Laura zipped up the suitcase on her bed and exhaled as the deep ache inside her intensified. This ache was one she’d had experienced constantly for the past nine years. One she’d learned to live with. An ache of loss. An ache of guilt. And now the ache was so much more complicated. It wasn’t every day that her mum rang to tell her she had advanced stage cancer. That she didn’t have long to go. It wasn’t every day that Laura resigned from her job at the beauty salon in order to spend every moment possible with her dying mother.
Laura sucked in a shaky breath as she pulled the suitcase off the bed and glanced around the room. She wondered why she felt such a finality at packing her suitcase and leaving her Melbourne apartment, as if it were for the last time.
The bedroom door swung open, and Laura jumped, her nerves on edge. Luke, her fiancé, came in and placed his hand on her shoulder. ‘You okay?’ he asked.
Laura nodded, afraid that if she spoke her voice would give away the fact that she was far from okay.
‘Babe,’ he continued, ‘I know I said I’d be able to come up on weekends to visit you and your mum, but I’m not sure how often it’ll be. You know, with work and everything.’
Laura frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve put my hand up for the promotion.’
‘Well, I can’t just up and leave on a Friday night and be three
hundred odd kilometers away in the middle of nowhere. Do they even have internet there?’
‘Of course we have internet! It may be a small country town, but it’s not the Dark Ages.’
‘It’s just there’ll be more meetings, more trips to Sydney. It’s bad timing.’
Laura’s hackles rose. ‘Well I’m sorry my mother’s cancer is inconvenient for you.’
Luke dropped his hands to his hips. ‘Come on. You know I don’t mean that. I’m simply saying I may not be able to get there every weekend, that’s all.’
Laura swallowed back a lump of realization in her throat.
‘I’m sorry, babe, but you know how important this promotion is. It will set us up for life. We could finally get married, buy a house, start a family.’
Laura shook her head. ‘I can’t think about things like that right now. My mother is dying!’
‘I know, it’s awful. But, we have to think about our future too,’ Luke said, reaching toward her.
Laura batted his hand away. ‘This is so typical of you, Luke. Work always comes first. I thought you’d have my back on this and be there for me.’
‘I am, babe, but—’
‘And stop calling me babe. You know I hate it.’
Luke cocked his head to the side and slumped his shoulders. ‘Look,
I know you’re hurting, and believe me, if I could do anything to change things, I would, but ...’
Laura clenched her jaw, her body shaking with adrenaline as she reached for her suitcase and turned toward the door.
‘Laura, hey, come on. Don’t leave things this way. Let’s talk it through.’
Laura paused in the doorway and looked back at Luke, wondering what she ever saw in him. Sure, he’d charmed her with his Brad Pitt smile and Chris Hemsworth biceps, and his promises of the world as he climbed the advertising ladder. But, when it came down to it, when it really mattered, he never had her back. This wasn’t the first time, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. Work always took priority for Luke. Money and status were his first loves—probably his only loves. Why had it taken so goddamn long for her to realize that?
‘I’m not one of your clients who will
talk it through. I’m not doing this anymore. It’s over, Luke. Goodbye,’ she said coolly.
It wasn’t until she stepped into the elevator that she let the tears flow. She expected Luke to chase after her. Apologize. She even paused in the car for a moment, but he didn’t follow, and in fact, Laura realized she didn’t care. Instead, she felt a sense of relief. Pleased she’d found a strength within herself she hadn’t realized she possessed. She started the engine, her emotions still high.
Half an hour later, Laura found herself backed up in the afternoon traffic trying to navigate the exit to the Hume Freeway. She was stuck between a garbage truck and a semi, crawling along slower than a Melbourne winter. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and chewed the inside of her cheek. ‘Come on!’ she whispered under her breath, not sure if she was more frustrated with her thoughts that wouldn’t shut up or the crawl of traffic and insistent rumble of the garbage truck in front of her.
The traffic ground to a halt, and Laura stretched her neck to relieve the tension, the glint of the diamond on her left ring finger catching her eye. She slipped it from her finger and dropped it into the center console. Out of sight, out of mind. If only she could rewind her life back to happier times. Simpler times. But when? She was only twenty-seven, and yet, the only time she remembered being truly happy was during her childhood, when it was just her and her mum in small-town Banyula. She shook her head. Things had changed dramatically since then in ways she didn’t want to remember. Laura felt the tears begin to form and bit her lip to stop them. Was that really the last time I was happy?
The sharp sound of a car horn jolted her back to the present, and
she pushed down on the accelerator, realizing the traffic had begun to move again. Time to shut away useless thoughts like that and focus on getting back safely to her mum.
Laura had escaped the city traffic and found herself focusing on the broken white lines of the country highway. The last time she was on this stretch of road, she was traveling in the opposite direction, away from her mother’s weatherboard cottage on the tree-lined street near the railway line. The railway line. That was always the memory that caused her thoughts to snag. Nostalgia was mixed with the harsh truth of why Laura had left almost ten years earlier and had never been able to return. But, like a shadow, her past was always right behind her. She had come one hundred eighty degrees, the city an almost nonexistent speck in the rearview mirror. Every kilometer brought her closer, brought her back to her childhood home.
She chastised herself for the selfish emotions consuming her energy. She should be thinking of her mum right now. Nothing else should matter. But it was too late. Well-hidden memories once pushed purposely into the back of her mind had come forward again. She knew it was inevitable. That going back wouldn’t be just about looking after her mum in her last days. Everything she’d run from all those years ago would resurface. She’d have to face Tom. And what about Rachel? She’d have to cross that railway line every single day.
She switched on the radio to take her mind off things, the sultry voice of Whitney Houston’s ‘Saving All My Love’ filtered through the speakers. She smiled. Her mum loved Whitney.
The large green sign ahead indicated 320km to Banyula, and all of a sudden Laura felt an overwhelming sense of nausea wash over her, the saltiness rising to the back of her throat. She pulled the car to a halt on the gravel at the side of the road and opened the door. She made it to the grass just in time.