His Outback Nanny(6)

By: Annie Seaton

The problem was, now, Kelsey was in Year Six, and she had her heart set on going to boarding school next year. She was horse mad, and she’d found a school in Armidale—the result of a Google search—that had a strong equestrian program. When she’d shown him the website, Ned had hidden the groan. He didn’t want Kelsey to go away; he wanted his kids close so he could keep them safe.

“We’ll see, love,” he’d said. “Who knows? You might find the local high school has a good program, too. Besides, it’s still a year away.”

Ned focused on the road ahead as the list of his chores filled his thoughts. Once he dropped the girls at the school, he’d make a quick trip to the produce store and then do the grocery shopping. Ryan loved the trip up and down the grocery aisles, although the small co-op grocery store in Spring Downs was nothing like the bright, noisy, and busy shopping plazas they were used to on the north shore of Sydney. He’d checked the working account before he’d left home: there was just enough there to get the salt blocks he needed and do a medium-sized grocery shop.

Doubt settled in Ned’s chest as he wondered for the umpteenth time whether he’d made the right decision for the kids and their future. Since Cath had died, he and the kids had struggled along as best they could as he’d continued his job in the city in Sydney. The night that he’d come home after an hour’s drive in heavy traffic to Dee Why on the northern beaches—to discover that the babysitter had left early, and eleven-year-old Kelsey was in charge—was the day he’d known they couldn’t go on like that. He’d put the house on the market, and it had sold the first day. He’d given notice at his job as a construction manager at the big city firm where he was overseeing the redevelopment of an inner city shopping mall and had made plans to move back home to the Pilliga Scrub.

The family farm was in need of attention. It had been overseen by a succession of managers since Mum and Dad had retired to the coast, and Dad hadn’t replaced the last guy when he’d left. Dad had sold off the cattle and let the wheat fields lie fallow. He’d often talked about selling the property but hadn’t been able to bring himself to put it on the market.

After moving in with Cath’s parents while he’d worked out his contract and squirreled away every cent he could, they’d spent Christmas at the beach with his parents. The kids had been so excited as they’d packed up at the end of the short holiday, ready to head to the farm on Boxing Day. It had buoyed up Ned’s spirits to see their excitement. He’d been a bit down since he’d finally given away Cath’s clothes to the op shop before they’d moved in with her parents.

A new start. A new life.

Chapter Three

Ned let out a sigh of relief as he glanced at his watch as the small township came into view. Past the vet surgery, the Cartwright’s produce store, through Main Street, past the IGA grocery store, the historical museum on the corner, across the bridge over the river with no water, and then into the car park at the side of the school. They made it before nine o’clock. The school buses were still dropping children off at the front of the school.

Children and parents milled around the front of the school, and he smiled. It was very different to the SUVs and lycra-clad-on-the-way-to-the-gym mothers of the Sydney North Shore. Here, there was a queue of dusty farm utes, with hay bales in the back, and lots of checked shirts and jeans. Satisfaction filled him. He’d come home to his place, and although it was the last thing he’d expected, it felt right.

Before Ned could open his door, the two girls were out of the car in their nicely pressed uniforms and their new school bags on their backs. He’d learned a lot of new skills over the past four years. He climbed out of the car, opened the back door, and cupped his hand on Ryan’s cheek. “Come on, buddy. Wake up. We’re here.”

Kelsey and Gwennie were waiting on the footpath, holding hands.

“You girls got your lunch boxes?”

They both nodded, and Ned’s eyes narrowed at Kelsey’s innocent expression.

“Take the iPad out of your bag and put it in the car, Kelsey.”

“X-ray vision, Daddy?” she asked but laughed and did as she was told.

“Good try. Superhero Dad, remember.”

Kelsey and Gwennie walked ahead of him still holding hands, and he held onto Ryan as they made their way to the front office of the school. The office was a hive of activity as students ran in and out. Half a dozen parents stood at the counter waiting to be attended to, and telephones rang incessantly.

“Come on, kids. We’ll sit down and wait our turn.” He led them over to the three spare seats by the door, and they sat down, Ryan sitting on Ned’s knee as they waited for the girls to be allocated to their classes. He’d completed the enrolment procedure before they’d left Sydney. Ned had wanted to be sure that Spring Downs was suitable for his girls, but it seemed not a lot had changed since he’d gone there. It was still a good, solid, country school where the students were taught well.