They took Hayley's car and headed north. By the time they'd reached Heatherbrae, Hayley and Ben had run out of things to say. Even with the air-conditioning blaring, the air in the car seemed suffocating.
"Did you ever call him dad?" asked Ben.
"No. Did you?"
"You know I didn't."
Hayley straightened her sunglasses, "He was only married to mum for three years. She was married longer to dad."
The orange hue of the sun began to invade the morning sky as they passed through the roundabout that took them onto the highway. Ben watched the gallery of trees go by which were hemmed in neatly by wire fences. He was impressed by Hayley's car with its interior dripping of German engineering. Hayley held tightly onto the steering wheel, her lips resting almost perfectly horizontal. The radio was playing classical music, which seemed in contrast with the speed they were travelling.
"Since when do you listen to classical music?" asked Ben.
"Change it if you want."
"Remember when we saw the Smashing Pumpkins at The Hordern? It was after they released Mellon Collie." Ben smiled when remembering the show.
Hayley put on her indicator to overtake a car, "I heard some developers wanted to tear it down."
After telling everyone that the cancer would kill him, their stepfather died of a stroke. Ben and Hayley hadn't seen him in years. Hayley could remember a photograph he put in the study when he was part of their family. It was of a wild squall about to engulf the shoreline. Reflecting now, Hayley thought that the photo was like an outstretched limb of his personality.
Ben and Hayley both felt they should go to the funeral more through obligation than loss. They would have to entice small talk with people that acted like relatives but were really nothing to them at all. Hayley looked at Ben through the side of her sunglasses, "Why don't you have a car anymore?"
"I do, but mine doesn't have seat warmers."
Missing the joke, Hayley continued, "Do you still work on the tools?"
Hayley's phone started to ring, and Ben saw the name Jerrod light up the screen in the middle of the dashboard.
"Answer it, if you want. I won't listen," Ben said. The phone kept ringing. Hayley veered her eyes back towards the road and let the call go to voicemail.
They passed over a bridge, with Karuah in the distance. Contrary to the mood within the car, the river was optimistic blue. The mangroves bogged to the earth with their roots deep in the water.
"How's Jerrod?" Hayley didn't answer. "I thought funerals would be his thing. Giving his card to potential clients." The music had stopped, and the announcer was giving a background of the next piece of music.
Ben turned toward Hayley. "How long ago?"
"Long enough for both of us to be seeing other people."
"Who are you seeing?"
"Someone else." Dropping her guard for the first time, "He's a teacher."
"I thought lawyers only dated other lawyers. Can he even afford the wine you drink?" Hayley didn't respond. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Me? I had to find out you were getting divorced from Facebook."
They both drew silence. The words from their conversation hung in the air like summer blowflies that wouldn't go away.
Hayley looked out at her side mirror and turned the music down. There was a throbbing sound coming from outside. "Can you hear that?"
A flashing light came on the dashboard in front of Hayley. "It's saying that I have a flat tyre."
Hayley pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. The traffic had now built up as travellers and salespeople travelled from north to south and south the north.
Ben hopped out of the car and looked at the rear passenger tyre. It was flat. Hayley had gotten out of the car. "Can you fix it?"
"I can change the tyre until you can get it repaired."
Ben went around to the boot to get the spare and the jack. Hayley called out, "Do you mind if I go and make a phone call?"
"Do whatever you want."
Ben took off his white shirt, leaving him only wearing his singlet. He lifted the car up with the jack, and methodically undid the lug nuts. Through the noise of the passing cars as they accelerated down the highway, he could hear Hayley arguing. He couldn't make out who it was, but figured it was Jerrod. When there was a gap in the traffic, he could hear Hayley swear and then hang up.
Ben rolled the flat tyre to the boot and put it back in the spot where the spare had been. They got back into the car.
"Can I start the car?" asked Hayley.
"Everything ok?" Hayley wasn't paying attention. "We'll have to stop at a petrol station because your spare was a little flat."
They arrived at the petrol station and Hayley parked the car near the air compressors. Ben hopped out, grabbed the hose and started filling the tyre. He could see that someone was standing over his shoulder.
"Nine months." Ben said.
Ben went on, "I haven't seen Hazel for nine months. She didn't even want me to come to her Year 6 Graduation."
"I didn't know that." Hayley folded her arms.
Ben stopped, still not looking back at his sister. "I know how terrible it feels. Things get better. Well, they usually don't get any worse."
Ben finished inflating the tyre. "I don't want to go to the funeral. We'd probably be late anyway. Want to get a coffee?"
Hayley Looked around at the beaten-up petrol station. "I'm not sure. They don't look like they'd have soy milk here." She smiled. Ben smirked, appreciating the joke.
"This could be our last hurrah." Ben said.
"Not a last hurrah. Maybe just a catch you again sometime soon."
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