Evie’s Easter Gift
“Go on, put it on. I dare you.”
Evie gave her best friend, Clare a rueful smile and shoved the silver ring back on the dressing table. “No way, that would look so try hard.”
Clare’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Why did you bring it then?”
Evie chewed at her lower lip and said nothing. She couldn’t bring herself to admit she’d brought it because she was sure to see Josh at the Monroe Easter bash tonight. The same reason she’d accepted Clare’s invite to spend Easter in Kangaroo Ridge, the dusty outback town she’d left behind when she was eighteen.
The town where Josh Monroe, streaky blonde hair and eyes as blue as a summer sky, had introduced her to the magic of long dreamy kisses; where he’d brought out a box from behind his back one Easter Sunday with that shy lopsided grin reserved just for her, and she’d opened it to find the ring.
Inscribed with the words, now almost worn away, Josh and Evie.
Meaning Josh loved her with the devotion only a Monroe boy could display.
Meaning, this was forever.
Except it wasn’t. And that had been all her stupid fault.
Evie stood up abruptly, knocking the dressing table in her haste. Bits and bobs, including the ring went flying onto the floor.
Clare bent and picked it up. She placed it carefully on her palm and held it out, like offering a treat to a puppy. “Come on honey, live dangerously. Wasn’t that your motto when you left town? Why not apply it now you’re back?”
Evie hesitated. Reached out and curled her fingers round the cool metal band.
Living dangerously had shown her a darker side to life.
She took a deep breath, gave in to the little voice that whispered urgently, put it on, see what happens tonight.
And slid the ring onto her middle finger.
Josh’s stomach was fizzing and popping like a can of cold beer after a good shake.
He’d heard from Clare that Evie was coming up for the Easter bash.
Like he’d hoped she would every year since she left.
But Evie always had better plans. Evie had her music career. Her life in Sydney. Recording her Country and Western songs in that gravelly voice that made him think of honey slathered on toast. The voice that got her discovered in a talent show when she was eighteen and had turned her head resolutely away from the red dirt and wide open skies of Kangaroo Ridge towards the city lights.
A fact that tore his heart out of his chest, mangled it and never quite put it back together again.
Driving back from checking the water levels for the cattle—no mean feat on an area the size of the Monroe Station—Josh knew the preparations for Easter would be well under way.
The wheels of the ute churned up dust as he pulled up outside the homestead.
Inside, everything was hustle and bustle. His Mum, Mary’s face like a paddy melon only redder as she put one tray of goodies into the oven and removed another. Cinnamon and nutmeg hit his nostrils, the delectable smell that always told him the famous Monroe Easter cake was being baked.
So many bitter-sweet memories.
Easter had been his and Evie’s time. He’d made her gifts since they were twelve years old, still hiding his love behind pulling her bright red pig tails in class; stupid things like a chocolate egg in a painted torn off egg box covered in glitter. As time went on, the gifts got more sophisticated, until he plucked up the courage to give her the ring. She’d received it so happily, so readily that he’d taken her hand and led her behind his Dad’s ute. They’d gazed into each other’s eyes and when she’d swayed into him, lips glistening in the moonlight, he’d known, even though his heart hammered fit to burst out of his chest with terror, she wanted him to kiss her.
So he had.
And once he’d tasted the soft sweetness of Evie’s mouth, her tongue shy at first, and then bolder, dancing with his… well, there was never going to be a road back from falling in love with her, was there?
His Mum grinned at him as he threw his Akubra hat onto the messy farmhouse table and streaked past. “What’s the hurry?”
“Just got to check something.”
“Was everything ok out there?” His Dad called out, meaning, of course, the cattle’s water situation.
“One windmill needed a bit of work on its pump. I’ve done a quick fix, but we’ll need to keep an eye on it.” Josh replied as he strode down the passage.
In his room he reached on top of the wardrobe for his box of Evie memorabilia. Feverishly, he rifled through the pile of dog-eared photos, love notes on cheap lined paper and a big heart- shaped Valentine’s card.
Until he found the ring.
His heart pounded as he picked it up, a simple silver band with the words Evie and Josh engraved around it. It felt like yesterday as he buffed it with the back of his sleeve. Schlepping off to Perth when he was seventeen, using up all his savings on two identical rings. It had been worth it though, to see Evie’s green eyes light up and know she would wear that ring and he’d wear his and they’d be together forever.
Until, that was, Evie got a better offer.
Josh wiggled the ring onto his middle finger. No luck. Then his ring finger. It stuck on the knuckle. To hell with it; surely, he hadn’t gotten such sausage fingers over the past six years? Guess he’d filled out a bit with all the work helping Dad maintain the station, but even so—
He sensed someone watching him and looked up to see his brother, Brad, standing in the doorway, grinning. ‘A little birdie told me Evie’s here for the Easter Bash.’
Josh tugged at the ring.”Yep.”
“How do you feel about that?”
Josh shrugged. “Past is past.”
Brad wasn’t fooled for a second; his eyes gleamed. “So why are you mucking around with that piece of old junk?”
“No reason. Bit of nostalgia.”
“Yeah right mate. And I’m the Easter Bunny,” Brad snorted as he left. “Maybe finally you two can get your act together.”
Josh felt like saying it wasn’t him, his act had always been clear. Scene one, fall in love with Evie. Scene two, get engaged to Evie. Scene three, marry Evie. And they’d live happily ever after with a gaggle of kids running around the Monroe cattle station.
He hesitated, smoothing the edge of the ring with his fingertips, then– hell, what did he have to lose… ?
He gave a hard shove and the ring shot over his knuckle.
He could always hide his hand in his pocket the whole evening…
Evie stood in the doorway of the huge shed, transformed for Easter into a dance floor with a bar at the end. Fairy lights glittered everywhere, the smell of fried chicken and barbecued ribs mingled with Mary Monroe’s famous fruit cake, taking pride of place and covered in little marzipan eggs on a table weighed down with food.
The Monroe’s always did Easter proud.
The evening was steamy and already Evie could feel trickles of sweat running down her neck. Great way to meet Josh again. A sticky mess in her new emerald green dress, the one she’d spent hours pondering whether to buy, until the assistant had said it matched the green of her eyes. Josh had always loved her eyes. That clinched it.
She could feel the silver ring squeezing into her flesh. It had been on the small side anyway and now with her fingers swelling in the heat she wondered if she’d ever get it off without surgery.
She’d just have to keep her hand out of site. Such a stupid lame idea to wear it.
Why had she listened to Clare? Why had she even brought the damn thing with her? Josh would have well and truly moved on by now. Angry at herself, she almost turned and stomped off into the velvety night.
And then she caught sight of him at the bar and her breath hitched in her throat.
She’d know that shock of dark blonde hair anywhere, how a lock always strayed over one eye, the way he flicked his head to shift it. Her breathing stalled completely as she took in the breadth of his shoulders, the swell of his biceps in his checked shirt. He’d filled out. Magnificently. The Josh she remembered was skinnier; wiry and strong, like a young colt, with a tendency to trip over his feet when he got excited.
Evie’s gaze snagged lower, cheeks heating at those strong denim clad thighs as he leant nonchalantly on the bar, one leg crossed over the other, supremely at ease in his body.
He looked up and their eyes locked across the revellers.
All of a sudden Evie was seventeen again, lips tingling with the magic of their first kiss, her body alive with the memory of his arms pulling her close.
Oh, Lordie, the chemistry. Still there. In spades.
Her knees almost buckled.
For one pulsing moment more his blue gaze held hers, then he shot off his stool like a mallee bull was after him and strode towards her.
Evie remained glued to the spot.
Until he reached her.
Then her feet did a nervous little shuffle and one hand, the ring free hand, scooped a bunch of wayward curls behind her ear.
His smile spread through her like a caress. “Evie, it’s been a long time.”
“A very long time,” she managed out of parched lips.
“You look– beautiful.”
She could feel the blush running up to the roots of her hair. Now her face would merge with the colour of her hair, for sure. “Not looking so bad yourself.”
“Scrubbed up ok, in your opinion?”
Her body was behaving like someone had let off a box of firecrackers inside her. Evie wriggled and the strap of her satin dress slipped off her shoulder. Josh’s eyes dropped, widened, and she reached quickly to hitch it up. With her other hand.
Now his gaze was fixed on the ring. His nostrils flared slightly, winging heat into Evie’s abdomen.
“You kept it,” he said softly.
“It still fits.”
She didn’t know what to do so she just clasped her hands together in front of her and grinned stupidly. Josh reached out, his warm grip gently prising her fingers apart as he took her hand and gazed down at the ring.
“Bit too tight,” he said seriously. “Mine’s a tad squeezy too.”
She watched as he drew his other hand slowly out of his pocket, smiling sheepishly as he waggled a finger sporting an identical silver band.
“It’s still got our–” her mouth was so dry she couldn’t get the words out.
“–Names on it? Yeah,” he said, the stroke of his finger sending skitters of electricity arrowing up her arm. “Your words have nearly worn off.”
“I guess from wearing it.. when we were… we were dating… ” she stumbled. Truth was she’d worn it for quite a while after she left Kangaroo Ridge, unable to quite let go of Josh even when fame beckoned. And this last year it was often on her finger. A reminder of how perfect things had been between them as she worked on her recovery.
Josh nodded and they stood silent, neither quite able to let go of the other, as if they were both wondering how something so beautiful had failed to work out.
Then Josh said, “Would you dance with me?”
Evie nodded and he drew her onto the dance floor.
They spent the rest of the evening glued to each other’s side, barely having eyes for anyone else, even though Clare swung past a couple of times with a knowing smile, and Josh’s parents and Brad hugged Evie like she was long lost royalty.
They talked and talked. Josh told her about the plans to turn part of The Monroe Station into an eco-tourism resort and she loved how his eyes shone with passion. She told him about the fiasco of her band splitting up, about Craig, the drummer she’d dated for three years, and how she’d left because of his emotional cruelty. How she’d lost her voice from constant throat infections, brought on by stress and returned to Perth where her parents now lived to piece her shattered life back together again
Josh listened intently as they sat in a corner of the bar.
When she’d finished, he took her hand in his again, turned it over, tracing her palm softly with his fingertips. She registered the slight roughness of his skin and shivered, wanting those hands to do so many magical things that she had to bite her lip to stop herself from pitching head long into his arms and kissing him.
Josh said, “Let’s walk shall we?” and all she could do was answer breathlessly, “Yes, let’s.”
Josh matched his step to Evie’s, relishing the warmth of her hand in his, silver clinking against silver, his ring and hers. He now knew what a sham her glamorous life had turned out to be, and all he wanted to do was kiss away the pain from her beautiful, sad mouth.
And if the shimmery look in her eyes was anything to go by… surely, she wouldn’t rebuff him?
Her soft chuckle startled him, and slightly perplexed he gave in to the insistent tug on his arm. His pulse raced as he saw where she was heading. Dad’s battered, rusty old ute in a corner of the paddock. The one that didn’t work anymore but no-one could quite bring themselves to get rid of.
The ute he’d kissed her behind that special Easter Sunday, six years ago.
Evie leant her back along the passenger door, and letting go of his hand, slid her palms slowly up his arms as he stood facing her. Her fingertips feathered around the back of his neck, and her eyes shone in the light cast from the myriad stars.
“Do you remember…?”
He didn’t wait for more. Dipping his head, Josh kissed the words out of her mouth, revelling in the softness of her lips, the little moan that escaped her as the curves of her body moulded perfectly to his.
When they finally drew apart, Evie laid her head against Josh’s chest and he stroked her apple scented curls.
“Do you think…?” he hesitated.
“Mmm- huh?” Her voice was distant, dreamy.
“We could… try again?”
For a long moment she didn’t answer and he kicked himself for opening his big country boy mouth and shoving his foot right in it.
Finally, a little voice against his chest said, “I was thinking– you know, with the Monroe tourism plan– you might need some entertainment… maybe Country and Western…”
Josh’s heart grew wings and took flight.
“I guess we could always transform one of the outbuildings into a recording studio,” he mused, trying to keep his tone casual and no doubt failing miserably.
“Now, you’re talking.”
Josh pulled back, took Evie by the shoulders and searched her face. She met his gaze steadily.
“Are you serious? You’re not messing with me?”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life. So many times I’ve wanted to contact you… to tell you–” She looked down, chewing her lip, then raised her eyes resolutely to his, “–that breaking up with you was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Josh dragged in a ragged breath. “So…?”
“So–” Her fingers stroked around his neck, sending delicious tingles up and down his spine, “I guess what I’m saying is, I’m your girl– if you’ll have me. I love you Josh.”
Somewhere in the distance, Mary Monroe’s voice was announcing it was time to cut the Easter cake, then the band started up again. Hope and joy jostled for equal place in Josh’s chest; next year perhaps it would be Evie’s voice rippling out over the party-goers at the Monroe Easter bash. A different ring on her finger. One with a lot more sparkle than the battered old thing she was wearing now.
“Well, are you going to leave me hanging around here waiting, Josh Monroe?” Evie teased.
“No,” He said, his voice strong and certain. “I love you too, Evie. Always have. Always will.”
And as Evie wrapped her arms around him and kissed him long and sweet, Josh knew, from now on, Easter was going to be his favourite time of the year.