Heather was awake but afraid to open her eyes. For a long, long time she lay still, pondering over three of life’s great mysteries.
Where am I?
Why haven’t I got a hangover?
The answer to the third question was easy. That lucky metabolism of hers rarely did hangovers. She wasn’t totally immune, but she certainly woke hangover-free more often than she deserved.
“What happened?” was, of course, obvious, if only answerable in part. She’d got drunk, as simple as that. She’d started early, anxious about seeing Ingrid again, then . . .
Well, she’d been given a letter but no blonde-haired girlfriend to go with it. Ingrid wasn’t going to show up; she was marrying her tamed Viking instead. There wouldn’t be a big reunion. There wouldn’t be a partner on the long road to Darwin . . .
The news hadn’t been all bad, though. Ingrid wanted her there in Albany to witness the match. No, she wanted her there to play father of the bride. And Claire and the twins wanted her there too; they wanted her there strongly enough to pay her airfare.
All well and good then; her friends still loved her and wanted her to go back. Making the decision to go had taken no time because there had been no decision to be made. She suddenly wanted to see them again so badly it hurt. And so what if Ingrid was getting married? How could a true friend be sad to know she was going to do something that made her happy?
Putting misty memories in order, Heather recalled sitting at the bar; ordering beer after beer . . .
Talking in depth with the two resident barmen . . .
Then it all got hazy and blurred, never mind misty. With the benefit of a boozer’s hindsight, she should have called it a day after she’d seen the photo of Claire and the twins. Quite predictably, she had not. Bugger being sensible, she’d stayed on her barstool and poured her heart out to a couple of complete strangers. And hairy, Aussie male strangers at that!
And then . . .
Well, then it wasn’t misty or even murky. She had a great big black blank. Memories didn’t come into the equation seeing as she hadn’t got any. Presumably someone had picked her up and brought her here.
Wherever “here” was”.
She honestly couldn’t remember leaving the bar. Sad as she was to admit it, she could have left with absolutely anybody of any sex or persuasion. And, as a corollary, she could now be absolutely anywhere.
No wonder she’d daren’t open her peepers!
She was on her back, hands resting on bare thighs, in a bed. Not in the tent or on the campervan’s very thin, very recognizable mattress. Straining her ears, she couldn’t detect evidence of company. And her other senses agreed. There were no touching limbs, no smell of a sweaty man.
Not trusting her intuition, she slid her left hand off her leg, onto the bottom sheet. Moving at snail’s pace, she found the edge of the bed. What, as much as nine inches away?
Who cared? She hadn’t encountered a bedmate. Not that she would have on her favoured left-hand side. If there was a bedmate to be encountered . . .
Steeling herself, she slid her right hand onto the self-same sheet. And, again moving at a snail’s pace, inched right and found the other edge of the bed. It was farther away, maybe a foot, but no bedmate in the way.
The rush of relief surprised her. Having been shagged by a person or persons unknown wouldn’t have been entirely unknown . . .
But thank god it’s not a guy!
The thought startled her, even though it was from the heart.
Then she wondered if she was being complacent. How did she know she hadn’t had company during the night? Fending off anxiety, she put her hands back on her bare thighs and inched them upwards.
Yippee, her shorts were still on. And double yippee, they were still fully fastened. A further inspection confirmed her string-like top was still in place.
Good grief, she thought suddenly, my wallet!
But it was there in her pocket, exactly where it ought to be.
‘Okay,’ she said out loud, at last opening her eyes, ‘let’s get this show on the road.’
The room would have been in total darkness if a blackout blind had been properly closed. As it was, a little askew, bright sunshine burnt a white line across an otherwise indistinguishable carpet.
‘Turned out nice again,’ she said automatically, using her everyday greeting to Ingrid.
Being slow about it, not wanting to trigger one of those rare hangovers, she eased herself upright so she was sitting with her feet on the floor.
All went well; and it was best to be careful. Recollections of her previous excesses were remote but by no means forgotten. One sudden movement could set the contents of her head swilling about, dying brain cells sloshing remorselessly against unforgiving skull walls.
But, thankfully . . . so very thankfully . . . not today.
No, no slosh at all.
She cautiously began to get to her feet and something light but hard rapped against her nose. It was a pull switch and she grabbed it eagerly.
Illuminated, the room orhangazi escort was tidy but plain and functional. That carpet was a brown that didn’t quite go with the light blue walls. She had it tagged as a guy’s room even before she noticed the absence of mirrors, dressing tables and other feminine necessities.
Okay, she thought stoically. So it was a guy. Live with it! The mission now is to get out of here as soon as. I’ll find my host, ask him the way to the car park then say farewell.
And God help him if he tries to get in my way!
Her trainers were waiting for her neatly by the bed. Still wondering exactly where she was, Heather put them on, crossed the room and opened the blind. Looking out she saw a strip of beach and the blue sea rolling away under a cloudless sky. It was a beautiful view which told her nothing at all. She could have been anywhere in Australia, never mind anywhere in Cairns.
Well, wherever she was, she was upstairs. Hunting for clues, she looked directly down and realization struck her. There was a terrace down there with tables, chairs and parasols. She couldn’t remember leaving the bar because she hadn’t left. This room must be one of the barmen’s.
Being orderly-minded, Heather switched off the light and made the bed. Being curious, she checked the sheets for cum stains while she was at it, finding none.
Further reassured, she had a look in the corridor outside. Stairs going down to her left, a closed door to her right. Two other doors on the opposite side: one closed the other ajar and, from the half-visible sink, evidently the bathroom.
Then she saw the nameplate on the door just across from her. It said “Study” and there was a similar sign on the door to her right. Squinting a little, she made out “Trent”. In fact all the doors were marked. She had, she saw, been sleeping in Greg’s room. Greg was the first barman she’d met. Trent was the other one.
And they weren’t barmen; they were part-owners.
Pleased she’d remembered something at last, Heather locked herself in the bathroom and, after a quick thong inspection, relieved herself. Then she glanced at the shower. Greg had let her sleep in his bed. Surely he wouldn’t mind if she made herself presentable?
Soaping herself under jetting water she had the feeling something was missing. It didn’t take her long to work out what: her nipples weren’t responding at all. And she hardly had any inclination to jill. That was, to say the least, alarming.
Don’t say I’ve lost my sex-drive altogether!
For a second or two her clit didn’t respond to her touch and she began to panic. Then (thank God!) the usual feelings made themselves felt and she quickly brought herself off. And then, determined to be thorough, she popped two fingers inside herself and said hello to Graffy.
That worked too.
Invigorated and refreshed, she “borrowed” a bath towel and dried herself. Dressing took perhaps ten seconds. Then she examined herself in the mirror over the sink. Yet again she thanked that wonderful metabolism of hers. She looked fresh as a daisy and pretty as a picture, even if her hair was a bit of a mess.
There was a shelf under the mirror. It had a toothbrush in a glass on either end and a tube of Colgate in the middle. Heather used the brush on the left, cleaning it scrupulously afterwards. Then, unable to find a comb, she used her fingers to straighten her damp mane, grinning as she did so.
Once upon a time, before she set off travelling, she’d paid her hair a lot of attention, washing it every three days and keeping it dry in-between. Since she’d been living the outdoor life she’d more or less left it to its own devices, letting it get wet in the shower and the sea with abandon. And it had thrived! Okay, it was walking on the wild side just now, but a good brushing and it would be better than ever.
Right then, she concluded. Let’s go face the music.
Knowing where she was hadn’t changed the plan much. And actually knowing who she was going to be bidding farewell didn’t make a lot of difference either. Resolved to get it over with swiftly, glad she wouldn’t have to ask for car park directions, Heather set off towards the stairs.
The smell of frying food assailed her before she’d got two steps down. Her stomach responded with a loud rumble and she paused a moment, wondering when she’d last eaten. Apart from beer and jerky she (probably!) hadn’t consumed anything the previous day. Maybe she could get the barmen to sell her a bacon butty to go.
Assuming her wallet wasn’t empty.
She had a quick check. There were more notes than she would have expected and her cards were all there. So she hadn’t been robbed, raped or murdered. A hat-trick of lucky coincidences!
‘Cooee,’ she called as she reached the bottom of the flight. ‘Is there anyone there?’
‘I’m in the kitchen,’ an Aussie male called back.
Heather took in the geography of the ground floor. It was a lot bigger than upstairs and there weren’t any helpful nameplates on the doors. Two of them were, however, of the nilüfer escort swing variety.
That’s the bar dead ahead, she decided. So this must be the kitchen.
Feeling like Clint entering a saloon, she went through the batwings to her left. Greg was standing by a large range, skillet in hand, attending to a frying pan.
‘Good day, Hev’ he said, beaming at her. ‘So there is life after death.’
‘I wasn’t that bad,’ she said reflexively. Then, as he started to laugh, ‘Was I?’
‘I’ve been working in pubs and bars forever,’ he told her. ‘You could say I was born into the trade. I thought I’d seen it all, but I reckoned without you. I have never seen a woman drink the amounts of beer you drank last night. In fact I’ve only ever met one guy who could have kept up with you. And Ox is twice your size.’
‘Ox,’ Heather echoed.
‘That’s what we call him. I don’t know if he has a real name. He’s about seven foot and built like an ox. Most of the time he’s out in the bush, doing God knows what. He calls in here once a month and tries to drink us out of Castlemaine.’
‘And I remind you of him, do I? Gee thanks. You know how to boost a girl’s ego.’
Greg opened his mouth to say something but Heather’s tummy beat him to it. This time its rumble was louder than thunder.
‘Grab a seat,’ he said, pointing to a small table. ‘Breakfast’s coming right up.’
‘I can’t pinch your breakfast,’ Heather protested. ‘And I need to be on my way.’
‘You’re not pinching my breakfast. I had mine hours ago. This is for you. Orange juice is in the fridge, by the way.’
The table was set for one, so Greg probably wasn’t fibbing. And boy, his cooking smelt good. More than a little touched by his thoughtfulness, Heather took a super-sized wine glass from a rack and filled it from an industrial-sized carton. The chilled drink was amazing. She didn’t just feel it go down her throat; she felt all the goodness in it percolating through her whole body. Screened by the fridge door, she helped herself to a second glass.
‘Here we go,’ Greg said, arriving with a large oval plate as she finally sat. ‘That should soak up some of the alcohol.’
Heather was impressed. He’d done her steak, four eggs, bacon, mushrooms and baked beans.
‘The beans are imported from England,’ he said. ‘Most of our diners are Brit tourists. I got sick of them saying Australian Heinz beans aren’t the same, so I set up a standing order with a place in Brisbane. The ketchup’s imported too. So’s the HP Sauce.’
‘You’re too kind. I’ll never eat all this.’
‘I’m sure a girl who can outdrink Ox can cope with a snack like that.’ He laughed again. ‘I’m sorry for going about it, but you were the life and soul of the party last night. All the other bars must have been empty because everyone was in here. And it wasn’t just full of regular boozers. I saw faces last night that usually only come out at Christmas.’
‘You mean they were here to see me?’
‘You bet they were. The bush telegraph service in these parts is red hot. Word soon got round.’
Heather groaned. ‘I hope I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.’
‘No worries. You didn’t. Everybody was laughing with you, not at you.’
‘What was I doing, exactly?’
‘You were telling risqué jokes, mainly . . . and dancing on the tables.’
‘Get out of here. I only ever do slow, intimate dances. And I never dance on tables.’
Greg got out his mobile and pressed a few buttons. ‘Here, that’s the first of the slideshow.’
‘Good grief,’ said Heather. And, as she progressed from snap to snap, ‘I don’t believe this. You must have superimposed my head onto a raving nutter.’
‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘one in your clothes, with your legs and trainers.’
In most of the photos Heather was on her own on one table or another, apparently defying gravity. In others she had company. One guy in particular seemed to be homing in on her.
‘I dunno. He’s German or Dutch, I think. He was getting overfriendly so Trent put him out.’ Seeing her expression Greg grinned. ‘Is there a language problem?’
‘”Put out” can be pretty final in English English.’
‘It was nothing like that. Trent didn’t like the drongo anyway. He was inappropriate last weekend, with one of the barmaids. He can be pretty protective, Trent, so I kept my eye on him while he did it; fists were not used.’
‘So he barred the . . . the drongo and escorted him off the premises?’
‘In a nutshell, yes.’
Heather winced. ‘I’m sorry I lost you a customer.’
‘You don’t have to be sorry. Way I see it, we lost the one we didn’t want and gained a hundred. Our takings set all-time records.’
‘Speaking about takings, can you add this to my tab?’ She pointed at her now empty plate. ‘And the price of a bed, of course.’ Then, blushing a little under her tan, ‘Er, I got your bed, didn’t I? Where did you sleep last night?’
‘Through there, in the bar. There’s a bench seat that’s surprisingly comfortable. And don’t worry about tabs. You never started one and there’d be nothing on it anyway. You’ve still türbanlı escort got a dozen or so drinks paid on. If you ever come back, that is.’
‘I don’t think I dare show my face again, but thanks for letting me know.’
‘Trust me, Hev; you’ll always be welcome here. And a lot of folk will be upset if you don’t come back. Nearly everybody wanted to take you home with them.’
‘That happens quite often,’ she admitted, blushing again. ‘I’m only surprised I didn’t take anybody up on their offer.’
‘I stopped you more than once,’ said Greg, grinning. ‘I reckoned it was down to me to save you from yourself.’
‘Who put me in bed?’ Heather asked, suddenly remembering how her trainers had been left neat and unfastened, knowing she wouldn’t have left them like that herself.
‘Me and Izzy. She’s our regular barmaid. I’d have done it on my own, but I reckoned it was better to have a chaperone.’
Now Heather really was touched. ‘Thank you,’ she said sincerely. ‘You’ve been incredibly kind. Others might not have been so gentlemanly.’
‘Listen, you’re a beautiful woman. I’m not denying that. But I know about your girlfriend and all. This is just between you and me, never to be repeated to Trent, right?’
‘Right,’ she said, wondering what was coming.
‘She doesn’t advertise it, but my kid sister’s a lesbian. I know how she’d feel if some bastard took advantage while she was drunk. It happened to a friend of hers who attempted suicide over it. No way was I going to let that happen to you last night. And I’m not just saying that because she’d kill me if you got raped on my property.’
‘Thank you,’ Heather said again.’
‘Trent thinks the same way,’ said Greg. ‘He doesn’t even have a sister but, like I said, he can be very protective. And he’s more understanding than he lets on.’
‘Where is he? I’d like to thank him before I go.’
‘He’s gone to get your campervan.’ Greg held up a restraining hand. ‘I confiscated your keys early on. I do that for customers when they reach a certain level. It’s my community service, if you know what I mean. I see it as saving drivers from doing something they’d regret, looking after other road users . . . and taking care of my licence at the same time.’
‘I can’t argue with that,’ said Heather. ‘I’ve heard of landlords who do that back home. I wouldn’t have got behind the wheel, though. I hate drink drivers.’
‘Yeah, you told me that. But you were worrying about the car park.’
‘Yeah, Trent told you it gets expensive after twelve hours. I didn’t want you going and bailing it out.’
‘I wouldn’t have. Honestly. Money isn’t that tight.’
‘You probably didn’t look at the tariff. It’s expensive after twelve hours and after twenty-four it gets astronomical. That’s why Trent went when he did this morning. He should be back anytime now.’
‘Great. That’s something else to thank him for before I go.’
‘You’re not thinking of driving today, are you?’ For once Greg wasn’t laughing or grinning. ‘You didn’t hit the sack until three this morning. I’d rather you spent the afternoon on the beach. Your wheels will be safe enough on our car park. It’s free, too.’
Heather nodded. She had no real urge to go anywhere and even less to get breathalysed. She’d also lost the need to scarper. These two strangers had looked after her and taken her in. And, although he hadn’t mentioned it, she just might have been provocative when he tucked her in. Her in drink and in a bedroom? She’d probably suggested a threesome with the chaperone.
How gallant of him, she thought. Men aren’t all bastards after all.
‘Good thinking,’ she said aloud. ‘Am I okay to sleep in the van tonight? On your car park, I mean?’
‘You’re more than welcome to sleep out there until you jet off to Albany.’
‘Oh crap!’ Heather frantically patted her pockets. ‘Ingrid’s letter . . .’
‘Is in the middle till,’ Greg said. ‘Press No Sale and you can’t miss it.’
‘You trust me to go in your till?’
‘You’ve been in my bed and my shower. Why should I worry about a till?’
As Heather had expected, the six weeks ticket was not quite as flexible as Ingrid had made out. It was only valid for certain airlines, for one thing. And the flights from Cairns to Albany weren’t exactly ten-a-penny; leastways, not to the Albany she wanted. She could have got a flight to the one in New York State a whole lot easier.
Securing a place in ten days’ time she hit the beach, not bothering with her surfboard because there weren’t any waves. Then, around about six o’clock when the sun vanished, she went back to the bar.
And did it all again.
Well, she didn’t go totally over the top and did wake up in the campervan. But there were a few more blank spots and again it seemed wisest not to drive.
From then a pattern emerged. Moving on was always going to happen “tomorrow”. Except she’d have another late night and wake late morning, unfit and unwilling to drive. She’d shower and breakfast at Greg’s (using her own towel and toothbrush) then laze the day away on the beach. Greg was, she’d discovered, the senior partner in the bar’s ownership and he flatly refused to take payment for either service. In fact it was a battle to pay for her drinks on a night, what with him “forgetting” to charge and plenty of other customers including her in their rounds.