The trip out to Thompsonville normally took a little over twenty minutes, so I knew it wouldn’t be long now before I walked down that gravel road toward the house where I had once lived.
Traffic was relatively light on the highway as the bus made its way out of town, and before I knew it we were slowing for the turn onto Thompsonville Road. Looking out the window I could see rolling green paddocks dotted with cattle and horses, just as there had always been, but I could also see quite a few new houses and estates compared to the last time I travelled this road. It seemed that progress was catching up the little backwater I had grown to love.
For a while we followed the Thompson River as it meandered its way through the river flats; then after we left the river we climbed through some steep hills. When we reached the summit we were travelling south, parallel with the distant beach, and as I looked out to the east I could see the Pacific Ocean stretching away to the horizon, while to the south of us I could see the familiar shape of Thompson Mountain, steep and heavily timbered, rising from amidst the lower hills surrounding it. Between the two was the town of Thompsonville, nestled along the coastline between the ocean and the lake, with the mountains standing guard behind it.
As we started the descent down onto the coastal plain I found myself starting to sweat slightly. Whether it was nerves, excitement or the warm summer day, I couldn’t quite tell, but either way it was obvious to me that this was one homecoming that was important to me. Five years is a long time. I had missed this place, as well as the people with whom I had shared so much.
I knew that it wouldn’t be long before we would arrive at the turn-off for Beachside Lane, so I got to my feet and picked up my carry-all, then headed down the aisle toward the driver.
He had seen me approaching in the mirror above him and said, ‘You really shouldn’t be standing, sir,’ over his shoulder as I reached him.
‘Yes, I realise that,’ I answered, as I held on to a chrome railing behind him. ‘It’s just that I was wanting to get dropped off just up ahead, at Beachside Lane if possible, rather than go all the way into town.’
He frowned at me as if I was some kind of nutter, and I was sure he was about to say no, but then something in his expression seemed to change.
‘We shouldn’t really,’ he said, ‘but you seem to know where you’re going. I guess I can make an exception.’
‘I really appreciate that,’ I said.
Looking ahead I saw that we were on a long and straight stretch of road, at the end of which there stood a single sign-post. I watched as we drew closer and closer to it, and before long I was able to read the familiar name that it carried.
The bus slowed and eventually came to a stop, then the driver opened the door and I descended the steps to find myself standing in a hot and very still summer afternoon.
The door soon closed behind me and I gave the driver a wave, then before I knew it I was watching the bus drive off down the road, on its way to cover the last few kilometres into town.
Turning around I looked down along Beachside Lane, which seemed to be about the only thing around here so far that hadn’t changed. The gum trees alongside the gravel road were all the same, as was the overgrown grass coming right to the edge. Ahead of me was a long, straight stretch of road, which I knew would take a few twists and turns as it went along. The house was still a couple of kilometres away, so I figured I had best get started, knowing that the sooner I got going, the sooner I would be able to put my feet up.
My homecoming was because of a special occasion that was rapidly approaching: the marking of ten years since the whole gang had arrived in town and moved into the old farm house. It was something of a milestone and I knew that it would be celebrated by them all, having had it mentioned to me several times by Luke and Matt when I had chatted with them over the past few months. As a result of that I sure didn’t want to miss it, but as I had wanted to surprise them all I deliberately hadn’t let anyone know I was coming. It might be possible that they would know anyhow, as I had agreed to do a talk session with the local writers group whilst here, and if they had done any promotional work at all then I guessed my secret could be out; however, only time would tell if that would be the case.
I wasn’t too sure if any of the guys would be home today, but I knew that even if they weren’t it wouldn’t be too long before I would see them again, as they would all soon start arriving home from their various occupations and commitments. I was truly looking forward to catching up with them all and finding out what had been happening in their lives since I had been gone. It was one thing to receive and send emails, or to even chat online, as I had done often, but it was another thing all together to sit down and actually chat and interact in person, preferably over a beer — or three.
Picking up my carryall once more I started my long walk down a dusty road. The sun was hot, but every now and then a cool breeze would blow in off the ocean, making my walk a relatively pleasant experience, at least at the start. I was pleased that nothing seemed to have changed along the road and that everything was just as I remembered it. I had always found the sights, the sounds and the smells of the Australian bush to be both soothing and comforting, and even when away from home and visiting cities across the world, the smell of a Eucalyptus tree — which seemed to be almost everywhere these days anyhow — would always find me casting my mind back in time and have me savouring the experiences of my earlier years.
As I made my way along Beachside Lane beneath the summer sun, it wasn’t long before the sweat started to appear on my brow and also trickle down my back. I suddenly felt alive, more so than I had in quite some time, and I came to the realisation that I had truly missed this place. No matter where I was in the world, or whatever hotel I might be in, nothing really compared to this place. Even the big-city unit that I currently called home, with its city views and conveniences, wasn’t a patch on what this place had to offer, as there was always one feature that it sadly seemed to lack … it wasn’t really a home.
While I pondered that thought I soon heard a car approaching from behind me, so I stepped off to the side of the road. Presently a Toyota sedan zoomed past me, kicking up a cloud of dust which coated me, and everything else in its path, with a film of fine Australian dirt, before continuing on its merry way.
As I coughed and spluttered and tried waving the dust away from my face I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the fact that even something as simple and as this could be something that I missed. Yes, it already felt good to be home.
A short time later I rounded a bend in the road and the old farm house finally appeared in front of me. I stopped for a moment to take in the sight of it, with its white post and rail fence at the front and yard surrounded by trees. The new garage that had been built following the fire all those years ago didn’t look quite so new any more and the whole place could have probably done with a fresh coat of paint, but apart from that, at this distance at least, nothing much seemed to have changed; it was still the same house that I had loved and in which I had spent so many happy times.
Continuing on down the road, the last few hundred yards seemed to go by in an instant and before I knew it I found myself standing at the open gateway to the house yard, so familiar and inviting, yet at the same time I was filled with twinges of both excitement and trepidation, which I was finding difficult to comprehend.
After a few moments of reflection I eventually crossed the threshold, and as I walked into the yard and down along the side of the house I looked around at everything more closely. I could see now that my original impression about the place not having changed much wasn’t quite right, as there had been a few additions made since I had begun my travels.
The new garage, which had been built well before I had left, of course, had been expanded and now had another section coming off the side, which I hadn’t been able to see from the direction in which I had approached. The new section was also completely built in, and had three large sliding glass doors facing out into the yard, as if they were extra rooms, or even perhaps offices.
And there were other changes as well, with the back yard having had some gardening and landscaping done, including a new paved entertaining and barbeque area which really looked the part, and the planting of some trees, which were already large enough to be providing shade. Obviously the guys and their landlord, who had been most accommodating after the events of around nine years ago, were still getting on pretty well these days.
Impressed with what I had seen so far I walked over toward the back door of the house and up onto the timber deck (another new addition), where I knocked on the door. I didn’t expect anyone to be home at the moment, but figured I should do the right thing, just in case there was someone here.
When no one answered I gave the door handle a try and found that it was locked, which only confirmed my suspicions that I was indeed alone, so after looking around me I soon headed for a comfy looking lay-z-chair in the shade of a Jacaranda tree in the garden, to finish reading my newspaper and to wait out their return.
* * *
I heard the car long before I saw it, the deep and familiar sound of the engine being carried along far ahead of Matts’ Holden Commodore; the same one that he and Luke had arrived here in ten years ago now. Even after five years’ absence I still knew that sound.
The car was still Matt’s pride and joy, and despite a few incidents and close shaves over the years he had always kept it in tip-top shape, even if it was almost as old as he was.
Putting my newspaper down on the seat in front of me I swung my legs down and sat up, waiting for him to drive into the yard. I had no idea if my cousin, Luke, would be with him or not, but either way I knew that they would both be in for quite a surprise.
The car was still coming, but as I had sat up I noticed that the sound had backed off slightly, as Matt must have slowed to come around the bend just up the road, before then preparing to pull into the yard. Getting to my feet I started walking toward the garage and as I did so I caught a glimpse of a black flash just as it was about to turn into the yard.
When he finally came to a stop in front of the garage I was leaning against the railing around the decking at the back of the house, with my arms folded across my chest and grinning at him. The look on his face was priceless as he stepped out of the car and removed his sunglasses, looking every bit the hotter-than-hell guy that we all knew he would eventually be.
He had always been a looker, right from the time I first met him when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. He would have been about eighteen then, but now, as a twenty-eight or twenty-nine year old man he was more than that. Without looking like a muscle-bound jock he filled out his black and red work clothes in a way that almost defied description, which, for a writer like I am, isn’t a good thing to have happen.
It wasn’t often that Matt was stuck for words, but on this occasion I appeared to have finally succeeded in managing to shut him up, at least temporarily.
‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ he asked as he quickly crossed the yard and grabbed me in a strong bear hug. ‘Why the hell didn’t you let us know you were coming?’
‘Yeah, and it’s so great to see you again too!’ I answered, planting a kiss on his cheek as I did so.
‘Man, Luke is going to be stoked to see you. Did he know you were coming?’
‘Nah … I wanted to surprise you guys. I didn’t want to miss the big ten year celebration and all that!’
‘Celebration?’ Matt enquired. ‘What made you think … oh … Luke has been saying something about it being ten years, hasn’t he?’
I grinned back at him.
‘Matt, whether you like it or not, there’s gonna be a party!’
‘Well, I guess I could put up with that!’ he laughed. ‘So, what about you? What have you been up to? Man, we’ve got some catching up to do.’
‘We sure do, but I think a beer would help smooth the way, don’t you?’
‘Abso-fucking-lutely!’ he replied.