John watches, frozen in disbelief. Numbed by the scene. He looks towards the sea where Lark Song had stood proudly only minutes earlier. There is nothing left. He feels nauseous and dizzy. He squeezes the shoulder of a bystander, surprised to discover it’s his friend and neighbour, Glen Watson.
‘What?’ he says, his body sinking into shock.
‘Take it easy, mate,’ Glen clutches John’s elbow. ‘You’re amazing,’ Glen says, patting John on the back. ‘It’s incredible and thanks to you, they’re alive.’
‘It’s a miracle. If you’d seen it out there. Everything smashed to smithereens. It was just dumb luck I was there, close enough to get to them before they drowned. Saw bits of bodies, but there’s no sign the parents are alive. Awful.’
‘Here, come over here and sit down. I texted Grant to bring down a tray of hot tea. You’ll need it. You look as white as a ghost.’
John slumps onto the large log. It beached at the high tide mark some years ago and is a handy seat for anyone watching swimmers and boats drift by. A hand passes him a mug of tea and he nods with an awkward grin and takes a sip.
‘Did you know it was Lark’s Song?’ Glen asks, sitting beside his friend.
‘In the panic, I wasn’t sure and didn’t see the full name on the hull,’ John speaks hesitantly, registering these two girls were the Larkson sisters. ‘ Hell’s teeth… the sisters.’
Grant tilts his head. ‘Yeah, Laura and Grace. I hope to God they pull through.’ The bearded older man takes another sip of his tea.
‘Those kids would be around twelve and eight, something like that.’
‘Yeah,’ John says. ‘What’s going to happen to them now with their parents gone?’
After they recover from the boating accident, the sisters live with an uncle and aunt in Auckland for five years, but it was no easy upbringing. Their uncle was unhappy with the arrangement and he often argues with his wife about raising the orphaned sisters.
‘Your brother needs to sell the farm and place them in boarding school,’ his reddened face contorts with frustration over some minor transgression. ‘I never signed up for two extra brats to look after. This can’t go on.’
Laura watches her distressed aunt’s face barely visible through the crack in the bedroom door where both sisters share a bunk. ‘Come on Tom. We had no choice,’ her voice pleads with him, her words the usual repetitive chorus heard many times over the past four years. ‘No one can afford to send them to boarding school and it won’t be for much longer. Laura will soon be old enough to care for Grace at the farm.’
His puffy face looks up from the armchair jammed in the corner of their cramped living room. ‘Do you think so? It’ll be a bloody miracle if we get them standing on their own feet.’
The mention of Laura being old enough to move with Grace back to the farm is an idea she has never considered. Hope of freedom from the oppressive bickering of her relatives and living in the backwash of her uncle’s anger and her aunt’s submission delivers a light-bulb moment. In the following months Laura discusses the situation with her father’s best friend and lawyer, Milton Tompson, who set about arranging legal guardianship for Laura over her younger sister ,Grace. It takes nineteen months to complete the documents but at last the sisters can return home and take charge of their own lives.
When Laura turns twenty-one, she signs final documents to give notice to the tenants in their parent’s farmhouse and obtain legal guardianship over her teenage sister before they both move back into their parent’s property at Larkson Bay.
Their parent’s life insurance and the tenant’s rental payments paid off most of their mortgage on the forty-acre farm, but they still need money to pay for food, power and petrol, along with Grace university fees and the ability to pay back her student loan. Laura gazes out of the kitchen window across the orchard, fruit trees heavy with peaches, apples and plums ready to harvest. After several weeks Laura agrees to sells off half the land, twenty acres, to an adjoining dairy farmer with the proceeds covering their debts and living costs for the next couple of years.
‘Is it a good thing?’ Grace asks her sister when the property transfer documents are handed to the sisters.