Stonehaven, Western Australia
The first time she saw him down by the river that summer afternoon, she couldn’t pull her eyes away. He stood tall and straight, the sun playing over the long lines of his legs, and when he drew back his arm and lobbed a rock into the water, every part of him moved in perfect time. The stone broke the glassy brown surface with a plop and disappeared. Somewhere high above, a magpie warbled out, singing to the sky. She stayed in the tree-dappled shade at the edge of the bank, almost holding her breath, transfixed by his golden hair and the strong curve of his chin, until he turned around and saw her.
Their eyes locked from fifteen feet apart. Even from there, she could see that his had the colour and depth of the the aquamarine stone in her favourite brooch.
And then he bent swiftly to the ground, snatched up another rock from the pile, and hurled it straight at her.
She yelped and skipped out of the way as it skittered into the bush. “Hey!”
He was already bending down for another. “Having a good look?”
She rushed for the nearest tree and slipped behind it, peering out. She was, but she wasn’t going to say it. “No! No, I just… like to come here.” She ducked back, waiting for the next missile, but nothing happened. She peeked out again. “Who are you?”
He squinted at her, suspicious. “Len. Who are you?”
“Katherine.” She eased out from behind the tree, and brushed aside a branch of something with a lemony scent. His voice was deep. He looked about her age, maybe a year older. “You can call me Kit if you want.”
“You new here?” He swung his leg and kicked at the rusty soil. He was wearing shorts and no shoes. The skin on his legs was brown as tree bark, dusted in hair the colour of sunlight.
“We just moved to the farm up there.” She nodded back over her shoulder.
He broke into a wide grin. “The preacher? You’re the preacher’s daughter?”
Something about the way he said it made her bristle. She stood as tall as she could, but he still had a head on her. “I am.”
His eyes ran all the way down to her feet and back up again. “You don’t look like a preacher’s daughter.”
The sun seemed very warm on her neck all of a sudden. She folded her arms and put her chin up. “What’s a preacher’s daughter supposed to look like?”
He walked towards her, hands on his hips, still smiling. “I dunno. Plain. Boring.” He reached out and touched the plait of golden hair that draped down over her shoulder, just for a moment. “Brown, probably.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
He laughed. “I’m not disappointed.”
They stared at each other while the trees chattered in the breeze, until a whirring insect broke the quiet. She took a step back, feeling the blood rush into her cheeks. “So… what are you doing?”
He glanced back at the river. “Wasting time.” His smile did something funny to her stomach. “You wanna waste some time with me?”
She forced herself to shrug. “All right.”
They settled together on the edge of the bank, feet in the rushing cool of the river.