Jess is still pursuing her search for Mick and very much hopes she will finally succeed.

Indigo Home by Roo Panes is the song I chose to go with this story, as it also speaks of longing for an absent beloved person (even if the beloved person in question certainly has eyes of a different colour!)

Dry eyes, roaring falls,
God knows I've travelled far, so far,
But this is where it ends
Found me, right about the time that I found you,
For once, I was doing something right
Night fell, you were asked.

Are you lost in paradise my love, or have you found a home?
It's an awfully lonely road to walk alone,
But as I searched your flashing indigo eyes, it echoed true
That I loved you,
That I loved you.

Dawn woke, I knew that it was time for my return,
But this time it will likely hurt as hell,
Sometimes way across the ocean on a far away shore,
We both stand and we both call, both call.

If you give love and live long, then you'll never be alone,
If you give love and live long, you you'll always have a home,
If you give love and live long, then you'll never be alone,
If you give love and live long, you you'll always have a home.

Are you lost in paradise my love, or have you found a home?
It's an awfully lonely road to walk alone,
But as I searched your flashing indigo eyes, it echoed true
That I loved you,
That I loved you.

We were lost in the fields trading tales of home,
But everyone knew that your gaze was my home,
We were lost in the fields trading tales of home,
But everyone knew that your gaze was my home.


After she had posted her letter to Australia, Jess could hardly eat or sleep and sometimes wondered how she managed to concentrate on her work and not make some grievous mistakes.

She spent as good as every waking minute thinking about her brother, about where he might be, what he might be doing, how he earned his living and whether he had a wife and a family or was still the solitary kind of person he had always been.

Often, she wondered about his wartime experience, feared the injury that had kept him out of battle until it ended had done him permanent harm.

Was he alive at all, or had his wound ultimately killed him, rendering her search and her rekindled hopes moot?

She so wanted to believe Oliver when he said, "He needn't have done anything worse than step into a hole and break his leg to be laid up until well after the war ended. That was what happened to Patrick, and you know he wrecked his ankle and was out of action for almost four months."

It was a sensible view to take, but she couldn't quite shake the dreary assumptions this little voice at the back of her head kept whispering and the images it conjured.

And it wasn't just the physical aspect that bothered her.

She had seen so many vets whose personalities had been utterly changed by what they had been through, who had turned into bitter, depressed, cynical old men long before their time, and fervently hoped Mick had not lost his sense of humour, his vivid imagination and his rare genuine smile that used to light up his face so charmingly.

What if whatever he had been through had actually left him cold and hard and jaded, unmoved by his little sister showing up out of nowhere?

What if he had decided to leave his old life behind completely and simply wanted to be left alone?

She couldn't possibly blame him if he had indeed burned all his bridges after what had happened and was not interested in a family reunion after such a long time of silence.

She worried and fretted and, when no answer came in weeks and weeks, slowly began to wonder if it had in fact been a good idea to try and find him.

Until, one evening, Ethel waved an envelope at her when she came home from work.

"I wasn't aware you knew somebody in Australia", she remarked pointedly.

"Oh, well, I just … tried to follow up on some … some old ties", Jess stammered and took the letter from her without any further explanation. Nosy woman!

It wasn't from her brother himself, that much was sure just from looking at the pale pink stationery with a pattern of flowers in one corner and the dainty handwriting.

She wanted to tear it open the minute she stepped into her room, but for some reason not quite clear to her own mind, she forced herself to take her usual shower first and only slit the flap when she had changed into a comfortable wool dress and settled into the worn armchair.

The back of the letter said it was from one Mrs. M. R. Rooney.

Never heard of her, Jess thought, reckoning this was going to prove another dead end. But still she was a little curious who it might be writing to her, hoping against hope that this unknown woman would add at least some tiny missing piece to the puzzle she was trying to solve.

Dear Miss Cleaver, the letter read.

I hope this finds you well.

You may be wondering who I am and how I come to answer your letter.

Eleanor Cunningham, whom your letter was addressed to, was my aunt and left her house to me and my husband when she passed away two years ago because she had no surviving children of her own.

While I do not know where Mr. Carpenter is living now, I remember him quite well.

Or rather, I remember well that my aunt was very fond of him. I only met him briefly once or twice myself.

He was lodging with Aunt Ellie for a while after he left the hospital because he didn't seem to have anywhere to go and he was unable to return to whatever he had done before because of his injuries.

I cannot for the life of me recall what it was he used to do for a living or where he had been living, only that his job had been something unusual and he had been based in some exotic place in the Pacific. New Guinea, maybe, or somewhere close.

One thing I do remember is that he left for Sydney with his fiancée after a couple of months. She was a bit of a celebrity at the time – maybe you have heard of this young researcher who spent years living in some remote Pacific island with the natives and went on to write an outrageous book about it which made quite some waves in the press. I'm afraid I do not remember her name either, but perhaps someone at a bookshop or library can help you find out. As I said, the book made lots of headlines, even overseas, and a good librarian ought to be able to identify the young lady in question.

My sincere apologies for not being able to provide anything more useful, but I hope I could at least point you in the right direction.

Good luck in finding your brother. I will keep both of you in my thoughts and prayers.

Yours sincerely,
Millie Rooney

Jess read the letter twice and then once more before she dropped it into her lap and stared out of the window, wondering what exactly she was feeling.

It was not quite a hot trail yet, but if what Millie Rooney said was true and this researcher woman's book had indeed been sold in the States, it might become one.

I need to ring Linda, she thought.

If anyone knew about that book, it would be Linda Kane, her college friend to whom the term bookworm didn't quite do justice. Linda was more of a book-devouring dragon and had consequently gone on from college to work at a bookshop in her hometown in Maryland.

Jess's knee joints seemed to have dissolved into bits of jelly when she rose from the armchair, and she had to hold on to the windowsill for a moment as scraps of the letter swirled in her mind.

My aunt was very fond of him.

Unable to return … because of his injuries.

So he must indeed have been wounded quite seriously. Mick would not easily have given up a profession he liked.

Some exotic place in the Pacific.

Just the thing he'd always been dreaming about when he was a boy. She remembered how he used to pore over his school atlas, tracing the coastline of some strange faraway land with the tip of his forefinger, smiling dreamily.

This young researcher. His fiancée.

A researcher. The thought of her brother, who had so staunchly refused to even go to college, hitching up with an academic made her smile a little wryly.

If they were still together at all.

She might well find this famous researcher-writer only to receive another polite and friendly letter stating she, too, had no inkling of where to look for Michael Carpenter.

If she did receive anything.

Get a grip, she told herself. It wasn't like her to be so pessimistic.

She would take it one step at a time, and if all the effort turned to be out in vain in the end, she'd have all the time in the world for regret and sorrow.

The first logical step was phoning Linda, and she finally strode over to her desk, got her address book out of the drawer and walked to the phone.

It rang and rang, but obviously Linda wasn't home.

Darn!

But she wouldn't be discouraged so quickly, nor would she wait any longer to pursue her new little lead.

She dialed Oliver and Patrick's number instead.

Patrick answered and immediately made to get Oliver.

"No, hang on … it's actually you I wanted to speak to."

"Are you sure it's me you want?"

"Yes", she said with a hint of exasperation. "I've heard from Mick's landlady. Or rather, the landlady's niece."

"Oh … wow. That's great!"

She gave him a brief summary of Millie Rooney's letter and asked, "You wouldn't happen to know what his fiancée was called, would you?"

Patrick sighed. "No, I don't. I'm not even sure if I ever knew her name."

Now it was Jess who couldn't hold back a sigh.

"But wait a minute … Danny might know. I'll ask him right away if you want me to."

"Who's Danny?"

"Danny O'Riordan. Another comrade of ours. Thought it funny to join the army with only one working eye and actually made it through training and on to the jungle. Of course, he got hit pretty quickly, and it was Mick who saved his sorry ass by having him transferred to HQ as a company clerk. Considering he owes Mick his life, he might well remember his girlfriend's name."

A shiver ran down Jess's spine when this new little jigsaw piece fell into place, adding another facet to the picture that was gradually taking shape in her mind.

"… will let you know", she heard Patrick finish his sentence, only then realizing she hadn't been listening.

"Thanks", she whispered with a lump in her throat.

The phone rang no half-hour later.

Ethel yelled for her, and she came flying down the stairs, breathing a hurried "Hello?" into the receiver.

"It's me again. I'm afraid Danny can't remember either. He says he thinks her first name was something like Ellen or Emily or Evelyn, but he isn't sure. Sorry, Jessie. I had hoped I'd have some better news for you."

"Don't worry, Patrick. It was worth trying."

She couldn't entirely keep the disappointment out of her voice, though. Patrick seemed to notice and said, "I'll keep an eye out for anything that might be helpful, I promise."

As they hung up, her eyes were brimming. She angrily wiped at them, took a deep breath and dialed Linda's number once more.

It was Callie, Linda's housemate, who answered the phone in her lazy Southern drawl. "Linda's off to see her parents", she said. "Don't know for sure when she'll be back. Monday or Tuesday, probably. D'you wanna leave a message?"

"Um … no, I don't think so. I'll just give it another try next week." In all probability, scatterbrained Callie would have forgotten to give Linda the message anyway.

Frustrated, she stomped up the stairs and dropped into the armchair. It was after seven already, so there wasn't much she could achieve that day, now that she had run out of people to phone.

She resolved to sacrifice tomorrow's lunch break to dash off to Morrison's bookshop downtown and ask about that female Australian researcher's scandalous book about living with natives in some obscure Pacific island, at the risk of getting laughed down. She could almost hear Mr. Morrison chuckle and see him shake his head while telling her in a kindly, scholarly voice that he had never heard of such a thing.

A sudden pain startled her out of her brooding. She hadn't realized she had been picking at a hangnail until the little shred of skin came loose and the cuticle began to bleed.

Angry that she had again fallen back into this childish habit she had never really been able to shake, she popped the maltreated finger into her mouth and sucked it, the strange tang of blood making her slightly queasy.

She hadn't been particularly hungry anyway and now decided to skip supper altogether. Might as well go to bed right away, she thought, but couldn't bring herself to rise from the chair. She just sat there, heavy and drained, doing nothing, thinking nothing.

A knock on the door finally forced her to get up, and she rolled her eyes. Sometimes, Ethel loved to play mother to her if she thought she wasn't feeling well. Hopefully, she hadn't whipped up a bowl of soup or a plate of sandwiches for her to eat. She wasn't sure if she could keep anything down.

She hardly believed her eyes when she opened the door.

"Oliver!" she exclaimed. "How on earth did you …"

"This is an exception, honey, you hear me?" Ethel piped up from behind Oliver's tall figure. "He said it was very important and a family matter of extreme urgency and …"

"Won't happen again, Mrs. Sutherland, I promise", Oliver said with a contrite puppy-dog look and slyly added, "And thanks ever so much for turning a blind eye this time. I really appreciate that."

Ethel smiled and hung back for a moment, apparently hoping to catch what this urgent family matter was, but when Jess pulled Oliver inside her room and closed the door, she retreated downstairs.

"Now what is so urgent? Is anything wrong?" Jess searched his flushed face anxiously, but, if anything, there was the hint of a grin lurking in the corners of his mouth.

"Nothing's wrong. You won't believe what happened. Charlene's back."

"Charlene's back? That's why you came up here, to tell me Charlene's back? Am I supposed to do the happy dance now or what?" Jess frowned at her boyfriend and wondered if he had lost his wits.

"Don't get all worked up just yet, okay? Let me finish first." Oliver held up both hands in a calming gesture and went on, "Well, as I said, Charlene came back last night, and she showed up again this evening just when Patrick was talking to Danny on the phone. She heard most of it, and so he told her about your search for Mick."

Jess snorted disdainfully at the thought of Patrick discussing her brother with that little blond piece.

Oliver ignored it and went on, "He mentioned your brother's fiancée and the book, and you know what? Charlene's actually read it! She even said she still has the book!"

"Charlene reads books?" Jess couldn't keep her sarcasm to herself but had to admit that she would now have to be doubly grateful to her, for she would never have seen the photo of Mick if Charlene hadn't walked out on Patrick a few weeks ago, and now she, of all people, could well be the one to provide the crucial clue.

"No, sorry, that was mean, I guess. I really don't know what to say." She ran both hands through her hair and rubbed her face and plucked at her dress, utterly agitated. "What's she called, now?"

"Charlene didn't say. I'm not sure she remembers off the top of her head. But she's gone home to fetch the book, and I've come here to fetch you. She says she thinks there are one or two pictures of him in the book's photo section …"

Before he had finished speaking, Jess had already brushed her hair and wrapped a scarf around her neck and was half out the door to get her shoes.

Oliver could hardly keep up with her quick, eager stride as they walked the short distance to his and Patrick's place in the cool October air. He shivered a little in his sports coat, but she didn't seem to feel the chill, although she was wearing nothing over her wool dress but a checked cotton scarf.

"Hey, don't run like that! Charlene won't be back yet anyway!" Oliver panted a little as he tried to catch up with her, but he knew nothing was going to stop her.

Patrick was leaning in the open front door, smoking a cigarette, and greeted Jess with a companionable one-armed hug. He said something Oliver didn't catch, but it made her smile a little despite her apparent nervousness.

They went through into the cramped living-room, with Patrick serving them beers unasked, and sat on the scratchy sage-green sofa side by side. When Oliver reached for Jess's hand, it was just as clammy and cold as he had expected it to be.

She drank her beer right from the bottle with anxious little sips that reminded him of a small bird pecking at a feeder, and when she wasn't drinking, she picked at the label on the bottle until it came off and shredded it into tiny bits that she flicked into the ashtray on the side table.

Patrick and Oliver tried to keep some conversation going, but it faltered again and again until they finally heard the front door being pushed open and Charlene's heels pattering across the tiled hallway.

"Knock, knock", she said perkily as she entered, flamboyant as ever in an emerald-green wool coat with a black scarf thrown dramatically around her neck, a black beret cocked rakishly on top of her platinum-blond curls and her lips painted cherry-red.

Jess had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that the flashy outfit suited her. Charlene had this certain thing that made it look classy instead of tacky.

"Jess, darling, I'm so glad there's something I can do to help", she said as she peeled off her coat and tossed it over the back of Patrick's chair, all the while holding on to a hardback book with a black-and-white photo on the front cover.

She took off the beret and shook out her hair as she sat down in the only remaining chair, leaned over and squeezed Jess's knee. "I wish someone would help me find a trace of Robbie. My brother", she hastened to add when she caught Jess's uncomprehending look. "He's been MIA since '44, and no one was ever able to tell us anything concrete. All we know is that he's been gone since the Battle of Leyte." She closed her huge eyes for a moment, and there was nothing coquettish in it.

"I'm … so sorry, Charlene. I … I had no idea …" Jess swallowed hard and looked at the other young woman helplessly.

"How could you? It's okay. Kinda. Well, I mean, I miss him, which I'd never have thought I would because he used to be such an awful nuisance, but …" Charlene drew an audible breath through her nose and laid the book onto the table in front of Jess with a resolute flourish. "Anyway. This is her book. Evelyn Spence. The famous young anthropologist with the scandalous field of research."

Jess hesitantly reached out her hand to touch the dust jacket, registering idly that it was a little torn in one corner. The large photo on the cover depicted a dark-skinned woman wearing nothing but a kind of loincloth and some strange ornaments made of feathers and beads on leather thongs.

Above the photograph, slender, unadorned letters formed the book's title, In a Savage Land.

Below, a name, spelled out in the same font.

Evelyn Spence.

She picked up the book at long last, just staring at the cover, the photo, the name.

"You can have it for as long as you like", Charlene said as if from afar. "Take it home with you to read it and to have a look at the pictures. You don't need to do that with all of us watching."

Again, Jess felt slightly embarrassed. Never in her life would she have expected Charlene to be so thoughtful and kind-hearted.

She only shook her head impatiently and opened the book, turned the pages, scanned the text and decided to start reading later.

A thin dark band along the edge of the pages marked the photo section, which was what she decided to check first.

A tall blond man in white tropical gear posing in front of a simple wooden hut. Philip in front of our erstwhile home, the caption read.

She skimmed on through the photo section. A village consisting of similar huts, high palm trees in the background, lots of curly-haired natives in their traditional skimpy clothing, with a particular focus on women. Boats, a small lake shaded by palm trees. More huts, more palm trees, a heavyset white man with a priest's collar and jovial grin, a hymnal in one hand and a fishing rod in the other, another white man, small and wiry, with a little moustache and twinkly eyes. The blond man from the first photograph again, reading on the front porch of a larger house.

None of them remotely resembled her brother, neither the slender youth she remembered nor the muscular soldier in Patrick's photo.

She turned the next-to-last page to a landscape-format photograph that stretched across both pages.

It depicted a beach, with the sea lapping at the vast strip of sand and lots of little wooden longboats beyond the waterline. A host of small dark figures populated the scenery, getting off the boats, walking towards the photographer.

And among the foremost little group of people, a tall figure towering over the diminutive islanders, broad shoulders in a pale shirt, a big arm wrapped good-naturedly around the back of an elderly native while the other waved at the camera, messy dark curls sticking up in all directions above a clean-cut face. The snapshot was somewhat blurry but the distinctive features were clearly recognizable – the bold, straight nose, the angular chin and the curve of his mouth as he smiled.

Her breath caught in her throat with a small sobbing noise.

She barely felt Oliver's arm coming round her back, didn't hear what Charlene was saying.

Hardly daring to believe what she had just seen, she flipped to the last photo page and couldn't suppress another sharp intake of breath.

There he was again, in a picture that filled half of the page, cross-legged in the sand, a large shell in one hand and a knife in the other to carefully prise it open, his head bowed and his eyes cast downward, this quietly focused expression on his face that she had seen a hundred times or more when he was reading or repairing his bicycle or whittling away at a bit of wood as he had often done.

The caption simply said, After the 'pearling'.

Jess heard her blood rushing in her ears and could not have told what she felt. She clapped both hands to her mouth, trembling, her eyes wide and glittering with tears as she stared at the man in the picture, taking in the familiar sculpted cheekbones and heavy-lidded eyes.

Was it too much to hope for that all should be well in the end?