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Archive for 2012

Season 8, Episode 7

December 18, 2012

pots

Mia opened the door to the apartment quietly. She paused in the hallway, listening for signs of life. For the last week she had come and gone from the house as quiet as a mouse. She had been avoiding them all – Ana, Willow, Johnny. Especially Johnny. Not that he had been going out of his way to spend time with her, she thought angrily. They’d barely exchanged ten words since he’d found out she was pregnant and freaked out.

She walked upstairs and dumped her bag in her room. She paused in front of the mirror and turned sideways, putting her hands on her slightly round belly. She was wearing a lot more loose fitting tops these days, keeping the slight bump hidden from her housemates, but it wasn’t going to be long before those weren’t enough anymore.

She’d gone over the scenario in her head so many times, playing out how they might react. She’d been so far off the mark with Johnny though, she really didn’t know what to expect anymore. Mia had hoped that she and Johnny could tell them together. But the longer Johnny was silent about it, the more Mia realised that this was something that she was doing on her own. She’d already made her decision: even if Johnny wanted nothing to do with this kid, she was keeping it.

She wondered if he’d go back to Australia. He’d have to move out, at any rate. Or maybe she would have to move out, she thought suddenly with panic. It’s not like Ana and Willow were really going to want to deal with a crying baby at all hours of the day or night.
Mia closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She considered curling up in bed and going straight to sleep, but she hadn’t eaten since much earlier that day, and she knew the incessant grumbling in her stomach wasn’t going to get any better.

She wandered downstairs, surprised when she heard noises coming form the kitchen. Pots and pans clattering, followed by a yelp and a string of swearing. It was Johnny. She considered disappearing back up to her room, but realised she couldn’t hide from him forever.

He looked at her, startled, as she walked into the room. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here,” Mia said, not even trying to keep the disdain out of her voice. She surveyed the state of the kitchen; dishes piled in the sink, ingredients over every available surface.

“What on earth are you doing?” she said.

“Cooking,” Johnny said with a sigh. “Well, trying to. But I’ve just overdone the kale and burned the lentil stew.”

Kale? Lentil stew? These weren’t exactly Johnny’s favourite dishes. Mia looked at him with suspicion.

“I was trying to make dinner for you. As a surprise,” Johnny said sheepishly. “I didn’t think you’d be home for a while longer.”

Mia’s face softened involuntarily. Johnny smiled gingerly at her. “Hi,” he said gently. “How are you?”

Mia felt suddenly exhausted. “Not so great,” she said, smiling wryly.

Johnny nodded slowly and pulled out a chair for her to sit down on. He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of apple juice. “A nice drop of white?” he said with a grin.

Mia gratefully accepted the juice and drank it in three gulps.

“We need to talk,” Johnny said. He pulled another seat opposite her and sat down. “I’ve been trying to think of how to say this all week but I wanted…” he paused and sighed. “I just wanted the right time.”

“Now seems as good a time as any,” Mia said. Here we go, she thought. The beginning of the end. It had been fun while it lasted.

“I’m so sorry,” Johnny said. “When you told me about the baby, I was over the moon.”

Mia snorted. “The reaction you had was hardly what I’d call over the moon!”

“Honestly Mia. I really was,” Johnny fiddled with the sleeve of his jumper. “But – call it stupid or antiquated or whatever you want – I don’t want to have a baby with you if you’re not my wife.”

“That is so… traditional!” Mia said, angrily.

Johnny smiled and shrugged, but didn’t offer an explanation.

“So what you’re saying is that because we’re not married, you don’t want to be a part of the baby’s life?” Her voice was strained, as though it might crack any minute.

Johnny reached into his pocket, pulling out small black box, and knelt down on one knee.

Mia blinked. “What are you…?”

“Mia, will you marry me?”

For a few seconds, Mia didn’t say anything. She just stood there, looking from the sparkling diamond ring nestled in a small black box, to Johnny’s expectant face.

“But…but…” She started crying. “God Johnny! You leave me thinking that you don’t even like me anymore, that you don’t want to be part of my life, and then… this!”

“Call me conventional, but usually the finance-to-be have to give a yes or no answer,” he whispered.

“But you’re only doing this because of the baby,” she said. “You don’t have to do this.”

“This is all I’ve wanted since the day we first kissed,” he said. “Maybe even before that.”

Mia wiped the tears from her face and looked at him quizzically, just to make sure he wasn’t having her on. The earnest look on his face assured her he wasn’t. “Well… I mean… as long as you’re sure…?”

“Is that a yes?” Johnny said quietly.

“Yes!” Mia said slowly. Her face broke into a brilliant smile. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

Tears welled in Johnny’s eyes as he took the ring from the box with shaking hands. He held it towards Mia.

“Fuck the ring,” Mia said, rolling her eyes. “Kiss me you fool!”

And so Johnny did. The deepest, sweetest most sincere kiss either of them had ever experienced.

“Now hand over that bling,” Mia said with a cheeky smile.

***

Season 8, Episode 6

December 11, 2012

Willow perused the beautifully stocked shelves of her local wine merchant. She loved this store, with its eclectic mix of crowd pleasing varietals and slightly more obscure labels. She would often get lost in here, reading the lofty descriptions and tasting a drop or three (the owner had come to know her quite well by now and always had a dusty bottle tucked away somewhere that he would insist she try).

But tonight, her heart just really wasn’t in it. In fact, Willow was in an uncharacteristically petulant mood. She had run out of excuses for not having dinner with Fred and Marjorie, and had eventually succumbed, agreeing to meet them tonight at Marjorie’s house. Marjorie was, apparently, going to make with that bloody gazpacho that Fred hadn’t shut up about. Willow knew it was petty to be so vehemently opposed to a woman who she really didn’t know, but there had been something about Marjorie that she had immediately disliked when she met her at the bank.

And to make matters even worse, Marjorie had invited someone else she knew – some guy – as an ill-disguised attempt at finding a date for Willow. Fred had been slightly embarrassed about it, but had persuaded Willow to come with an open mind.

“You never know,” he said. “You might end up actually liking him.”

Willow had decided at that very moment that she would absolutely not like this person, regardless of any extraneous factors.

Glancing at the time, she saw she was already running late. She stopped in front of a Cabernet she knew was passable – and cheap – deciding she wasn’t prepared to go for anything fancier for a dinner she didn’t even want to go to in the first place. It was obviously very popular choice, because there was only one bottle left. Before she could reach out and take it though, an arm came from behind and plucked it off the shelf.

“Hey,” Willow said turning around. “I was going to buy that!”

The man who was holding the bottle looked at her in surprise. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I thought you were browsing still.”

The frown on Willow’s face softened slightly. Even her stony heart and disagreeable temperament couldn’t miss the fact that this guy was gorgeous! Crisp green eyes, tanned skin and short brown hair. His clothes were trendy without being pretentious and when he smiled at her, he displayed a set of Americanly white, uniform teeth. Very conservative looking, Willow decided, like he’d just stepped out of the army. But there was definitely something…

“Here,” he said, thrusting the bottle towards her. “Take it.”

“It’s fine,” Willow said. Apparently he was a gentleman too! “Really. I’ll grab something different.”

“I insist.” He practically took her hands and wrapped them around the bottle. “But on the proviso that you can suggest anything else.” His voice had a slightly flirtatious edge to it.

“What’s the occasion?” Willow asked. The playful tone of her question wasn’t intentional; apparently, that was what her speech did when she was talking to a gorgeous man. Wasn’t she meant to be sullen and cranky tonight?

“Just dinner with friends,” he said, shrugging. “No big deal.”

Willow looked over the shelves with a serious eye, casting sidelong glances back towards the man. He was watching her with a small smile. “This one,” she said finally. “It’s delicious. One of my absolute favourites.”

“Why aren’t you buying it then?” he asked.

Willow smiled and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Because I don’t really want to be going to the dinner party tonight that I am, and I am being particularly spiteful and making my wine choice accordingly.”

He laughed a warm hearty laugh. “It’ll be our little secret then.”

“Thank you,” Willow said. She paused, half waiting for him to say something else, quite glad when he didn’t. She didn’t know if she was ready for dating again yet. “Well… have fun tonight.”

“You too,” the man said, looking more than a little disappointed when Willow walked off without another word.

***

Fred opened the door. “Willow! I’m so glad you could make it. Come in, come in.” He ushered her inside, taking her coat and the proffered bottle. “Marjorie is in the kitchen and Bryn isn’t here yet.”

Willow followed her host down the hall and made small talk while Marjorie put the finishing touches to the famous gazpacho. The doorbell rang.

“That must be Bryn,” she said in a sing-song voice, looking pointedly at Willow.

Willow grimaced and took a big swig her glass of wine. Bryn walked into the kitchen and Willow nearly choked on her mouthful of wine. It was the guy from wine shop!

“You must be Willow,” Bryn said, obviously trying not to laugh at Willow’s shocked expression. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“What can I get you to drink?” Fred asked.

Bryn handed over the bottle he was carrying. “I might have a glass of this,” he said. “Came highly recommended.” He looked at the open bottle that Willow had bought with her and then at the in Willow’s hand. “You should finish that and try this one,” he said. “I have a feeling you might like it.”

***

The night, as it turned out, wasn’t a complete disaster. Far from it. Bryn was excellent company, and Willow almost managed to block out the intense – and unfounded – feelings of animosity towards Marjorie.

After they had imbibed the requisite amount and made the right small talk, Willow decided it was time to go. There was only so much of Fred fawning over the bank woman she could take, after all!

“I should head home,” Willow said. “It’s been a long day.”

“I’ll walk you,” Bryn said, standing up. They said their thank-you’s and stepped into the chilly night air, walking in silence the four blocks to Willow’s house.

“This is me,” she said, scuffing her toe self-consciously on the ground.

Bryn nodded slowly and looked towards the house. He moved a step closer. Willow’s breath caught in her throat.

“I had a really great time tonight,” Bryn said. “I hope it wasn’t as horrible as you thought it was going to be?”

Willow smiled. “No.” She was feeling a bit giddy from the wine and, she had to admit it, the company. Not since Robert had she felt like this about someone. She didn’t want to be, but she was desperately attracted to this man. Bryn smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear that had come loose. His eyes were soft and kind and she felt as though she could have melted right into them.

“Willow, I…” he trailed off, looking down at the ground.

“What is it?” Willow asked.

When he looked back at her, his whole expression had changed. His eyes were deadpan, and they looked straight through her. “Nothing.” He said. “I should go. Goodnight.”

And with that, he turned on his heel and marched off down the street.

***

Season 8, Episode 5

December 4, 2012

The rumble in her stomach interrupted Ana’s train of thought. She glanced at the clock on her computer, amazed that it was already three. No wonder she was hungry! She hadn’t eaten since eight that morning. She was surprised that Joey hadn’t come in to see if she wanted to have lunch earlier – ever since they’d started working with each other, they’d taken lunch together every day. They were like new best friends in high school: Initially a bit shy and reserved, tip-toeing around conversations, trying to ascertain if the other person would think what they liked was ‘cool’, without having to actually come out and ask. But that had passed, and now they practically finished each others sentences.

Ana frowned. In fact, Joey hadn’t come past her office yesterday, either. Probably just super busy.  Standing up from her desk, Ana stretched her arms above her head and then grabbed her coat and bag. She stuck her head into Joey’s office to see if she was about, not surprised she wasn’t, and headed out into the rain in search of something lunch-worthy.

***

She shook her umbrella out and left it in the receptacle by the door of the cafe. It was the closest place to work, and she and Joey came here frequently when they were on a deadline and needed to grab something in a hurry. As she ambled up to the counter she could see that most of the savoury  foods were already sold out. Seemed as though it was going to have to be cake again for lunch. She glanced around the small cafe, empty apart from two other women sitting in the back corner, huddled over coffees. Ana peered closer. One of them was Joey. She smiled broadly and walked towards them.

“There’s just no way it’s going to work,” Ana heard Joey say in slightly hushed tones to her friend. “She’s too… different.”

Ana stopped mid-stride and was trying to decide if she could slip away without being noticed, when Joey turned around and saw her. Her face flushed dark red.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Ana said. “I just saw you over here and…”

“I’m Vanessa,” the other lady said quickly. “Joey’s sister.”

Ana smiled and put out her hand. “I’m Ana.”

“You’re Ana,” Vanessa said, looking Ana up and down. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Ana gulped. From both the women’s expressions she knew she’d busted them talking about her. And it didn’t look as though it was anything good.

“I should get back,” Ana mumbled. “It was nice to meet you Vanessa.”

***

Ana couldn’t focus when she got back to her office. Why had Joey been talking about her? And what what had she been saying? Was Ana going to get fired… again?

By five o’clock she could take it no more. “What’s going on?” she demanded, standing in Joey’s door, hands on her hips.

Joey looked at her, surprised. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m not an idiot,” Ana said. “If I’m not working out here, just tell me. Don’t string it out any longer than it has to be.”

Joey looked genuinely puzzled. “You’re not happy here?” she said.

Now it was Ana’s turn to look surprised. “Of course I am. I thought that you weren’t happy with me.”

“What makes you think that?”

Ana sighed. “I don’t know. I feel like you’re avoiding me. And when I saw you today at lunch… just tell me if you’re going to fire me, OK?”

“You think I’m going to fire you?”

Ana blushed. “Yes. No… I don’t know.”

Joey threw her head back and laughed.

“I guess I’m a bit paranoid, huh?” said Ana, abashed.

“You don’t say? Ana, you are fabulous and you are spectacular at your job. I’m definitely not going to fire you.”

Ana smiled sheepishly. “Will you let this paranoid gal buy you a drink tonight in celebration of continued employment?”

Joey smiled sadly at Ana. “I don’t think I should.”

“Oh come on,” Ana pleaded. “Work can wait. Please. It’ll be fun.” She pouted and made her best puppy dog eyes. “I promise.”

Joey hesitated. “OK,” she said finally. “Give me two minutes.”

They went to a small wine bar and made light work of a bottle of Italian white before moving onto a Californian syrah then a New Zealand pinot. Ana felt deliciously blurry, the piece of cake she’d had for lunch doing little to soak up the booze.

“I have a confession to make,” Joey said suddenly, smiling lightly. Her voice was slightly slurred. “It’s what I was talking to my sister about.”

“Out with it then,” Ana prompted, when Joey didn’t say anything further.

“I like you Ana.”

Ana laughed. “How is that a confession? I like you too.” She picked up her glass and took another sip of the pinot.

“I don’t think you understand,” Joey said. The smile was gone and her face was serious. “I like you, Ana. I can’t stop thinking about you.” Joey took the glass from Ana’s hand and put it on the table. She leaned forward slowly, her eyes locked on Ana’s.

Ana could feel her pulse start to pick up. She licked her lips self-consciously.

Joey hesitated, her face inches from Ana’s. In her eyes, a question.

Ana gulped.

Joey pressed her lips to Ana’s, softly at first, their pressure intensifying when Ana didn’t immediately pull away.

Ana felt stars where her brain should have been. Neurons popped and fizzled like sherbet. Everything in the world stopped for a few seconds. But then…

“No. Wait.” Ana pulled away, her hand flying to her lips. They were swollen and wet. “You didn’t tell me… I didn’t know.”

Joey nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to freak you out.” She laughed sardonically. “Guess it’s a bit late for that now.” She opened her handbag, taking out some money and putting it on the table. “For the wine.” She picked up her coat, slinging it over her arm. “I should go.”

“Joey, no, you don’t have to go. It’s just… I’m not…”

“You don’t have to say it,” Joey said quickly. “I know.” She smiled sadly at Ana, a small sigh escaping her lips. “See you later.”

Ana took her arm. “Joey, wait…”

Joey paused and looked at the hand on her arm. “Don’t make it worse,” she said softly, gently lifting Ana’s fingers off. “Goodnight.”

***

Season 8, Episode 4

November 20, 2012


It was still dark when the overwhelming nausea woke Mia up. She’d remembered reading somewhere that morning sickness wasn’t meant to last for too long, but she figured the person who wrote that we either a man or had never been pregnant. Either way, it was complete and utter bullshit. She felt as though she couldn’t even remember a time when she didn’t  have to leap out of bed early in the morning to empty the contents of her stomach into the toilet bowl – quietly, so that no one else in the house knew what she was doing.

She pushed herself out of bed as inaudibly as she could, thankful at least for the fact that Johnny was a heavy sleeper. He had never woken during these morning jaunts. The wave of queasiness hit her like a freight train and she retched, clamping her hand over her mouth and running to the bathroom, barely managing to make it to the toilet before whatever remained of last night’s dinner made its way up her oesophagus and into the porcelain bowl.
Mia sank to the floor, groaning. She waited for the second bout of biliousness she knew would be arriving within the next minute or so. At least it was predictable in that way. That was something she could be grateful for. Five… four… three… and there it was. She pushed her hair back and leant forward.

A knock. The door handle turned. “Mia are you in there?”

Oh my God. I forgot to lock the door, Mia thought frantically. “Don’t open the door!” she shouted. But it was too late.

“What did you… Oh my God! Mia! What’s wrong?”

Mia wiped her mouth with some toilet paper and sat down shakily on the floor. Fuck.

“You poor darling,” Johnny said, rushing over and picking her up in his arms as if she were weightless. He carried her back to the bedroom and lay her gently on the bed. He ran out again and got a cool, damp cloth and a bucket.

“Is it food poisoning?” he said, gently pressing the cool cloth against her brow.

“Not exactly.”

“Flu?”

“No.”

“Have you caught some kind of stomach bug?”

Mia shook her head miserably.

Johnny looked puzzled for a few seconds before an expression of clarity came over his face. “Oh. It’s… wow. You’re…?”

Mia nodded.

She had expected one of two reactions when she eventually told Johnny she was pregnant. The most desirable obviously was for him to jump up and down in excitement then run joyously through the streets, shouting out their great news to anyone who would listen. The less desirable was for him to get mad with himself for letting this happen (again), tell her that he wasn’t ready to have a kid with her yet, and then offer to drive her to the clinic and pay for half of the abortion. Either of those she could have dealt with.

She didn’t expect silence.

“What are you going to do?” he said after a few minutes.

Mia hadn’t been expecting that, either. “I thought we could… you know… talk about our options,” she mumbled.

“Yeah. Right.” Johnny said, swallowing rapidly. “What are the options?”

Mia looked at him in disbelief. Seriously? “Option one, is we keep the baby,” she snapped. “Option two, is we don’t keep the baby.”

“Yeah. Right.” He swallowed again. “Um… what do you want to do?”

Mia couldn’t believe she was hearing this. This wasn’t the same guy that had come half-way around the world to be with her, was it?

“I had hoped we could make a decision together,” she said coldly. “But if that’s too much for you…”

“No… no. I just…”

“What. You just what?”

Johnny sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what to say.”

“You don’t know what to say?” Mia repeated, incredulously. Of course she wanted Johnny to have input in what happened – it was his kid too – but honestly, either he wanted the baby or not. This wasn’t something you could think on for a few months and then make a decision. Or just see how it went and opt out if you didn’t like it. “You’d better think of something soon,” she snapped. “Because we can’t just put this on ice.”

“I know, I know,” he said. He took her hands in his own, and she promptly pulled away. “Please Mia, you have to understand…”

“Understand?” her voice was trill, bordering on hysterical.

“Calm down,” he said softly. “There’s a lot going on right now, and you’re probably feeling very hormonal…”

“Oh no you didn’t!” Mia said, cutting him off. “You have no right – NO RIGHT – to tell me how I feel! I know how I feel! I feel crap! I feel fat and sick and stupid for letting this happen and…” once the tears started to fall there was no stopping them. “And… I… don’t… even… know… if… you… love… me,” she sobbed.

“Of course I love you,” Johnny said. “But it’s big news, Mia. You’ve known about this for, what, weeks?”

Mia nodded trying to control the sobs that were wracking her body.

“Well I’ve only just found out about it,” Johnny said. “And I just need a little bit of time to process. I need to figure out a few things, that’s all. ”

Mia nodded slowly and wiped her face with her hands. “Well, let me know when you’ve decided what you want Johnny. Because I can’t live like this for much longer.”

She turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her and locking herself in the bathroom until she heard Johnny leave the house.

***

Season 8, Episode 3

November 13, 2012

Willow hiked the bed-covers further up over her legs and pulled her big woolen cardigan around her shoulders. The pillows behind her back had started to fall down the crack between the mattress and the bed frame, but she couldn’t be bothered rearranging them. What was the point? They’d just fall back down again. She looked down at the page of the book she was reading. It was the same one she’d been on for the last forty minutes. She blinked. Who the hell was Charmaine and where had shecome from?

Closing the book, she tossed it on the ground next to her bed. It landed spine down with a dull thud on the carpeted floor, pages splaying open and the bookmark falling out. Didn’t really matter. It wasn’t like she had any idea what was going on up to that point anyway. She reached her hand out for the cup of chamomile tea she’d made. It was stone cold. She tentatively took a sip anyway, wondering if it would have the same calming properties. It tasted bitter. She made a face and put the mug back on the bedside table. Sliding her body further underneath the blankets, she switched her reading light off and rolled over. She listened to her own breath, even and steady. Couldn’t get comfortable. She fussed with the pillows and rolled over again, finally giving in and switching the light back on. Her usually faithful buddy, sleep, was being particularly evasive tonight.

Swinging her legs out of bed she tip-toed towards the kitchen, pulling the door silently behind her before switching on the light. The house was deathly silent, the others having gone to bed hours ago. The clock on the oven told her it was nearly six. She turned the kettle on and got out a fresh mug. She opened a cupboard, searching for another camomile tea bag. Her gaze rested instead on an open bottle of sherry she used for cooking. She pulled it out and poured a slug into the mug. That would probably help her sleep more than the tea, anyway. She sat heavily on a stool and rubbed her eyes, wincing at the saccharine flavor of the alcohol as she took a healthy swig. She waited until the cloying taste had dissipated and took another gulp. Wasn’t too bad after the initial shock.

Her laptop sat at the other end of the bench, antagonistic in its presence. She hadn’t opened it for days. Not since she had seen Fred and Marjorie (or, as Willow preferred to call her “that bitch from the bank”) walking down a pier in Sausalito, hand in hand. That day had been the start of the niggling feeling in the pit of her stomach; a sensation of dread that wouldn’t go away.

She polished off the mug of sherry and went back for seconds. Truly, it got better the more you drank!

She knew once she opened her laptop she would go straight to her internet banking business account. She didn’t want to do that. She was terrified of what she would find. Or, rather, what she wouldn’t find. She was sure there were many explanations as to why Fred would be out with that lady, but she couldn’t stop dwelling one one: That he was playing Willow. That he had duped her into giving him all her money and was in cohorts with Marjorie (if that was even her real name!) and they were going to abscond to Hawaii or Costa Rica and live happily ever after while Willow had to survive as a pauper, not able to pay the rent, or get a job, finally ending up on the streets living out of a cardboard box and…

She lifted the mug to her lips. Empty again. Time for another refill.

Now, where was she? Oh yes. Pauper. Cardboard box.

Emptying the rest of the sherry into her cup she eyed the laptop again. The sherry had taken the edge off and she felt wonderfully blurry, a sense of possibility creeping in where previously she had felt only doom. So what if Fred had screwed her? She could still make it work. She could find another investor and do it all over again. And it would be all the sweeter when the business worked because she would have done it off her own steam, not relying on other people. Besides, there were some very decent cardboard boxes out there, so if it all fell through, there was nothing to say she couldn’t live a very respectable existence. Hell, she could even have a vacation cardboard box set up somewhere warm to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas! Something Romney could be proud of, you know?

She glanced at the clock on the oven again. 6:30am. The others would be up soon. It was now or never. She pried the lid of the laptop open and fired it up. She logged into her bank account and, squeezing her eyes shut for only a moment, looked at the screen.

For a second, it didn’t register. She blinked and looked again, to make sure she wasn’t imaging it.

The money was still there. All of it.

“What the hell…?”

Instead of relief, Willow just felt more confused. If Fred wasn’t scamming her, then why had her intuition spiraled out of control? And why was he hanging out with Marjorie?

So, Willow did the only logical thing one can in such a situation. She put on a hat, some dark glasses and a trench coat, and set off to stake out Fred’s house in order to get the bottom of it all.

***

She followed him to a large coffee shop and took a seat in the far back corner, so she could see him and he couldn’t see her. She didn’t understand what all the fuss with spying was. Seriously, it was a doddle! She smiled smugly to herself. Best spy ever.

“Willow?”

Fuck. Worst spy ever.

“Oh, hi Fred. I didn’t even see you there.”

“Are you OK? I’ve emailed you a few times, but you haven’t responded.”

“I’ve been… sick. Yeah, really sick.” She coughed pathetically.

Fred sniffed the air. “Can you smell… sherry?”

“Cough medicine,” Willow said quickly. “I’ve had lots of it.”

Fred sat down opposite her. “And why are you wearing sunglasses inside?”

Willow snatched the sunglasses off her face. “Sensitivity to the light. From being sick.” She coughed again.

“Right.” Fred looked at her a little strangely. “Anyway, I’m so glad I’ve run into you. There’s something I need to talk to you about. I feel really terrible that I hadn’t told you this earlier, but… well, I’ve met someone.”

“Oh yes?” Willow said weakly.

“Do you remember the lady from the bank? The one who couldn’t give us the loan?”

“Um, yeah. Sort of,” Willow mumbled.

“I ran into her at the grocery store the other week and we started chatting about the dry grown tomatoes… Have you tried them?”

“The tomatoes?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Ah. Well they’re good. Very good. Anyway, we were talking about the tomatoes and she said that she had a great recipe for gazpacho and I told her how I loved gazpacho and then she invited me over and… well, what I’m trying to say, is that… we’re kind of going out now. I was too scared to tell you because I didn’t think you liked her very much.”

Willow suddenly felt exhaustion surge through her. That was it? Fred had started seeing someone that he didn’t think she’d like?

“That’s great Fred. I’m really happy for you.” She stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. Bed was definitely calling. “I really should get home.”

“We should all get together for dinner sometime.”

“Sure.”

“I’ll get her to make gazpacho.”

“Sounds great. Bye Fred.”

Willow hailed a cab and went home. She fell into bed without taking her clothes off and slept until late that afternoon, waking up with only the mildest of hangovers.

***

Season 8, Episode 2

November 6, 2012

Sitting in her bedroom with the door closed Ana didn’t need to hide the tears as they ran down her face. Homesick, jobless, alone. Ana was absolutely and positively miserable.

For so many years, Ana felt as though her life was completely on track. Of course, there were several – fairly major – hiccups on the way, but when one is wallowing in self-pity regarding the current state of one’s life, these incidents tend to get glossed over.
Right now it felt to her as though Mia and Willow were both going places and here she was, uselessly unemployable and woefully lonely. She was seriously considering going back to Melbourne, but what was left there for her?

She felt another bout of hot tears welling up in her eyes and wiped them  away angrily.“Oh, snap out of it,” she chastised herself. Taking a few deep breaths she grabbed her towel. Time for a shower and another day of job hunting.

Great.

***

It was unseasonably gorgeous weather, the November greyness not having descended yet on San Francisco. Already at nine o’clock the sun was bright in the sky and there wasn’t a hint of fog anywhere. It wasn’t hot sun, but it was sun nevertheless, and Ana basked in in like a lizard on a rock, hoping that an excess of vitamin D might snap her out of her melancholy mood. She was sitting in the small outdoor area and eating breakfast, slowly sipping coffee and nibbling on toast. The Vegemite that they had bought over was running low, so it was being rationed very sparingly by all of them. One piece of toast a day. Ana made sure she savoured every single crumb. After the last skerrick was devoured, Ana knew she could avoid the inevitable no longer. Firing up her laptop, she started the unhappy task of trawling through the latest lot of job offerings that were presented to her.

She sighed loudly, wondering what delights of the corporate world would be on offer today, when her inbox showed a new message. Her heart brightened a little as she toggled between the screens. Anything to break the monotony of finding a job!

Her heart skipped another beat when she saw who the email was from. She hadn’t heard from Tom in ages. He had crossed her mind more than once in recent weeks, and having had no communication from him, she often wondered if he still thought of her at all.

Hi Ana,
How is life going in San Fran? (I heard that no-one over there calls it ‘San Fran’ except tourists. Is that true?) I’m sure that by now you have a fabulous job and have settled into your glamourous new life there. Things here are the same: We won a few more contracts so I’m flat out with work again. It’s good and I shouldn’t complain but sometimes I just feel like packing it all in, you know? Apart from that, nothing really to tell. Except you’re not here and that is pretty weird actually. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think of you always and miss you.
Much love,
T.

Ana re-read the email a number of times. She hit the reply button, but couldn’t think of anything to write. Her pride stopped her pouring her heart out to Tom, telling him just how miserable she really was and how she wished that things could just go back to the way they were.

She desperately wanted to tell him that she missed the way he made her feel like everything was going to be all right; she missed his strong hands, his broad back, his soft lips, the way he’d rake his fingers down her back when…

She shut the laptop lid quickly. Thinking about things like that wasn’t going to get her anywhere, so she decided that she needed a walk to clear her head.

***

Wandering down the street, she was surprised to see so many people out and about carrying posters and wearing t-shirts with slogans on them. Ana almost started laughing when she realised what it was. She had been so caught up in her own spiral of desolation, she had completely forgotten that today was election day! She followed a hoard of people carrying Obama posters, vaguely pretending that she could actually have some impact on the outcome of the election.

“Ana?”

Ana turned around, scanning faces to see where the voice came from. A tall woman wearing and Obama jumper and cap was waving at her.

“I thought it was you! How are you?”

Ana peered at the person. She knew she’d met them, but where? And how?

“It’s Joey.” The woman pulled off the cap. It was the wonderful lady Ana had done a bit of work with before she’d quit the job at Bleau.

“Joey!” Ana grinned. “I didn’t recognise you.” She greeted the woman with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

They exchanged pleasantries about the weather and how the outcome of the election would determine whether the planned move to Siberia went ahead or not, and within a couple of minutes Ana’s mood had brightened considerably. She had forgotten how much she had liked this woman when she’d met her previously. Joey had an infectiously vibrant and delightful personality and Ana found herself wishing she could spend more time hanging out with her.

“What are you doing at the moment?” Joey asked, as they ambled in the general direction of where Joey’s friends were waiting for her.

“Like, right now?”

“I was wondering more in general. I heard that you’d left Bleau.”

“Yes. I had a… misunderstanding with the guy who owns the company.”

“It’s OK,” Joey said grinning. “You can say it. He’s a complete misogynist. I think you’re way better off not being there.”

Ana smiled wanly. Misogynist or not, at least it was a job!

“So, where are you working now?” Joey continued.

“Still trying to find something else.”

“Really? I thought you would have been snapped up immediately.”

Ana blushed. “Not yet.”

Joey’s friends called for her to hurry up and Joey smiled apologietically at Ana. “I should go,” she said. “But let’s keep in touch?”

Ana nodded and waved as Joey ran to catch up with her group. “Good luck today!” Ana called after her. “Go Obama!”

Joey turned and grinned, giving the victory sign.

***

Ana had nearly reached home when her mobile rang.

“Ana, it’s Joey. I had to double check something before I mentioned this to you, but do you remember me telling that our funding came predominantly from a single source? A woman who donates a pretty decent chunk of money to us every year?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I told her all about you and she said that we could use the funding the hire you outright. Full time.”

Ana was shocked. “Wow.”

“It’s not great pay,” Joey cautioned. “Like, really not great. Probably less than half of what you earned at your last job. And the contract would only be for 12 months to begin, but it would be fun and you’d be really helping a fantastic cause.”

“Wow,” Ana said again. “That’s… that’s really flattering.” She toyed with the idea in her head. It would be something different and an exciting project to work on. But, how could she afford to live on that little money? And did she really want to stay here for that long?  “Can I think about it and call you back?”

Joey paused and Ana could tell that she was disappointed that Ana hadn’t made a snap decision.“Sure. Can you let me know within the week?”

Ana hung up the phone. The pay would suck, that was for sure. And it would mean she was locked in to stay here for 12 months, at least. But maybe once she was working she would be happier here? And Joey was totally awesome. Ana couldn’t remember the last time she met someone so fun and kind and inspiring.

“What is there to think about?” Ana said aloud, taking her phone back out of her bag and pressing callback.

“I’m in,” she said excitedly, when Joey answered.

“That was quick,” Joey said, laughing. “What made the decision?”

“I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather work with,” Ana said truthfully.

She could hear the smile in Joey’s voice. “I think I’m going to really enjoy working with you too, Ana. Very much indeed.”

***

Season 8, Episode 1

October 30, 2012


Mia perched uncomfortably on the edge of the bath. She had her eyes shut, trying to calm her mind by focusing on everything around her. The hard ceramic ledge she sat on. The cold tiles under her feet. Outside, a garbage truck doing the early morning rounds. A barking dog. A whoosh of air as a car drove past. The neighboring front gate opening and closing.

The plastic stick clutched in her hand.

She’d had her eyes closed much longer than the requisite five minutes, but couldn’t bring herself to look. She kept telling herself she’d count to sixty and then open them. Once she reached three-hundred and sixty, she gave up on that. The sensible thing would be to treat it like a band-aid – just see the result. After all, not looking wasn’t going to change the outcome. Whatever it was.

Down the hall, a bedroom door opened and she could hear footsteps padding towards the bathroom. A knock on the door.

“Yeah?” Mia answered without opening her eyes.

“You OK?” It was Johnny.

“Yeah, fine. I’m fine.”

“You coming back to bed?”

“I’m just about to have a shower.”

A pause. “All right.”

The footsteps went away, the bedroom door closing again. Mia took a deep breath. She couldn’t stay in here forever. She opened her eyes. It took a moment for them to adjust to the light, but when they did she finally looked at the white plastic stick in her hand. Two pink lines. She scrambled for the box of instructions. Two lines. Pregnant.

It wasn’t really a surprise, but she still felt as thought the breath had been knocked out of her. With certainty came responsibilities and questions. Questions she didn’t have answers to.

“Fuck.”

She wrapped the stick carefully in toilet paper and buried it down the bottom of the rubbish bin. She washed her hands and brushed her teeth, not able to look at herself in the mirror.

Another knock on the door. This time Ana, needing the bathroom so she could get ready for another job interview.

Mia pulled her robe tightly around her and opened the door. Ana flashed her a grateful smile hurried past, not noticing her friend’s pale face and shaking hands.

Mia paused outside her bedroom door, heavy dread settling over her like a mantle. Things had been going so wonderfully with Johnny. This was sure to change that. She fleetingly wondered how long could she keep this from him. A month? Maybe two? He wasn’t an idiot though. He’d figure it out sooner or later.

She poked her head around the door. He had the duvet wrapped around him, his back to her.

“I’m making a herbal tea. You want one?”

Johnny rolled over, making a face. “Not coffee?”

Mia shrugged. “I don’t feel like coffee. But I can make you one if you want.”

Johnny grinned, his hair sticking up at funny angles. “Can I drink it in bed? With you?”

Mia couldn’t help but smile at him. “Yeah.”

***

“I’ve got some wonderful news. We’re having a baby.” Mia poured water on top of her peppermint tea bag. “Johnny, I’m pregnant.” She absently started at the stove-top espresso, waiting for it to gurgle. “Hey, funny story: Cecelia’s not the only one pregnant with your child! You’re going to have two kids!” She groaned aloud, picking up the cups. The butterflies in her stomach erupted as she made the short journey back to their bedroom.

She was surprised to see Johnny sitting upright in bed, looking at his phone. He didn’t notice her come in, only glancing up when she placed the tea next to him.

“I’ve just had the craziest email,” he said slowly.

“Oh yeah?” Mia suspected it wasn’t half as crazy as the news she was about to tell him.

“Yeah,” Johnny said. “It’ from Cecelia.”

Cecelia. Mother of his nearly-born child in Australia. A woman who had never exactly been the bearer of glad tidings in Mia’s opinion.

“What does she want now?”

Johnny handed her his phone. “Read it.”

It was an essay of an email and Mia skimmed it quickly, her mouth falling open the further she read.

“But… I thought she said…” her voice trailed off and she looked at Johnny. “What does this mean?”

“It means I’m not the father,” Johnny said. “She was lying to me all along. She made me believe I was the kid’s father becuase she didn’t think the other guy would stick with her.” He ran his hands through his hair and expelled a loud breath. “Who does that shit, Mia? She was going to totally screw up my life.”

“Screw up your life?”

“Well, yeah. Kids. They change things. I wouldn’t have been able to stay here forever. I would have had to put so many things on hold. I would have had to put my – our life on hold!”

Mia tried to blink back the tears that were starting to form in her eyes. Johnny saw them and pulled her into a hug, misreading them for tears of joy.

“Isn’t this the best news Mia? It means that I have no ties to her now. Nothing at all.”

“It’s really great,” Mia said. “But… you aren’t a little bit… I don’t know. Sad. Upset. I thought you wanted kids?”

“I do,” Johnny said. “One day. Not now though. No way. I am so not ready to have children. No thanks. I feel… relieved. Like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” As if to demonstrate, he leaped out of bed and twirled around the room, collapsing back on the covers in a heap. Mia could only stand and watch, hoping that her face didn’t betray her true feelings.

“I thought you’d be happier,” he said.

“I am,” said Mia. “It’s just…”

“What?”

She sighed. Now was most definitely not the time. “Nothing. It’s nothing.”

***

Season 7, Episode 10

September 25, 2012

Ana was sitting in the living room staring absently at the page in front of her. She’d read the same paragraph four times and sighed, frustrated, closing the book and tossing it onto the sofa.

“You OK?” Willow was perched at the table doing some kind of spreadsheet for her business.

“Yeah,” Ana said. “Just bored. And restless.”

Willow smiled sympathetically. “No news from any of the jobs you applied for?”

“Nothing,” Ana grumbled. “Not even a rejection email.”

Willow closed her laptop. “Why don’t we do something today,” she said suddenly. “Head out of town somewhere?”

“Like where?”

“How about that place over the bridge. The one everyone seems to go for lunch on the weekends. What’s it called again?”

“Sausalito?”

“That’s it!” Willow exclaimed. “We can hire a car for the afternoon and drive over. What do you think?”

Ana shrugged. It’s not like she had anything better to do. “Sure.”

***

As it turned out, the didn’t hire a car, but ended up going down to Fisherman’s Wharf and catching the ferry across. They sat outside on the deck, sunglasses, suncream, scarves and heavy jackets firmly in place. San Francisco. The ultimate city of contradiction. Even more so than on dry land, out here in the middle of the bay it felt as though two completely different temperatures were battling for supremacy: The icy wind competing with the fabled Californian sun. At this stage, both girls felt as though the wind were winning easily, the huge ball of fire in the sky waging no more than an anaemic campaign.

Ana bought them each a cup of hot tea, more to warm their frozen hands than to drink, and they watched as the landmark rich landscape slipped by: Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the funny pointy building that neither of them knew the name of…

“Excuse me ladies?”

Willow and Ana looked up. Standing in front of them were two affable yet predictable looking chaps dressed in sensible clothing, eager expressions on their college-boy faces. Baseball caps proclaiming allegiance to what the girls’ supposed where sporting teams were perched loyally on their heads.

“Mind if we take a seat?” one of them said. He had a drawling mid-west accent, so in actual fact it sounded as though he’d said “Mahnd if way tayke a sayt.”

Ana and Willow looked around at the almost-empty deck of the ferry. There were about fifty other chairs they could have occupied.

“We’re on vacation,” the friend – with similar tonality (“way’re on vay-cay-shon”) – said, as if that would explain their desire to sit in such close proximity to Ana and Willow.

“How pleasant for you,” Ana said calmly, “and as much as we hope you enjoy your vacation, we don’t, in fact, wish to play a significant role in shaping it.”

“Huh?” The two boys looked at each other. One scratched his head, as though that would somehow arrange the words into a semblance of order for him.

Willow coughed to try and hide the laugher that bubbled up in her throat.

“What I’m trying to say,” Ana continued patiently, “Is that we think you would probably enjoy yourselves a lot more without our company.”

The boys looked a bit put out but had the good grace to know when they were fighting a losing battle.

“I thaynk thay must be les-bee-ans,” Willow and Ana heard one of the young men whisper to the other as they walked away. The two boys turned to look back with curiosity and Willow waved coyly, putting her hand on Ana’s knee, trying not to laugh when one nudged the other and gave him a look: ‘I told you so!’

“You didn’t want to be fawned over by college boys today did you?” Ana said. “Because if so, I wouldn’t have told them to leave us alone.”

“I don’t think I ever want to be fawned by anyone ever again,” Willow said, with far more brevity than she had intended.

Ana smiled at her and gave her hand a quick squeeze.

“Do you ever think about Tom?” Willow said suddenly.

Ana looked at her surprised. “Of course I do.”

“You never talk about him,” Willow said. “I just wondered…” she shrugged.

“I can’t stop thinking about him,” Ana admitted, sighing. “But I know that he wasn’t making me happy, so in that regard it was the right thing to do.”

“Who do you think will make you happy?”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to find a guy that makes me completely happy,” Ana said. “I’m now convinced that I’m going to end up all alone. Maybe with lots of cats.”

“You hate cats.”

Ana shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll learn to love them because I’ll be incapable of loving a man.”

Willow laughed. “Tell you what, we can be spinsters together – with or without the cats – because I don’t think I’m ever going to be ready for another relationship.”

Ana solemnly lifted her paper cup with the now lukewarm tea in it. “Here’s to us,” she said. “Two spinsters in the making.”

***

They had lunch in European style pizza restaurant overlooking the water. It was next to a small yacht club, where the Sausiltians – or honorary weekend Sausilitians – keep their marine craft tied to a long wooden jetty when they weren’t using them. Over here, the warm sunshine reigned supreme. The  food was delectable – the pizza crust wafer thin, the toppings fresh and flavoursome and both Ana and Willow felt a sense of peace fall over them as they sat, listening to the waves lap gently against the jetty, slowly eating their food.

Ana was about to take another bite of pizza when she looked up and paused. “Willow, isn’t that Fred?”

“Where?”

“Over there.”

Ana pointed out towards the end of the jetty, where a man was walking slowly back towards the shore. He had a jumper tied over his shoulders and he carried what looked like a picnic basket.

Willow squinted. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it is.”

Walking next to him was a woman, her short auburn hair gently caressed by the wind. She carried a pair of shoes in her hand, treading carefully over the wooden slats of the jetty with her bare feet. She threw her head back and laughed at something Fred said.

“Who’s the lady with him?” Ana said. “His sister or something?”

They watched as Fred put the picnic basket down and wrapped his arms around the woman, embracing her in a long, passionate kiss. He whispered something in her ear, to which she smiled, staring deeply into his eyes for a moment, before pulling him back towards her, and kissing him again.

“I really hope that isn’t his sister,” Ana said. “That would be too gross.” She paused and took a bite of her pizza. “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend. You never told us.”

“I didn’t know he did,” Willow said. She was as surprised as Ana. Fred had never mentioned any woman, except his ex-wife. But she was still in his ex-house in New York bunkered up with his ex-best friend.

“I would have sworn that he had the hots for you.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Well hopefully now you can see that’s not true.”

“Maybe he’s a polygamist,” Ana said mischievously, “and he’s grooming you to be his next wife?”

Willow groaned. “I don’t think that’s likely.”

As Fred and his companion walked along the jetty, closer to where the girls where sitting, Willow raised her hand to wave at them.

“Oh my god,” she said, almost under her breath, a frown creasing her face. She dropped her hand.

“What? What is it?”

“I know her!”

“Who?”

“The lady that Fred’s with.”

“You’ve met her?” Ana said. “Who is she?”

“She’s the lady from the bank,” Willow said slowly. “The one who wouldn’t give us the loan.”

“Seriously?” Ana peered at the woman. “Are you positive?”

Willow nodded her head.

“What the hell is Fred doing kissing her then?” Ana said furiously.

“I don’t know,” Willow said, shaking her head in bewilderment. “I have absolutely no idea.”

 

***

 

Ravenous will be taking a break for a few weeks. We’ll see you soon with Season 8. Thanks for reading.

Season 7, episode 9

September 18, 2012

“Wake up! Wake up!”

Johnny stirred, opening his eyes. Someone was knocking on the door to their bedroom. “Yeah?”

Willow poked her head in. “It’s almost ten,” she said. “We’re going to have a picnic in Dolores Park, so you guys have to get up!” She stopped and looked around. “Where’s Mia?”

Johnny rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Bathroom?”

Sure enough, the running tap down the hall stopped and Mia stepped out of the bathroom.

“You OK?” Willow asked. “You look a bit pale.”

“Didn’t sleep well,” Mia said. “Still tired I guess.”

“Well perk up! We’re going to have a picnic!”

“Oh, cool,” Mia said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “Let me just have a shower and throw some clothes on.”

“Hurry,” Willow said. “It’s such a gorgeous day at the moment, but who knows how long it’ll stay like this.”

***

Thirty minutes later, the four friends were loaded up with blankets, suncream, an esky (although, over here it was called a cooler) and a picnic basket, which Willow had heaped full with delicious goodies. They walked to Dolores Park, enjoying the sights and sounds of San Francisco on a sunny weekend.

They found a perfect spot towards the top of the park, the slope of the lush green grass giving them a spectacular view across the city and out towards the bay. Mia and Johnny set up blankets as Ana and Willow started unloading everything.

“Crap!” Willow exclaimed, having searched through all their bags. “I made a chocolate cake, but I’ve left it at home.”

“Oh well, we can have it for afternoon tea,” Ana said, pulling the lid of one of the containers and looking inside. Kale salad. Yum!

“But now we have no dessert!” For Willow, a meal was not a meal without at least one type of dessert.

“It’s OK,” Ana consoled her. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“No, no. You guys unload this stuff and I’ll run over the Bi-Rite and grab something.” Willow leaped up and, throwing her handbag over her shoulder, headed down the hill towards the compact gourmet store on 18th. The others shrugged, knowing that you could not reason with Willow when she had a strategically planned meal in her head.

***

Willow was so focused on the task at hand that she didn’t see the young man walking slowly in front of her until it was too late. She collided with him and they both fell to the ground, the man dropping the basket he was carrying.

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said, scrambling up.

“Hey, not to worry,” he said, smiling affably at her. He picked up the basket, examining the contents, smiling when they were obviously undamaged. “You don’t want to buy some brownies, do you?”

“Brownies?”

“Yeah, chocolate brownies. I make them myself. They’re special brownies.”

Willow raised an eyebrow. She doubted this young – albeit very cute – man could make brownies that were anywhere near as special as her own, with their gooey centre, crispy shell and surprise explosions of dark chocolate and hazelnut. But she had just run into him, and she did need dessert.

“What kind of brownies?”

He looked at her puzzled. “Like I said, they’re special brownies.”

“I meant what flavour are they,” Willow explained. Seriously, American vernacular was sometimes really weird.

“Oh right, I dig it. Chocolate.”

She looked into the basket at the individually wrapped brownies. They did look pretty good, she had to admit. Moist and rich.

“Ok then,” she said. “I’ll take… eight.” They weren’t huge, but two each should be enough, she reasoned.

“All right!” The guy smiled goofily again as he piled eight of the brownies into her handbag. “That’ll be twenty-four dollars.”

Willow was a little shocked at the price, but she justified it by telling herself she was supporting a local sole trader and, to be fair, ingredients were dearer here than in Australia.

She smiled again at the young man before heading back up the hill to her friends.

***

After a feast of salads, bread, cheese and homemade dips, Willow unwrapped the brownies and laid them on a plate, handing them around to the group.

“They’re good,” Ana said. “But… they taste a bit weird, don’t they?”

“They’re probably just American,” Willow said, munching happily on hers. “Different ingredients and stuff.” She popped the last bite into her mouth.

Johnny – who had polished his off in one mouthful – picked up a spare one from the plate and sniffed it. He burst out laughing. “Willow, where did you get these from?”

“A guy was selling them,” she said. “He said they were special…” Her voice trailed off. “Oh my god!”

“What? What is it?” Mia said, looking from Johnny who was in hysterics to Willow who was shaking her head in disbelief.

“Special brownies. They’re hash brownies.”

Ana looked at the partially eaten brownie in her hand and then back at her friends, grinning. “Oh well,” she said, popping the rest of it in her mouth and chewing. “When in Rome…”

***

Not long after, the friends had been joined – or maybe they had joined? – a much larger and extremely eclectic group of people. Johnny had borrowed a guitar from someone and was playing anything by Pink Floyd that he could remember, a couple of others raucously singing along, banging tambourines and clapping sort-of in time to the music. Ana discovered that she could remember how to braid hair and so had taken it upon herself to make sure every member of the group – male, female or other – had a carefully orchestrated plait running the length of their heads. Some people – those whom she deemed worthy – even had small flowers woven through, which she had gone and picked from neighbouring front gardens. Mia was spouting the virtues of Pilates training to anyone who would listen, and had started her own little floorwork class just to the left.

“Imagine that you are peeling you’re spine off the ground like each vertebrae is stuck down with toffee and you have to get it off before the next one will move!”

This had incited peels of laughter and then a sudden need for toffee, so half the ‘class’ had gone on a mission to see if anyone in the park had homemade toffee they were selling.

Willow had cornered the young man who had sold her the brownies and they were exchanging recipes. He was, it turned out, quite the avid chef, and not all his recipes required the addition of marijuana, although all of them could be adapted to suit this purpose if needs be. Willow was fascinated by his ‘special’ roast lamb recipe.

“Great if the in-laws or your boss are coming over for dinner,” he said with a wink.

***

They stayed in the park until well after dark, managing a few more brownies each – “on the house” – and sure enough, when they got home, a huge, delicious chocolate cake was waiting for them, which they devoured in minutes, before piling themselves into their respective beds and falling into deep sleeps, filled with multi-coloured dreams.

***

Mia woke with a start. A faint, watery light was just peeking through the curtains. The rest of the house was still quiet. She felt slightly disoriented for a second, forgetting where she was and what she was doing there. Next to her, Johnny was breathing heavily.

She climbed out of bed as quietly as she could and walked quickly to the bathroom, throwing herself onto the floor and only just managing to lift the toilet seat before the contents of her stomach ungraciously upended themselves. With a shaking hand, she flushed the toilet, sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, her head in her hands. She brushed away the hot tears that were running down her cheeks.

Must have been from yesterday. From the brownies, she reasoned with herself. Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror. The colour was starting to come back to her cheeks, but the sinking feeling that she’d had for almost a week now was stronger than ever. So what was the explanation for throwing up the five mornings before that?

***

Season 7, Episode 8

September 11, 2012

It was all systems go at the little blue house in San Francisco recently inhabited by four Melbournites. Willow had been up since the crack of dawn stirring, whipping and mixing together all kinds of delicious ingredients. She could barely contain her excitement and it showed: the feast being prepared was fit for a king, queen and their entire extended family, in-laws included.

Willow hummed to herself as she layered delicate slices of fresh stone fruit over flan bases filled with homemade custard. On the other side of the kitchen bench, Ana was carefully icing Willow-baked cupcakes and Mia was cutting up fruit for a luscious fresh fruit salad, to which Johnny was adding finely chopped mint. In the oven, several quiches – filled with mushroom, goats cheese, French ham and thick cream – were browning perfectly, the smells wafting across the kitchen and throughout the rest of the house.

“Did I tell you about the great idea that he came up with about how we’re going to move to coffee carts around?” Willow gushed breathlessly, as she carefully placed the final piece of peach down.

“Oh, only about six or seven times,” Ana said good-naturedly. She shared a quick smile with Mia and Johnny, who were doing their best not to laugh.

“Sorry,” Willow said sheepishly. “I’m a bit excited I guess.”

“We’re excited too,” Mia said. “We finally get to meet your mystery business partner!”

“You’re going to love him,” Willow said confidently. “He’s smart and funny and, well, just…”

“Perfect!” they all chorused together.

Willow blushed. “I’ve mentioned it before, huh?”

“Anyone would think you had a crush on him,” Johnny teased.

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Willow said, exasperated. She knew they would all think that. “We just get each other. Professionally. We make a great team. He’s more like a brother than anything else.”

“I wonder if he knows that,” Johnny said, under his breath.

“What was that?” Willow said. “I missed it.”

“We’d better get the table set,” Mia said, changing the subject and giving Johnny a kick in the shins. There was no need to make Willow uncomfortable. “He’s going to be here in about ten minutes.”

***

“I can’t say I love this guy,” Ana grumbled. “In fact, he’s not really ingratiating himself to me at all.”

Johnny and Mia nodded as they eyed the feast in front of them, the food in exactly the same position as it had been two hours ago. They’d waited for Fred, forgiving him being ten minutes late, then fifteen, then twenty, then thirty. After that, they were starting to get a bit antsy. Willow hadn’t let them so much as have a piece of fruit, confident that he would arrive the second they started piling their plates.

“I don’t know where he could be,” Willow said, a tiny frown creasing her forehead. “He knew it was today.”

“Can’t I just have one tiny cupcake?” Ana begged. “Please? I’ll pick the one with the worst icing.”

“Fine,” Willow relented, sighing. “We may as well eat.”

It turned out none of them had much of an appetite anyway and they half-heartedly picked at the goodies on the table.

“He’s probably caught in traffic,” Mia said kindly.

“Or maybe he’s lost,” Ana chipped in. “And forgot his phone.”

“Or been in an accident,” said Willow suddenly. “Oh my god. What if he’s been in an accident? Should I call the hospitals do you think?”

“Lets give it a bit longer,” Johnny said calmly. “We shouldn’t panic just yet.”

“Right. Right. Of course you’re right.” Willow picked up her phone and dialed Fred’s number again. “I’ll just try calling him once more.” But, the same as the other times, the phone rang out.

***

When he still hadn’t turned up another hour later, impatience had turned into collective anger.

“It’s better to know now,” Ana said, drumming her fingers on the table. “Trust me.”

“Know what?”

“That he’s flaky. You definitely don’t want to be in business with someone like that.”

Willow shook her head miserably. “But he’s not flaky. I promise. He’s a really good person. He’d never do this to me.”

Ana and Mia glanced at each other.

“You haven’t put any money in yet, have you?” Ana said warily.

Willow burst into tears. “I did. I put money in.”

Ana gulped. “Err… how much did you put in?”

“All of it,” Willow wailed. “Everything.”

“But you can get it back, right?” Mia said. “Just call the bank and tell them not to release it.”

“I can’t,” Willow said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “The business account is in his name. I couldn’t open one yet because of the whole visa thing.”

“So you gave some guy you don’t know all your money?” Ana was incredulous. Even she would never be that dumb.

“Yes.”

The shocked silence that followed just made Willow cry harder. “I… trusted… him,” she managed to say between sobs.

“We don’t know for sure what’s happened,” Johnny said. “Lets not panic.” But even he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Willow leaped up, brushing the tears off her face and rushing to the front door. The others jumped out of their seats too, following her.

“I’m so sorry,” Fred gushed when she opened the door. “There was an accident. A guy on a bike got hit, so I took him to hospital and I left my phone at home I think… well, let’s just say the whole thing took longer than I thought.”

As if on cue, Fred’s breast pocket started vibrating.

“Um… I think that’s your phone,” Ana said, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms across her chest.

“I could have sworn I looked in my pockets,” Fred said, disbelief etched on his face. “I’m doubly sorry now. I’m late and a complete idiot. You must all think I’m a total floozy,” he said, looking towards Willow’s friends who were gathered in the hall.

They looked at the floor, mumbling “Not at all. Of course not.”

He fished a bottle of Dom Perignon out of his bag. “Accept this as a token of my humblest apologies so I can somehow diminish my complete embarrassment. I promise I’m not usually so unreliable.”

He seemed so sincere that they couldn’t help but smile.

“We forgive you,” Ana said. “Now let me put that on ice. I don’t know about all of you, but I need a drink!”

Willow grinned, taking Fred by the arm. “Everyone, this is Fred. My extremely generous, thoughtful and trustworthy business partner.”

***