Her Outback Surprise(3)

By: Annie Seaton

He grinned. Always the organiser, his little sister.

“Sounds like a plan. See you, Jemmy.”

“Jemima.” She was not amused. Liam’s grin widened. He could still push her buttons. It would be fun being with family again. Life had been serious for too long. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good belly laugh.

Liam waited on the edge of the footpath as instructed. His eyes widened when a silver Audi TT pulled up beside him. Jemima called through the window. “Liam, over here.”

He shook his head as he hefted his bag into the back and climbed into the front seat. “Hey, sis. Nice wheels. You must be doing okay.”

She didn’t answer but blew him an air-kiss as he closed the door. Glancing over her shoulder, she indicated and pulled out into the traffic. “So, are you okay to go out west today? Don’t need a sleep first?”

“I can sleep in the car on the way out.”

“Good. I figure the sooner we get out there, the sooner we can get back to the city.”

“Yeah. We’re on the same wavelength there.” Liam nodded and gestured to the fancy dashboard of the Audi. “Are you stopping somewhere to pick up another car or are you going to turn up in this and get the look of disapproval from Gran?”

“This is my car, and this is what we are driving to Prickle Creek Farm. And this is what we will arrive in.” Jemima’s face was set in a closed expression. “If she wants us out there so much, she’ll get us on our terms. We’ve moved on since we all left there as teenagers. If Gran doesn’t like how we live now, she can lump it.”

Liam shrugged and leaned his head back on the seat. “You’re a brave woman, taking on Gran. Wake me up when we hit the first coffee stop out of the city. I’ll need a hit of caffeine before I can share the driving.”

For the first time Jemima’s face cracked into a wide and genuine smile. “Oh no you don’t, big brother. You’re not getting your hands on this baby. I’ll drive the whole way, thank you very much.”

Ten months later

Liam Smythe sat in the waiting room of the vet surgery at Spring Downs, a small town in the middle of outback New South Wales. He’d been there for two hours and was getting antsy. Along with the embarrassment that heated his neck every time someone smiled at the cute little dog asleep on his lap—the furthest from a working dog you could imagine—he was losing his cool with the long wait. He didn’t have time to hang around in town.

When he had arrived in response to Gran’s urgent summons last summer with Seb, Lucy, and Jemima, they had each agreed to work the property for three months until they all met at the end of a year. As a family they would then decide whether to keep or sell the farm. Now that Pop was sure that Liam could cope, he and Gran had headed off on their cruise of the Pacific; Liam was working the farm single-handedly for a couple more months. Seb had taken the photography contract in Europe and it had been extended. Lucy had married Garth, her old flame from next door, and only had a few weeks to go before she gave birth to their first child. Jemima was in New York; the offer of a six-month contract with the Eileen Ford agency had been too good to refuse. Gran and Pop were cruising the world, with Liam settled on the farm, treating this year as a break. Gran and Pop deserved a holiday. They’d worked hard their entire lives, and it was giving him a chance to think about what he wanted to do with his life. Liam pondered the change in direction his life had taken over the past year. The deal had been that the four cousins would take turns to look after the farm for a year, before their grandparents decided what to do with it. Sell it or keep it in the family. Pop was getting too old to do the heavy work, and his knees had just about worn out. Liam couldn’t believe how quickly he’d taken to farm life again, and how much he was enjoying the work, but he had to stop playing farmer and get back to his real life sooner rather than later.

He squirmed on the hard plastic chair and his dusty work boots scuffed on the shiny linoleum floor. Every so often the receptionist would shoot him a glance along with a placating smile, but when he went to the desk to ask how much longer the wait to see the vet would be, the woman would either pick up the phone or disappear out the back. He was the only one waiting now, so surely he would be next in. In a way, he was sorry he’d said the dog’s injury wasn’t urgent, but there had been some very sick animals who had come in.

God, this is what I get for being a good Samaritan. A whole bloody wasted afternoon. He was supposed to be moving the cattle from the back paddock to the yards near the hayshed, ready for the truck to take them to the cattle sales in Coonamble tomorrow. He’d have to be up at the crack of dawn to move them if he didn’t get out of here soon.