International Arrivals Hall, Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne
Slowly coming out through the doors he walked stiffly, his legs still
not working properly as he had sat for almost the entire long flight.
The sound of his name made him start before looking around to see a woman
standing a short distance away. Coming over to her, he nodded.
How did you know it was me?
She smiled, dimples appearing in her cheeks, as her green eyes looked
him up and down.
Well, at a guess, because nobody else is wearing layers of black
in the middle of a hot-spell and nobody else looks as white as a sheet.
She produced a picture of him and grinned, her tanned skin providing a
startling comparison to her white teeth. Oh yes, and because your
dad sent me a photo.
She reached out a hand to take his bag but he shook his head and, as
they began to walk toward the buildings exit, she returned the photograph
to the pocket of her dress.
Did you check any luggage in for the flight?
No. I travel light.
The woman nodded and suddenly stopped. I just realized that I didnt
introduce myself. She turned and stuck out her right hand. Im
Lauren Taylor. Dad told me about you.
She grinned again. Nothing bad, I hope.
When he stayed silent, Lauren glanced at him without speaking as they
continued to walk toward the exit of the airport, surrounded on every
side by the sound of passengers arriving and leaving. Laurens professional
gaze noticed him flinch occasionally as a particularly loud or piercing
noise made itself heard above the general racket.
By some miracle I managed to get a park near the entrance so well
soon be out of this.
The doors opened and they stepped out of the air-conditioned building
into air so hot that Jarod gasped.
Bit warm, isnt it?
She grinned as they entered the passage that divided the terminal from
the car park. As they got to a machine that stood at the end, Lauren fed
in the ticket and coins, taking the slip of paper as the machine spat
it out, before leading the way to a cream-colored Land Rover parked nearby.
Luckily my air-conditioners good, but this summer looks like
being a hot one. Again.
Jarod thankfully put down the bag and took off his coat, waiting beside
the car for her to unlock it.
Hey, whos driving here? You or me?
Jarod looked up to meet her amused gaze and then down to find that he
was standing next to the drivers door. With his face reddening slightly
from a combination of heat and embarrassment, he walked around to the
other side as Lauren unlocked the car and got in behind the wheel. Tossing
his things into the back seat, Jarod climbed in beside her.
Gradually she eased out of the car park into the line of cars that were
stopped at the traffic lights before glancing at him. Itll
be a longish drive so Id suggest you either take out a book or try
to catch up on the sleep you probably missed during the flight.
She reached into the back seat and retrieved a plastic bag, giving it
to him. If youre hungry, theres fruit and soft-drink
in this, as well as water.
Pushing aside the feelings of nausea that even the mere mention of food
caused him, Jarod put the bag down at his feet and then looked at her
with mild curiosity.
How long is longish?
Even if we were just going to Melbourne, an hour. Thanks to the
nightmare that the government is pleased to call a highway, its
better than it was, but you made the mistake of catching a flight that
landed in peak hour on Monday morning so itll be a bit lengthy.
If? I thought we were going to Melbourne. Jarod saw the grin
on her face and the expression of vague curiosity returned to his eyes.
I just love the way you say it. Your accent - theyll die
at the pub!
Hey, Im not the one with the accent, he objected faintly.
Oh, you are. On this side of the world, you most definitely are.
She laughed and merged into the traffic, accelerating.
So, what did you mean by if?
I got a call from Dad after brekkie to say that Mum took a tumble
and he wanted me to come and take a gander. I thought Id show you
a typical Victorian country town and review your credentials at the same
Jarod thought through the parts of the sentences that had made no sense
to him, which, he was forced to admit, had been most of it, and decided
for the moment that it would be best to ignore them. So where are
His face was blank.
Gippsland. Lauren paused. Eastern part of the state.
Victoria. She laughed when there was no change to his expression.
Jarod, do have a clue where you are?
* * * * * * * * *
City Link, Melbourne
Lauren glanced over to see that the motion of the car as well as the
long flight had had an effect and he was asleep. With a sympathetic smile
on her face, she turned on the radio, keeping the volume low and listening
as the sports commentator began to get worked up about the match. At the
same time she thought through the final conversation she had had with
Sydney, almost half an hour before Jarod's plane had landed.
It would still be better if he wasnt told you know about
the Centre, or if you cant avoid revealing the fact, exactly how
much you do know. His desire for Aurora might mean hed physically
force you to call them and tell them where he was.
Lauren lifted an eyebrow as she looked around the airport café,
finally fixing her eyes on the flight information board. Do you
really think hed go to such extremes, Sydney? Id had the idea
Aurora would be making him more pliable, rather than more inflexible and
demanding, or even potentially dangerous.
While he was under its influence, Id have agreed with
that, the man replied in almost anguished tones. But the drug
itself is completely out of his system. Its the cravings that control
him now, and you know how strong cravings in an addict are.
Nodding slowly, Lauren could hear the pain in his voice as Sydney
was forced to use the word addict.
Fine, Ill do my best to keep it a secret. But hell
have to know I know something or hell wonder why hes being
sent to someone so incompetent.
Hes staying with you because youre a friend of his
fathers and the Major trusts you, he stated evenly. He
doesnt need to be told more than that, unless you think its
wise. Itll take time before hes back to his usual wariness
of people who might have some connection to the Centre, largely because
of what such people can offer him.
From what I heard, it was a struggle just to get him on the
Hes scared, Lauren, the psychiatrist admitted. And
fear isnt a thing Jarod is used to feeling. He wont know how
to deal with it, at least for the first few days, and that means he wont
know how to deal with you or anything else any new situations present
him with. Then hell think back to how he felt under the influence
of Aurora and itll all be even worse for him.
Sydney's voice was so full of a tender, affectionate pain as he finished
speaking that Lauren was forced to swallow a lump in her throat before
Sydney, Im going to take care of him. I cant promise
to send him back cured - we both know it may never be possible for that
to happen - but if he isnt back to the Jarod you knew, hell
be as close to it as I can get him. I promise.
Lauren glanced over at the sleeping man once or twice, knowing that the
exhaustion was the only thing that had finally made his eyelids close.
Jarod's sleep would be spasmodic and last for short periods, at least
for the next few days, and so she made as little noise as possible to
give him the rest he needed. Approaching a low bridge, Lauren glared at
the white item tucked up behind the review mirror, knowing what would
happen as they drove under it. A sudden, shrill beep made the man jump
in his seat as he awoke, the panic evident in his eyes.
What was that?
The E-Tag. She reached up with one hand, pulling an item
out of a clip on windshield and giving it to him. Its the
way the group in charge of this stretch of road makes sure we arent
all getting freebies.
Jarod turned the small gray and white object over in his hand. This
reminds me of the things they use on the New York Thruway.
Lauren grinned. And I thought Aussies were the only people with
so little taste anywhere except in their mouths that they could come up
with something this weird.
She took it back, replacing it in time for it to emit another loud beep
as they passed under another low bridge. Lauren turned off the slow-moving
highway onto another, speeding up significantly, and put a hand out to
increase the air-conditioner. Jarod watched her in silence for a few minutes
before eventually deciding that, as long as he had to be here, he might
as well know a little about what was planned for him.
So, want to tell me more about where were going?
Now or when we get back from visiting my parents?
Her hand reached down, about to turn off the radio, when Lauren hesitated.
Jarod's voice was full of impatience.
The commentators voice was loud in the car. Its in
the air. If Brett Lee moves, he could - Yes! Yes, hes out! What
a marvelous catch! That was just so special! With superb bowling
by Shane Warne, Darren Gangas been caught out on 99! You really
just cant help but feel a little sorry for the poor guy
Oh, yes, you can! A grin on her face, she turned down the
volume. Sorry, just had to hear that.
And that was?
A test match. His face was blank again. Cricket?
Jarod shook his head and she laughed again. I guess youve
got even more to learn about us than you thought.
* * * * * * * * *
Nepean Highway, Melbourne
Itll take us about an hour and a half to get to Yarragon
and then another twenty minutes or so before we get home.
Do you live in Melbourne?
Lauren rolled her eyes. Some of the time. Im divided between
Katherine and the RFDS office in Melbourne, which is where Ive been
for the past two months. Then, whenever I have a spare five seconds, I
go home to visit my parents. It doesnt happen too often, by the
way, so be ready for a reenactment of the fond reunion scene.
when did your dad call?
After brekkie - breakfast, she clarified, grinning at him.
Youve got a whole new vocabulary to learn here as well.
But I thought you people spoke English, Jarod protested mildly.
Would it matter if we didnt? She cast a sly look at
him. Id ask how many languages you speak, but I dont
think I want to know.
With a laugh, she looked back at the road as she explained.
We write, and for the most part speak, British English because
Australia was a colony of England until the first year of the twentieth
century. But over time weve created our own slang vocabulary that
a lot of people, especially in country areas, use. Youll need to
get the drift of at least some of it. Hope you like a challenge.
He leaned back against the seat, stretching and smiling slightly. Sounds
And, at the end of your time here, well send you back to
your dad fitter than - Lauren stopped abruptly. You may want
to call him to let him know you got here safely and that I didnt
forget to pick you up.
She disconnected the phone from the car charger and gave it to him. Showing
his eagerness for contact with somebody he knew, Jarod quickly dialed
the number, his fingers rapping impatiently on his knee until it was answered.
Jarod? Is that you?
You got there okay?
Fine. You were right about the flight. It was long and unbelievably
boring. The in-flight movies were awful. And I wont even start on
And hows the weather?
Charles laughed. It can only be good for you.
Did you meet Lauren?
Yeah. She was waiting at the airport.
Can I talk to her?
Jarod held out the phone and she put her ear against it, keeping both
her hands on the wheel. Id love to chat, Major, but Im
driving right now. Ill call you when we get there.
He made an appalling attempt to imitate the Australian accent. No
Hey! She laughed. Thats my line.
Just look after my son for me, okay?
I will. Well talk soon. Bye.
* * * * * * * * *
South Gippsland Highway
They had remained silent since the end of the phone call, Lauren having
seen the emotion on her visitors face as Jarod watched the scenery
fly by outside the car. Finally, however, she spoke.
Thats one relieved dad youve got there.
Hes been worrying about me.
I know. I could hear it in his voice.
Jarod remained silent for a moment as he wondered how much she really
did know, but decided to change the subject rather than ask her.
So, how are we getting to Katherine? Driving?
Lauren stared at him for a second in stunned silence and then broke into
peals of laughter, only stopping as she saw the hurt look on his face.
Im sorry, Jarod, but Id love to see my dads face
if I said we were going to just drive to Katherine. She tried not
to laugh again.
Wed be on the road for days!
He nodded skeptically. Uh huh.
You dont believe me? Okay, Lauren tried to recall the
information she had looked up earlier that morning. Youre
asking me if were going to drive from the equivalent of somewhere
in Florida - Tallahassee, say - to Harlem.
His eyes widened. New York?
Jarod choked. Montana?
Mmm hmm. Her eyes twinkled. So how long, Jarod? How
long would it take to drive there over roads that make you feel like youre
sitting in a blender?
Okay, I get your point.
Lauren grinned. If you think thats impressive wait until
you see my office and, for the time being, yours too. Its the stuff
dreams are made of!
He folded his arms and leaned back against his seat, looking over at
her with an eyebrow raised. Youre not raising my expectations
unnecessarily, are you?
She smiled. Not unless your expectations are way higher than Ive
been led to believe.
Jarod stared through the windshield for several moments before turning
to her again.
Do you know about
what happened? Why Im here?
Lauren phrased her response carefully, Sydney's warnings ringing in her
ears and unable to help casting a wary look at the large and still-powerful
hands that lay idle in Jarod's lap.
Your dad filled me in on some of it. He mentioned the Centre in
passing, but said he didnt want to go into details. Im not
sure I want to know any more than I do already.
How did the two of you meet?
She smiled, relieved at the ease with which they had got through it.
My brother. Youll meet him when we get to Yarragon. Steve
went to the States for his last year of university and loved it so much
that he stayed for another three. His main obsessions always been
flying and your dad was his instructor for a few months. I came to visit
Steve and met your father just before he found you and then lost you again.
The Major told me about that.
Does your brother still fly?
Constantly. And if the rest of his body isnt up in the air,
his head is. Steve runs a flight school out near Mum and Dad and hires
out planes for crop dusting.
As she finished speaking, there was a loud roar overhead. A plane appeared
from behind a bank of trees and flew slightly ahead of them as they drove
down the highway. Jarod followed it with his eyes as Lauren laughed.
Thats probably him now.
She pulled the car into the emergency lane on the left and turned off
the ignition. Immediately the plane raced ahead, only to turn and head
back towards them. Lauren reached over and picked up the receiver that
was attached to the two-way radio in her car.
Alpha Romeo to Victor Charlie. Steve, what are you playing at?
Hey, Loz! I thought it was you.
Yeah, a whole lot of Land Rovers around here have great big black
letters A and R whacked on their tops. She laughed. Did you
Dad asked me to find out how far away you were, so I thought Id
do a fly-over. Is the Yank there too?
What did you think Id do - abandon him at Tulla? Lauren
laughed. So what does Dad want?
Asked you to do some shopping before you arrived. Theyre
out of milk.
She snorted. Oh, youre funny, Steve. Regular laugh riot.
Okay, okay. He said for you to buy the things the two of you want
before you arrived so that you wont have to go out again tonight.
I think he wants a hand while Mums out of action.
And I guess youre slacking off, as usual.
Hey, Im busy!
Like Im not. She laughed. Okay, well see
you whenever you actually decide to show your face at home - but be warned.
I might pick up fish and chips later.
I know. Lauren laughed. Thanks, Victor Charlie. Over
As she restarted the car Lauren looked over at Jarod. In case you
didnt pick up on it, my brother landed you with a nickname. Get
used to it.
And what did he call you?
Loz. Short for Lauren. Thats what most people call me. You
can too, if you want. There arent many people around here who dont
get their names cut down somehow, although my Mum still calls people by
their full name.
And how did you know that he was kidding about why your dad called?
Lauren chuckled. My parents live on a dairy farm, Jarod. They can
get all the milk they want by stepping outside the back door and grabbing
a cow. Gippsland - the area were driving through now - is one of
the major dairy producing areas in Victoria. She grinned. I
hope youre ready to help with the milking. Mums really out
of action, by the sounds of things.
You dont know?
All that my Dad said was that it wasnt too serious, but he
wanted me to take a gander - I mean, look at it. I dont even know
what shes done, apart from falling off her horse.
Suddenly she laughed.
Oh God, Im really bad at this - I havent even told
you my parents names yet. Mums name is Peta and my Dads
Bill. Theyll be highly offended if you call them anything else,
especially Mr. and Mrs. Taylor.
And we have to go shopping first?
Yup. Well go to the supermarket at Warragul. Although, if
you want, I can go in and leave you to sleep a bit more.
How much longer until we get there?
She glanced down at the clock. Add in shopping time, about half
I can wait.
Thinking over the things she had said on the radio, he glanced at her
again, feeling curious in spite of himself.
Why does your car have letters on the roof?
Safety. If anything happened and we got lost or broke down - in
the bush or anywhere else - itd be easier to see black letters in
greenery or dirt than just white that reflects the light back into the
eyes of the person whos searching.
He nodded in agreement. Is that such a big problem? Getting lost,
It depends. If the driver is the kind of moron who heads off without
planning it properly or telling anyone where hes going, its
a real necessity.
Tullamarine Airport - where you landed. She grinned. Were
the movies really so bad on board or were you just upholding the cliché
to your dad?
I dont know, Jarod replied honestly. I didnt
He stared out through the windscreen at the green landscape. Yeah,
something like that.
She looked at him sharply, glimpsing the shadows under his eyes and the
lines around his mouth as well as the beads of sweat glistening on his
face despite the air-conditioning and finally noting that his hands had
also started to tremble, although he was fighting to control them. Laurens
lips thinned slightly as she turned back to concentrate on the road.
* * * * * * * * *
Taylor Family Property, Yarragon
Lauren shut the door of the four wheel drive and put up one hand to protect
herself from the two small dogs that were leaping up to lick her face.
Patterson, Banjo, get down! Down! She grabbed one by the
scruff of the neck and held it in front of her face, where it licked her
nose. Bad dog. You know better than that. With a gentle shake,
she put the Australian terrier down and, as she wiped her nose with a
laugh, he, along with the other, ran around to sniff Jarod's feet. Dont
worry, theyre harmless, unless you let them lick you to death.
Loz, is that you?
Sure is, Dad. She was caught up in the embrace of a man who
had come out of a nearby shed and groaned as he squeezed her tightly.
One day, I promise, those ribs will snap!
Not while I live and breathe.
You wont be the one having problems. She walked around
to the passenger side of the car and he followed. Dad, this is Major
Charles son. Jarod, this is my Dad.
The names Bill, the Yank. Its great to finally meet
you. My son hasnt been able to stop talking about your father since
he got back from the States.
As Jarod somewhat limply returned the handshake, Lauren opened the back
of the car to take out the plastic shopping bags, but her father stopped
Ill get those. You go and say hi to your mother.
Whats she done? The doctor reached into the back of
her car and took out a large, flat case.
At best guess, badly sprained wrist and ankle.
You mean you didnt even take her in to Warragul to have it
What do we need to hang around that hole for when we have you?
Why else did we pay to put you through so many years of uni? Besides,
its Monday and with a weekend of no x-rays it would be a nightmare
around there this morning.
She rolled her eyes and then turned to the visitor. Jarod, come
with me. Ill show you your room and introduce you to my mother all
at one go.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod was glad to feel the dramatic drop in temperature as they walked
into the house, seeing the large air-conditioner on the wall. Sitting
in a chair underneath it, one foot up on a footstool and her left arm
resting in a sling, was an older woman dressed in denim slacks and a blue
shirt. Lauren went over and kissed her cheek.
Cant stay out of trouble, can you Mum?
Hi sweetie. Hey, any excuse to get you here that gets you here
Even if it has to be painful? Kneeling down, Lauren eased
off her mothers shoe and felt the joint before looking up and trying
not to grin. Oops.
I should hope so. The woman looked up at the stranger. This
must be Jarod. My names Peta, Jarod, and I have the misfortune to
be the mother of this rude creature.
Hi, Peta. Its nice to meet you. He shook the uninjured
hand that she cheerfully held out to him.
Glad to have you here. Steves been thrilled at the thought
of meeting the son of the man that he looks up to so much, and its
always great to have a new face around the place. Not to mention a new
And lets not forget the new doctor, Lauren added. The
service can do with it even if it is just for a while. And speaking of
which, she looked up at him. I know youre pretty jet-lagged
but want to make a snap diagnosis?
Her mother looked up, trying to conceal a smile. I could think
of more a appropriate word under the circumstances, Lauren.
Oh, I dont know. Snap might fit pretty well.
She laughed and looked down. Well?
Jarod glanced up from where he had reluctantly knelt beside the footstool,
waiting until the doctor lifted an eyebrow at his hesitation before slowly
replying. I agree with your dad. Sprained.
Lauren nodded. I agree on the ankle. She picked up her mothers
hand and gently felt it. Okay, diagnosis upheld. Thats your
first test come through with flying colors. She grinned.
No pun intended.
Jarod looked bemused as Peta groaned. They just get worse, dont
Lauren laughed. Now its obvious how long its been since
you were in a room with Paul.
Well, whose faults that? I wouldnt mind seeing him
occasionally too, you know.
Okay, okay. Lauren rolled her eyes. Ill see what
I can do.
Peta grinned and then glanced over at the silent man. Make sure
you do. But for now, take Jarod up to his room before he falls asleep
at your feet, will you?