tagNovels and Novellas2. Illawarra Flame Ch. 13-15

2. Illawarra Flame Ch. 13-15



Maya didn't know where Tyler was and she didn't know where she stood with him. He had emailed her on Monday to tell her that he couldn't look after Nicholas on Wednesday, but that had been the extent of their communications. It didn't bode well.

She tried to go about her life without thinking about him, but it was futile. She could almost smell him her memories were so vivid. She could see his smile, feel his hair between her fingers, his body pressed against hers. She could still hear his deep grainy voice, 'Mayechka, you are so beautiful,' he had told her. She had felt so loved.

She was still reeling from the conversation they'd had on Sunday, she couldn't believe that it could be over. It had felt so strong, it had felt like nothing she'd ever experienced before.

It was Thursday morning and she was at work. He was supposed to leave for Australia tomorrow. She wondered what he was doing right now.

Her office phone rang.


"Maya, I have a Sam Watson on line one for you."

Sam? What was Sam doing calling her?

"Thank you Donna, put him through."

She heard the click of the line connecting.


"Hi, Maya? I'm sorry to call you at work."

"Not at all, what can I do for you?"

"Can we meet for lunch? I want to talk to you."

Her heart was racing. What did Sam want to talk to her about? Was he going to bitch her out for distracting Tyler? That didn't seem like his style.

She felt nervous when she showed up at the café that he wanted to meet at. She was wracking her brains, what could Sam want from her on the day before he was supposed to leave?

She spotted him inside reading over something at a table, his blonde head shaved close.

"Sam?" She felt unsure of herself as she approached him.

He was reviewing pages of mathematical formulas with a red pen. He smiled when he saw her and folded the pages up and slipped them neatly in his bag.

"Maya, hi."

She sat down opposite him.

"This is a bit awkward," he said.

She nodded.

"I need to ask you a favor. It's a big one."

"Okay." A favor? What sort of a favor could he want from her?

"It's Emma. I'm worried about her. She's feeling... fragile and I have to leave for Australia tomorrow."

"Okay. What can I do?"

"Well, I'm hoping that you might be able to check in on her and help with Grace and Zach."

She nodded. "Of course."

"There's more Maya. I don't know how to explain all of this..." He seemed hesitant. "My mother is coming to stay to help her with the kids."


"Emma and my mom have a history. I'm worried. You see..." His eyes left her for a moment as he searched for the words. He was really struggling with this. "Emma and I grew up together. We were raised as siblings. My mom is her mom... not genetically, but emotionally and legally."

"Oh." Maya tried to give a somewhat surprised but somewhat supportive reaction. Of course she knew all of this, but she didn't want to let on that Tyler had told her.

He was watching her carefully, his deep blue eyes scanning hers to try and gauge her response.

"Okay. I'm okay with that." She said.

Sam relaxed visibly. The poor guy, what it must be like to have to carry that around with you all the time.

"My mom, our mom, has a history of trying to intervene in our relationship. She's been getting better but I'm still worried, especially with Emma not feeling well."

"So you want me to go around to your house to check in on them, to make sure your mom's not trying to manipulate her?"

He nodded.

"Okay, I can do that."

He looked relieved. "Thanks Maya, it really means a lot to me. She says that she just wants to help and that she's trying to turn over a new leaf but I can't help but worry."

"Don't mention it. What do you want me to do if I think she's trying something on?"

"Um... I don't know. I guess email me." He thought about it. "Yeah, email me and cc Gray, our schedules will be different so he might get it before I would."

Now he had relaxed Sam was chatting easily. He was an odd personality. He was shy, sometimes it seemed painfully shy, but once he was comfortable with you he was chatty. It seemed that Maya had just transitioned into his comfort zone. He was complaining about having to go all the way to Sydney for the world championships when his wife was twenty-seven weeks pregnant.

"Gray says the weather is good so that's something at least."

The mention of Tyler snapped her back into the conversation. "Tyler already left?"

"Yeah he left on Monday. It was kind of sudden. He decided he wanted to get down there early to make sure he was over jetlag and all that stuff in plenty of time."

So he was already in Sydney. He was half a world away from her. Maya felt empty.

Maya ended up spending a lot of time with Sam's mom Judy over the next week. Maya couldn't help herself liking her, she was like Sam, she was guarded until she trusted you and then she couldn't stop talking. She was the most honest and forthright person she had ever met. Maya started leaving work early to take Grace and Nicholas to the park with Judy just to have more time to talk with her while Emma napped.

Judy had a peculiar way about her, she would look at you and you could see the cogs of her brain turning, and then she would say something that would blow your socks off. The first time she did that was when she admitted to her that she had tried to break up Sam and Emma. They were at the park, watching Nicholas and Grace climb around the jungle gym.

"Sam asked you to keep an eye on me didn't he?"

Maya considered how to proceed for a split second before nodding.

Judy looked at her carefully. She was thinking.

"My own son, my own flesh and blood, doesn't trust me... I can't say I blame him. I have tried every trick in the book to get his wife to leave him."

Maya was shocked. She didn't know what to say.

"There was never any point in trying to get Sam to change his mind, he's too much like me in that regard. Once he's made his mind up about something there is no changing it. I had to go after Emma, she was the only chance I had. I'm not proud of it.

"But I am what I am... I am a woman whose children fell in love with each other. It has taken me a long time to come to grips with that. I kept on asking myself, what does that say about me as a mother? Your kids aren't supposed to fall in love with each other, that's sick, it's perverted. Was I away at work too much? Did I drive them towards each other by my lack of attention? What should I have done differently?

"They always wanted to do everything together. I thought nothing of it at the time, to be honest I was relieved because it meant that there were fewer things that John and I would have to cart them around to. After we found out they were sleeping together I wondered if I should have insisted that they do things on their own, if I should have forced them to be more individualistic.

She leaned back into the bench and looked at the sky. "God, that day that I found them in bed together was awful."

"You found them in bed together?"

"Mm... On thanksgiving. My first thought was that Sam had raped her. I was so shocked. My brain could hardly keep up with what my eyes were seeing. Later, when they told us they were in love, I couldn't decide if that was better or worse. What does that say about me? One part of me thought it would be better if my son had raped my daughter than if they were in love with each other.

"For me, the only way I can accept it is if I acknowledge that Emma isn't my daughter, which is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I spent twenty-one years believing with all of my heart that she is my child. I delighted in her every accomplishment. I still remember the first day she said ma-ma, how I cried. I still remember how she would cling to me when I dropped her off at day care, how she would run to me yelling 'mommy' when I came back for her.

"When she got her first period I was the one she came to. I was the one who explained how to use a tampon. She was so scared, she trusted me when I comforted her and told her it would be okay. How can I forget all of that? Pretend it never happened? Those are some of the most important memories of my life, if I deny them, what is left? Am I still the same person?

"It has been a difficult journey for me, but I think I have finally accepted it. When they told us that they were pregnant it threw me for a loop, but I am trying. I want to be a good mother. I want to be in their lives."

Maya could see the emotion in her eyes and hear it in her voice. Judy wasn't acting. She really was struggling and trying her hardest to do the right thing. She was a good person who had been caught in a situation that was beyond her ability to cope with.

Judy wasn't the only one who spilled her guts. Maya told her everything. She told her about Hamid and his parents, she told her about her career aspirations and how she worried what effect they would have on Nicholas, she told her about Tyler.

"Give him a year," she advised. "Tyler's a smart guy, he'll figure it out. If he's still farting around this time next year get on with your life without him."

"Why a year?"

"I don't know, doesn't it just seem like a nice round number? I think there is something to be said for having a plan. Whether that plan is right or not doesn't really matter because plans almost never come to fruition, life always gets in the way. If you tell yourself one year it might make the day-to-day easier."

Maya could see the logic in her argument. She'd give Tyler a year.


The first thing that Tyler noticed when he got to Sydney was that the Illawarra Flame Trees were in bloom. He had known that they were native to Australia, but he hadn't realized that they would be on every other block, staring at him, accusing him, their red flowers dripping from their branches like blood from an open wound.

He felt like shit. All he could think about was Maya, what he had done to Maya. Tyler had always thought that he was basically a good person, but good people didn't pull that sort of shit. A good person would have seen how vulnerable she was and would have kept their distance. A good person wouldn't have tempted her and taken advantage of her when he knew that he couldn't give her what she really needed.

He tried valiantly to focus on swimming. People were starting to trickle in. The German team was already there when he arrived, then came the English, followed by the Swedes and the French, the US team arrived on Sunday. He found Sam and Nate and tried to settle into taper week. Usually he loved taper week, you got to ease off the training, giving you more time to relax and enjoy having time to think for a change.

But he wasn't enjoying the extra time, it just gave him more opportunities to realize the depths of his stupidity. He was sinking. He tried to snap himself out of it by doing tourist shit, he went into the city, he walked around the opera house, he sat beside the harbor then caught the ferry to go to the beach. He swam in the ocean, but even that didn't help.

Sydney was gorgeous, but the Australians were fucking nuts. Everywhere he went people recognized him. He wasn't used to this sort of fame, in the US he would be lucky to be recognized a few times a year, in Australia people were stopping him all the time. They wanted autographs for their kids, they wanted to talk to him about his swimming, they wanted to wish him good luck.

They'd punch him playfully in the arm and say something like, "Mate, I know you're a yank and all, but I'm still pulling for ya. You're better than that wanker Krantz."

And that was half of the problem, they were friendly and he wanted to be nice to them but he didn't understand what the fuck they were saying half the time. They were speaking English, but it was so bastardized that it was practically indecipherable. That, and every sentence sounded like a question to him. They had weird inflections.

He decided to rent a car and drive out into the country. He needed to get away. He wanted to be alone. The guy at the rental car company confused the hell out of him, he kept on talking about boots and bonnets, Tyler didn't understand what he was getting at. It took him ages to figure out that the boot was the trunk and the bonnet was the hood.

These were the sorts of things he usually loved, when this sort of shit happened he'd write an email to Josh about it and they'd make up some stupid joke that would become part of their vernacular for years. But not this time. This time it just annoyed him. He wanted to be someone other than who he was, and that person was not amused by these sorts of things.

He drove out into the country. He didn't really know where he was going but he didn't care, he'd gotten a GPS navigator so he would be able to get back to Homebush Bay, where the swimming venue was. He drove on the wrong side of the road, which was the right side in Australia. That is to say, he drove on the left hand side and it confused the hell out of him.

The countryside was gorgeous. Rolling hills, little farmsteads, big stands of eucalyptus. Dry creek beds crisscrossed the landscape haphazardly.

He kept on seeing signs for Devonshire tea. He had no idea what that was. Wasn't Devonshire in England? Finally his curiosity got the better of him and he pulled off the road and traveled up a dusty drive to a farmstead.

When he got out of the car a mangy little border collie came to greet him. Her tail whipped back and forth in excitement and her tongue lulled out the side of her mouth. She reminded him of Cassie.

He walked up the path, following the signs. It was a makeshift café of sorts. He saw a young boy sitting in the kitchen through a screen door. He came to the door and told Tyler he could sit in the kitchen or on the verandah.

"The verandah?" He asked.

'Yeah, you know, outside, here on the verandah," he said in a you-idiot kind of tone as he motioned to the front deck that they were standing on.

'Oh, okay, I'll sit outside."

He nodded and closed the screen door.

'Mum! There's some yank here who wants tea!' He yelled.

'Well put the kettle on, I'll be there in a jiffy." He heard from a woman's voice in the distance.

Tyler sat on the verandah and admired the view. The dog had followed him and was lying close to his feet. He got his camera out and took some photos, he might as well, he may feel like shit but this place was beautiful, maybe one day he'd be able to look at the photos and appreciate that properly.

After a while a middle-aged woman came out with a tray piled with tea fixings and scones with jam and whipped cream.

'Here you go love," she said as she set the tray down and transferred the contents onto the table in front of him.

She stood back to look at him and he saw her eyes go wide.

'Streuth!' She exclaimed. 'You must be on the American swimming team."

Ah fuck. Fucking Australians were obsessed with swimming. 'Yeah, I am," he admitted.

'Donny! Call down to the dairy and tell Haley to get her arse up here, lickity split." She yelled into the house.

'I'm sorry, my daughter would kill me if she knew that you'd been here and she didn't get to meet you. She loves to swim."

Tyler really wasn't in the mood for this, but what could he do? You can't go around shutting people down, you'd get yourself a reputation as an asshole that way.

'Sure, no problem," he said.

She went back inside the house. It was very quiet. The only sounds were the occasional twitter of a bird and the panting of the dog. Tyler let himself relax. The scones she'd brought out were amazing, they weren't like American scones, they were smaller, lighter and fluffier and not sweet. They were perfect with the jam and cream. He was going to need a lot more of these.

He saw a dust trail in the distance that grew as it moved towards the house. As it came closer he realized that it was a four-wheeler, there was a weedy looking girl riding it, no helmet, no safety equipment. She was riding like a bat out of hell.

She pulled up beside his rental car and ran up the front path. She was probably about Zach's age, maybe twelve years old. She was wearing a grotty sweater, jeans and rubber boots.

'Holy fuck, it is you," she swore.

'Haley! Language young lady," came her mother's voice from within the house.

She ran up the steps and sat down at the table with him. She smelled like shit. Not figuratively, she literally smelled like shit. Her fair hair was pulled back messily off her face and she had thick bangs and freckled skin.

'I want to swim the 200 breaststroke but they don't do that until you get to high school out in this little piece of shit town. I bet in the city all the other kids are already swimming it though."

This kid made him smile, she had such a potty mouth. 'Well, good luck with that," he said.

'Do you think you're going to get the record?" She asked.

He was honest with her. 'I don't know. I had thought so but I'm not sure anymore, I'm having trouble focusing."

'Fuck," she said.

'Hailey! Language."

Hailey rolled her eyes. 'Oh dear," she said sarcastically.

'Better," said her mother from behind the screen door.

Tyler laughed. He hadn't laughed in days, but this kid was funny.

'Well I think you can do it. I guess it doesn't really matter though, so long as you beat that poofter Krantz. Everyone hates that dickhead."

He heard Hailey's mom sigh and walk away. Obviously Hailey's colorful vocabulary was the source of some contention in their lives.

'Hey, do you want to see our dairy? Dad's putting in a new holding tank so it's a bit messy, but you'll get the idea."

Tyler was indifferent. He didn't really feel like hanging out with a twelve year old girl but he was curious, he wouldn't mind seeing a dairy. 'I don't know, shouldn't you ask you mom?"

'My mom...' she exaggerated the American accent and she laughed. 'Hey mum, can I take Tyler down to the dairy?" She yelled.

'Okay. See if dad's old boots will fit him."

Hailey got up and motioned for him to follow her around the side of the house. At the side door there were rows of shoes lined up. There was no way any of those shoes were going to fit him, he had a size seventeen foot and the biggest thing looked to be more like a size twelve or thirteen.

'Shit. We'll have to go down to Uncle Bob's place, he's got feet like a fucking yowie."

She yelled into the house where she was going and then led him down to the four wheeler. He sat on the back and held onto the rack behind him. He felt weird sitting this close to a kid he didn't know, there was no way he was going to hold onto her.

She tore down the hill and merged onto the road, traveling at the limit of the vehicle's ability. The next house was miles away. Tyler recognized that this wasn't a good idea. If he had to guess he'd say that he was traveling at about forty miles an hour, and he was on the back of a four wheeler with a kid he didn't know at the wheel without any safety equipment on. It was stupid, but it was liberating. It was wildly out of character for him to do something like this so close to an important race.

She didn't bother to knock on the door at Uncle Bob's house, she just went to the back and picked up a pair of rubber boots.

'Will these fit?"

'Maybe, let me see...' They did. It was snug, but they'd work.

He smelled the dairy before he saw it. Of course he didn't realize that was what the smell was until they got there. It was a long narrow building with a series of gates and railings that led to and from holding pens.

Tyler had never been to a dairy farm before. He wondered where the cows were but he didn't want to ask, he didn't want these people to know how much of a city boy he was.

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