Two years later Gwen and Drake had both been promoted since the previous manager had retired giving the job to them. Since they were both managers, they worked part time to even the load. Dark denim skinny jeans, paired with a navy blue polo work shirt, Gwen fed her animals before continuing getting ready. Her four bedroom cottage on fifty acres of land was part of her graduation gift from her parents. They had money to burn and Gwen didn’t want anything to do with it. Although when they surprised her with the farm she didn’t object, she had always wanted a small piece of land and it gave her the freedom to get away from her rich parents. The décor to her home was inexpensive and comfortable, nothing like the expensive, carefully planned apartment her folks owned in the city. Tying up her loyal dog, Gwen finished getting ready before getting into her Toyota land cruiser, another graduation gift from her folks trying to get her to go to the city. Traveling the short fifteen minute drive to the store, her work had been constant over the years and she hadn’t laid eyes on the mystery man that freaked her out that day. Every six months in the middle of the year she could swear she felt someone watching her, she never did catch anyone staring. Gwen’s days had all been the same, she went to work, and then after she would visit Clara, whether it was at home or at the hospital. No one had expected Clara to live as long as she had, but lately she has been in the hospital more often than not. Even after two years, Clara has never given up Mr E’s name nor has Gwen met him. Today Drake was helping her in the store so they could have the weekend off, he had planned to take her out and hook her up with his single straight friend he called Edo. According to Drake it was for her belated twentieth birthday gift, even after he already gave her a gift on her birthday two days ago. When she arrived at the store Drake met her at the door.
“Are you excited for tomorrow night?” He asked excitedly, without any greeting. Drake’s grin reminded her of a kid at Christmas time. He had grown up a lot over the years, he grew out of slicking his hair back and just combed it through, but he never grew out of his boyish charm. It helped when he met Logan and finally told his folks he was gay. Logan was the best thing that happened to Drake. Gwen smiled at his boyish grin, it was contagious.
“Hi to you too, slow down Romeo, I don’t think it’s such a great idea. You and Logan are the only men I need in my life right now. Plus, I don’t have anything to wear. Oh no, don’t say that I do because those outfits are reserved for my mother.” Gwen said fixing her glasses, she didn’t like wearing them but she didn’t like wearing contact lenses any more. As for her wardrobe anything good was reserved for when her mother visited. Drake was about to speak when she cut him off. “Any potential suitor would run at the sight of me. I have a huge scar on my cheek, I wear glasses and-”
“And you are beautiful despite all that. Beauty is more than just looks my friend. If I know Edo like I think I do, he will back me up on this. To him it’s all about the personality, looks are just a bonus.”
“Yeah, I can’t take you seriously when you say his name.” Drake shook his head laughing. They opened the store and Gwen knew their conversation was far from over. She had had the scar for as long as she could remember. It ran from just under her left eye close to her hairline to the corner of her lips. Make up was suggested to cover it but it was still noticeable and Gwen hated makeup, it gave her a rash. Doing up pay checks, she would hand them to the junior staff members on their shift next week. Spending most of her day doing paperwork and sorting out the workshop for the saddler, she was relieved when Logan came by with coffee. He was the barista at Remes’ café, his very own coffee shop. When the coffee hit her tongue, her stressed out nerves relaxed.
“In no way did Drake corner me to tell me to tell you, you’re beautiful. So here goes, you Gwendolyn Louise Cooper are the most beautiful goddess to grace this earth. Any man would be a fool to think you’re anything less than a goddess, eísai ómorfi̱.” Logan told her his Greek accent was still there, he moved to Australia in his senior year and moved to Shadowfield after his graduation. A blush covered her cheeks; Logan had always had a way with words. With his tan skin, blonde shaggy hair and green eyes, if Gwen didn’t know him, she would have pegged the twenty-four year old as a professional surfer.
“So smooth as always, now get out of here before Drake loses his boyfriend. Thanks for the coffee Logan.” She gave him a grin sending him back to his day job. Shaking her head she got back to work sipping on her vanilla latte.
“See you tomorrow little G!” He called from down the hall. Gwen smiled, those boys were trouble and Gwen knew she was going to be in deep if she kept hanging around them. They were professional mischief makers.
That afternoon after closing, the sun was still high in the sky as Gwen drove around town buying supplies for Clara. Magazines, Clara’s favourite chocolate and flowers were all on the passenger seat as Gwen drove to Shadowfield hospital. Parking close to the entrance she made no move to enter the building. Each time she came Clara looked worse, it was getting harder each day. Grabbing the gifts for her friend, Gwen pulled herself together before heading up to Clara’s private room. Smiling at the nurses, she walked into Clara’s room to find her sleeping. Pale, fragile and hollow in the cheeks, her eyes had dark circles under them. Clara looked as sick on the outside as she was on the inside. Gwen knew it wouldn’t be long now before Clara went to a better place. Nurses filtered in and out, checking stats and administering medication. Clara’s eyes fluttered open, when they landed on Gwen, she gave a weak smile.
“Hey Gwen, when did you get here?” Clara croaked, Gwen handed her a drink of water and sat on the bed next to her. She knew she had to make the most of whatever time Clara had left.
“Not too long ago. How are you feeling?” There were more machines hooked up to Clara, Gwen knew it wasn’t a good sign. She struggled to hold back tears. She felt Clara grab her hand giving it a light squeeze. Taking a jagged breath, Gwen tried to keep her emotions in check, not only for herself but for Clara who always put on a brave face. It was time for Gwen to do the same for Clara. In her heart Gwen knew that the next few months would be hard on anyone that cared for Clara.
“Better now you’re here. Gwen, it’s stopped working. I’ve been given six months if I’m lucky.” Clara whispered her voice thick with emotion. Taking off her glasses Gwen covered her face with her free hand not being able to stop the tears pouring down her cheeks or the ache in her heart. She should have guessed when she saw Clara gradually getting worse, but the hope that Clara might survive over powered it. Gwen was losing hope in a miracle; it would be a miracle if Clara survived. Wanting to be strong for her friend, Gwen managed to pull herself together. Putting her glasses back on, she gave Clara a watery smile.
“Did I tell you Drake and Logan are setting me up on a blind date tomorrow night to a guy named Edo?” She asked Clara, both girls started to laugh at the guy’s name. Gwen wanted to cry but she shoved the urge down and talked about what she should wear with Clara. They read the magazines Gwen bought and snuck in some chocolate when the nurses weren’t looking. A nurse named Patricia came by and got Clara for her shower. She was by far the favourite nurse, her greying hair and brown eyes showed wisdom, every now and then her eyes held mischief. She always knew when the girls were up to something. Dinner was served shortly after and before they knew it, Gwen was being kicked out because visiting hours were over. After arriving home she went to the paddock to feed Shadow, her black stock horse mare before feeding her dog Dixie, a blue heeler and her black cat, Trixie. Taking a quick shower, Gwen put on a load of washing trying to decide what to wear for the next night. Clara had given her ideas on what to wear, which helped a lot. Her house felt empty, as did her body. The numb feeling in her chest wouldn’t budge, and there was no one to hold her when she finally reopened the flood gates letting Gwen herself cry, something she couldn’t hold back on any longer. Not even her parents stuck around to be there for her when news came about Clara’s diagnosis. A knock alerted her that someone was at her door. Only one person she knew knocked to the tune of Mary had a little lamb. Opening her door Drake was there, he looked as broken as Gwen felt.
“Oh baby girl, I’m sorry.” He whispered embracing her in a tight hug. They stood there while Gwen cried until she had no more tears to shed. Drake stayed with her the night, they stayed up for hours reliving all the good times they shared with Clara. She fell asleep on his shoulder drained emotionally from Clara’s news.
Night turned into day, Drake left early for a breakfast date with Logan and Gwen went to the hospital spending the morning playing the card game strip jack naked with Clara. Playing card games was always their thing, right from when they were little kids. By the time lunch rolled around, Clara was exhausted so Gwen took it as a sign to leave. Logan greeted her when she arrived at the café. Ordering, she glanced around at the café, it was empty.
“I don’t think tonight should happen after last night.” Gwen admitted to Logan plaiting her now reddish brown hair to the side. Since the café was empty Logan sat next to her at the bench. Soft music drifted through the speakers. Feeling a warm hand cover hers, she looked up to him. Logan had always been there when she needed advice or just someone to talk to. He was like her own personal therapist, even when one of her friends was a counsellor.
“All the more reason to have it happen, Drake told me what happened last night. You need a distraction and Beau is that distraction. He is hot and a great listener.” Logan stated with a wink, giving her hand a light squeeze. Gwen smiled at his antics, she also liked Beau’s name, much better than Edo. He let her finish her lunch in peace attending to the few customers that just arrived. Paying for the meal, she shuffled out of the café making her way home before she ran out of time to check the boundary fence. With just a bridle on Shadow, Gwen jumped on bareback, whistling to Dixie to follow as they made their way onto the property. The dams were checked as well, the water level was getting low. The sun was starting to set as the mosquitos came out in full force. Doing the outside chores quickly, Gwen went inside to get ready. Fifteen minutes later she was showered and wearing denim knee length shorts with a singlet top that went under an open long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. Instead of her usual plait, Gwen tied her hair into a high pony tail letting her fringe frame her face. On her feet were her good high top Ariat boots. Sliding her glasses up her nose, she got in her car and drove to the Shadowfield pub. For a Saturday night the pub was fairly quiet. Gwen found Drake and Logan at the bar.
“I should have known I’d find you pair at the bar.” She remarked standing behind them; both men looked at her with a grin on their faces.
“About time you showed! I thought we were going to have to get you.” Drake teased at the same time Logan spoke.
“You look hot! What are you drinking?”
“I came didn’t I? Thank you kind sir, I’ll have a Bundy rum thanks.” She replied laughing. They brought their drinks, taking them to a table out back.
“Logan’s right, you’re freaking hot! Where have you been hiding this girl?” Drake announced grinning, Gwen blushed crimson. She wasn’t used to their ‘hot’ comments. There was nothing different about the way she dressed, so she didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Taking a sip of her drink, she let herself relax into the cheerful atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t call her hot; it’s degrading to her beauty. She is stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, pretty, a goddess, cute, dazzling, elegant, and lovely and she is a handsome woman.” The masculine voice said from behind her causing her to choke on her drink. Coughing she turned to see who spoke. He was older than when she last saw him standing across the street two years ago. He wore wrangler jeans with a checked long sleeve shirt that was tucked in. His hair was shorter than last time too. Gwen felt like a mouse when she was seated next to his standing. When her framed blue eyes met his brown ones she knew she was in trouble.
“Wrangler butts drive her nuts.” She heard Logan snicker from behind her. Picking up a small stick she tossed it lightly at him, meanwhile the other two were chuckling at her expense.
“Knock it off Logan; you’re cruising for a bruising buddy. I can still go home you know.” She retorted smirking at him, knowing that she wouldn’t leave.
“Beau, Gwen. Gwen, Beau.” Drake introduced, Gwen shook Beau’s hand out of habit. He smiled at her warmly before sitting down beside her. The conversation flowed easily once the beginning awkwardness faded away. Gwen was having a great night; she saw customers and old school students that graduated with her. She also found out that Beau was a cattle grazier in the outback. Since it was dry and trying times and with the drought stricken land, he had no choice but to sell up and return to Shadowfield. Gwen had heard about it on the news one night about how dry it was. It devastated her to know Beau had to give it all up. Crickets chirped and the air got cool as the night set in. It was the first time Gwen had been out on a Saturday night in months.
“You’re quiet tonight, Gwen. Are you okay?” Drake asked as they ordered meals for everyone.
“It’s nice to be out; also there is something about Beau that I can’t quite put my finger on.” They ended the conversation there as Beau and Logan caught up with them. Gwen did like Beau; he was a fun guy to be around, much like Logan. There was something about him, which Gwen couldn’t figure out. Her heart beat sky rocketed every time he accidently touched her, while her cheeks turned red whenever he sent a compliment her way. Shortly after their meals were ready and they continued their conversation in the dining room. Across the hall they heard the rowdy drunks cheering and hollering.
“What are we drinking? This round’s on me.” Beau asked, they had all finished their meal and Gwen needed to get home. Tomorrow she would have to call her brother, tonight had been quite a night and it was leaving Gwen feeling uneasy.
“Nothing for me, I have to go. Night guys, it was nice meeting you Beau.” She farewelled them, she got into her car and left for home. When she arrived home the memories of a story her brother used to tell her came through, suddenly it all made sense. Gwen inhaled sharply, one word filtered into her mind, cursed.