across the bedroom, steam still swirling around from the shower, I paused. The
view of the mountains brought a smile to my face as I stood naked at the
window, enjoying the morning in all its glory. The breeze carried the bird’s morning song and the sounds of the cattle in
the paddocks through the open window. Nature was busy getting ready for the
day. I pulled my clothes on for the office. Part of me wished that I could just
jump back into my farm jeans, shirt and boots and head out to the barn to
saddle up for a ride. I could use one more day to relax in this tranquil place
like I had been for the last two days.
back on the weekend I could see that, although I loved my life, it was missing
something. Or perhaps someone. My life was full. I had an amazing family and a
business that made me happy to get up and go to work every morning. My home was
my safe-haven, it gave me a place to just be myself with no expectations. It
also gave me a place to hide. With all of the things that were right in my
life, there was still a part of me that was empty. After letting my mind drift,
I knew I needed to get my head around the start of a new week. Jumping in the
car, I placed the same call that I made every Monday morning as I drove out of
“Good morning, Zoe, how was your weekend?” I smiled, waiting for the usual answer.
Zach. Let’s just say
that several words can describe it. My weekend was fun, crazy, drinking,
partying – all of which have led to my head paying the consequences this
morning!” Zoe then launched into stories of
the weekend and we spent time laughing about her nights out.
As I turned
down the entrance to the highway and felt my foot press down on the pedal, my
body pushed back into the leather seat that wrapped around my body so well. The
buzz of driving a nice car at speed brought a smile that inched up my face.
“So the big question is, Zoe – did you spot your Mr Right out
there somewhere?” I let out a little chuckle, hearing
Zoe sigh and then laugh. She got ready to joke it off, but I knew deep down
under the party girl exterior it was no joke. She was a young lady who would
give anything to have a man to love and protect her, to plant her feet on the
ground. My gut feeling was that man would be my brother, Luke, but the two of
them just hadn’t worked it out yet. The sexual tension between them could light
up Times Square, yet they both fought so hard to keep that ‘friend wall’ up. One day something was going to flick that switch and the explosion
would be more impressive than the Fourth of July fireworks. I’d just sit back, watch, wait and then say ‘I told you so’ because I knew all along.
“Now Zach, you know as good as I do
that there is no good man out there who will pin me down. Living the dream,
Zach, living the dream”. I burst out laughing at Zoe’s comment, knowing she was trying to convince
herself of that. “Tell your head that this morning,
Zoe. Anyway, as much as I hate to hurt that little brain of yours, what’s on the agenda for today? Also, did you get
that email I sent you re the plans for Branch Street that need to be at council
“Yes, yes,” she sighed. “Already done, you know I am always
one step ahead of you!”
our building development company five years ago straight out of secretarial
college and had been my assistant from day one. It was a match that could have
spelled disaster. She walked in on a day that had me dragging myself up off the
couch in my office. I was trying to make the bathroom to throw up the bottle of
bourbon I had consumed the night before. Tragically, I stumbled and managed to
throw up on her shoes and then lay moaning at her feet.
relationship could have gone either way. She could have turned around and
walked straight back out, cursing me as she left, never to return. Instead, Zoe
just looked down at me and burst out laughing. She proceeded to tell me to take
my hungover ass and grovel back to the couch while she changed and cleaned up
my mess. She walked over and threw her shoes in the bin, mumbling that she
expected two new pairs of shoes to replace the ones which were now laying sadly
in the bottom of the bin. It hurt my head to laugh, but I couldn’t help but let out a quiet chuckle. We would
get on just fine.
our first day of working together in her gym clothes. Luckily, they were in her
car and clean. Me? I was in the singlet and jeans I had on from the night
before, minus the shirt. It had a new home in the bin with her shoes!
Zoe had cleaned me up, poured coffee
that was as thick as tar down my throat, along with bottle after bottle of
water and plenty of pain relief. We managed to get to the end of the day and
she never asked what happened. And I never told her. From that day forward, we
had been great friends, as well as work colleagues. She knew I would be there
to stand up and protect her, no matter what.
Zoe would jump in front of anyone trying to take advantage of my soft
caring heart. If I was the builder of the wall in front of my heart, Zoe was
the guard at the gate. We just clicked that way. Although I already had two
sisters, Alesha and Lilly, Zoe had become like my third and I was just as
protective of her.
“Ok, so if you are one step ahead of
me, what am I doing today, Miss Smarty Pants?” I heard the tapping of her long painted nails on the keyboard as she
called up my calendar.
“You will be in the office in
approximately thirty minutes. Oh wait – what are you in today, the SUV or the
the smart answer that would come back, I replied, “The BMW, so you better adjust the time frame.” I pushed the speedo up
and got into the fast lane. One of my weaknesses was the love of a fast fancy
car. Although I had not indulged myself in the last few years, I still loved my
BMW. It may not be the highest priced or the fastest model, but it appealed to
me with its style and lines. That was me, I was always looking at how something
spoke to me before I acquired it. I had to feel it was meant to be part of my
world before I proceeded.
“Ok, you will be in the office in
twenty minutes so we can have a coffee and run through this week’s planning. Then you have the family meeting at
12pm for lunch. You will need all your files for that. I’ve put the updates and
proposal for the Branch Street property on your desk. Bob Walter is meeting you
at 4pm with the legal papers for the eviction notices for Branch Street. Then
you have dinner booked at 6pm with your Grandmother at Waters Edge. Your older
control-freak brother, Grant, is picking her up at 5.40pm from home. I have the
birthday present wrapped and on your desk as you asked. How am I doing so far?”
“Wow! What would I do without you, Wonder Woman?” I grinned as I looked out the window,
trying to hold my laughter inside.
“Screwed, I’d say. Now, can I get off the phone so I can get a coffee, otherwise
that morning smile you are wishing for will be non-existent.”
As much as
I loved Zoe like a sister, you never crossed her before the first coffee in the
morning. “Just quickly before you start having
a meltdown, I am going past Branch Street before I come to the office. I want
to take a few more photos, so don’t worry about
my coffee. I will grab one on my travels”
“Ha, like I was getting you one
anyway. Bye.” I hung up with a smile, knowing she
would have had one on my desk when I walked in the same as she did every other
morning. I was such a creature of habit. I also knew I never got to say goodbye
because she always liked to have the last say. Typical woman.
believed she was one step ahead of me. I loved to humour her, but the truth
was, I knew everything she told me this morning because I was a fine-details
person. She was my back up and was damn good at it. Her job was very important
to her. It kept her out of the mess of a life she’d worked so hard to rise
I put my
head back on the headrest and searched through music playlists to get my Monday
morning going. I loved all sorts of music, but when you are cruising down the
freeway with the sun shining, there was nothing better than good ol’ solid eighties rock to sing along to.
morning drive into the office of our family owned-property development and
building company always gave me time to prepare mentally for the week ahead. I
loved the challenge of my role – sourcing properties in need of development to
increase their value. Or finding those sitting on the market needing to be
demolished. My true passion, though, was to restore homes and buildings to
their former glory whilst modernising them with the comforts of the
twenty-first century. These properties were hard to find and I was very
selective of the ones I purchased, due to the cost of restoration in relation
to what they would sell for.
though, there was that special property that came along that spoke to me. The
costings became less important and the project became about me. That was the
case for my home, which I purchased two years ago. It was situated on fifty
acres of land, thirty minutes outside of the city. The day I saw the listing
pop up in my real estate watchlist, I knew I had to have it.
photo I saw was of a two-storey farm house with wide verandas all the way
around the house. The front of the house had a beautiful set of stairs that
opened out like welcoming arms, just like that first warm embrace of a loved
one. The stairs led straight up to solid double doors at the entrance. When
opened, they gave the first glimpse of a home full of love and laughter. The
problem was that the love and laughter had been sucked out of this home. The
previous family had spent ten years battling over the proceeds of the deceased
estate of an elderly couple.
I had later
found out the previous owners were Tom and Nellie Smithton. They had built this
home after marrying seventy-five years ago. The two souls had spent a lifetime
devoted to each other and their home. Tom and Nellie were never able to have
children, but it never changed the amount of love they’d had to share. Many
friends from church had taken their children to spend time on the farm. Nellie
enjoyed baking for the children and fussing over them. They became known as
Poppy Tom and Nanna Nellie to generations of children who’d loved them dearly.
away within a week of each other, Nellie from a stroke in her sleep and Tom
from a broken heart six days later. The farm was left to the church in their
will. But, as it happens so often these days, the will was challenged by two
great-nieces and a nephew. The nephew challenged to try and stop his greedy
twin daughters. They were spoilt little rich girls and never felt that generous
wealth was enough. The nephew had always said he would gift back to the church
if he was successful. He had disowned his daughters for their terrible
behaviour. Needless to say, it dragged on to become a lengthy court battle
where the only winners were the lawyers. In the end, the decision was that each
would receive part of the estate. The property needed to be sold. That became
my lucky day. In my heart, I hoped to bring their property back to being a
place that was a treasured home.
When I saw
the home listed, I rang the agent straight away. I offered the asking price
without any haggling, on the condition that it be pulled from the market
immediately and a quick settlement negotiated. I wanted this house more than I
had wanted anything in my life. Well, except for the one thing that I would
never allow myself to have again. My heart could not take that.
I didn’t tell my family I had even put in an offer on
the property until I had already settled the purchase. Grant was pissed, to say
the least, because he had not been consulted whether he thought it was a good
investment. Ever since my parents had retired, Grant had become the
self-appointed head of the family, whether we wanted it or not.
complained, but only because he had to put up with Grant’s grunting. The silent treatment always
happened in the office when Grant believed one of us had stuffed up. Of course,
the girls both questioned why I had bought a house so far out of the city – it
would be like going to the end of the earth to have to travel that distance
every day to civilisation. Apparently, life ceases to exist past the
Central Business District of Cashmore! Nobody sold
coffee or shoes that were up to the standard of my fashion conscious,
latte-sipping sisters. Zoe just raised her eyebrows and gave three reasons why it was a dumb idea – no night clubs, no girls and
the feeling of the grey cloud my family had painted getting heavier over my
heart. For once, I felt like I had finally found a place to just be me and make
my mark on the world, but they were raining on my parade. It hurt, but I would
never let them know that. I did what I had always done for many years – painted
a smile on my face. I loved my family with every part of my being and would
never hurt them. I had kept a part of me hidden from them, as well as from the
rest of the world. I would never again be vulnerable to having my world
shattered. Love is amazing and the most comforting emotion, but it could also
rip you to shreds. After being on both sides of the wall, I had chosen my side.
The side which was comfortable and safe. I had built my wall just that little
bit higher, thicker and stronger so it kept me safe and stopped any future
intruders from crossing over it.
It hurt to
think of my life before then. I had never completely shared with anyone what
truly happened, nor would I ever. No matter how much you moved on, pushed it
down, stepped on top of it and tried to climb above it, there’d always be a
part of it that would pull you down.
of what my siblings and Zoe had thought, the house was right for me and I would
make it my home by bringing back its dignity. Maybe that was what I’d needed to
do to help me see value in my own life. To feel like I had dignity again. That
was a thought I kept to myself.
When my Mom
and Dad came home for a few weeks, in between travelling the country in their
motorhome, it was their opinions that mattered the most. My father was the
typical all-American, hardworking, self-made, protective alpha male who valued
his wife and children above money and power.
grandfather had died from a heart attack when Dad was ten years old. Dad took
on the responsibility of becoming the man of the house and looking after my
grandmother. He took it very seriously and, as an only child, Grandmother had
no one else to lean on. Dad grew up faster than most kids his age. He was a
great man and worked hard to be the best father he could, providing us with all
that we needed. He always loved us. We knew we were loved unconditionally.
While the love for his children was big, the love in his heart for our Mom was
huge. They had that connection of love that made their souls melt into one,
their lives intertwined around each other’s hearts to keep them safe.
was the opposite to Dad. Dad was the foundation of our family tree. He was
strong and solid and lifted us all up to the sun. My Mom was the softness of
the leaves, the beauty of the flowers and the memorable moments of their scent.
She was the branches that twisted, curled, intertwined and reached out to
protect her family tree. They were the perfect couple that you always heard
about. The ones women swooned over in those trashy romance novels, like the
ones Zoe read when she thought I wasn’t watching.
I grew up
with the perfect family around me. I’d forever be
grateful for the love we had and the feeling of always being safe. Many aren’t so lucky to have grown up in such a home. My
parent’s life, although it was perfect for them, was one that I had decided was
not going to happen for me. While thinking my siblings would all at some stage
find that special person to love, cherish and share a life with, it was no
longer in my life map.
I was resigned to be
the uncle who was always there to be fun, protect, guide and love any nieces or
nephews that came along. I hoped there’d be plenty, but being a father was no
longer an option for me. I always imagined I would make a good dad. I’d visualize it and see a little boy with brown hair and
brown eyes like me. Or perhaps a little girl with ringlet curls like my
sisters, with big eyes that would suck her Dad in every time.
would never know why, but the uncle life was the path for me. They would be the
ones to benefit from the love I had to give, without the pain that could come
in return when giving out that love. Family was your safe place. Well, it was
and Dad arrived at the property for the first time, I held my breath. Although
I knew I had made the right decision for me, their opinions were so important.
truck came slowly down the gravel drive from the front gate, I wondered what
they thought of the house at first sight. Did they see it the same way I did?
Was I the only one whose heart had skipped a beat on their first trip down the
same strip of gravel that they now travelled?
to my home was lined with maple trees that were bare at the time the property
became mine. They stood tall, solid and strong, yet sparse as I’d crawled
slowly towards the house that memorable day. They looked like they were
reaching out to find someone to love the property and, in turn, them.
crawled to a stop in front of the staircase where I stood at the top, looking
down. Mom jumped out and raced around the front of Dad’s truck, which was his pride and joy. He always told us, ‘every man needs a truck so they can work hard
and provide for their family’. Mom
always giggled at that statement, but all of the boys in our family owned
trucks, even if we had other vehicles. It was in our blood that every man
needed a truck to be as big a man as our Dad. He was our hero.
the steps at a jog and jumped into my arms with a big tight hug. I wrapped my
arms around her and buried my head into the crook of her neck. I took a deep
breath and with it, the scent that was my Mom. My safe place. It was the scent that took you back in time to when you
scraped your knee and she kissed it better. Or the time you were sick in bed
and she sat all night holding your hand while you battled the fever. Mom was
always home, no matter what.
I lifted my
head up and looked down at her face which, now aged a little with many laugh
lines (as she called them), had the loving smile she saved just for her kids.
Although she was having a ball travelling with Dad, she missed her kids
terribly. And although Dad would never admit it, I think he did too. Mom always
said they were travelling now so that by the time grandkids were arriving, they
would have that bug out of their system. There was no way in hell she was
missing one moment of being a grandparent. God help her grandkids, they were
going to be smothered with love! Then again, what more could any child want but
to feel the love of a whole family?
Mom was not
a short woman, standing at 5’7”. To my 6’2” height, her head sat perfectly under my chin
and leant against my heart, taking it all in. When she looked up at me finally,
her eyes were damp. There was warmth shining out of them and her smile lit up
her whole face. It told me her heart had skipped that beat on the trip down the
gravel driveway too.
“So, what do you think, Mom? Does it give a good first impression?” I asked, thinking I already knew the answer. “Oh Zach, it is wonderful! What a precious
looking home. It looks just perfect. I can’t wait to see what you do with it. I would love to hear all your ideas
for it. Take us on the grand tour and share what your dreams are!” Mom bounced with excitement and talked quickly
as she dragged me towards the front door.
“Hang on a minute, woman! Can I get a
word in, or at least a hug from my son?” boomed Dad’s deep voice as he climbed from his
“Hey Dad, thanks for coming to check
the place out and give me your thoughts”.
“Zach, my boy, good to see you,” he said, giving me the typical Dad man-hug with the compulsory man-slaps on the back.
Always three slaps. When we were little, I asked Dad why he always did three
slaps on our backs. He laughed and hugged me, his arm around me with his hand
on my shoulder blade. He slowly slapped me and said, “This first slap is to let you know I am glad to see you. The second is
to let you know that I am always there for you. The last is the most important.
It is to remind you that, no matter what happens in your life and no matter
where you are, I will always love you.”
carried that memory with me every day since. For a man who always appeared to
the outside world as the strong alpha male, he also had a soft spot that he
only showed to his family. Even now, as grown adults that were out living their
lives in the world, we immediately got the hug and
three slaps from Dad. Only after Mom had hugged the air
out of us first, though!
back from the hug and looked up, casting his eyes over the house. He went quiet
and started to wander off around the outside of the veranda, lifting his eyes
up and down and taking in the structural elements. As I stood and watched him
with anticipation, Mom tapped me on the arm and grabbed my attention. “Come on, Zach. Let him go. You take me inside
and show me around this gorgeous new home of yours.” I looked down at the excitement in her eyes and took her by the hand. We
turned towards the front door and I lead her into my new world. The one I was
creating to live in.
“I have so many ideas, Mom, that I
feel like my head is going to explode with the amount of activity that is going
on in there. It’s hard to concentrate on work when my mind keeps coming back to
here. I want to bring life back to it and show the house as it once was. There
is so much beauty in the original architecture and building materials, but it
has been left to rot. It’s been neglected for the last ten
years, some of the house is past just a paint job. Some of the timber will need
to be repaired or replaced to return it to its original state.”
to run her hand along the walls as we stood in the entry and fell silent while
she assessed the sight that played out in front of her. What was she doing
rubbing the walls, I wondered? It’s not like she
was testing for wood rot or structural soundness, because Mom would never make
a builder. After she stood for a minute, she turned to me with a serious look
on her face. As she contemplated whatever she was thinking about, the wrinkles
on her forehead relaxed and the corners of her mouth began to curve up towards
her eyes, bringing out the warm smile.
“Um, Mom – what are you thinking?” She let out a nervous giggle, sighed and looked me straight in the eye. “This house has a great vibe to it. It will make
a perfect home for you, Zach, you can feel the love in its walls. It was built
to be filled with the love of a family. It will be a special place for you to
bring home a bride one day. The two of you will fill it with love and a family
of your own. It will be magical for this house to be the home it was built to
be by the old couple. There is magic here, Zach, I can feel it.”
stopped beating and my brain froze. How do I break my mother’s heart and tell her that would never happen?
There would be laughter and smiles here, but the love of a family would only be
here when they came to visit. I stared at her while she continued to talk
ten-to-the-dozen, but I didn’t hear a word. Doubts began to creep into my mind.
Did I do the right thing buying this property? Was it meant to be a home for
some lucky family who would have kids running around screaming, laughing and
climbing the trees? A dog chasing at their heels as they rode their push bikes
from the house to the front gate and back?
“Zach…..Zach………ZACH!” Mom started waving her arms madly in front of my face. “Where did you zone out to, Zach, this isn’t like you? Are you okay, honey? Did I scare
you with all the talk of a bride and kids?” She sniggered to herself. “Don’t worry, plenty of time for that. Let’s get the house fixed up first and then you can
go looking for your bride to make it a home.”
paint on that smile again, Zach, and it will be okay. Take a breath and just
relax. Breath in, then out, in, then out. Every breath in is helping put
another layer of bricks between the safe side of the love wall and the other
side that I can’t go to.
“Zach, are you okay? You look pale
and have lost that excited look you had when we first walked in.”
“Sorry Mom, just got lost in a
daydream about the renovations” More like a
thought to myself. “How about I show you through the
downstairs living areas, then we can take a look upstairs at the bedrooms and
bathrooms. What do you say?”
I held my
arm out for her to take, and the moment she linked her arm in mine, the
calmness of a mother’s love warmed my body. I relaxed
into her side as we stepped together down the hallway through to the formal
lounge room. This was the room where I had visions of me after a long day at
work, sitting back in my leather recliner in front of the open fire. I’d watch the flames dance over the wood as it
burned. The warmth would spread through the room, enveloping me and seeping
into my body, relaxing my muscles. My body would sag back into the cosiness of
the chair and I could lose my thoughts gazing out the large bay window facing
the front of the property. I would look towards the surrounding open space of
the farm, with the beautiful trees that line the drive and the mountains in the
distance. A great way to unwind with a glass of red wine and just contemplate
studied the room, I explained my visions in broad terms to Mom. I wanted to
keep part of my dream as mine for a while until such time as it was completed
or I was ready to share it. Mom loved the room and all that I was going to do
to bring it to life. The rest of the tour went much the same as I lead her from
room to room until we ventured upstairs.
“Wow, look at the size of this master
bedroom, it’s huge! Especially for the era the
house was built in. And the views from this window to the river and mountains
are spectacular! I can imagine what it would look like at night lying in bed
looking out to the stars over the mountains. Zach, you could not have found a
more perfect home!”
“Thanks Mom, it means a lot to hear
you say that. You know, Grant didn’t talk to me
for a week when I told him and Luke that I had bought it.”
I jumped a
little as Dad’s voice came from behind us
unexpectedly. “Your mother is right, Zach. This is
a great buy with plenty of potential to bring it back to its prime. Don’t worry about your brother. He is just sulking
because he had to realise you don’t need him to
hold your hand. I swear he thinks he is the father of this family, frickin’ control freak!”
choked as she burst out laughing at my Dad. “Gee, Mitch, I wonder where he gets that character trait from?”
“Bite that cute little tongue of
yours, Sophia,” he said as he strode across the room
and wrapped her up in those big manly arms of his. He leant down and placed a
very tender kiss on her lips and whispered, “Or will I have to shut that cheeky little mouth for you?” He winked,
making her blush. As much as I love my parents, there were times when I thought, I do not need the vision of you both doing
anything else other than kissing and cuddling.
Mom stretched up on her toes to whisper
in Dad’s ear as I turned to stare out the
window. I didn’t need to share in that private
“Like I said, Zach, the house is
structurally sound and I look forward to seeing what you do with it”. As we stood staring out to the farm sprawling
before us, Dad asked me what I planned to do with the worker’s cottage.
“I am going to fix it up first to a
neat liveable standard, then move in there to live while I work on the house.
That way, I can take my time on the house and continue on it at night after
work. I won’t have a thirty minute drive home each night after I finish.”
“Sounds like you have it all thought
out, son. I am proud of you and know you’ll do a good job.”
“He had a good teacher, Mitch.” My Mom’s pride showed
in her eyes as she looked up into my Dad’s.
“She’s right, Dad, you taught us all so well. Not only about building, but
how to be a man. I hope I have lived up to that for you.” In my heart, I didn’t think I had. But it didn’t stop me from
desperately wanting to hear it from my father.
“As I said, Zach, I am proud of you
and who you are. Just as I am of your brothers and sisters. You have all grown
into great people. Your mother and I are excited everyday watching you all
“Thanks Dad, it means a lot,” I whispered as I stood trying to process the
emotions created by what he’d said.
“Now enough of this mushy crap. What’s a man got to do around here to get a feed and
a cold beer?” Laughter echoed off the bare walls
and the moment was gone. Another rare glimpse of Dad’s soft side to store in my
ended with us in the local steakhouse. We chatted over the house plans and
heard about their last trip. Dad wanted to
get up to speed on where work projects were up to. He might be retired, but
always liked to keep his finger in the pie. The day ended with Mom probing me
for gossip on my siblings.
We’d made a pact years ago. Mom got
the everyday gossip, but anything serious we kept to ourselves so the person
involved could share it when they were ready. It worked most of the time until
Mom hunted for confirmation that one of us was in need of her help. The thing
was, she was usually spot on the money. I guess it was part of a mother’s sixth sense, like when you were younger and
she already knew what you’d done wrong.
always look back on that day with a smile and the memory of my parent’s love, feeling so at home and safe. As I
floated back into the present, I saw the edge of the city and heard the sound
of horns above the tail end of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.