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Amber took yet another load of rubbish to dump in her ute for her early morning trip to the dump. She had been in the house for two months now and tomorrow Milly’s husband came to demolish the rest of the veranda. Tom would deliver another skip and Amber was hoping to take a day off work and finish cleaning up the upstairs because then she could start on the attic. She was really keen to see the space that the attic contained and the light. The roof would be replaced and the ceiling insulated when the attic was cleaned out and then it would be time to pop down to Melbourne for a couple of days, to spend Christmas with Stan, Merry and numerous others.
The lights of a car swung onto the road and pulled up outside of her house. She watched as Maverick got himself out of his 4WD. He lent over and pulled something from the passenger side of the car.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Amber replied shyly. He wasn’t in uniform now.
“Gran sent over a cake for looking after Grandpa.”
“I didn’t do anything. He wanted to learn how to skype and you were too busy. He wants to skype Roxy a couple of times a week.”
She took the cake from him and headed into the kitchen. He followed her.
“Most people wouldn’t give him the time of day. He’s just the crotchety old fellow who’s too stubborn to sell his hardware store.”
“Well the world needs more crotchety old Colins.” Amber stated empathically.
“Speaking from the heart there,” Maverick spoke close to her and Amber spun. He was right in front of her. “I have sat through many chats now about Roxy, hell if it makes the old man happy, I’ll buy him a laptop so he can skype Roxy whenever he wants. He always did like a cause and now that all us grandkids are out of school and on our way to adulthood, he can’t help us out anymore.”
“You are speaking from experience,” Amber gave him the same look he had just given her. Maverick nodded.
“My parents died in a car crash when I was 17. Let’s just say that I grew into my name that day. Anyway Grandpa Colin got me back on track. He’s doing the same with Roxy but I doubt she even realises it.”
“He’s giving Roxy what she needs. That in conjunction with Stan and Milly, Roxy’s probably the happiest she’s ever been in her life.”
“And you know this,” his voice raised in query.
“Oh come on, you’re the police officer. You’ve probably done your research, you know all about Roxy and me.”
Maverick pulled out a glass from the cupboard and poured himself a glass of water.
“Not all police officers look into the record of everyone who enters their town. Whoever soured you onto the police, I hope they rot in hell, Amber because the police I know are good kind people. But sometimes it’s hard not to see the bad side of everyone because we only see nice once in a while. Normally we see the drugged and drunk, the aggressive. The police I know want very much to make a positive difference to people.”
He drank his water and turned to go. Amber’s heart was thumping. He took some steps to the door.
“You could help me clean out some more upstairs,” she blurted out, rushing past him and up the stairs into the last bedroom to clean. This one had clothing in it, heaps and heaps of clothing. She was boxing it up with some more boxes that Colin had given her and tomorrow, after her dump run, she would arrange for an op shop to come and collect.
Maverick followed her up the stairs and started helping her.
“I was twelve and living with this family. They were supposedly poorly off but had all the trappings of wealth. The woman told me that I was going to work for them and if I was good at it, they’d give me a home for life. That’s pretty heady stuff to a child who had never been with a family for more than six months. So I took their packages and delivered them to where they told me. In return, I would collect bundles of cash. When the police busted me for trafficking, I wouldn’t tell them about the family because even though I knew what they were doing was wrong, even though I knew they were using me, after every trip, they’d do something for me. Buy me a toy, give me a book, send me to the movies, remind me that if I continued to do good by them, I’d have a house forever.”
“Maverick, I was twelve and had been in 24 different homes. 24 fucking different homes. What did the police think I was going to do, roll over and dob in my only chance at a stable home?”
Amber was sobbing now, Maverick wrapped her up in his arms and held her.
“I’m so sorry,” he muttered.
“They locked me up in juvie for three months and when I got out, I went to a different home, but the nice homes dried up then, because the good kids, the ones who weren’t troubled went to those homes. I made one fucking bad decision in my life, and I paid for it. If there were any drugs at the schools I went to after that, and there were, I was the one they looked at first. Until the day I lucked into Stan and Merry. My god did they put the fear of god into the school that they chose for me. My life turned around then. I owe those two everything. Nothing can ever repay what they did for me. So no, I don’t like coppers. Three years is a lifetime to a teenager and I was in for three years of hell from the police.”
Maverick didn’t say anything, he just held her close. Eventually, she pulled away and started sorting the clothes like nothing had happened. Maverick stayed with her until the room was done, then he loaded her ute and the back of his 4WD promising he’d take his share of ruined clothes to the dump in the morning.
Amber walked through her upstairs properly for the first time. There was no furniture up here. Downstairs, each room had held the expected furniture. Here there was nothing, which Amber decided was a good thing because she could get the sort of furniture she wanted, eventually. In the meant time, Roxy who was planning to come and stay over school holidays could sleep up here. Amber would get a mattress or something for her. The three rooms were large and airy or would be if she could get the windows opened. The curtains had long since rotted, the carpet needed ripping up and the walls needed repainting. Colin had told her that the paint was probably lead based so she would have to be very careful when stripping the paint back. She looked at the wall and felt like crying.
Why the hell had she opened up to Maverick like that, he was a fucking pig? She didn’t cry on police officer’s shoulders. Amber stomped downstairs and showered, flinging herself into bed in disgust.
When Amber got back from her dump run, Milly and a strange man were wandering around her front yard. She had acted on Roxy’s idea and gotten a load of topsoil delivered to go over any last remaining shards of glass. Boot marks had compacted some of the bare soil. Weeds had started to grow through the remainder but there wasn’t any point in doing a garden until the house was renovated.
“Morning early riser,” Milly greeted her, “This is my husband Robert.”
“Hi Robert, Amber,” she reached out and shook his hand firmly, last night’s break down hidden deep. She’d contemplated ringing her friends afterwards but hung up just before the call started to dial. She shook off her mental hangups.
“So what do you think, you can rebuild my veranda for me.”
“Of course, but I have to warn you, I’m FIFO so whilst I have some time now, it could be a very long build.”
“Not concerned. What I want to know is,” Amber opened her phone and found a sketch that Roxy had sent to her. “Roxy said that I could actually extend the veranda on the side of the house and I would have a nice entertainment area. Can you do that for me?”
“Sure, I’d have to get it past through council but I can always work on the front and back and by the time I have that done, the plans will be through council.”
They spent the next hour discussing the ins and outs of the job and settling on a replacement to the front and back verandas, a covered two meter veranda on the South side where she would build a garage for her car and a four-metre veranda that Roxy had suggested that stepped down so that the roof height worked. Robert and Milly started measuring and Amber rang the local St Vincent De Paul to remove a heap of clothing and other stuff that she had found on the first floor.