Canberra camp was all we talked about for the next month. Since Kate’s death, we hadn’t travelled. Only enough to get out of Narrie, I’d barely been out of the house since then. Kate’s job had meant a lot of travel to visit other schools, and she’d often taken Hazel for a drive with her. The pair of them loved to get away, family holidays had always been amazing. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
The morning of departure, she woke at three in the morning. The bus was due to leave at six, we’d packed the night before – but still she couldn’t sleep beyond the earliest hours. She checked and double checked her bag, comparing the items she had with the items she needed according to the list. We’d already crossed them off four times, but it seemed that Hazel was even more pedantic than myself. It was almost cute the way she over-checked, but I was far too anxious to find any amusement in it.
She would be fine, I told myself. Hazel was in the company of friends and teachers who’d been nothing but wonderful to her, schools were reliable with this sort of stuff. Sixty other sets of parents were putting their trust in the school, and they were taking a bus. That had been the main point for me. There was no way I was letting Hazel cross the country in a plane.
At four-thirty, we made our third cup of milo and she finally stopped checking her bags. She pinned a copy of the itinerary to the wall, so I would know where she was and what she was up to at all times, and we stocked her wallet with a fistful of coins so she could call me from the caravan park. I’d been tempted to slip her a phone, but in addition to being against camp rules – the only extra phone I had was Kate’s. I couldn’t take it out of its box yet. Coins would have to do. She was under strict instruction to steal a phone from a teacher if she felt in any way threatened or unhappy.
At five, we gathered her bags and started the walk to school. I wanted to see her off, and there was no way she was going to get all of the gear to the school on her own. With a sleeping bag tucked under one arm, and her suitcase rolling behind me, I shuffled nervously down the quiet suburban streets. I felt out of place and disconnected from the world, I’d showered three times to get ready for it. It had been months since I’d stepped inside the school, and I wasn’t looking forward to being surrounded by other, normal parents.
Hazel just beamed as we walked (she skipped) the few blocks across town to the school. Two busses sat purring on the road, a flurry of children and parents gathered about them, shoving bags underneath and wiping faces. I stopped at the edge of it all, letting Hazel drag her stuff bit by bit over to the bus. A few of the parents looked over at us. I tried to ignore them. She came back, stood in front of me with a broad grin. She looked so happy. Jumping forward, she threw her arms about me, hugged me tight.
‘I’m going to be fine, Dad.’ She reassured me, relaxing her arms just a little, and resting in there. I rested my arms about her, let the moment settle. I needed to hold on to this for the next week, while she wasn’t here. ‘I’ve been worried about you, Dad.’ She sighed.
‘Mmmm?’ talking wasn’t really on my mind right now. I was holding my daughter, and that was all that mattered. She was where she belonged, with me, safe and sound. She wouldn’t be for a whole seven days. Hold onto it, I told myself. You never know when it’s going to go away.
‘Yeah. But you’re getting better. I can go away now, and you’ll be okay.’ She said it so plainly. It shocked me to the core, her sweet sentiment so harmlessly meant – scared the hell out of me. My heart thudded awkwardly. Hazel was going to be fine. She didn’t need me. She didn’t think I needed her anymore. She was going away for a whole week. Hazel hugged me tight one more time, before jumping up to kiss me on the cheek and tear away towards the bus.
I headed back via the bottleshop.
Kate wouldn’t have approved. But she was hardly here to care.