“Friends and Lovers”….chapter 13

Meg struggled through the next three days, vacillating between excitement and apprehension, thinking of Saturday night. At least she felt energized again, even a little hopeful. She had replayed the conversation with Luke, over and over in her mind, and she knew she wanted more than she ever realized, to still be a part of  his life in some way. She was angry that she had for so long just allowed life to merely happen to her. Now she was forced to decide what she wanted her life to be, and to make things happen, or at least take advantage of the opportunities life sent her way. And she finally decided, she could be friends with Jo and Luke…she didn’t want either of these people to disappear from her life!

In the space of three days, summer had decided to well and truly arrive! Meg woke on Saturday morning to a sun that announced a hot day was on its way. She slept in until late morning, then took a long pampering bath. She wanted to look and feel her best for dinner that night, so a new outfit was mandatory!…something that would express the person she really wanted to be; empowered and free. After many changerooms and many hours, she chose a vintage style dress in emerald green with tiny floral apricot sprays, and touches of cream lace. A pair of ballet flats completed her outfit, and Meg smiled with satisfaction…she felt comfortable, and dare she say, quite pretty! She bought a bottle of champagne on the way. Champagne was a drink to celebrate new beginnings, and Meg wanted to celebrate her new friend, and her new attitude.

Jo answered the front door with a wonderful, welcoming smile, and Meg felt the momentary nerves disappear, as Jo enveloped her in a friendly hug. She wore a pair of loose white linen pants, and a bright red singlet top, a cascade of colorful beads around her neck and her wrist. Her bare feet padding on the cool slate floor, she led Meg out the French doors onto the patio, which was covered by a pergola and a lush creeping wysteria. Meg drank in its bohemian beauty, intensified by the balmy evening.

“You look positively ethereal tonight Meg!” Jo enthused. Meg blushed slightly, but she did feel exhilerated. Jo just seemed to exude a positive energy that was transferred to everyone around her.

“Thanks Jo,” Meg replied. “I think the summer is good for me.”

“Summer is the season for liberating the spirit! It’s the natural way of things,” Jo beamed, leading Meg over to the edge of the patio, where a man Meg assumed to be Max, was tending the BBQ. “Max…this is beautiful Meg,” she announced, moving to stand beside her husband.

Max was a tall, lean man, his dark hair streaked with grey, and the same moss green eyes as Luke. He had deep olive skin, that Meg deduced must be from working outside, his smile lighting up his face as Luke’s always did.

“This is my gorgeous husband, Maxamillian Alistair McLaren,” announced Jo by way of introduction, and Meg couldn’t help but laugh.

“You must have terrible trouble living up to that name!” Meg said playfully, as they shook hands.

“I know, it’s a beauty isn’t it?!” he replied. “A bit grand for a humble carpenter!” he continued with a smile, pulling Jo close to him.

“Not if this house is your work; it’s beautiful Max,” Meg said looking around her. Jo reached over and took the bottle from Meg.

“I think we need a drink!” she pronounced.

“It’s champagne; I hope you don’t mind. I felt like celebrating,” Meg said as Jo left them for the house.

“Oh absolutely perfect!” she called over her shoulder. Meg settled  on a large wooden seat set into the ground beside the BBQ, colorful cushions placed along its length. She chatted to Max about his work, and their plans for Christmas, all the time trying not to wonder where Luke was, and if he had decided not to stay for dinner.

But as Jo emerged from the house with the tray of drinks, Luke followed her out, and Meg felt the adrenalin course deliciously through her body. She took a deep breath, telling herself that she was in control of her life, of her emotions, but her body was stubbornly rebellious. Although he was dressed casually in a pair of faded jeans and a simple white t-shirt, Meg thought he had never looked so good. It seemed everything was conspiring to unsettle her. “Just friends”, she thought doggedly, as she rose to take a drink from Jo, and recieve a deliberately light kiss on the cheek from Luke.

“You look….well,” he said, his eyes telling her he appreciated far more than he could say.

“I feel well thanks,” Meg replied, taking a rather large gulp of champagne. Luke’s eyes never left her. Jo raised her glass and proposed a toast.

“To summer, and to new friends!” she said with a smile.

“Summer and friends!” they all chimed in unison, and Meg fervently hoped those words had the power to deliver all they promised.

“Let’s catch the last rays of sunshine,” Jo said, and led Meg and Luke out onto the grass. They sat on the cool green and fininshed  their champagne, Meg feeling more relaxed with each tingling mouthful.

It felt to Meg as if she sat in a beautiful sanctuary, the lawn surrounded by wide beds of native garden. Great spreading grevilleas alive with bees, and downy yellow and red kangaroo paws, overhung large flat sandstone rocks, that jutted out like incidental seats here and there. One bed had a stand of silvery weeping gums laden with bright red flowers, a pair of wattle birds hanging and feasting on the blossoms. Everything seemed so randomly perfect!

“I am totally envious,” said Meg as she looked around. “It’s an oasis.”

Jo beamed. “That was the idea. You know, I don’t think I could ever move from here,” she said thoughtfully. “It would seem like I was leaving a part of myself.” The three of them sat in silence for a moment or two, until Max called from the patio.

“This is just about ready Jo Jo! Better get organized!” Jo sprang to her feet.

“Can I help Jo?” Meg offered.

“No, no, I’ve done it all really,” said Jo, gathering their glasses from the lawn. “Luke, why don’t you show Meg the studio while it’s still light? Ten minutes!” she called, as she headed back to the house.

Luke helped Meg to her feet, keeping her hand in the crook of his arm as he led her to the quaint mud brick dwelling at the far end of the yard. It was almost a miniature of the main house, with an old wooden door between two stained glass windows, and a steeply pitched roof. But the inside  was divided into just two rooms; a cosy bed-sitter with an ensuite bathroom. On one wall were French doors that opened out onto the  lawn and bathed the room in a soft light. A bed at the back of the room was partitioned off by a Japanese style  screen. On the adjacent wall was a sink and a small wooden bench and cupboards, with some basic kitchen appliances. In the centre of the room was a large Persian carpet with a small settee to one side, and a carved wooden chest doubled as a coffee table. Just inside the door was a tall hat and umbrella stand, that not only held an assortment of hats and scarves, but a wonderfully painted and polished didgeridoo. Meg ran her fingers over its surface.

“A momento from my travels,” Luke said. “A gift really.”

“It’s beautiful,” Meg said, her fingers tracing the outline of the drawings. “Do you stay in here?” she asked.

“Yep,” answered Luke with obvious delight. He sat on the sofa, stretching his legs onto the wooden chest. “I think they built it as a kind of guest house. But I really think Mum reckons if she keeps me comfortable enough I might stick around a bit longer,” he said with a smile.

Meg continued moving around the room nervously, trying to avoid having to sit next to Luke on the small couch.

“Any young man would die for this. If I were you, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to leave,” she said, purposely skirting the bed behind the screen. Luke moved to the edge of the sofa, a more serious expression on his face.

“Well, actually, I think I am leaving,” he said hesitantly, obviously not sure whether he should confide in her. Meg felt her stomach clench, as if she had just recieved some bad news. She turned to see him looking at her, a small frown creasing his brow.

“I haven’t said anything to Mum and Dad yet. I only really found out yesterday,” he said.

Meg sat down carefully on the corner of the chest facing him. “Why? Where are you going?” she asked, trying to sound more interested than concerned, but her heart was beating faster in anticipation of his answer.

“I’ve just been offered a position for next year at an independent school in Sydney,” he explained, his eyes intent upon her face. “It’s just the kind of school I’d love to be a part of. I’ve been sending out applications since the beginning of last term,” he continued, pulling a letter from his back pocket and handing it to her. He nodded his head, and Meg opened it and started to read.

“They don’t usually take new graduates, but they were impressed by my volunteer work, and the fact I was a bit older I think,” Luke continued, the excitement starting to build in his voice. “It’s such a great opportunity Meg. I don’t think I can say no,” he said breathlessly.

Meg put the letter back into the envelope, and looked into his shining eyes, her heart nearly bursting with pride for him, and then in the next instant, constricting with panic at the thought of him leaving. She took a deep breath, and smiled as convincingly as she could.

“Then don’t,” she said quietly. “Say no, I mean…say yes. You deserve this opportunity Luke,” she said, taking his hand between her own. She watched as his fingers moved between hers, unable and unwilling to move away.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear that,” Luke sighed.

“My pleasure,” Meg whispered. “But it’s true Luke. You should take your opportunities, and do what’s best for you. Then hopefully, you won’t ever have to live with regret,” she continued, swallowing hard on the lump that had formed in her throat. He pulled her to her feet then, and held her firmly to his chest. She wrapped her arms around his waist, and they stood quietly, almost reverently, as if in that very moment they were saying goodbye. Meg reluctantly loosened her hold.

“We should go inside,” she whispered, and it seemed like the hardest thing she ever had to say.

They walked silently side by side, back to the house, each trying to regain some composure. Luke didn’t mention his new appointment to his parents that night. Meg was glad. Jo and Max made sure the evening progressed with a bottomless glass of wine, soft music, and endless laughter and easy conversation. There was even an ease between her and Luke, and Meg felt almost content, in that strange contained moment. She felt like she belonged with these people.

That night she dreamed of liquid sunshine and cool water, and making love in the midst of it all, with a faceless man who slipped away as she screamed silently.

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