The Fashion Show

'You WHAT?'

Dr Geoffrey G Standish face was a mixture of fear and fascination when he looked at Emma.

'Forget it. Not a chance. It's not going to happen!'

Emma Patterson just smiled sweetly at him. 'Come on, doc. It's for a good cause, you know.'

'NO!' Geoff sipped his beer and looked pleading at Vic behind the bar, but Vic just shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.

'No go, doc. Better just give in.'

Geoff already knew that he would lose the battle, but he was determined to go down fighting.

'I am not beauty competition material.'

'Of course you are. Half the women in town wanted to take you home after Paula's fashion show. Get into that tux again and I might throw my no-good hubbie out in favour of you.' Emma grinned at her husband, who didn't seem too upset by the threat. He just gave the two of them a lazy smile, and said 'If it gets me out of the competition, it's fine by me.'

'No way, sweetheart. You just get your butt up on that stage so that all the women in town can see what they are missing out on.' Sam made a face at her, but said nothing. He had tried to wiggle out of the hair-raising plan his wife and sister had concocted the night before, and was by now saving his breath to cool his beer.

Emma just laughed at him and blew him a kiss before she turned back to Geoff. 'Come on, Geoff. We're counting on you. You're one of the favourites to the title! You can't let the town down.'

'Favourite to what, exactly?' Chris Randall's cheerful voice interrupted a speech that threatened to go on for a very long time. Her eyes fell on Geoff's hangdog expression, and her smile widened expectantly. 'What are you guys up to?'

'Chris! Just the person I needed! Your uncooperative colleague here refuses to participate in the next fundraiser event.'

'Geoffrey! I'm ashamed of you!' was Chris mocking response. 'What is the next fundraiser event by the way?'

'Paula had this brilliant idea yesterday. We will be staging a King of the outback competition in a fortnight.'

'A King of the outback competition? What's a King of the outback competition?'

Geoff and Sam let out a simultaneous groan, and Chris looked with interest from them to Emma.

'Me and Paula thought that in the name of equality there ought to be a King of the outback as well as a Queen of the outback. Paula spoke to Violet and Nancy today, and they thought it was quite an idea.'

This was not completely untrue. According to Paula, Nancy had been enthusiastic, and had even promised to persuade Vic to enter (although judging from Vic's calm expression, he was still unaware of the fact). Violet on the other hand had been very upset with the whole idea. It had taken all of Paula's extensive persuasive powers to get her to agree, but at the end of the meeting Violet finally gave in and, although still a bit worried, joined in Nancy's enthusiasm.

Chris chewed her lower lip thoughtfully while looking Geoff up and down. She then turned to Emma and said 'Well, I for one am all for equality between the sexes. He'll do it.'

Geoff gave her a murderous look.

'I will not! I'm not being paraded around in Speedos for the whole Crossing to see.'

'Don't be such a grouch, Geoff,' Chris scoffed soothingly. 'It might be fun. Ask Emma. She's a pro when it comes to beauty pageants.'

Geoff flinched at the beauty pageant reference.

'Yeah, well, she wasn't forced into participating by people calling themselves her friends,' he said bitterly.

'Wait a minute!' exclaimed Emma indignantly. 'It wasn't like I had any say in the matter either, you know.'

'Then you ought to have a bit more compassion with your fellow man.'

'Yeah, you're right.' Emma gave him a pitying smile. 'But you'll still have to do it.'

Geoff's shoulders slumped in defeat.

'Okay, okay, I'll do it,' he grumbled ungraciously. 'So what is it I will have to do exactly?'

Emma gave him a relieved smile.

'Thanks mate. It will be fun!' Geoff still didn't look convinced. 'We haven't worked out all the details yet, but the first run-through will be sometime next week, you'll find out all about it then.'

Chris had followed the conversation with an amused expression.

'Well, my work here is done. Who's next on the list?'

Emma opened her mouth to answer, but closed it again when the pub door opened and Tom Callaghan entered. Chris followed her gaze and her smile widened.

'Right. Let's go.'

She set course for Tom with Emma in tow, and left a crestfallen Geoff behind. Vic poured another beer and placed it before Geoff.

'You look like you need this, mate.'

Geoff nodded absentmindedly, and Vic continued 'It's at moments like this that I'm glad I'm not young any more.'

Geoff gave him a look of intense dislike, and Vic turned his attention to Nancy, who'd come up to him. 'I've been thinking, Vic. Don't you think you ought to show these youngsters what it's all about?'

Unable to follow her train of thoughts he just gave a non-committal grunt.

'I knew you'd do it. I'll just tell Emma to enter your name in the competition then, shall I?'

Nancy redrew swiftly, and the shaken Vic stood looking after her with a flabbergasted look on his face. With a deadpan expression Geoff asked 'You were saying?'

Vic looked at him without a word, and then went to pour himself a beer.

Emma and Paula worked quickly and mercilessly, and at the end of the next day most of Coopers Crossings male inhabitants had been tricked, persuaded or blackmailed into joining the pageant. The competition had also created quite a buzz among the female population, and the great demand had forced the instigators to move the contest from the pub to the sports centre. In addition to the large ticket sale there was also a popular betting going on. Even at this early stage a couple of favourites were crystallizing. The doctors were all popular, only challenged by Sam Patterson and – surprisingly enough – Vic Buckley.

The competitors all handled the situation differently. While people like Geoff Standish and David Radcliffe went around with haunted looks upon their faces, others – in particular Guy Reid – were all confident smirks. (There was no secret that Guy had placed a sizeable bet on himself.) Jackie Crane did her best to keep Guy's feet on the ground with her acid remarks, but he just shrugged them off and promised to take her out to a celebration dinner after the pageant. Jackie retaliated by promising to treat him to a drink after losing it, but the effect was ruined when the fact that she'd been betting on him was discovered.

Kate Wellings had also been on the verge of betting quite a few times, but every time she'd changed her mind. She was prepared to admit to herself that she was attracted to Geoff Standish. She was just not prepared to admit it to anybody else (especially not since he might find out). Lately things had been strained between the two of them - and yes, some of the fault lay with her. She did her best to hide her feelings and act normal when she was around him, but it was hard work, and she had noticed a calculating look in his eyes from time to time.

A drawling voice woke her from her thoughts, and her stomach gave a well known flutter.

'Penny for them.'

She shrugged self consciously and retorted 'You'd only complain that you'd been overcharged.'

Geoff leaned against the wall and watched her. 'I give up. Is there anything I've done?'

Kate gave a forced laugh. 'Of course not. Whatever gave you that idea?'

Geoff kept staring unblinkingly at her. 'I thought we were friends, Kate.'

'Don't be daft! Of course we're friends.' She heard herself snap at him, but couldn't help it.

She felt a pang of guilt when she saw Geoff's hurt expression, but she forced herself to turn back to the journals she was sorting through. Geoff watched her in silence for a while, but had to give up and go away. She had been shutting him out over the last weeks, and the only reason he could think of was that she'd discovered that he loved her, and that she didn't love him back. He tried not to show how hurt he was by her cool behaviour, or how much he missed their earlier unconstrained relationship, but the truth was that he couldn't take much more of this. These melancholy thoughts were cut short by Chris' cheerful greeting.

'Good morning, Geoff!'

He answered something inaudible, and she shot him a thoughtful glance.

'Okay, Standish. My office. Now.'

He obediently followed her to her office, and she closed the door, indicated a chair and sat down opposite him. 'So… What's the matter, doctor?'

Geoff, who had ignored the chair and instead leaned against her desk, stroked the edge of the desk and stared at the floor.

'Come off it, Geoff. Just tell me!'

Geoff kept examining the floor in silence, so Chris changed tactics.

'Has it something to do with Kate?'

Geoff jumped and looked up at Chris, who smiled understandingly at him.

'No, I'm not psychic. You're just a bit obvious, that's all.'

'Obvious? What do you mean?'

'Well, let's just say that you two are the talk of the town.'

Geoff made a face at her. 'Not much to talk about as far as I can see.'

'Do you love her?'

The sudden question threw Geoff off guard. 'Yes, I do.'

'Then where's the problem?' Chris' smile hadn't budged an inch during the conversation.

'The problem is that she's got a saying in the matter too. The problem is that she treats me like I was a leper. The problem is that I don't know what to do without her.'

Geoff's outburst revealed the anguished state he was in, but he could not seem to shake Chris composure.

'So why don't you do something about it?'

Geoff stared at her as if she'd gone mad. 'Do what, exactly? You do realize that we work together almost every day? You don't think that would be possible if she found out about my feelings, do you?'

'Have you considered the possibility that she perhaps shares these feelings?'

'No, I have not.'

Chris waited for a continuation, but none came. 'Well if you value my opinion, doctor, I'd advice you to come clean. And if you want a second opinion I know for a fact that both Tom and David would agree with me.'

A sudden flare of hope took hold of Geoff. Maybe Chris was right? And even if she was wrong – wasn't knowledge better than this rollercoaster of hope and despair?

'Thanks for the advice, doc. I'll let you know what happens.'

A weak smile softened the harsh words, and Chris gave him a warm hug.

'Go get her, tiger! I just can't stand seeing you two this miserable any longer.'

Geoff hugged her back. He was thankful for her friendship, and told her so. She smiled at him and returned the compliment before shooing him out of her office.

Suddenly in a much better mood Geoff went out to prepare for next days clinic round.

Geoff didn't get a chance to talk to Kate until a week later. After two hours of King of the outback run through he thought his life couldn't get much worse, so after seeing Kate going into the house she shared with Chris he decided to confront her.

He walked up to the front door and rang the bell. It was Chris who opened the door, and one look at his determined expression told her all she needed to know.

'Come on in. I was just on my way to the pub, but Kate might like some company.'

She gave him an innocent grin and stepped aside to let him in before grabbing a jacket and head out through the door. Geoff removed his shoes and went in search of Kate. He found her in the kitchen making coffee. She was startled to see him, and her eyes widened in alarm when he said 'Kate, we need to talk.'

She silently concentrated on the coffee making, but Geoff wasn't going to be put off this time.

'I'm not going to go away until we've talked, Kate.'

She turned slowly towards him but refused to look at him until he pleadingly uttered her name. Her fear and confusion were reflected in her eyes when they finally met his. Geoff drew a steadying breath before beginning.

'There is one thing I've been meaning to tell you for a long time.'

He fell silent, and Kate waited impatiently for him to continue.

'The reason I've waited so long is that once it's said, there is no turning back.'

Kate stomach was crowded. A fluttering hope was coexisting with a cold lump of despair, and the nervous butterflies that Geoff always seemed to bring about. But if her stomach was swarming, her head was empty and she was grateful that Geoff didn't seem to expect her to participate in the conversation.

'Well, I guess there is only one way to say this.'

Geoff realized that he was stalling, and he took a deep breath.

'What I mean to say is that - I love you.'

Geoff held his breath while he anxiously studied Kate's face. She stared incredulously back at him while a feeling of sheer delight spread through her body. Geoff saw her eyes soften and took a step closer. Close enough to touch her he let his hand remove a wisp of misplaced hair. Kate caught his hand in hers and held it against her cheek while gazing into his eyes. A wide, blissful smile spread over Geoff's face, and he leant towards her for a kiss. As his lips found hers the front door was thrown open, and Chris voice were heard.

'I'm sorry you guys, but I…' By this time she'd reached the kitchen. She finished the sentence while taking in the tender scene before her. '…forgot my cell phone...'

She leaned against the doorframe with crossed arms and a teasing smile.

'Hello! So what's going on here?'

Geoff put his arms around Kate while beaming at Chris. 'Never you mind. Weren't you in a hurry to get to the pub by the way?'

Chris laughed, but took pity on them. 'Okay, I'm going, I'm going.' She turned to go. 'I'm happy for you, you know!'

'It was good advice, Chris. Maybe something other people should try too…"

Chris turned to look at Geoff, who expressionlessly stared back. She glared suspiciously at him, but he had already lost interest so she took herself off to the pub instead.

The following week seemed to fly by, and the day of the contest finally arrived. A vast number of Coopers Crossings male population were feeling weak in the knees by now. Clothes had been bought or borrowed, hair had been cut and combed – and Guys solarium had been working overtime. The backstage area of the sports centre was full of men wallowing in vanity. The atmosphere was tense, and even Geoff who'd spent the last week with a love struck grin on his face, had now joined the fellowship of the clenched faces. The only person who appeared indifferent was Guy. To Geoff's annoyance (as well as Tom's and David's) the four doctors had to share one of the dressing-rooms, and Guy's constant swanking was getting on their nerves.

Geoff was getting ready for the first competition, the casual attire, when he heard an exclamation from David. Further investigation proved that David's stain remover had been more effective than expected, and some of the shirts light blue colour hade transformed into a dull greyish white. Both Geoff and Tom shrugged apologetically since they had no suitable clothes to lend. Guy offered him a luminous yellow shirt that made David wince, and he was grateful that he'd been foresighted enough to bring half his wardrobe to the contest.

Since Geoff was supposed to be the first to enter the stage, he was also the first to be fully clothed and restlessly pacing the backstage corridor. He had chosen grey chinos and a becoming green-and-white-striped shirt for the casual part, but was feeling anything but casual at the moment. Just as most of the other contestants he was yearning for the night to be over.

Another exclamation was heard, and he returned to the changing room where David stood holding another ruined shirt. For the first time that evening Geoff actually managed a feeble smile. Tom, who was halfway into his red shirt, also came sauntering to inspect David's latest mishap. An unmistakable smell of burning shirt told them what had happened, and they exchanged a thoughtful gaze before going back to their piles of clothes in a vain hope of finding something David might be able to use. David contemplated the disaster for a while before transferring his gaze towards his own pile of clothes. He picked up the light blue shirt again. The stain wasn't that obvious. He made a swift decision, and called off the fruitless search his friends were performing. Suddenly Paula stuck her head through the door. 'There you are, Geoff! Get a move on, baby; you're on in a couple of minutes.'

Geoff's turned a panicky face towards her, but said nothing. He didn't have to. Even in the backstage area they could hear the murmur from the excited audience being drowned out by the intro music. He started off towards the catwalk without really being aware of what he was doing. Many of his competitors patted him on the back wishing him good luck, but he didn't notice. He just kept on repeating "it will soon be over" over and over again.

Geoff heard Emma's voice greeting the audience and explaining the evenings function. All too soon he also heard her enthusiastic introduction of him. 'And here he is! Give us a hand for the handsome doctor Geoffrey G Standish!'

Somehow he muddled himself through the curtain, and was efficiently blinded by thousands of watts of lights. He stood still for a couple of seconds while getting his bearings, and when he could see the outlines of the catwalk he began to stroll down the long stage.

The audience's response was overwhelming. They cheered deafeningly while ecstatically stamping their feet. Geoff's eyes were by now used to the light, and he could begin to discern some familiar faces in the crowd. He could see Chris' and Kate's laughing faces to the left of the catwalk. Violet was sitting straight-backed right in front of it. Nancy was standing just by the curtain and… He suddenly realized that he was almost finished with his turn on the stage. When he reached the curtain again he turned to face the audience with a hesitant smile, a move that made the audience cheer even louder. He turned back and walked through the curtain to where Sam was waiting nervously.

'So how was it?'

'No worries!' Geoff smirked. Sam looked pleadingly at him and Geoff took pity on him. 'Actually, it wasn't too bad.' he said, realizing while saying it that it was true.

Sam gave him a doubtful look, but Emma's introduction forced him to leave the safety of the backstage area.

Geoff slowly went back towards the dressing room, occasionally giving a vivid account of the feeling out on the catwalk. In the doorway he met David, who'd really taken to the idea of casual clothes. He was wearing shorts, slippers and a T-shirt, while the blue shirt he'd bleached earlier hung nonchalantly over his shoulders. Geoff raised his eyebrows, but decided to let him pass without comments. The room was blissfully empty, and Geoff took advantage of the peace by speedily changing clothes.

The next part was the IQ-test, where each contestant had to answer three questions. This was rather straight forward, and the only real surprise was that Marty actually managed to answer his three questions correctly.

This was followed by the part that most of the contestants was dreading – the swimsuit competition. The audience grew silent from anticipation when Emma announced what was to come. In the doctor's changing room a frenetic activity was prevailing. David was the first competitor in this round, and he was now regretting his choice of bathing trunks, a pair of dark blue hip hugging Speedos. Tom and Geoff were sitting opposite each other, both of them self conscious in their small trunks. Guy on the other hand was happily walking around in a pair of neon green Speedos small enough to show off every decent part of his muscular body. The silence was shattered by burst of laughter from the changing room next door. The doctors followed the sound to find out what was so amusing, and found a swarm of men in small bathing trunks surrounding Marty, who was covered almost from top to toe in his wet suit.

Before being able to do more than groan David was summoned to the catwalk. There was a hushed silence in the hall, but as soon as David appeared on the stage the audience was on their feet shouting their heads off. A very embarrassed David disappeared behind the curtain as soon as possible and left the stage to an equally red-faced Tom. The response was just as enthusiastic for him, and so it continued. The highlight of the evening was Vic entering the stage wearing the tiniest of swimwear. The cheer never wanted to die down again, and Guy had the ungrateful task to follow him.

Walking nervously about in his trunks Geoff listened to the loud uproar brought out by each new contestant. He kept staring at his reflection in the mirror, comparing himself with the rest of the participants. What he saw did not inspire him with confidence. A middle-aged man with bad posture was looking back at him. He pulled his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. His stomach seemed to be cowering behind his kidneys, and he was beginning to feel a little light headed. Marty was coming back through the curtain with a huge, satisfied smile on his face, and finally it was Geoff's turn to strut his stuff at the catwalk. He heard Emma introduce him, but he just couldn't seem to move. After a few seconds the expectant silence was broken by shrill whistles and encouraging calls. Emma's voice boomed off the speaker system: 'Come on, Doc - get out here before we have a riot on our hands!'

Her comment was greeted by laughter and more shouting, but Geoff continued to be a no-show. Emma was by now acting cheerleader, and a rhythmic chanting of "Geoffrey, Geoffrey" was echoing through the sports centre. Geoff swallowed hard and straightened his back before reaching for the curtain and hesitantly stepping out onto the stage.

His emergence was met with an ear-splitting racket, and he smiled awkwardly at the audience. He looked left, and straight into Kate's eyes. She was standing up and applauding together with the rest of the audience, and he half raised his hand in an embarrassed greeting. Kate raised her hand in reciprocity, and he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. Followed by Emma's good-natured banter he hastened down the catwalk, meticulously trying not to meet Violet's reluctantly delighted stare.

When he finally reached the safety of the backstage area his legs trembled so hard that he had to sit down. His colleagues in the dressing room were already half into their tuxedos. Apart from the fairly relaxed Guy the changing room-inhabitants were quiet and pensive. Stripped to the waist David was sitting contemplating the floor. Tom was buttoning his shirt, while trying to ignore Guy's boastful chatter. Suddenly the idle atmosphere was interrupted by Paula's piercing voice.

'Come on, you guys! You have five minutes before the evening dress-competition starts. Anyone who hasn't changed into tux by then just has to take another tour in their Speedos.'

This statement led to an eruption of activity in the backstage area, and before long the place was swarming with tuxedo clothed men. Paula was fully occupied organizing the tux-clad mass into a long, anxious row. Finally satisfied with her work she gave Emma a sign, and the last part of the first King of the outback competition was on the way. One by one the men poured onto the stage to the ecstatic hollering of the crowd. They slowly went round the catwalk two times, and then they poured back out again. They could now sit down to a makeshift meal while the audience decided who the crème de la crème of the Crossing was.

The audience was in raptures. The crowding around the voting booths was massive. Paula and Emma had thoroughly thought the voting process through, and along with the entrance ticket each attendant had received one voting card and an abundance of voting papers. While Maggie, Nancy and Violet were feeding both the starving contestants as well as the hungry part of the fundraiser guests, Emma and Paula tried not to be trampled down by a stampede of excited voters. An hour later the votes were given and counted, the audience was fed and satisfied, and the competitors were reduced to bundles of nerves. The only thing remaining was the coronation.

Once more the participants were forced into a row, and once more they were paraded around the scene in their tuxedos. This time they were placed in orderly lines along the sides of the catwalk. With fixed smiles upon their faces they tried not to lock eyes with either the audience or each other. Geoff and David exchanged a sheepish look before going back to blankly staring straight ahead. An expectant silence spread through the hall when Emma stepped out onto the catwalk. She shot the contestants mischievous side glances while ambling past the rows of well dressed men. Finally she reached the end of the catwalk where the microphone had been placed. She turned to look at the uneasy competitors.

'This lot cleans up nice, don't they, ladies?'

The audience backed this up with a loud cheer.

'So what do you say we make this a yearly event?'

The audience cheered even louder, a noise that drowned out the horrified moan of the partakers. Geoff exchanged dismayed looks with David and Jack who were standing next to him. Over David's shoulder he could see Tom wince at the prospect. Paula and Emma would definitely have their work cut out for them if they intended to go through with their threat.

The King of the outback contestants were by now moving restlessly on the stage, and Emma took pity on them. 'Anyway, the votes have now been counted.' Another cheer arouse from the audience. 'And here is Paula with the results.'

Paula exited with a radiant smile. She held the coveted envelope in the air while walking up to Emma. She grabbed the mike and greeted the spectators with a merry 'Hello Coopers Crossing!' The excited audience returned the greeting, and she continued 'Let's find out who you've elected King of the outback, shall we?'

Geoff watched the agitated crowd. A glance to the right startled him, and he nudged Jack and nodded in the direction of Violet. Jack's chin dropped at the sight of Violet jumping up and down, screaming lustily. He gave Geoff an incredulous look, and they both burst with laughter. David raised an eyebrow at them and was rewarded with a directing head movement. His lips twitched in a humorous smile before Paula's voice called them all back to the harsh reality.

'It's been a very even struggle, and let me tell you, you've all been very popular with the ladies!' Paula stopped and smiled at the nervous group of well dressed men. 'But we have managed to come up with a winner, and also a runner up if the winner is unable to fulfil his obligations.' Once again she stopped and smiled at the questioning eyes of spectators and participants alike. 'Actually we have two runner ups! Let's start with giving a hand for our first runner up – Doctor David Radcliffe!' The audience screamed out their approval and David's face turned crimson. Geoff and Tom, who were standing next to him, congratulated him and patted him enthusiastically on the back. Paula waved him forward, and he went reluctantly to the front of the catwalk. He was awarded an official looking diploma and a bouquet of red roses before being forced to take a bow in front of a standing ovation. When the response began to fade, Paula returned to the microphone. 'And as I said, we have two runner ups. They both obtained eighteen percent of the votes. Let's hear it for our second runner up – Doctor Geoffrey Standish!' Once again the audience responded with vociferous approval. Geoff were beginning to feel a little giddy, and he coolly received Tom's and Jack's hearty back patting before joining David at the front of the stage. He glanced at Kate who by now was standing exaltedly. She mouthed "I love you", and he gave her a fleeting smile. After obtaining the diploma and the roses he raised his hands in a thankful gesture towards the audience's standing ovation. The audience applauds seemed to go on forever. David and Geoff shuffled their feet self-consciously, although entangled with their feelings of discomfiture was a small sensation of self-satisfaction. When the applause finally died down, a feeling of eager anticipation spread among spectators and participants. The catwalk was full of nervous faces, and even the earlier so confident Guy was showing signs of insecurity.

Paula was by now thoroughly enjoying the feeling of being the centre of attention.

'And now to the moment we've all been waiting for. Who will be our first King of the outback? Can we have the crown, please?'

Emma, who had disappeared a minute earlier, now returned carrying a red cushion where a golden crown was lying in state.

'Thank you, Emma.' Paula took a deep breath. 'The man who, with twenty-eight percent of the votes, will have the right to this crown for the next year is…' Paula paused again for a few seconds before howling in falsetto – 'Doctor Tom Callaghan!'

This time there were no limits to the ecstasy. The stunned Tom was pushed towards the edge of the catwalk by his beaming competitors. The overall feeling of the contesters seemed to be relief that the ordeal was over, and they were sincere in their congratulations.

Jackie, who had been watching Guy during the racket, felt her heart reaching out to him when she saw the twinge of pain and rejection that crossed his face before the mask of impenetrable self-confidence returned.

Tom stood dumbfounded in front of the wild crowd while Emma tried to place the crown on his head. Her failed attempts were accompanied by the joint laughter of the crowd. Finally she managed to get Tom to crouch down enough for her to be able to reach his head. With a couple of pins she managed to secure the crown, and he straightened up and received the well deserved acknowledgement of his friends and neighbours.

He let his eyes sweep searchingly over the audience, who by now was crowding in front of the catwalk trying to catch the three winners' attention. His eyes found Chris laughing up at him and his serious face broke into a smile. His head was humming, and his back was getting sore from the patting, but he was feeling surprisingly at ease (and pleased) with himself and the situation. He saw Geoff climb down from the podium and with a tender kiss present Kate with the roses. His gaze returned quizzically to Chris, but she was watching Geoff and Kate with a pensive look on her face.

Three hours later, the evening was finally over. Most people had left the sports centre when the four doctors came sauntering out from the backstage area. Their hair was wet from showering, and they were all wearing their casual clothes (although David had abandoned his discoloured shirt). Guy's arm was around Tom's shoulders, and he was saying 'There's obviously no accounting for taste, mate.'

'What can I say?' Tom grinned at him and shrugged his shoulders 'I'm irresistible.'

In a contented silence the group passed the backdrop, which already was being pulled down. Emma amiably offered them to join the demolition team, but they politely declined. Outside they happened upon their co-workers who'd been waiting for them. Kate quickly took charge of Geoff while Jackie seized on Guy. David and DJ were soon immersed in a discussion on the music of the Beatles, since DJ had failed to answer that question correctly on his IQ-test. Tom and Chris exchanged an amused look.

'Did you know about Geoff and Kate?' Tom asked suddenly.

Chris gave him a sunny smile. 'That's the trouble with vacations, Tom. You miss out on all the town gossip.'

He shrugged his shoulder. 'I was only gone a week.'

'Sometimes a week is all it takes' Chris smile disappeared, and she fell silent. They stood watching each other, and the silence grew more awkward with each second. Finally Chris looked away. She chewed her lower lip for a moment before unexpectedly taking a step toward him and giving him a big hug. Standing on her toes she whispered something in his ear.

Leaning against "The Beast" Geoff and Kate were watching them. They saw Tom's surprised look turn into a luminous smile before he leaned down to give Chris a kiss. Geoff pulled Kate towards him and smiled gently. It had been a good day for the doctors of Coopers Crossing.