AT HOME WITH THE TEMPLETONS
From the moment Gracie Templeton knew she was going back to the Hall, she started to see him again.
He walked past her in the Tube station. She saw him studying at a table in the local library, his head bowed, engrossed in a book. Every second customer in the restaurant where she worked part-time sounded like him. An actor on TV had his shy smile. Everywhere she went, there was a man who reminded her of him, the same height, six foot three. The same dark curls. The easy, lanky walk. The same clothes – faded jeans, a dark reefer jacket. For eight years she’d been trying to put him out of her mind, to forget him, to rebuild her life. Now it was as if no time had passed at all.
As she watched the departure date grow closer, packed her suitcase, tidied her flat, she could think only of him. Three days before her flight, she gave in. Even as she typed his name into an Internet search engine, she knew it was a mistake. When his name appeared, she clicked on the link and began to read, then turned quickly away, shutting the laptop, breaking the connection. Quickly but not quickly enough. A line from the entry had leapt out at her: A promising career cut short –
If she’d dared to read on, would she have seen her name there? A promising career cut short by Gracie Templeton.
The phrase haunted her throughout the twenty-two-hour flight. Until, there she was, stepping out into Melbourne airport for the first time in sixteen years.
The man behind the car-hire desk was the perfect mixture of efficiency and good humour. ‘That’s all great, Gracie Templeton aged twenty-seven of London, thank you.’ He handed her English driver’s licence back across the desk. ‘So, is this your first time here?’
Gracie hesitated, then shook her head. ‘I used to live here, with my family. For three years.’
‘But you all left again? Summer got too hot?’
‘Something like that,’ she said.
Minutes later she was in the small hire car, breathing in the too-sweet air-freshener fumes, unfolding the map and plotting her route. It was unsettling to see the place names again. Turning up the radio loudly to drown out her thoughts, she focused her attention on the road ahead.
Just over an hour later, something about the landscape made her slow down. A sign came into view: Castlemaine 25 km. She wasn’t far away now. She hadn’t been sure she would find her way so easily. There were no longer any roadside signs pointing to the Hall, after all. But it felt so familiar. The broad paddocks, gentle tree-covered hills, the big sky, the space. So much light and space. She stopped briefly to double-check her map and the smell when she opened the car door almost overwhelmed her: warm soil, gum leaves, the scents of her childhood.
Five kilometres later, she was at the turn-off. The huge gum tree at the junction of the highway and the dirt driveway had always been their landmark. She indicated left and drove slowly, jolting over potholes and loose stones. As she tried to negotiate her way around the worst of them, she saw broken tree branches, crooked posts, gaps in the fencing. Her father would never have let the approach road look this uncared for. ‘First impressions are everything, my darlings,’ she could almost hear him saying.
The closer she came, the more neglect she saw: uneven patches of grass where there had once been smooth green lawn, bare brown earth where she’d once picked flowers, rows of fruit trees now left to grow wild, their branches heavy with unpicked, rotting fruit.
One final bend of the driveway and there it was in front of her. Templeton Hall.
She slowly brought the car to a halt, feeling as though her heart was trying to beat its way out of her chest. She’d expected the building to look smaller, but it seemed bigger. Two storeys high, large shuttered windows, an imposing front door reached by a flight of wide steps made from the same golden sandstone as the house itself. It needed painting, several roof tiles were broken and one of the window shutters was missing a slat, but it was still standing, almost glowing in the bright sunshine, as beautiful as she remembered.
As she walked towards it, the sound of the gravel crunching beneath her shoes mingled with unfamiliar bird calls from the trees all around. She automatically reached for her talisman, the antique silver whistle she always carried in her bag, holding it tight in her hand. He’d given it to her when she was just a child. Back then it had been a good luck charm. Now it was her only reminder of him.
She climbed the first step, the second, the third, wishing, too late, that she hadn’t offered to arrive early, hadn’t volunteered to be the first to step back inside the Hall again.
The front door opened before she had a chance to put the key in the lock.
In the seconds before her eyes adjusted completely from the bright sunlight, she registered only that a man was standing there. A tall man with dark, curly hair, holding something in his right hand. As she saw his face, she felt a rushing sensation from her head to her feet. She heard herself say his name as if from a long distance away.
‘Tom?’ She tried again. ‘Tom?’
He took a step forward into the light.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ he said.