‘Tilly!’ Hank squawked down the phone. ‘How goes it, gorgeous?’
‘Listen, can I call you back?’ she said, her mobile pressed to her ear as she hurried along the pavement, heading from her half-sister, Carrie’s place in Springfield Lakes, and heading towards Kate and Patrick O’Donnell's house; her heart racing at the thought of seeing Isaac again. ‘It’s just I’m a bit tied up right now.’
‘OK, but before you go, how are you fixed for tonight? Fancy a drink?’ Excuses swam to the surface, as they always did. A relationship with Hank was the last thing she needed. Maybe she shouldn’t have given him so much of her time when he came into Molly Malone’s. But she'd been lonely. ‘I can’t tonight. I’m babysitting for Carrie.’
‘My sister. I’ve mentioned her before, Hank.’ Don’t you ever listen? ‘I’m sorry, I've got to go.’ She disconnected the call before he could argue, finding herself yards from the path to Kate and Patrick's front door.
Panic set in. Was she doing the right thing? Maybe she should wait for Isaac to call her. Was she being too forward, or acting needy and desperate?
She knew it was the right house. When she'd returned to Australia almost a year ago, she’d seen his mum, Kate coming out of her front door. Kate hadn’t recognised her at first, and Tilly was tempted to walk on, head down. But the sight of Kate had stirred the few happy memories of her childhood with Isaac, and she couldn’t resist smiling and saying hello.
As soon as Tilly had explained who she was, tears had filled Kate’s eyes and she’d pulled Tilly into a hug. ‘It’s so good to see you,’ she’d said, going into raptures about how much she’d changed and how beautiful she was, which had made Tilly’s cheeks flush pink. ‘Do you live around here?’
Tilly had explained she was in Brisbane visiting her sister, and eventually, when the moment was right, she’d asked, ‘How’s Isaac?’
‘He’s doing well,’ Kate had replied, sounding proud. ‘He works in London, in a big IT company.’ She paused, her eyes watering, before adding, ‘I wish we saw more of him. I miss him so much.’ And as though the subject was too painful, she’d said, ‘So, where do you work?'
‘Molly Malone’s,’ Tilly had told her. ‘You should come one evening. It’s an Irish pub in Inala, Patrick would love it.’
‘And you should come to dinner,’ Kate said. ‘It would be great to catch up on all you’ve been doing. Talk about old times. I’ll give you Isaac’s email address, and maybe you could write to him.’
But despite seeing them at the bar, Tilly never took Kate up on her offer to visit, and never did get Isaac’s email address. She’d decided it was for the best. Her memories of the year they’d all lived at Springfield Lakes was dotted with heartache. In fact, the only good thing about that time was Isaac. It was when he left for England, waving from the back of the cab, that everything had gone terribly and irretrievably wrong for Tilly.
Now, as she walked towards the front door, a ginger cat rushed to greet her, winding around her legs. She raised her hand to ring the doorbell, but froze.
What had she been thinking, writing her number on Isaac’s hand? Fourteen years had separated them. They weren’t those kids anymore. They were strangers. In fact, as she played those brief moments when they talked in the bar and car park over in her mind, she began to wonder if he’d even recognised her.
She turned to leave, almost tripping over the cat. She bent to tickle its ears, murmuring kind words, and jumped when the door of the neighbouring house swung open. She’d dreaded it happening. She knew who lived there, and instantly recognised the man on the doorstep. It was Gus.
‘G’day,’ he called, raising his hand.
She kept her head down, afraid he might remember her. But then, why should he? He’d only seen her once before, when she was a child at Carrie’s wedding. He’d never recall how she’d danced with him in her socked feet to ‘The Wild Side of Life’.
‘Can I help you?’ he called, smiling.
‘I was looking for Isaac,’ she said, continuing to fuss the cat.
‘Ah, you’ll have no luck, love. He headed off to the outback this morning and probably won’t return for a bit.’
Tilly’s heart sank. She’d felt sure there’d been an energy, a chemistry between her and Isaac at Molly Malone’s. She’d hoped he felt it too. But maybe she’d imagined it, created it in her mind, wanted it too much.
‘Can I say who called?’ Gus asked.
‘No, it’s fine. I’m a friend of the family, that's all,’ she said, rising.
He stared, as though deliberating. ‘Were you aware Patrick died, love?’
‘What?' Shock rang through her. 'No. No, I didn’t know,’ she said, trying to take it in. How could it be true? He'd been so young, so full of life. ‘I’m so sorry.' She turned from Gus's curious gaze. 'I’ve got to go.’
She hurried down the path without another word, tears burning as she thought about Isaac’s father. She remembered him at Molly Malone’s, entertaining everyone with his travelling stories. Tears spilled down her face as she thought of the time she'd spent with Isaac as a child. How Patrick had sat on the floor and read to them, hugging his drawn-up knees as though he was still a child himself. His eyes had sparkled as he embellished stories about larger-than-life characters having incredible adventures. She had wished so hard that he could be her father.
She hurried down the road, taking the long route back to Carrie’s. The last thing she wanted was to pass her childhood home, the house where her father still lived. It was a mystery to her why Carrie would want to live so close to him. How she could love him after everything that had happened?
She sighed, and dried her eyes, picking up speed until she was jogging. Perhaps it was time to go back to America and see her mother; return to her flower shop, and make sure her crazy best friend, Jess, hadn’t run the place into the ground. A smile pushed through, as she thought of Jess. She knew she would be working long hours to make sure ‘Tilly & Jess’s Flower Power’ stayed afloat.
Tilly had never felt more conflicted - homesick for America, yet desperate to see Isaac again. But he’d gone, hadn’t he? And she knew it was time to move on before her feelings for him took hold and messed up her life.