He’ll never come back to stay, unless someone asks him to…
Samantha O’Hara stood so close to the window that her breath fogged the glass. She wiped it clean with her sleeve, her eyes never leaving the men she’d known longest in her life. She’d expected Ethan to return. Significant events consistently drew him back to town. From where, no-one knew. He always arrived in the same ute, never a rental, always looking irritable and tired, but never exhausted. She guessed this meant he was about three or four hours away.
Too far to be called upon, but too close to convince her that he truly wanted to forget.
He held a glass tumbler. Mona’s. Even from this distance, Sam could tell it was empty. She hoped the rumours weren’t true. Four beers and a bourbon did not equal a drinking problem, but it surprised her that he would consume so much on such an occasion.
He was only twenty-nine, a mere month older than Cal and a year older than she, but he’d looked tired and beaten down for a long time now.
He wore the old suit that typically hung in the wardrobe of his old room. It barely fit anymore, and she wondered if there was another suit somewhere, hanging in a faraway wardrobe—one that did fit him and that never came to Denman. He was broader in the chest and shoulders than he had been, thicker in the arms and legs. More solid than she’d ever seen him. If he was going to keep coming back here for occasions, that suit was going to need to be retired.
Not wanting to be caught staring, Sam stepped away from the window and looked for something to do. She collected empty bottles, used plates and food scraps. Mingled when cornered, nodded politely and excused herself at every opportunity. Twice she rearranged the fridge and freezer to accommodate the dozens of meals, desserts, snacks, and finger foods the mourners had prepared for the fractured family.
All the while she wondered about him.
The long-awaited reunion occurred at the buffet table. Ethan drew alongside Sam as she was scraping pavlova into a plastic container. She would rather have been doing something a touch more glamorous or poignant, but she had to appreciate life’s sense of humour.
She prickled at the old nickname, the long-ago endearment that used to be whispered in her ear or cried against her throat. She looked up and smiled, and made sure the welcome extended to her eyes.
‘Hi, Ethan.’ She didn’t trust herself to say more. Just standing this close to him made her heart feel heavy. It was foolish to miss a man who had left so long ago and stupid to let his occasional returns unbalance her so much, but she’d never been able to control that.
‘You look good. Your hair’s got long.’
Sam continued to scrape, unsure how to respond. He didn’t look good, and she wouldn’t pretend he did.
He paused, slowed by her lack of answer. ‘It’s good to see you.’
Her hand stilled. She looked up, measured her tone and removed the sting from the words before she said, ‘One day you’ll say that on a normal day. But it’s good to see you too. How’ve you been spending your time?’
‘Poorly,’ was his unsatisfying answer.
Summer Return is the expanded and revised version of Elise’s Ella-nominated novella, Ask Me To Stay. It releases in July, but is available for pre-order now!