Freya flinched in total recoil, physical and mental. Stepping past her father she slumped onto the bottom step. Going up the stairs to the veranda seemed too big an effort. Her mind closed down momentarily, eyes dull and lifeless, then closed tightly. Greyness exploded through her head blotting out the radiant thoughts about Alex from minutes ago.
Jacob watched, shock and helplessness chasing across his features. Freya was the steady one. Maybe he should have waited till Claire was home before broaching the news but he’d wanted to rule out any suggestion of Claire going to Scotland. Her recent better health was too precious to risk. And November in her home country could be lethal if she had one of her desperate bronchitis attacks.
Freya straightened her spine, opened her eyes, and pulled herself up by the bannister. Jacob was propped against the rail on the other side of the stairway. Papa’s thinking was transparent. Freya knew it was all about Mama. It always was. Ready to listen to the whole story, she thought maybe it needn’t be the end of the world. All he’d asked was, ‘How do you feel about a trip to Glasgow to help Gramma Agnes finish packing and then travel back here with her?’
Freya’s shoulders raised and fell as she took deliberate deep breaths. ‘How long do you think it would be?’
‘No more than a month overall.’
‘And when would it be?’
‘Leave here before the end of this month. We thought everything would take longer, but the Australian Immigration Office approved Gramma’s application and she went ahead with arrangements straight away. I don’t know why she didn’t heed our advice to wait till March or April or better still into May, when the worst of the heat would be over. As you know Claire intended going to help her then. Her health wouldn’t likely be a problem in the northern spring.’
He brushed the hair back from his forehead in a rush. ‘Gramma rang just after Claire left around lunchtime, middle of the night there, to say she’s made flight bookings to London for 24 November, and onward flights to Brisbane and Mackay. She wouldn’t budge from those arrangements even when I reminded her about our hot summers and that it’s worse here than Maroochydore because we’re further north. Made no difference when I harked back to how uncomfortable she’d found it even that spring when she was here for Doug’s birthday . . . So I’ve been busy since her call.’ Repeatedly pushing his hair back with both hands, he said, ‘I got a travel agent here to ring Glasgow to add your name provisionally to the same flights.’ He rushed on, ‘Easier to cancel than to take a chance on booking at short notice. We’ve got 48-hours to confirm.’ Frustrated, he punched his right fist into the palm of his left hand.
Freya rubbed her knuckles together, thoughts racing. She started to lope towards the park, then stopped abruptly at the gate. The breeze was sharp. With arms hugged across her chest and shoulders tensed up to her ears, she gazed at the waving branches of the massive ghost gums overshadowing the clumps of palms and lillipilli. Everything was in motion. How cold it would be in Glasgow in a few weeks.
Before turning, Freya gently waved her right hand through the spikes of lavender around the letterbox and breathed in the calming scent. With a deliberate shrug to relax her shoulders she paced back slowly to face Jacob. He hadn’t moved. Had he remembered or thought about her plans?
‘Right Papa. I’m not keen. But I suppose I could bear a month.’
‘You’ll go then?’
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