It's an extremely hot night and Stevie is sitting outside on the old garden seat having a cold beer, beside her Turbo is stretched out with his head in her lap.
" I don't know boy what should I do? I love him so much it hurts when I'm near him and even when I'm not" Stevie laments as she pats the dogs head.
"It's bad enough I have to stand by and watch him marry her. Just because I choose not to swan around in diamonds and tiaras doesn't make me a bloke."
Turbo turns his head towards her as if he understands.
She grins as she takes the dogs head in her hands and says." What would you do boy? Hey! You'd bite her wouldn't you! "
For several weeks Stevie has endured Fiona's snide remarks about her lack of femininity.
Stevie sits thinking then speaks to the dog again." How am I going to bite her Turbo? "
Stevie lets go of the dogs head and he rests it back on her knee. She sips her beer and is deep in thought when her skin prickles at the sound of his voice.
"Hey I thought I'd find you out here." Alex says smiling broadly at her.
"Why aren't you at home? And where's Fiona?" Stevie asks stunned by his presence.
He shoos the dog off the bench and sits beside her then answers. "Well Fiona and her Mum have been in Melbourne for a couple of days and I thought I'd come and have a beer with my mate."
Stevie's stomach twists "Your mate!" She snarls and adds. "I'm not a bloke Alex."
He looks at her seriously and says. "Relax Cowgirl it's a term of endearment. Who's put a bee in your bonnet?"
"No one!" She answers a little too defensively.
"Right!" He says grinning at her.
"Just because I wear jeans a lot doesn't make me less feminine." She states feeling annoyed.
He looks at her and shakes his head. "Sometimes I just don't understand you Stevie. No one could ever accuse you of not being a woman."
She feels her heart beat change and her face flush and hopes he doesn't notice.
She offers him a beer and changes the subject. "It's certainly been hot today!"
"Mmm." Is his not committal reply.
In silence they sit.
Alex enjoys sitting beside her and as her perfume wafts past him carried on the hot summer breeze he inhales deeply and says "Stevie you always smell so good."
She freezes thrilled at his comment but feels a little more of her heart break. If only he knew how much it hurt her when he said things like that.
He's just being nice and trying to make her feel better, she understands that, but he's engaged to someone else and he'll never be hers. Again she feels a piece of her heart die and fall away .
"I think I might turn in for the night!" She says quietly, afraid her voice will crack if she raises it.
Alex doesn't want her to go, he just wants to sit here with his best friend and talk, like they used too, and he misses that, he misses her. She knows him better than he knows himself. His thoughts are all of her even when he's with Fiona and he's confused. If only things were different.
Alex looks at her and asks." It's only early and I haven't finished my beer Stevie. Won't you sit with me awhile longer?"
He watches as she inhales deeply and then exhales "Alex something's changed between us hasn't it?"
He's about to sip his beer as she speaks and he stops with it mid way to his mouth. He turns to face her and seriously asks. "What do you mean?'
With a frown on her forehead she answers. "I can't be myself around you anymore. I don't know what to talk to you about. It's not easy like it used to be."
"Nothing's changed Stevie we're still friends." He replies intrigued by her comments.
She looks away takes a sip of her beer and offers. "Yeah friends."
Again they sit in silence.
Fiona and her mother return from Melbourne and Fiona approaches Alex.
"I've got a fantastic idea Alex. Mum and I have organized for some of my friends to come over this weekend to meet you and have a look at where I'm going to live."
Alex frowns and says "It might have been nice if you asked me first Fi."
Fiona smiles and snuggles into him and says "Oh come on don't be spoil sport Alex, it will be fun we'll have a BBQ and I told them all to bring their bathers for a swim too."
Alex looks at her and asks" ALL how many are coming?"
Fiona smiles and says "Twelve, you'll be fine Alex you'll have lots of new friends to talk too."
"Right." Alex replies although sounding unconvinced.
Trish has joined them. "So Alex I'm guessing Fi told you about the weekend!"
Alex answers. "Yes she did. I'll give Stevie and the girls a ring and let them know about it. What time are we having this gathering?"
Fiona looks at him and asks "Why would you invite them?"
Alex looks annoyed and says "Because they're my friends."
Fiona sounds toffy and bitchy when she smirks at Trish and says "God I hope they don't turn up expecting to swim in shorts and t-shirts."
Alex feels anger rise within himself yet again and scowls . "Fiona they're my friends and I'd appreciate you not speaking like that about them."
Trish looks uncomfortable as Alex and Fiona squabble.
Fiona basically ignores him and turns to speak to her Mother.
Fiona and Trish chatter away about planning for the party and Alex just feels annoyed and unhappy.
Alex stands and his thoughts fly to Drover's and Stevie.
When he fights with her there's a good reason, Fiona's fights are petty and often and he hates it.
"Alex! Alex! Are you listening to me?" Fiona growls.
He looks at her and says "Sorry Fi what did you say."
"I said can we hire a Marquee?' She says angrily
He looks at her and says "A marquee for twelve people that's a bloody waste of money No tell em' to sit under a tree."
"Alex they'll expect more than a tree." Fiona quips.
As he walks away he calls over his shoulder" "Tough Fiona if it's good enough for my friends to sit under a tree for shade it had better be good enough for your friends. No Marquee!"
Alex heads down to the yards and finds Riley, Patrick and Dave working with the cattle.
As he walks towards them Riley whispers "Heads up the boss isn't happy."
Alex joins them and starts throwing orders around.
"Hey, hey, hey ease up big fella. Who's upset you?" Dave asks.
Alex explains about the BBQ and Fiona's attitude and her comment about Stevie and the girls.
Patrick, Riley and Dave all look at each other.
Alex says." What do you think I'm wrong saying no to the Marquee?'
They three silently stand looking at him.
"What?' Alex asks.
They remain silent and try to keep working Alex says to Riley. "What do you think?'
Riley glances at him and says "Alex I'd like to keep my job so I'd rather not comment."
Alex looks annoyed and says "Riley I won't sack you if you've got something to say. Say it!"
Riley looks at him and says "Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear or the truth?'
"Stop stuffing around Riley tell me the truth." Alex growls.
Riley looks at Patrick and Dave and then at Alex and says "Fiona isn't one of us, she doesn't fit in or even try too."
Alex's face goes red and he storms off.
Patrick says "Shit he was angry Riley. Do you think you'll still have a job?'
Riley says "The way things are going around here I don't think I'd really care. Everyone tells me Alex used to be a great bloke and funny as all hell. I haven't seen that yet! He's angry all time and argumentative. I really don't need a work place like that."
Dave offers. "Yeah he's not a happy camper anymore that's for sure, is he Patrick."
Patrick answers." No the fun Alex certainly hasn't been around for quite a while."
Regan and Stevie pull into Kilarney. Fiona and Trish are walking across the drive as Stevie pulls up.
Fiona stands staring at them.
Stevie feels her eyes looking her up and down judging her and what she's wearing.
In the pit of her stomach her breakfast churns with self doubt and sadness.
Trish greets them "Morning girls how are you?'
Regan replies "Good thanks Trish."
Stevie smiles and replies "Good thanks Trish and yourself?"
Trish grins and says "We're planning a party so I'm great I love parties."
Stevie and Regan greet Fiona she reluctantly responds.
Alex has joined them and Stevie can see he's upset about something no one else seems to notice or care.
"Have you girls come for the trailer?' Alex asks briskly.
Stevie stands looking at him.
Regan answers. "Yes thanks Alex."
Without thought Stevie asks "Alex are you alright?'
The frown disappears from his face and he smiles at her and replies "Yeah I'm ok Cowgirl."
Fiona bristles hating that he calls her that. He doesn't have a pet name for her and she's his Fiancé' he should call her something not Stevie.
Alex face lights up when Stevie smiles at him.
He grins and says. "Hey Cowgirl what are you and the girls doing on Saturday? Fiona's having a bit of a gathering with some of her friends and we thought you all might like to come too."
Stevie grins and says "That depends Cowboy. Is it your shout?'
He laughs and says "Hell yeah I'll shout ya."
Stevie chuckles and says. "You're on."
Alex turns to Regan and says "Regan are you in too."
Regan chuckles and says "Well if there's free beer!"
Alex says "Yes free beer."
Stevie says "So what would you like us to bring?"
Fiona snootily replies "No we're catering you don't have to bring anything."
Stevie and Regan look at each other then Regan says "No we'd like to bring something Fiona ! Would you prefer some salads or deserts?'
Fiona snarls "I said no we're catering."
Stevie wonders if Fiona thinks their food wouldn't be up to her standard, again self doubt swirls in her gut and makes her feel sick.
"Fiona that's enough." Alex growls.
"I'll hook up the trailer for you Stevie." Alex says changing the subject as he moves to get into the Ute.
Fiona remarks. "My friends will be swimming as well Stevie so if you own bathers you can too." She turns and swiftly walks off.
Stevie thinks every time Fiona digs at her she feels that sick feeling again. Over the years she's felt it so many times.
Stevie wonders how she'll live with her best friends wife making her feel that way every time she sees them. Perhaps it's time to leave Drover's Run, her friends and Alex.
Trish doesn't know where to look so she smiles and says "See you on Saturday around midday girls."
She turns and follows Fiona.
As Stevie and Regan move over to the sheds they are unaware Alex has walked into the shed to grab some tie down ropes.
Alex is about to call out but remains quiet and listens.
Standing in the shade Regan says "Oh my goodness Stevie she is so bloody awful to you. And what's with the comment if you own bathers Stevie you can swim too. What a bitch! I can't for the life of me see what Alex sees in her."
Stevie quietly says. "Just let it go Regan, he must be happy or he wouldn't be marrying her."
Regan looks at her friend and says "Stevie you should have told him how you felt."
Stevie walks away and calls over her shoulder. "Drop it Regan! It's too late."
Alex has heard the conversation and something hurts him deep inside.
Regan runs to catch up to Stevie and says. "We're going shopping and we're going to buy you the skimpiest bikini we can find."
Stevie throws back her head and laughs loudly.
Alex hears Stevie laugh and he grins picturing her.
Fiona has been moody and abrasive all week and even Trish has been unable to cheer her daughter up.
Alex is fed up with her demanding and childish ways and they've fought none stop about everything .
He enjoyed fighting with Stevie but Fiona didn't fight fair. His life is a constant battle ground it's like living with Harry all over again.
Sitting at the dining room table enjoying his beer in peace, Alex thinks about his life and the direction it's heading.
Inevitably his thoughts turn to Stevie and the ease of their conversations and how she knows him and his moods and can see what others don't.
Like the other day she knew he was upset and Fiona didn't even notice, shouldn't a fiancé notice something like that?
The phone ringing distracts him and he rises and answers it.
"Hello Alex Ryan. No. Oh did she, no we don't want it. You can charge me whatever you want mate but do not deliver it!" As he slams the phone down Fiona walks into the room.
He turns red faced and furious and spits his words at her." That was the marquee bloke letting you know he'd be here at eight in the morning."
" Oh good Mum and I can get organized before lunch." She says smiling.
" Wrong." Alex says "I cancelled it. I told you No Fiona what part didn't you understand the "N" or the "O" !"
She's about to reply when her cuts her down. "I'm going to Drover's for a beer where I know I'll find good friends that are both honest and fair."
Fiona offers "Alex I'm sorry. If you wait a moment I'll come with you!"
Calling over his shoulder he says "No thanks."
Alex pulls the Ute up at the gate and grabs the six pack off the seat beside him, as he walks towards the house he can hear the laughter of his friends and his step lightens.
Riley, Patrick and Dave are sitting on the veranda with Stevie, Regan, Taylor and Kate all enjoying a few beers when Alex calls " Evening all!"
The mood changes as they wait expecting Fiona to turn up and when they realize she isn't with him they resume the merriment.
After several hours they're all quite drunk including Alex but they've all had so much fun laughing and joking and just generally enjoying each other's company.
Alex can't remember the last time he felt so relaxed and happy.
Eventually everyone turns in for the night and Patrick and Riley roll out their swags on the lounge room floor.
Dave is staying over with Regan.
Kate and Taylor head down to the shearers quarters leaving Stevie and Alex sitting on the bench finishing their beer.
"Is Fiona coming to get you Alex?' Stevie asks.
"No I'm staying here I've got my swag on the back of the Ute." He replies
She chuckles nods and states. "So you planned to get drunk and stay Alex?"
He remains silent.
Grinning she pushes her shoulder against his and says "Oi you awake there?"
He looks at her and her heart crumbles when she sees the tears on his face.
"Oh Alex what's wrong?" She whispers raising her hands to wipe his tears.
"Stevie I'm so unhappy." He haltingly replies.
She looks at him and leaning forward kisses his cheek.
Sitting back she gazes at him. Looking into his handsome face, she smiles at him and before she can rationalize what she's doing, she takes his face into her hands and softly kisses his lips.
She slides her arms around his neck and pulls him into her embrace, she feels his hands around her waist, touching her bare skin.
He pulls her to him tightly, taking over the kiss, his tongue searching, sending messages to her brain and impulses to every nerve in her body.
She's longed for this, dreamt about this and he's here in her arms.
Feeling the warmth of his hands on her skin is blissful, he flicks her bra releasing her breasts.
Pushing him back.
Standing she says " Oh God Alex! I'm so sorry."
Before he can speak she's gone.
He quickly follows and knocks on her bedroom door.
She opens it with tears rolling down her cheeks.
" Alex go out to your car please."
"Stevie can't we talk about this?"
" No Alex it shouldn't have happened we've both had too much to drink. Please leave me alone!"
She moves to close the door and he puts his boot inside so it won't close.
"Are you alright Stevie?"
"No Alex I'm not but I just want to go to sleep please go."
He removes his foot from the door and she closes it.
With a heavy heart he moves downstairs Turbo follows him, as he sits on the bench Turbo jumps up beside him.
"Hey mate, what am I supposed to make of that?' She kisses me and then tells me to go away?"
Alex pats the dog and it lies down beside him resting it's head on his lap.
Alex smiles and says " She's got the softest lips Turbo and she smells so good and her hair is so very soft but don't tell her will you mate. I'm engaged and I shouldn't have done that."
Alex inhales and exhales then he chuckles and speaks to Turbo. "Well it seems I'm in the right place Turbo. I'm in the doghouse with you. Come on boy let's go and roll out my swag and make ourselves comfortable."
Stevie has hardly slept and woken early, walking out in the back porch she notices Turbo's bed is empty.
Walking out she finds him tucked up beside Alex on the back of the Ute. "Hey what are you doing up there?" She whispers.
Turbo doesn't move but wags his tail vigorously it hits the canvas of the swag making a loud thwacking sound. "Beating me to death." Alex's voice states .
Stevie steps back from the Ute as Alex sits up bare chested. Stevie inhales deeply at the sight of him.
He grins at her loving her reaction. "You perving on me Stevie?"
She laughs and says "You wish!"
He laughs. Neither wants to speak about last night so they'll just let it go.
Putting his shirt on Alex jumps out and rolls his swag up.
" I'll see later then Stevie."
" Yes around midday."
She grins as he drives away. As much as she wants him, he seemed much happier today and that's a good thing she concludes.
So long as he's happy.
" Where have you been Alex!" Fiona rages the minute he walks in the door.
"I stayed at Drover's because I had too much to drink."He offers.
" With her!" Fiona spits at him.
Trish looks extremely uncomfortable.
"That's it Fiona the engagements off. I've had enough of your constant bitching , whinging and whining. I wasn't with her as you put it. I was with Dave, Patrick , Riley, Stevie , Regan, Taylor and Kate and I had the most fun I've had in months. We laughed and joked and this morning my heart, felt light and I come home to you and I feel like I'm drowning in hatred and bitterness. I slept in my swag Fiona , in my Ute with Turbo the dog."
She looks shocked and says " But baby I didn't mean it like that."
He looks at her and says "Yes you did Fiona. I'm not myself when I'm with you. I don't laugh and joke around because you make me angry all the time. I want a marriage that's full of love , trust, fun and warmth and I can see that's not what you're offering."
Fiona can see she's getting nowhere and snarls " She's in love with you Alex and she's been trying to split us up since I got here."
Alex smiles and says " Yes I know she is Fiona but you're wrong about Stevie she hasn't been trying to split us up at all. She's been trying to make sure that I'm happy while her own heart is breaking. I think I'm the luckiest man in the world to have a best friend that would do that for me. Fiona all you've done is make me unhappy and sad because it's all about you. Stevie has only ever wanted me to be happy and she's been willing to live with a broken heart just so long as I was alright."
Trish moves forward and says " Come on Fi it's time we went and packed."
Fiona says " No Mum I'm not leaving."
Trish takes Fiona by the arm and says " Yes you are and you'll do it with some dignity. Alex is right you don't deserve him and until you can grow up and stop throwing tantrums you'll never land a lovely man like him."
Trish turns to Alex and says " Good Luck with Stevie Alex, I think she's lovely."
Alex grins and leans down and kisses Trish's cheek " Thanks Trish, I do too."
Stevie is surprised when she drives into Kilarney . She's on time but would have thought there would be other cars here. Walking through the house she calls but no one answers. She makes her way out to the pool.
"Hey about time you got here!" Alex calls from the water.
" Where is everyone?" Stevie asks.
Alex replies " They'll be along directly. Are you coming in for a swim?"
She strips to her bikini's and Alex wolf whistles. "Stevie very nice."
She chuckles and says " There'll be no wolf whistles or perving Alex Ryan. "
He swims towards her and says " That bikini is very skimpy Stevie."
She grins and says " I'm covered."
" Hmm yes you are , but it still makes me want to know what's under it?"
Stevie feels her face burn as she says " Alex you're engaged you can't talk like that!"
" No I'm not!" He says smiling at her.
She looks confused and answers " You mean no you shouldn't"
Moving closer he grins and says " I'm not engaged Stevie. I broke it off. Fiona's gone!"
Stevie looks and sounds shocked and offers" But I thought you were in love Alex?"
" I am Stevie."
" Well why would you break off the engagement?"
" Because I'm in love with you Cowgirl."
"Really." She whispers.
He nods and grins and replies " Really."
" So where is everyone then?"
" I rang them and told them to come for dinner not lunch and Fiona and her lot are long gone. So we've got the entire afternoon to ourselves Stevie."
" Alex "
" Yes Stevie."
" I think I'm going to cry or have a heart attack or both."
He smiles at her and says " My hearts fairly pounding over here too."
She chuckles and says " Well it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better."
He grins at her and holds out his arms and asks " Is that a promise?"
Walking into his embrace she giggles and replies. " You will be begging for mercy my friend."
He laughs as he folds his arms around her.
" Yes Stevie."
" You know I'm in love with you too."
"Yeah I do , that's because I'm irresistible."
Again she giggles and says " I resisted you for a long time Alex."
He doesn't answer because he's kissing her with a sweetness and gentleness she had only ever dreamt of.
All resistance is gone as he tightens his embrace around her and pulls her softly against his body.
Running her hands across his back she feels every muscle just as she'd imagined so many times.
Releasing the kiss he asks " Would you like to come up stairs with me Stevie?"
She inhales and exhales and replies "If no one's here do we really need to go upstairs Alex?"
Grinning he whispers "I just want to make love to you and I don't care where we are?"
Smiling up at him she quips "I just want you to be happy Alex."
His lips are upon hers quickly, urgently, he deepens the kiss.
Time is in a perfect place...