CHAPTER 21 – HEATHER

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As Brian disappeared down the hallway, I was left alone at the island bar. I heard his door click shut and I let out a huge sigh, dropping my head into my hands, leaning my elbows on the table.

What had just happened?

I couldn't really say.

So much had happened.

Brian was grieving, he wasn't in a great state right now, very understandable. But I had been finally able to level with him about Andre, which I hoped would…well I didn't know what I hoped for. I didn't have an open invitation to stay, but Brian hadn't just shut me down the moment I got here.

I couldn't think coherently though. I couldn't connect emotions with these facts. There were too many feelings swirling around my mind; mostly Relief, but the whole situation was far from finished. Brian still had to decide if he was ok with me being here, and from there…if we were just friends, or anything more. That meant Hope was mixed in around somewhere in my thoughts; that after he got through this, perhaps we could pick up where we left off. Then I felt horribly Selfish that all I thought about was a relationship when Brian was going through a tragic time in his family. Then amongst it all I felt a tinge of Regret…what if Brian decided he didn't want me here? Compassion was floating around as well - that on top of all the emotional trauma he was dealing with, he also had to manage the farm and was overworking himself. And then I felt Helplessness that I didn't know what I could do to help him, or if he wanted help from me at all.

I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and sat up with a fright. It was Sue. I rubbed at my eyes and looked at the clock. It was heading into evening now. I was obviously so tired that even coffee wasn't keeping me awake.

"I came out after I finished reading and you had fallen asleep, dear. You should go to your room and get some more rest."

I couldn't even respond with words to thank her. I merely nodded and moved off my stool like a 90 year old. She followed me back to my room and helped me find my pajamas and get into bed - even though I had only known her for less than a day. On top of that, I realized that she herself had probably gotten less sleep than me. I fell asleep thinking this woman was an angel.

I woke to the sun furiously trying to force its way through the thick curtains creating a navy glow in the room. I turned over slowly and checked my phone for the first time since I left the city. I picked it up, its red alert light blinking angrily at me. I frowned. Who would be contacting me? I unlocked it and my jaw dropped at the 11 messages and 6 missed phone calls.

What the?

Going into the details section, they were all from Toad.

Oh.

I had given him my cellphone number before leaving Brian's lake house and most of the messages were about checking I had arrived safely at the farm. All the messages were received from before I reached the farm, since there was no reception out here. Fortunately, in one of the messages Toad had left the number of the lake house and I sat bolt upright in bed too quickly. I had to ring him. Some of these messages were threatening to come down to the farm, and I was pretty sure that if Brian had anyone else randomly arrive, it may just initiate a chain reaction breakdown. Even if it was Toad. I got out of bed and ran to the kitchen phone. I had picked it up and begun dialing the number before I realized someone was watching me from the island bar. I turned around slowly, realizing with chagrin that I was still in my pajamas. Thankfully, it was Sue who stared back at me with a bemused expression.

"Morning," she said with a smile.

"Morning," I said, my voice thick with sleep. "Um, I'm sorry, can I just – "

Sue waved her hand at me. "Of course dear, go on."

"Thanks," I said, smiling weakly at her. I took the phone back into my room and punched in the number.

The number rang and rang and then clicked to voicemail.

Hi, this is Brian, leave a message. Beep.

"Toad?" My voice broke and I cleared my throat, mortified. "Um, Toad, this is Heather. I um, got your messages. And I'm so sorry that I didn't reply sooner. So yeah, I arrived here ok and thanks…thanks for um, well you know there's no reception out here so I'll ring you again later with the number, cos I don't know it yet, I'll ask Sue. Um, in answer to your other texts, yeah Brian is…he's ok…sort of. Well I'm still at the farm so that's…something. Anyway, I'll ring you again later, like I said and um thanks for…thanks for being there. See ya."

I clicked 'End' on the phone and groaned out loud massaging my head with one hand. I wasn't expecting to have to leave a message, but then I remembered that he might be doing a weird shift at the docks on security, or possibly sleeping from a late shift last night. And combined with what I knew from Toad he would probably freak out at my girlish insecurity and regret ever phoning me. I sighed and went back out to the kitchen, putting the phone back on the cradle.

"Everything ok?" Sue asked.

"Yes thanks. Um, has Brian ever mentioned a guy named Toad?" I asked, sitting next to her.

She slid a mug of coffee over to me slowly. "Uh..no, cant say he has," she replied with a small grin.

"Well, he's a good guy. A good friend, to both of us. Toad had left like, a million messages on my phone to make sure I had got here ok and he's currently house sitting the lake house while Brian's away."

"I'm glad Brian has you both then," Sue said.

"Yeah," I said, wondering why I was telling her so much information, and feeling a sting of regret wondering if I was exposing a part of Brian's life that was private.

"Did you sleep ok?" Sue asked.

"Oh yes, thanks," I said, quickly finishing a mouthful of coffee. "And thank you…so much for…everything. I mean..really."

"You're welcome. It is actually very…comforting…to have someone else in the house. Helps take the focus off myself."

We were quiet for a minute or two while I continued my steep ascent into consciousness.

"So where is Brian? Still asleep?"

Sue gave a chuckle. "Lord, no. The cows cant wait until midday to be milked."

"It's midday?" I exclaimed in disbelief, rising slightly out of my chair.

"Yeah, about that," she smiled.

I sat back down slowly, looking out the window at the sun bringing the grassy pasture to an emerald hue.

"Oh," I said in a breath.

I sat down despondently wondering what there was I could do to help. He wouldn't get in until late afternoon, and would he be in the headspace to tell me if he wanted me here. Was that even relevant when he didn't even see me much? Or was it simply the fact knowing that I was inside that prevented him from relaxing or processing…everything? Would he even have had the time to think about whether or not he wants me here?

"Heather?"

"Huh?" I turned my head around quickly to Sue who had clearly been trying to get my attention for a while. She smiled gently at me.

"Maybe you should go out there."

I began to rise in my seat.

"Uh, perhaps not in your pajamas," Sue suggested.

I gave her a smile, my cheeks burning.

Fifteen minutes later I was dressed, cleaned up and felt half way to becoming a normal human being – whatever that was. I also asked Sue for the farm house phone number and sent Toad a text letting him know. Then I stepped out onto the deck, holding my hand above my eyes, squinting into the distance to find Brian. At the right hand back paddock, I spotted a figure on a horse with a mob of unruly sheep dotted about the place.

It took a good twenty minutes to walk from the deck to the paddock, in between munching on a piece of toast and dodging numerous potholes in the paddocks.

Really, what did they let roam around here?

I found it quite odd. So that significantly slowed down my journey. Then I worried that Brian would see me coming and move paddocks and it would take me another twenty minutes to follow him – and then I wondered would he want me to follow him? It was after these emotional hula hoops I put myself through, I realized I was only one paddock away from him and he was still absorbed in rounding up the sheep. I reached the fence line to the paddock he was in and lent on it, watching him maneuver the horse to match the sheep and their confusing patterns of moving. He turned around abruptly trying to muster up a few strays and finally saw me. There was no feeling in his gaze, it was unreadable. He simply nodded once, then looked back down to the sheep and finished seeing them through to the next paddock. He jumped down deftly from his horse (I think it was Charlie) and quickly shut the gate, wiping his forehead. Then he took Charlie by the reins and led him over slowly to me, tying him up loosely around a fence post which separated us. I smiled briefly at him and handed him a sandwich which Sue had given me before I left.

He took it with a weary expression.

"From your Mum," I clarified.

This seemed to ease him somewhat.

"Thanks." He opened it and started munching on it, not meeting my eyes. This made me nervous and I began looking around the paddocks trying hard to think of a neutral conversation topic.

"It's so beautiful out here," I began, then cringing at my pathetic lead in line.

He hummed in response, his mouth full of sandwich.

"Do you miss this when you go back to the city?"

"Yeah, a bit," he said, swallowing his mouthful.

I began to wish that I had never come out here. I was massively screwing this up.

"I don't miss being out in thirty degree heat with no shade though," he added. I gave an automatic short laugh, too eager to acknowledge his input into the conversation.

"Why don't you wear a hat?" I asked, squinting up at him.

"I usually do, I forgot to bring it out this morning. Didn't think it would get this warm."

"Can I get it for you?"

He gave a short smile and shook his head. "Nah course not, you'll twist your other ankle going all the way here and back again."

I went to protest but he cut me off.

"I'm actually surprised you made it out here in one piece," he said casually, before finishing off the sandwich.

I continued to let my mouth hang open in silent protest and he grinned at my facial expression, while chewing and wiping his hands together.

"So how long you planning on 'intruding on my personal life'?" he asked, fearlessly misusing my words from yesterday. As he lent forward to lean on the post, I unconsciously took a short step back; but I gave a small smile, glad to have established a small glimpse of our friendship again.

"I um, I didn't know if I would get this far. I mean…get to stay this long," I said, trying to convey the real reason behind that statement by gesturing uselessly with my hands.

He frowned at me in confusion. I huffed a little at myself, but expected this, and avoided eye contact with him.

"Well, since I knew that you…were dealing with losing your Dad…and then on top of that you probably thought that I was with Andre…I didn't just expect you to greet me with open arms when I got here."

Brian now raised an eyebrow.

"So you thought that I would order you off my property as soon as you showed up?"

My cheeks felt heated and I stared pointedly at a clump of grass.

"It would have been completely fair of you to do that, you know," I replied quietly.

"Heather."

There was a pause and I felt his gaze on me, so I slowly dragged my eyes up to him. He had stopped leaning on the fence post and had straightened up a little, waiting for me to look at him before he continued.

"I know that I can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but I would like you to know that apart from being deathly tired, emotionally strung out, and worked to the bone, I do consider myself a gentleman who would at least try and reason with someone before ordering them off my property."

I hadn't expected that, and I broke out in a small smile of relief, the atmosphere between us settling again.

"Alright. Now that we got that out the way, how long did you say you'd be here?" he asked.

No matter how settled the atmosphere was, I still couldn't anticipate how he would react to my next statement. A singular blade of grass took command of my attention again.

"Well I did take a week off work but-"

"A week?" His surprise was obvious and I gritted my teeth, cringing, now at a loss of how to respond. "Heather, you shouldn't waste your leave like that."

I relaxed and even scoffed with a bitter grin. If that's what he was worried about – well then, that wouldn't be a problem.

"You don't…it's fine. This is where I want to be…if you wa – if you don't mind. Or if I can be of help. Or…yeah."

I began tugging at my jersey sleeves again.

Brian scratched the back of his head. "Well I think you've been great for my mother, to be honest."

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. "Really? Oh ok."

This wasn't exactly what I had come for, nor was it the way in which I had intended to help. Not that I imagined I would follow him around like a sheep dog asking every five minutes if he was ok. But if this was the way that I could help and have my stay extended, then I felt obligated at the very least to accept it and do my best.

"Yeah I think having you around helps her…be able to…help someone. She cant really do much for me. I'm pretty much self-sufficient." A smirk ghosted across his face.

I shot him a skeptical look and he shrugged carelessly in response.

"You don't need any help on the farm?" I asked. I felt concerned that he might be being polite and not asking me to help him rounding up sheep or the like.

"No offence, but this isn't like pulling teeth." He flashed a cheeky smile then turned to his horse. "It's very hard physical labor."

"Man's work, is it?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yep," he said, now up on his horse and trying to withhold a grin.

"Ok…I'll let you get back to your manly work then. I'll see you at dinner?"

He looked down at me, tipping his imaginary hat at me. I turned and headed back to the farm house, cautiously navigating my way again.

Back at the farm house, Sue was busy baking in the kitchen.

"I hope you like cinnamon buns," she said as I stepped through the back door, kicking my gumboots off.

"Oh yes, that sounds amazing. I haven't had those in years." I smiled and sat down at the island bar, determined to carry out my Brian-given assignment of looking after Sue.

"So how's he doing?" she asked with her back to me, while pummeling the dough with a rolling pin.

"Oh…he forgot to get a hat…so I thought I would take him one. He didn't want me to…but…you know."

"That would be good. If I took him one all the way out there, he wouldn't put it on."

I blushed and got off my seat awkwardly, suddenly grieved at the fact that it was too warm to wear a jumper, so I had nothing to tug on in my embarrassed state.

"Oh…um, Toad is it, your friend?" Sue asked with a slight smile.

"Yes?"

"He phoned for you."

"Oh that's good, I'll call him back soon."

"He sounds nice."

"He is," I said, cringing at my lack of conversation.

Sue suddenly stopped rolling the dough and looked up and out the window at Brian in the distance.

"He's working so hard," I said without thinking, following her gaze to the tiny figure on the tiny horse moving slowly across the acres of green.

"I know, it's one of the things that's worrying me. He wont let anyone help him, you know. He's just like his father. You'd have to have gone to the University of Trustworthiness and have the physique of a bodybuilder to keep up."

"Sounds like an elite group," I muttered.

"Yeah," Sue agreed, sighing.

A moment passed.

"Sue?" I said, slowly, an idea forming in my mind.

"Yes?" she said turning to me.

"I think I might know someone belonging to that elite group," I said, picking up the phone and punching in a number.

Half an hour later, it was all settled. Toad had been brilliant and it all came into place easily. After a couple of calls back and forth from Toad to his boss, he had booked a flight and said he was keen to come help Brian out, especially since Brian didn't know about it. His work had owed him time off, he was used to working early hours and was keen to get out of the city. Sue was fairly flying around the kitchen with happiness and the whole house smelt like cinnamon. We both had wicked grins on our faces, knowing Brian wouldn't approve but that there was nothing he could do about it. I grabbed a couple of cinnamon buns and Brian's hat that Sue found for me and trudged back off out onto the farm. Fortunately Brian had finished herding sheep down the far end of the paddock and was in the middle of the farm now so it didn't take as long to reach him this time. I covertly held the hat behind my back and he noticed me approaching, so all he saw were the cinnamon buns. He gave me a short smile, wiped his forehead and jumped down off his horse.

"Are you tempting fate today?" he asked, taking a cinnamon bun.

"What do you mean?"

"I warned you about twisting your ankle…it's been done before out here by many who came before you."

I looked up at him with a serious expression. "That heat must really be getting to you because you're starting to talk like Yoda. So here, put your hat on."

Before he had time to react I reached up and planted the wide-brimmed, rusty brown hat on his head. He groaned and shook his head slowly. I could now release my grin of delight in front of him, except he didn't know I was grinning about my master plan to get him a new farm-hand.

He looked back at me now, an unimpressed look on his face.

I shrugged. "You said there wasn't much I could do to help with the farm work…so I'm just helping out in ways I can."

He gave a long, aggravated sigh.

"You're welcome," I said, now thoroughly enjoying myself. "Ok, so I'll see you for dinner then? Great. Bye!"

And I turned around, trying not to skip like a school girl, I faltered slightly when I stepped in a hole I didn't see, to which I immediately heard a "I told you so!" My foot was fine though, so I ignored him and tried to step out of the hole in an overly-dignified manner, standing ram-rod straight with my nose in the air, and I could hear laughter then entire way back to the farm house. But I didn't care. I was still grinning.

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A/N: Thanks for being patient with this story everyone. My other stories are taking a bit of my time, mainly Running With It - check that one out too and leave a review! Thanks all