Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands

by Jane Byrnes

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Overview

Shifting Sands by Jane Byrnes

Helen is an outdoorsy woman who lives a full and busy life in the Australian country town of Carlisle. Her surroundings are usually quiet and calm, especially since Carlisle isn’t exactly a hopping metropolis. She enjoys her peace as she focuses on her job, and it’s not bad having two gorgeous young men in the house next door, Liam and David.

At first, she just thinks she’s lucky to have two heartthrobs as neighbors, different as they are. But soon, her life becomes complicated when a third man enters the mix. Helen and her friend Genevieve find themselves battling the prejudices and assumptions of the residents of the town she calls home.

Along this surprising path, the five young people become friends, supporters, and even rivals for each other. They form bonds impossible to break. Still, nothing is simple, especially in love. Shifting Sands is a book about communication—how we can be distracted by the outside world and forget to share ourselves with those closest to us.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504309417
Publisher: Balboa Press Australia
Publication date: 08/18/2017
Pages: 298
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Helen

Helen drew the swing back until the tips of her toes took all the weight, and then let it glide, leaning her head and body back to catch the warmth of early spring sun. She closed her eyes and luxuriated in the warmth as the hypnotic rocking of the swing settled her jangled thoughts. A week at a conference in Sydney had left her with a shocking dose of the flu and she felt an urge to kiss the warm tarmac as she walked down the rickety plane steps at Riswell Airport. The two-hour drive home had been interminable and she'd pulled over a couple of times to rest her aching head, not even bothering to lift it as huge semis rumbled past two metres from the open car window. The minute she'd arrived home she'd crawled thankfully into bed and stayed there until her stomach rumbled a starved protest that evening. This morning, the Queensland sunshine was glorious, washing over her in heated waves, with just a drift of jasmine perfume left over from the burst of flower after the last rain. As she lay back she let her hair almost sweep the ground as she stretched cold, cramped muscles.

Today, she was really feeling deathly cold, chilled all over with the remains of the flu, and she'd forgotten to eat, drink, or even move, while she concentrated to finish some work that had built up while she was away in Sydney, living "the high life" as her father would say. Her normally pleasant study with its view over the backyard and down to the creek flats felt as cold as a tomb while the data she was working with kept moving and changing before her eyes. She was sure that the paperwork was performing a square dance, the way each piece she needed kept disappearing.

It had seemed like a sound plan to work at home instead of in the field while she was sick, but it wasn't working at all well for Helen today. This analytical work required intense concentration and attention to detail, and the energy that was required was probably more than a day in the open would take while it didn't feel nearly as productive. Like most active, outdoor people, Helen often felt that she hadn't done anything useful unless there was a physical result, and she sometimes found it hard to come to terms with 'paper shuffling', especially when she wasn't feeling the best. I' d probably just be better off in bed. I' d recover more quickly and be able to get back to my real work she decided.

Idly, she rotated the swing with her weight and listened to the birdcalls in the creek behind the house, just able to hear the occasional car on the highway just over the hill. Jack, his black- and- white dog body laid flat out in the sun, cocked an ear at her and grunted as he dropped back to sleep. His legs twitched eerily, and his lips drew back in a grimace, giving way to funny little yips as whatever he was chasing got away yet again. His eyes half opened with that odd glazed look of being semi- awake, and his mouth drew back in a big, satisfied doggy grin. Helen smiled at him and thought again how peaceful an animal could make you feel. You could never be sad when your dog was so content but she did wish that she could lie down beside him on the warm pavement and soak up the sun too.

His sun-warmed coat shone with health and Helen knew that black fur would be radiating heat like an electric blanket.

Carlisle was a quiet town, and it was this occasional moment of stolen peace, that made working from home a pleasure-at least when Helen was feeling well.

She thought about her current project and frowned. There was no way she could finish the monitoring at the moment since the unseasonal rain last week had brought the creeks up, covering some of their monitoring sites. By the time the creeks went down, it would be hot and every site would be covered in long grass. Although the tall, damp grass and the probability of snakes didn't bother her, the clouds of angry mosquitoes released every time you moved and the sticky seed heads, not to mention the lethal spear grass heads made working in the creek almost impossible later in the year. Ripe spear grass could penetrate the thickest of trousers and Helen had a couple of spears embedded in her calf already simply showing as a black spot under the skin. There were so many stories around about what would happen if a spear grass head burrowed in to a joint that many people were wary, but Helen hadn't met anyone yet who had a problem and plenty of people had them under their skin. She often wondered if the spear grass tale was another Australian tall story.

Three years ago, Cate and Jenny and herself had spent a couple of weeks, setting up the case studies that she wanted to revisit and while it had been a lot of fun, it had also been incredibly hot and humid. The only consolation had been that there was water in the creek and they could cool off occasionally, sometimes even when they hadn't planned it as they crisscrossed on rocky bars and water gates. They'd spent a lot of time with a theodolite and staff, trying to draw creek cross sections and even more time with a measuring tape, counting plants numbers and identifying them to record the state of the vegetation on the creek banks. They'd decided then that future monitoring would be done in spring, just before the storm season started, but this spring had fooled them with out-of-season early rains.

The creeks in the valley were often completely dry, but when there was water Helen was certain there were very few more beautiful places on earth. She loved this area with its flat top plateaus and incised creeks, the tall, stately eucalypts alternating with brigalow flats, rippling with gold and red Rhodes grass and grey-green bluegrasses. After good rain, the cleared brigalow melon-hole country could look like English water meadows full to the brim with clear water edged by lush green grasses. It was the contrast between the wet and the dry seasons, the heat and the frost, that changed the face of the valley every week. She could do the same drive week after week in the area and it never, ever looked the same. Here, Helen corrected herself. During the drought, it had looked drearily the same only steadily deteriorating for ten years in a row, with brief episodes of hope when the minimal rains came. The last few years had been wonderful though with solid rains and plenty to look forward to on every drive.

The gentle sound of a purring engine coming up the hill and the crunch of gravel as it pulled in to the driveway next door slid into her thoughts, and then doors opened and men's voices reached her. Rapid footsteps slapped up the drive and she heard the rattle of a key in a lock. Unlike Jack who had leapt to his feet, she opened her eyes lazily, coming back to earth slowly trying to decide if it was worth the effort to see who had come home with David from next door. She could definitely hear at least two men's voices and the slamming of multiple doors. No doubt she would eventually find out anyway.

Deciding she did want to know and that she wanted to know immediately, Helen shot the swing back to the top of its arc in time to see a wheelchair appear from the boot of David's dark green sedan. The young man leaning into the back of the car turned and waved, but continued to assemble the chair, directing laughing comments to his companion in the front seat, although the response seemed less than enthusiastic.

Her moment of solitude broken, Helen moved back inside her own house to prepare some lunch and puzzle over the new arrival. David hadn't mentioned a visitor coming to stay, when she'd spoken with him before she'd left for the conference. They'd spent quite a bit of time together the last time she saw him. David had volunteered to help her with a community awareness day for their latest biodiversity project which had involved manning a display down at the markets. They'd had plenty of time to chat and Helen was certain that there had been no discussion about a potential visitor, especially one with enough luggage to be permanent or at least long term.

With her hands busily cutting haloumi and cucumber for her favourite salad, she watched the driveway from the window as David carted loads of gear into the house, surely far more than a casual guest would need. Helen assessed the man in the wheelchair. He was striking with wavy, dark hair and strongly marked brows. He didn't smile a lot - even when David teased him in his gentle way. He sat in the sun on the driveway in the wheelchair David had reassembled and frowned at the fence that separated the two houses. He turned to David with a question. The reply must have finally tickled his funny bone and as he swivelled to look at the fence again, his face relaxed in to a genuinely amused grin, momentarily banishing the lines of pain and reducing his age by ten years at least.

Helen watched as David bent to talk to his visitor again, this time pointing into the distance at some feature in the direction of town and as David looked up the sun caught his face and outlined his finely cut features. Wow, I should be so lucky, thought Helen, with two heartthrobs living next door. Both of the men were more than ordinarily good looking, but in very different ways. David had been in town a few months now and had become a friend and perhaps a little more, although just how much more Helen had no clear idea.

At that moment, David moved his hand to touch the other man's arm, an instinctive caring and sympathetic gesture, but it was shaken off with a warning shrug and a sharp turn of the other man's head. Helen winced for David, even more so when the visitor turned his back and wheeled his chair inside leaving David to close the car and follow him inside laden with gear. She knew she shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it sure seemed a one way friendship from the little she had seen. She would be in no hurry to get to know the new neighbor, in spite of an engaging grin and a well-styled head of hair.

CHAPTER 2

'Owen, we'll need your signature on this before I can take it to the meeting in Riswell today. I know I've left it a bit late but can I call in this morning, on my way through so you can sign it for me?'

Helen pictured Owen on the other end of the phone, with his thick grey hair sticking straight up, and powerful shoulders clad in an old tan work-shirt no doubt.

'Hopefully, I'll have it approved in time for our meeting tomorrow night', she off ered as compensation for Owen needing to wait at the farmhouse for her instead of heading straight out on to the farm. It was getting close to wheat harvest and even the most even tempered farmers were usually a little on edge and short of time at this time of year.

Everyone in town, including banks and social hostesses knew not to schedule any events at all for September.

'OK, see you then'. As Helen put down the phone, she sighed, her shoulders drooping just a little. Sometimes, it seemed she spent all her life juggling meetings and people only to have things change at the last minute. Sometimes her job seemed to be miles of driving, always wondering if this meeting was going to be worthwhile or another waste of hours and hundreds of kilometers. Not to mention the time of all the volunteers involved in the projects. She'd given up speeding officially a year ago, deciding that it wasn't worth the heartburn of peering over every hill and around every corner for the radar, as she did 140 kilometres per hour from one meeting to the next. There was no way, she decided, that her work would pay the fine and if she lost all her points, she wouldn't be able to do her job without a licence. It was much less tiring to just be late to meetings at times, and people would need to understand. Since that day, she had enjoyed the driving a lot more, but it still occasionally seemed to take over her life. It was better than being locked in a high rise office, was her one comforting thought.

While the road never changed, at least the country changed every time she drove through, with different crops at different stages and the incredible seasonal changes of the native vegetation. Even the ordinary seeming old grey-leaved brigalow trees could flower most spectacularly, and you never knew which grouping of trees would flower in which year. It was like a long term symphony, with different groups flowering at varying times, one lot here this year, another over there next year, snaking along the creek banks and paddock boundaries. Just when you thought you knew where they all were, another burst of yellow would appear in a totally random spot.

And, while she was working with people like the Kelly's and the projects on properties, everything felt worthwhile. Suddenly, on those two counts Helen felt better.

She truly admired those passionate but sometimes idealistic and pedantic "greenies" as they were known in her industry, but she knew that she could never be that extreme. She had the unfortunate ability to see two sides to every argument and often felt that she was lacking in some sort of vital commitment. She didn't see what everyone else saw- a woman committed to her community and to finding conservation solutions which could work. She didn't count the hours of volunteer work and extra jobs that she took on, just to make it all happen.

Owen Kelly owned a beautiful stretch of land along the lower Carlisle Creek and he was waiting and welcoming as usual when Helen arrived, five minutes early for a change. She stepped out of her Hilux ute, her long legs encased in jeans and her tawny eyes accented by a deep gold work-shirt.

As they walked toward the verandah, Owen removed his hat revealing sweat-plastered, grey hair. Rubbing his hand along his trousers he remarked as usual, 'hot enough for you? Might build to a storm this afternoon.'

Locals were ever hopeful that every hot, sticky day would build to a storm, Helen thought, a little smile turning up the corners of her mouth. 'We must have had enough for the moment, the creeks are only just going down. We need a little bit of dry for the sorghum planting so don't be greedy, but maybe I'll get stuck in Riswell and have to have tomorrow off,' she joked.

'Probably about time, but I bet they'd find something for you to do up there,' he said and went on, 'but at least you'd miss our meeting tonight and that would be a bonus for you. I don't know how you keep going with our meetings the way they are. You'd think that one of these days old Norm 'ud give up and go home. You'd think he could see that he's destroying our credibility'. Owen was simply expressing what many of the local farmers thought and in spite of her flu induced tiredness, Helen warmed at the concern and care in his voice.

She smiled at him and shrugged, 'There'll always be one who's not happy. This one just happens to be nastier than most and anyway, you cop just as much as I do, maybe even more. At least I haven't put up with it since my school days like you have.'

'Owen shook his head. 'Yep, and he has never changed, just as cranky and opinionated as ever and still tries to be the schoolyard bully.'

'Well, it wouldn't still work if there weren't some people who let him get away with it,' sighed Helen, 'they should all just grow up. It's amazing that such a great group of people could let one rotten apple spoil it for all of us. We could do so much more at times.'

'Don't let it get to you, young Helen. We will keep him under control even if we can't keep him totally quiet.'

'Thanks Owen. I know you will and we all appreciate that. It has been much better since you've been the chair, that's for sure. At least other people get the chance to have their say and you have been so sneaky about how you restrict his rants and raves, that I'm not sure he has even realized. I have been watching and taking notes for my own future as a chair some time.'

While Owen signed the papers, Helen's gaze roved over the land she could see from the verandah. Like many farmhouses in the area, the house was built on a slight rise looking down toward Carlisle Creek and its band of blue gums, bauhinia and sally wattle. She smiled with pleasure at the beautifully maintained cultivation and adjoining richly diverse pastures with their brigalow cattle-camps leading up into the foothills. Even in the dry years, Owen and Jen seemed to be able to maintain reasonable groundcover. They certainly were top class producers and exemplary environmental farmers. Their whole place always seemed maintained with good fencing and a comfortable farmhouse. It was strange how some people just seemed to be able to keep things ship- shape.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Shifting Sands"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Jane Byrnes.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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