“Friends and Lovers”….chapter 17

The next day dawned in brilliant sunshine right from the outset, and Meg knew it was the perfect omen. She arrived at Jo’s to see Max packing boxes into the back of his old restored VW kombi van, shining a brilliant blue in the driveway. Jo flung her arms around her.

“A belated merry Christmas my love!” she cried. “Isn’t it the perfect day!”

Meg had managed to condense her packing into one large duffle bag. “Just toss that in the back darling,” said Jo, pointing distractedly at the car. “I’ve got a last minute coffee brewing.”

Max’s long torso appeared from the back of the van. “No-one will be tossing anything anywhere,” he said in a no-nonsense tone. “Hello Meggie. Just pop it on the ground there,” he said with a smile and a wink. Jo bustled up to her husband, looking up at him with flashing hazel eyes.

“You’re such an old fuddy duddy Max!” she said playfully, wrapping her arms around his waist, her dark head just coming up to his arm pit.

“No Joanna, I’m not,” Max replied in a business-like voice. “It’s all to do with balance my love,” he explained, his long arms stretched out either side. “Otherwise the load might shift, and then where would we be?” he concluded. He looked down at his wife in mock seriousness, then a great smile split his face, and he lifted her off her feet. “Now, go and make that coffee woman!” he ordered, putting her down firmly, and patting her backside.

They came into the kitchen to see Luke pouring out four steaming cups of coffee. Meg couldn’t stop her heart from skipping a beat. Of course she had been looking forward to seeing him, believing she had her emotions under control. By sheer willpower, and the accomplice of time, she truly believed they could be just friends. But each time she saw him he caught her by surprise, her body reacting with a mind of its own. Her eyes beheld the perfect youth and vitality he exuded, that besieged and overpowered her senses momentarily but completely. She returned his light kiss on the cheek, aware of every point of contact; his hand on her arm, his hair brushing her shoulder, his breath on her skin.

“Thanks,” she said, accepting her coffee. “Looking forward to it?” she asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table.

“Oh yeah!” he said smiling. He was looking at her closely, as if he had observed something unusual. “You look….happy,” he said, cocking his head to one side. “Almost relieved,” he added, looking at her questioningly.

Meg laughed. “I guess I am a little relieved,” she conceded with a sigh. “I really need this holiday. I couldn’t have worked another day,” she concluded, remembering with distaste her last conversation with Leonard.

“Well, I guarentee you’ll love it,” he said. “It’s a therapeutic place.”

For the journey down to the Lodge, Meg rode in the back seat of the kombi with Luke, a stack of pillows and doonas between them on the seat. Her cushioned space was cosy, and as the drive wore on Meg dozed against their softness. Her eyes finally, and slowly fluttered open, only to realize Luke’s head lay beside hers, his hair mingled with her own on the pillow. She lay very still, closing her eyes again, not wanting to destroy the moment, listening to his deep even breath as he slept. When she opened her eyes again, Jo was watching them, an amused smile on her face.

“Wake up sleepy heads, you’re missing the beautiful view,” she berated playfully.

Meg and Luke smiled sheepishly at eachother, turning to look out across the glittering expanse of blue water, that met the cloudless sky at the horizon. They were all quiet for the next few kilometres, drinking in the beauty of the ocean and the red cliff faces that contrasted with the lush green of the trees and hills on the other side of the Great Ocean Road. About a kilometre past the busy township of Lorne, Max turned off  the main road, heading steeply back for about another half a kilometre, until it flattened out again. A thick stand of eucalypts and banksias hid the Lodge at first, until a small expanse of grass opened up to the front of the house. It was all that Meg had imagined. An old white weatherboard farmhouse, it was skirted by a wide covered verandah, an ancient grapevine creeping along its length. There were no cultivated gardens, and the paint was peeling in places, but it exuded Jo’s unique and homely touch. Old rattan furniture lined the verandah, with full comfortable cushions in faded floral linen. Large terracotta pots stood like sentries at the front door, overflowing with red geraniums. They all tumbled out of the car, eager to be a part of this welcoming place.

“Welcome to the Lodge!” Jo said with a satisfied sigh, and linking her arm through Megs, led her onto the verandah. “The boys will unpack the car,” she called over her shoulder with a smile. A chorus of indignant moans followed them into the house.

“We’ve only two bedrooms I’m afraid,” explained Jo. “But the sofa turns into a bed. I thought maybe you and Luke could take turns having the bedroom,” she suggested.

“Oh no, I don’t mind having the sofa, really,” replied Meg. “Luke shouldn’t have to give up his room.” Although she couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to share Luke’s bed, even if it wasn’t at the same time.

Jo showed her through the rest of the house, furnished unpretentiously with comfortable old furniture, highlighted with bright lamps and floor rugs. It had the casual ambience of the typical holiday house, and Meg felt instantly at ease. As Meg followed Jo from room to room, she noticed the obvious absence of doors, large swathes of richly coloured batik fabric hanging in their place. Meg couldn’t help but ask.

“Why isn’t their any doors?”

Jo smiled fondly. “Oh, Max took them off a couple of years ago now, to plane the edges. The doors tend to swell and stick in the warm salty air,” she explained. “We just haven’t got around to putting them back.” Jo shrugged her shoulders. “I quite like it without them now,” she mused. The women looked at eachother and burst out laughing. “Our excuse was we were always on holidays!” Jo chuckled, and they laughed even louder.

Meg was waiting for the right moment to give Jo the Christmas present she had brought down with her. She didn’t want to make an overt presentation, so she took the opportunity while they were alone in the kitchen making a cup of tea. Meg pulled the velvet wrapped parcel from her bag, and placed it on the table as she waited for Jo to sit down.

“Just a little Christmas pressie,” Meg said quietly. Jo’s face lit up as she pulled the gift toward her.

“Oh Meg, it looks so pretty!” she said, smoothing her hands over the plush surface. She looked at it for a moment, before finally untying the ribbon to reveal the notebook. She gasped in appreciation, and fingered the creamy moonstone, whose colors seemed to transform as she touched it. Jo smiled up at Meg as she opened the book.

“What is this?” she asked in awe, as she saw Meg’s writing inside.

“It’s just a little story, for you all,” Meg said shyly. “I mean, it’s inspired by your friendship. You have all saved me from abject misery!” Meg concluded with a self-conscious smile. Jo looked up at her, tears standing in her eyes.

“Oh Meg…this is priceless,” she whispered gratefully. “I have a little something for you too,” Jo ventured, extracting a small parcel from one of the boxes. Meg unwrapped two small brightly painted wooden elephants, with their trunks held high in the air. “For good luck,” explained Jo. “But they seem silly compared to your lovely gift,” she said, clutching the book tightly to her breast.

“Oh no Jo, I love them, thankyou. I will treasure them,” she beamed, reaching out to take Jo’s hand across the table.

“Do you mind if I take this out onto the verandah to read?” Jo asked, stopping to plant a kiss on Meg’s forehead.

“Of course not,” answered Meg. “I’ll just make a start on these boxes shall I?” she offered, as Jo took the book and her cup of tea outside.

Meg eventually took herself out into the backyard, delaying the inevitable moment when she would have to hear Jo’s response to her story. She found a spot half in the shade, and laid down on the soft grass. Jo came out at last, followed by Max and Luke, all having obviously read her story, and sat down next to her on the lawn, Jo still holding the book closely.

“It’s just so beautiful Meg,” said Jo, clutching the book to her chest.

“It really is Meg,” added Max. “You do us a great honor,” he said sincerely, leaning across to kiss her cheek. Meg blushed, trying to smile graciously.

“No, it’s my pleasure really. I’m just glad you like it,” she replied, her chest close to bursting with gratitude and relief.

Luke hadn’t spoken yet, but his eyes were dark with the affection he couldn’t reveal. The weight of everything unsaid made her eventually look away.

“This is what you should do Meg,” he finally said, taking the book from his mother. The earnestness in his voice made her almost believe him.

“Maybe, one day…I hope,” she replied.

With these people around her, and their belief in her, Meg finally began to believe it might be possible to follow her dreams.

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