"Dad, quick! Pull in here," Kylie cried, breaking the droning monotony of the off-road tyres on bitumen.
I stood on the brakes and heaved my Toyota Prado off the road to the right, bumping slowly onto the dirt track between the gates of a vineyard. The name on the sign had no significance to me, but none of these boutique wineries ever did. As we crawled up the long, winding drive, I couldn't see any of the usual signage, flags and fanfare that welcomed the pretentious masses to the cellar door.
"I don't know that they're open, Sweetheart," I offered as we pulled up outside the nondescript metal farm shed.
"It'll be all right," Kylie replied, "we order heaps of wine off these guys for the restaurant. They won't mind."
Kylie told me to wait in the car, and she skipped off into the shed to find someone. My eyes fell briefly on her cute little ass in those faded denim cut-offs as she bounced out of the sunlight in through the gaping roller door.
"Restaurant," I scoffed to myself with a shake of my head, as I continued to watch her. She'd been waitressing at an upmarket wine bar ever since she'd turned eighteen. It was the sort of place that charged upwards of $25 a glass, apparently perfectly matched to equally overpriced morsels of tapas. And in response to the celebrity chef craze, they'd expanded into ripping off the sharp elbows crowd for lunch and dinner too.
She stopped just inside the shed, and I could see her talking to someone who hadn't yet appeared in the doorway. She moved her hands in animated explanation, and her head tilted to the side, causing her mane of glossy auburn hair to wash across her back from one side to the other.
She extended her hand to the approaching stranger, now in my view. He looked about my height, a full head taller than Kylie. Although he seemed to have a good ten years on me, in his mid to late fifties. He took her hand, and rather than shake it, he pulled her in for a kiss on the cheek.
Kylie welcomed the attention, smiling brightly and brushing her free hand across her chest. She played with the buttons on the front of her shirt a few moments longer, with more smiles and head tilts, then turned to me and waved me over.
I introduced myself to Michael and thanked him for seeing us when he was obviously closed.
"Oh, it's no problem at all," he explained. "I've always got time for Kylie. She's one of my best customers." Then to her, "I just can't believe it's taken so long to finally meet you in person. How long have you been buying off me?"
"I've only been working at the restaurant for nine months," she replied.
"God! It feels like a lot longer than that." He shook his head and asked Kylie if she was going to place another order for the restaurant.
"Oh no. Dad and I are going camping up in the National Park for a few days. I just saw the sign on the gate, and thought I'd pop in to say hello." Then she smiled and fingered the button that was struggling to hold her shirt together across her heavy breasts. "And maybe pick up a case or two."
Michael chuckled knowingly, and ushered us over to a rustic timber bar in the front corner of the shed. It was a functional affair, with half a dozen miss-matched stools in front. Behind the unfinished hardwood counter, shelf after shelf overflowed with countless wine bottles, all sporting the same label. A quick scan around the interior of the vast shed saw bottles give way to neatly stacked boxes stamped with the same logo, and eventually row after row of towering oak wine barrels.
I turned back, passing my gaze discreetly across Kylie's toned thighs, which were crossed alluringly under the bar. Michael poured an inch of white wine into the last of three glasses that were lined up on the bar in front of us.
"This is last year's savvy," Michael announced, as Kylie swirled her glass in front of her face and lifted it to her nose.
I watched her slowly close her eyes and breathe in the aroma of the wine. Then she lowered the glass to her full lips, which parted slowly to take in the rim. Kylie held the wine in her mouth for a moment, moving it around her tongue, tasting it fully. It was a seductive sight to be sure, and I caught myself holding my own breath as the tip of her tongue flicked across her lips as she swallowed.
Conscious not to stare, I focussed my full attention into my own tasting glass, and threw it down like a shot of something much harder. "Mmm, that's not bad."
Kylie wrinkled her nose and glared at me with those steel grey eyes. Her expression said it all: shut up, Dad, you're embarrassing me.
Michael hadn't noticed my philistine behaviour, or at least hadn't been rude enough to react to it. He instead was enjoying the delicacy of my daughter's oral performance.
Kylie pushed her glass away, leaving the lion's share of the sample swirling gently in the bottom. "Have you still got any of the 2009?"
"You're a tough one," Michael smiled. "It was a bit wet last year. I should have known better than to try and sneak that one past you."
He lined up three fresh glasses and splashed another tiny sample into each from a new bottle. I took my time with the second tasting, holding it in my mouth a little longer, before swallowing it down.
"Mmm, I think I prefer the first one. It's a bit sweeter." But really, what the fuck did I know? I would have preferred a beer.
There was no wrinkled nose this time. The look I got from Kylie was one hundred per cent stink eye. Her impatiently bobbing hiking boot completed the picture.
I kept going, trying to find some safe ground, "Have you got any pinot noir?"
"Sorry, mate," Michael replied, as Kylie tasted the 2009. "We just do sauvignon blanc here."
"Oh don't mind him," she apologised. "Pinot's the only one he can remember from the degustation I dragged him too a few months ago. He's more beer and nachos.
"That, however," she took another slow, seductive sip, "is beautiful. How much have you got left?"
"Actually, we're coming to the end of that one. The Hilton in Sydney nearly cleaned me out." Michael went on, telling her all about his monster order and other wine-related business.
I gestured at the first bottle still sitting on the bar, and Michael expertly poured me a full glass as he spoke to my daughter. I didn't need to look at her to know she was rolling her eyes.
"You know, the thing about wine," Michael said, pouring Kylie and himself a full glass from the second bottle, "is that it's all down to how much you enjoy it. All the rest of it...it's just bullshit."
I laughed and held my glass out to his. "To bullshit."
Michael clinked my glass, repeating the toast. Then he touched his glass to Kylie's with a silent nod, while she beamed at him.
I went to offer mine to Kylie, but she had already lifted it to her lips. I returned my attention to my own wine, and slowly nursed it during their inane conversation about tannins, oaky lingers and other pretentious nonsense.
After lots of flirting and feigned offence, Kylie had arranged to buy three boxes of the treasured 2009 sauvignon blanc. I balked at the six hundred dollars that she had negotiated him down to, especially as it came off my credit card, but what was I going to do?
We each carried a box of twelve bottles out to the car, loading them onto the floor in the rear foot well. And as I was rearranging some of the camping gear, Michael returned with a fourth box. I could see from the date printed on it, that it was my favourite from last year.
"This one's on me," Michael smiled. "To bullshit."
"Oh," Kylie groaned, with her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side. "Don't encourage him."
I thanked him warmly, shaking his hand, then climbed in behind the wheel. As I clicked on my seatbelt, I watched Kylie hug him in the rear view mirror, pressing her breasts into his chest and planting a kiss on his cheek. It had been a while since she was that warm and affectionate with me.
Then again, I suppose that was my fault.
Once we were back out on the highway, Kylie broke the silence, "Oh my God. That was such a good deal."
"Sweetheart, that was six hundred dollars. For only three dozen bottles."
"Dad," she explained, now more serious, "we sell that for ninety-five dollars a bottle at the restaurant. Michael can easily sell a single box for six hundred."
"Exactly. And why did you think we bought three?" The question was of course rhetorical. "Now that he's sold out to the Hilton, I can give one of our boxes to the restaurant, and Andrew will give me six hundred for it. Hell, if it's the last box, he'll give me eight." She snorted to herself. "He'll probably sell it for a hundred and fifty a bottle now. Anyway, you get your money back, and I get two dozen bottles of the best savvy I've ever tasted."
"Fuck me! That's amazing," I replied.
"You sound surprised. Don't you think I know what I'm doing?"
"I guess it's hard for me to accept that my little girl's growing up," I offered. "I mean, look at the size of those tits."
Kylie shot me the filthiest look she had in her arsenal, her head snapping around so fast, I thought she gave herself whiplash.
"What?" I pleaded. "It's from that movie. You know, Vampires Suck, or Breaking Wind, or something? It was the best one of those Twilight movies"
Her glare faded, but she kept staring at me with disbelief.
"Oh get fucked. That was funny." I said dryly.
Kylie shook her head to herself, then turned away to look out her side window. But I still caught it. That smile she tried to hide from me. I could always rely on her filthy sense of humour.
I snorted a laugh to myself. I had finally managed to put a crack in her armour.
"What?" She turned back to me.
"Oh, I was just thinking about the dad in that movie. You know, when she finds the blow-up doll in her room. He says, 'I put it in a warm bath for fifteen minutes before I use it so it isn't creepy.'"
"Oh, that is so wrong," Kylie laughed.
We both laughed, trading funny lines from that and other tasteless movies. But before long, the laughter gave way to silence, as the valley of farms gave way to national park, and the clear blue sky gave way to clouds, and then torrential rain.
"Well, camping in the rain should be fun," I mused as we pulled onto another dirt track, or more accurately, mud.
"Yeah, there's nothing like being trapped in a tent together for a week to bring us closer together," she said sarcastically.
"I'm glad your mother suggested it."
"I'm glad we've got the wine," she retorted with a smile.
"Come on, it'll be fun. Just like we used to. How long's it been?"
"Five years." There was no emotion in her voice anymore.
We were silent for a while, as I nursed the Toyota down a steep track towards the river.
"Wait a minute," I argued. "Remember the last time? We had to hurry back for your fifteenth birthday."
"Okay then: nearly four." Her tone told me she was done on the subject.
I pulled up as the track disappeared into the river, the heavily wooded mountains looming ominously above us. It wasn't a big deal, I'd done this crossing dozens of times over the years, often in less capable cars than what I had now. But the water was flowing a lot faster than I ever remembered it.
The white noise of the driving rain on the roof competed with the roar of the river in front of us. The whole time, the sound of the wipers on full bore fought to be heard above the din.
I stole one more glance at Kylie's shapely thighs, then lifted my foot off the break and eased the nose into the fast flowing river. It was always a bit unnerving driving into water, but if I kept us pointed at the track on the opposite bank, I knew we'd be all right.
A thick, white foaming bow wave formed around us, before being carried off downstream on my side of the car. We were getting buffeted a little, but I could see the water was only half way up the body of the Prado. But we were still going down slightly. About a third of the way across, I saw the water in front of us glow as the headlights dipped below the waterline.
"Are we okay?" Kylie asked in response to the car being rocked more violently in the deeper water.
"As long as the water doesn't come up over the bonnet, we'll be fine," I replied.
I began to wonder whether I should have bought the Landcruiser instead. It was a more serious four wheel drive than the Prado, and if I'd got the optional snorkel, it could have coped with having its engine dunked. As it was though, we seemed to pass the centre point of the river, with the water only coming up to just short of the window line. We were heading up, much to the relief of both of us.
Then, about three quarters the way across, we lurched violently to the right, my side of the car dipping down sharply about forty-five degrees. The fast flowing river started pushing us over.
"Daddy!" Kylie's hand shot up to the grab handle on the pylon in front of her as our world tilted sideways
I threw the steering wheel to the right in an effort to throw the Toyota's weight back into the oncoming river, and gunned the engine to get more force behind it.
It worked, the car tipping back upright. But we were well off the track and now driving with the flow of water. I stomped on the brakes, but it was too late.
The bonnet plunged down beneath the river. The entire windscreen filled with white foam, then murky green water. But we were stopped.
"Oh God, Daddy!"
"It's all right, Sweetheart," I assured her, tapping at the inch or two of daylight at the top of the windscreen, "we're not all the way under. And we can still get out the back."
I could see it from the mirror, but Kylie spun around in her seat to see nothing but grey sky out the rear window.
"It's okay," I reassured her. And we exchanged a nervous smile.
Despite not having a snorkel, I noticed that the engine was somehow still running. I quickly threw it into reverse and planted my foot on the accelerator. But the miracle came coughing and spluttering to a halt as the engine sucked in nothing but water. We were done.
She was looking to me now for what to do. I told her to crawl out the back of the car, but to wait before opening the tailgate.
She unclipped her seatbelt and nimbly climbed up between the front seats. I followed her as she scrambled over the back seats, my view filled with the perfect vision of her ass mere inches in front of my face.
She waited for me in the rear compartment, perched on top of all our camping gear. I asked her how it looked outside as I squeezed up beside her.
"It looks like a river," she said with confusion.
"No, Sweetheart. Is there any debris or anything floating towards us?"
"Oh, no. There's nothing. It's clear."
"Okay then, out we go," I said, not quite able to get myself to the window.
Kylie swung the rear door open. But as soon as she did, water splashed up from the rear bumper and poured into the car. She screamed, but I urged her on, pushing her out with my hand firmly on her ass. She tumbled, half falling out the back of the car, but quickly gaining a footing.
"Fuck that's cold!" she complained, standing in waist-deep water at the rear of the car. The rain was well on its way to soaking her hair and shirt, causing both to cling to her body.
I was quickly out beside her, equally unhappy with the temperature of the water. I grabbed the tent and sleeping bags from the back, and thrust them at Kylie and ordered her to the closest bank. I heaved the esky to the edge of the boot, and piled on the blow-up mattress, foot pump, a tarp and some rope. Then power lifting the load, I used my body to push the rear door closed before following Kylie to the shore.
"Get that tent set up as quick as you can," I puffed, stepping up onto the bank.
"No, up there," I replied, pointing to a grove of trees on a small plateau about fifty metres up a steep slope to our right. "The river might burst its banks overnight. We want to be high up."
Kylie struggled up the slope, slipping a few times on the wet grass, but she stayed on her feet and got to the level ground up ahead. For me, however, the climb was a lot harder. I was in a painful shuttle crawl, heaving my load an arm's-length up the slope, then crawling on my knees to follow it.
When I got to our camp site, I saw that Kylie already had the tent laid out near the grove of eucalypts, and was threading one of the flexible poles through the sleeve. She'd wrapped the waterproof fly around the sleeping bags to protect them from the rain, and I shoved the inflatable mattress in under the bundle when I dropped my load. When I got to her, she had already started threading the second pole, and I jumped in and guided it through the gap at the top of the dome tent, before threading it back down my side.
With the poles crossed in an X, we both clipped the open ends into the rings at each corner, and the blue dome rose out of the grass in one, graceful motion.
"That's a mighty fine barn, English," I said in what I suppose was more of an Irish accent, as I grabbed the mattress and sleeping bags to throw inside.
"The Simpsons?" Kylie asked with a furrowed brow, as she caught the corner of the fly I threw to her.
"Witness, Gen Y" I said indignantly. "With Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. She was fine."
"The chick from Top Gun."
"How about something that was made after I was born?" she laughed, now in a crouch, securing the fly and hammering the pegs into the ground through the rings.
"Never mind," I sighed. "You right here? I'll see what else I can salvage."
She waved me away with a nod of her head, and I slid back down to the river on my ass, before wading back over to the car. The water had well and truly got inside, with more splashing in through the open rear door. All our clothes and other soft items were drenched, although I did manage to recover a couple of dry towels from on top of the fishing gear. With those over my shoulder, I grabbed the portable Webber barbeque and made my way back to Kylie.
Hauling the awkwardly shaped Webber and its stand up the slope nearly killed me. But when I crested the ridge, I was rewarded with the sight of Kylie tying off the last corner of the tarp around one of the nearby trees. She was reaching up on her tip toes, the bottom of her shirt pulled out from the waistband of her shorts, revealing her sexy taut stomach. Her sopping buff shirt was almost transparent, clinging to her lean frame. And the little rivulets of water cascading down her body took my breath away.
I brought the barbeque in under the tarp, and got about setting it up on its frame. Kylie came in out of the wet, brushing the excess water from her shirt. I tried not to stare as her hands brushed down across her breasts and stomach, but I just couldn't pull my eyes off her. Even when I snapped my fingers painfully in the frame, I kept leering.
"What about the gas bottle?" Kylie asked between chattering teeth.
That was what finally snapped me out of my fixated inspection of the lacy frills across the top of her bra, visible through her waterlogged shirt. I spun around and looked down at the Toyota, ass up in the river. "Oh fuck."
"Come on then," Kylie laughed, "I'll give you a hand.
I made her wait on the bank, as I waded back in to retrieve the gas bottle for the Webber. And when I came trudging back to her, she asked me to go back for the wine, complete with pouting lips and puppy dog eyes.
I only grabbed three of the four boxes in the end, before hip checking the rear door shut and heading for slightly les wet land, rolling my eyes the whole way.
Another bastard climb up to the camp site had me disgorging my shipment of wine in the tent, next to the esky and other items we'd saved. While back out under the tarp, Kylie was crouched down, hooking up the gas bottle to the Webber.