Home is a strange thing. Sometimes is fluctuates, changes definition. Sometimes it’s firm and irreplaceable. And sometimes it’s not even a place at all. It’s the people you share your life with, who make you feel safe and comfortable and loved. As long as you’re with them, home can be anywhere in the world.
Riley looked at his mum expectantly, eyes wide and pleading. ‘So, what do you reckon?’
Ada looked unsure. ‘I don’t know Riley. Summer is one thing, but permanently?’
‘I’m not asking for permanent, just for a few weeks while she gets back on her feet.’
‘Isn’t the whole point of her moving back for her to be with her family?’
Riley sighed. ‘Yes, but you know she still struggles at home and I just think that it would be much better for her to stay somewhere stable for a while. Just until she settles and gets used to being back. And her family aren’t exactly far away.’
‘Have you asked her what she wants?’
‘I didn’t exactly have chance. And I didn’t want to get her hopes up before I spoke to you and dad. But I know her, she’ll want this.’
‘Well I’d have to speak to your father. And he’ll have to talk to hers too. I don’t want us causing a rift between them if Karla’s already decided to move back home.’
‘Mr O’Connell will understand. But if they’re both ok?’
Ada smiled. ‘You know I love having Karla here; she’s part of the family. And I guess if it’s just for a few weeks then it won’t be much different to summer vacation anyway.’
‘You’re the best, mum!’ Riley grinned, throwing his arms around her.
‘And don’t you forget it!’
‘So what was all that on the phone with Kim earlier? Do you reckon everything’s alright?’ Lauren asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Jordan replied. ‘It sounded like something was going down. Though, Ri looked kinda confused when he left so I don’t know if he even knew what was going on.’
‘Do you think it was about Karla?’ Jess asked.
‘Isn’t it always about Karla?’ Rocco muttered.
It wasn’t quiet enough for Jordan not to hear and she looked at him accusingly. ‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Nothing. Just that any strange phonecall from America that sounds like trouble generally involves Karla O’Connell.’
‘Are you saying Karla’s trouble?’
‘I’m saying that whenever she’s got a problem, it always seems to be Riley jumping to her rescue.’
‘And? What’s wrong with him trying to help her out?’
‘Nothing. They’re friends,’ Lauren assured, attempting to diffuse the rising tension.
‘I think maybe he has a thing for her,’ Jess smirked.
Jordan shot him a dirty look. ‘And I think you should mind your own business.’
Jess raised his hands in defence. ‘Hey, don’t jump down my throat. I’m just saying.’
‘Well don’t “just say”.’ Jordan stood up. ‘You know what, I’m out of here. I don’t need to sit here and listen to you badmouthing my friend and my brother.’
‘Jordan, we didn’t mean anything by it,’ Jess said.
‘Whatever. I’ll see you guys later.’ She stalked off.
Settled into the flight and done listening to music for the time being, Karla reached under the seat in front to pull her X-Men comic out of her bag. She opened the front cover and ran her fingers over the photograph she’d slid inside for safe travelling. She drew it out and placed it on the lap-tray. The gaze of the kindly old Australian lady sitting beside her was drawn away from her knitting and over at the picture of Karla with her six closest friends, all smiling and laughing. Karla touched her finger to the face of a tall boy with strong features, the skin around his bright eyes creased in laughter, his arm around her shoulders. A tear rolled down her cheek.
‘He’s handsome,’ the old lady commented with a smile, drawing Karla out of her thoughts.
She smiled a little. ‘Yeah, he is.’
‘He your boyfriend?’
Karla let out a small laugh. ‘No ma’am. He’s my best friend. Atlantis.’
‘Atlantis? Curious name,’ she remarked.
‘His dad is an archaeologist and when he discovered the name in a baby book, he was smitten.’
‘You all look very happy.’
‘We were. We were all really happy that day.’
‘You don’t look so happy now.’
‘I’m just really going to miss them.’
‘You not going to see them for a while?’
Karla shook her head. ‘I don’t know when I’ll see them again. And I don’t even know if they’ll want to talk to me anytime soon, not after the way I left them. It’s just all happened really fast. Every time I imagined myself leaving, I never thought it would happen like this. I just can’t believe that after all these years, this is it.’
The lady put a wrinkly hand on Karla’s arm. ‘If they’re really your friends, they’ll forgive any mistakes you’ve made. And a bit of time and distance won’t matter; they’ll still be your friends. Besides, you kids have all this technology now, I’m sure you’ll still talk to them all the time.’
‘I know. It’s not the same though, seeing them all day, every day. Living together.’
‘Do you wish you hadn’t left?’
The girl pondered this question for a moment, staring at the photograph. Then she said decidedly, ‘No. It was time. This is something I have to do. Maybe something I should have done a long time ago.’
‘Then I’m sure everything will work out for the best. You have new friends and new adventures waiting for you just across the ocean. It’ll all work out, you’ll see.’
The lady gave Karla one last squeeze on the arm and a smile before returning to nimbly weaving the purple wool on her lap. Karla took one last long look at the picture, then slid it back behind the cover and flicked to the first page.
Jordan flung the front door open in a huff and stormed into the house. The handle hit the wall with a bang, causing her mother to emerge from the kitchen in annoyance. ‘Jordan, do not slam the door!’
‘What’s got you all in a huff?’ Ada asked.
‘Nothing, I just had an argument with Jess and Rocco.’
‘I’m sorry about that, but please do not take it out on my house.’
Riley walked in. ‘Good, you’re home!’
Jordan gave him a displeased look. ‘What are you grinning about?’
‘That weird phonecall I got from Kim? It was about Karla.’
‘Well obviously. Is she ok?’ she replied, rolling her eyes.
‘More than ok. She’s coming home. For good. And she’s going to stay with us for a few weeks while she finds her feet. Provided her dad’s ok with it; I’m going to go see him later tonight with dad.’
Jordan immediately brightened up. ‘Seriously? That is such good news!’
‘I’m glad you think so.’
‘Do the others know?’
‘Not yet. Jay’s taken Liam to see a movie, so I’ll tell them when they get back.’
‘They are gonna be so pumped. I can’t wait to have another girl in the house again!’ Ada coughed and looked at her daughter. ‘I mean a younger girl,’ Jordan corrected. Her mother raised her eyebrows even higher and Jordan grimaced internally, smiling nervously. ‘I think I’m gonna go clean my room now.’
‘I think that would be wise,’ her mother replied.
Riley drummed his fingers against the cool metal rail, foot tapping, eyes impatiently scanning the stream of people exiting the airport’s final effort to part passengers with their money in duty-free. He felt almost nervous as he scanned the vast array of faces for one familiar one in particular. Finally, a large grin spread across his face as he spotted his friend emerge, and waved in an attempt to catch her eye.
Karla noticed him and surprise quickly gave way to joy as she moved- as quickly as she could pushing a trolley with two heavy suitcases on- towards him. As she met him at the end of the walkway, she abandoned her load and threw her arms around his neck.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked happily, before releasing her tight grip.
‘Your dad said he had a meeting and couldn’t meet you and you’d wanted to surprise your brothers.’
‘I was fine getting the bus.’
‘I wasn’t going to let you get the bus on such a momentous occasion! Besides, I needed to get some books from the College library this morning so it was just a short diversion.’
‘Well thank you, that’s really kind.’ Karla gave him another squeeze. ‘Ah, it’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you.’
‘I’ve missed you too,’ Riley replied, returning the affection.
Karla took a step back and looked around her wistfully. ‘This feels good.’
‘No second thoughts?’
She shook her head decisively and looked directly at Riley. ‘None. I’m right where I want to be.’
‘Let’s get you home then, shall we?’
Karla smiled as Riley took control of the trolley. ‘Home. I like the sound of that.’