‘I’m not sure. It depends on Joshua. Probably a day or two.’
‘OK. So I can see you before you head back to the country?’
‘Sure.’ He walked her down to the emergency department, being stopped by several people on the way to shake hands and say hello, but then they were off again, busy, busy, busy. After Melody had left, Ethan looked around the ED. People everywhere, everyone hectic and overworked. It was as though he felt the stress the place exuded and when he tried to take a breath, it was odd that he couldn’t quite fill his lungs.
He closed his eyes, thought of CJ’s smile and the way Elizabeth felt snuggled into his arms. Then he breathed in again, all the way, and felt the stress of his past life melt away as he exhaled.
Returning to his apartment, he was shocked at the stark contrast of the minimalist furnishings compared to CJ’s comfortable and homely house. Here there were no pictures on the walls of cars or people, no solid jarrah desks in the corner or comfortable bed linen on beds. Everything here was utilitarian and practical. That was the state his life had been in prior to heading to Pridham, prior to meeting CJ.
He took out his phone and went to call her again but on checking the time he realised it was too late. He didn’t have anything to report on their patients and if she’d managed to get Elizabeth to sleep, there was no way he was going to disturb any shut-eye she might actually get.
Where did he live? CJ had asked him that question and he hadn’t been able to answer her. Now, looking around his apartment, he at least had part of the answer to that question. ‘I don’t live here any more.’
* * *
By the time he flew back to Pridham and managed to arrange for someone to pick him up from the airstrip and drive him into town, it was well into the evening. He’d ended up being in Sydney for three days, monitoring the conditions of Margaret and Joshua, talking to several people about the possibility of a new research project with FAS, and having lunch with his sister.
When he headed to the back door of the house, he once again found it unlocked and shook his head. Didn’t CJ realise she was a mother now, that she needed to lock the doors in order to protect both herself and Elizabeth from harm? Of course, CJ would just counter anything he said with her statistics that Pridham had practically no crime and that if people were going to get into the house, they might smash a window, which would cause more injury and damage than an unlocked door. Her argument was a valid one and a part of him was pleased that she did live in a place where crime was low and Elizabeth could grow up enjoying being part of a close-knit community.
As he went through the house, he listened for sounds of CJ and Elizabeth, unable to believe just how much he’d missed the two of them. They were so vitally important to him and he’d come back to tell CJ as much. To share with her the decisions he’d made and to ask her opinion. He valued her opinions, he valued her. Would she be able to value him?
‘Hello?’ he called softly as he headed into the lounge room. It was empty. He went towards CJ’s part of the house and knocked softly on the door. ‘Hello?’ he called again, and pushed open the door. ‘CJ?’ He’d tried calling her from the airstrip to let her know he was back but again his call had gone through to her voicemail. Had she got the message?
‘Ethan? Is that you? Because if it’s not and you’re a robber, there’s absolutely nothing of value in the house. Just boring memorabilia, which won’t fetch you any money if you sell it on the internet.’
He grinned at her words, following the sound of her voice to the bedroom. The door was open and he stopped on the threshold, looking at her standing over Elizabeth’s crib, the baby sound asleep. She was dressed in a pair of pyjamas with her robe belted firmly around her waist. He glanced down at her feet and wasn’t surprised to see those fluffy slippers she loved so much. At first he’d thought they were ridiculous, but now he realised they suited her. They reflected her personality—warm, soft and comfortable. She probably wouldn’t like to hear herself being described that way—what woman would? But Ethan had never felt as comfortable in his life as he did when he was with CJ.
‘You’re back,’ she whispered with a sigh of relief.
‘I did leave you a message.’ He pointed to her phone, which was on her bedside table.
She nodded. ‘I got it. So… Joshua’s finally picked up?’ She bit her lip and shook her head as tears began to well in her eyes.
‘A little,’ he confirmed. ‘Margaret and Doug have a very long road ahead of them, one that will take years to adjust to. The full extent of Joshua’s brain damage is unknown as yet but he’ll need to be in hospital for at least the next six months.’ He broke off and shook his head. ‘Margaret’s already talking about selling their share of the vineyard and moving to Sydney.’