Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chapter 4, part 2

Pilbara Thunderstorm ( Stephen Williams )

“Yes,” he replied, not noticing her discomfort, “I inherited it from my grandfather.”
“It was empty for so many years,” she said, “Talk in the town was that it had been tied up in some dispute over the Will.”
“No,” he explained, “What happened was that it was left to his grandchildren.  He didn’t trust his children.  He said they were useless and lazy and didn’t want to work.  But the problem was—well one of them—was that none of us were living in Australia.  My mother is French and we lived for a while in the French countryside.  But I’d heard stories about this house and about Australia from my father and when— “ he paused suddenly and looked away out across the tawny grasslands and the vibrant shadows of the gum trees.  “Anyway,” he continued—and Lucy was sure he’d been about to say something else— “Here I am.”  He pushed the salad around in his bowl and once again she racked her brains for something to say that didn’t seem forward or silly or boring.  In the end it was he who spoke.
“I expect you know who I am,” he said in a low voice.  He lifted his head and their eyes met.  His look was bruised, somehow, almost defiant.  She was taken aback.  She noticed a faint streak of silver in the soft black of his hair as it fell forward over his forehead.  For a mad moment, she almost reached out to smooth it away.  Abruptly, she came to her senses.
“Well,” she replied, a little breathlessly, “You told me your name when you introduced yourself.”
“Yes,” he said slowly, “That’s true.”  And again there was a silence.  He drank his beer and rubbed his fingers up and down in the condensation left from the bottle on the wooden table, “You see,” he said, “I – ” and at that moment the phone rang.  Lucy cursed the phone.  But she felt she had to answer it.  That was the way she’d been brought up.  Her mother had always said, you never know, it might be important.  But it hardly ever was. 
“Excuse me,” she said.  It was Jennifer.  How typical, thought Lucy, frustrated.  Just when we were getting somewhere.
“Luce, old thing,” said Jenny in a cheerful tone, “Would you like to come round to dinner tonight?  I’ve asked the Bletchleys and Susan and a few others over.  Nothing grand.  Just homemade pasta.  Bring a bottle of wine if you like.”  For a moment Lucy hesitated.  But then the thought of Sunday night alone in the cottage with Adam up in the big house, lying in his sleeping bag in some huge, empty room, the moonlight casting its cold beams across him as he lay there, awake or asleep, and the memory of the unfortunate encounter with Shane the night before decided her.  She would go.
“I’d love to come,” she told Jenny, “Seven o’clock?  See you then.”  She went back outside.  Adam had finished his beer.
“Sorry about that,” she said, “It was a friend inviting me to dinner.”
“Well,” he said, “I shall think of you as I sit on the verandah looking at the view.  I hope you have a pleasant evening.  Thank you so much for the delicious lunch.” And almost bowing to her, like a character from Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, she thought amusedly, he left swiftly and she saw his tall, dark form walking with long, deliberate stride through the midday heat back up the hill to the great house. 
The threatened thunderstorm did come.  As always, before the first rain fell, Lucy got a headache and her depression and downheartedness, combined with the headache, encouraged her to take a painkiller and have an afternoon nap.  When the rain came it was a relief.  She could hear it drumming on the tin roof of her little cottage and could feel the immediate freshness as the heat and dust were washed out of the air.  As she lay on the bed in the half dark of the summer thunderstorm, she thought back to the first day.  She thought about the first time he had come to visit and she had brought out the best tea-set and how he had looked at the picture of her mother and left so abruptly.  What was it, she wondered, that had made him leave? 
She had felt, while they were sitting there so companionably, in the shade of the wisteria, that he was about to tell her about his life, about why his name was Adam Greyfallow, but he played under the stage name Montpellier, about who the woman was who had accompanied him out the night before, about what had happened to his beautiful bride.  It was so typical of Jennifer to ring at the wrong moment.  It was just the sort of thing she always did.  She was very kind and she was very fond of her, and Lucy supposed that she was one of her best friends.  All the same, she rather wished that Jennifer had postponed calling for another half hour.  But then she reminded herself of all the occasions over the last few days when she had told herself to be sensible and not to assume that handsome, gorgeous, ridiculously wealthy and gifted Adam Greyfallow would be the least interested in a plain and rather ordinary school teacher from a country town where nothing ever happened.
She didn’t dress for dinner.  The air was cool again after the thunderstorm and the dust was laid on the roads.  She loved the way in summer how these hot days would end like this, with a quiet coolness after the rain and the sound of the cockatoos shrieking at each other as they found their night time roosts in the trees.  She wasn’t especially looking forward to dinner, but it was better than doing nothing, and she didn’t think after all that had happened and all the emotions that had turmoiled within her, that an evening alone was a good idea.  As she made small talk, ate Jennifer’s indifferent lasagne while complimenting her on it, and listened to all the minor dramas that the people around the table discussed with such enthusiasm and passion, the thought that went through her head was always ‘what is he doing now?’ —to be immediately followed by ‘don’t be such a goose, Lucinda Grady, he’s not interested in you and never will be’.

Next >>>>

Monday, 5 November 2012

Chapter 4, part 1

Despite the fact that Lucy had often thought that her life had been a disappointment to her, she was normally a cheerful person.  But the encounter with Shane had depressed her a great deal and she struggled for the rest of the week to be upbeat.  It seemed to her that one of her favourite activities on weekends—which were so precious to her—namely, going to the Chinese restaurant, had been ruined.  Worse, it seemed to her that she had not yet really got over her love for Shane, even as he had seemed, standing next to her table, bloated, older and less attractive.  She still felt in her heart some sort of sorrow and affection for him.  She knew full well that he had treated her badly and she was quite sure that if she got involved with him again he would do it all over again; he was just one of those people.  So her feelings of regret and sadness were absurd.  But no matter how many times she told herself this, she didn’t believe it.
Adam had not returned to Greyfallows by the end of the week.  Lucy decided that the only way to keep herself sane was to do something.  She decided to sort out the cupboards in her house, mop the kitchen floor and perform other mindless tasks that would keep her busy and help her to sleep from sheer tiredness.  But while she was making her Saturday morning cup of tea and scrambled eggs on toast she made the mistake of opening her laptop to see what had happened in the world, and she saw, on the society pages of The Age that Adam Montpellier had squired the latest perfectly beautiful, perfectly groomed model representing Galombiks, the Melbourne department store, to a ballet at The Arts Centre.  There were photos of him and the model, whose name was Jayne Beckwith; and the look he gave her as the camera caught the moment was one of great affection and love.
She closed the laptop and pushed it to one side.  She stared out of the back window into her little garden.  Up at the top of the hill the Greyfallows mansion stood as it had done for eighty or ninety years and she thought to herself how stupid she’d been to hope that there would be parties and that all the glamour of the 1920s and 30s would return.  No doubt Adam Greyfallow would come back to Beauville, but with his wife, the perfectly beautiful Jayne Beckwith.  And there might even been parties to which the glamorous and the beautiful were invited.  But she wouldn’t be invited.  He certainly would not spare one look for Lucinda Grady.
She forced herself to eat the rest of her breakfast and finish her tea.  Her mother had brought her up to be careful with the cents.  She used to say as if it were her own original notion, ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’, and smile triumphantly at Lucy as if she had produced a profound new idea all by herself.  Lucy felt a sudden stab of sadness at the thought of her mother and thought again how much she would like to just leave this town and everyone in it, to never see Shane again, nor even her friend Jennifer, nor any of the children in her class.  To cut ties with all her history, to start out afresh somewhere else where she wasn’t Lucinda Grady, the cast-off of the most handsome man in town, or a not very good school teacher, but Lucinda, someone glamorous and different from far away, someone who knew things, who had been places.
Despite her disappointment, she decided to tidy the house anyway and to do some work in the garden.  She thought she’d start on the garden first, before it got too hot.  The weather report had said the temperature would reach the high thirties and that there was a good chance of a summer thunderstorm.  Putting on her floppy hat and an old flannel shirt to stop getting burnt, she fetched the trowel and started work.  She watered some of the plants in the tubs and pots which were looking a bit droopy in the heat and then turned to digging out the obstinate dandelions from between the red bricks of the little pathways. 
As always, the peaceful certainties of gardening helped her, and at the end of an hour she was feeling somewhat better.  The garden was very pretty and she felt that by working on it she was honouring the memory of her mother who had loved the trees and flowers and had made it the beautiful place it was.  She made herself a cup of tea and sat on the bench in the pergola in the shade of the wisteria.  She was halfway through the cup when she heard the sound of a car.  Although she told herself repeatedly not to get up and not to go and look, she couldn’t stop herself.  From a corner of the house she peeped around the honeysuckle and saw Adam Greyfallow’s lethal-looking Lamborghini sweep up the road from Melbourne and turn into the entrance of Greyfallows.
With a small sigh of satisfaction—which she immediately deplored—Lucy noticed that there was no-one sitting beside him.  Proud of her self-discipline, she went back into the kitchen and started tidying the house.  She had no intention of calling on him and no intention of making a fool of herself again.  She remembered the song her mother often used to sing to her, ‘a man is a two face’ and she thought, maybe I’m better off the way I am.  It might not be thrilling but I do get some pleasure from my life, even if it is lonely.  She made herself a salad for lunch and was sitting on the bench under the wisteria eating it when she heard a knock at the front door.  She put down her bowl and went inside to open the door.  It was Adam.  He had dark lines under his eyes and a drawn face.
“Hello,” he said, “am I disturbing you?” His voice was low and husky; he sounded indescribably weary.
Cursing the blush which rose relentlessly to her cheeks, Lucinda said softly, “No, I was just having lunch.  Some salad.  Would you like some?”
“Oh,” he said, “I couldn’t put you out.  I was just going to have some bread and cheese and maybe a beer.”
“You’re not putting me out,” she said, “Come in!”  She stood back and held the door open.  With a slight, self-deprecating smile, he produced from behind his back two beers, frosted and chilled.  She was charmed by this evidence of foresight.  They sat together at each end of the bench underneath the arbour in the scent of blue wisteria, ate their salad and drank their beer.  Lucinda desperately wanted to say, “We didn’t think you were coming back,” but she knew that would reveal too much.  They sat in silence for a while, and it seemed a peaceful and companionable quiet.  The magpies yodelled softly in the heat of the midday from the tall gum trees, and insects hummed in the long grasses.  Lucy brushed her hair back from her warm face with one hand and tucked it behind her ear.
“Are you well?” she asked eventually, “You look a little tired.”
“Oh,” he replied, “I was up late last night and left Melbourne early this morning.”  Seeming to force a smile, he said, “I expect I shall sleep like a log tonight.”
“Luckily,” said Lucy, “It’s Sunday, so you’ll be able to sleep well at the Royal Hotel.  It’s Saturday night that it’s so noisy.  This is a country town and there isn’t much to do and the farmers like to come in from the surrounding areas to have a drink or two in the pub.  They can be a bit loud.”
“Well,” he said, “As a matter of fact, I’m sleeping up at the house.  It’s a bit primitive.  But at least we’ve connected the pump to the borehole and so now I have water.  We don’t have town water.  The house had never been connected because it was up on the hill and old Josiah Greyfallow who built it … this would have been around the 1860’s … didn’t want to waste money.  So they had a windmill which was replaced by a pump.  Which is long gone!  Anyway, to cut a long story short I decided to sleep at the house because at least it’s mine.”
Lucy felt absurdly glad that he was sleeping in the house.  Embarrassed at her silliness, she blurted out, “Did you inherit it?”  She immediately felt how rude this was; after all, it was none of her business, but she couldn’t unsay what had been said.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A real "Greyfallows"

Not too many k's from where we live is this old mansion.   It's called Mintaro.  We didn't have it in mind for Greyfallows, because we didn't even know it was there!  It's just been placed on the market after the death of its owner.

Have a look at the photos--marble walls and ceilings, carvings, painted frescoes.    How beautiful it is!  It'll give you some idea of how we imagine "Greyfallows".

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Chapter 3, part 2

A Tang Dynasty Horse

The Tang Horse was one of three Chinese restaurants in Beauville and was her favourite.  The paintings of misty Chinese mountains, the softly twanging music, the spicy fragrances, all seemed exotic to her.  In the window was a reproduction of a green Tang dynasty horse and she liked to imagine she was somewhere far more interesting than her home town.  As usual, she took a table facing the street.  That way she could pretend she was in Paris, watching the passers-by, or some restaurant in Chinatown in San Francisco.  Anywhere rather than Beauville.  She ordered, as she always did, sweet and sour pork and green tea, and ate slowly, thinking all the time of good things, of her little cottage and its garden, of her life as a teacher, which she mostly loved and found deeply satisfying, and of her friends.  Even Jennifer, who could be so annoying, she knew, really cared about her and was always there for her when things were bad.
The bell on the restaurant door tinkled and she looked up to see who had come in.  She felt the blood drain from her face, and her stomach tighten into a knot.  It was Shane Campbell.  He appeared not to notice that she was there at first, and then, observing her, turned away suddenly, his features twisted into an odd expression.  Shane Campbell had been the great love of her life.  He had thick, curly brown hair, golden brown eyes and his broad, muscular body bore testament to his obsession with many different sports.  He had been captain of the school footy team.  She had been in love with him since she was fifteen.  He was a bit older than the others in the class, not because he'd been kept back, but because he'd started school later than usual.  This meant he was one of the first to get his P plates and to get a car.  He had worked hard at the local auto-mechanic in a part time job and saved enough to buy himself an old Holden Monaro sports car which he and his mates did up in the back yard and drove up and down the streets of Beauville.  The car had a deep burble and a huge engine and Shane was the envy of every male in the class and the adored object of every female.
She never showed him how much she fancied him.  Because of her shyness, she remained aloof.  She watched with wistful envy as he went after each of the gorgeous girls in class – Emma Pratchett, Laura Simpson, Chanelle Roberts, and the others who were all slim, with long, flowing hair and perfectly proportioned faces, and seemed so confident and glamorous and clever, and made little snide comments about her when she walked past.  These were the sort of girls Shane Campbell pursued.  Lucy knew she didn't stand a chance.  She stayed in the background, never speaking to him, never taking any notice of his bad-boy behaviour, or pandering to his arrogant assumption that he was the most important human being on earth.  None of his relationships seemed to last very long; perhaps three months as most.  Then the girl was ditched and Shane would walk with a little added swagger in his step into the classroom and start looking around for a new conquest. 
One day after school he came up to Lucy, where she was waiting at the gate for one of her friends. 
“Hey,” he grinned charmingly, and held her eyes with a warm, confiding gaze. 
“Hello, Shane,” she said expressionlessly, ignoring the powerfully muscled arm casually draped over the gate she was leaning against.  She had no intention of being added to the list of trophies taken by the bad boy of Beauville. 
“I saw you at the Rialto last Saturday.  What did you think of the movie?”
“It was Casablanca,” she muttered, “I've seen it a dozen times.”
“I love old movies too,” said Shane softly, his eyes travelling over her face.
“Really?” she said, feigning indifference, although her heart was beginning to pound a little harder in her breast.

A Holden Monaro HQ

“Yup.  Casablanca is one of my favourite films of all time.  Hey, I've got some jobs I need to take care of on Saturday arvo, how about you come along for the ride and we can maybe take in a movie afterwards?  Or whatever you'd like.  Go for a Coke, anything.”
So she did.  It was only much later that she discovered he hadn't even been into the cinema that day and didn't know who Humphrey Bogart was, in fact had never seen Casablanca.
He took her in his wonderful old coupé to a footy game in the next town of Mallaroo.  She found the game pretty boring, but he stood next to her the whole time, so close she could feel the warmth of his body, and after the game made disparaging comments about both teams and how much better he and his team would have played.  By then Lucy's sense of reality had diminished under his charms and she didn't see this for what it was – an arrogant and rather pathetic attempt to big-note himself.  She agreed with him and felt that this was the happiest moment of her life.  She was with the hero of the town, handsome, sexy, intelligent and thoughtful.  He even loved old movies for goodness' sake!  After the game he took her home in the winter dark and she was half disappointed, half pleased, that he didn't try anything with her but merely asked if she would like to come out with him next weekend and perhaps hang out with him at lunch time at school.
The crunch came on the fourth date.  They had gone through the early stages of kissing and petting but now he made it clear he wanted to go all the way.  Lucy was old-fashioned.  She believed that you shouldn't have sex before marriage unless it was with someone you were sure was the lifetime partner for you, and even then it somehow seemed wrong.  She resisted his sweet talk, and then his increasingly amorous and demanding advances.  She could see he was becoming angry, but also that he was a little intrigued.  Obviously none of the other girls had held out.
“Do you love me?” he whispered huskily, breathing into her ear.  She nodded, unable to speak.  “I love you very much,” he breathed, pulling back to gaze into her face, his brown eyes warm and filled with sincerity.  “Won't you do this for me,” he begged, “For our love?”  Still she refused, although she was hesitating.  He dropped his arms.  He drove her to the cottage and turned his face away when she wanted to give him a goodnight kiss.  That Monday at school he pretended not to know her when she joined him for lunch. This treatment continued all week. 
On Friday he said, “So would you like to come out tomorrow?”  Grateful for any crumb, she accepted at once.  The next night they sat in the car outside the takeaway diner.  Shane said, “I'm sorry I behaved so badly this week, but I really care for you and I was hurt.  Because you didn't want to prove you loved me.” That night she lost her virginity to him.  Their relationship lasted just as long as all the others.  But by then Lucy was hopelessly in love with him.  He dumped her one Thursday lunchtime in front of all his friends and all the other girls of the class.
“You're such a prissy, up-yourself bitch, Lucy,” he said offhandedly, his eyes sparkling with malice.  Foolishly, she stammered, “But you said you loved me.”
“Oh come on, Lucy!” he countered, “You're so not my type!  All those curls, those old-fashioned dresses.  You look like my auntie!  And anyway I prefer my women hot in bed.”  His friends sniggered.  “Seriously, you need to do something about yourself.  You wouldn't look so bad if you did something about your hair and stuff.”
Her eyes brimming with tears, trying desperately and failing to hold them back, Lucy stumbled away, as far as she could, to the other side of the playing fields, her cheeks burning, her heart torn in two.  She heard the word 'frigid' and a guffaw of laughter from the boys.
Shane had made a point, after that, of flaunting his new girl in Lucy's face.  He found someone in the neighbouring town to go out with him.  And later, when she heard that this girl, Rosa, the daughter of an Italian family, was pregnant, Lucy was saddened but not surprised.  Shane Campbell was married at nineteen and divorced at twenty-five, with three children, no career, no progress in life, no qualifications, no hope.  After his public humiliation of her she had made a point of ignoring him whenever she saw him.  She didn't have much, but she did have her pride.  She had told her mother about the whole thing and her mother had produced the usual platitudes – men only want one thing, you must hold out until you're married, why don't you find a nice boy with career prospects, and so on.  But even though Lucy never went near Shane again, she still loved him deep down.  His appearance in The Tang Horse spoiled her evening for her. Yet another reason to leave this dump, she thought, get far away from all these people.  At the same time, she felt trapped.
She heard the scrape of a chair at the table behind her.  The next minute Shane was standing next to her table.  He was alone.  She wondered at that.  She knew he had divorced, a messy divorce, but he was still good looking and probably just as charming as ever.  It surprised her that he was coming out to eat alone.
“May I join you?” he asked.  There was a flash of the old, warm charm, but his eyes were a little bloodshot, his shirt tighter around his belly.  Her eyes averted, she shook her head, pushed her plate to one side, rose, and leaving fifteen dollars at the cash register, left the restaurant, wondering if she would ever be able to return.  She was conscious of him staring through the plate glass window at her retreating back, and she thought, this has to be one of the worst weeks ever.

Next part  >>>

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Chapter 3, part 1

Near Tumut, oil, by Chris Huber

On Monday morning she had hardly made her cup of tea in the staffroom before Jennifer grabbed her arm and exclaimed excitedly, “Who do you think he is?”
“What on earth do you mean?” retorted Lucy impatiently.  She was in a bad mood and depressed, and Jennifer's bounciness could be very irritating.
“Him!” replied Jennifer, “Mr Handsome-who-sweeps-in-from-overseas-like-Lord-Muck and starts tarting up a house everyone else thinks should be bulldozed.”
“Well?” said Lucy, feigning a lack of interest.
Jennifer's eyes glittered, “He's Adam Montpellier, the famous pianist!”
Lucy was staggered.  She had heard Adam Montpellier play, on the radio.  She'd seen him on TV, and never would she have recognised him as the man who she'd met peering through the windows of her cottage.
“Why does she call himself Montpellier if his real name is Greyfallow?” asked Lucy, more to shut  Jennifer up and distract her than from any real desire to know.  I suppose, she thought to herself, that's why he's left.  He came here for peace and quiet and now that he's been found out, he's going away again.
“Montpellier,” said Jennifer, “Is his mother's name.  She was French, from some noble French family.  Come with me!”  She dragged Lucy off to her classroom and showed her the result of Google searches she'd made on the computer.
“What made you think about it?” asked Lucy, still trying to process the news.
“I thought I recognised him,” said Jennifer, “He seemed familiar and I racked and racked my brains,” (and Lucy knew just how much Jennifer could rack her brains), “before I came to school this morning – it nearly made me late – and so I started digging.”  And she produced a pile of printouts.  Lucy read, astonished, the news reports about Adam Greyfallow's life.  Everybody seemed to know him as Adam Montpellier and she wondered if he'd been ashamed of the Greyfallow name or whether he had had a falling out with his father.  She wondered if it had anything to do with the court case that had tied up the house for so long.  There he was, stepping out of limousines onto red carpets; there he was, taking a bow at the Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York.  There he was, in tuxedo, his hair an immaculate, gleaming black wing sweeping over his broad forehead, his eyes a glint of sapphire in the flash of a camera, with a gorgeous redhead on his arm.  And then there was the report of the terrible accident and the death of the lovely model, and the news that Adam Montpellier had disappeared, distraught with grief, three months before.  There had been reports of sightings from places as far apart as Buenos Aires in Argentina, Dublin in Ireland and Calcutta in India –  but none of them was verified.
Lucy felt her heart go out to Adam.  He must have withdrawn from the world because of his terrible grief.  But she felt her own heart break a little too, because she knew that now she had to face up to the fact that he'd come and gone, and that even if he ever came back, he could never love someone like her.
Lucy was in a low mood for the rest of the day, thinking how someone interesting had finally come to Beauville and then gone away for good.  She tried hard not to snap at the children during class, but somehow they seemed to sense that she was in trouble and behaved much worse than usual.  In the end she had a shouting match with Tommy Morrison, the alpha male in her Year 8 class, and afterwards felt sickened and embarrassed by the whole thing.  It was so unlike her.  After she got home to her little cottage she went and stood outside, looking up towards the great house and wondering if, in fact, it ever would be a home again, with people, the laughter of children, parties and music, lights shining from the tall windows at night. 
She went inside and decided that she had to do something to take her mind off the mood she was in and the facts she faced.  She decided to turn out a cupboard and found that in the process of cleaning, dusting, killing redbacks, and laying down new, fresh paper on the shelves, she felt much better.  When she stood back and saw the freshly folded towels and linen she felt much calmer inside.  She decided, on the back of this improved mood, to go out for dinner.  She could have done her own internet searches for the news of Adam Montpellier, but she concluded that it was a bad thing for her to dwell on what would never be.  With a sense of virtuous satisfaction, she showered and changed and drove into Beauville.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Chapter 2, part 2

But he smiled.
“Well, that would be lovely.  And now, may I offer you a cup of tea?  We have the luxury of electricity!”  And he indicated an orange cable that ran from a power post beyond the house to a makeshift table constructed of some wooden crates where there was a kettle and a mug.  “We have water, too,” he said, “So I can offer you some tea.  It won't be Spode, though!”  And she saw on the crate some cheap china mugs.
“I should be delighted,” she replied, echoing his phrase from the week before, even though the mugs weren't the cleanest.   Lucy decided to accept his offer.  She felt, despite herself, happiness building inside her, because he treated her like a friend.  She told herself not to be silly, because she wanted him to treat her like a lover, but maybe that was unreachable, and maybe the best thing she could have was his friendship.  While the tea was drawing – and this time it really was teabags in mugs – he took her along the balustraded verandah and she pointed out the sights of the town to him.

The Campaspe River by T F Levick

“That's where I went to school,” she said, “Beauville College.  I teach there now.  And that's where I broke my wrist when I fell off my bicycle.”
He looked amusedly at her.
“Were you a bit of a tomboy?” he asked.
“No,” she replied thoughtfully, “But I was a bit of a loner and was always in a hurry to get from one place to another.”
“What do you teach?”
“Quite a few things, actually.  I trained to teach English, but then we did Hamlet as a school play and I was roped in to do that, so then they gave a few drama classes to teach and because I did some music, now they've got me teaching the primary grades choir.”
“What music did you study?” he asked quietly, not looking at her.
“Oh, you know.  The sort of thing one does at school,” – where you have hopes – “guitar and a bit of piano and singing.”
“Did you consider studying music further?”
“No,” replied Lucy, “to be a professional musician, you have to be the very best.  Second best isn't good enough.  And I wasn't even second-best.  But I do have a lot of fun.  The littlies enjoy singing so much, and I'm good with them.”
“Yes,” he answered with a smile, but his thoughts obviously elsewhere, “I'm sure you are.” 
Stop prattling like a lovesick schoolgirl, Lucy urged herself.  There was an awkward silence.
“Come and look at the swimming pool,” he said, and carrying their mugs they set off around the back of the house.  Set in the ground was an enormous swimming pool lined with mosaic.  It was filled with gum tree leaves, strips of bark and a thicket of fallen twigs and small branches.
“I don't know,” he said, “Whether I'll have to pull the whole thing out and start afresh or whether we can patch the cracks.  Come and look at this,” he said.  He held out his hand and helped her step down into the shallow end.  She felt the warmth of his hand sent a thrill up her arm.  It was so strong and yet the fingers were fine-boned, not delicate, but elegant.  She had to search for the word, and elegant summed them up perfectly.  Yet they were also very manly and strong.  He had cleared away a few of the leaves on the floor of the pool, and there, set into the concrete was a mosaic pattern of a mermaid.  “I think,” he said, “The whole pool is probably decorated with these 1920 images.  It would be wonderful to be able to fix it and to have this 80 or 90 year old pool in use again.”
Lucy couldn't help wondering why he'd come to Beauville, because it looked to her as though the inheritance of the house was more or less worthless – he would have to spend as much on it again as it was worth, and probably (she thought back to the ripped up floorboards) even more.  What was it that brought him here?  Why did he hole himself up in a small Australian country town far from the bright lights of the world?  She was sure that someone like him – handsome, capable, and wealthy – would be the darling of the cocktail party circuits and parties everywhere, from Hollywood to Paris.  And yet, here he was, being nice to her, Lucy Grady, with freckles on her nose, and hair that no matter what she did didn't look glamorous and soignée.  She was too scared to ask him in case it made him think, so she just accepted it, but later that night as she lay in bed reading a cheap thriller she thought about it and wondered.
The next morning was a Saturday, which was, of all days in the week, Lucy's favourite.  She would treat herself to a latte at the Blue Velvet Café on the High Street, and she would go and browse through the second-hand bookshop and see if they had any books of the authors she was fond of.  If the day wasn't too hot she would take a packet of sandwiches and walk along the river listening to the currawongs and the magpies trilling in the gum trees.

But that Saturday was ruined, because shortly after nine o'clock she saw Adam driving very fast in his black Lamborghini down the driveway from the big house, and when he turned out of the gate he headed, not towards Beauville, but in the direction of the freeway that led to Melbourne.  She immediately felt that he had given the whole project up forever and that she would never see him again.  Well of course he's left, she thought bitterly to herself.  She wanted to leave.  And someone as glamorous and sophisticated as Adam would never want to stay in such a dump.  Somehow coffee at the Blue Velvet Café and a morning spent browsing dusty books in an old bookshop lost all pleasure.  She heard, later, from one of the builders whom she knew because his kid brother was at the Beauville College, that Adam had gone back to Melbourne and they didn't know when he would return.

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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Chapter 2, part 1

Lucy didn't see her new neighbour again till the next weekend.  She was in the garden undertaking some necessary gardening chores.  She loved gardening and she always felt that it connected her with her mother who had also loved gardens and had created the pretty little area around the cottage.  It was a beautiful old-fashioned garden full of roses, with wisteria covering a pergola and huge European trees that made it a cool haven on the hot days of midsummer.  She heard someone calling from the front of the cottage, and getting up from the flowerbed where she had been kneeling, she stretched her back and made her way round the side of the house to see who it was.

Yackandandah High Street
He was leaning against the door, wearing clothes that looked much more Australian than he had worn before – khaki shorts, a crumpled white open-necked shirt and Blundstone boots.  Even dressed like this, he looked absolutely stunning.  In fact, he looked even more handsome than he had in his more formal clothes, if that were possible.  Lucy found herself once again breathless and tongue-tied.  She flicked her eyes involuntarily over the powerful sinews in his brown forearms, the muscles in his thighs and calves.
“I just came to apologise,” he said, “For leaving you so abruptly last time.”
“Not at all,” she stammered.  She noticed, however, that he offered no explanation for his sudden departure.  After he had taken his leave so abruptly on the previous occasion, she had gone over to the piano to look at the photo of her mother, puzzled, to see what it was that had made him behave as he had.  She took down the frame and examined it carefully, and suddenly the full force of the fact that she was all alone in the world had hit her and she had had a bit of a cry, but she was no closer to understanding why he had departed in such an unfriendly way.  There had been a few other things on the piano, one or two magazines, a vase of flowers and a small box in which she kept precious mementoes from her childhood.  She had racked her brains, trying to work out what it was that had affected him so, yet she still had no idea.  She was tempted, now, to ask him, but felt shy, and was afraid of driving him away again.
“How are the renovations going?” she asked.
“A complete mess,” he replied, “Everything's higgledy-piggledy, the builders are complaining, the council is complaining, and it looks as though nothing has happened even though it's been a week since we began.  But I haven't given up hope.  Many of the timbers of the upstairs floors are sound, the staircase, apart from a squeak or two, seems to be fine.  In fact, it's rather a beautiful staircase, a very elegant curve.  I would say it's from the Art Deco period, but it can't be because it was built before that.”  He turned to her, “Why don't you come up and have a look?”
“I'd love to,” she said, her heart quickening, “But first let me change – I won't be a moment.”  She was wearing a battered straw hat, torn jeans and an old flannel shirt.  She couldn't know that it set her off to perfection, that her lovely slimness and ripe curves were made all the more attractive by being displayed in these informal clothes.
“If you must,” he smiled, “But really, it's rather dusty up there – I wouldn't wear your glad rags!”  He indicated his own dusty shorts in a self-deprecating way.  She loved his accent.  The way he clipped his words neatly and cleanly made her shiver with pleasure.
They started off up the hill.  It was one of those hot, still days you get in country Victoria in summer, where the leaves of the gums hang motionless, and the air shimmers blue with heat.  As they toiled up the slope to the mansion, Lucy began to feel that this might not have been a good idea.  She was convinced that she would start to sweat like a pig and put him off.  Then she reminded herself that she stood no chance anyway, that the fact of the matter was, Lucy Grady was never going to get married – not now, not in the future.  When they reached the great house, she saw that the front door was propped open with bricks, there were builders' trucks all around and the sound of banging and demolition was audible from within the building.  She turned round to take in the view.  The site for the house had been carefully chosen.  The ground swept down to her little cottage in the valley and about a kilometre beyond the cottage the town was visible, with its river winding through, an inviting blue.  There was a huge raised terrace in front of the house, shaded by a roof of rusty tin sheets.  On the edge of this verandah, there was a railing made of stone, elegant and old-fashioned, like pictures she had seen of the grand houses in Europe and England.
At intervals along the edge of the verandah there were stone urns and she was astonished to see petunias flowering richly in them.
“Surely,” she asked, “These petunias cannot have survived all these years by themselves?”
“Oh no,” he said, “I planted them.  The urns looked so forlorn without flowers in them.”  He added quietly, “I so love gardens.  With all my businesses, I have very little time for gardening, so really,” he said ruefully, “It's a gesture rather than anything.”

“Oh really?” she exclaimed, “I love gardens too!  You must come and see the garden at the cottage because my mother spent a lot of time planting it and I think it's very beautiful.  You'd love it!”  Immediately she was embarrassed, hearing the childish enthusiasm in her voice. 

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