A Deadly Devotion

To my readers: I have a tale to tell in episodes that I hope you will enjoy. Keep coming back to catch each episode.

PROLOGUE

The warehouse, like some huge dark spider waiting for prey, emits no sound, the darkness thick as treacle is palpable. It encompasses her, her world ceasing at the outer range of the torch light. She thinks of the silence of death.

She should be safer higher up. She makes her way up the stairs, her light checking for danger ahead and be-hind. She opens a door at the end of a short corridor.
The room contains an old table and a rickety chair, which creaks when she places her hand on its back. A thick carpet of dust, marred by footprints near and around the table, lies across all the furniture. Her torch reveals an old bunk-bed with a filthy blanket tossed half-on, half-off it.
“Some vagrant, no doubt,” she says aloud.
At that moment she knows terror. She senses the doorway is no longer empty. She wheels around. Her torch is wrenched from her wrist, and a heavy blow bloodies her face.

CHAPTER ONE

“Good game, Deb! We smashed Karoora High, didn’t we?”

“Congrats, Deb. The kids were magnificent!”

School principal, Frances Jones, cannot hide her glee. There is a small sum to collect from her opposite number at Karoora High.

“Thanks, Mrs Jones. I enjoyed the game. Well, coach. You haven’t said anything. Was the girls’ team any good today?”

Bob Small shrugged his massive shoulders. “Your team won, didn’t they?”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? We face the Premiers next Friday!”

“Well, I suppose, if I were so inclined, I could say that you didn’t put a foot wrong. I could probably say that it would benefit us all if you were given a permanent teaching position – but that might give you an inflated view of what you can do…”

“Coach. Come on now!”

“You did well, girl! You’re not a bad coach for a young teacher. See you at training with all the other turkeys.”

“Hey! Touch footballers, not turkeys!”

As Deb leaves the sports arena she can see Clive James, a math-science teacher honing in on her path. It is too late to avoid him.

“Hey, Deb. Good game. I’ve been meaning to say I’d like to take you out to dinner. What about it, Deb? Shall we say Saturday?”

“I’d love to go out with you, Clive, but I’m having a girls’ night next Saturday. Let’s leave it, shall we?”

Clive gives her his famous stony glare. “There always seems to be something, Deb.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if I asked you right now to come swimming in Barker’s Swimming Hole on Sunday, you’d think of somewhere else you had to be.”

Deb suddenly decides to play games. “But I’m free on Sunday. Of course I’ll go swimming. How about you pick me up at ten?”

Clive can hardly believe his ears. “Ten? Ten o’clock? Sure, OK I’ll pick you up then. That’s great!”

“Bring the van, Clive. Sometimes I like to stretch out on a mattress – with a good book, you know.”

“Sure. OK! One van and a mattress. I’ll be there.”

Clive hurries away, unable to believe that Deb Passfield was coming on to him. Deb watched him go. A faint smile, a stare not unmixed with malice, as she watches him until he is out of sight.
That night she phones a friend, then another, and another. Each friend contacts another friend. The next day Deb smiles when she hears that six young men and women will be waiting at her home on Sunday morning to catch a ride in Clive’s van. They’re all going to Barker’s Swimming Hole for the day.

There was a day when old man Barker owned a farm near Molonglo. Not only did he own the farm, he and his wife raised six boys there. As each lad was growing up, he contributed his sweat to keeping the farm out of the hands of the local bank. Barker Senior became a man that everybody could look up to. He was as widely respected as it is possible for one man to be.
But then – a very familiar story, he came unstuck. Looking for a lost heifer one day, he heard voices coming from the creek that ran through his property. Two young women were swimming in the creek.

“Hello! Enjoying the water, are you?” he called.

The women returned his greeting. Barker watched as they began to walk out of the waterhole. They were shapely and he couldn’t take his eyes off them.

“What are you staring at, old man?” one woman asked.

“Um, sorry! I didn’t mean to be rude.”

A sudden lump was obstructing his airway. He tried to clear it with a cough. By now the women were very close. One took his hand and placed it on her naked breast.
“I heard that the farmers around here are worth a lot of money,” she said.

He was trying to retrieve his hand as he said, “Money? No, we’re dirt poor!”

The woman pushed him into the waiting arms of her companion.

“A thousand dollars, old man. A mere thousand bucks tells you we won’t be going to the police.”

“To the police? What for?”

“Sexual harassment, man. You had your hands on my tits without my permission either. I have a witness.”

Her companion nodded.

Barker looked carefully at each woman. “You are on my property,” he said. “I’m giving you five minutes to collect your clothing and get off my land.”

The women laughed and tried to push their bosoms into his face. Barker whistled. In response a blue cattle dog materialised from the bushes and stood at his side. One woman fled. The other chose to moon him. A quiet command to the dog and Bluey, with a wild spell of barking, launched his body at the young woman. She ran, screaming, out of the property and away.

Barker Senior thought no more about them until the police arrived, and took him into custody. A long court battle ensued before he was pronounced innocent of all charges. But the gossips had done their work. Nobody came to visit. During the long wait for the trial, the factory cut back his milk quota. The small loan he had at the bank was called in. His family were cut dead in the street. The Council decided to sue him for unpaid rates. A finding of innocence meant nothing. Barker took his mechanical digger and dug a huge hole in the creek.

“They want a place to swim, I’ll give ’em a place to swim,” he muttered. Finishing the job he strode into the mayor’s office and threw his keys on to the table. “Now you own my property, you miserable sod!” He turned on his heel and left.

Over the decades since, the Council had resumed the land and turned it into an attractive picnic area. This had become the place for young people to come to cool off during the weekends and holidays.

The place is crowded when Clive drops Deborah and her friends at the entrance. Without a word he drives away and does not return.

Deborah and her friends soon disperse to the change rooms and then into the water. At one point during the afternoon Deborah looks into the face of a young man with piercing blue eyes. He smiles and introduces himself as Blue Sanderson.

Deborah realises that she is smiling as she shakes his hand. Soon they find a quiet spot and talk and talk. They tell each other their life stories.

Deb tries not to look at Blue too openly, but she is intrigued with the power of the man. He stands as though the Earth waits upon his will. He is tall, red-haired and muscular. A trail of red hair trickles into the top of his trunks. She battles desperately to stop looking at it. When he offers to drive her home, she is quick to agree.

Deborah sees a lot of Blue after that. She grows to like his “rust bucket” – an ancient Holden. She and Blue use it often to get away on their own. They park and talk. She particularly enjoys walking through the scrub, just ambling along, hand in hand. She enjoys the kisses he gives her from time to time and learns how to kiss him back. One afternoon, when they are sitting on top of a hill, recovering from their exertions, she allows him to take their relationship one stage further.

They are lying side by side, just watching the clouds float across the sky. Deborah turns her face to him and Blue leans over her while they exchange kisses. When he begins to undo the buttons of her blouse, Deborah feels the heat in her face but makes no attempt to stop him. When he tries to take off her bra, he struggles until Deborah undoes the clip for him. She feels his hand touching her breasts, the first time any man has done so, and a question she has asked herself many times is answered. It feels so right. She can enjoy his hands on her. His kisses are suddenly different, full of passion, and it stirs her so much that she holds his red hair and buries his face in her chest. When she asks him to stop, he does so without any fuss. Soon they prepare to depart.

“Well, that was educational,” Deborah says, while doing up her blouse.

“And pretty darn good, too. I never thought you would feel so good!”

Fully dressed, they make their way down the hill to join the others.

Deborah thinks that’s where her romance with Blue began. They go to many places together, but without any sign that they might care for each other – they are careful because Deborah’s family must never know what they’re up to. Worst of all is her father. She tries to explain to Blue her father’s heavy hold on her.

“My Dad, Frank, he’s a hard man, Blue. He expects nothing but the best from me all the time. Not just now and again or even mostly, but all of the time. I can’t reach the impossible standards he sets. Mum’s given up long ago. She just accepts what he says as the truth and she never argues. You know my younger sister, Genevieve. She’s the same. She just goes with the flow all the time.”

“But they’re in Gympie. We’re nearly 200 km away.”

“Gossip travels fast and far.”

“Can’t you talk to your Mum about how you feel?”

“No!” Deborah shakes her head. “In her own way Mum’s as bad as Dad. She’s got this thing about young people having no respect for old-fashioned values. Dad’s the head of the family, so Dad must be obeyed. She would never argue with him.”

“I’ve noticed you don’t talk about your family much.”

“Before you came along I didn’t smile much either. I was really pissed-off at Dad. I’m a teacher, Blue, not because I want to be but because my father ran right over me.”

Blue puzzles over that. “Why not just do what you want to do and tell him afterwards.”

“Blue, my friend, my simple, guileless friend. You were not brought up in starched shirt southeast Queensland. This is Gympie we’re talking about. It’s 1973. The winds of change are blowing but not in my town. My father works, my mother and sister do not. Dad holds the purse strings, Mum raises us on the allowance he gives her. Children do not contradict their parents. Dad says I will be a teacher…there’s no argument. I hate it…but that’s what is.”

Blue shakes his head. “Why are you going home this weekend, if it’s so crook in Gympie.”

“Because Dad expects a visit every four weeks. I haven’t been for five so I’m behind already.”

“What have you been doing all those weekends then?”

“Going out with you, doofus!” She grabs his ears to shake him but kisses him instead.

When Deborah next sees Blue, she can hardly keep her hands off him. “You rang my father! What did you promise him?” she says, as soon as they are alone in his car.

“Oh nothing much. It’s all about skill in human relations!” he says.

“No, tell me. What did you do?”

“I rang him up. I told him I was a good friend of yours, and I wanted him to know that his daughter would always be safe with me. I nearly ruined everything when I told him how my father always insisted that we do what he tells us to do. I nearly laughed at this picture of a domineering man that I was describing as my father. Anyway, when he found out I was twenty-four and almost an officer of the law, he bought it all and, when I asked if you could stay here rather than go home to Gympie, he merely asked why, and then charged me in his most stern voice, to look after you.”

That is an afternoon and night when she comes closest to giving herself to Blue Sanderson. They find a secluded part of the beach and are necking as usual. She has her bra off and Blue is massaging her breasts as though they are drowning and need bringing back to life, when he asks about sex.

She shifts uncomfortably on the sand and sits up. “Blue! I want to say “Yes” but I’m not ready for that step yet. That’s a big one in a girl’s life. If I ever did it, it would be with you. But not yet!”

She can see he is disappointed, but to his credit, he says, “I guess that would not be what your father meant by taking care of you, would it?”

“I was going to thank Dad next time I saw him…I swear I was going to but, when I rang him up, I asked him again about leaving my job and doing medicine at university next year”.

Blue raises his arms above his head until they collide with the Holden’s roof. “He certainly gave me a grilling when I spoke to him.”

“You’re the golden-haired boy, Blue. You watch out or he’ll have us married.”

“On a police cadet’s wages! He’s not that dumb. No, he’s got you tucked away as a school principal’s wife. I saw Genevieve yesterday. She was coming out of Coles. She’s not like you, in build I mean. Did you ever have a sudden change in milkman at your place?”

“No, why?” and then the penny drops. Deborah grabs Blue by the ears and beats his head against the upholstery.

“She’s not the milkman’s child!” She is incoherent with laughter until, naturally enough, she ends up kissing him.

When they settle down Deborah remembers a conversation with her sister over a decade before. She now tells Blue:

“We’re a funny pair, Deb,” my ten year old sister, Genevieve, had said. She was hanging upside down on the swing in the backyard of our parents’ home. “You’re as skinny as somebody’s clothes line and me, I’m like a beer barrel on little stumpy legs. It makes you wonder what Mummy and Daddy were up to when they made us.”

“Yes, I know what you’re saying but remember what the magazines show us film stars were like – all arms and legs when they’re kids but look at what they turned into.”

“But do you really think we’ll grow to look like that? Get our own glamour guy and everything? Don’t hold your breath on that one.” Genevieve jumped from the swing. “No, I think God has a different future for us. We just have to wait for him to show us.”

“Hmph! I don’t think much of that idea. We’ve got to make our own future. That’s what life’s all about. Gen’s eyes grew like saucers when I pulled down the top of my swimsuit and said, “Look, Gen. No tits. You’d think God would have given me something by now. I’m twelve years old, for Christ’s sake, and I look as though Mum’s been ironing me. There’s not even a bloody wrinkle there, let alone any bumps.”

Genevieve’s hand went to her mouth. “Deborah, pull your top up. Do you want somebody to see you? And don’t be so crude, taking the Lord’s name in vain like that. That’s terrible!”

“Blasphemous’ is the word you want. (she was a pompous little shit!) She read it in a book the other day. Why are you so stuffy about your body, Gen, since you reckon God made it?”

Genevieve, horror-struck, had hurried inside away from her sister’s insidious influence.

“It’s pretty sad, Blue. We have nothing in common. We never have had. It was always important to Genevieve that she appear to be doing what others expect of her. She hasn’t changed much since she was ten years old. Her brain still runs along train tracks.”

The end of the year is approaching. Deborah sees a lot of Blue but exam papers have to be marked and the results tabulated. The touch footy has finished months before. Deb is busy cleaning out her desk when Blue calls around to take her to see his new flat.

When they arrive it is not his flat at all but a house with a swimming pool and all of her close friends, there to help her celebrate the end of her contract. “What better time than when I’ve just got the sack!” she says to him in an aside.

Deborah understands then why Blue insisted she wear her bikini under her clothes. It is a wonderful night, with a lot of alcohol, and a lot of topless swimming and cuddling as couples hie off to whatever bit of privacy they can find.

Deborah manages to commandeer the back seat of someone’s Fairlane before anyone else thinks of the big car. They lock the doors until, relaxed from the alcohol, she enjoys Blue’s hands on her naked breasts. Then, unbelievably, she literally falls asleep. Unused to alcohol Deborah drops completely out of it, leaving him, as he tells her later, to carry on a conversation with two nipples.

She meets him regularly for a while but the pressure of his work allows them less and less time together. One night on the eve of her twenty-second birthday Deborah arrives at Blue’s flat with a token bottle of wine.

“Why the wine, Deborah?” he asks as he lets her in.

“Why not some wine, Blue? It’s a celebration. I’ve made a decision, about which I will tell you later. Kiss me, please. I’m twenty-two tomorrow.”

“So you are. I hadn’t forgotten.”

When he puts his arms around her, he is not expecting that Deborah will kiss him with the passion that she does.

“Whoa!” he says, “Nice!”

“I’m stone cold sober, Blue.”

She begins to take off her clothes. She can see that he is puzzled by her behaviour. She discards her blouse. Although he is smiling she knows that he is unsure about what is happening. When she removes her bra, she watches him through half-closed eyes. He is trying to ease the sudden pressure in his trousers. She stands in front of him and places his hands on her breasts.
When Deborah whispers in his ear that she wants him to make love to her, a broad smile lights up his face as he recalls the disastrous night just one year ago. He gives her a hug and immediately begins shedding his clothes.

“I told you once that, when I was ready, you would be the one.” She takes a deep breath. “I think I’m ready, darling, if you are.”

He holds her trembling hand, and then picks her up and carries her to his bed. Lying together, kissing and stroking until she smiles and whispers, “Now. Now would be good.”

CHAPTER TWO

Although Deborah glowers whenever teaching is mentioned, her father, Frank Passfield, grills her every time she goes home.

“I hate that job, Dad. You don’t know how much!”

Frank stares her down. “You’re a teacher. Get used to it!”

“A teacher without a classroom. I’m still on supply!”

“What happened to that young policeman you were seeing?” he wants to know.

“He graduated and was posted to Mareeba. Dad, I…”

But Frank is one-eyed about her career and refuses to discuss it further.

One evening, back in the city, Deborah agrees to have a drink with a fellow supply teacher, called Mike. Ignoring the advice that he is a heavy drinker, she continues to see him.
“Well, he has his own demons. He’s lonely just as I am, now that Blue’s out bush somewhere!” she tells her friends.

Despite her defence, she knows her friends are right. He is a drunken sot and she is becoming tired of him. Six weeks into the relationship she cannot stand him.
A drunken belch rumbles across the table. Reeling with embarrassment, Deborah storms to her feet. She has had enough.

“I’m going Mike. You do your drinking on your own. I’m sick of your boozing and I’m fed up with you!”
Mike lurches to his feet, knocking the table, and spilling their drinks. Deborah’s glass hits the ground and lands at the feet of a tall man, who had just walked into the beer garden.

“Deb! It is you!”he says.

Mike, reaching for her, stumbles in his drunken stupor, and falls flat on his face. As she steps back from the table to avoid him Deborah collides with the young man.

“I don’t believe it! Blue, an answer to a prayer.”

“Are you all right? Can I help you?”

“Just a bloody drunk! No, no, I’m fine. I have to go.” Red-faced, she hurries outside, only to realize that the stuttering curses she is hearing behind her are from Mike as he staggers out of the hotel.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mike, get a grip on yourself! I don’t want to spend my nights watching you booze and then have to listen to you blaming everybody else. I want a life… and it doesn’t include you. Go find some of your drinking friends!”

“Too good for the likes of me, hey. Always got to keep my hands to myself. What’s so special about your tits? Who’re you saving them for? Aah! You’re a prick-teaser an’, an’ you’re a ball-breaker. I’m going to show you what I do with bitches like you!”

“Please, Mike! Get your hands off! Stop pawing me! Leave me alone!” Fear edged its way into her voice.

“Oi, leave her alone!”

“Fuck off mate,” Mike mumbles, stumbling away. “You wanta fight me? I’ll paw whoever I like!”

He takes a swing at Blue but misses and falls on his face.

Blue reaches down to help him, but Mike stumbles to his feet. “Bloody copper!” He glares. “I know about you. The copper who can never do anything wrong! Another night in the cells for me…she’s not worth it.” He staggers away.

“Blue! I didn’t believe it was you, just when I needed you. I’m OK. Mike can be difficult when he’s had a few too many drinks.”

Blue’s face is all smiles when he realises that she is happy to see him again. “Would you like to have a drink with me?”‘

“No, no, I just think it is time I went home to bed. I’ll just catch the next bus from here.”

“Not on your life, not without me.”

“So you still want to see me?” She smiles. “How can Mareeba carry on in your absence?” she teases him.

He links his arm with hers and they stroll towards the bus stop. “Where are you living these days?” he asks.
“I have a flat in Kelvin Grove. It’s just a two bedroom job but it suits me.”

“I’ll see you home.”

Deborah knows from experience that she can’t argue Blue out of looking after her. Besides, she’s thrilled to see him again. They talk non-stop on that bus trip and are still talking when she lets him into the flat.

“Very nice,” he says. He swings her around just as he used to, and then stops and kisses her.

“Are you seeing anybody?” he asks.

“No, not any more. I was just going out with Mike because I’m a sucker for lost causes. You saw the end of Mike tonight. Are you?”

“Not for months. The last one flunked her exams and went home to Mum and Dad. I’m hungry. What have you got?”

He puts Deborah on her feet and they examine the pantry together. As they eat she tells him about the other girl who shares expenses and sleeps in the adjoining bedroom. Blue raises his eyebrows when she tells him her room-mate is away from Brisbane for the weekend.

“What are you doing in Brisbane, Blue?”

“I’ve been promoted to a little bush town in the Gulf. I’ve got a few days leave. How about a kiss for old time’s sake?” Blue says taking her hand in his.

Deborah nods, “Pleasant memories huh?”

His kisses awaken the need she has smothered over the past months. They undress and step into the shower.

“I remember your naked body, every bit of it,” he says, as he soaps and rinses her back. She turns to face him and he kisses her. In full, but unvoiced, agreement about what is going to happen, they go to bed. Deborah thinks they’re both pleased now that she argued for, and won, a double bed in her flat. They make love and talk for hours. Most of the time, Deborah’s ashamed to say, the topic is about her dislike of teaching and her fear of her father. Poor Blue’s ears cop it all.

In the morning, her troubles again arise in conversation. This time Blue takes a strong line.

His gaze is unwavering. So sure of himself, Deborah thinks. Was there ever a time when he flailed around trying to make a decision? Just like she is now. He’s relaxed enough. But Jeez, does he know what he’s asking? Tell her father she doesn’t want to be a teacher? Imagine that? God! She feels she is such a mess! She is so sick of teaching. But what will a confrontation with her father achieve? World War 3?

“My father’s never been challenged before. I don’t know if I can do this, Blue. He will be so angry, and he’ll never understand.”

“What’s the alternative, Deb? Do you want to work at a career you are not happy in? What do you really want to do?”

“I want to be a copper.”

“I thought you wanted to study medicine?”

“Not any more. I’ve realised my science knowledge sucks. I want to be a copper.”

“Well, the solution rests with you. I don’t mean to be harsh, but that’s the bind you’re in. The bullshit your father’s been carrying on with has to stop, Deb. You can’t be his cipher, you’ve got to become yourself. You’ve got to stand up to him and tell him to back off!”

She’s never seen Blue as direct as he is now. “You either tell your parents that you want to opt out of teaching to join the force or you don’t.”

“OK, OK. I’ve got your message. It’s not an easy thing to do, though! I’m scared of my father, Blue, really scared.”

“I’m sorry, love, and I’ll give you all the support you want. I’ll even come with you if you like. I’ll stand at your side and tell him for you if you would prefer that.”

Blue reaches out and draws her close. Somehow he knows it’s what she wants. Deborah places her head on his shoulder and sits for a long moment drawing on his support. You can be ruthless, Blue, a bit like Dad, strong-minded, always sure. She could do with some of that inner strength. She wonders if he knows how domineering he can be. Why does she think of a snake when she thinks about her father’s eyes and a fox when she think of Blue’s? Is it because Blue is more cunning than the rest of them? Deborah would hate to be his enemy. She would love to put off this decision, but she can’t go away and think about it. She has to decide today. Oh God! she doesn’t know! It’s nice here in Blue’s arms.

“My father is not like other fathers, Blue. It’s all black and white with him. When I was younger I bought a battered anatomy book and a scalpel at the corner second-hand shop, and one day I showed a picture to my father. “Look, Dad! That’s what a gall bladder looks like. I never knew that my father’s eyes could be so ice cold. Do you know what he said?

“Are you still intent on denying me, Deborah? That foolishness of yours is not what your future holds!”

I was furious. It was the first time I’d ever questioned his judgment. “Why ever not, Dad? Why do you think you can decide what I want to do with my life? Tell me, go on. You’ve never answered that question. Why can’t I make my own decisions?” I was screaming and didn’t realise it.

“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady!” he said. “We can’t afford to send you to medical school. Forget all that. You’re going to win a scholarship to Teachers’ College, and that’s the end of it. Now, come and give me a hand to sharpen these tools. This chisel you worked on yesterday is uneven. Get it right!” I was so bloody angry I could’ve spat chips!

“That damn chisel! It took me ages to get it right! My life at home was always ruled by my father. That’s what my father’s like, Blue, he rules! He’s also very impatient. It’s Deborah! Deborah, I need you here!”

“This is what I’m saying, love. It’s time to leave that life behind.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know Frank Passfield, you don’t know what he’s like. He never listens to what I want. I try and try but he just wears me down.”

“And you’re bitter about that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I bloody well am! I look at the parents of my friends and they’re not like Dad.”

“You’ll never know what it is to be your own woman until you stand up to him. I think that time has come. Why don’t you think about it over the next few days? I’ll be around.”

She tips her face up to his. “God! you take my breath away. I’m tingling right through.”

He kisses her again, and slides his hand beneath her pyjama top. When his hand is cupping her naked breast, she murmurs, “You’ll come with me to Gympie?”

“Yes, if you wish.”

“I feel as though a great yawning chasm is lying at my feet daring me to step across, and there’s safety behind me, offering me warmth and shelter. But I have no desire to retreat, and I don’t feel brave enough to go forward. Yet I must. You’re right, Blue. If you’re with me, I think I’m ready to take my father on.”

“Good, then if you’re sure let’s see if we can get seats on a bus.”

“You mean, today?”

“Well, not today. I have a lecture this afternoon at the Academy, but tomorrow is a good day for me. Don’t sound so worried. The sooner this is done, the more quickly you can put it behind you.”

The next day Deb points out the Maroochydore turnoff. “Nambour’s next. The bus driver will stop there for a break.”

Deborah becomes less talkative.

“Anxious?” Blue says as he butters a scone he’d bought at a roadside cafe.

“Yes, I am. I’m beginning to feel sick.”

“The nerves…they’re pretty good at making an unpleasant situation seem worse”.

“There’s our driver. Come on. We’ll be in Gympie in an hour. Oh, my God, Blue!”

“You’ll be right, mate. What’s Gympie like?”

“What’s Gympie like? It’s a large country town about an hour north of here. It’s quite a nice place to live. Men work the farms or, if they are hardy optimists, scratch around in the mines. The gold petered out in the early twentieth century. You’ll find it plays up to the carefree lifestyle image that this part of Queensland is known for. In autumn it’s absolutely beautiful.”

“It sounds like the perfect place to grow up.”

“Give me a hug, eh?”

“We’re so pleased to meet you at last, Blue,” Deborah hears her mother’s voice as if it were miles away. She is pouring them all a cup of tea. Deborah is uncomfortably aware of Genevieve close by, serving them a choice of buttered scones or pikelets off their mother’s best china. Deborah is nibbling on something that seems very dry. She sips her tea and listens closely as Blue draws her father out about his job as a miner.

This could be such a lovely day, except it won’t be. Nobody has heard her faint sigh or the hiccough that sneaks up on her as she realises it is time.

On edge in a lounge chair, lunch completed, Deborah hugs a cushion. Blue’s coming up with all the right questions and just letting her father ramble on about the decay in morals among young people. Stuff she has heard a hundred times.

There is a sudden silence. She takes a deep breath and stumbles into the speech she has practised in her mind so often.

“I’m not destined to be a school teacher, Dad. I love kids and one of these days hope to have some of my own, but I don’t like teaching them in great masses. My friends love it – that’s what they want to do, but…well, I want to join the police force.”

Her father’s rasping voice cuts across her explanation.

“You want to give up teaching? I can’t believe it! You want to become a copper? Poppycock! I’m very disappointed in you, Deborah! I’ve sacrificed everything to see that you got a good education and you want to throw it all away. You know what your mother and I have expected from you.”

“Dad, I don’t want to hurt you or Mum. You’ve both always been there for me. Please try to understand.”

“I’ll never understand you, you ungrateful girl. What daughter of mine would throw all these years of saving and suffering back in my face? If you really wanted to show your gratitude, you’d drop this foolish idea and get back to your teaching studies.”

It is every bit as bad as she had anticipated. Deborah watches her father sitting straight in his chair. Here comes the lecture. Right on time. Suddenly, she realises she is no longer anxious. She glances across at Blue. His face is a shocked study in disbelief. I warned you, mate, didn’t I?

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher but I’ve never had the chances you’ve been given. I’d have done anything to have had even half the opportunities you’ve had. I had to work, long, hard hours.” Deborah is trembling as she observes blood, whipped up by his rage, suffuse his features. His eyes glare with hostility. It is as though some wild thing has been let loose from a cage.

“Mr. Passfield, please,” Deborah hears Blue say before he is interrupted. She waits, stimulated by the spirited defence Blue is trying to mount.

“You stay out of this, young fellow!” Deborah is a fascinated witness as Frank’s frosty eyes arrow in on Blue. Time is meaningless for her now. She is in another dimension, on another plane, where she can hear and see others but they cannot see her. “I blame you for what Deborah has just hit us with. It’s you who has twisted her mind around!”

“Oh please, listen to her! This is about Deborah, not you. Let Deborah say what she feels. You’ve got to realize that she’s old enough to make up her own mind now. Let’s sit down and try to work this through.” Deborah can only marvel at his temerity.

“Enough! I don’t know who you think you are, young man, but you’re not going to dictate to me in my own home.”

“I’m not trying to dictate …” but Blue is not allowed to finish.

“That’s enough. Get whatever you brought with you and leave. You owe me an apology for what you’ve done to this family. I won’t have you in my home until you apologise for your interference and until Deborah comes to her senses!” That an interloper would defy him in his own home is enough to turn Frank’s face an even deeper shade of red, and Deborah fears that he might have a stroke.

“I apologise for disturbing your home, Mr. Passfield, and of course I’ll leave immediately, but please think about your daughter’s happiness. It’s her future that is important here.” Blue pauses to give her father an opportunity to change his mind but the stony face is unrelenting.

“Congratulations, Dad! You’ve turned a daughter who had some respect for you into one who has none…and all in half an hour or more!”

Deborah hears her own words and cannot believe what she has just said. Her father wheels on his heel and leaves the house.

“Mum,” Deborah says, but her mother offers no help.

“Your father knows best,” she says with a sigh before she clamps her lips closed and says no more. Deborah looks for support from her sister but she has slipped away to her bedroom at the first hint of trouble.
“Well, that’s that, then. Come on, Blue. I’ve had quite enough of my family for now. Let’s see if we can catch the next bus back to Brisbane!”
Her mother looks up and says, “Deborah, I think you need to find your father and apologise.”

“No. Mum. Right now I don’t care what you or Dad think. Blue and I are out of here! I want some time away from my family. We’ll get a taxi.”

“Well, you’re a surprise package, I must say,” Blue says.

Deborah has been wondering what he might say. She grins. “You know that big chasm I told you about, the one in front of me? It’s gone! How do I join the force?”
She laughs. The sun is setting but for Deborah the world is full of light. When the bus pulls into its bay at Anzac Plaza, she takes Blue’s hand and squeezes it in a tight grip. Holding it all together is difficult.

“Let’s go to my flat, Blue.” Assuming his acquiescence, she leads the way to a taxi rank. On their way, he wraps his arm around her and she tries to relax into his embrace. Her emotions are raw, her fingers fumble and she drops the key. Suddenly they can no longer wait to get their hands on each other.

“Here, gimme the bloody thing!” Blue snatches the key from her fingers and opens the door. It bounces off the wall with a loud crack.

They charge through. Blue’s hands are on her body, his mouth on hers in kiss after passionate kiss. Her blouse was not made for the treatment Blue is giving it. The buttons fly. She helps him remove her jeans. Suddenly, she gasps as his finger slides beneath her panties and into her wetness. She cries out as a second finger joins the first and begins to move inside her. Her hands tear at his shirt, seeking to get him naked as fast as she can. Still holding her by his two fingers he strips away her bra. His kisses rain down on her neck and breasts, deeper now, more intense. She lashes his nipples with her tongue, her hands busy until Blue’s trousers hit the floor. She rips away his underpants, and he steps out of them, uncompromisingly male.

“The bedroom,” he says.

“Yes,” she gasps as he leads the way up the stairs.

A young woman, her flatmate, steps out of her room just as Blue reaches her door. She rolls her eyes in appreciation of Blue’s nakedness, but gets quickly out of their way. “Whoops! Traffic! You go, girl!” she calls, and shuts her own door.

Driven to get closer to him on the bed, Deborah arches her burning body. Thrashing in a turmoil of wanting and not wanting, she places demands on him that she does not even understand herself. Her body is an artist’s living palette, on which his tongue is tracing a picture of violent passion. She whispers a message, intelligible only to a lover. “Blue! Oh Blue! My God, Blue!” And she sobs, “Please don’t stop!”

His palms scorch her breasts. Overwhelmed with the desire only he can appease, she hears with great joy his anguished cry, “Deborah!” She opens her body to welcome him in. Deborah feels his lunge, the stiffness buried deep within her. “Yes, yes, yeeesss!” she cries. In a climactic moment, their bodies explode into impossible-to-express heat and light. Deborah clings to Blue in their private cocoon, as wave after wave surges and retreats, her body the plaything of some vast ocean.

She stirs in his arms. “You OK?” he mumbles.

He rolls onto his back as his breathing begins to return to normal. Her hand moves languidly back and forth across his chest. They doze. Her hand lazily wanders across his nipples and down to his waist. She is mildly surprised when he begins to stiffen. She watches as he grows hard, then opens to him when he covers her and takes what she is offering. The lovers sleep.

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