Home > Planting Hope

Planting Hope
Author: Jennifer Raines


Chapter One


Holly’s head was cobwebbed with sleep. Only the dream of coffee lured her from her sleeping bag. The barista-cum-chef in charge of the breakfast tent at the quaintly named Boorowa Music Festival had her double-shot, flat, white coffee in his hand when she reached the counter.

“You’re a life saver, Pedro.” Almost grazing her nose against the rim of the cup, she absorbed the scent of a fresh brew. “And a master of the bean.”

“Food?” A talented volunteer, Pedro grinned at her ritual, his wink a promise he’d reserved a warm bread roll and banana for her. At her nod, he handed them over.

“Thanks.” Senior medic at the three-day festival, Holly had been ministering to party-hardened fans at four forty-five this morning. She’d welcomed the security backup when the final patient, a boozy bruiser with a stubbed toe, had wanted to hang around.

“You’re the last crew in.” Pedro returned to tending the bubbling pot on his stove, the ingredients in the Thai pumpkin soup a delicate, spicy backbeat to his sweet Arabica bean brew. He flipped his sound system to maximum-decibel heavy metal band AC:DC.

Holly winced, whispering to herself. “You’ll be deaf by thirty.”

The distorted guitars were a shocking contrast to the cruisy folk that had headlined the regional festival. Ear-shattering, rather than loud, was Holly’s verdict, permissible only because the bulk of the five-thousand fans had broken camp overnight and not-so-silently departed. Dusty, desolate fields with blue portable toilets extending in forlorn lines testified to a near-empty campsite.

Taking a table at the side, she let the first sip of coffee work its magic on her body and brain. “Mmmm,” she moaned.

A caffeine dependency was borderline mandatory when sleep-deprivation topped the risk list in your job description. Holly offered thanks to all the gods in the universe, took another sip, and closed her eyes to savour the hum of wellbeing stretching to her toes. Humanity’s continuum of vice included infidelity and murder. Caffeine addiction was the smallest sin. A vice she’d keep. She dunked a hunk of bread in her coffee, watching as the dough absorbed the liquid. When it was close to disintegrating in her fingers, she popped it into her mouth. Maybe that counted as another vice?

My last shift for this festival. Her gut tightened. Eight months since her last nursing shift on emergency surgery. Ten years in nursing, the last two in emergency at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra hospital. Drawing in a deep breath, she then exhaled on a count from eight to zero as she’d been taught, consciously blocking out the memory of Donna’s murder in a workplace dedicated to healing.

Here and now, here and now.

When her wandering gaze met the barista’s, he held up an empty cup in one hand while pointing at it with his other. She nodded. A few minutes later, he leaned over the table with her coffee, the deliberate stretch lifting his blinding white T-shirt, giving her an eyeful of toned, tanned abs.

“Thanks.” She pretended not to get his I’m available message, just as she had every morning, instead returning a friendly smile. Pedro was tasty, all solid muscle and lean length, and her pulse remained a disappointing rock steady. Her nostrils quivered as she inhaled her second coffee. “Are you shutting up shop soon?” she asked as he lingered.

“Some of the organisers and crew won’t finish ’til late today. I’ll go tomorrow.” He shrugged, and she guessed more than heard his words. “What about you?”

“A few hours stock-taking medical supplies, then I’ll be on my way.” Her best friend’s death, even the conviction of Donna’s killer, had left Holly untethered, seeking something she couldn’t define. Closure? Peace? She was managing, if running on the spot could be called managing. She took enough paid nursing shifts at the music festivals she followed down the Australian eastern seaboard to keep her bank account positive, socialised with other crew members, but she no longer had a sense of who or what she’d be for the rest of her life.

“It’s been a pleasure, Holly.” He blew her a kiss as he backed away. “Maybe next time.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

She toasted him with her mug. A pathetic indictment of her state of mind when coffee held more appeal than sampling a warm, willing Pedro. Gorgeous hunks were a fixture at music festivals. And she’d originally planned to reject the caution of a lifetime; to celebrate the fact she was still alive with occasional quick tumbles with relative strangers. Donna’s go girl rang in her ears. Only Holly hadn’t been tempted. Not once in her six months on the road. Her heart was numb. Hell—her sex drive was numb. Not a single man had made her gonads go pitty-pat. Or eased her aching sense of failure.

Her phone, tucked in her overalls pocket, vibrated against her leg. An unknown number.

“Hello, Holly here.” Unable to hear above the music, she raised her voice. “Hold on.” Lifting the phone high enough for Pedro to see, she pointed at it, then gave him a thumbs up when he hit the volume button.

Her ears still ringing, she tried again. “Holly here.”

“Holly Cooper?” The husky emphasis revealed the man’s frustration at the delay.

“Can I help you?”

“Your grandmother Mona Cooper’s in hospital.”

“Heart?” she croaked, pressing a hand to her own. Had Mona lied about the seriousness of her heart condition? Holly blinked. The tent still held a scatter of people. She read normality, decency, co-operation. Values her grandmother had taught her to appreciate. The independent old matriarch hated admitting to physical weakness—any weakness! Please tell me she’s okay, Holly offered a silent prayer.

“Damage to soft tissue and exposure.”

“Exposure?” Holly fastened on the impossible word, her mind reeling. He wasn’t making sense. They’d screen-timed last week. Mona had been buzzing with news about her gardening-as-healing project for eight primary school kids. An earthquake wouldn’t have budged Mona from her five-acre property in temperate Maldon, rural Victoria. “How the hell—”

“A fall in her garden. Spent the night there.” The man cut short her mental speculation.

“Which hospital?” I need to be there.


You’re a nurse, dammit, Holly! Pull yourself together. Images of the Brisbane emergency ward, of a knife-wielding assailant, and of Donna dying at her feet hit like a tsunami, tumbling her into a rolling swell. Fear for her grandmother paralysed her.

“Emergency admission about nine this morning,” the man added, as if she should have asked him for details.

And she would have asked, but he was talking about Mona. Mona was supposed to live forever. Mona the Invincible—the name Holly had coined for her as a child. Seventy-five wasn’t old, but old enough with a heart condition to make being exposed to an early-spring Victorian night potentially deadly. She swallowed, her throat parched. “Did she ask for me?” Helplessness, a constant companion since Donna’s death, shredded Holly’s confidence her intervention could make a difference in an emergency.

“I haven’t been able to speak to her since I found her.” He wasn’t a doctor then. A neighbour perhaps? Holly didn’t know all the neighbours, but learning Mona wasn’t completely alone settled her deepest fears.

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