Headed for divorce, Trina returns to the small town of her childhood to rebuild her life.
Trina is starting over after a painful separation from her husband of almost twenty years. Grief and loss force her to re-evaluate her life. The only thing she can think to do is to return to her hometown where she has to deal with all of the things she left behind; a hometown she hasn't visited since high school graduation.
When the police officer who lives next door comes knocking with questions about a tragedy from the past, Trina finds herself exploring the trauma of her childhood and facing the pain and stigma she's run from for so long.
As she faces a new season of life, Trina must learn how to navigate complex family relationships, new friendships and a return to the career she left behind to raise a family years earlier. In the process, she'll finally confront the ghosts of her past and upend a mystery that's haunted her adult life.
An emotional tale of life after loss and of finding yourself again in the midst of grief.
Don't miss this heartwarming story from the USA Today Bestselling Author of The Waratah Inn.
Release date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Black Lab Press
Print pages: 237
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) heart touching (1) heartwarming (1) satisfying ending (1) tearjerker (1) thought-provoking (1)
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Home Sweet Home
Twenty-Five Years Later
The trailer bumped behind the station wagon. Trina Rawlings grimaced as it swung a little to one side, then the other. She’d never towed a trailer before. There were so many things she’d never done that she was doing now. Pulling a trailer behind her old SUV was just one in a long list of new experiences she’d encountered over the past two years.
The Pacific Highway rose smooth ahead of her, long, wide and still slick with the light dusting of rain that’d pattered on the car’s roof a few minutes earlier, then vanished as quickly as it had appeared with sunlight peeking out from behind the single bulbous grey cloud that hung over the lush valley.
She saw the turnoff just in time and headed left, taking the exit ramp beneath a sign for Tweed Valley Way. The entire highway looked different than she remembered, flanked on both sides by expansive cane fields swaying tall and gold-tipped in the afternoon breeze. The road used to draw travellers right past the outskirts of the small town, by the last train stop and through Condong and the puffing sugar mill. But now, there was no view of Murwillumbah from the turn off and the smooth wide lanes of the new highway slid off into the distance northward, while she turned onto a smaller side road. Nerves churned in her gut and she swallowed hard. It was all so strange, yet still so very familiar.
Almost twenty-five years since she’d left town. She’d never been back. Not once. Mum had visited her, of course, but Trina had been adamant — she never wanted to set foot in the town again. Not after everything that’d happened. But now, at the age of forty-two, the intensity of her desire to stay away had been replaced by a stronger yearning to return, and so here she was on her way home.
Home sweet home.
If ever it was that to her.
Beyond the cane fields rose rolling green hills. Dark green oaks and purple bedecked jacarandas dotting full pastures of brilliant grasses. The dry eucalyptus forests further south supplanted by lush subtropical rainforest, dark fertile soil, and green fields where fat brown or black cattle grazed peacefully, swatting flies with lazy tails.
The air was heavy with humidity and Trina wound down the car window to breathe in the heady scents of moist grass, leafy trees, bubbling creeks, and livestock.
It wasn’t long before the first houses appeared on one side of the road — timber boxes set high on spindly legs to keep the dwelling free of the flood waters that rose all over town and crept from the Tweed River into streets and up lanes, over parks and into car lots every year.
Those floods carried with them some of Trina’s favourite recollections of living in the small town. Whenever it rained hard for more than a day she was transported back to this place in her memories, with flashes of packing up her school things early and heading out into the downpour to climb onto school buses lined up outside the school with all of the other children who lived outside of town and were destined to be cut off from home if they stayed any longer.
She’d leave her bike at school on those days, where it’d be waiting for her as soon as the flood waters fell, and she was back at school again. It might be three days, five days, or a week until that happened, still she had no use for her bike anyway when it rained like that.
Not much about the town had changed in a quarter of a century. A facelift here, a new restaurant there. But other than that, it all looked the same. Sunnyside Mall was a little more drab. The park was overgrown where squat shrubs had turned into tall, leafy trees.
The drive through town was like a journey through the past. When she turned left and cruised past the high school, she offered it a quick glance. The sturdy red brick building looked older than she remembered. There were newer, more modern additions to one side of it, but otherwise it was much the same. She’d expected things to look different, to be different, but it was almost as though she’d stepped back in time. Memories flooded her, bringing the familiar ache to her throat and she focused again on the road, pushing the images from her mind. There’d be time for reminiscing later, right now she had to brace herself to see her mother.
And not just to see her, but to move in with her. It was temporary; that was what she’d told herself and what she’d said to Mum over the phone. She needed a place to recover, to lick her wounds after the separation. It wouldn’t be for long. Then she’d move on, make a decision about where she wanted to live her life now that it wasn’t joined with someone else’s. She could go anywhere, do anything she wanted, now that Hannah had moved out to attend university in Brisbane.
There was nothing tying her in Sydney any longer, so she’d finally made the choice to leave. To put that part of her life behind her, to start again. But there was one problem with her plan, a single fly in the ointment — she had no idea where she wanted to go or what she wanted to do. So, when Hannah suggested she visit her mother in Murwillumbah, she’d resisted the idea at first, then given in when she hadn’t been able to come up with a better idea.
Now that she was almost there, the butterflies in the pit of her stomach had her reconsidering everything. She flew past the shop in Bray Park where she’d worked part-time throughout her high school years, noting that it sported a new coat of paint in blues and whites instead of the former green and grey. Perhaps Terry Weston still owned the place since it was still called Weston’s. She’d have to take the time to stop in and see him, that is, if she stayed longer than one night — and with the way things were between her and her mother, that wasn’t guaranteed.
Soon she slowed as she neared the familiar corner where she’d lived for so long. She almost didn’t recognise the house. No longer did it slouch, faded grey on the edge of the street, looking tired and forlorn — instead, she found a double story home with warm brick facade, white trim and an enclosed garage.
Mum told her a few years back that she’d made some improvements to the place, but this was more than Trina had expected. It looked like a home, where a loving family might live. Nothing like the run-down shack of her childhood. A swell of resentment built in her chest — how different her life might’ve been if she’d been able to spend her childhood in a house like that.
She pulled into the driveway, stopping in front of a sturdy gate and chain link fence. When she climbed out, she stood for a few moments, hands on hips, surveying the neat yard, flowering climbing rose on black trellises, mailbox with a bronze name plate and dog door in the white timber side door.
Mum had a dog? Or maybe it was a cat, though she didn’t think of Anthea Cook as a cat person. Or a dog person, come to think of it. Really, any creature that required caring for, feeding, love — even children — weren’t likely to find what they needed at her mother’s house. At least, in her experience that’d been the case. Maybe things had changed. Maybe everything had changed.
She’d spent time with Mum over the years, for Christmas, the occasional birthday when her mother felt like playing the part of doting grandmother to Trina’s children. She knew her mother had changed. She’d been sober for almost ten years now, though it was still hard for Trina to believe the change was permanent. And there was a new man in Mum’s life — but when wasn’t there?
With a shake of her head, brown curls bobbing against her shoulders, she walked up the footpath to the front door and rounded her fist to knock.
It felt strange to knock on her own front door. The door to her home, a home that’d been transformed, but still, it was hers. It held a place in her heart she couldn’t deny, even with all the bad memories that were pressed into each corner. There were some good ones as well, and it was those that now crowded her mind’s eye as she waited, knocked, then waited again.
The door flew open, and there she was. The woman who’d held Trina’s heart in her hand for so many years, who’d bruised it, wounded it, and loved it in equal measure.
“You made it!” crooned Mum. “Come on in, I made muffins.”
Mum embraced Trina, kissing her cheek, and smelling of vanilla and the rose scented sachets she liked to keep in her cupboards to fend off the moths.
Trina followed her inside, setting her purse on a dark timber hall table that was new and admiring the complementary shades of grey, sea blue and silver that had been carefully selected as a theme for the home’s thoughtful decor. It was hard for Trina to imagine her mother choosing a decor or buying furniture for that matter. Every item in the home of her childhood had been second-hand, given to them by some well-meaning friend or relative. Now, the house was tastefully decorated in pieces that had been picked out to complement one another, giving the house a classic, Hampton's feel that left Trina wordless.
“Was the drive okay?” asked Mum, leading the way to a spacious, modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances and blue accents above a stone bench top. “It’s not too bad between Coffs Harbour and Murwillumbah these days with the highway upgrades they’ve done.”
“It was fine, smooth sailing,” replied Trina, finding her tongue. “Wow Mum, I love what you’ve done with the place.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot you hadn’t seen it. I sent you some photos, I thought.”
“Did you?” Trina didn’t remember seeing them; she was certain she would’ve recalled such a drastic change. “Well, I like it. You’ve made a beautiful home.”
“Thanks, love.” Mum beamed, her cheeks pinking under Trina’s praise. “It means a lot to me that you like it. I only wish…” She hesitated. “Well, it would’ve been nice for you to be able to enjoy it while you were here, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. Can we?” Her voice turned chipper, her eyes gleaming as she turned away.
“It’s fine, Mum, forget about it.” Trina didn’t like to revisit the past, not with her mother. There were things that’d happened that would never be forgotten, not by her anyway. She was certain her mother had no recollection of most of it, but some moments were seared into her mind. Bringing up the past wouldn’t do anything but upset them both.
“Would you like some coffee?”
Mum got to work, putting ground coffee into an espresso machine — yet another thing that Trina had never imagined she’d witness. She even frothed milk and produced bottles of vanilla and caramel flavouring. “You can choose your poison,” she said with a chuckle. “You like your coffee sweet, right?”
“Thanks, Mum. That’s very thoughtful, I’ll have the caramel.”
They sat together on a newly constructed back deck at a glass table with matching black chairs. A plate of banana nut muffins rested on the table between them.
Trina sipped her coffee, staring into the distance at the tall rainforest-covered mountains reaching skyward on either side of the valley, and the sweeping green paddocks with indolent cattle grazing.
“How was Ben when you left Sydney?” asked Mum, patting the milk from her top lip with a napkin.
Trina’s chest tightened. Mum had a habit of taking Trina’s ex-husband’s side in almost every situation. Well, almost ex-husband, they were officially separated. The divorce papers were with the solicitors who’d assured Trina they’d be ready soon.
Not that Trina was looking forward to receiving the papers with any kind of joy. The separation had been Ben’s idea — he was the one who had left her. Walked out one Saturday morning before she’d even had her second cup of coffee. But if she were being honest with herself, they’d both seen it coming for some time. Even so, thinking about it made her heart hurt.
“I don’t really know. I haven’t seen him in months, but I assume he’s fine. I suppose no news is good news, as they say.”
Mum’s lips pursed. “Hmm…poor Ben.”
What about poor Trina, who’d already lost so much only to have her husband walk out right when she needed him the most? What about that?
Trina drew in a calming breath. “I’m not sure he deserves any pity.”
“Well, to lose so much in such a short time…”
“I lost just as much.”
“Yes, of course you did. I wonder though if you tried hard enough…” Mum gulped a mouthful of coffee.
“Mum! Please. You know I tried. I feel like sometimes you worry more about Ben than you do me. Like you did with each of your boyfriends when I was a kid. The men always come first, and I come in second…no, scratch that, last.” Her tone was more bitter than she’d meant it to be, and she’d promised herself she wouldn’t get into it first thing. But somehow Mum managed to goad her into a fight within five minutes of them seeing each other, as always.
Of course, she didn’t have to take the bait. At least that’s what the three-hundred-dollar per hour therapist had told her at one of their few meetings, right before Trina realised she couldn’t afford to pay for therapy and a divorce all in one year.
Mum huffed. “You say that as though I had so many boyfriends you couldn’t keep track.”
“Well…” shot back Trina, before biting down on her tongue.
Mum’s eyes glistened. “If that’s what you think of me…” She stood, pushed out the dining chair with a rasp of metal legs on timber boards, and stalked inside, coffee cup in hand.
“Mum, come on. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.” Trina rolled her eyes, inhaled another long breath then followed her.
She found her standing at the bench, wiping its clean surface down with a damp cloth, her eyes red rimmed.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Trina sat on a bar stool, cradling the coffee cup between her hands. “Let’s start again.”
“If your childhood was so terrible, how did you turn out so well?” asked Mum, her voice wobbling.
Trina softened. “You’re right. Like I said, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I react the way I do when I’m with you. I turn into a teenager all over again and things come blurting out of my mouth before I realise what I’m saying.”
Mum hung the cloth over the kitchen tap. “I suppose I can understand that.”
“Thank you,” replied Trina with sincerity. “Now, tell me how work’s going at the restaurant. We haven’t caught up properly in ages.”
Mum sat beside her, straight backed, her blonde bob perfectly coiffed and only streaked with a few lines of grey, her trim figure accentuated by a pair of white culottes and an aqua shirt with buttons down the front. She smiled. “I’m not working at Nezzo’s anymore.”
“What? Did you quit? But you’ve been there for…what, five years?”
“That’s right. They promoted me to manager for the last three years, and I saved every dollar for the renovations.” Mum waved a hand and Trina gave the kitchen another appreciative glance.
“Well, it was definitely worth it. But why did you quit your job? I thought you loved it there.”
“I had plenty of money to get a loan for the reno, and when I went to the bank to talk to them about it they said I still had more capital in the loan I could use. So, they asked me if I’d thought about investing in something. You know, real estate or a business or something like that.”
“Oh?” Trina couldn’t imagine where this was going. The idea that her mother had saved even a cent was beyond her comprehension, investing seemed completely unbelievable.
“So, I did. I rented a space downtown, did it up, and opened my own bakery. It’s called Cook’s Bakery.”
Trina stared at her mother wide-eyed.
“It’s a pun,” added Mum with a giggle. “Get it?”
“A bakery?” The surprising thing was the way grief welled up within Trina, from her gut into her chest. After she left Murwillumbah twenty-five years earlier, she’d immediately given up the idea of going to university without Dan. She’d gotten a job working behind the counter at a small bakery in Newtown, and for years she’d dreamed that one day she’d open her own bakery. Had she told her mother that dream? She couldn’t recall, though she didn’t think she had. Still, when she met Ben and had Seb then Hannah, she’d given up on the bakery dream to become a mother herself, intent on being everything her own mother had never been for her.
“Yes, a bakery. Can you believe it? And I love it so much. It’s been open six months. I would’ve told you about it, but with everything you’ve had going on…anyway, I didn’t think it was the right time. But now you’re here…you’ll have to come and see it.”
“Of course I will, Mum. That’s amazing. I’m so happy for you.” And she was. Her throat ached with it. So many times in her life she’d wished her mother would get it together, to be normal for a little while. And here she was, living a put together, successful, and seemingly happy life. Meanwhile, her own was falling apart all around her in jagged little pieces, while she leapt about the place trying to catch the shreds and sew them back together into a remnant of her former life.
With the trailer successfully unhitched from her Pajero, she stashed the boxes she’d brought with her from Sydney in her mother’s garden shed on a set of shelves that looked to be brand new and only recently set up in the midst of what was a surprisingly neat and clean space. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to seeing her mother in this light, as a put together, fastidious business owner. It was too uncanny.
Trina locked up the garden shed and wiped her hands on her jeans. What she really needed to do was to get out and enjoy some alone time. Being home again was causing her heart to thump hard in her chest. Everything reminded her of the past, of Dan. She swallowed and pressed both hands to her throat — maybe she was coming down with something.
Mum was in the garden, white hat bobbing between trellises where pink and white roses grew on climbing vines with tendrils reaching skyward beneath the blazing sun. She’d already spent the morning at the bakery but had left it in the care of a high school girl she’d hired to help out on Saturdays so she could spend time with Trina. Mum had a relentlessness about her — that was one thing that amazed Trina; her mother was a bundle of lean limbs, blonde hair, makeup, attitude, and energy.
“I think I might go to the shops,” called Trina, one hand tented over her eyes to fend off the glare. “Get something for tea. Any preferences?”
“That sounds good. I don’t mind — anything would be fine. I’ll head back to the bakery to check on Jessica. The girl could burn the place down if I stay away too long.”
Trina chuckled, shook her head. “Give her a chance, Mum. I’ll see you soon.”
Trina climbed into the Pajero and started it up with a rumble of diesel. As she drove the ten minutes into town, she wondered what Hannah was up to. She should call. No, perhaps she should let her daughter have some space. After all, she’d only been gone a month. She was studying at the University of Queensland, which at the time she’d enrolled seemed like a world away from Hornsby in Sydney where they’d lived as a family. But it was only a two-hour drive to Hannah’s dorm from Murwillumbah.
Perhaps she could visit. No, she should give her daughter a chance to find her own way in her new life as an adult. Trina never imagined it would be so difficult to let her daughter go. To give her up to adulthood had felt like she was tearing out a little piece of her heart. Nope. In all honesty it was a big piece. A very big piece that left behind a gaping hole.
That was the elephant-in-the-room question that had squatted in her mind, dominating her thoughts, while she drove back to the airport after leaving Hannah at the dorm. Now what should she do with her life? Who was she without children at home? She’d spent almost two decades of her life as ‘mum’ to two children who needed her for everything, and in every way.
But Seb was gone.
And now Hannah was grown and had her own life. A life Trina knew very little about. She felt an itch crawling up her spine, the itch to call her daughter and quiz her about everything she was doing and everyone she was getting to know. But she couldn’t do that — shouldn’t do that. She’d let Hannah come to her, offer the information voluntarily.
She parked in the covered parking lot underneath Sunnyside Mall, and climbed the internal ramp that wound up the middle of the shopping centre. The same shops she’d known most of her childhood were still there, as well as a few new ones. It felt so strange to be back there, where almost everything was exactly the same as when she’d left. For some reason she’d expected it to be completely transformed. And at the same time, she was still reeling from all the changes Mum had made to her life in that time.
The scent of coffee from the cafe at the top of the ramp wafted over her.
The voice stopped her in her tracks.
Her high school principal stood before her, looking exactly the same in his short-sleeved buttoned shirt, round black spectacles, and long nose. His dark hair had turned a shade of grey, with only a few streaks of black remaining, but otherwise it was as though she’d stepped back in time.
“I thought that was you,” he said, beaming.
She nodded, marvelling at how much less intimidating he seemed now than when she was fourteen and given detention for not wearing the correct school uniform, instead choosing to sport fluorescent striped socks and a matching jacket over the standard white and blue checked cotton shirt with navy pleated skirt.
“It’s definitely me. Good to see you Mr White.”
“Oh, you can call me Stan now. You’re not a teenager anymore.” He laughed, wagging a finger in her face.
“Wow, of course. That feels strange though. How are you? How’s the school?”
He pressed hands to his hips with a solemn nod. “It’s good, thanks. We have a lot less students these days. There’s a second high school where half of them attend.”
“Yes indeed. Lots of changes since you left. So, what brings you back to our humble town? I heard you became a big-time chef in the city. That’s really something.”
Trina’s cheeks flushed with warmth. That’d been a lifetime ago. “Ah, yeah…well I haven’t done that in a while. I’ve been a mum for a long time now. It doesn’t really mesh well with the chef lifestyle, so I’ve done a bit of work here and there, some part-time stuff. You know.”
He nodded, eyes gleaming. “That’s great. Good for you.”
“I thought I’d visit Mum for a little while, catch up with things here. I haven’t kept up with everything that’s going on.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. After Dan died…well, we were all worried about you. But you’ve really made a good life for yourself. I’m pleased as punch about it.”
She swallowed. Nodded. “Thanks…Stan.”
No one had spoken Dan’s name to her aloud in so long she hadn’t remembered how it felt. She was surprised to find it didn’t hurt the way it had so long ago, instead she felt a squirmy kind of discomfort. In her new life with her family in Sydney, Dan had been her secret. Someone she never spoke of, that no one else knew about. But here, it was common knowledge that the two of them had been inseparable and when he died, she’d fallen apart.
“Well, I hope I see you around,” said Stan, waving goodbye.
Trina made her way to the supermarket and began filling a hand basket with ingredients for a pot roast. It was her mother’s favourite meal, and she wanted to start over — make amends with her, since she and Hannah were the only family Trina had left. Now, if only she could purchase her supplies without running into any more history, the tremor running through her body might stop, and she could settle down to eat a delicious roast with her mother. No references to the past, no spats, nothing but polite conversation and smiles all around.
What are the chances of that happening?
Two women stood at the end of the aisle, side by side, watching her. She glanced behind herself to see if perhaps they were looking past her, but no one was there. One smiled and waved. Did she know them? The other said something to the first, then both moved in Trina’s direction. They looked to be about her age and vaguely familiar.
She blanched. This was exactly what she was hoping to avoid. After all this time, how was it that so many people still recognised her? She’d barely been in the mall five minutes. She felt them closing in on her and ducked quickly into the fruit and vegetable section. Now what? There was nowhere to hide. The women who’d recognised her stood between Trina and the cash register.
This was ridiculous. She was a grown woman. Hiding behind a box full of oranges was beneath her. She straightened, lifted her chin, and stepped out from behind the fruit only to see the women had strengthened in number — now there were three of them, pointing in her direction and whispering together. She was fairly certain she heard the one with the messy auburn bun say her name.
She sighed. With high school behind her, surely she shouldn’t have to continue dealing with small town gossip. With a deft slide to the left, she hid behind a series of vegetable boxes — brussel sprouts, beans, snap peas.
Cursing under her breath, she lifted a hand to feel the contents of each box and grabbed vegetables she’d need for her roast, pushing them into her basket, before moving on, doing her best to remain out of sight of the growing group of ladies now roaming the aisles in search of her. Reaching into a box of onions, she gasped as her exploration set off an avalanche and the brown balls fell one-by-one to the floor, rolling away with a thunder of thuds in every direction.
Knees together, she did her best to catch them in her lap as they fell. Then searched the floor for the rest, setting each carefully back in place, and popping one in her basket for the roast. A hand appeared in her line of vision, cradling an overlooked onion. She peered up to see a man’s face peering down at her, his lips tipped up on one side, eyes sparkling with silent laughter.
“Thanks,” she muttered, then straightened.
“No worries.” He studied her, still grinning that half-smile that wrinkled one corner of his mouth. It bothered her. He was irritating. Perhaps most of all because he’d witnessed her acting childishly and didn’t seem in any hurry to walk away and leave her alone in her humiliation.
“I was hiding from some old school mates,” she offered.
He shrugged, blue eyes sizing her up with scruffy stubble on his chiselled face alternating blonde and ginger beneath the florescent lights. “No judgement from me. Although, next time maybe don’t take it out on the onions.”
With a wink he was gone, leaving her standing alone by the onion box with flushed cheeks. She huffed, adjusted the basket handle on her arm and headed for the register.
* * *
She managed to make it back to Mum’s house without running into any other high school history. Although it’d been difficult to dodge the women at the shops, she now regretted her immature reaction and wondered if everything she’d learned, all the growing up she’d done, was all for nothing now that she’d returned to the town of her childhood and seemingly reverted immediately back to it.
Instead, she should’ve simply faced them with a smile. Shown them she wasn’t the same girl they knew. The wild days were behind her, the drinking, the drugs, the skipping school — that was no doubt how they remembered her. Although she’d cleaned up her act in the final year, it wasn’t as though she’d advertised her new leaf. Probably no one but Dan had even noticed the change. But they all knew her mother, remembered how she’d been.
Anthea Cook’s antics had been the cause of incessant teasing by the town’s bullies for most of her early years. It was simply instinct to hide herself away from anyone who might bring up things she’d long ago buried now that she was in the midst of another life crisis. She had no desire to test her resilience by facing off with any childhood enemies in the local grocery shop. Trina wasn’t even sure she had an ounce of resilience left in her tired body.
She lugged the grocery bags into the kitchen and set everything out on the bench. The house was quiet. Mum said she was going into town to pick up someone called Bill from work. Trina assumed he was the boyfriend; her mother had plenty of boyfriends over the years and Trina had stopped bothering to learn their names after she left home. She’d assumed he’d be joining them for dinner, so had bought enough for three.
She took stock of the eye fillet, russet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, beans, and the onion that brought to mind an image of a handsome man with blonde ginger stubble and laughing eyes.
She hadn’t recognised him so at least he wasn’t someone she’d known previously — at least she didn’t think so. Although a lot could change in over twenty years, and some things stayed exactly the same.
Trina had certainly changed. She liked to think she’d been completely transformed although there was still a hint of the old Trina that showed through at times. Hannah would find it difficult to believe that Trina had ever been wild, crazy, or even fun — these days she was responsible, careful and a little more boring that she’d like to admit.
The oven was new. Switching it on and figuring out the timer was easy enough, though. While it heated, Trina basted the roast with oil, added salt and pepper, then set it in a cast iron roasting pot and pushed it into the oven.
She sliced the vegetables, seasoned them, and drizzled olive oil over the top before adding them to the oven in an open baking pan as well.
Next, she got to work making a self-saucing chocolate pudding. She’d have preferred to make something more complex, but it wasn’t her kitchen and she hadn’t been certain what Mum would have stocked, so opted for a simple recipe that was always a hit whenever she’d served it.
Cooking was Trina’s escape. It helped to clear her head, to order her muddled thoughts. What was she doing here? How on earth was she going to manage staying with Mum and for how long? These were the questions slipping through her mind. Questions she had no answers for. It didn’t make sense to be here, but she’d followed an urge to run home and now she was here she couldn’t seem to work up the motivation to leave.
Anyway — where else would she go?
She found an old-fashioned stereo on the bench and switched it on to discover it was tuned to an easy listening radio station. Since when had Mum changed her musical taste from heavy metal bands to easy listening? The saying was, some things never changed, but it seemed with her mother everything was open to an overhaul, even her listening habits.
Before long, Trina was dancing along to tunes from the 1980s while she stirred the pudding and poured it into a baking dish. With one last glance through the glass oven door at the newly inserted pudding beneath the roasting pans, she stood with a sigh, stretching the kinks from her back.
A car pulled into the driveway. Doors slammed shut. Trina got to work cleaning up the mess she’d made, although she had a habit of clearing things and wiping up messes as she went, so there wasn’t too much to pick up. She turned on the hot tap over the sink, searched out the dish detergent in the cupboard beneath it, and squirted a green stream into the swirling water.
The back door opened, then slammed shut. A murmur of voices, then Mum stepped into the kitchen with a tall, skinny man behind her. His neatly combed hair was mostly grey, with a hint of brown on top. Brown eyes blinked behind a pair of thin framed glasses.
“You’re home,” said Trina, facing them both with a smile, her hands dripping with dishwater. She dried them on a towel.
“Katrina, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. This is my friend, Bill Berger.”
Bill stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Pleasure to meet you, Katrina.”
She shook his hand. “You too, Bill. You can call me Trina, everyone else does.”
He nodded. “Happy to, Trina. Your mum tells me you’re staying a while. I know she’s glad to have you around again.”
It wasn’t clear to Trina how much he knew — about her, her life, Mum…or how long he’d been around. She vaguely recalled her mother mentioning a Bill a few times in recent months, although she hadn’t paid much attention. There was always a “Bill” or “David”, “Frank” or “Paul” in Mum’s life. They’d begun blending together many moons ago when Trina still lived at home and her resentment over the way her mother always sided with them spilled over into heated arguments, slammed doors, and a few escapes to Dan’s house for the night with a packed bag and determination never to go home again.
Still, Bill didn’t seem so bad. At least at first glance.
“What is that smell, it’s divine?” continued Bill.
“I thought I’d cook dinner,” replied Trina. “I’m making a pot roast — Mum’s favourite.”
Mum grinned. “Wonderful, I can’t wait. You’re in for a treat, Bill. My Trina is the best cook around — she’s a trained chef, you know.”
Bill’s eyebrows arched high and he let out a whistle. “Well, I’m looking forward to it then.”
For some reason, embarrassment washed over Trina. She wasn’t accustomed to praise from her mother. Her cooking had garnered plenty of compliments back when she’d worked as a chef, but it wasn’t often her mother built her up that way.
With a sigh, her mother wandered into the living room and slouched into an armchair.
“Everything okay?” asked Trina. “Can I make you a cup of tea?”
“Coffee, please,” replied Mum. Another sigh. “I don’t know what to do with the bakery. I love decorating the place, you know, making up the menus and sewing the curtains…things like that. But there’s so much more to it — baking every day before the crack of dawn, cleaning, serving customers, doing the books… I’m exhausted.”
Trina pressed the switch on the kettle, then joined Mum in the lounge room. She noticed the dark smudges beneath Mum’s blue eyes for the first time, the veins in the back of her hands, how thin her frame had become.
“You do look a little worn out,” she said.
Mum shot her a dark look.
“I mean, you look great…”
Mum shook her head. “I didn’t realise how much work it would take to run my own place.”
“You need to hire some help,” called Bill from the kitchen. He pulled three mugs from an overhead cupboard and set them on the bench beside the kettle. “I’ve been telling you that for months.”
“I did…I’ve got Jessica. But I can’t afford to hire anyone else right now — the business is so new, it’s not really profitable as it is. Let alone if I start sinking money into wages… I love it, it’s a dream come true for me, but I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make it work.”
Trina could see how much the bakery meant to her mother. For the first time in her life, Mum was working towards something other than the next drink or sparkly outfit, and she was doing it without relying on a man for help. Emotion clogged Trina’s throat. If Mum could turn her life around so completely at her age, maybe there was hope for Trina to get through the quagmire her own had become.
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