“Flight 117 touched down at London Heathrow Airport just two weeks after Connie’s graduation. Marni had insisted on proper celebration with friends and family, and her most important clientele at the gallery. She wasn’t pleased with Connie’s decision to gallivant across the globe with Cassie, but she was sure that after a few weeks of living fancy free, Connie would return to a life of order and protocol. A proper life. The life Marni had mapped out for her. She didn’t know the true Connie, the party girl, the life of the party, the grab-life-by-the-horns persona. She was the wild child that Marni insisted on accusing Cassie of being.
It was Connie’s suggestion to not visit museums and art venues, but to see the rest of what Europe and the world had to offer. They stayed at local bed and breakfasts, and hit the pubs, first in London, then Dublin Town. They toured Buckingham Palace and Dublin Castle. Cassie wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway, and the fjords of Norway and Sweden, and the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. They stayed a week in Moscow and a week in St. Petersburg before turning west. They rode the train into Minsk and Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg and Copenhagen. They stayed overnight, or a few nights, or traveled through the night. They traveled through The Netherlands and Belgium, through their familiar Paris, with no visit to the Louvre. They climbed the Eifel Tower, and visited Jardin des Tuileries. Through Orleans and Limoge and Toulouse, and into Barcelona. Madrid and Rock of Gibralter, where they crossed over to Tangier. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa where they went on safaris and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. They flew to Melbourne, then from Australia to the Philippines and Taiwan, Japan and China. Bangledesh and India and Sri Lanka. They flew to Cairo, and the first week of April, sailed to Cypress and Rhodes. Cassie and Connie enjoyed sailing the Mediterranean Sea, island hopping, looking for the perfect spot for Cassie’s wedding. They sailed to Cos and Karpathos and Heraklion.” [Excerpted from Tessa.]
Cassie stretched and opened her eyes to bright sunlight streaming in the room. This was not Christmas as usual, at least not for her. She shrugged into her terry wrap, the one she wore over her bathing suit, and headed down the stairs.
“Good morning, Mate,” Their host, Alyssa, appropriated the classic Aussie term. “How do you take your coffee?”
“Just creamer, thanks.”
Alyssa poured, and Cassie added her creamer, and the two of them stepped out on the veranda of the Queenslander style home. On the beach, outside the city and down the coast near Thornlands.
“This is amazing!” Cassie gazed out over the ocean panorama.
Alyssa was nonplussed; to her it was an ordinary Christmas morning. Her brother and his wife were driving up from Sydney, and their parents were flying in from Melbourne later in the afternoon.
“Shall we go for a swim before it gets hot?”
Cassie nodded and finished her coffee. She turned to go back in the house.
Alyssa was already stripping down. “There’s no one about here, you don’t need your suit.”
“We’re pretty isolated out here.” And Alyssa was in the waves.
Cassie was still hesitating when Connie stepped out on the deck and stretched.
“Ohhh, skinny dipping,” she squealed and stripped off her teddy sleeper.
Cassie sighed a deep breath, expelled it. Gingerly she draped her cover-up on the arm of the chair, slipped out of her sleep shorts and cami-tank. Isolated or not, she felt fully exposed.
But the water was warm, and the waves active, and it was just the three of them for the better part of an hour.
“Anybody hungry?” Alyssa was running toward the house, Connie right behind her.
“I could go for some breakfast,” Connie called after her.
“Breakfast? It’s nearly noon. We’ll be having lunch!”
“Cass!” Connie called to her sister. “You coming in?”
Cassie muffled something affirmative, and stalled until the other two were stepping through the door of the house before she emerged from the water. She made a quick dash for the steps that led up to the tall veranda, and shrugged her cover up around her before scooting inside to change into some proper clothes.
In the kitchen she found Alyssa in a strappy sun dress, and her sister with a button up shirt, unbuttoned, and nothing else. Near to the same age, Alyssa and Connie were steeped in conversation comparing life in Brisbane and life in New York City.
Cassie slipped upstairs to take a cool shower; the humidity was already climbing.
They lunched on watermelon and cold turkey sandwiches, from the comfort of the air conditioned kitchen.
Not thinking it Christmas, in spite of knowing fully well the date, Cassie was ready to go into Brisbane to see some more sights.
“Everything will be all closed up today, love.” Alyssa washed down her sandwich with a swig of Foster’s. “It’s Holiday, remember.”
Cassie shook her head and laughed at herself.
“It feels more like the Fourth of July!”
“I’m going back out to work on my tan!” Connie had one foot out the door.
“Remember, my brother should be here any minute. You might was to cover up something.”
“And sunscreen, Connie, don’t forget your sunscreen.”
To her sister, Connie scrunched her face; to Alyssa, she winked.
“He is married you know.”
Connie returned from upstairs within minutes in her version of an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini. The neon yellow set off her ice blue eyes, and contrasted vividly with her ebony black hair. She held in her hand her Hawaiian Tropic, SPF 15.
Cassie just shook her head, and opened another Foster’s.
Cassie joined her sister, and Alyssa, but came inside after an hour. Even with SPF 40, she was afraid of getting burned. And that was something she never wanted to experience again. She had suffered second degree sunburn and mild sun poisoning when she was twenty years old. Her fever had spiked to 102° and she had violent shakes and chills. Carlotta had nursed her through the night, keeping her hydrated, and plastering her blisters with aloe vera.
Cassie shook at the memory.
Alyssa joined her for some liquid refreshment, and was in the house when the phone rang. It was Marni and Heath, and Marni took the occasion to chastise Cassie – yet again – for schlepping Connie on this preposterous trip.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Mom.” Connie bounced in at just that moment and Cassie handed her the phone. Cassie popped open a Foster’s and chugged it down. She would call Stewart when Connie went back out to the water.
Stew’s mother answered.
“Oh, he’s stepped out at the moment, Dear.” Cassie could hear the guile in her voice, the smile in her eyes. “Can I have him call you when he gets in?”
“Thanks, Eleanor, that would be lovely.” Cassie read the number from Alyssa’s note. “Remind him of the time difference if you would.”
Cassie was disappointed not to speak to her fiancé on Christmas, but her promised trip to Connie had preceded her engagement.
Christmas dinner was a picnic inside a screened tent to ward off mosquitoes. There was a tree in the house, and gifts were exchanged after dinner, per Brown family tradition. Kay and Ed had thought to bring gifts for their house guests.
Cassie’s brightly wrapped package was heavy, and to her delight she discovered a volume on the history of Australia, and a smaller one on the Brown family crest.
Alyssa and Connie had become pen pals during an international history event when they both were in their teens, and had maintained correspondence. Connie’s gift was small: a promissory note of a shopping spree with Alyssa.
Cassie had found a pair of designer sunglasses she knew Connie would love, and tucked them in a Gucci bag, which she also knew Connie would love.
But Connie presented her sister no gift. Cassie was chagrinned, but it was Connie. She wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.
Alyssa and Cassie were clearing up the last of dinner, the family watching Christmas movies on the telly. As maternal as Cassie felt toward Connie, she tried to dismiss this as vacation time. But they were guests with this family, and Cassie promised herself she would say something to her younger sister later about not helping out. She wasn’t even in the den with the others.
Connie stepped into the kitchen and grabbed her sister’s hand.
“I’ve a surprise for you,” she squealed.
“What did you do? Run to the gift shack for a seashell necklace?”
“Drat! You guessed!” But Connie put her hand over Cassie’s eyes and led her to the den. Puzzled, Cassie heard no sound the telly was muted. Connie positioned Cassie just so, and moved her hand.
“Stewart!” Cassie squealed and they were lip-locked in a heartbeat.
Connie giggled, quite pleased with herself for pulling it off and not spilling the beans before he arrived.
Cassie pulled herself from Stew’s embrace and hugged her sister tight.
“You done good, kid.” She kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Cassie’s ice blue eyes sparkled; Connie’s eyes matched.
The others turned in for the night, Cassie fanned herself from the evening humidity, warding off attack mosquitoes. But with Stew by her side, Cassie hardly noticed either the humidity or the airborne pests. They watched a thunder storm somewhere far out at sea, waiting for it to turn their direction, felt the first pre-eminent raindrops.
Cassie was content, relaxed. It was the perfect vacation. Kay and Ed had commissioned her to paint a family portrait, a bonus to continue her career. She had visited museums with Alyssa, and had plans to visit an Aboriginal Tribe gallery with Kay and Jules, Alyssa and Connie. And now, Stew was by her side til the New Year.
Connie padded down now, sheepish.
“Pssst, Cass,” she motioned through the gauzy curtains.
Cassie stepped inside.
“I’m a little burned.” She rolled pleading puppy dog blues at her sister. “Would you be a good big sis and rub some aloe on my shoulders for me?”
#MERRYCHRISTMAS, #travelingsisters, #australia, #skinnydipping, #yellowpolkadotbikini, #sunburn, #fiancé
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