- Published: 31 August 2021
- ISBN: 9780143775201
- Imprint: RHNZ Black Swan
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 368
- RRP: $36.00
WHANGĀREI HEADS, 2019
Jake lay on top of his board, feeling the swells move beneath him, like the air moving in and out of his lungs, like the blood surging through the four chambers of his stubbornly beating heart. Thirty-four, his heart beat.Thirty-four, thirty-four. He watched as, one by one, his fellow surfers took their turn, riding the cresting waves in to shore.
Today I am thirty-four years old, and I know this: there are no certaintiesin life, not even death. I have helped people to live. I have helped them to die.Sometimes I feel as though I’m seventy-four, but I’m not ready to let go. Not yet.
Jake breathed in, breathed out. Listened to his heart accelerate andslow, thirty-four, thirty-four. Listened to the voices echoing in his ears,I promise I promise.
‘I promise,’ he whispered, and began to paddle.
After strapping his surfboard to the roof of his car, Jake drove two blocks to Thompson Street. He parked two houses back from number fourteen, and began a slow stroll past his old house — old, but not as old as it had looked when he’d left three years ago. The weatherboards had been painted black, the window frames ivory.
‘Huh.’ He halted, taking in the closely cropped lawns and surgically trimmed roses. Next door, the Walsh house was the same as ever, apartfrom the Toyota Prius parked in the driveway.
Time moves on, sometimes slowly, often quickly.
Before he could move on, a tall man with a shaved head appeared around the side of the house. Once he’d reached the driver’s side of the Prius, he glanced up and frowned.
‘Hi, can I — Jake?’ Emily’s father moved towards him. ‘Oh, it is you.’ His mouth curved up, but his eyes didn’t crinkle at the corners.
Jake gave him a tentative smile in return. ‘Thought I’d drop by, have a look at the old house.’ He shielded his eyes. The February sun was even more intense than it had been in Auckland, if that were possible.
‘They’ve done a good job of it, haven’t they?’ Jim jiggled the car keys.‘Well. It wasn’t as if your family were able to — anyway. Nice to see you.’‘You too.’ Jake shuffled his feet. ‘Um, I heard Emily’s at med school?’Jesus, here he was, twenty-one years old, but Emily’s father was -;making him feel like a schoolkid all over again.
‘Fourth year this year. How about you?’ ‘Second year.’ Jake was still finding that a little hard to believe and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a letter or e-mail arrived soon to rectify the error. We regret to inform you . . .
Jim’s brow wrinkled, then smoothed out again. ‘Graduate entry?’ Jake nodded. ‘I didn’t get in the first time, so I did a BSc.’ He’d been so close. Ironic, really, that Emily had gained entry straight away,considering she hadn’t even wanted to go to med school before. Before we —
‘Well, you clearly did well with your degree to get straight into second year.’ Jim pressed on his electronic key, and Jake heard the locks slide in the car doors. ‘I’d better get going. I might see you around the hospital.’
‘Sure.’ Jake started towards his station wagon. No are you planning to catch up with Emily or how’s your family?
Well, what did he expect? As for Emily, she probably never wanted to see him again. Probably she hated him.
No, surely you’re exaggerating. You’ve just lost touch . . . right?
Jake waited for the Prius to drive past before leaning against the bonnet of his car and taking his phone out of his pocket. After selecting a message he’d received the day before, he hit reply and typed: Sure, swing by your place around seven?
Ian’s reply came as he was driving back into the city: Sweet, see you then. Bring beer. We’ve got a LOT of catching up to do.
Ian’s flat, nestled in North East Valley, was only three houses away from the steepest street in the world. They sat in saggy chairs on the front porch, drinking beer as the sun began its slow descent behind the hills.
Ian clinked his bottle against Jake’s. ‘Long time no see, Mr Heremaia.’
‘Long time,’ Jake agreed. ‘You look the same, though.’
‘Good genes.’ Ian smirked.
Jake swiped at a sluggish fly. ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ Jake wished he could say the same about his own genes. He might have had his father’s surname,but they were like strangers — Jake more a Wilson than a Heremaia. He felt like an imposter when his relatives addressed him in te reo. And yet, who’d want to be a Wilson? He cleared his throat. ‘How are things going with Lucy?’
‘Ah, we finished up for good last year.’ Ian sipped on his beer. ‘She was moving to Wellington for her new job and I still had a year to go onmy BA, so we decided to go our separate ways. How about you? Anyone special?’
‘Not really. There was this girl I hooked up with last year off and on, but it never came to anything.’ Jake fell silent. Sienna and he had some fun, but they’d never had much in common.
‘We can cruise over whenever.’ Ian tilted his wrist, showing Jake his watch. ‘It’s only half-seven now, though.’
‘Yeah, not yet,’ Jake said, but his heart was hammering. Three years, three years, three years. ‘She’s got a boyfriend, right?’
‘Lucy? Not that I’ve heard, but guess I’d be the last to know.’ ‘Not her ; Emily.’ He’d seen photos on other people’s Facebook feeds of Emily with a blond guy, although he’d been nursing a hope they were just friends. The guy looked older than her, by three or four years, he was guessing.
‘Oh, right.’ Ian set his bottle down. ‘She’s been going out with another medic, Adam, for at least three years.’
‘Adam.’ Jake had the feeling he sometimes got when he was about to wipe out in the surf, a plunging that went from gut to groin. ‘Don’t think I know him.’
‘He’s a first-year doctor. Apparently they met when Emily was doing ward rounds with her dad, when she was still at high school. Sweet, huh?’
‘Really sweet,’ Jake echoed.
Did you think she was going to wait for you? She could at least have replied to my letter.
If she even read it. Sometimes, often, he wondered about that. Jake forced a note of cheer into his voice. ‘So, what about her flatmate?’ Ian shrugged. ‘Mandy? She’s single, as far as I know. Kind of feisty. She’s a dental student.’
‘Dental, interesting.’ Jake drained his beer and stood up. ‘Want another one?’
‘If you insist.’ Ian draped his legs over the side of his chair. ‘This is just like old times.’
‘Old times,’ Jake said, and sloped into the kitchen. Except everyone had moved on, and here he was, still trying to be a doctor, still trying to act as if he were normal.
He popped the cap off a bottle of beer and took three large swallows. Shut up, brain. I don’t need you. Not tonight.
By the time Jake and Ian reached the flat warming it was nine pm, andthe sky was just starting to fade. Jake had missed the long Southern evenings.
They see the fish on their first day, laid bare on the tideline. The seagulls have nearly picked the bones clean already.
There was no peace, even in the loo. Rory’s pager and phone were going simultaneously.
Today is the first of September, the first day of spring, and it's been sixty four days since I last saw Sophie Abercrombie.
A prime number is divisible only by itself and by one. If I were a prime number, I’d want to be a five.
Chapter 1: Rebecca *Please note* that this extract contains adult themes and is suitable for readers aged 16+.
As I reach for the doorbell, my phone bleeps with a text and my head instantly fills with a roll call of possibilities.