Flying High

 

home / season six / episode five / act I

   

International Arrivals Hall, Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

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.

“Jarod?”

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 building’s 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 didn’t introduce myself.” She turned and stuck out her right hand. “I’m…”

“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. Lauren’s 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 we’ll 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, isn’t 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-conditioner’s 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, who’s 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 driver’s 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. “It’ll be a longish drive so I’d 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 you’re hungry, there’s 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, it’s better than it was, but you made the mistake of catching a flight that landed in peak hour on Monday morning so it’ll 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. “What?”

“I just love the way you say it. Your accent - they’ll die at the pub!”

“Hey, I’m 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 I’d show you a typical Victorian country town and review your credentials at the same time.”

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 we going?”

“Yarragon.”

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?”

“Australia?”

“Good start.”

* * * * * * * * *

City Link, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

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 wasn’t told you know about the Centre, or if you can’t avoid revealing the fact, exactly how much you do know. His desire for Aurora might mean he’d 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 he’d go to such extremes, Sydney? I’d 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, I’d have agreed with that,” the man replied in almost anguished tones. “But the drug itself is completely out of his system. It’s 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, I’ll do my best to keep it a secret. But he’ll have to know I know something or he’ll wonder why he’s being sent to someone so incompetent.”

“He’s staying with you because you’re a friend of his father’s and the Major trusts you,” he stated evenly. “He doesn’t need to be told more than that, unless you think it’s wise. It’ll take time before he’s 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 plane.”

“He’s scared, Lauren,” the psychiatrist admitted. “And fear isn’t a thing Jarod is used to feeling. He won’t know how to deal with it, at least for the first few days, and that means he won’t know how to deal with you or anything else any new situations present him with. Then he’ll think back to how he felt under the influence of Aurora and it’ll 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 she replied.

“Sydney, I’m going to take care of him. I can’t promise to send him back cured - we both know it may never be possible for that to happen - but if he isn’t back to the Jarod you knew, he’ll 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. “It’s the way the group in charge of this stretch of road makes sure we aren’t 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 we’re going?”

“Now or when we get back from visiting my parents?”

“Both.”

Her hand reached down, about to turn off the radio, when Lauren hesitated. Jarod's voice was full of impatience.

“What?”

“Shh.”

The commentator’s voice was loud in the car. “It’s in the air. If Brett Lee moves, he could - Yes! Yes, he’s out! What a marvelous catch! That was just so special! With superb bowling by Shane Warne, Darren Ganga’s been caught out on 99! You really just can’t 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 you’ve got even more to learn about us than you thought.”

* * * * * * * * *

Nepean Highway, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

“It’ll 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. I’m divided between Katherine and the RFDS office in Melbourne, which is where I’ve been for the past two months. Then, whenever I have a spare five seconds, I go home to visit my parents. It doesn’t happen too often, by the way, so be ready for a reenactment of the fond reunion scene.”

“And…when did your dad call?”

“After brekkie - breakfast,” she clarified, grinning at him. “You’ve 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 didn’t?” She cast a sly look at him. “I’d ask how many languages you speak, but I don’t 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 we’ve created our own slang vocabulary that a lot of people, especially in country areas, use. You’ll 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 good.”

“And, at the end of your time here, we’ll 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 didn’t 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?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“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 won’t even start on the food.”

“And how’s the weather?”

“Hot.”

Charles laughed. “It can only be good for you.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“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. “I’d love to chat, Major, but I’m driving right now. I’ll call you when we get there.”

He made an appalling attempt to imitate the Australian accent. “No worries.”

“Hey!” She laughed. “That’s my line.”

“Just look after my son for me, okay?”

“I will. We’ll talk soon. Bye.”

* * * * * * * * *

South Gippsland Highway
Victoria, Australia

They had remained silent since the end of the phone call, Lauren having seen the emotion on her visitor’s face as Jarod watched the scenery fly by outside the car. Finally, however, she spoke.

“That’s one relieved dad you’ve got there.”

“He’s 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. “I’m sorry, Jarod, but I’d love to see my dad’s face if I said we were going to just drive to Katherine.” She tried not to laugh again.

“Why?”

“We’d be on the road for days!”

He nodded skeptically. “Uh huh.”

“You don’t believe me? Okay,” Lauren tried to recall the information she had looked up earlier that morning. “You’re asking me if we’re going to drive from the equivalent of somewhere in Florida - Tallahassee, say - to Harlem.”

His eyes widened. “New York?”

“Montana.”

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 you’re sitting in a blender?”

“Okay, I get your point.”

Lauren grinned. “If you think that’s impressive wait until you see my office and, for the time being, yours too. It’s the stuff dreams are made of!”

He folded his arms and leaned back against his seat, looking over at her with an eyebrow raised. “You’re not raising my expectations unnecessarily, are you?”

She smiled. “Not unless your expectations are way higher than I’ve been led to believe.”

Jarod stared through the windshield for several moments before turning to her again.

“Do you know about…what happened? Why I’m 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 didn’t want to go into details. I’m 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. You’ll 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 obsession’s 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 isn’t 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.

“That’s 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 want something?”

“Dad asked me to find out how far away you were, so I thought I’d do a fly-over. Is the Yank there too?”

“What did you think I’d do - abandon him at Tulla?” Lauren laughed. “So what does Dad want?”

“Asked you to do some shopping before you arrived. They’re out of milk.”

She snorted. “Oh, you’re 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 won’t have to go out again tonight. I think he wants a hand while Mum’s out of action.”

“And I guess you’re slacking off, as usual.”

“Hey, I’m busy!”

“Like I’m not.” She laughed. “Okay, we’ll see you whenever you actually decide to show your face at home - but be warned. I might pick up fish and chips later.”

“That’s blackmail!”

“I know.” Lauren laughed. “Thanks, Victor Charlie. Over and out.”

As she restarted the car Lauren looked over at Jarod. “In case you didn’t pick up on it, my brother landed you with a nickname. Get used to it.”

“The Yank?”

“Yup. Sorry.”

“And what did he call you?”

“Loz. Short for Lauren. That’s what most people call me. You can too, if you want. There aren’t many people around here who don’t 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 we’re driving through now - is one of the major dairy producing areas in Victoria.” She grinned. “I hope you’re ready to help with the milking. Mum’s really out of action, by the sounds of things.”

“You don’t know?”

“All that my Dad said was that it wasn’t too serious, but he wanted me to take a gander - I mean, look at it. I don’t even know what she’s done, apart from falling off her horse.”

Suddenly she laughed.

“Oh God, I’m really bad at this - I haven’t even told you my parent’s names yet. Mum’s name is Peta and my Dad’s Bill. They’ll be highly offended if you call them anything else, especially Mr. and Mrs. Taylor.”

“And we have to go shopping first?”

“Yup. We’ll 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 an hour.”

“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 - it’d be easier to see black letters in greenery or dirt than just white that reflects the light back into the eyes of the person who’s searching.”

He nodded in agreement. “Is that such a big problem? Getting lost, I mean.”

“It depends. If the driver is the kind of moron who heads off without planning it properly or telling anyone where he’s going, it’s a real necessity.”

“And…what’s ‘Tulla’?”

“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 don’t know,” Jarod replied honestly. “I didn’t see them.”

“Asleep?”

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. Lauren’s lips thinned slightly as she turned back to concentrate on the road.

* * * * * * * * *

Taylor Family Property, Yarragon
Victoria, Australia

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. “Don’t worry, they’re 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 won’t 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 name’s Bill, the Yank. It’s great to finally meet you. My son hasn’t 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 her.

“I’ll get those. You go and say hi to your mother.”

“What’s 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 didn’t even take her in to Warragul to have it x-rayed?”

“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, it’s 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. I’ll 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.

“Can’t 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 mother’s 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 name’s Peta, Jarod, and I have the misfortune to be the mother of this rude creature.”

“Hi, Peta. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook the uninjured hand that she cheerfully held out to him.

“Glad to have you here. Steve’s been thrilled at the thought of meeting the son of the man that he looks up to so much, and it’s always great to have a new face around the place. Not to mention a new accent.”

“And let’s 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 you’re 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 don’t 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 mother’s hand and gently felt it. “Okay, diagnosis upheld. That’s your first test come through with ‘flying’ colors.” She grinned. “No pun intended.”

Jarod looked bemused as Peta groaned. “They just get worse, don’t they?”

Lauren laughed. “Now it’s obvious how long it’s been since you were in a room with Paul.”

“Well, whose fault’s that? I wouldn’t mind seeing him occasionally too, you know.”

“Okay, okay.” Lauren rolled her eyes. “I’ll 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?”

On to Act II

 
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