Plight of the Tivinel
Joel and Loraine
“Sunshine Airlines welcomes passengers travelling on flight 387 to Melbourne. Please have your boarding passes ready for checking at the gate.”
“Have a wonderful time” Jill Morison said, hugging her son, “and don’t go making a nuisance of yourself.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
She gave him a final inspection before pushing his hair back and kissing him on the forehead. “You really should’ve had your hair cut, sweetie.”
“When I get back, I promise.”
“Very well then, off you go.” She turned him around and nudged him towards the Collins family. “Don’t forget to call me when you arrive.”
“All set?” Lorina asked as he joined them at the end of the queue.
Loraine turned towards him, smiling to greet him, but suddenly her jaw dropped. “What happened to your hair?”
“What do you mean?”
He tried running his hands through his long shaggy locks but found only a bald scalp instead. “What? How? This can’t be happening!”
Loraine covered her mouth. “Wh-what are those things on your feet?”
He looked down, expecting to see his well-tanned bare toes, only to discover they were encased in fluorescent pink sneakers.
“NOOOOOOO! I haven’t been in any fights, honest!”
Joel woke, a scream choked in his throat. He gasped, uncertain where he was or why he was suddenly lying down, but the fresh mountain air and warm sleeping bag around him soon vanquished the remnants of his nightmare. Checking that he hadn’t woken Loraine, he quietly unzipped himself and crept out of the tent.
The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the glow on the eastern horizon suggested dawn wasn’t far off. He stepped over to the edge of their campsite, finding a comfortable-looking rock on which to perch and relishing the sandstone’s cold caress on his bare buttocks.
Below him, in a vista straight out of the travel guides, eucalypt forest gave way to mist straddled coastal plains stretching out to a distant sea as still as the proverbial mill pond. The lightest of breezes tussled his hair, reminding him of that horrible dream. Running his fingers through each lock, he made sure the phantom barber hadn’t snuck into their tent during the night, but all was well. He took another deep breath of the mountain air, letting a grin of pure satisfaction spread across his face. There could be nothing better than this, absolutely nothing.
He turned his head as soft footsteps approached from behind. Loraine, also naked, sat beside him before putting her arm around his shoulders and kissing him gently on the nose.
“I tried not to wake you,” he said.
“It wasn’t you; I just needed to watch the dawn.”
“It’s so beautiful I could sit here forever.”
She kissed him again, this time on the cheek.
A kookaburra began its morning serenade, soon joined by several others of its clan.
“Hey, they’re laughing at us,” Joel said.
“They’re just envious, that’s all.”
“And so they should be.”
Away in the distance, the sea burst into orange fire as the sun’s disc crept over the horizon. Even the kookaburras stopped their chatter to watch.
Loraine reached across with her other hand, running her finger down the centre of Joel’s chest, but he gently stopped her. “You can touch me anywhere you want, but please don’t do that.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Back when we were on Meridian, the female yowie did that with her claw, and I still have nightmares in which my guts spill out and make a horrible mess across the studio floor.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry Joel, I never realised. Is that what woke you this morning?”
“No, it was a different nightmare.”
“Poor Joel.” She wrapped both arms around him, kissing him again on the cheek. “You were so brave the way you stood up to those yowies.”
“I never meant to be; that’s what makes it so scary.”
“I know it’s easy to say and ever so hard to do, but you have to put all that behind you and look to the future. Your life ahead’s going to be fun, exciting and, above all, safe.”
“I know, but my dreams have other ideas.”
“Maybe in the future you’ll be dreaming about this place and the beautiful sunrise we just witnessed.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.” He stood, stretching. “I’ll get breakfast on so we can make an early start, I guess. Do you want me to stoke up the fire for some toast, or will just cereal do?”
“Just cereal, thanks.”
He nodded before rummaging through his backpack to find the plastic cereal bowls and spoons.
“Dry or with milk?”
“I have mine dry.”
“Yes, I know.”
“The same as yesterday morning, right?”
“Yes, and the morning before too.”
“Predictability is nice.”
“So is variety.”
“Not when it comes to soggy cereal.”
“All set?” Joel asked as he pulled on his board shorts.
Loraine zipped up her backpack. “Yep, let’s go.”
Joel was about to start walking when a noise in the undergrowth stopped him. “What’s that?”
As they watched, an echidna waddled out onto the track in front of them, completely oblivious to the two people watching it.
“Look at it,” Loraine said. “It’s so cute.”
“Be careful of the spurs on its back legs; they can give you a nasty jab. Did you know they’re one of only two species of egg-laying mammals?”
“The other one being the platypus, right?”
“Exactly. You know I read somewhere that male echidnas have a four-headed penis.”
“Gosh. All the better to turn on those lady echidnas.”
A puzzled expression crossed Joel’s face. “I guess so.”
“Look, it’s sniffing out that trail of ants.”
“I think I’ll stick to soggy cereal.”
Joel screwed up his face in revulsion. “I’d rather eat ants.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.”
Joel looked back at the echidna as it flashed out its tongue to grab an unsuspecting ant. “We should press on and leave it to dine in peace.”
Loraine hoisted her backpack over her shoulders, sighing as he strode off down the track without waiting for her.
“Joel, look at those beautiful pink wildflowers over there! Aren’t they just gorgeous?”
“Actually, while they look pink to us, they’re really designed to attract insects which can see into the ultraviolet range. To them, they’re probably a sort of super purple, or perhaps some other colour we just can’t comprehend.”
Loraine frowned. “Honestly, Joel, you’re about as romantic as a block of wood.”
“My dad has a carpenter friend and to him blocks of wood are very romantic.”
“Is there anything that excites you, gives you that special tingle inside?”
“You mean like sherbet?”
Clambering down a flight of rocky steps, they reached a creek crossing with a large pool just upstream of the ford.
“This must be Dead Cow Creek,” Joel said.
“Inspiring name; that must have taken a lot of thought.”
“It’s probably to discourage tourists, like Sandfly Bay over on the coast.”
Loraine chuckled. “You mean there really aren’t any sandflies there?”
“Not a one, but the locals get to keep their fishing spots all to themselves.”
“Nice one. So, assuming there aren’t really dead cows floating in this creek, do you want to go for a swim? That waterhole looks so inviting!”
“You bet!” Joel said, pulling off his board shorts.
“Hang on, I don’t get it. All summer you’ve worn nothing but those swimming trunks, yet now that we’re going swimming you take them off. How come?”
“I don’t want to be walking in wet clothes afterwards. Besides, skinny-dipping is much more fun, and, um, even romantic.”
Loraine smiled as she started removing her tank top and shorts. “You’re right.”
Joel leapt into the water, the splash sending a flock of startled galahs squawking into the sky. “Me Nature Boy!”
“You are indeed,” she said, easing herself into the water and swimming out to him. He flicked his hand across the surface, splashing her in the face.
“This means war,” she said, splashing him back.
Joel pointed over Loraine’s shoulder. “Look!”
As she turned her head, he dived under the water and grabbed her legs, pulling her down. They grappled underwater, each trying to keep the other down until both ran out of air. Surfacing, they looked into each other’s eyes, Loraine’s goofy grin a perfect match for Joel’s.
“Um, Loraine,” Joel said as they lay drying themselves on the sun-warmed rocks. “I was wondering, like, would you, um, do you want to get married?”
“What, to you?”
“Well, yeah, um, if you really want to. Not straight away, of course, but, um –”
Loraine sighed. “Are you sure you really love me, Joel?”
“Of course I do. You and David have been my best friends, well practically my only friends, since we first met, and, um, we get along pretty well, don’t we?”
Loraine put a hand on Joel’s shoulder. “It’s fine for you and David to be best mates and hang out together or go hiking in the mountains to check out the ultraviolet vision of insects, but with me there has to be more. I’m a woman and have different needs; I’m not David’s twin!”
Joel looked confused. “You mean he’s not really your brother?”
If ever there was a moment Loraine wanted to strangle him, this was it. Instead she burst out laughing. “Oh Joel, you moron, you absolutely adorable moron, come here and I’ll show you exactly what I mean.”
♥ ♥ ♥
“So, um, that was nice,” Joel said.
“Well, more than nice I guess; it was the nicest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Don’t sound so surprised. I should be the surprised one; I never expected you’d be able to, um –”
Joel blushed. “Either did I. So, will you?”
“Will I what?”
Loraine placed a hand under Joel’s head while running the other through his hair. “I suppose if it doesn’t work out, I could always accuse you of killing a baby dolphin so the courts would dissolve our marriage and send you to prison for life.”
“That’s a bit drastic, isn’t it? Couldn’t we just get a divorce?”
“The Delphinidae don’t do divorce.”
“But, well, hopefully it won’t come to that.”
“I’m not sure, I mean, if that’s the only option –”
Loraine grinned. “I’m just pulling your leg, Joel. Honestly, you’re so gullible.”
She kissed him, not a Delphinidae peck on the nose this time but a full-blown Earthling kiss. “Yes, Joel, I’d be delighted to become your wife.”
“Yes, really truly. Now we’re just going to have to figure out how to explain this to our parents.”
* * *
“You want to do WHAT?” Jack Morison asked.
“I’m getting married,” Joel said.
“To a woman?”
“Yes, Loraine Collins.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jill said. “You’re both far too young.”
“I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks and then you won’t be able to stop me!”
Jill put her hand over her mouth. “You haven’t got her pregnant, have you?”
“Don’t be silly,” Jack said. “He wouldn’t know how to.”
“You mark my words, Joel Morison,” Jill said. “It’ll end in tears once that poor girl figures out what you’re really like.”
Joel turned and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
“It looks like that went well,” Loraine said.
“Like having root canal, only worse. Mum said it’ll end in tears when that poor girl figures out what you’re really like.”
“As if I haven’t figured that out already.”
Joel stared at her before bursting into laughter. “I am a bit weird, aren’t I?”
“Of course, but marrying someone normal would go against the Collins family tradition.”
“Speaking of which, I guess we should pluck up the courage to see how your parents react.”
“Relax, Joel; they’ll be over the moon, I promise.”
“Do you want me to wait outside?” Joel asked.
“No, you don’t get out of it that easily,” Loraine said. “United we stand and all that.”
She opened the door, pulling Joel through behind her.
“You’re back!” Lorina said, hugging each of them in turn. “Mark, Loraine and Joel are back!”
“Did you have a nice time?” Mark asked as he dashed into the living room.
“Fantastic,” Loraine said. “Look, we have something to tell you.”
“We’re getting married,” Joel said before he could stop himself.
“That’s nice. Did you see any platypuses?”
“No, but an echidna walked out onto the track right in front of us, feasting on a line of ants.”
“Hang on, dear,” Lorina said. “Loraine, did Joel just say you two were getting married?”
“Yeah, he proposed to me, sort of, and I accepted.”
“I knew it’d happen! Congratulations!” She gave them each another hug. “I’ll have to start organising everything right away. Mark, go tell your parents and grandparents; they’ll be tickled pink!”
Mark ambled out to the kitchen, beckoning Joel to join him. Joel gulped, giving Loraine a fearful look before following.
“Take a seat, Joel,” Mark said, turning to the refrigerator and grabbing a couple of beers. “Cheers.”
“Thanks. I guess, um, I guess you’re not angry then.”
“Angry? Good heavens, Joel, Lorina and I have known you two were made for each other from the day you met. Do you remember that stand we had outside the pizza shop when we were promoting the school?”
“How could I forget? I felt like an absolute dork.”
“You didn’t make much of an impression on David, but Loraine was smitten.”
“Gosh. So was I, if the truth be known.”
“I know; I saw your face when she came running up from the beach.”
“Of course you know Lorina is still technically the Delphinidae High Priestess, so the wedding will have to be a grand affair with dignitaries aplenty from Bluehaven and Meridian. The Supreme Councillor himself will probably come.”
Mark nodded. “You met him during our little adventure a few years back, didn’t you?”
“Yeah; he struck me as being a bit odd.”
“He was a troubled man back then, but Frank says he’s put all that behind him and is doing a fine job.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Um, Mark, will the wedding have to be on Bluehaven or can we have it here?”
“I’m sure you can have it here if that’s what you both want.”
Joel breathed a sigh of relief. “I do, really.”
“I haven’t asked her yet.”
“Make sure you do, and a word of advice, Joel; make sure she thinks it’s her decision.”
“I will, yes.”
“Good.” Mark grinned at him. “Can I get you another beer?”
As he opened the fridge, David wandered in to join them. “I’ll have one too, Dad.”
“You don’t turn eighteen for another six months, but I suppose under the circumstances –”
“Thanks, Dad. So, I hear I’m about to acquire a brother in law.”
“Yeah,” Joel said. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Nah, I knew it’d happen eventually.”
“Good; in that case you can be Best Man.”
“Okay, as long as I don’t have to wear a tux.”
Joel looked at Mark, who grinned.
“Getting you to put on any clothes at all would be an achievement, Davie, but I’m sure we can accommodate you. Your grandfather will no doubt be done up in his ceremonial loin cloth and body paint, so you can do likewise if you want.”
“I wish I had Aboriginal blood in me so I could do the same,” Joel said.
Mark grinned again. “You’re still officially a Black Delphinidae acolyte, so your school shorts should pass as formal dress.”
“Great, I never thought of that!”
“Will Damon be conducting the service?” David asked.
“Either him or Pip.”
“Cool. You should get married more often, Joel.”
“Don’t worry, son,” Mark said, “your turn will come soon enough, I’m sure. You’re bound to meet someone nice at the university on Cornipus.”
David chuckled. “I’d rather someone naughty, Dad.”
“Be careful what you wish for, son.” Mark ruffled his hair as Loraine and Lorina came in to join them.
“Have you called your parents and grandparents yet?”
Mark put down his beer, stood and went to the phone.
“They’re all coming around for dinner,” Mark said. “Do you want to stay, Joel?”
“Yeah, sure. I don’t think Mum and Dad want me anywhere near their place tonight.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“They don’t approve of our marriage.”
“Leave it to me,” Lorina said. “I’ll have a talk to Jill and in the meantime you’re welcome to bunk down here.”
“Oh, Joel,” Mark said, “there’s been a bit of a snag with the organisers for the symposium in Sydney, and I was wondering if you’d mind going down a few days early to help set up.”
“No, that’s fine.” Joel glanced at Loraine, who shook her head.
“I have an appointment on Friday afternoon that I can’t get out of, but you go.”
Joel looked crestfallen. “I, um, no, that’s okay. I can meet you at Sydney airport on Friday night. What gate does your flight arrive at?”
“I have no idea, and they change it all the time anyway, so you’ll just have to check the indicator boards when you get there.”
“Oh, right, yeah sure.”
“It’s settled then?” Mark said. “Excellent. Granddad will arrange your flight booking, Joel, so all you have to do is turn up here on Tuesday morning.”
“No worries, Mark.”
“You’ll have to start calling me Dad, Joel.”
Joel gulped, suddenly wondering if he’d bitten off more than he could chew.