day and realize that this was the most important moment of our lives and we let it slip away? I can't promise you what tomorrow will bring, but I feel like we've been looking for each other for most of our lives, and now we have only hours left to share. There is something deep inside me that's telling me, even yelling at me, not to let go, to hold on and truly embrace the time we have. Tomorrow will work itself out, but for now, as they say, Carpe Diem, which means – and I'm paraphrasing here – have the fish today because it may not smell so good tomorrow.”
I laughed. Silly or not, I loved him and knew he was right.
“All joking aside, I really do mean that. I don't want to look back and wonder what could have been. I know in my heart that this is the best time of our lives, and I know I'll always...”
The server interrupted.
”G'day, I'm Matthew, I 'ave a lemon squash for the laady, and a Chardonnay for the gentleman. I'll be right back with your salad.”
“Thanks Matthew,” David said, and as our waiter left David turned to me. “I know I'll always see it that way. Now I want to know everything that I can about you. Start with all of your favourite things, and end with everything you despise, and don't miss anything in between.”
“Okay,” I started, a touch flustered, but I soon warmed to the idea. After all, I was looking forward to delving into his secrets. “Well, let's see, riding will always be the top of my list. I love having my own horses. I ride English style, and compete in dressage. In addition to riding snowy, I ride at the Boyanup Riding for Disabled Association. I've been working to master the canter so that I can do more advanced dressage tests, but I haven't found a horse with a smooth enough transition, and I keep getting thrown when I go from trot to canter. I won’t give up, though, I only need to find the right horse.”
“You do have an undeniable glow when you ride, and even when you talk about horses you have a smile that lights up the world around you. I love your confidence, it's incredible, as if you’re part horse yourself. You're more in your element on a horse than anywhere else I've seen you.”
Matthew was back with our salad and dinner rolls. “Ere ye are, is there anythin' else I can get for ya?”
“No, this is great. Thanks Matthew.”
I went on as David shared the salad between us. “I suppose my next favourite thing would be my car. I love the freedom of having a car that I can hop into and drive off whenever I feel like it. Tomorrow you'll have to let me take you for a drive – I'll show you how the hand controls work, and how I can get in and out. It's a bit of work, but nothing when I consider the freedom I get in return. On top of that, I can run errands for Mum and Dad, go shopping, meet up with friends, drive to my physio and all that sort of thing.”
“Are you going to have some salad?” David asked, offering me some bread.
“I'll have a bit with my bread, I'm really not that hungry. My stomach's still not over itself. I really don't think I was ever meant to have alcohol.”
“Okay, but you're missing a great salad – everything is so fresh. I haven't had anything like this since we left San Diego four months ago... I was hoping to go with you on another ride tomorrow, and then you could drive me someplace you like to go. You can surprise me.”
“I'll have to give that some thought. There are so many places I'd love to show you – I really wish you had more time.”
“I do too, but I've already violated orders to come down here. We were told not to rent cars while we were on shore leave, but being a brown shoe, I've always tended to skirt the rules a little. I tend to follow the Aviator's creed somewhat religiously. In the air there is no time to ask questions, so we do what we need to do and if we're wrong, beg forgiveness after we land. I think that applies in life as well.”
“Brown shoe?” I asked, a little perplexed.
“Sorry, in the Navy, officers in the aviation community wear brown shoes with khakis and everyone else wears black shoes, hence the terms 'brown shoe' or 'black shoe'. Anyway, I could talk my way out of one transgression, but if I didn't get back in time and missed movement, they'd probably give me a BCD.”
“A Bad Conduct Discharge. It’s a less than upstanding way to leave the service, to say the very least.”
“That doesn't sound so bad, at least we could be together,” I said wistfully.
David laughed. “When I do choose to leave the military, I'd prefer to leave on favourable terms – I may joke around a bit, but I'm actually very dedicated to what I do for my country, and I'd never do anything to jeopardize that.”
Matthew was back with our lunch. “I 'ave your chicken pot pie, would you like me to serve it for ya?”
“No thanks Matthew, we can manage, but can you please make sure that they start our soufflé. We still have a bit of a drive before it gets dark.”
“No worries, I'll get it goin'.”
“Here you go my love, you need to eat something to keep up your energy for whatever else we might get up to along the way.”
“You're bad! Anyway, the chocolate soufflé will give me all the energy I need,” I replied with mock innocence.
“Now who's being bad?” David grinned.
I was hungrier than I thought, so we both ate quietly until Matthew brought out our dessert.
“And here is your soufflé,” Matthew announced. “Can I take your dinner plates?”
“Thank you.” David handed Matthew the two dinner plates.
“I'll be right back with your dessert plates.” Matthew turned to leave.
“That's all right Matthew, we're sharing anyway. We'll be out to settle up in a moment.”
“Of course sir, no worries, then.”
David picked up a dessert spoon. “Are you ready for the first bite, my love?” he asked, scooping out the best looking bit and checking the temperature. He leaned over, kissed me gently and then fed me the lovely bite.
“Oh, this is heaven,” I remarked as David leaned forward for another kiss.
We ate over half of the soufflé this way, kissing between bites, before we put down our spoons and continued to kiss until we'd lost track of time.
“That was beautiful, thank you,” I said, feeling completely sated. “I need to freshen up a bit before we go.”
David helped me up the path, and the three stairs. “I'll settle our tab and then meet you in the tasting room when you’re done.”
When I came out of the ladies room, David was chatting with Emily and Matthew in the tasting room. As soon as he saw me, he shook hands with Matthew and gave Emily a friendly hug and waved goodbye as he walked over towards me. Leaning over, he gave me another kiss and we made our way out to the car.
Opening the passenger door for me, David asked, “Do we still have time to get to Cape Leeuwin and back before dark?”
I moved my Quickie into place and slid across to the passenger seat. “Yes, it might be a little dark by the time we get home, but we don't have to stay long. Unless we stay for sunset, in which case it'll be quite dark.”
“We'll, I'm really looking forward to it, and we're nearly there anyway,” David said as he pulled the Quickie back and closed the passenger door. After folding the Quickie and putting it in the boot, he jumped in the driver’s seat. “Okay then, we're off.”
The drive down to Cape Leeuwin was longer than I thought, and as I was right knackered I nodded off for a good half an hour. I woke up as we were pulling off into the car park with a lovely view of Cape Leeuwin and the lighthouse. There wasn't much to get out for, as it was only a dirt pull-off and there wasn't even a proper walking path, so we set our seats back and rolled down the windows to relax for a bit while we watched the waves crashing against the cliffs surrounding the lighthouse. It was a ruggedly beautiful shoreline and, with the sunset rapidly approaching, an exceptional vantage point to take it all in.
“I love doing this, sitting here watching the waves with my sweetie. I wish we could do this forever,” I remarked dreamily.
“I know what you mean and your wish might actually come true – we're almost out of gas. I didn't notice until we we're pulling off the highway.”
“It may be difficult to find a servo that's open late,” I said.
“Oh well, worst case we can make it to a hotel, and get gas in the morning.”
“Did you plan this?” I asked hopefully.
“I'm a navy tactical commander, so OF COURSE I planned this, and that's what I'll tell anyone who asks.”
“What about MY reputation?” I asked, feigning shock and indignation.
“You’re a civilian and I outrank you, so my reputation always comes first,” he answered in a commanding but jovial tone.
David rolled onto his side facing me. “Now, come here and give me a kiss.”
I rolled onto my side facing him, put my arms around him and kissed him deeply, exploring the benefits of our new-found predicament as David did the same, kissing me back with greater and greater intensity and playfulness.
As the late afternoon waned, I whispered, “Shouldn't we go find a hotel?”
David smiled, pulling me closer and giving me a big hug and another pash kiss. “No, my love, we passed a gas station when I pulled off the highway a few miles back, and they're open late. After all, I have my reputation to consider, don't I?” He flashed me a smile and a wink.
He laughed until I started laughing too, then I rolled over and punched him in the stomach as hard as I could, but he just kept laughing.
We did stay for the sunset, cuddling and kissing, until I forgave him completely – which took all of two seconds, but I never told him that as making up seemed half the fun.
“It'll be dark soon, sweetie, shouldn't we start heading back?”
“Yes, my love. I'm sorry, I really didn't want our day to end so soon.”
By the time we got back on the highway it was starting to get quite dark. We were both exhausted from lack of sleep, and while I did my best to keep David from nodding off, we ended up pulling off the highway several times for a quick nap and a lovely cuddle. We agreed to meet early in the morning, but had time for a quiet stroll under the stars and we lingered as long as we could, kissing until we were both falling asleep in each other’s arms then, begrudgingly, I watched him drive away. I stood watching the empty road for quite some time, hoping that he might turn around and come back, then went inside and collapsed on my bed, dreaming of the beautiful day, and all the time that we'd shared.
A Canter of the Heart
My alarm clocks went off with their usual chirping, squawking and carrying on, for which I was very thankful for a change. Rays of light peeked out from the horizon, building red gum silhouettes in the distance as eerie luminous fingers stretched across the awakening fields. Our small mob of roos were hopping back to their distant paddock past a flock of sheep, unimpressed by their bounding paddock mates, their dusty white wool a sharp contrast to the parched grasses and burnt-red Australian soil. I couldn't help but wonder, watching such an ethereal display, what hidden promise it held in store.
Unfortunately, this morning my feelings were mixed, as I was both excited to see David and, at the same time, devastated that I may never see him again. I'd dreamt of waking up in his arms this morning, but woke up instead in last night's clothes, and laying on top of my crumpled-up linens to add insult to injury, but it was time to stop being slack and get myself ready. David would be here soon, and I really needed a bath before he arrived, so I grabbed my change of clothes, went to the en-suite and set the bathtub filling as I started to undress. I couldn't help but daydream about our time together, the first time we kissed, the way he touched me that made my heart race and my skin flush, how his simple caress made my skin feel charged with electricity and how it continued to radiate tingly warmth for hours...
Realizing that I was mucking about again, I slipped into the bath and washed up. The steaming hot water felt particularly decadent this morning and, while I was tempted to linger, I instead quickly washed and lifted myself out to dry off, get dressed and brush out my hair. Not having a mirror at my height in the en-suite, I thought I would finish dressing in my bedroom.
As I opened the hallway door, I saw that David was already here, sitting in the living room chatting with Mum and Dad. He immediately stood up, narrowly missing having his hand bitten by Toby. He quickly put his hands in his pockets, out of Toby's reach, and walked over towards me. Keeping an eye on Toby, he bent down and gave me a lovely morning kiss that warmed me to my toes, then whispered in my ear as he rubbed my back, “If I had only known, I would have come earlier and joined you.” He winked as I blushed, then he smiled before kissing me again, whispering, “That is such a lovely colour on you.”
I gave him a conciliatory smile then, in an even tone, I replied, “Good morning, I'll be right out,” only hoping that Mum and Dad hadn't heard what he said, understood what he meant or noticed that I was blushing.
I quickly dove into my room, gave my hair a quick brush, had a brief look in the mirror – yes, I was still blushing – finished dressing then grabbed my keys and purse. I felt the urgent need to take someone for a drive. At least I would be a little more in control, or so I thought.
I popped back into the living room. “Bye Mum, bye Dad, we should be back around two. Are you ready to go, sweetheart?”
David smiled, “Right behind you, my love.”
Mum and Dad looked at each other, then looked at me with a degree of amusement, as Mum said, “Would you like a ride when you get back, Mouse?”
“Yes, thank you Mum, that'd be great.”
I quickly made my way down the path to my little red Telstar with my sweetie close behind.
“I thought I'd show you how I get in and out of my car on my own.”
I opened the back door and pulled my Quickie up next to the back seat.
“I'm sorry I teased you back there, I'm just so happy to see you. Do you forgive me?”
I turned back toward him and grabbed him by his jumper, pulling him down toward me. “Come here, you horrid beast.”
“A horrid beast, am I?” he said with a triumphant smile on his face as he slowly obliged, bending down until he was at my height. I put my hand behind his neck and pulled his face to mine, kissing him hard on the lips, teasing him with my tongue until he reciprocated playfully.
When I stopped to take a breath, I consoled him. “I forgive you, sweetie, you can't help yourself, you’re just bad – it's what I love about you.”
He smiled triumphantly with that roguish, handsome grin.
I turned back around, lifting myself into the car. I folded the Quickie then turned that around. Sliding across the back seat as I pulled the Quickie into the car by the handles, I leaned way over to close the back door then worked my way between the two front seats, pulling my legs over behind me as I slid into the driver’s seat, crossing my legs under the hand controls.
David watched in amazement, then sat down in the passenger seat. “Wow, that's quite a system, that must keep you in shape.”
“If I'm not in shape, I can't slide between the front seats. That's the price of freedom.”
David leaned over giving me another pash kiss. “The more I know about you, the more I love you. I've never met anyone with such stoic resolve – nothing gets in your way that you can't handle, and nothing gets you down.”
He smiled and paused as he looked at me. “So, where are we off to today, my love?”
I started the car and put it into drive. “Wouldn't you like to know, you naughty thing. After this morning, you're lucky I'm taking you anywhere. But I guess I did forgive you, I only hope Mum and Dad didn't see your little jokes.”
“Don't worry, they understood, give them some credit. I'm sure they had a wild courtship themselves, and then moved halfway around the world to build a life together here. That is a couple deeply in love if there ever was one. They want you to be happy, and don't forget...” he continued, leaning toward me, putting his hand on my thigh, rubbing ever so slightly and whispering in my ear, “...you really enjoyed it.”
I blushed again, unable to suppress my smile. I threw my arms round him, giving in to my desires. Without forethought I closed my eyes and kissed him deeply, realizing that he was right and knowing how intensely I needed him. It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control as I kissed him with greater and greater passion. Red flags were waving in my head, confusing the moment, making me even more dizzy, then suddenly it all stopped. I opened my eyes, remembering that I'd left the car in drive – David was holding the brake handle, still kissing me.
“Maybe kissing and driving really don't mix,” David said as we both burst into laughter and I shifted back into park.
“I almost forgot, I got you a present.” David jumped out and brought back a bag from his car, handing it to me. “I didn't know if we'd have time for breakfast, so I got you the healthiest thing I could find – chocolate doughnuts and a lemon squash.”
“Thank you, sweetie,” I said as I put the car back into drive. “Maybe you could feed me as we go.”
“I will, my love,” was all he said as he sat back, leaving his hand on my lap as we set out on our last little jaunt together.
We were both quietly content for some time. I was enjoying the scenery and trying to avoid feeling sad that this would be our last drive together.
“You will write to me, won't you?” I said, breaking the silence.
“Of course. I'll give you my FPO address when we get back to your house, and you can give me your address and phone number.”
“Do you know if you'll be back this way?”
“Probably not in this squadron. We're finishing up our West-Pac deployment, and at the most I might do another Pac-Ex which would take us up to the Aleutians, and maybe as far as the Sea of Japan, or even Pusan, Korea. Then my next tour will be ashore. I do have a lot of leave saved up, so I could probably arrange a trip back at some point.”
“That'd be nice, we could see more of Australia together – I haven't seen that much myself.”
“I'd like that, Eleanor, I'm really going to miss you. This has been the most fun I've ever had on shore leave. Thanks for putting up with me.”
As we continued our drive, David fed me little bits of doughnuts, patting me on the head and saying, “Good girl,” each time. The first couple of times I gave him a dirty look, then simply gave up and let him have his fun.
Pulling into Crooked Brook Park, I announced, “Here we are. Are you ready for a short bushwalk to a lovely little billabong?”
“So this is your little secret.”
“Of course, mate. This is as fair dinkum Australian as you get. The only thing more authentic is actually being eaten by a croc, but you'll have to wait until your next visit for that. At least I hope you will... besides, if you haven't camped out with your sweetie beside a billabong, then what are you going to tell your mates down at the pub?” I said, as he warmed to the idea.
“You bring the blanket, and I'll get myself out.” I popped open the boot. “The path is bitumen, so it'll be a nice easy, romantic potter through the bush to a pretty little billabong where we can stretch out for a lovely cuddle. After that… well, after that we'll have to see what we have time for,” I smiled and then made my way to the trail-head, David beside me with the blanket and the rest of our breakfast.
“It's a beautiful park,” he said, giving me a quick kiss.
The trail was slightly overgrown. It didn't look well-travelled and wasn't as improved as I'd hoped, but we managed it all the same. In fact, we hadn't bumped into anyone along the way and assumed that we pretty much had the park to ourselves. It was a short hike, with a couple of good-sized hills to traverse and by the time we reached the billabong I had a good glow and had stripped down to my camisole. David had his jumper tied round his waist, enjoying the sun, but swatting the usual array of bities and mossies.
“I see you've already learned the Aussie salute – how true blue. Be thankful it's winter, because in spring or summer there'd be masses of bities.”
“I am thankful, but while there may not be masses, they are persistent little beggars. And they do have quite a bite.”
“It's not much further, only round another bend and we'll be at the billabong.”
“Not a bad hike, but I think you got the better workout,” David said as he took in the view.
“Maybe, but now I have the easy part – it’s all downhill on the way back.”
David smiled. “Shall I set up over here?” he asked as he opened the blanket and spread it out over the jagged lawn next to the grassy knoll that surrounded the billabong.
“That's great,” I said as I came up behind him and parked on the edge of the blanket, setting my brakes and lifting my footrests out of the way. “Now we can finish our breakfast.” I lowered myself onto the blanket, kneeling as I held onto my Quickie for support. “Come over here, I want to see how tall I am next to you.”
David obliged, standing next to me.
“No, kneel down so I can see what it would be like if we were dancing.”
As he knelt in front of me, I put my arms round him, pulling myself up as high as I could, but was still looking up at his chin.
“I guess I am short,” I said, a little disheartened.
David put his arms around my lower back and pulled me toward him, lifting me up a few inches.
“I don't know, I like it like this,” he said as he looked down smiling, tilting his head down and to the side, then he began to kiss me as I tilted my head up to match his, our lips meeting in the middle. I was instantly in heaven as our tongues danced and played and we enjoyed our own private little paradise of sorts. We continued for so long that I think every blowie in the billabong had a go at us, and when we weren't embracing and caressing each other, we were brushing away the beastly little things – that is until I became suitably irate and smacked one right on David's cheek, at which point we both fell onto the blanket laughing with childlike abandon. I rolled over onto David's chest to apologize, but as I looked into David's eyes I could see that we were already past that, and instead began to explore each other as we continued to kiss with runaway passion. I'd just accidentally unzipped his jeans when he sat bolt upright.
“Hold on, I think I heard something,” David said as I begrudgingly removed my hand from its surreptitious delve.
“I think I heard it too, someone is coming up the path behind us,” I agreed, hearing another twig snap as I made sure that all my clothes were in place and David buttoned and zipped up his jeans.
I sat up, kissing David, passion still in our eyes. David sat behind me, and I leaned back against his comfortable chest as he enveloped me in his arms.
“This is nice too,” he said sincerely.
“Come on ladies, it's right around this bend,” I heard in the distance, seconds before I could see them through the bush. It was a small group of women out for a hike coming around the bend into the opening.
“You’re wrong, they're cumulus clouds, and we are going to get rain,” said the shorter lady in jeans and hiking boots.
“No, I think you’re wrong, they're not tall enough. I think they're nimbostratus, and we won’t get rain until later,” said the taller woman wearing her posh Sunday church attire with tennis shoes.
“Oh, hello, I thought we might find someone up here. We saw your car in the parking lot on our way up. I trust we're not interrupting. Isn't it a beautiful hike?” said an older woman wearing shorts, a violet floral T-shirt and an outback sun hat.
“They could be stratocumulus, but I'm sure they are not nimbostratus,” said the shorter lady.
“Oh, pay no attention to them, they aren't happy unless they're arguing about something,” smiled the older woman in shorts.
“Actually, ladies, I think you have an altocumulus system that may be thinking about rain, and if it does rain, it'll probably become a nimbostratus a little later, but you'll only get light rain to begin with,” David interjected.
The two ladies stopped arguing, looked at David distrustfully as the shorter one, in an accusatory tone, said, “Are you by any chance a weatherman?”
David smiled and answered, “No ma'am, I'm a pilot.”
The two ladies stopped arguing and looked at each other as if calling it a draw, for the time being.
Three more women came into view, and the heavier-set of the three, also dressed in church attire with walking shoes, rushed toward us. Her face lit up.
“Eleanor, Sally said you might be coming this way. It's been yonks since we've seen you at services, how are ya goin, luv?”
“It's good to see you again, Mrs Churchill, I'm well, thank you,” I replied, feeling completely ambushed and knowing that, if possible, my face would have been beet red – but it was probably bad enough as it was.
“Don't mind us,” Mrs Churchill said to me, “this is our weekly garden hike and tea party – we do this every week after services.” Then she turned to the group. “Let's set up the blanket here, next to our two lovebirds.” Turning back she continued, “So you're David are you? Sally told me that you're a sailor visiting from America. You two certainly look cute together. You must join us for tea and bikkies...”
David gave me an accepting smile, as we admitted defeat and gave in, but I did thoroughly enjoy reclining against David's chest as we sat there answering the occasional pointed question, which were surprisingly few. This went on for a good half an hour before we were able to make excuses and start back on the trail down to the car.
On the way back, when we were sure we were out of range, David said, “This is a day that I will never forget,” and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.
Back in the car, we kissed for a few minutes, then drove on to Bunbury back beach, stopping off for takeaway chicken on the way. We were both famished, having had nothing but doughnuts, biscuits and lemon squash to sustain us the whole morning. We spread our blanket and sat out on the lawn overlooking the waters of the Indian Ocean, feeding each other bits of chicken – kissing between bites – as we watched the waves crash against the pristine white sands and the bright sun glistening off the rippled, sky-blue waters. It was truly heaven, and I couldn't bear to think it had to end so soon.
“So, how long until you get back to San Diego?”
“I can't really say... a couple of months, I guess. I'm sorry, it's not that I'm totally clueless, but the port schedule is classified and I can't really say anything specific. I can call you from our next port, but until we're back in the States, I won't be able to give you much in the way of details. I'll write you, as much as time allows, although I've never been much for correspondence, so you might have to bear with me. When I'm back Stateside we can talk about things more concretely.”
“I understand. I'll write to you and I'll be looking forward to hearing from you soon.” Leaning forward for a kiss, I added almost at a whisper, “I would also like to finish what we started by the billabong.”
Placing his hand over mine, he said, “Yes my love, unfortunately we need to head back to your farm so I can get ready to go, and we should still have time for one more ride. But before we go, come here and give me another hug.”
We held each other tightly, kissing and caressing each other until we absolutely had to go.
The drive back to the farm seemed to go by in a flash as our conversation wandered aimlessly from one topic to the next.
“You really haven't told me much about yourself... What do you enjoy the most about being a flight officer?” I asked, thinking how little I really knew about him.
“I don't think we have the time to go through all that, besides, I was really enjoying hearing more about you.”
“Please?” I smiled encouragingly. “I'd like to know more about you as well.”
“Okay, but only until you start to snore... I guess my first love was really aviation. I love to fly, and I always did well in physics, aerodynamics, navigation, meteorology and so on. I already had all of my ratings before I was commissioned into the navy, and originally intended to serve as a pilot, but one of my eyes wasn't quite perfect, so one of my options was to serve as a flight officer. The more I read about it the more I liked the idea. You see, as a flight officer, I'm in charge of the mission, and on the Viking, our mission is very complex – we do everything from anti-submarine warfare to surface search and counter-measure to in-flight aerial refuelling and that's only scratching the surface, especially with the new ISAR radar and the AGM 84 Harpoon missile system. So, are you sorry you asked yet, or should I go on?”
“I'm not sorry, I really want to know.”
“Okay, but I don't want you to fall asleep while you’re driving.”
“Just tell me, already.”
“All right, all right. I guess I chose the Viking because it was the only carrier-based aircraft that has two full sets of flight controls where the flight officer spends half his time flying as co-pilot and the rest of his time running the mission. To me, that gave me the best of everything. I love flying the Viking, especially in tight formation with other S-3s, or rolling in on a surface search contact at 300 feet, or simply playing in the clouds. I also love running the radar, the FLIR, working a sonobuoy pattern, searching for submarines or running surface search and countermeasure. I would have missed most of that if I was only a pilot. I even enjoy flying Texaco, which is the nickname for aerial refuelling missions where we pass gas to the F-18s or F-14s. That’s actually a new mission for us, adding to an already long list.”
“You must love flying about as much as I love riding. I don't know why you thought it would be boring to me – I love knowing what makes you happy.”
Turning onto the dirt access road, I felt a pang of sorrow, knowing that in an hour David would be gone.
“Is it dangerous, flying the S-3?”
“It's not like we're at war with anyone. It's only peace time training and we've been mishap-free for twenty years, so it's probably no more dangerous than you riding horses, or living here in Australia. But, yes, there are inherent risks in what we do so I guess that's why they give us flight pay. We have a pretty good group of guys, and when it comes to safety, that makes all the difference.”
We pulled up to the shed with barely enough time for another ride on Snowy – which, thankfully, Mum had already set up. This time I kept Snowy at a fast walk on the way out to visit our friendly mob and then gave David a good run on the way back. I was surprised to see him keep up nearly the whole way. I think he let me win in the end, but I was only at a trot.
Hands on his hips, catching his breath, David asked, “Do you mind if I take a shower and change before I head out? It'll save me a bit of time, and I'll be on watch as soon as I get back.”
“Not at all. I'll ask Mum to get a towel for you. There is one thing I need to ask before she gets here.”
“Of course, my love, anything.”
“Can I join you?”
David smiled from ear to ear, walked over to Snowy, put his arm around my back and his other arm under my leg as I pulled the other one over the saddle and slid into his arms and said, “Anything your little heart desires, my love, anything your little heart desires.”
And he kissed me so passionately that I felt I'd melt in his arms. Then Snowy, who we'd forgotten to secure, walked over, put her head in my lap and bit me.
“Ow, you cheeky little...”
David broke into laughter and was laughing so hard that he had to put me down on my Quickie, and I followed suit, laughing despite the pain. Mum returned with Snowy's carrots which I proceeded to feed to the greedy animal as David went off to shower and change. I still gave her a hug and thanked her for the ride.
“I heard all about your tea party this morning,” Mum said, having a go at me. “Perhaps you should go to church more often.”
If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was going to break out in laughter herself. I swear she nearly did.
David came out of the en-suite wearing his white uniform with his hat tucked under his arm and a small green valise in his hand that he called his helmet bag. I thought he was very handsome, perhaps on the verge of drop-dead handsome, but I wasn't about to tell him that.
“Well, that is a bit of a change. You look very presentable.”
“Thank you. Personally I find it a major challenge trying to keep a white uniform clean – I don't know why anyone would have picked this uniform, especially for shore leave.”
“I can see your point, still, I think it suits you, and I like your hat.”
“They call it a cover in the navy.”
“In that case, I like your cover. Oh, I forgot to ask you, what's your rank?”
“I'm a lieutenant junior grade, an O-2,” David looked at his watch, “and I'm very late. I really need to go. I promised I'd say goodbye to your mom and dad.”
“They're out on the veranda having tea. Follow me, but mind Toby, he's a naughty little man, and he'll have your finger if he can.”
Toby tried to bite David's hand twice, but didn't succeed, so he settled down.
“Goodbye Mr West. I'm afraid I'm very late, so I won't have time to chat with you as I'd hoped, but I'll do my best to come back this way. I'll come to visit again if I do.”
Shaking David's hand, Dad replied, “Aye 'ope you've 'ad a good visit, and I trust me daughter's shown you a bit o' West Australia. Mind the roos on your way back, especially round sunset, an 'ave a safe trip.”
“Thank you sir, take care of that foot and next time you can show me that beach and we’ll have a swim. Goodbye ma'am,” David continued, shaking Mum's hand. “Thanks for everything, I really enjoyed seeing your farm and had a lot of fun on Eleanor's rides. I hope I see you again.”
“It was good to meet you. Have a safe trip,” Mum replied.
I went with David to his car. He opened the door and threw his green helmet bag and his cover onto the rear seat. Seeing that he was on the wrong side of the car again, he smiled and turned toward me.
“I only have to get back to Fremantle in time for duty,” he said, looking at his watch, then he embraced me tightly in his arms and we kissed goodbye.
“I'll write,” I interjected between kisses, and then added, “ring me if you can,” to which he responded with one last kiss.
“I'm sorry my love, I really need to get going. I'll miss you...” he said as he closed the passenger door, walked round to the driver's side and got in. “I will write, and I'll try to call you from our next port.”
He closed the door, started the car and drove off down the access road, waving as he reached the end. He was on the wrong side the whole way. As the dust settled, I sat watching the empty road and had a good cry. I knew in my heart that I'd never see him again.