Just like grief, waiting had stages. And by two o’clock, Judy Novak was well and truly in the anger phase.
Thirty years old! And still bloody selfish. Well, whose fault is that?
The Mutineers’ Lodge cabins had been renovated for high season.
Marine-blue carpet. Brochures swimming under coffee-table glass. Drapes so red they hurt her eyes. ‘You have to stay at Mutes’!’ Paulina had insisted, months back. ‘I’ll make your bed and serve you breakfast!’
So proud of the fact that she could finally make a bed. Making an appointment — not so much.
Two hours late! Island time be damned. It’s selfish, bloody selfish. Judy had called — how many times? Enough. She’d call again. Just once. On the bedside phone, so plasticky-new it looked like a toy.
The only ‘Novak’ in the Fairfolk Island phone book. Almost, it gave Judy goosebumps, seeing her daughter’s name so alone in that forest of Kings, Carlyles, Stevenses, Greatorexes.
Pick up! For chrissakes, Paulina. Pick up!
Each ring like a screaming newborn. Torture. She slammed the phone.
‘Fine! You’re a grown woman. So am I.’
Judy stared at the phone for a long moment, like it was a snake slithering into a bush. Then she picked up her beach bag, threw a challenging glance at her pink-faced reflection.
‘I’m fine.’ She swiped a tear. ‘You’re fine.’
‘Excuse me. If you see my daughter—’
He didn’t remember Judy, the fat clerk in the mutiny-red shirt. His smile said as much: a crocodile smile that didn’t quite meet the sea- glass eyes with their curiously beautiful dark-brown lashes. A man her age. It was one thing being invisible to young blokes, but had this man really lumped her in the same category as all the nearly-deads with their coach tours and activity calendars?
‘I’m Paulina’s mum,’ she reminded him.
‘Of course you are!’ Patronising. ‘What can I do for you, ma’am?’
Judy’s eyes wandered down to his name tag: Bazel.
‘Well. She was supposed to meet me at my cabin two hours ago. At least, that’s what we agreed? After her walk. Paulina said we’d go to the beach.’
Bazel cupped his chin in his hands and frowned. ‘Is that right!’
A gold ring glinted in his right ear. His desk was shaped like a prow, the wall behind it painted with half-naked Polynesian women and rogue British sailors, looking out to sea at a burning ship.
‘That one’s my ancestor, Samuel Stevens.’ Noticing her looking, Bazel pointed out one of the sailors. ‘I made sure the artist gave him lots of muscles.’
‘Which one’s his wife?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine.’ He shrugged sheepishly. ‘That one there with the white flowers is Gideon King’s bride, Puatea.’
‘Very ... historical.’ Sighing, Judy straightened the strap of her beach bag. ‘If you see Paulina, tell her I’ve gone for a drive. I’ll be back in an hour or so. She can call me then, if she likes.’
Judy didn’t wait around to listen to Bazel’s reply; she had things to do, goddamnit. Although, once behind the wheel of her rented Hyundai, she wasn’t quite sure what.
Where are you, Paulina?