Teresa had eight, big bags lined up. They were full of her rich-clothes from the years with Arthur. Two by two, she took the bags down the stairs, past her own bookshop, to the Op Shop a few doors away. When the shop assistant started unpacking them and saw the expensive brand names, she looked at Teresa enquiringly.
“Are you sure that you want to give us all these beautiful clothes, dear?” she said kindly. “They’ve hardly been worn.” At that moment, the shop manager came in from the back of the shop. She knew Teresa as the bookshop owner. Also, she was in the Country Women’s Association with Teresa’s mother.
“Hello, Teresa,” said the shop manager. “I see you are having a big clean-up. A clean-up is as good as a holiday, they say.” Teresa smiled at her misquoting the saying that a change is as good as a holiday but thought that a clean-up was as good as a change, and both were as good as a holiday. The shop manager looked at the other woman in a way that told her to be quiet. “That’s the daughter of the Hemingways,” said the shop manager to the other lady when they were both in the back room. “She left Waldmeer years ago to marry a much older, tycoon. It didn’t work out and now she’s back in Waldmeer with her daughters.”
“Oh, is that who she is?” said the other woman.
“I heard she is now engaged to Bryan, the youngest child of Clarice,” said the shop manager. “They are the farm next to the Hemingways. Teresa would have known him when he was a child.”
“She’s gone from gold digger to cougar,” said the other woman.
“Amelia!” the shop manager scolded her but, also, smiled in good-natured amusement.
“Oh, don’t you worry,” said Amelia mischievously. “Who wants money when you can have fun?”
The shop manager slapped her wrist playfully and said, “Well, keep away from my sons. And half your luck, if you find someone else.” With that, she returned to the store to help Teresa with her bags.
Teresa’s eldest daughter, Josephine, and Ide’s eldest son, Christopher, were both fourteen and in the same year level at Waldmeer State Secondary School. The two mothers, usually, sat together whenever they were at school meetings and functions. Their friendship was cemented by their joint connection to Amira but it had its own particular flavour. When the three women were together or when Amira was with either of them separately, conversations took the path that Amira designated. Amira didn’t mind the topic but she did mind the direction of any conversation. If either of the women had a problem and wanted to discuss it, Amira was more than happy to let them express their feelings. However, she would not allow conversations to deteriorate into complaining, blaming, gossip or laughing at other people’s expense. When it came to the general public, Amira would quickly exit destructive or pointless conversations. However, if her trusted ones were the conversationalists, she would correct them, in no uncertain terms, and then exit the conversation.
Ide and Teresa were both very aware of this and would, sometimes, laugh to each other that they just needed to have a good ol’ bitch. “Don’t go to Amira if you want to bitch,” they would say to each other. “You’ll get a lecture.” They only ever trusted each other with Amira-jokes because they knew each other’s loyalty to her was unquestioned. Away from Amira and within the safety of their friendship, Ide and Teresa would, sometimes, take the opportunity to bitch, laugh, and complain about life as much as they wanted. Not only would it not be repeated but, most of the time, it was not even taken seriously. Teresa’s favourite topic of complaint was Arthur. Ide oscillated between the hospital matron and Farkas, although, she loved the latter and not the former.
Lately, whenever Ide, Teresa, and their children were together, Christopher had been taking his baby brother off Ide’s lap and would carry him over to Josephine and present her with the baby. Josephine was, always, thrilled and they would play with the baby for as long as the circumstances would allow. Christopher was not an average type of fourteen-year-old boy, although, he was well liked by his peers. He was a creative soul and a searching thinker. He was more interested in people than any of the things his male peers were interested in. While his peers treated girls as some sort of annoying but captivating entity to, somehow, be organised into submission, Christopher saw them as people; interesting, intelligent, and of value to his being.
“Have you noticed how close Christopher and Josephine are becoming?” Ide said to Teresa.
“Yes, I have,” said Teresa. Both women watched the two young friends playing with the baby. “Love never fails to save the world,” added Teresa.
“It keeps getting reborn,” said Ide.
“Love or the world?” asked Teresa.
“Both,” replied Ide.
“I was going to ring you,” said Teresa as Amira walked into the bookshop. “I have the most wonderful news.”
“Yes, I know,” said Amira smiling. “You’re engaged. You already told me.”
Teresa rolled her eyes. “No, seriously, I have big news for you about your manuscript. Someone from Hope Publishing, in the States, rang this morning and is interested in it.”
“Really?” said Amira in surprise. Last year, once her house in Eraldus was sold, Amira started to write newsletters for her clients in the city. She didn’t have the girls to attend to, as she did now, and the number of clients she was seeing in Waldmeer was relatively few. Waldmeer was, after all, a small, coastal village. Healers were hardly the first port of call for most of its residents. As she had time on her hands, Amira either spent it in her garden or at the computer writing the letters. They became longer and more frequent. By the end of the year, she had enough of them to edit together into a book. She printed them out, bound them, and sent them to all of her city clients as a present. Mostly unbeknown to her, they were passed around and, sometimes, reproduced. On the last page of the manuscript, along with her details, she had Teresa’s details as author-agent. Teresa wasn’t an agent but she was willing and she was a bookshop owner. Amira told Teresa, at the time, “We will both be in this together. It will be the blind leading the blind or else, more fortuitously, companion-adventurers.”
“One of your city clients gave the manuscript to her brother who was visiting from the States last Christmas,” said Teresa. “He loved it and, apparently, gave it to his friend who works at Hope Publishing. They are one of the biggest self-help publishers in the States. They said that you would need to travel to Los Angeles to meet with them and, if all goes well, sign a book contract. They would want you to live there much of the year so that you could promote the book and future ones.” Teresa stared wide-eyed at Amira. “This is every author’s dream,” said Teresa. “If they publish you, you could end up on the New York Times Best Seller list.” Amira was silent.
“Here is their number,” continued Teresa. “Ring them, today!” As Amira turned for the door, still having said nothing, Teresa added, “One more thing. His last words to me were, ‘We need a new guru. Several of our bestselling ones have died recently. I think your author may fit the bill for us. She’s strange enough to be interesting, sincere enough to be believed, and lives in an exotic enough location to fascinate our U.S. readership. She’s sellable and our job is selling. We believe we have a match.’” Still trying to get some response from Amira, Teresa said, “This is an offer you can’t refuse.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Amira finally.
Once Amira had closed the shop door, Teresa thought, They sure got the “strange” bit right.
“Why are you here, Amira?” asked Thomas. “This is not your year level.” It was the ten-year reunion of Maria/Amira’s graduating class. Everyone was now twenty-eight. The problem was, of course, that although Maria would have been twenty-eight, Amira had gained twelve years in terms of biology and demeanour during her Homeland transition more than two years ago. That made her forty; around the same age as Gabriel and Charlie. It’s not that she necessarily looked forty. She had a relatively ageless appearance however, her demeanour was, certainly, not that of a younger adult. She was told in the Homeland that those who had previously known her would, gradually, forget how old she was supposed to be and relate to her as she was now. That is what had happened. Understandably, Amira was reluctant to go to the reunion and remind everyone of her birth age but her classmates were anxious for her to go. In the end, she felt that as she lived in Waldmeer, she didn’t have a viable excuse not to.
“This is my correct year level,” said Amira to Thomas. He looked confused but then told himself that he had been there so long that it all rolled into one and he didn’t think about it again.
One of those attending was Mary, Charlie’s partner of the last five years. Charlie didn’t come. Mary took the opportunity to visit her parents, Grace and Joe. Mary’s twin brother, Harry, was also there. Harry had been a bully at school and afterwards and, in fact, Charlie had been the brunt of his and his mates’ jokes for many years.
“Wow, a blast from the past,” Harry said to Amira. “I haven’t seen you for ages. I must tell you that ever since you sorted me out about bullying Charlie, I had a crush on you.” Amira smiled and recalled how he would, occasionally, send anonymous flowers to her mother’s cafe for her. She would recognise his handwriting from school.
“What are you doing these days, Harry?” asked Amira.
“I went to Uni. as a mature-age student and did teaching,” said Harry. “Now, I work in the city at one of the state secondary schools. It’s a rough area but they say I’m okay with the kids,” he said in an understated, country-boy way. Amira surmised that he would be terrific with the kids having just the right combination of toughness, no-nonsense authority, and understanding wrought from personal experience.
“That’s wonderful, Harry. Congratulations,” said Amira. They both knew that she meant, Congratulations on coming such a long way from the bullying idiot that you once were. Harry then looked at Amira intently.
“It’s peculiar,” he said, “I always thought you seemed so young and innocent but now I look at you and you seem more like my mother.”
Amira laughed and said, “Thanks, Harry. You look great, too.”
Teresa was cleaning Josephine’s bedroom not long after the girls had left for school. She would wave to them from the balcony and then the girls had an idyllic walk along the path next to the ocean and up the hill. Teresa felt that the fresh air and ocean had a good chance of sweeping away, at least, half the cares of a school girl before they even started the day. After waving them off, she would do some housework before opening the shop at nine-thirty.
This morning, as she was vacuuming Josephine’s floor, she noticed a big pile of paper in the waste paper bin. It looked like many drafts of something. She could see that one of the papers on the top was a letter addressed to Josephine’s father. Not one to overstep the boundaries of a teenage girl, Teresa, nevertheless, looked more closely at the letter. Due to the escalating court troubles she was having with Arthur, she wanted to make sure that he was not manipulating the girls with false information or intimidation. In this particular case, he wasn’t. It was Josephine, herself, who initiated the letter. Teresa sat down and read the draft.
I hope you don’t mind me writing to you but there is something I want to say. I have a friend named Christopher. A friend, Dad; not a boyfriend! Anyway, last weekend, I went with him to see some of his relatives in the back hills of Waldmeer. The relatives are called Clinkers. They are a bit like gypsies. Don’t worry, they aren’t going to steal me. There is a main guy there who seems to run all their ceremonies and Christopher told me he is magic and that he can see things. I’m not sure what he sees. Christopher doesn’t really know either.
After the ceremony, I went to the magic man and asked him if he could see anything about me. I thought he would say no but he didn’t. He said, ‘ One day you will be a very influential person in the financial world. You must pay attention to your studies as you will need them. Also, you must remember to be brave and live by your highest beliefs as that is what will give you your success. You chose your mother and father because you need your mother’s emotional intelligence and your father’s business acumen to fulfil your own function. Also, you will learn from his mistakes.’
Sorry about that last bit. I haven’t told Mum but I thought I would tell you because it would be nice if we could all be friends seeing as I picked you both.
Love from your daughter, Josephine.
Teresa sat on the bed holding the draft in her hand. She was shaken for numerous reasons. Finance was, probably, the last field she wanted her daughter to enter after her experience with Arthur. However, more than that, she suddenly felt that the fighting was so irrelevant to what really mattered. With all Arthur’s faults, he still had good qualities. Otherwise, why would she ever have married him? And regardless, Josephine had, apparently, chosen him for good and bad. It was, indeed, sobering.
Teresa never mentioned the letter to Josephine and Josephine never mentioned it to her. Teresa was not even sure if Josephine ever mailed a final version to her father. However, Teresa’s attitude to Arthur had significantly softened. She no longer felt the anger that had been welling up inside her for months. It had disintegrated. Replacing it was a sense that everything could work out without anyone being hurt. For whatever reason, Teresa never received another letter from Arthur’s lawyers. No one ever spoke about the court case or getting sole custody again. The whole thing vanished into thin air as if it never even existed.
The next weekend, when Teresa was walking with Bryan along the sand, she tried to explain to him how her feelings towards Arthur had changed. She couldn’t mention the letter because that was an issue of Josephine’s privacy. However, as Bryan had made it so clear that he wanted Teresa to share her life with him, she tried to talk about what had happened inside herself. Bryan could tell that the anger towards Arthur had been replaced not only with understanding but, perhaps, even some affection. He said all the right things but the conversation remained with him uneasily. He started to worry that Teresa may reconnect with Arthur. Although he knew it was unlikely, he didn’t seem able to stop the stream of thought. I can’t compete with him, thought Bryan. He’s used to winning.
Over the next few weeks, Bryan started to withdraw from Teresa. Normally, he slept at Teresa’s flat and then travelled to the family farm early each morning. However, he was increasingly staying at the farm overnight. He told Teresa that the days there were so long, at the moment, that he needed to be there at the crack of dawn. Teresa felt him pulling away but couldn’t do anything about it. It scared her. It scared her in a different way to what Arthur’s court case had done. Arthur had scared her into protecting her children. This was scaring her at a level deep within her own being.
Of course, Clarice was very pleased to have her son back again. She would make little comments like, “You, always, have your own room here if things don’t quite go to plan. Sometimes, things happen for a reason.” Bryan would get angry with her and walk outside.
One morning before opening her bookshop, Teresa called into the Op Shop. She could see that her rich-clothes were fast disappearing.
“We have lots of happy customers who are loving the clothes you brought in,” said the shop manager.
“That’s terrific,” said Teresa. “I’m glad they are feeling loved.”
Sensing that Teresa looked a little glum, the shop manager said, “How’s that young man of yours?”
Teresa responded to her motherliness and said, “Actually, not that well. He’s back home a lot. I think he doesn’t trust me.”
“Of course he does, dear,” said the shop manager, “but, you know, when we put our heart into a relationship, we are very vulnerable. We make up things in our head because the other person has so much power to hurt us. Be patient and let him know that you love him. He’ll sort it out himself.”
That evening, the shop manager happened to see Clarice at the Country Women’s Association monthly meeting. She knew that Clarice would be elated at having her precious Bryan back home. After the meeting, she handed Clarice some cake and said as if it had only just entered her mind, “We have been very lucky with our marriages, haven’t we, Clarice? They require a lot of give and take over the years but we both still have our marriages and they are very respectable ones, if I do say so myself. We can only hope that our children have the same good fortune.” Clarice ate her cake in silence.
The next afternoon, Bryan called into the bookshop just before closing. “I’ll make dinner tonight,” he said.
Trying not to look surprised, Teresa said, “Great.”
“And then we can have an early night,” said Bryan.
He must be staying the night, thought Teresa. “That sounds lovely,” she said.
“Maybe, even have a bit of a cuddle,” said Bryan smiling. Teresa then knew he was back. She didn’t know why he was back. She didn’t care why. She was simply relieved.
That night, after their “bit of a cuddle”, Bryan turned out the bedside lamp and said in the dark, “This morning, my mother said something very peculiar to me.”
“What did she say?” asked Teresa.
“She said that, although, she loved having me home that you, probably, missed me and that as she wasn’t the number one woman in my life anymore that I really should be getting back to you before you run off with someone else.” Teresa was more stunned than Bryan had been. Bryan reached over to Teresa, pulled her to him, and said “I don’t want you to run off with someone else but if you ever did, it would have still been all worth it. I would not regret a single instant.” He rolled over and went to sleep peacefully. So did Teresa.