The sun sank low on the horizon creating a glorious palette of pinks and reds on the streaks of cloud above it. June and her two boys were grateful to Connie and Frank for inviting them to their cabin for the holidays. Life had been a struggle for June since she and Harry had separated and this holiday had been a blessing for them all, especially the children.
Everyone was drawn to the verandah by the impressive sunset until the colours faded and the sun finally disappeared behind the mountains. Everyone, that is, except Jess. Jess didn’t notice the colours of the sky that evening. She hardly noticed the succulent smells of the barbecue that made everyone’s mouth water. She had other things to think about. Serious things. Life can get pretty complicated when you’re 14 and vulnerable. Especially with her cousin Gary around.
Admittedly, she had missed his company –he was like the brother she never had. But a lot can happen in four years and Gary was not the same kid she remembered. She didn’t like this 16 year old version of him. She didn’t like the way he dared her. Gary had told her he would give the money back straight away. Her mother would never know they had ‘borrowed’ fifty dollars from her purse. And then Gary double-dared her to take it. The challenge was too hard to resist. Gary was hard to resist. If only she hadn’t trusted him.
Jess couldn’t get to sleep. She crept out of bed and groped her way along the hall until her eyes became accustomed to the moonlight. The house was dark and quiet except for the eerie glow and ‘blip, blip’, of Gary’s Nintendo coming from the lounge room.
Gary was engrossed in his game and hadn’t noticed Jess’s presence until she grabbed the console out of his hands and threw it onto the sofa beside him.
“Hey…what… where’d you come from?”
“Shhh!” Jess whispered, “You’ll wake everybody!”
Gary was annoyed at the interruption. “Stupid girl!” he whispered as he fumbled for the game console.
Jess got to it before he did and lay it on the coffee table out of his reach.
“Listen Gary, I gotta talk to you.” She sat on the edge of the coffee table directly in front of him.
“You know what! Give me back the money.”
“Can’t!” Gary folded his arms and flopped back onto the sofa. “Money’s gone already.”
“Gary!” Jess’s voice squeaked. They both glanced towards the hallway, hoping they hadn’t woken anyone. “It was just a game,” Jess continued in a harsh whisper, “You said you were only borrowing it. You were supposed to give it back!”
“Had to buy batteries … and some other stuff …”
“Why didn’t you just ask your Mum?”
“Nah, money’s been tight since we left Dad. There’s never any spare.”
“That’s not borrowing, that’s stealing – from my Mum!”
“You took it!”
“You double-dared me! … … You’re a liar.”
“You’re a thief.”
Jess was caught between the desire for justice and her own guilt.
Just then the kitchen light blinked on and Frank appeared in the doorway.
“Dad!” Jess blurted.
“I thought I heard someone out here. What are you two doing in the dark?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” said Jess.
“Me either,” added Gary.
“Hmmm,” said Frank, “must be something going around.” He turned on the lamp and made himself comfortable on the sofa.
Jess smiled nervously, avoiding eye contact with her father.
“Well then, something’s bothering you. You’ve both been acting pretty strange the last few days – what’s going on?”
Jess opened her mouth, but Gary cut in, “Aw, it’s nothing Uncle Frank. Just a misunderstanding – we’ll sort it out.”
“Yeah, Dad. We’ll sort it out.”
She didn’t sound convincing. Finally Frank said, “Hmm, well just remember this - the One who matters most had a front row seat to whatever it is.”
“My Dad used to say that,” Gary said quietly.
Frank grinned. “We went to the same Sunday school. … Now, off to bed you two.”
Next morning, Gary found Jess sitting alone on the verandah. “I’ve been thinking about what your Dad said last night,” he told her.
“Me too,” she answered.
“I guess it’s best to tell the truth then.”
“Would you?” Jess was surprised.
“Well, you won’t enjoy the rest of the holidays if I don’t. Mum’ll probably kill me, but we’ll pay it back – I’ll pay it back, somehow.”
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