Nobody but Him

By: Victoria Purman

More things had changed about him than just the width of his shoulders, she decided, as she walked along the empty streets of Middle Point. He’d moved on, created a life. Why wouldn’t he have? And lucky for Julia, she wasn’t the same person she was at eighteen, either. She’d come so far, left so much behind except, apparently, the memories of him that came crowding in now.

For fifteen years, she’d lived in another city eight hundred kilometres away and had felt safe in the knowledge that she’d never see Ry Blackburn again. She’d planned it well, knowing that after she’d escaped from Middle Point, the chances of turning a street corner in Melbourne and bumping into Ry were somewhere between none and Buckley’s. The odds were apparently not so good now she was back in her hometown.

What she couldn’t figure out was, what was he doing back here? And why the hell had he bought the Middle Point Pub? While she knew she could get some more answers out of Lizzie, Julia also felt torn. Did she really want to know every gory detail about him, his wife and family and the labrador? Wouldn’t it be easier for both of them if she just did what she had to do and flew back home?

They were questions she would think about tomorrow. For now, she had to make sure she had a plan in place to avoid him for the rest of her stay. She wasn’t back for long, so how hard could that be? Staying away from the pub? Easy. The town of Port Elliot was only a few kilometres down the road anyway and she could simply drive right there, once she’d borrowed Lizzie’s car, and get everything she needed.

Julia smiled to herself. Crisis averted. That’s why they pay you the big bucks, Jones. And don’t forget it.

She flipped up the collar of her vintage woollen coat to protect herself from the harsh wind and watched her breath cloud into the night air. After so many years in Melbourne, with its famed four seasons in one day, this weather didn’t really feel that cold at all. It was nothing like Melbourne cold, which seeped into your bones and settled there all winter. But that was a minor thing to cope with, considering everything else she loved about her adopted city. And soon she’d be back there. That day couldn’t come soon enough.

Julia’s footsteps crunched noisily on the gravel driveway as she turned into her mother’s place, and unlocked the front door. Inside she flicked on the light in the living area and took a look around.

She was about to make one of the hardest decisions of her life. What to do with this house now her mother was gone.

She shrugged off her coat, tossed it onto the orange vinyl sofa, toed of the horrible black flatties she’d borrowed from Lizzie and stopped to consider if she needed coffee or wanted wine instead. So maybe caffeine wasn’t the best idea, particularly when she was trying not to think so much, but reaching for a bottle of wine to calm down probably wasn’t wise either.

When she glanced at the little kitchen, a memory came back unbidden and she squeezed her eyes shut to try to suppress it. Her mother, standing in the small 1970s-inspired space, holding a cup of coffee, warming her hands against the bitter winter southerlies. Just remembering her mother’s smile, the way her blue eyes laughed, brought an ache to Julia’s chest and her eyes threatened tears. Again. It had been a year and she still saw her mother in every corner of every room. Since she’d been back in Middle Point, back in the house she’d grown up in, she’d been swamped with memories, those perfect moments in time with her mother, the scents of her childhood and so many déjà vu moments that she was constantly overwhelmed and emotional.

Which was not going to help her do what she needed to do.

And once again, the words were in her head.

Make a decision, Julia.

She twisted the knob on the stove and pushed the lid firmly onto the top of the kettle. The electric plate on the stove glowed and reddened, and she spread her palms out, hoping it would warm her hands as well as the water.

Why was this so hard? She was a crisis management consultant, for God’s sake. Her high-powered Melbourne job involved advising high flyers and top end companies when they found themselves in delicate predicaments, when they were juggling calamity, corruption or scandal. She was used to making literally hundreds of snap decisions for people when they were too freaked out to think straight, when their reputations or share prices were on the line. She’d earned kudos for her calm, clear head and her dead-on instinct. She was worth every dollar she was paid — and she was paid a lot of them.

So what had happened? Since she’d been back, she’d been all at sea. All those personal virtues she was so proud of seemed to have vanished the minute she crossed the state border three days before.

It was a chilly, gusty dawn. Ry’s running shoes pounded the white wet sand as he took step after jarring step on his twelve-kilometre morning run from Middle Point to Goolwa and back. He’d started running a year ago. His GP had told him he needed to do something for his stress. Yoga, running, anything. He’d chosen running and it had worked, helped him cope with the pressure of work, and he’d been sleeping better too. That alone was enough to convince him to keep it up. Running on the beach was no hardship, despite the cold, because he was almost always alone at this time of the morning. The silence, the crash of the waves, the fresh air. He liked it a lot.

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