Horsewoman Julie Larcombe returns to her family in Australia to recuperate after an accident. Her partner was to follow - he doesn’t - leaving Julie confused and bereft. When Julie is asked to housesit an exceptional house and horse property her family descend to enjoy the gym, spa, media room and wine cellar. Julie is asked to re-train a horse with the help of French eventer Tomas Fournier. They become involved. Julie’s ex-partner finally locates her and she finds out her family have conspired to keep them apart. This is a story about family, conflict, forgiveness and enduring love.
* This is an updated version of what first appeared in the Writing a Novel Anthology 2016.
Sunday, 31st January - Day 2 – 12.00pm
The dogs and horses were fed and exercised. Hot and sweaty I walked back to the house relishing the thought that I had two hours before I needed to leave for the going-away party. Thankfully it wouldn’t be another late night. Jessica and Luke were driving to Byron Bay on Monday morning at 4 am. Luke was starting his plumbing job in two weeks. They were planning to take a week to drive there, then a week to settle themselves into their new home.
I estimated it would take about twenty minutes to construct the trifle and the potato salad, my contribution to the family feast. For the first time in six months I had the time to indulge myself with a bath. On the way back to the house I checked the water, there were two full tanks, one half tank and one empty. If it hadn’t rained in the next eight weeks I would organise Uncle Geoff to fill the tanks.
Rain was one of the things I had loved most about living in Scotland. Rain was a commodity they had in abundance. No automatic two-minute alarm went in your head as you showered. Baths could be filled with hot water, not just used for collecting dirty laundry. The skies were grey the grass was green, the seasons clearly delineated. Cold weather was an excuse to curl up together. We had curled up together whatever the weather. Mac always said there was no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. One of our favourite pastimes was shedding layers.
Auntie Juliet, Auntie Juliet. Auntie JULIET!
I sat up as I heard Gemma’s shouts. Water sluiced around me as I scrambled out of the high-sided bath. Believing I was going to be alone I had blithely opened the bathroom blinds, uncovering the expanse of glass sliding doors. The bath was cleverly angled towards the manicured garden and the scenic treed landscape. It was an idyllic idea to luxuriate in the scented waters of an oversized high backed bath, while gazing out into the garden. Unless of course you are disturbed and find yourself naked and clumsily slithering over the side of the bath, knowing your niece could be scrutinising your naked behind.
I squatted on all fours, hiding on the opposite side of the bath to Gemma. I pulled the only towel from the rail attached to the wall, to find it was a bath mat. Gemma was now knocking on the window.
There was always a sense of urgency where Gemma was concerned. We were all conditioned to care for her from her birth. Wracked with colic she screamed for the first six months of her life. We all walked her. We all rocked her, willing the pain away, so we could sleep. Her father conveniently found a job in the Western Australian mines and he stayed there. He left Bree with four children under six-years-old to contend with. Mum and Dad stepped in and built Bree a four-bedroom house attached to our garage, which was attached to our house. Bree’s family literally became an extension of ours. Bree and her children appeared and I disappeared. No longer a child or youngest sister to my three older siblings. I was relegated to unpaid babysitter and nursemaid. There were “real children” in the house next door. I was thirteen when they moved in- the same age as Gemma is now.
Gingerly I stood up trying to work out how to position the bath mat. My large warm fluffy bath towel was sitting on the cabinet next to the sink, directly in front of Gemma.
‘I’m here Auntie Juliet.’ Goofy Gemma was standing in front of the bathroom’s glass door waving with one hand, Jack’s wriggling body under her other arm. I turned my small mat vertically, holding it parallel to my body with my fingertips. Resentment washed over me. This girl was the bane of my life.
‘I’ll be with you in a minute,’ I snapped. I reversed into the walk-in-robe and scrambled into my dusty, sweaty track pants and t-shirt. My hair was tucked into a shower cap, a deep hair conditioner working it’s magic.
Instead of opening the bathroom door to let Gemma in I decided to walk through the house to give my irritation a chance to dissolve. My plan had been to return to my apartment, and for the first time since returning home to Australia, I was going to put on a dress and makeup. I had a delicate, silk peacock coloured, short shift dress in the wardrobe. Now, I would need to shower before I dressed.
I was considering which route to take around the expansive house, calculating the longest I opened the bedroom door to find Gemma standing there.
‘Hi Auntie Juliet,’ she grinned at me. Jack’s head swivelled around, ears pricked, his white cataract eyes un-seeing. The old Westie was trying to find his bearings. Gemma was struggling to hold him. I bent down and plucked Jack from her arms. I held him to me cooing, ‘It’s okay Jack.’ I rubbed the top of his head and around his ears, as he relaxed I felt a stream of urine run down my T-shirt and warm my stomach.
‘Why are you here?’ I glared at Gemma.
‘STOP calling me Auntie Juliet! Call me Julie, like everyone else.’
‘But Mum said I had to call you Auntie Juliet out of respect to my Great Grandmother Juliet.’
Of course she did. My big sister Bree’s main role in life was pushing my buttons.
‘Why are you here?’ I brushed past Gemma to take Jack back to the laundry.
‘Mum said you wanted me to look after Jack. I can’t. He has to stay here.’
I turned and looked down at my annoying niece. I moved Jack under my other arm, so he wouldn’t be lying against my urine soaked t-shirt. ‘If he stays here he has to be put to sleep,’ I said flatly.
Gemma’s jaw dropped, she squeaked. ‘Why? He didn’t mean to pee on you. I’ll wash your shirt. I’m sorry.’
‘It’s nothing to do with me. Lily has had enough of Jack stinking out her laundry. She wants him gone. Your mum thought you might look after him. If you don’t want to then it will have to be Plan B.’ I knew I was being a shit. I turned and strode away from her.
‘Auntie Juliet Nooo’ I heard a thud and looked behind me to see Gemma flat on the floor. Her manic mass of strawberry blonde curls and fuzz looked like a circular mop spread across the carpeted hallway. Resentment and anger replaced irritation. I looked at my watch. I had just over an hour and a half remaining. I had to clean up Jack, have a shower, rinse out my hair, dress and finish the trifle and the potato salad. I did not want to deal with a dramatic 13 year-old. Jack and I decided to keep walking.
Bacterial wipes were used to wipe down Jack. I gently put him back on his hammock bed. He put his nose up to the cool air blowing onto him from the fan and settled down.
I went over to my apartment, locked the bathroom door and stepped into the shower. My stomach was cleansed with body wash. I washed out the conditioner then brushed out my wet hair. I pulled on a clean pair of track pants and T-shirt and made my way back to the house. Gemma was sitting in the laundry next to Jack patting him, tears streaming down her face.
She sobbed, ‘Auntie Juliet, I would love to look after Jack, but he doesn’t want to leave Jo Jo and Jinty. They’re his reason for living. They brought him back to life. He has to look after them. He loves them.’
I kept walking. I could hear her scrambling to her feet to follow me. I was almost at the kitchen when I heard ‘Auntie Juuu…’. Thud.
Her mop head was covering the wooden floorboards. I looked at the soft leather sofa and made my way to the main bathroom to find towels to protect it. A huge striped beach towel was on the top shelf of the cupboard, I pulled it down, returned to the living room, stepped over Gemma, who had started groaning and laid the towel over the sofa. Scooping Gemma up I plonked her on the sofa.
‘Auntie Juliet,’ she whispered.
‘It’s fine Gemma. Don’t worry, I’ll find a solution for Jack. I understand he doesn’t want to leave the girls.’ Gemma was correct. Jack came to life when I brought Jo Jo and Jinty from the dog run into the laundry each night. The first thing they did was look for Jack to lick and nuzzle him. His bed was in front of the area fenced off for the girls. He was their very ancient protector. He had lived here all of his life, it would be cruel to move him.
‘Auntie Juliet, I’m bleeding,’ Gemma quietly informed me.
My heart sunk. Bree was going to kill me. I guiltily, gently, lifted up her mass of dags. How the hell would you brush this hair? It would need to be shorn. I pushed my fingers through her locks trying to find warm sticky fluid. There was no blood on her face.
‘No Auntie Juliet, it isn’t on my head. I must have cut myself on my saddle. The top of my leg is bleeding. I keep fainting. I don’t feel well. My stomach hurts.’
I looked at the anaemic child and realised what she was telling me.
Thirty minutes later Gemma was settled in front of the television. She had sobbed into my shoulder, telling me how she didn’t want Jessica to leave her. She had never been without Jess. She didn’t want Jessica to go to Byron Bay. She thought her sore stomach was because she hadn’t been eating. She had been told about menstruation at school, but she didn’t think it had anything to do with her.
Thankfully, part of my horse medical box contained sanitary towels. They were a quick fix for a leg injury, a cut or to use as a poultice.
I called Bree to tell her what had happened.
She said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll come to you.’ Then she hung up.
Sunday 31st January – Day 2 – 2pm…
Gemma was sitting watching the TV in the media room when our family arrived. Blu Ray Avatars were racing around the larger than necessary screen, a louder than necessary noise was booming through the surround sound speakers.
Jessica made a beeline for Gemma, Luke close behind her. Gemma’s two brothers Taj and Jai muscled in on the sofa beside her, less interested in their sister than the size of the TV screen and the DVD being played.
My mum, dad, Bree, my two brothers, their wives, their five children, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and then a raft of friends filed into Lily’s house, fifty or more people. They all marvelled at the living area, the turret, the scenic view of the dam, the hill, the horses, the highland cows. The wall of windows looked like an enormous landscape painting, where the trees swayed in the breeze, and horses and cows meandered in and out of view.
The females of the party found Gemma, they touched her shoulder, hugged or kissed her, everyone assured her “she’d be right”, even though most didn’t know what was wrong with her. Gemma rested her head on her big sister’s shoulder, Jessica’s guests and party forgotten as they shared they epic movie together.
Jean has always had a passion for writing and reading. Her property, dogs, horses and highland cows are the inspiration for her completed romantic comedy The House Sitter. The Faber Writing Courses have also helped Jean complete her middle-school manuscript. She has a further five projects to bring to fruition.
* If you are interested in contacting the author:
Ph: 0417 030 475