Joe visits his girl just before Glenrowan, to say goodbye.
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He has been thinking about
Aaron a lot lately. About those long ago days when they were boys and used to
play together, in the evenings after all the chores were done, down by the
creek. Daring each other to stay under water till their lungs were bursting.
Trying to catch the possums in the trees when darkness descended. Dreaming of
adventures they would go on together, the whole world open to them. And then
grown up; courting each other’s sisters, borrowing horses, getting in trouble
with the law, ending up in gaol together. When did it all start going wrong? He
can see now that there was a shift in the friendship when he started spending
more time with Ned, too subtle for him to really notice at the time but more
evident now, in hindsight. He knows Aaron has great admiration for Ned – why
hadn’t he joined them then? They had asked him often enough, yet he always came
up with a reason why he could not. If he had done something about it then,
insisted, talked things through, could the friendship have been saved? Could he
have been spared this mission he now found himself on?
The Lloyds had been at Ned
for ages to do something about Aaron. They had never trusted him, not so much
for what he did or didn’t do, but for who he was and where he came from. A
copper’s son and not even a Catholic – that had been enough to condemn him in
their eyes. Had it not been for his assurances, things would have come to a head
much earlier. In the end he had been worn down by the long months of waiting and
hiding, the loneliness and growing despair over the silence between them. And
here he was now, committed to killing his best friend, a man who had been as
close as a brother to him. He would burn in hell but somehow he was past caring.
It was obvious their friendship didn’t mean anything to Aaron anymore, so why
should he care either? Unlike the four of them, Aaron had a comfortable life
now, a new wife and a child on the way, he had heard. The money from the reward
would be very welcome to him indeed. That at least he could understand on some
level, the temptation of the money. It was the other things that had hardened
his heart to this cold stone that was inside his chest now. The way Aaron had
treated his family, the way he had taken their friendship and ground it into
dust under his boots, taunting him. “I’ll shoot him and I’ll fuck him before his
body gets cold.” He had tried to imagine what Aaron had been thinking, saying
those words to his mother, knowing that they would be reported to him directly.
Tried to picture his face, sneering, contemptuous, as he threw the friendship in
his face. It still stung. A copper’s son then, after all.
The road comes out of the
trees and the town looms in front of him now, the houses in darkness. He lets
his horse pick her way over the familiar path, around the outskirts, hugging the
darker shadows. He has a sudden desire for a drink but even the most
disreputable places have bolted their doors by now.
There’s a lit lantern on
her window. She’s still waiting for him, after so many nights when he didn’t
come. When he only dreamed of holding her in his arms, his body aching for her
softness. Or those other, darker nights, when it felt like his skin was turned
inside out and he sought solace in the opium instead. But she still waits
because she knows, and understands.
He tethers his horse and
creeps silently to her window and looks inside. She’s sitting on the bed, still
fully dressed but undoing her hair, her eyes closed as her fingers work through
the long tresses hanging down to her waist, golden where the light hits them. He
watches her, mesmerised, unable to move even though every part of him is
desperate for her. And then she opens her eyes and looks straight at him. The
joy that suddenly fills her as she jumps up and rushes to the window to open it
and let him in squeezes his heart.
His arms gather her to him,
holding on tight, and as his lips find hers he shuts out all thought. She is
soft against him and he has a burning need to bury himself in her, to let her
help him forget about everything else. Her skin is luminous in the soft yellow
light as he lovingly undresses her, worshipping her with his mouth, forcing
himself to slow down. Her hands glide over the sharpened angles of his body,
soothing and calming and making him burn at the same time. Once he’s inside her,
the fire takes hold and they abandon themselves to it, desperate to be as close
as they can and still it’s nowhere near enough. He doesn’t realise he’s crying
until she’s kissing the tears off his face.
She is asleep when he leaves. For a long
time after he has put on his clothes and pulled on his boots he sits on the bed,
filling his eyes with her. Gently he picks up a strand of her hair and brings it
to his lips, briefly closing his eyes and inhaling her scent. Then he gets up
and walks silently to the window, takes a deep breath and climbs out without a
It is still dark and there is no one
about as he unties his horse and swings up onto her back. The tiniest pressure
from his thighs guides her back into the shadows and he squares his shoulders as
he whispers a soundless goodbye.