HAMILTON ISLAND, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA.
As she jogged the slope to the resort island’s peak, Kasey Bowman ignored the sweat dripping off her brow and soaking the lycra body suit. She worked her shoulders knowing her legs would follow, grateful for the gusty breeze that cooled her clammy skin.
The winding trail of sea-blown scrub and stunted eucalypts dissected the island at its ridgeline, and although the gravel had been graded smooth for emergency vehicles she watched for loose rock or uneven surface. Eighteen months ago, not paying attention, she had twisted her spine, temporarily displacing a disc. Keep running, the specialist had warned, and you could be walking with a stick at forty.
But that wasn’t enough to make her stop. She’d go insane without her running.
Patrick, on the other hand, was not a morning person and not a jogger, so almost two hours ago she had quietly slipped from his bed. At this early hour the trail was usually deserted, as most resort guests slept in after a long day visiting the reef, snorkelling, yachting, jet skiing, eating and drinking, and loving.
Perfect time for a run.
Normally, jogging put her mind in a state that allowed her to run through the pain and free herself from whatever was bothering her. But this morning she had struggled unsuccessfully to get into the zone. There was too much on her mind.
Reaching the top of the hill, she gazed out across the serene waters of Whitsunday Passage, its milky blue dotted by distant islands and tiny white sails, where Pelicans rode air currents like sky surfers. Overhead, squawking gulls were drowned out by the roar of an aircraft, signalling the arrival of the first flight of the day from Brisbane.
She had anticipated the vacation would allow her to find inspiration from exploring the trails, swimming the balmy waters, and snorkelling the reef. Time and space to sort out the chaos at work and in her personal life. Not that she was running, she reassured herself. She wasn’t one to shy from confrontation. Just that she needed to feel in control, and inside the tornado of her life she felt anything but.
Dave, the guy she had been dating for three months, wanted a commitment that she didn’t feel able to give. It worried her that already the divorced attorney was talking about marriage and kids. She liked Dave, but whatever it was she felt for him, it didn’t feel like love. Not like with Patrick.
At work, she was frustrated after prosecuting her second case in twelve months where a jury had let a killer go free. Her boss thought she wasn’t cut out to be a prosecutor.
But her expectations of tranquillity and solitude had been quickly dashed when on the second night at a trivia competition she had sat at the same table as Patrick Lawson, an American widower who had just moved to Australia with Anna, his shy fifteen-year-old daughter. Kasey had been unexpectedly drawn to Patrick’s charm and open smile, which contrasted with the hint of sadness in his deep blue eyes. She liked the way he was close to his daughter, although Anna barely said a word. Kasey met them again next day during a day cruise to Whitehaven Beach, where they snorkelled and walked the brilliant white beach together. At the end of the excursion they arranged to meet the next day.
And the next. And the one after that.
They parted each afternoon, until on the fourth day Patrick insisted that she join them for dinner. That night, a spectacular thunderstorm hit the island. Pounding rain, crashing thunder and bolts of lightning were an entirely appropriate setting for a night of intense and desperate love-making. Every night after that she went to Patrick’s bungalow after Anna was asleep, leaving before dawn for a run and arriving back in time for breakfast. If Anna knew what was going on, she didn’t say.
Kasey never imagined anyone could fall so madly and deeply in love that quickly, let alone her. She wasn’t normally one to make hasty decisions. And there was still an air of mystery about Patrick that she couldn’t quite figure out. It only intrigued her more. She felt an underlying sense of guilt about Dave, but for the first time in a relationship she had allowed her heart to rule her head. She had determined that whatever happened on the island was hers to enjoy. Everything was just for here and now.
Or was it?
She still found it hard to believe that she’d blurted out to Patrick two nights ago that she felt like she was falling in love with him. Later the same evening he had reciprocated, as they lay on the day bed outside the bungalow. He seemed self-conscious, almost embarrassed, when he admitted to her that he, too, had fallen in love.
She lifted her feet one at a time onto the bench seat to stretch her calves, taking deep breaths as she prepared for the descent. Refreshed by the stiffening breeze, she started back down the track, excitement building as she anticipated Patrick’s reaction when she told him about the idea forming in her head. It was outrageous and radical, but it had given her renewed motivation to continue her advocacy for victims of crime, despite the weaknesses in the system. She couldn’t wait to share the concept over breakfast.
She postponed the need to think through how to explain falling in love with Patrick to Sandie, her best friend since high school. Sandie would not approve, and she would have to deal with the fallout with her and Dave on her return. Hopefully, when she got to know Patrick, Sandie would come to understand.
Nearing the resort, Kasey crossed in front of an electric golf cart and cut across the lawn and along a boardwalk to the beach. The sun hung higher in the sky, its warmth bathing her skin, drying the sweat. A shadow passed overhead, a magnificent white sea eagle circling, vigilant for its morning feed.
Ditching her runners, Kasey waded into the calm lagoon. The water was warm where the incoming tide had washed over the hot sand. She swam back and forth a few times then stood up, wiping the water from her eyes as she strode out onto the beach. The Lycra clung so tight she might as well have been naked, but she didn’t have far to walk to the bungalow.
A distant roar signalled the departure of the seven o’clock flight to Brisbane. Such a beautiful island, she thought, it was going to be sad to leave. Today, she and Patrick would need to sit down and plan the logistics, and hopefully Patrick would agree to settle somewhere close by.
She hadn’t felt this happy for years.
Reaching Patrick’s bungalow, she rinsed the sticky sand off her feet and opened the glass sliding door. Inside things were still quiet, bedroom doors closed, like most of the other mornings after she had returned from her run. She went into the bathroom and had a quick shower to rinse off the salt.
“Hey, guess what…” she said, nudging open his bedroom door, wrapped in a towel.
The bed was empty.
She looked around the room. His suitcase wasn’t there. His clothes weren’t draped over the furniture. Picking at her nails, feeling a little giddy, Kasey hurried out and pushed open Anna’s bedroom door.
The hollow in her stomach became sickeningly terrifying.
Anna’s room was also empty.
She grabbed the phone beside the bed. Dialled nine.
A woman answered in a cheery voice. “Reception, good morning.”
“Cleaner. Has Mr. Lawson checked out?”
A clacking keyboard, and a few moments later: “He and his daughter were on the seven o’clock flight out. You can start the clean. Did they leave something behind?”
“No, no, just checking. I thought he was booked for another week.”
“Yeah, he paid for it too…must’ve had a bloody good reason to leave ‘cause he didn’t get a refund.”
The woman hung up, leaving her staring at the handset.
The nausea worsened, and she went to the bathroom. Sipped some water and splashed her face. Surely, she thought, the whole thing hadn’t been a dream, had it? She went into Patrick’s room again and slumped down on the bed and buried her face in his pillow. She could still smell the warm, fresh scent of him. An uncontrollable trembling began. She could visualise them here on the bed last night, his body moving against hers. Slow, then faster, then slow again. Yet he must have been booked on that flight, knowing he would be leaving as he made love to her. It didn’t make sense.
No, this couldn’t be happening.
Was she just a holiday fling? Was Patrick really planning to settle in Australia? Was he really a library IT manager, whose wife and son had been killed in a car crash? Questions, questions.
Then anger began to surface. He must have just been using her. Leading her on with the false charm of a Hollywood movie actor.
She sucked at a strand of hair as she tried to think rationally. No, his body hadn’t been lying about his feelings for her, she was sure of that. Yet something must have scared him off. She went back over the last few days. Had he been scared off by her talk of love? Possibly. After all, hadn’t she been put off by Dave’s overly enthusiastic overtures. And it was less than a year since Patrick had lost his wife and son. Maybe he wasn’t ready to move on? But even if that was true, why leave without a word like that? He had hurt her. Badly. She’d experienced love for the first time, only to have it torn from her. He might as well have taken a knife to her heart.
Nobody deserved to be treated like that.
She gave up trying to rationalise and let herself cry it out until she felt dead enough inside to move. Glancing at the bedside clock she realised she’d been lying there for hours. As she was leaving, she noticed a scrap of paper near the fake orchid on the coffee table. From the trivia night, she recognised Anna’s handwriting:
Sorry Kasey ☹