Allie woke up just as the first rays of the sunrise were illuminating the sky as if it were igniting a perfect flame. Closing the curtains had been completely forgotten, something Allie didn't really mind as she watched the first rays of sunlight spill through the large windows. Turning her head to the side she expected to see Bea still fast asleep, instead she was just laying silently beside her staring up at the ceiling.
“You know you wake up far too early.” Allie said a little louder than a whisper as she turned on her side. “How long have you been laying there wide awake?”
Bea turned her head and smiled back at her. “Not that long really.”
Allie wrapped her arm around her and pulled her in closer, holding onto her tightly for a few moments. Bea always knew when Allie was worried about something, nothing had changed from the previous night but she'd wait. Allie pulled herself up to rest on her elbow and looked down at Bea who didn't appear to be in much of a hurry to move. Leaning down she pressed a kiss to the centre of her forehead, the tip of her nose then her lips. “I think I'll go for a shower.” She whispered after she trailed kisses along Beas jaw. Sitting up properly she swung her legs off the bed and stretched before getting up. As she walked to the bathroom she glanced back over her shoulder. “You could always join me.” She grinned before disappearing.
Allie turned on the water in the shower, looking in the mirror she looked at the reflection looking back at her. ‘Why let that bother you?’ She mumbled to herself. Something about the rain the previous evening had brought back a memory that she'd long since forgotten. She didn't even know why she had let it worry her, it was Bea she was with and she'd never have left her out in the rain. Stepping into the shower she hummed in pleasure as the water ran over her shoulders and dripped down her back. After a minute she decided that Bea wasn't going to join her and she reached for shampoo. Just as she started to massage it into her hair she felt a sudden rush of cool air as the shower enclosure door opened. “Should have known you'd take your time.” She giggled as she felt strong arms encircle her waist and Beas body press into her back.
“Lost track of time.” Bea mumbled back as she placed a soft kiss on Allies shoulder.
Allie turned around in her arms and tilted her head back as she rinsed the shampoo out of her hair. “You always do, you get lost in that head of yours.”
“I know, silly really since it's pointless thinking about you when you're right here.” Bea lent in and pressed a kiss to her throat.
“Oi…no funny business.” Allie laughed. “I'll have you know it's food I'm starving for.” She pointed a finger at her.
“I promise. Guides honour.” Bea winked back at her.
“Wait…you were in the guides?” Allie asked not sure why that should even come as a surprise. It had been something she'd wanted to do but then her dad left and nothing she wanted or needed was ever her mum's main priority.
Bea nodded and held her hand up. “I promise that I will do my best to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve my community and Australia and live by the guide law.”
“You still remember that?” Allie gasped as Bea wound her arm back around her.
“Of course.” She smiled against Allies shoulder. “It's not really something you ever forget.”
“Now I know why you're so fond of being outdoors.” Allie chuckled.
“Hardly, I think you have dad to blame for that really. Hey do you think Deb and Shane would be interested in joining the scouts?” Bea suddenly asked. “It wouldn't really be fair to split them up.”
“Maybe you should ask them?” Allie said as she draped her arms over Beas shoulders pressing a kiss to her lips. “But if it helps I think they'd probably enjoy it.”
After another filling breakfast they set out again. The early morning chill was giving way to a pleasant if not cloudy day. It was still a little cooler than Allie would have liked but they had to get moving. As they got back in the van Bea made a suggestion. “Would you like one last walk before we leave Dunedin behind?”
“Why not.” Allie nodded.
Allie had soon forgotten about the chill in the air after they started walking. Bea always knew all the best places to stop no matter where they went. Even though she was warming up nicely her hair was still bunched up inside her beanie with just a few strands falling across her face.
“Was I right, or was I right?” Bea asked sounding rather elated as she pointed out one or two places as they walked.
“You usually are. You always seem to know where the most incredible places are.” Allie squeezed her hand.
“I wouldn't say that. If dad were here he'd say I was still an amateur. We're only a few miles out of the city. Everything's always better when we're together, who needs some tropical beach to recharge their batteries?” She knew Allie would prefer the tropical beach but right now the views she was showing her were just going to have to be enough. The rocky outcrops of Cape Saunders were right beneath them. Wild waves were being thrown around in the strong currents against the rock formations, something Bea had always found soothing.
“I love how green everything seems to be here. Then you look a few feet away and there are the wildest rock formations I think I've ever seen.”
Bea would agree it had a rugged beauty that Allie seemed to appreciate, even if it wasn't a particularly sunny day. She pointed down towards Allan's beach. “That has always been one of my favourite beaches. It's in a cove and there's something about it that's always been quite appealing. It's only real disadvantage is that at high tide almost all the beach gets covered. You really have to get the timing of your visit pretty spot on.”
“You know what I like about being here so much?” Allie asked. “It's so hard to believe that you only just left the city behind, it's so isolated. Back home you'd have to go all the way out out into the bush for it to be this empty of people. You feel like you're a million miles away from any kind of civilisation.”
Bea nodded in agreement. “Yeah, its great to be able to get away from everything that stresses you out so fast. Believe me though when I was here with Franky I needed to de stress a lot.” Bea laughed.
The deep south of the island was always a bit of a culture shock for most people Bea had always known that. Franky had been out of her comfort zone the first time she'd visited the South Island. It was certainly a big difference from Auckland on the North Island. She'd imagined at first that Allie would hate it but she'd warmed to it almost straight away. They sat down on a large rock and Allie cuddled up to her.
“Maybe one day we could leave the kids with mum and dad again and spend a weekend on Stewart Island. You'd really love it there, I know I always have.”
As they made their way back to the van Allie tightened her grip on Beas hand. “I'm really sorry about last night.”
“Hey, you don't have to be sorry and you don't have to tell me anything. Maybe I should be the one apologising. I mean I think really I should have just held you and I, well I mean…”
Allie stopped dead and pulled Bea back towards her, bringing her free hand up to her face she stroked her cheek with her thumb. “You did everything right last night, you always do. If you'd have just left me to think I would have let things overwhelm me. You deserve an explanation though.”
Bea squeezed her hand. “I told you already, you don't have to tell me anything that you don't want to. I also meant it that it doesn't matter what you tell me, nothing between us will ever change.”
“It's not as though it was even anything really awful, I mean it was at the time. I don't even know why I thought about it. Let's go back to the van and get on with this tour of the island, yeah? It's been great so far. I want to tell you just not here standing in this breeze…honestly can you imagine what a state my hair would look like right now if you hadn't told me to bring this?” Allie pointed to her head and laughed.
Bea was hardly past the last house on the outer suburbs of Dunedin when Allie unexpectedly asked her to pull over. She pulled the van into the hard shoulder of the road and looked over at her inquisitively. It was now or never Allie told herself, she didn't want anything to spoil the rest of their trip.
“When that rain hit us from out of nowhere last night it reminded me of mum. Not actually of mum, more something she did not long after dad had left.” Bea switched the engine off and reached for Allies hand. Something had told her the night before that whatever she had on her mind wasn't going to be pleasant to hear. She'd expected Allie to bottle it up for a while longer, after all that was what they both did usually. Bea had long ago thought she'd run out of things that reminded her of the bad part of her life, maybe one day she'd find something that brought back a bad memory, somehow though as long as Allie was around nothing held as much power over her as it once had.
“Just after dad left we'd been at my grandparents. I'd spent most of the day with popeye out in the garden. I think my grandma must have had a few words with her because she screamed at me that we were leaving. I didn't want to go home and popeye said he'd talk to her. She wouldn't listen to him and she marched outside, dragged me by my arm from the swing and almost threw me into her car.” Bea listened without saying a word, this was how conversations like this between them usually went. They never tried to talk over each other, a supportive look or a squeeze of a hand was all it ever took to offer reassurance. Bea watched her as she saw a shadow pass over her eyes and she turned in the drivers seat, reaching for her other hand. Allie was always bright and bubbly. She had dreams and ambitions, although Bea had always thought she was more ambitious for her than she'd ever been for herself. Her smile lit up the whole room but right now all that seemed to have ceased. Whatever her mum had done to her had effected Allie in a big way. She squeezed both her hands lightly while she waited for her continue. “When we got home she was screaming at me before we even got out of the car. She was so angry with me because I was crying and asking for dad. She dragged me out of the backseat and slammed the door…a second earlier and my fingers wouldn't still be attached.” Bea took a deep breath, she didn't know why she was surprised after everything Allie had told her about her mum. She looked into her eyes, the shine was gone, it was like looking into the eyes of one of Debbie's dolls. She looked in a daze, distant, she looked as if she were right back there. Five year old Allie who was left alone with the parent who had never wanted her. “I didn't want to go inside with her but she grabbed my arm. You know how stubborn little girls can be…she dragged me towards the house. I looked up at the sky because it had gone really dark, just like last night it started pouring with rain. She let go, ran inside and left me. I was wet through before I even made it as far as the door but she wouldn't let me in. I sat on the doorstep for hours…”
“Allie…I…I…” Bea stumbled over her words, what could she say? How could anyone ever do that to their own daughter? She could understand now why it had never bothered her when Debbie and Shane were with them, it wasn't the same at all. Allie was taking care of them she didn't need taking care of.
“It's not your fault. I don't even know why I thought about it. You weren't going to leave me out in the rain. Babe, you even took your jacket off to try and keep me dry. That wasn't the only time though, she loved throwing me out of the house when I wouldn't do what she wanted. It didn't matter what the weather was like, it could have been freezing and she'd throw me out. The worst thing she ever did was just after she moved, she left me outside all night in the pouring rain when she had friends over.”
“She was a bitch. Maybe you should tell your dad. I know it doesn't change anything but I think you should, I think he'd want to know. He told you his side of things and everything he told you matched up with what your grandparents told you and what you'd partly worked out for yourself. You know he loves you, Allie. I just wish things could have been different for you.”
“Yeah…” Allie sighed. “There's only one problem I can see there, if I could have lived with dad we might never have met. If I'd never lived through all the bad stuff we probably wouldn't be here right now…You know it was what she always did when she had her next man around, she'd throw me out. It was fine when it was warm but in winter. Let's forget about it, now tell me where are we headed for next?”
“Yeah, okay…could you pass me the map and I'll show you what I was thinking.” Bea smiled. What Allie had just told her made her see why she wasn't a fan of being outdoors like she was. Maybe she'd never grow to enjoy it the way Bea always had.
Allie reached into the glove compartment and passed the map to Bea. She opened it and held it out so they could both look at it pointing something out. She pointed up ahead of them. “You see that junction just up there? There's two ways we can go.” She looked back at the map and pointed both turnings out to Allie. “We can either head down and then up across the Otago hinterland.” She pointed it out on the map. “Or we can go up and then circle back down. Either way whichever road we take we'll end up in the town of Alexandra. Both roads join up there and become the only road out on the other side of town.” Allie took the map from Bea and looked a little more closely at both routes Bea had just pointed out. “They're roughly the same distance…so which way would you like to go?”
“Seriously? You want me to choose?” Allie looked surprised, she'd thought Bea had already planned everything down to the last detail. Allie looked at the map again. “If you're leaving it up to me then can we take the south road? Look…” Allie pointed to the map. “We'll pass a lake, we could stop for lunch there.” She grinned and the tone of her voice sounded a little more mischievous. “Maybe if it warms up a little more we could go for a swim there.”
“Stopping for lunch sounds good but swimming? I don't mean to burst your bubble Allie but the water in the lake will be freezing. We have everything for lunch because Simon was good enough to make us sandwiches. South it is then.” Bea smiled as she started the engine and pulled the van back out onto the highway. “We also have a box of goodies back there so we won't starve.”
“We should have left earlier, and I've just wasted even more time telling you all that crap.” Allie sighed.
“Hey, that wasn't a waste of time. There's no real hurry, now let's just take a journey across the Otago Plains. I know it gets dark early at this time of year but we'll be fine.”
Allie stayed quiet for a long time, Bea kept looking over at her but thought it was just better to wait for her to want to talk again. It wasn't easy going over bad memories she knew that. Allie became quite animated when she spotted the first glimpse of water. Even Bea had to agree that it did look good before she pointed out that it wasn't the only lake in the area. The whole scenery was incredible. The colours were intense it was hard to believe that they hadn't just been painted on for their benefit. Bea pulled the van into the car park at Lake Waihola. It was a good place to stop for lunch, the rest area had picnic tables and the best view of the lake and the farmland beyond it, further back in the distance there were densely forested hills.
“I can't believe how serene it is, that has to be the most beautiful lake I've ever seen.” Allie said as she climbed out of the van while Bea was retrieving their lunch from the back.
“There's plenty more of them that we'll pass on the way. I was thinking…” Bea sat down at one of the picnic tables and looked out over the lake. “If it were even remotely possible, hypothetically of course, would you spend a little longer here? Just the two of us?”
“Right now? If it were possible, which of course it isn't, then yes I would. There's so much that we aren't going to have time to see. We have to get back to work next week and the kids have to be back at school.”
After they finished their lunch Bea headed down to the lakeside to rinse out their mugs, looking over her shoulder Allie seemed mesmerised by the view.
“You still want to swim?” Bea called out over her shoulder.
“Huh? Swim, yeah why not?” Allie called back as she got to her feet.
“Well I wouldn't think about it if I were you, you wouldn't believe how cold this water is.”
“Yeah, actually I think I would if this morning is anything to go by.” Allie stopped as she reached Beas side at the waters edge and snaked her arm around her waist. “I'm still sorry about last night.”
“I don't think you have anything to be sorry for. Now let's get moving we both know our times nearly over here.”
A few minutes later they were back on the road again. Six miles further down the road they came to a junction and Bea turned right. “That's the last we'll see of highway one now. It's up the Otago back country for us now, we're officially heading across rugged country.”
“Is that bad?” Allie asked.
“No.” Bea chuckled lightly. “This part of the trip isn't for the faint hearted but no one could ever call you that after all you took me on warts and all. Now just sit back and enjoy the view, although right now all you'll see are sheep.”
Allie threw her head back and laughed. “Oh yeah, and it's not like there are a lot of them on the island.”
“You should be happy there aren't any aggressive animals, sheep actually outnumber people I think it's something like thirty to one. Hey maybe there's a secret sheep society planning to take over the whole island.” Bea laughed.
“I thought they already had. Everywhere you look all you see are sheep but I can deal with that, the views are stunning. Especially the view inside here.”
As the miles passed they fell into a comfortable silence. As time passed the light was starting to fade and Bea knew that the temperature was already starting to drop. It would be a cold night spent in the van, even cuddled together in the sleeping bag Allie was going to feel it worse than she was. They could put on every item of clothing they had with them and still be cold. There would only be a couple of millimetres of British steel between them and whatever minus temperature was outside. Allie suddenly sat forward in the passenger seat and pointed to something in the distance.
“Look, it's a house. Looks deserted, we could stop there for the night what do you think?” Allie asked.
Bea pulled the van over when they reached the house and looked carefully at it. It looked abandoned but there was always the possibility that it wasn't. They agreed eventually that they'd knock on the door, it wasn't exactly something Bea was comfortable with but Allie could talk her into almost anything it seemed.
“If anyone does answer you know we'll need an excuse for disturbing them?” Bea mumbled as they arrived at the door.
“You worry too much.” Allie shrugged. She'd been a master at finding a place to sleep for the night at one time in her life, all Bea needed to do was trust her and her instinct for knowing when a place was empty. She knocked on the door and got no response so tried the door handle. Cautiously Bea followed her inside, breathing a sigh of relief when they found it was empty. The place so far had been devoid of any furniture, as Allie had suspected it had to have been abandoned. “Maybe we should spend the night here, it has to be a little less cold than being in the back of the van.” Allie said as she opened another door. “That's just plain weird, a chair, just a single chair sitting in the middle of the room.” She grinned and went to sit on it.
“Maybe the previous occupants didn't want it, maybe it wouldn't fit in the removal van. Do you really care? You are right though it would be slightly warmer in here. I'll go and get what we need before it's too dark to see anything.”
The place was obviously unheated but it would offer them a little more protection from the cold. Allie had been right they should have left earlier but it didn't seem to matter that much in the grand scheme of things. They laid out their sleeping bags on the wooden floor and climbed in.
“So what's for breakfast?” Allie chuckled.
Bea groaned. “Do you always have to think about food?”
“I think about a lot of things for your information. Right now I'm seriously wondering why I let you talk me into this at this time of year. I believe you neglected to tell me how cold it gets here.” Allie answered seriously
“You're just a soft Aussie.” Bea laughed. “To be completely honest I thought you'd have checked out the weather before we left.”
The next morning was just as bitterly cold as it had been all night as Allie prised herself away from Bea. She wandered to the front door and surveyed the area from her new vantage point on the porch. Everywhere she looked was covered in thick vegetation of the most intense green she thought she'd ever seen. Hearing footsteps behind her she spun around.
“You really are taking your chances.” Bea handed her her shoes.
“Maybe I feel rebellious this morning. It really is nice here.” Allie pulled on her shoes. “Why would anyone abandon a house like that?”
“There are plenty of reasons, maybe the kids moved away and their parents wanted to be closer to them. Maybe they didn't want to live out here away from other people, maybe they just died, or maybe…”
“Okay I only asked. You need a coffee I think.”
Bea shrugged her shoulders, she knew she could be impossible sometimes before she had her first cup. Allie asking questions almost as soon as she'd opened her eyes wasn't really helping. “Let's get packed up and head off down the road a little further. I know there's a spot a little way off where we can brew up a billy. No bacon this morning I'm afraid you'll have to settle for biscuits”
Allie frowned but nodded, she'd not really gone into this trip with her eyes wide open. Unusually for her she'd not given any thought to what the South Island would be like while they were on the North Island. After throwing the sleeping bags back in the van they drove for around ten minutes before Bea found a suitable place to stop. Pulling off the road into a parking bay it wasn't long before they were sipping steaming coffee and nibbling on cereal biscuits as they sat together on a fłat rock.
“We will find someplace to stop for lunch? Don't get me wrong these are fine, but…”
“You're starving!” Bea laughed. “We'll be in Alexandra in a couple of hours, there's plenty of places to find a decent meal there. Or at least there used to be. After that we'll turn off and head down the west coast.” She stood up and took Allies empty cup from her, she emptied out the last of water from the billy over the small fire she'd made and then gathered everything together.
The road that led towards Alexandra snaked through the valleys that were surrounded by modest sized hills. They had already climbed higher above sea level than at any point on the island so far. They passed farmland, even more sheep and fruit orchards. As Bea explained peaches and apricots were favourites for growing there. The whole landscape was, Allie admitted, extremely beautiful. Some sections of the road ran parallel with a river but mainly it seemed to be surrounded by slight hills. As they finally arrived at the junction town of Alexandra Bea slowed down.
“I think we could use a couple of hours rest. Let's grab something to eat and have a look around?”
Allie nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
“I think we should look for the bakery, we both know how much you want another chicken curry pie.” They both laughed. “I know there's a cafe around here somewhere, that will have to do.” Bea said as she slowed down even more remembering that there were some free parking spaces halfway down the main street that ran through the town. Finding a place to park didn't take long and they both jumped out of the van.
“It's starting to warm up don't you think?” Allie asked as she took Beas hand, really she knew it was barely into double digits but after the nights temperature anything would feel warm.
“It's just because the sun is out, maybe its psychological warming. When we get home maybe you could ask Bridget if that's even a thing.”
“Now you're being weird you know that right?” Allie shook her head. It was hard not to actually think that could be a real thing though. Hunger was firmly setting in and Allie wasn't going to give it much thought as they walked along.
Bea tugged on her hand when she spotted something, a tearoom. She looked around after they entered weighing up their options and found herself wondering if Allie would go with the pies again. As she knew pies were always a big thing everywhere on the island. They both filled their trays from the heated self service displays and went to pay, ordering coffee as they did. Bea took a step back leaving Allie to pay, as tempting as it was to always pay she had promised to try and allow Allie to take care of the bill….sometimes. There were plenty of empty tables and as they usually would they took one by the window.
The young girl brought over their coffee. “Here you go, do you need anything else?”
“Is the gold mining museum still open?” Bea asked.
“It is, you've been here before?”
“Once or twice, not for a long time though.” Bea answered.
The girl smiled at them both before returning to the counter.
“Gold mining, here, Really?” Allies interest was piqued.
“Yes, it was the same all over the island it was really big in the 1800s, there was a real gold rush. Did I not tell you that already?” Bea was certain she had. “People came from all over the place. Dad told me some people still come here to try their luck on a small scale. There aren't any big mining operations around here now, are you hinting that you'd like to give it a try?”
“I think I'll give it a miss, I really don't think I'd want to be wading around in any freezing cold rivers. I wouldn't say no to looking around the museum though.”
Bea wasn't sure if Allie was really interested in visiting the museum or if she was just trying to avoid getting back in the van. She'd visited it once or twice in the past but it had been a long time ago. Franky had never been the easiest person to convince that museums were great places to waste an hour or two in. At least not before Debbie was old enough to enjoy them and then she'd make plans to take her whenever she could. She was quite certain that there wasn't a museum in Melbourne that Franky hadn't visited at least twice with Debbie. Now Shane was a permanent part of their lives she'd probably agree to going to them all again. Bea finished eating before Allie and excused herself for a few minutes. Hiding in the bathroom hadn't been part of her plan when they'd set off again that morning but she didn't want Allie to overhear the phone calls she wanted to make. Will had been easy to get hold of and just as easily convinced into agreeing to her request. “I'll call you back as soon as I can.” She told him before ending the call and making another. The second call was harder going, the nursing director was never the easiest person to get hold of. When she eventually did she found her more agreeable than she'd thought she should be. Allie she knew was a valued nurse in the ED. Her final call was the easiest to make after all her mum and dad were never going to turn down a request for them to spend more time with Debbie and Shane.
“Come on, hurry up and drink your coffee, Allie.” Bea grinned at her as she sat back down.
“You aren't ill are you?” Allie asked as she looked across the table at her. “You've been gone an awfully long time.”
“I'll tell you as we walk, now drink up.”