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The Orphan Law
Published in Australia
Fiction - Young Adult, Law and Politics

Print: 978-1-925739-01-5
ePub: 978-1-925739-02-2
Smashwords: 978-1-925739-02-2
Mobi: 978-1-925739-03-9

Date of Publication: 24 Nov 2017
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The Orphan Law

Samantha Stevenson

Published by MoshPit Publishing

Find out more about Samantha Stevenson: Author's website | Facebook


The year is 2086.

All the Clarkes ever wanted was to keep their daughter.

It should have been possible.

But it was never going to happen.

When a government official came to take Heather’s parents away, she didn’t understand why. Nobody did. The Australian Government had buried their reasons under a decades-old conspiracy and they were desperate to keep it that way. Anyone who knew too much disappeared without a trace, and there were some questions which were only ever answered with lies.

Even so, Heather and her friends were determined to know the truth.

But how could a group of children unravel such an intricate web of deception without getting caught by the spiders who weaved it?


‘Goodnight, Daddy.’ Heather hugged her father tightly. He was sitting on the edge of her bed and she was on his lap. ‘I love you.’

Nathan held his precious daughter in his arms, allowing her simple words to wash over him and silence his worries for the moment. ‘I love you too, sweetheart.’

Heather let go and crawled into bed, pulling the soft, purple sheets up to her chin. Her strawberry blonde hair fanned out beneath her head when she rested it on the pillow. Nathan leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. ‘Goodnight,’ he murmured. ‘Sleep well.’

Heather gazed up at him, her blue eyes bright sapphires against her light skin. ‘I will. You too.’

‘I will,’ Nathan replied with a small smile, though he was sure it was a lie.

Heather smiled back, her eyes slowly closing as she let the world fall away. Nathan stood up carefully, trying not to disturb her. He turned the light out and closed the door quietly behind him as he left Heather’s room.

Light was leaking under a door down the hall. Nathan pushed it open to find his wife, Christin, sitting at her desk, though her computer was off. He walked over to her and stroked her long, blonde hair affectionately. She looked up at him, her bright blue eyes strikingly similar to her daughter’s, and smiled. Glancing past her, Nathan was surprised to see a piece of paper on the desk before her, a pen in her hand. The paper looked like it had been torn out of Heather’s school notebook and the pen must have come from Heather’s pencil case.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked her.

‘Hoping the words will write themselves,’ Christin sighed, turning back to her blank page. ‘We need to tell Hez what’s going on. She needs to know that we’re her real parents, that she’s not adopted.’

‘Does she?’ Nathan retorted. ‘Maybe she’s happy thinking she’s normal. All her friends are adopted. We were adopted when we were kids. What if she doesn’t want to know that she’s different?’

‘I considered that,’ Christin said. ‘That’s why I wanted to write her a note. I’ll lock it away and give her the key so that if anything were to happen to us, she can read it and know why.’

Nathan nodded thoughtfully. ‘That’s a good idea. But what if the government finds it? They’re already searching for evidence to suggest we’ve “kidnapped and brainwashed” her. Surely that would be all they need to incriminate us.’

‘We are not criminals,’ Christin snapped, her eyes closed. The pen slipped from her hand, clattering onto the desk. ‘We’ve done nothing wrong. We didn’t kidnap her. We didn’t steal her from anyone else. She’s our daughter.’ She opened her eyes and looked up at Nathan, begging him to agree.

‘Of course she is! But the government doesn’t see it that way,’ he reminded her. ‘All they see is a girl with no paper trail, not one document to say she’d ever existed before we sent her to school. They don’t know she’s ours by blood and if we tell them, they’ll never believe us. To them, she’s not ours at all without documentation.’

‘Why is it such a crime to have a baby?’ Christin whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks. Nathan knelt beside her and brushed them away with his thumb. She took his hand in hers and kissed it, holding it against her lips, her whole body trembling.

‘We won’t lose her,’ said Nathan. ‘I promise.’

Christin released his hand and nodded. She sat there for several moments, staring at her knees, taking deep, slow breaths. Finally, she picked up Heather’s pen and, with some difficulty, began to write.

Chapter 1 - An Unwelcome Vistor

Orphan. Definition: A child with parents of blood relation; adopted children do not fall under this classification.

Heather looked up from the computer screen and frowned at the woman sitting across from her, helping with her homework.

‘Mummy?’ she asked, her eyes wide and full of worry. ‘Am I adopted?’

‘Of course you are, darling,’ Christin smiled. Guilt sat heavy in her stomach as she lied to her daughter once again.

Heather sighed, relieved. ‘That means I’m not an orphan, right?’

‘That’s right, sweetheart, you’re not an orphan,’ Christin falsely assured her.

‘So I’m normal?’

Christin forced a light-hearted giggle. ‘Yes, dear, you’re normal. Do you want to write that definition down now?’ she encouraged, changing the topic.

‘Can you do it? I’m tired,’ Heather yawned.

Christin laughed, genuinely this time. ‘No, it’s your homework, not mine. Besides, your handwriting is neater than mine. I haven’t written in years.’ Another lie, Christin chastised herself internally. ‘I think you should do it.’

‘Fine,’ Heather sighed, copying down the definition onto a page of her only notebook, which she took to school. ‘All done! I’m hungry. Can we have dinner now?’

‘Sure. Your father should be finished cooking it by now.’


Abandoning Heather’s completed homework, mother and daughter wandered into the kitchen where they expected to smell the delicious scent of cooking pumpkin and pastry. Instead, the pungent aroma of burnt food reached their noses. Christin gasped and switched the oven off, fanning the smoke away before it set off the fire alarm.

‘Nathan!’ she yelled. ‘You’ve let dinner burn!’

Nathan didn’t reply. Heather could hear him talking in the next room, but to whom? She had no idea. Christin’s sharp ears picked up a few key words and the colour drained from her already pale face. She ran a trembling hand through her soft, blonde hair.

‘Stay here, darling,’ she instructed Heather gently before hurrying to join her husband.

Heather waited until her mother was out of sight before sneaking silently up to the door Christin had just closed and pressing her ear against it. She could hear voices, but the wood was too thick to allow her to hear the words spoken. Remembering a trick that she’d seen on TV, Heather took a cup from the cupboard and rested the open end against the door, placing her ear on the other. To her surprise, it worked.

‘… a private Children’s Home. They don’t like to share their records—’ Nathan was saying but he was cut off by a voice Heather couldn’t hear.

He must be talking on the phone, Heather concluded.

‘Yes, Heather Jane Clarke. That’s right,’ Nathan confirmed.


‘What do you mean?’ Nathan gasped.

‘Nate, give me the phone, I’ll handle this,’ Christin ordered. After a moment, she spoke again. ‘Heather is our daughter. We adopted her so we get to keep her, records or no records. Understand?’


‘No! We adopted—’ Christin protested, but she was interrupted by the unknown person on the other end. Whatever they were saying, she wouldn’t have it. ‘I don’t care! She is ours and there is nothing you can do about it! Nathan and I are the legally recognised parents of Heather Clarke and that is that!’

Christin hung up and stormed from the room. When she flung the door open, Heather jumped backwards in shock.

‘Oh!’ Christin gasped. ‘I’m so sorry, Hez! I didn’t see you there.’

‘It’s okay, Mummy,’ Heather smiled, barely hiding her jangling nerves.

‘Why did you get that out?’ Christin frowned.

Heather glanced down at the cup still clasped tightly in her guilty little hands. Thinking fast, she looked back up at her mother with the most innocent expression she could muster.

‘I’m thirsty.’

All Christin’s concerns melted away at the sound of those two simple words. A warm smile crossed her face. ‘I’ll pour you a drink, then.’

She bent down and took the cup from Heather’s hands. A moment later it was returned, full almost to the brim with crystal clear tap water. Heather took a sip and shuddered at the unsettling tastelessness of the liquid. Thankfully, Christin didn’t see.

Both of Heather’s parents were tense and she didn’t like it. She could tell by the way her mother scraped the blackened bits off the burnt pumpkin pie with enough force to send flakes of pastry flying all over the kitchen bench, and how her father stood against the door-frame with his toned arms folded tightly across his chest, his blue eyes staring at nothing. That phone call had set them on edge but Heather didn’t dare ask why or they would suspect that she’d eavesdropped. All she could do was sit tight and hope everything would be explained soon.

They ate in heavy silence, broken only by the occasional scrape of cutlery against dinner plates. Heather tried to lighten the mood by telling a funny story about what she and her friends had done at school that day, but she trailed off when she figured out that her parents weren’t really listening. Instead, she settled for humming a joyful tune.

‘Be quiet, Heather,’ Nathan snapped eventually, irritated by the noise.

She shrank into her chair, intimidated by his tone.

‘Sorry, Daddy,’ Heather squeaked.

Nathan sighed heavily, already ashamed of his mistake. ‘No, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I’ve had a bad day.’

‘Do you need a hug?’ Heather offered kindly.

‘Yeah, I think I do.’

Smiling, Heather jumped up and bounded around the table, throwing herself into his arms.

Oof,’ he grunted. ‘You’re getting heavy, my girl.’

She giggled and ruffled his auburn hair good-naturedly, just like he sometimes did to her. Chuckling, he gently brushed her hand away.

‘Hmm, maybe we should feed her less,’ Christin joked.

‘No! I’m only growing,’ Heather squealed, and her parents laughed.

Pleased with herself for cheering them up, Heather went back to her seat to finish eating.

Only moments later, however, the sound of knuckles tapping sharply on the front door reduced Christin and Nathan to their original state of tension. Letting out a long, slow breath, Nathan wiped his hands and face on a napkin and went to answer it.

‘I’m sorry, I don’t recall receiving a formal request for your visiting us at this address,’ his voice drifted down the hall.

‘It was sent,’ a smooth, male voice replied, ‘tough luck that you didn’t receive it. May I come in?’

The front door closed and two sets of footsteps made their way to the dining table. The unwelcome visitor soon appeared around the corner, revealing himself to be a formally dressed government official. Nathan trailed timidly behind him. The official let Nathan pass before standing importantly in the doorway, blocking anyone from going in or out of the dining room.

‘Nathan and Christin Clarke,’ he said, ‘you are hereby under arrest for illegally possessing a child by the name of Heather Clarke.’

Heather gasped. ‘That’s me!’

‘Quiet, darling,’ Christin hissed.

Heather ignored her and continued to informally address the official. ‘You can’t arrest them, they’re my parents!’ she protested. ‘Mummy, Daddy, tell him!’

To Heather’s dismay, Christin and Nathan remained silent.

‘You will no longer be able to see the child or have any contact with her until her adoption records are recovered and documented,’ the official continued as if Heather hadn’t spoken.

‘You won’t find them easily,’ Nathan warned him. ‘I’ve already told you people once today—the Children’s Home we adopted her from is very private.’

‘Isn’t that unfortunate?’ the official sneered with no sympathy. ‘All three of you, come with me. Don’t resist.’

Hesitantly, the Clarkes followed the cold-hearted government official to his sleek, black car. He opened the door for them with a sly smirk plastered across his face, as if he knew more than he was letting on.

Throughout the entire trip, Heather was so sick with worry and fear she felt like she was about to throw up. Every time she glanced at her parents, the feeling got worse. There was only so many times she could handle looking up to see her mother’s blue eyes dull and sparkling with tears and her father’s usually confident posture radiating defeat.

Reaching as far as she could across the back seat of the car, she tapped her parents’ knees and looked them convincingly in the eyes. When they looked back at her, she echoed the words Nathan had spoken to her many times, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.’

‘My, my,’ he laughed without humour, ‘you are mature, my girl.’

Heather grinned proudly as he placed a soft kiss on her strawberry blonde head. Christin picked up the tiny hand still resting on her knee and kissed it with a strange finality, as if this were the last time she would ever get to see her daughter.

Dread filled Heather from head to toe as the car pulled up at the police station. Her skin had a faint green tinge to it by the time her parents were handcuffed and all three of them were escorted like prisoners into the building, which of course, two of them were.

‘Wait here,’ the government official instructed Heather.

She had no choice but to obey. Through dull, hopeless eyes, Heather watched the official lead Christin and Nathan through a blank, sickly grey door. When it swung shut behind them, she was left alone with nobody but a burly security guard dressed in black, complete with dark hair and sunglasses. All Heather wanted to do was throw open that evil door and fly after her parents, but fear of the consequences kept her frozen in place.

The security guard spoke, but by the time she registered that he was talking to her, he had fallen silent again.

‘Pardon?’ she asked politely.

‘Take a seat,’ the guard repeated his offer. He opened his mouth to say something else, but decided against it.

Shaking, Heather forced herself to sit down on one of the uncomfortably solid chairs lined up against one wall. Within minutes, the government official reappeared. At the sight of the man, her anger boiled over and she charged at him.

‘GIVE ME MY PARENTS BACK, YOU EVIL BEAST!’ she screamed, her arms outstretched.

When she reached him, all he had to do was put one hand securely on her head and she was left flailing her fists at thin air, just like in cartoons. The official yawned hugely and waited for her to finish. Her attempted attacks gradually slowed as she tired herself out until eventually she collapsed, panting heavily. Once she had caught her breath, the security guard gently helped her to her feet then backed off to his original position.

Heather glared at the official. He ignored her hatred, apparently somewhat used to it, and finally began to speak.

‘Heather Clarke, your parents are no longer your legal guardians,’ he informed her, almost lazily. She gasped, unsure of what he meant but certain that it was a bad thing. He ignored her and continued, ‘From now on, you will live in a Children’s Home built especially for the child victims of the very crime Mr and Mrs Clarke have committed.’

‘NO! I won’t go!’ Heather cried in protest. ‘I want my parents back! GIVE ME MY PARENTS!’

‘You don’t have parents anymore.’

The sentence was said so casually, like it was nothing, but her heart shattered at the thought. Heather was so shocked she stopped breathing. Her mind stopped working. She’d always had parents. Her mother and father were always there for her. They couldn’t be gone. They just couldn’t be!

‘Come with me,’ the government official ordered. ‘You’ll spend the night here. We’ll leave for the Children’s Home in the morning.

‘NEVER!’ Heather yelled.

She ran for the exit. All it took was an exasperated look from the official and the security guard stepped swiftly in front of her, blocking her path. She tried to get around him but it was no use. He tied her hands together somewhat gentler than Heather expected and picked her up, throwing her over his shoulder fireman-style. At the official’s command, the guard carried her, kicking and screaming, to a holding cell. It was nowhere near the one her parents were in and when she realised this, Heather’s heart sank even further.

Heather pressed herself against the locked door and gazed despairingly through the bars at the official.

‘I would have allowed you to stay somewhere more comfortable, but you were being so difficult I decided it would be easier just to keep you here for the night,’ he explained casually, as if he did this every other day. It wouldn’t have surprised Heather if he did.

Once the official and the guard had left the room and switched the lights off, Heather had nothing better to do than to cry herself into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter 9 - Sydney Headlines

‘Whoa! What? Guys, look at this!’ he exclaimed, pointing to the electronic news board in the newsagent shop window.

The others gathered around intently. The headline it displayed darkened every eye it was reflected in.

Records Room Raided

Heather and Adam glanced nervously at each other and Caroline bit her lip. Fighting back the fear that was rising in their chests, they went on to read the article below.

Yesterday, the 30th of March, three thieves broke into the Records Room of Parliament House, Canberra. The content of the targeted file is unknown to the media, but it’s clear that the document is incredibly important as it is written on paper. The Head of Security for Parliament House refused to leave a comment about this event, but there is no doubt he is greatly shaken by the breach.

The believed identities of these criminals are Heather Clarke, who is known to police as the victim in a previous offence; Adam Jeffrey, who was often in trouble with police during a rebellious phase in his adolescence; and Dane Henderson, who previously held no criminal record. It is rumoured that they are also travelling with an elderly woman they blackmailed into submission.

Be warned, these fugitives are still at large in New South Wales. Manipulative and uncivilised as they are, these law-breakers are highly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. It is possible that they may be armed. Any information with the potential of leading to their arrest should not be withheld from authorities.

Their location is currently unknown as they have successfully fled the scene of the crime, however, it is believed they have been spotted travelling south towards Victoria. Further sightings should be reported and will appear in later editions of The Sydney Update. We can only hope that their rampage is ended before they can cause havoc at another important Australian site.

Joanna Richardson

‘“Blackmailed into submission”?’ Caroline repeated as she tucked her reading glasses back into her handbag. ‘I am insulted.’

‘“Victoria”?’ Dane laughed. ‘I don’t know who was spotted but it sure wasn’t us!’

‘“Armed”?’ Heather giggled. ‘Of course we have arms! Wait a sec—’

‘Keep it down,’ Adam whispered. ‘We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.’

‘Can I call you “Grandma”, Caroline?’ Heather asked out of the blue.

‘Of course you can, sweetheart,’ Caroline replied, slightly confused.

‘Perfect! That would give Caroline a reason to be here,’ said Adam.

‘That’s the point!’ Heather grinned, pleased with herself.

‘What about us, though?’ Dane pointed out. ‘We’ve got no good excuse to hang around a girl and her grandma.’

Caroline opened her mouth to suggest that they could simply be her other grandchildren, but Adam got in first.

‘We should split up,’ he decided. ‘It would be safer. According to this news report, there are four fugitives running around. We’re named, but there are no photos. Who would suspect us if we were two separate groups with fake identities?’

The others murmured in agreement.

‘Why are there no photos?’ Dane wondered.

‘I don’t know. Maybe they couldn’t find a good one of us together,’ Adam suggested. ‘There’s usually only one photo per story.’

‘Possibly,’ Caroline mused, ‘but it’s more likely that they didn’t want the public to know how young you three really are. Notice they never mentioned your ages? And look at how Adam’s described! Any reader would think you’re over twenty, at least! The only clue in there is Heather, assuming the reader has been keeping up with other news lately. If there was a picture, everyone would see that you’re all just children.’

Adam nodded, smirking. ‘Parliament House would be a laughing stock for its poor security.’

‘Exactly,’ Caroline agreed. ‘Anyway, whether we split up or not, we should go by false identities if anyone asks our names.’

‘Okay. What would those names be?’ asked Heather.

‘I don’t know,’ said Caroline. ‘Um …’

‘Oh! I could be “Daniel”,’ Dane piped up. ‘Then if someone calls me “Dane” by accident, it could be passed off as a nickname.’

‘Good idea,’ said Adam. ‘I’ll be “Jeff”, since that’s half my last name.’

‘I’ll be “Missy”,’ Heather decided. ‘Grown-ups call me that sometimes anyway.’

‘Perfect. You could just keep calling me “Caroline” since I’m not named in the article, and technically, that’s not my real name,’ Caroline concluded, ‘but it’s probably safer for you all to call me “Grandma”.’

The children each gave a small start of surprise. They had become so accustomed to calling Carol ‘Caroline’ that they’d forgotten it was just a nickname.

‘Okay, so that’s settled. We can decide if we’re splitting up or not when we get back to the hotel room,’ Caroline continued. ‘Right now, we need to finish shopping.’

The aim of their shopping trip had changed dramatically from what it had been originally. At first, they’d assumed they’d be staying in the hotel for a while so they were going to stock up on food. After reading the news report, however, all they bought to take back to the hotel was bottled water, a box of muesli bars, a packet of mini cereal boxes and a map of New South Wales.

Caroline stopped at a heavily vandalised ATM with a rather neglected feel to it, drew out a considerable amount of cash and gave half of it to Adam. It took the children a moment to realise it was real money; the only cash they had ever seen was fake, made to teach children how money works.

‘In case we do split up,’ she explained.

Adam nodded and accepted it grimly.

‘Shall we find something to have for lunch now?’ Caroline’s suggestion was met with eager agreement from her hungry companions. ‘Okay, let’s go find the food court.’

They didn’t have to search for long before they found a suitable place to fill their empty stomachs. Once they had chosen and bought their meals, they found a table and sat down to eat, discussing plans for the near future between bites.

‘So, are we gonna split or not?’ Adam asked.

‘I think it would be wise,’ Caroline responded.

‘Are we going to start using our other names now?’ Heather piped up.

‘Yeah, we should,’ Dane enthused.

‘Okay, why not?’ said Caroline.

Adam shrugged then steered the conversation back to more important matters. ‘So, Daniel and I will go back to the hotel to get our stuff—you and Missy can stay there another night or two while we go … um …’

‘Somewhere?’ Heather finished unhelpfully.

‘Yeah, somewhere,’ Adam agreed distractedly, still trying to think of a place.

‘What will we do with the document?’ Dane asked.

‘My car is broken—’ Caroline began but she was interrupted by Adam’s snide remark.

‘Oh, now you tell us.’

‘I wasn’t finished,’ Caroline huffed. ‘My car is broken under one of the back seats, meaning that it has a secret compartment that shouldn’t technically exist. Nobody else knows about it. If we put the document there, it’ll be as safe as we can make it. I’ll show you later if you like.’

‘Perfect!’ Dane grinned.

Before the conversation could continue, someone in the food court jumped on a table and burst into song.

If I were you, I’d spread my wings and fly away,’ she sang.

A man a few tables away from her jumped on his chair and joined in.

If you were me, you wouldn’t stand a chance.’

‘Oh! I know this song!’ Heather exclaimed, bouncing in her seat and clapping her hands. ‘It’s called “Run”!’

By the time they reached the chorus, a whole ensemble had joined in and many phones were out, recording the scene.

You’ve got to run, run, run! Run for your life!

Spread your wings and just take flight.

Run, run, run! Run to be free!

Sprint the home stretch, you’ll be safe with me!

Heather and Dane abandoned their empty plates and leapt from their seats, dancing to the flash mob’s a cappella performance. For Adam, however, the lyrics hid a double meaning and it made him uneasy. Something dawned on Caroline as she scanned the crowd around the singers. She sprang to her feet.

‘We have to leave. Don’t face any of the cameras. Don’t draw attention to yourselves,’ she instructed with barely concealed panic. ‘If any of these videos go viral, or even online at all, the government will know exactly where we are!’

‘Yeah, but if we leave right now, won’t that draw attention to us in itself?’ Adam argued. ‘We’d only be in the background, after all. Who would notice us?’

‘Right. You’re right,’ Caroline said, sinking back into her seat.

She and Adam sat in rigid silence while Heather and Dane danced, oblivious to the potential danger. As soon as the final note was sung and applause erupted from the surprised audience, Caroline jumped to her feet once again and hurriedly ushered the children away, casting a nervous glance over her shoulder as she went.

They returned to the hotel as fast as the speed limit would allow, grabbed their things, signed out and drove off again.

‘The secret compartment!’ Caroline exclaimed.

Once they were out of the city, she pulled over among other cars parked along the edge of the road and got out, motioning for everyone else to do the same.

‘Where’s the document?’ Caroline asked Adam.

‘Here,’ Adam replied, pulling it out of his backpack and handing it to her.

Caroline took the papers and walked around to the other side of the car, followed by the three curious children. She opened the rear left door and forced the seat nearest it upwards, revealing a small empty space between it and the floor, as promised. It was completely closed in, so when she shut the document carefully inside, there was no chance of it sliding out again.

Heather clapped her hands and beamed at the perfectly hidden compartment.

‘Yay! It’s safe!’

‘As safe as possible,’ Caroline agreed.

‘Thank you, Ca—Grandma,’ said Dane.

‘Yeah, thanks. And now, I think this is where we leave you,’ Adam sighed. ‘Good luck Grandma, Missy.’

‘Stay safe, Jeff, Daniel,’ Caroline replied.

Heather dashed forward and hugged Dane, then Adam.

‘You’ll be okay, won’t you?’ she asked them, her blue eyes glassy.

‘Yeah, of course we will,’ Dane promised. ‘You guys keep out of trouble too, alright?’

‘We will,’ Heather promised in return.

Caroline approached Adam, not to hug him in farewell like Heather did, but to give him the map, the muesli bars and half the water bottles she’d bought and advise him on where he and Dane should go next.

‘Make your way back to the Orphanage with Daniel—no, let me finish,’ said Caroline sternly when Adam opened his mouth to protest. ‘I know it’s the last place you’d want to go right now, but it’s by far the safest. You’re on the run from the police! Who’d expect you to go back to where they know you live?’

‘No one,’ Adam answered, understanding dawning on him. ‘So that’s exactly where we need to be.’

‘Precisely. But make sure you don’t drop your guard. If you think someone there is likely to alert the authorities and tell them you’ve returned, leave. Find an abandoned house to stay in, preferably one a few towns over, not the one on Harp Street that I mentioned to them a while ago. Just don’t stay anywhere too long or you’ll be too easy to find,’ Caroline warned.

‘What about you and Hea—Missy, though? What are you two going to do?’ Adam wondered, full of concern.

‘We’re going to return to the Orphanage the long way, up past Newcastle and back around to Griffith via Dubbo,’ she told him. ‘It’ll be a long journey but if I make enough stops at interesting places, I’m sure Missy will enjoy herself.’

While the two eldest were talking, Heather and Dane were having a conversation of their own.

‘Please don’t laugh at me,’ Dane begged, ‘but I made you something. Close your eyes.’

Heather did as she was asked. She felt him lift her hand and loop something around her wrist. Curious, she risked a peek, but the gift was obscured by Dane’s fingers.

‘Okay, open,’ Dane instructed, standing back and twisting his hands together nervously.

Heather looked down at her arm and gasped in amazement. There, glinting in the sunlight, was a beautiful purple and sliver bracelet. The silver was a delicate chain which clipped perfectly into place around her dainty wrist. The purple came in the form of tiny beads, which were attached to every third link on the chain with silver loops.

‘Wow!’ Heather breathed. ‘It’s beautiful!’

‘Thanks.’ Dane smiled shyly at the ground.

‘Did you make it all by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I want to be a jewellery maker when I grow up,’ he explained. ‘I’ve made a few things for Deborah, you know, to practice, and thought about making stuff for Cindy and Lucy, but my friends all laughed at me and called me a girl so I stopped.’

‘That wasn’t very nice,’ Heather pouted.

‘I know, but what was I supposed to do about it? Anyway, I decided to make that for you because, well, you’re a girl, and you’re my best friend.’

‘Oh, thank you!’ Heather exclaimed and pulled him onto a huge bear hug.

‘You’re welcome,’ Dane gasped, struggling to breathe. She giggled and released him.

‘When did you have time to make this?’ she asked, admiring her gift.

‘When we were back at the Orphanage for a while, of course. I finished it the night before we left. I was going to give it to you before now but I didn’t really get the chance.’

‘Come on, Missy, time to go,’ called Caroline, interrupting their conversation.

‘Let’s go, Daniel,’ said Adam as he walked over to them, carrying Dane’s backpack. His own bag was bursting at the seams with the extra supplies as well as the spare clothes he’d returned to it. ‘Goodbye Missy, Grandma.’

‘Bye, Jeff. Bye, Daniel,’ Heather replied sadly.

As she climbed into the car behind Caroline, and the boys set off down the road on foot, Heather and Dane couldn’t help but look back. Even though it was the safest option, everyone had a bad feeling about the separation. The storm they had landed themselves in was growing; lightning was sure to strike soon. Heather and Dane wanted to face it together when it did.

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