Rachel waited until nearly everyone had left before she stood up, retrieved her belongings from the overhead locker above her and disembarked the plane. Her jaw was sore from clenching it, trying to suppress her tics, and she’d bitten her fingernails until they bled, as a substitute for sniffing. She was feeling upset enough she couldn’t have handled the glares she would have got from the other passengers if she’d given into the sniffing tic that had been building in pressure for the last several hours, ever since she boarded the plane.
She didn’t want to be here, she really didn’t. She felt like a failure. What kind of a loser got dumped by her boyfriend on an all-expenses-paid OE? An Overseas Experience – a holiday, a time for relaxing, for having fun even during such a laidback, thrilling adventure, she couldn’t hold onto her man. Not even when she was the one who was paying for everything. What a loser.
Mike had been her first ‘real’ boyfriend. Men, or boys, had never been interested in her, and she couldn’t say she blamed them. She didn’t think she’d be all that interested in someone either, if they screwed up their faces in a bizarre twitch and snorted at random. So the fact that she was single again shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. And it didn’t really; but it still hurt. Getting dumped overseas, especially when she’d just shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for this trip, having the time of their lives was a real kick in the teeth. Apparently, Tourette’s Syndrome had won. It had just confirmed to her that it could indeed ruin every single aspect of her life, and that she truly was a loser.
The snow on the mountains as they flew over the Southern Alps on their way to Dunedin looked gorgeous. She was proud to call New Zealand home she’d just seen a small part of the rest of the world, and she could honestly say that very little of what she’d seen compared to the beauty of her native country but she was still so devastated that her holiday was ending so soon, and like this. Their big OE had been meant to last for an entire year, and take in many more places than what they’d seen; but after only eight months, it was over. She’d wanted to have her 21st birthday in Paris, up the Eiffel Tower; there’d been so many things she’d wanted to see and do. But once Mike dumped her for the sexy blonde basketball-busted waitress in the Gold Coast, she’d just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. And once she’d done that, she wanted to go home. She certainly didn’t want to keep travelling with Mike; his apologies and flimsy excuses meant nothing. But neither did she want to continue travelling alone. She didn’t have the confidence to do that; living with random tics had done nothing to give her any confidence in her abilities, and she was afraid to be all alone in a strange country. Even boarding the plane alone and flying home was just about beyond her. This trip was meant to be the making of her the time of her life when she’d grow up, start to believe in herself and come out of her shell, learning to give her Tourette’s Syndrome the finger and enjoy life, regardless. Instead, it was the breaking of her.
Entering the airport, she looked around for her brother. Simon had promised he would be there to pick her up, and she knew he would be. Simon was the one person who’d never let her down. After their parents had been killed in a car crash five years ago Simon had become her legal guardian, and although she’d rebelled and given him plenty of grief during that time, he had not once turned his back on her. And sure enough, there he was, standing tall and proud in the midst of the crowd of people, waiting for her.
Like always, it seemed as though he could read her mind. Without a word, he pulled her in towards him for a hug, holding her tightly, instinctively knowing that her heart, and her confidence, had been trampled on, and she needed comfort. He held her for several minutes while she got her tics under control; they were always more frequent and severe when she was under stress, and even though she’d had a lifetime to get used to them, she still felt self-conscious in public when they were bad.
“Good to have you home, Sis,” he told her, as they headed down the escalators to the luggage carousel.
“I bet Kara is pleased, huh?”
Simon turned to her with a puzzled expression. “What do you mean?”
“Just that you’ll be able to actually spend some time with her now, instead of spending your weekends helping James on the farm.”
“Oh,” a grin broke out across Simon’s face. “Yeah, I guess there is that. She’s not much help on the farm. She’s scared of the sheep, and even worse around the cows.” Simon chuckled. Kara’s ineptness with anything to do with farming was a standing joke between them. In the several years Kara and Simon had been together, she’d only visited the farm a handful of times. She much preferred her house in town.
The ride home was a quiet one, broken only by the cracks of Rachel’s jaw as she ticced. Still depressed at the abrupt ending to her travels, the realisation of a long-held dream, Rachel didn’t want to talk. Besides, she had nothing to say. Simon knew how she felt – she didn’t need to tell him again. And she’d kept in regular contact with him via email, sending him photos and letters on a near-daily basis. So she’d shared her journey with him that way; there wasn’t anything much left to say. And sharing her opinion of herself with him the fact that she was such a loser that she couldn’t even keep a man by shouting him a trip overseas wouldn’t go down well. Simon had never allowed her to talk about herself that way, and she didn’t want to start her homecoming off on the wrong foot.
It was times like this that she missed her mum. Simon was good, but there were times when he just didn’t cut it as a substitute. Her mum understood what it was like to live with Tourette’s Syndrome, knew how much courage it took to go out into the world on a daily basis when your body did things you couldn’t control. Her mum knew what it was like to be rejected because of it and labelled a freak. Simon didn’t.
Two hours later, Simon pulled into the driveway of their farm. For the first time since deciding to come home, Rachel smiled. Actually smiled. Not just a token gesture smile, but one that stemmed from pure happiness.
She loved this farm. She’d been born here and it was in her blood. Early on, when their parents were first killed, it had looked like they might lose it Simon was working as a mechanic in town and didn’t have the desire, or knowledge, to run the farm, and Rachel was still at school. It was in a lot of debt, thanks to their fathers’ lack of business knowledge and their mother’s luxury spending habits, and the bank had been threatening to foreclose. Fortunately, their uncle had stepped in as guarantor, and Simon had managed to turn their financial situation around by continuing to work as a mechanic and installing his best mate James, who had a degree in Agriculture and extensive farming experience, on the farm as Manager. Because James and Simon got on so well, James lived in the house with them, which enabled them to rent out the farm cottage for extra money. This rent money paid for their weekly cleaning lady, and helped bring down the debt.
Rachel was proud of her brother. In the five years they’d been by themselves, they’d not only paid off all the debt on the farm, the bank had even agreed to them taking out a loan for Rachel to go travelling. She’d always wanted to travel, but it was a dream that she never would have achieved, if not for Simon’s selflessness.
Out of the corner of her eye, she was aware of Simon watching her. And when she smiled, he did too. He leaned on the horn then, and James came hurrying out of the dark shed, shading his eyes with one hand while he waved to them with the other.
Rachel’s smile increased. She liked James. He’d always been nice to her, treating her almost like an honorary little sister, and she’d had a crush on him forever. Not that she would ever admit that to him she knew he wouldn’t be interested in her so there was no point in setting herself up for rejection but she was so pleased to see him still working there, on the farm. And she’d be able to work with him! That had always been the plan she’d spend a year travelling and James would hold the fort, with Simon or casual staff helping out as necessary, then she would come home and knuckle down, working on the farm to get the loan paid back. Their 850 acres was really enough work for two people, and she knew James had been working very hard these past few months to keep on top of everything.
“Hi, James!” she yelled, leaping out of the car and running towards him before it had even stopped completely. James jumped over the rail and ran towards her, sweeping her up and spinning her around in a circle, which made her squeal.
“You missed me, huh?” he asked, chuckling, as he put her down.
“Just a bit,” she teased him, breathing him in. She loved the way he smelled a mixture of dust, sweat, horses, dogs and sheep and the smell was permeated through him so deeply it never really left him. Truthfully, she had missed James and Simon both, and now that she was home, she was glad to be. She could feel his hard muscles against her body as he hugged her, and as she nestled her head into the groove between his neck and shoulder. When he bent down to kiss her forehead, his hair tickled her face. He’d let his big dark curls grow untamed, wild and long, and they fell in his smouldering dark eyes and just brushed against his shoulders. And he hadn’t shaved in several days, either ? stubble darkened his jaw, enhancing his masculine features. Aside from that, his clothes were covered in dust and there was a streak of dirt across his cheek. Typical James, always filthy! The thought made her smile. She was home. No more Mike, no more cheating. She was home.
“Are you two going to stand there hugging all day or are you going to come and help me unload the car?” Simon called, smiling.
Fitting her hand into his, Rachel led him over to the pile of luggage Simon had stacked up next to the car. She’d left home with just the one suitcase, but that had increased somehow to three, plus her carry-on bag. And she’d filled them to the brim. The over-weight baggage allowance charges had been astronomical, but so worth it, for the treasures she’d managed to bring home.
She couldn’t help but laugh as she watched the boys being fools, pretending to stagger under the weight of her luggage as they carried it inside. It was a good feeling, laughing. She’d been feeling so depressed, so sad and useless, like she’d failed; but it was good to be home. It was bittersweet really, sad and happy at the same time but she felt safe here. This farm, her home, this was where she belonged. Maybe one day she would celebrate a different birthday up the Eiffel Tower instead.
Unpacking her suitcases took her the rest of the day, what little there was left of it. And with every souvenir she unpacked, sadness overwhelmed her more.
“Shove over,” Rachel told Simon and James as she squeezed in between them on the couch. There was an open box of Speights beer on the floor in front of them and they were watching the All Blacks, the national rugby team, thrash France. Wedging herself sideways in between them, she pulled the cushion off the armchair next to them and plonked her head on it on Simon’s lap, and stretched her legs out over James with her feet hanging over the end of the couch.
“Are you comfortable?” James asked, as she dug her backside into him trying to get into a better position.
“Wait a bit yep, I am now,” she replied with a smile. It was so good to be home, back where she belonged! She sighed in contentment, pressing her shoulders into Simon while she manoeuvred herself around to get comfy. Then she reached down and opened herself a can of beer, settling in to watch the rugby game.
It was just like old times. Rachel had never been a rugby fan herself, but like nearly every other Kiwi, she loved the All Blacks; and watching rugby on the couch together in the weekends had been somewhat of a ritual after their parents had been killed. It had always been Simon and James, and sometimes some others, with the box of Speights and pizza, and she’d always stretched out between them, usually falling asleep like that half way through the game.
Except it wasn’t like old times. Not really. Before her “big OE” she’d really enjoyed evenings like this. She’d watch the game, booing and cheering in the appropriate places along with the boys, the beer would be flowing, and she’d be happy. Now, all she could think about was how much of a failure she was. All the places she’d planned to go, but didn’t get to, were swimming round and round in her brain. All the plans she’d made, the dreams she’d held all the plans that were broken and the dreams that failed to materialise. All because there was obviously something wrong with her. She couldn’t hold onto her man, and she didn’t want to go travelling alone. She was too scared to go travelling alone sometimes even going out in public alone with her Tourette’s Syndrome was too much for her how on earth would she have managed all by herself in a strange country, far from everything familiar?
To make matters worse, the All Blacks were losing. Swiping a lone tear from her cheek, she buried her face in the cushion resting on Simon’s thigh and tried to hide the fact that she was miserable. And for a while she succeeded both Simon and James were so caught up in the game that they were oblivious to her. But she didn’t mind. She was glad of the company it sure beat being alone in her room, crying on her bed.
“What’s up, mate?” James asked her gently, putting a hand on her shoulder in a tender gesture.
“Nothing. Just sad.”
“Cheer up. You’re back home with us now, where you belong. I know it’s not where you want to be, but our company’s not that bad, is it?”
Rachel shook her head. “It’s not that. I’m glad to be home, really. I had a good time. I just feel like such a loser.”
“You’re not a loser, mate,” James told her sternly, while sputtering on his beer.
“What else would you call me? I can’t even hang onto a man by shouting him a trip overseas! If that’s not the definition of a loser, I don’t know what is!”
“You are not a loser. Don’t talk like that!” Simon growled, frowning at her.
“Yeah, easy for you to say. You don’t have Tourette’s Syndrome. You don’t get cheated on. You don’t pay for someone you loved to go travelling with you, just to have them ditch you for a blonde bimbo. You’re not a loser, I am.”
“It’s not the person who gets cheated on who’s the loser, it’s the cheater,” Simon argued. “You know that. Being cheated on does not make you a loser,” he told her firmly.
“Trust me, I’m a loser.”
Rachel was so caught up in her self-pity, she didn’t even notice when Simon put his beer down on the floor. And she didn’t have time to register the movement when he twisted his body and pushed her shoulders, rolling her over to expose her bottom. Smack! Simon slapped her jeans-clad butt with enough force to stun an elephant.
“Yowch!” Rachel shrieked, rolling back on the couch to protect herself. “That hurt!”
“It was meant to,” Simon informed her dryly.
“What was it for, anyway? You can’t hit me for being sad!” she protested.
“You know perfectly well what it was for. It wasn’t for feeling sad you’re allowed to be sad. It’s even expected that you will be sad sometimes. But you are NOT allowed to call yourself a loser. You are not a loser, Rachel.”
“I feel like one,” she sniffed, rubbing tears out of her eyes with her fists.
“Do you want another slap?” Simon asked, flexing his right hand dramatically.
“No. I want to be happy.”
“Give it time. You’ll be happy again soon,” Simon promised.
When Rachel looked across at James, he was trying to smother his smile behind his hand and his beer.
“What’s funny?” she asked him. “Do you like seeing me upset?”
James’ grin quickly vanished. “No, mate, not at all. I was just thinking about the bond you two have. It’s incredible!”
And it was true Rachel knew that she and Simon were closer than most siblings were; even before their parents had died they had been close, despite their eight year age gap. And after their parents died, they had grown even closer. Thinking about Simon, and knowing that he really would do absolutely anything for her, was enough to make her smile, too.
“Yeah, we are pretty close,” she said with a smile, as she got herself comfy on the couch again, positioning herself sideways a bit more so her bottom didn’t come into contact with the couch. And even though part of her butt felt like it was on fire at the moment, she knew it wouldn’t last long, and she bared Simon no malice. In fact, as strange as it was, she almost felt the opposite it was comforting, in a bizarre kind of way, knowing that Simon cared enough about her to get upset when she ran herself down. And after she downed the last of her beer, she snuggled back down on the couch and promptly fell asleep, before the All Blacks took out the game.