“Merry Christmas! I will be hosting the seventh and final Secret Santa for forever this year Sunday 16th December. It will be the same rules, bring a present, we will all pull a number from a hat to determine the order and then we will choose from the pile. If you want you can bring a plate of something, no pressure. Hope you can make it and please let me know soon.
April looked around the bungalow’s kitchen. “This place is amazing.” Spinning on her heel she moved to the window. A welcomed cool sea breeze lifted stray hairs from her shoulder. Deep breath. “The air is so much nicer here.”
“Thank you.” Brodie watched her move around the kitchen. He closed the fridge. She ran the tips of her fingers along the bench, stopping as she reached the stack of plates.
“Can I help?”
Brodie shook his head. “No thanks, everything is under control. But do you want a slice of cake?”
Smiling, she declined. “How’s work?”
“Good, good. The final episode has been filmed and should be on television soon.” He smiled. “I’m really loving it.”
“So, it took you four years of university, going for the bar and working for a fiend for six months for you to figure out what you really wanted to do in life.”
“Yep. Now I sit around like a beach bum making up stories and get paid for it.”
“Ah me. You’re living the dream. And with two cats.”
Brodie lifted his glass. “Cheers to that.”
“How’s Rach?” April jumped onto a stool and leaned her elbows on the bench.
“I don’t know, I haven’t heard from her in years.”
“I hope she’s alright.” April gnawed at her lip. “The last message I got from her was two years ago. She wanted to know if I wanted my book back.”
“One I bought back in New Zealand when I was twenty-one. I gave it to her to keep, or to pass along. Whichever. How far away is everyone? I didn’t think I was going to be early.”
“They should be here soon. Kate’s picking up some drinks, Kyle had an appointment with Molly and Chris, well, he had to buy a present.”
“Or a Bunnings gift card.”
There was a knock. Brodie, followed by April, opened the door to find Kate and Chris standing there and Kyle parking his work ute.
Presents were exchanged. Food was brought out. And Brodie invited them to take their cake into the dining room. He took a seat.
There in the centre was the familiar green board and silver pieces in a line at the start. Monopoly. April stifled her groan. “This better not be another grudge match.”
“We are going to settle this today or tonight!” Brodie thumped his fist onto the table, shaking the board game in the centre.
Kyle whooped and took his seat across from Brodie.
April looked at the computer set up at the head of the table. “Is this about to become an international battle?” She sat at the other end.
Jayden laughed on the screen. “No, I’m umpiring the game.” His voice echoed from the speakers.
Kate sat between Kyle and Jayden leaving Chris across from her.
“Where’s Eli?” Kate asked.
Brodie held up his hand up and hurried to finish his mouthful of cake. “Adrian was posted to Darwin; Eli and the twins will be there for two years.”
“Darwin’s meant to have a lot of crocodiles,” April smiled. “Tick tock kiddies.”
Brodie rolled his eyes. “Eli wouldn’t feed the kids to the crocodiles, no matter how stressed they made her.”
“I’m just saying,” April threw her hands into the air with a wicked laugh.
“Isn’t Eli pregnant again?” Kate asked. “I thought I read it on facebook.”
Chris nodded. “Another set of twins.”
“Really?” Kate took the bait.
“I don’t know,” Chris laughed. “But it would be funny if she did.”
Brodie leaned towards April. “Have you and Eli spoken?”
“It’s never been what it was but we sometimes do talk. She sent me a letter a couple of weeks back. Why do you ask?”
“I was curious.” Brodie leaned back and turned to the rest of his guests. “Before we start would anyone like a tea or coffee?”
There was a chorus of no thank you.
“Speaking of unprotected sex; how’s the missus going, Kyle?” April asked.
He looked up from his phone. “Molly is huge.” He brought up a picture on his phone and shared it around. “The baby’s due at the end of February. I just want it all to be over and done with and things can get back to normal.”
Brodie clapped his hands. “Let’s start.”
Chris’s Roll: five
“Ok. This is interesting.” Chris stared at his phone.
“What is?” Kate looked over his shoulder.
“Leah just messaged me, saying we need to turn on the television. Rachael’s on.”
They hurried back to the lounge, Jayden yelled from the computer, “Don’t forget me.” Kate picked him up.
“Oh my God!” Brodie sat on the edge of the lounge. “What is she doing on there?”
Rach was surrounded by toddlers rolling around on the carpet. Seated on the lounges behind her were two women, they talked as Rach and the kids laughed.
“Welcome back. With me today is Maryanne Avon and her partner Rachael. Thank you for being here.” The interviewer smiled at the camera.
Kyle pointed at the television. “She’s from that new show on NBN.”
April shushed him. “We do not speak of the enemy in front of Brodie. Remember, we watch ABC.”
The interviewer continued. “So how happy are you?”
“Very.” Maryanne looked down at Rach. “It was so hard not being truthful to myself. I was married for two years and I did love Scott. I just wasn’t happy. Maybe that’s why we had Mia, to bring Scott and I together and make us happy.”
The camera did a close up of a kid.
“And that’s how you’ve met your partner? Through Mia?” said the interviewer.
“Yep. Mia went into day care because both Scott and I were working. The afternoon it was my turn to pick her up I was going to be late. So I called and they said someone would stay back. When I got there I met Rach.”
Rach smiled over her shoulder at Maryanne.
“She’s happy,” April said.
“Then everything went to hell.” Maryanne continued. “I worked out that I was gay. Scott and I broke up. We fought over Mia.”
“But you weren’t alone.”
“No Rach was there for me the whole time. When everything was settled and we had custody of Mia we decided to add more to our new family.”
The camera widened and showed Rach and the kids.
Chris stood up. “I need to get going. See you guys later.” By the time he left the others had missed the rest of the interview. They moved back to the board game.
Later, when Chris had reached home he stopped. Standing in front of the fridge, door open and cold air rolling out, the hairs on his arms stood tall. One thought squatted in his head.
“What are you doing?” Leah stood at the sink.
Chris blinked. “Leah?”
“Will you marry me?”
Kate’s Roll: seven
Kate collected all of the cards and her money and handed them over to Kyle. “I’ll talk to you later Jayden. Bye April, Kyle.”
“See you Kate,” April said.
Kyle nodded to her and banked her money.
“Sorry, I just have to be back home by five.”
“That’s okay,” Brodie stood and followed her to the door.
“Thank you for inviting me,” she leaned into Brodie and gave him a hug.
In the dining room Jayden called out. “I’m going to sign off.”
“Okay, see you in a couple of weeks.” April waved at the screen.
“See ya mate,” Kyle reached over and closed the lid.
Outside, Kate slipped the bottle into her handbag. Spare batteries and bobby pins clinked against the glass. She hurried to the car. The heat suddenly surrounded her and squeezed sweat out of her body.
The car ride home was hell. She cursed the vehicle and it’s broken A/C. “Not much longer and you will be gone, car. I will never have to sit inside of you again.”
At home her room was a mess.
She sidestepped her mother and closed the door. Ben stirred at the sound. “Hey, how was it?” He sat up in the bed.
She kicked off her shoes. “Good. It was nice to see everyone one last time.” Laying down she curled into him. “Kyle was my secret santa. We have a bottle of rum.”
“So we can get pissed before you leave?”
They fell silent. Ben’s hand gently rubbed Kate’s back. She would miss this feeling of warmth when she would leave. Just like last time.
England. Cold and wet and so far away from family and Ben, but the school she had spent a year with before three years ago had invited her back to be permanent. She had been saving everything so she could go. No new car, living at home, working casual in town.
In England she would be living in a nice apartment near campus and drive around in a new car.
Till then nothing mattered but her last times with Ben. She leaned forward and kissed him.
Ben pulled back. “What if I came with you to England?”
April’s Roll: twelve
“I wanted thirteen.”
Brodie gave her a funny look.
“Yes, I know the dice only go to twelve. I was just hoping for something demonic since I was always going to lose.” April gathered the last of her money and handed it over to Brodie. “Well, I better be off. Thank you Brodie and Kyle for yet again defeating me.” She stood.
“You don’t have to leave,” Brodie said.
“I need to, sorry.”
Kyle stood and gave her a hug. She held onto him tight. “It was nice seeing you.” She pulled back. “Goodbye and good luck with the bub.”
Brodie followed her to the door. “Are you going to be okay?”
He narrowed his eyes.
“I’ll be fine. If you’re really worried you can check up on me in a week.” She moved forward giving him a hug and tucked her head into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her.
“So you’re still going to Jayden in Japan?”
“After everything, yes.” Pulling back she smiled weakly. “Thanks for having me.”
Once she had left the boys settled back in. Kyle was the first to ask, “How is April? She seemed better today.”
“Yeah, she’s doing better. I hadn’t seen her in months, but she had been emailing me some stories to read over.” He rubbed at his right temple. “Some of them were scary. I think she really wanted to kill herself at first.”
Kyle scrubbed his hands on his thighs. “What is she doing now?”
“Flying back to Korea for a week, she’s staying with his family. Then she’s heading over to Japan to see Jayden.”
“Why is she going back?”
“It’s the one year anniversary of his death. For one whole year she has been a widow.”
On her way April suddenly pulled over. She switched off the car, undid her seatbelt and got out. She gasped. Seeing everyone else with their dreams coming true was hurting her. Her chest ached, throat closing off and eyes stung.
April hated herself. They were her friends and she should be thankful they were happy. But why does the world have to keep going?
When she stopped crying she looked around. The entire time she had been leaning against the side of her car no one had passed by.
Sigh. Wiping her cheeks she smiled sadly at the way ahead. It still hurt but slowly the ache in her heart was easing.
April got back into her car and followed the road.
Kyle’s Roll: four
“Roll a four and you’re safe, for now. But roll a six and you win. Roll a three and I win,” Brodie tried to relax his hold on the table. Deep breath. “Come on, Kyle. Come and stay at one of my hotels. It will only cost you all of your money and one of your blue properties.”
Kyle threw him a casual grin and forced his shaking hand to reach for the dice. Slowly he rattled the dice... and tossed them onto the board.
“Phew!” Kyle relaxed.
“Safe, for now.”
Leaning back, Kyle scratched his chin. Right that moment he had no safe property to land on, he was trapped on Brodie’s row. He had to roll high the next time.
Brodie jumped onto his own property. He guessed what Kyle was thinking. “You can bow out if you like.”
Kyle scrubbed his hands over his face. Outside the sun was setting.
“Just remember that from here on till eternity I will be the ultimate Monopoly player.”
Kyle laughed. “I think I can live with that.” Reaching across the board Kyle gripped Brodie’s hand. “Well played.”
“You have been a worthy opponent.”
The work ute bounced over the potholes home. Parked in a row outside of the house were three other vehicles. Kyle grinned.
He walked through the house and found Andrew, Tim and Steven sitting on the edge of the back veranda in a row watching Molly in the garden. He sank down beside Andrew. “Hey.”
Molly looked up. She smiled, her hand moving straight to her belly.
Brodie’s Roll: three
The die made a run for it and plunged over the edge of the table. Brodie finished folding the board up and putting it away before he dropped to his knees. Under the table, the die had landed on three.
Brodie jerked his head up. Bang. Pain gripped his head and made him wince.
He crawled out and hurried down the hall, hand rubbing at his skull.
“I’m coming,” he called out. What was their problem? Irritation was intensified by another knock, knock. He yanked open the door, a scowl on his face.
“Hello Brodie.” She smiled.
“Jenifer?” His brain shorted out.
Tall, round, long dark hair flying about her shoulders, the breeze was a little cold. He hadn’t realised the sun was almost gone.
“Can I come in?”
He stepped aside.
Inside she moved to her spot on the lounge. She gnawed her bottom lip. “Um, I see you’ve had some fun,” she nodded towards the remote control tank in amongst the torn wrapping paper.
“Yeah. It was the final secret santa.”
“Oh. How is everyone?”
He nodded, then realised he hadn’t answered. “Good. Not everyone made it but we had a good time. What are you doing here?”
She folded her hands in her lap. “I wanted to see you.”
“Why?” He felt his knees weaken. With the strength of his pride he moved to the seat opposite her. He avoided his spot on the lounge.
“Brodie... I love you and I want to come home.”
“Can we forget any of that happened? I love you. Please, say something.”
His mouth reacted while everything was still spinning inside of his head. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
Sighing, Jenifer’s lips curled at the corners. “That would be nice.”