Duncan 2011 quickly turned away and strode down the side street silently, pleased that Pearl and Alex were far in front of him and not looking back. He then walked to Duncan-1986's front gate, and left an envelope addressed to Duncan-1986, with a note:
On Friday night, a lot of alcohol went down at that gathering, and at some point Alex McIntosh mistook me for you and started a fight. He thinks YOU gave him the hiding of his life. Just stay out of his way, and you'll be right. He'll certainly stay out of yours,
An older friend.
He left it in the letter box, and started walking to Killara station. Ten minutes later he walked back. It had been a mistake. It wouldn't do for Duncan 1986 to know that Alex intended him violence. If the incident were talked about amongst the youth group's members and leaders, he would have no knowledge of it and honestly deny it. The others would take it for some sort of modesty and nobody would ever guess the truth. It was better to leave it that way, not start leaving clues to Duncan 1986 having acquired a mysterious helper.
He stepped inside the property, quietly opened the letter box and took out the letter. The return trip caused him to miss the last train back to North Sydney. So all he could do was use his ticket to catch the Night Ride Railway Bus instead. Duncan 2011 returned to his Coral Rift and slept a little easier in April 2011 that night. He had only wiped the incident from the life of Duncan 1986. As a time traveller, who was there for the replacement incident, he still remembered both versions of events. Yet he had purged the damage, by standing up to the bully. Given that he was 42 and not as fit as a 17 year old, he suddenly considered, maybe he hadn't really had that much of an 'unfair' advantage anyway.
He knew one thing for sure. He must never trust the wrong person with the knowledge of his Coral Rift. What Alex McIntosh, or someone like him, could do with it was a horrific thought.
In early June, Duncan 2011 returned to 1986, caught a train from North Sydney to Town Hall and walked to Darlinghurst University. The brown hair dye had worn off, which was good. He didn't want to look too much like Duncan 1986 now. Still, if she'd liked Duncan 1986, and was aged 37-39, he hoped she would also like Duncan 2011. The Coral Rift would be waiting for him outside the 1986 version of his 2011 home, if she hadn't been interested in 1986, but merely polite. He could easily walk away from the situation … 25 years away, in fact.
He had on a 1980s suit, that he had bought from a second hand clothing store in 2011. Duncan walked onto the campus, went to the administration building, and approached the desk, seeing that the lady was there, looking down at some paper work. He was soon close enough to draw her attention. She looked up and smiled pleasantly. It could have been the polite manner of anyone on the front desk in such a position. Yet he felt sure that it had the same unique quality of her friendliness towards Duncan 1986 in February 1986.
That was scarcely conclusive evidence of his chances though. She might well have been extending nothing more than a polite welcome to the university back then.
"How can I help you?" she asked.
"Would you be able to give me directions to the campus library?" he asked.
"I could walk you over and show you the way, if you like," she said.
"Thank you. That would be great," said Duncan.
She got up from the desk, and walked out with him.
"I'm Thora Kavanaugh, if you ever get lost here again," she said, holding out her hand to shake.
He took her hand and enjoyed the brief touch that the perfunctory greeting offered.
"I'm Duncan Paulson," he said.
It was the best alias he could come up with, since his father's first name was Paul. He didn't know how familiar she might have made herself with the name Duncan Fennister, in the course of processing Duncan 1986's recent dropping out procedure.
"Have you come a long way?" she asked.
If she only knew.
"I caught the train from North Sydney and then walked through Hyde Park and along Oxford Street to get here," he said.
"What time do you think you'll be leaving?" she asked.
"Around mid to late afternoon," he said.
"I'm going at half past four. I could drive you back that way," she said.
"Thank you," he said.
It had been a split second decision. He wanted to spend the time getting to know her in the car, but he had no idea what he could present to her as his home in 1986. They talked a little longer, until they reached the library.
"Thanks for all your help," he said.
"My pleasure. Can you find your way back to the admin building by 4:30 for the lift?"
"I think I can reverse this walk in my memory," he said.
She went back to work in her office, and he read a book in the library until 4:15, and then returned to the admin building. She led him to the staff car park and they were soon making their way through late afternoon city traffic.
"So what were after in the library?" she asked.
"It's a long story arising out of a … science project I'm working on," he said, "I'm not actually a student here, but I was once."
It would have been 25 years and two months or only two months earlier, depending on how you looked at it, but he had indeed been a student there once, if only for a few weeks.
They crossed the Harbour Bridge, and he found himself frequently glancing sideways at the way the sun fell on her long dark brown hair and her soft white cheeks. Was it any wonder that Duncan 1986 had fallen enough to remember her for 25 years?
"I'd better get into the next lane," she said, "Or I won't be able to turn off at North Sydney."
"You might actually save some driving if you turn off at Milson's Point," said Duncan, and directed her to the house he would live in decades later.
He would have to stand on the footpath and wave goodbye to her, and let her think he was about to walk into the house that in reality he didn't own yet. However, before it came to that, he had to use the social skills and confidence he had acquired in the last 25 years, to make this whole trip worthwhile.
"Thora, you seem like a kind outgoing lady. If it's appropriate to ask, would you like to have dinner one night, perhaps near Lavendar Bay?" he asked.
"Lavendar Bay would be nice, and it's fine. I'm a widow," she said.
"When would be a good time for you?" he asked.
"Are you doing anything tonight?" asked Thora.
"Could we go now then?"
"Sure. You could leave the car here, if you liked. It's a nice easy walk, and a scenic one."
"I'd like that. I'm in Kirribilli, not that far from here actually."
It wasn't. It was less than two suburbs away, two small suburbs.
As the sun began to set, he walked her to Lavendar Bay Park, up the stairs and into a waterfront restaurant. She had a coffee, while he had a herbal tea. Then they shared a mixture of prawns, lobster and calamari rings, and then he paid the waiter, including a small tip. He invited her to walk around North Sydney with her. He soon mustered up the courage to attempt to hold hands with her, and Thora responded gently. He showed her through the grounds of his old school, leaving out the fact that he'd been there as Duncan 1985 less than a year earlier.
It was approaching 11:00 pm, when they got back to her car.
"I've walked around here so many times," he said, "But tonight it's been everything I always wanted it to be."
"I've sometimes ventured over this way myself in the evenings," she said, "It's a wonder that we've never come across each other before."
"I'd have been very happy if we had," he said, and felt a little awkward as he put an arm loosely around behind her, to rest gently on her back.
Thora put both arms around him, and his other arm somehow managed to catch up. They were close enough that all he had to do was to rest his cheek against hers. As they snuggled together, he had not the slightest envy of Pearl and Alex in his mind. They weren't in his thoughts at all. Duncan 1986 hadn't known what to do about his feelings for Thora. Duncan 2011 knew that above all, he wanted very much to kiss her. He had never before enjoyed the experience of kissing a beautiful woman. Yet Thora had been married and was no doubt well used to it. What would she think of his shy social ineptitude?
He took the intermediate step of kissing her cheek. That in itself was nice. Thora turned her face towards him and turned her head a little to the side. This was it, he realised. She was inviting him to kiss her on the lips. He had to leave the shy Duncan 1986 far behind to sleep off his new General Finance Ltd job at his present day home in Killara. Duncan 2011 had to kiss this beautiful woman in the way she was hoping for, and in the way that he had so long yearned for. He closed his eyes and touched his lips to hers and felt the greatest physical rapture of his life. Her soft hands were still embracing his body. Her medium blue woollen jumper was still pressed against his suit coat. Her dark grey skirt was still brushing lightly against the flares of his trousers in the wind coming off the harbour water.
After several seconds, they stopped, breathed and then continued.
"Your sweetness is worth much more than experience," she said suddenly.
So she knew it was his first time.
"It felt naturally nice with you," he said.
"Could I have a glass of water? We've been walking for quite a while?"
He froze, and she felt it from the closeness of their embrace.
"What's worrying you, darling?" she asked.
"Well it is a first date. I mean …"
"It really is only about a glass of water, but you seemed more worried about the fact that I'd be seeing inside your house. I like you, and I thought you liked me. There couldn't be anything in there that would turn me off you. It seemed odd that you paid such a large bill in 50 cent pieces and 20 cent coins, but a lady doesn't ask currency questions. I'm here because I trust you, a man I've known for one day, to walk me to my car in the back streets of North Sydney late at night. So can't I come in?"
"Maybe we'd better go in the back way. Then you'll understand," he said, and he led her around to the Coral Rift.
"I made this myself," he said, "Have a look inside."
"An outdoor wardrobe. I'm being courted by a genius," Thora mused.