Horizontal rays warmed the chill. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to wake in the bush.

I pulled on a loose t-shirt and stuffed my feet into hiking boots. Riley wasn’t hard to find. He was at the swimming hole. I knelt behind him, wrapped my arms across shoulders that were still unfamiliar. We’d got together after a year-long friendship. Within weeks, his mother had died. She’d been very ill, in constant pain, so I was surprised how hard he’d taken it. There was much about him I didn’t yet understand. Quietly, alone in that wilderness, he began to explain.

‘I hardly knew her.’


‘Mum. She adopted me out. I found her again by chance three years ago. The Petersons were Mum and Dad til he left. Mum—Nel Peterson—was a hard woman. Told me she wasn’t my mother when I was a teenager. Kicked me out when I was eighteen.’

He’d been engaged a couple of times too, he said. It never worked out.

He was warning me in a way.

I said, ‘Riley, I really like you. Let’s see how we go.’

I could have held him or kissed him. Instead I peeled out of the shirt and waded into the deep part of the stream, where I beckoned him to join me.