“My Dearest Callie,
Congratulations on your engagement. I’m thrilled to hear you’ve found a man you’d like to spend the rest of your life with and, with that in mind, I want to offer you a very special wedding gift you should both adore. I want you to come and visit me here on Tubu Island. You’ve been dreaming of visiting for ages, so here’s your chance! I’ve enclosed the plane tickets and all the information you need for a wonderful pre-honeymoon.
Yes, my dear, you read that right! There is one condition: you and your betrothed MUST take the honeymoon BEFORE your wedding, not after. Everything is arranged. My good friend, pilot Douglas Smith, will meet you on the mainland and fly you across. It’ll be such fun and so perfect for a young couple starting life together.
xo Aunty Mona
PS: Don’t forget the sunscreen!”
“Is your aunt completely batty?” Alex asked, dropping the handwritten letter on the coffee table with a quizzical smile. “A pre-honeymoon? Who’s ever heard of such a thing? Write back and tell her, thanks old lady but, in case you’ve completely flipped, the honeymoon comes after the wedding not before.”
Callie retrieved the letter and scanned its contents again. “I think it’s really sweet,” she said. “Besides, it’s a lot more exciting than the honeymoon we’ve got planned.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with two weeks in Adelaide, you know we can’t afford much more, especially if we want to buy our own house one day.”
“I know.” Callie was weary of this conversation. They’d had it so many times before. If it were up to the young receptionist, she’d blow the entire honeymoon budget on three action-packed days sailing the Great Barrier Reef or hiking through rainforest. But Alex wanted a luxury hotel in a city he knew and loved, and one they could afford to spend more time in.
“Besides, that’s where we met, it’s special.”
It had become his mantra.
Callie padded into the kitchen to put the kettle on. It was a pokey little room in a tiny little flat, and she’d be glad when they had the money to move out.
“You’re right, Alex,” she called out from over the bubbling water, “but what’s to stop us from having a bit of fun beforehand as well? After all, it won’t cost us a cent.”
“It’s not really about the money,” he called back. “I just think it’s so, well, rude to hand us a gift with conditions. She sounds like a bloody lawyer.”
“She used to be!” Callie laughed at the thought. If anyone met her Aunty Mona today they’d be shocked by the revelation. No one could be further from a barrister than this wily, wild-haired woman, yet she had fooled herself — and the bar — for 25 years before she suddenly swapped it all for a secluded life on the tiny private island.
“What is this place, anyway?”
Callie sighed wistfully. “Only a paradise away from heaven. Tea or coffee?”
“Tea, thanks, but make it weak or I’ll be up all night. So where is it?”
He groaned aloud. “No. The island.”
“Sorry!” She giggled, her smile dropping as she returned with their drinks. “It is a bit of a trek away, two flights, in fact, right in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, but gee it’s worth the effort, it really is. It’s just so—”
“Hey, Antique Roadshow’s on!” Alex grabbed the TV remote control. “Sorry,” he added quickly. “I didn’t mean to interrupt but we love this show. Come, curl up with me.”
As he pulled the sound up, Callie dropped back onto the sofa but she couldn’t concentrate. She reached for the letter and read it again. It had her intrigued. She had not seen her aunt since her mother’s funeral, five years earlier, but wrote to her regularly, keen to keep in touch with the last surviving member of her family. Callie never knew her father, and there was no one else. For that reason alone, she always felt the need to stay connected to the older woman despite their distance.
And so she had written on a regular basis, her letters bursting with details of her daily life, dreams and aspirations. In the past year Callie’s letters had become preoccupied with stories of Alex — how they had met (at a work conference), where they liked to eat (usually at home), and all his little eccentricities (there were plenty to share!). She took great delight writing of the time they went out driving and, eager to find a hotel for the night, stumbled across a quaint B&B in a picturesque village.
“Except poor Alex found the place a little ‘too quaint’ and couldn’t believe there was no TV!” she had scribbled. “So he moved us straight into a posh hotel up the road. It was pricier but, as Alex so rightly pointed out, it had all the mod-cons. Even a pool! (Although it was mid-winter, so of course we didn’t use it.)”
In turn, Mona would respond in her trademark manner: an envelope containing nothing but a crushed flower, a book of poems, a postcard with only the word “love” scrawled across. While the average person would find her correspondence odd and even a little curt (Alex certainly did), Callie was thrilled by anything she could get, and today, in Mona terms, she had practically been sent a novel.
“I wonder what the weather is like there now,” she said, mostly to herself as Alex seemed strangely intrigued by an old clock on the screen. “I think it’s the dry season, so it shouldn’t be too stormy.”
Eventually he turned to her. “Look, darling, I hate to kill your buzz but try to think about something else, we’re obviously not going.”
It was said with such certitude that Callie couldn’t help scowling.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Yes, why the hell not?”
“Okay, don’t get cranky! It’s just so damn impractical that's why. Surely if you ask her to let us come at a later date, maybe in a year or so, it’d be better.”
“Better for whom?”
Callie jumped up and returned to the kitchen to hunt for some chocolate.
“What’s gotten into you?” Alex called after her.
She stormed back into the lounge room, hands firmly on her hips.
“I’ll tell you what! In two months we’re getting married, on the date you wanted, in the church you used to attend, in the suburb you grew up in. Then we’re going on the honeymoon you chose—”
“But you don't have any special church and you hate your childhood suburb! As for Adelaide? That’s where we met, it’s—”
“SPECIAL! I know!”
Alex shrank back in his seat, his expression wounded and she sat down and grabbed his hand. "I'm sorry. I don’t mean to be a brat, it’s just that we haven’t even talked about it, you just decided.”
“So let’s talk.” He turned the sound down. “Neither of us have been given permission to take holidays before the wedding and there is so much to organise.”
“What’s to organise? Everything’s in place, and you’re the boss, right? You can give us both an early holiday.”
He shook his head irritably. “It’s just plain crazy!”
“So what?! Let’s do something crazy before we become a boring married couple. Look at Jan and Thomas, they’ve been stuck with a mortgage and kids since I can remember. What was the last crazy thing they did? And your brother and his wife, and Mara and that accountant guy she married last year? These people don’t do anything with their lives.”
“These people are happily married, they don’t need to do anything with their lives.”
Callie threw her hands in the air with exasperation. “I never ask you for much but I’m asking you for this. I know it sounds insane and maybe it is but for some strange reason I want this. I need this. And I need to do it with you. So please, please, let’s be a little crazy and just go!”
Alex looked into his fiancee's eyes and saw that she really meant it. He didn’t understand why this was so important to her but he was not worried. He had two months to change her mind.
“You’ll get a killer view from your side!” the pilot called out from the cockpit of the tiny six-seater Cessna, which was now winging its way to Tubu Island. Callie shoved her face against the foggy glass, eyes wide.
They had already spent two hours in the air but it was the final 20 minutes in this tiny, vibrating tin can that made them gasp with delight when the island finally came into view. It looked spectacular, dotted with coral on one side and laced with beaches on the other.
“This is going to be the best holiday ever,” Callie said, gripping her seat for the final descent.
As soon as they landed, a local man appeared to help load their luggage onto the back of his wooden trailer, before suggesting they do the same, offering them cushions to soften their ride. Then he revved up the attached tractor and hauled them across the island, through long grass and past swishing coconut trees, up a slippery embankment and into the thickness of a rainforest before a final descent down, back into the blazing sun and the final grass road along the beach to Mona’s house.
While the cushions offered only a little relief from the rocking and swaying and chugging of the tractor, the couple felt no discomfort. All they could see was the giant adventure in front of them, and each other.
“Welcome, welcome to my humble island,” Mona called out as the tractor rattled to a halt just beneath a plump mango tree in front of the house. Callie jumped from the trailer and threw her arms around her aunt.
“It’s so great to see you!” she said, hugging her tight.
“And you,” Mona replied, glancing over Callie’s shoulder to the dishevelled man still sitting silently in the trailer. “Oh how lovely! You decided to stay?”
The man smiled shyly. “Yes, well, Callie and I had such a fun flight, she persuaded me to take a few days off and hang here with her. I hope you don’t mind."
Mona did not seem at all surprised by the extra guest, just crinkled her craggy features into a glowing smile and said, “Of course I don’t mind! In fact, I’ve already made the bed up. Welcome, Callie and Douglas, welcome to you both!”
Then, she quickly pulled her niece aside and said, “And Alex?”
“Alex who?” Callie replied, feeling an odd mixture of sadness and relief.
Later that day, as Callie lolled in the luminous waters out the front of the house, watching as the young pilot fired up the barbeque on the beach, a freshly caught fish in one hand, a sunburnt smile on his lips, she turned to her beloved aunt and said:
“Thanks for the wedding present, Mona. It was exactly what I needed.”
DID YOU KNOW: Tubu is based on a real island, Doini, in Papua New Guinea, where I spent many happy childhood holidays? It's also the setting of my stand-alone family mystery called An island Lost, which is available as an eBook and paperback @ Amazon @iBooks, @kobo, @nook...
Download it here