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Authors: Sunday, Anyta

The douglas fir

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The Douglas Fir

 

 

Anyta Sunday

First published in 2013 by Anyta Sunday

An Anyta Sunday publication

www.anytasunday.com

 

Copyright 2013 Anyta Sunday

Cover Design 2013 Heiko Wolf & Anyta Sunday

 

Content EditorTeresa Crawford

Line EditorLynda Lamb

ProofreaderHJS Editing

 

All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced without prior permission of the copyright owner of this book.

 

All the characters in this book are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With love to Alice

all the best in your new home

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

The day I decided to win Noah’s heart was the day after New Year’s, and my brother’s birthday. Exactly three months since I’d first met Noah at the yearly Apu Crescent fair.

Noah, slouched casually in the chair across the dining table, watched me as I poked candles into the requested white-chocolate-and-blueberry cake. The cake looked nothing like the pictures Scott had shown me on the internet, but it was blue and white, and I hoped that counted for something. So what if it sloped down on one side and looked like Smurf roadkill? Maybe it’d make him laugh, like it had Noah.

I picked up the box of matches from the edge of the small table, took one out and struck it. Noah’s sea-green gaze flickered up to meet mine as the match sparked with bright yellow flame. Even though it was afternoon, it was dark in the dining room, and the flame seemed to glow all the more for it. It was almost intimate, us looking at each other over candlelight . . .

“I still can’t believe you bought him a helicopter ride,” Noah said, and quirked his lips in a way that I found far more mesmerizing than the flame. He had come directly after a surf down at Lyall Bay to say a quick ‘happy birthday’ to Scott. His hair was still wet; even over the smell of lopsided cake I could taste the salty bite of the ocean. “My big sister is awesome, but I wish I’d had an older brother as cool as you.”

“Not if he’s almost fifteenyearsolder.” The stubborn wick on the third candle didn’t want to catch alight. I held the match closer, but it burned out so I struck a new one. “I can’t shove him around and get away with it anymore.”

Noah smirked. “I guess it’s tough for him not having you around all the time.”

“Yeah.” That sure was the biggest downside to the age gap between us. I didn’t get to see my little bro grow up. I’d left home when he was three, and now I only saw him when I visited, or when he had holidays—like now—and came to stay with me for a few weeks.

I lit another match. The wicks on these candles were quite the stubborn pains in the arse.

“But still,” Noah said. “A helicopter ride is one hell of a cool gift.”

“It’s what he wanted most,” I said, grinning at him. “And, you know, you only turn eleven once.”

He gave me a slanted grin . . . the way his front teeth gently teased his lips—

“Shite.”The match burned down to my fingers and I dropped it onto the icing.

“You all right?”

“Oh yeah, I’m on fire,” I said, sucking my fingers.

Noah snickered. “I think a candle should go right there,” he said as he flicked offa small remainder of blackened wood and stuck the spiky end of a candle in the melted, sooty spot of icing.

“I don’t think it matters. It looks like somethingyour cat might have dragged in anyway.”

“But I bet it tastes delicious. Now tell me, if it’s your twenty-fifth, and you could have anything you wanted, what would it be?”

You.

Was that too cheesy? Probably, but it was true nevertheless.

“Don’t know,” I murmured, “what about you? What do you want when you turn, what is it, thirty?”

“Twenty-eight, you bastard.”

I struck another match, failing to swallow a grin. The way hewas leaning back in his chair, studying me, I was in danger of burning myself a second time. I quickly lowered the match to the candles. There were five left, and the yells suddenly coming from my brother and his friends in the living room were good reason to hurry up and get them lit.

“So, what would you want?” I asked again, holding the match against the third-to-last wick.

“And it could be anything?”

“Sure.”

Noah shifted in his seat and the chair scraped on the kitchen tiles I’d laid last month. “I don’t know. I guess I like gifts to be thoughtful, you know? So I’d wantsomething unique, clever. Something that would . . . surprise me.”

“And when’s your birthday?” I asked, narrowly avoiding another burn. I lit another match and finished lighting the candles.

“Two weeks.”

I lifted the cake, holding back the urge to blow out the candles and wish for him to see me the way I saw him. Instead, I smiled and beckoned him to follow.

With each step I took toward the living room—Noah coming forward to get the door for me—I grew more confident.

As the air from the opening door slurped over me and made the candles flicker, I knew one thing for sure. Somehow, someway, I was going to find Noah that really unique and clever gift. And it would surprise him, and I’d win his heart.

I had two weeks to think what the heck it could be.

Chapter Two

 

 

For the next week and a half, I was distracted at work, drifting over Monk Estate’s large gardens as I half-heartedly installed irrigation sprinklers. All I could think of was the feel of Noah’s hand brushing over mine as I’d handed him a slice of squashed Smurf; the way his eyes lit up as he leaned over to me on the couch and said, “Could I give you guys some surfing lessons, Jase? As a gift?”

Of course then I’d flustered, and gotten embarrassed—

Water jetted out of the sprinkler head, hitting me at the waist and snapping me out of my thoughts.

“Get your head out of your arse,” Mr. Cole said, brushing a hand over his salt and pepper beard to hide his smirk. He owned Cole’s Gardeningand we worked together on the bigger projects. He was a good friend and the funniest guy I knew, and while I looked at him and saw Grandpa, he was anything but. He grew weed in his backyard for his friends, drank like a sailor, and had more booty calls than anyone else I knew. “What’s got you grinning like a love-struck puppy, anyway?”

I peeled off my gardening gloves and tossed them at him, grinning as I caught him smack in the chest. “Oh, look at that. Day’s over. I gotta pick up Scott from my neighbor.”

“The one you’re mooning after?” Cole’s eyebrows waggled.

I wished I had another glove to toss. “FromNoah. He wasn’t working today and suggested the two of them hang out so I could slog it here on this hot Saturday with you. And quite the delight it was.”

He laughed, and it echoed with a wheeze. “Smart arse. I’ll pack up. You get out of here to your two boys.”

I left him with a grin, and booted it to my white, dirt-coveredCole’s Gardening Services truck. I slid in and hightailed out of there. Twenty minutes later, I was angling into a parking spot outside Noah’s house.

I wiped my face free of dirt streaks and picked my brown singlet from my chest. Did I maybe smell too sweaty? I gave it a sniff.

It could be worse.

I cracked open the door and got out, flipping my keys over my finger after I’d lockedit. As I moved up the hydrangea-lined path, Noah’s Golden Labrador, Tool, looked up from his spot to the side of the patio. Seeing me, he lowered his head and resumed napping.

I jumped the one-foot rise to the wooden patio, andhad barely lifted my hand to knock when the door swung in.

“There’s the man himself. We were just talking about you.”

“Good stuff I hope?”

“Just that you’re the best brother in the world.”

Noah grinned, leaning on the doorjamb, crossing his ankles. He wore teal baggy shorts that stopped just above the knees, showing off his smooth tanned legs, and a fitted T-shirt covered with cat and dog fur. The fur was a regular addition to his outfits. He really did love his pets.

He brushed it off. “My critters shed like you wouldn’t believe.” He pushed off the jamb and beckonedme in with a tilt of his head. “Scott’s feeding Dusky.”

“How isthe lizard?”

Noah often took pets home from the SPCA. His heart was too big for him to turn them away when they desperately needed a home. Dusky, a blue-tongued Skink, had been the most recent animal to be dumped at his work with a broken leg; Noah had made him a splint and was nursing him back to health.

Just another reason why I wanted to win his heart.

Which meant I really should keep my eyes peeled. What was the perfect gift for Noah? What did he need?

“He’s doing fine. Scott loves him. Don’t be surprised if he starts begging you to buy him from me. He asked me, but I said no.” He glanced at me as we headed to his living room. “I don’t like giving or selling animals to kids. Nothing against your kid brother or anything”—his eyes clouded—“but there are a lot of kids that don’t live up to the responsibility of looking after pets. I just don’t do it on principle.”

“I get it,” I said, my gaze narrowing across the room to the silver Christmas tree standing in the corner. Light filtered through the windows and caught on thetinsel, making it glitter. “Okay, it’s the middle of January. Isn’t it a bit late to have your tree still up?”

Noah dove onto his couch and hooked his arms behind his head. As soon as he had,Stripy, a black and white cat with a short tail, jumped up on the couch and curled into his side. Could I be jealous of that cat? Because it was right where I wanted to be.

Noah pattedhim absently as he answered, “Yeah, I’ve been lazy. I dragged up the box to repack it.”

I saw the white packaging and Styrofoam against the wall.

“I’ll get to it tonight. But I have to take another shot of it. The ones I did at Christmas had bad lighting.Poor Dave had a highlighter-green hue to him.” He pointed to a photo album next to a camera on the coffee table.

I took the album and sat on the other end of the couch, nudging his feetto move. When he shifted, I sat, and Noah stretched out his legs again, wiggling his toes in into my side. “Better.”

I sucked in a breath. Well this was new. Did this casual intimacy mean we were progressing toward a closer friendship? Or could he possibly be flirting with me?

Was he even gaywas a better question.

I glanced at him, trying to read his expression, but there were no clues there. If it weren’t for the clamping fear in my gut, I could ask . . . I could finally say something . . .

But then ifthis foot thingwerejust a friendly gesture, things would get awkward mighty fast. Besides, Scott was still around. It wasn’t good timing.

With the warmth of his feet against my thighs, I opened the photo album. On the first page was a picture of a cartoon-themed Christmas tree. It was dated 1985. The next page, 1986, was a tree made of streamers. “What is this?” I asked, leafing through the next twenty variations of Christmas trees. The last one in the book had a guy that wasn’t Noah trying to balance a golden star on a tree made of books. From what I could tell, he didn’t look like a relative, and the way the guy’s shirt hitched mid-way up his stomach at the side suggested a comfort Noah and I definitely didn’t have.

“Tradition,” Noah said. “My older sister started it for me the year I was born, and ever since, every year, I have a different tree.” He glanced at the page I was on. “Oh, that’s Dave. He’s a real close friend. I hope you guys can meet sometime soon.”

I swallowed in an effortnot to shake my head.Rather not.He looked a little too comfortable there in that picture. The cheeky tongue-poking he gave over his shoulder made it look like he was used to Noah capturing him on camera.

Right nowIwanted to be his closest friend. “He looks like . . . a good friend.”

“Oh yeah,Dave’s the best.”

Noah shifted, lifting himself onto his elbows, andStripy kneaded his stomach with his claws. Gently, Noah pried them off his top.

“The Christmas tree thing, it’s neat.” Certainly, it was unique. How would I be able to compare with that? Unique and special . . .

“Yeah, but it’s getting harder and harder to come up with ideas.This Christmas it was just me, and I didn’t put much effort into it. It’s more fun when you have someone to share it with, you know? I mean, Stripy and Tool liked it, but . . .” He shrugged, and I wished he’d said something about celebrating on his own last year. I’d have invited him to share it with Scott and me, at home in Taupo. Noah would have gotten to eat my mum’s traditional British bread pudding, and then the pavlova my dad brought out after we’d all pretended to eat a few mouthfuls of the soggy bread and raisins.

“I get it. Maybe next Christmas you’ll be around family again.”

“Yeah, probably not. They’re staying in Europe to visit my sister. She just had a kid.”

“Oh,” I pointed toward Dave in the picture, “and your friend wasn’t around last year?”

“No. He was with his family.” He pointed toward the album. “That pic was taken a few days before Christmas.”

I glanced away, toward Noah’s camera. I shut the photo album and tapped his feet with the spine of it until he shifted them back. “Let’s get a shot of last year’s tree, shall we?”

Picking up the camera and uncapping the lens, I asked, “So . . . what was your favorite tree?”

I could feel Noah’s gazeon me, and it made my side tingle. “They’re all great. Don’t have a favorite.”

“And how far in advance do you have to start planning the next one?”

He chuckled. I turned the camera on him and took a shot. On the display, I checked it; I caught Noah’s closed eyes, skin slightly crinkling at the sides, hair mussed with one part pressed against his temple. “I’malreadythinking of the next one,” he said. “What I really want one time is to have a traditional fir. I’d love it if I could grow one in my own yard.”

“So do it,” I said, unable to stop myselffrom taking a few more pictures of Noah and Stripy. Stripy purred, like he knew he was the center of attention and loved it.

Hmm, maybe there was some type of pet magazine subscription I could get the guy? He really loved his pets.

But then, that was only an average idea. Surely he’d get a lot ofpet-care info from his work. No, my birthday gift for him had to be way more creative.

“It’s too much work,” Noah said, givingStripy an extra rub around the ears, “and I already have so much to take care of. Besides, a Douglas Fir takes four or five years to mature.”

“Five to six, actually,” I said, lowering the camera as I heard the pounding of feet coming down the hall.“Not to be pedantic”—I gave a meek grin—“Gardener.”

“Jase!” Scott bounded into the room with a flicker of excitement in his eyes. “Tell Noah I’m responsible. That I’ll look after Dusky as well as I look after my LEGO sets.” He jumped onto the end of the couch where I’d been sitting, and Noah swung his legs off the sofa to give him room. Stripy meowed and scrambled away.

“I’ll take good care of him! For real.”

My brother squirmed, pleading with his big, mud-colored eyes. His curly brown hair bounced with his movement and I wondered when he’d start chopping it short too.

“Sorry buddy,” I said, my senses prickling as Noah picked up the camera andstarted scrolling through the pictures I’d just taken. “But I’m sure Noah will let you help out with his pets when you come back down here in a few months.”

Noah smiled and glanced upat me for a second before focusing on Scott. “Sure you can. And bring your wetsuit when you come down next time, gremlin, and we’ll get you more familiar with a surfboard, yeah?”

“How long before you stop calling mea gremlin?”

“When you stop eating the ankle busters, kid.” Noah winked at him. “But you’re way ahead of your brother. I still haven’t managed to get him into the water.”

“Not surprised,” my brother said, snorting. And I knew the next words out of his mouth before he said them. I lunged over to him, reaching out to slap a hand over his mouth and shut him up. “You know he can’t even swim, right?”

Heat rolled up my chest to my cheeks. I grabbed Scott by the shirt, hauled him to his feet, and dragged him toward the door. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Noah. I wanted him to see me as someone interesting and worth getting to know, notmy neighbor who can’t swim.

“Really? Couldn’t you keep mum about that?”

I let him go, feeling the heat of Noah coming close to my side, and then his firm hand on my arm, giving me a light squeeze. “Hey, Scott, do you think you could fill the cat bowl for me?”

Scott slumped his shoulders, bowed his head and slunk off.

Immediately, I wanted to pull him back and apologize. Tell him it didn’t matter, that I just overreacted.

Noah squeezed me again before dropping his hand.

I looked up, focusing on the living room—the silver Christmas tree—over his shoulder. I shrugged. “I can doggy paddle.”

“It’s okay,” Noah said, slipping both hands into his pockets and rocking on his feet. “I didn’t know how to ride a bike until I was twenty. So what if you have to learn it a bit later in life?” The gentle smile on his face came into focus. “I can teach you. Or I know a few people who are really great at giving swimming lessons. Dave, for example—”

I shook my head, stopping any further mention of Dave, the ‘close friend.’ “Yeah, nah. I’m good.” Besides, I just wanted to lick my wounds alone. Him being nice just made it worse. I was meant to find the perfect gift for Noah, not have him offer the perfect one for me.

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