When I arrived back here in Thompsonville I wasn’t exactly sure of what I should expect, as even from my own relatively short life experience I had already found that time has a habit of changing people. I needn’t have worried though, as Luke and Matt were still the same as they always had been; loving, funny, supportive and a whole lot of fun to be around. It wasn’t hard to love them.
I have to admit that it was terrific catching up with them all that night over great steaks and a few beers, while sitting in the back yard, beneath a tapestry of stars. After five years I’d almost forgotten how much I had missed their company and their hospitality. Nights such as this were once commonplace for me. It’s funny how things can change.
I soon found out that they were all really enjoying what they were doing these days. Matt still had his job in the auto store, while after finishing his studies Luke was lucky enough to land a job with a local software company, which specialised in supplying systems for schools, hospitals and other similar organisations. It all sounded a bit high-tech for me, but at least he was enjoying what he was doing.
Tim and Guy on the other hand seemed to have changed quite a bit; or at least in my mind. As I sat and talked with them I couldn’t help but sense that, even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on just how they had changed. Perhaps it may have had something to do with Tim’s little bit of attitude earlier in the evening, which had seemed to have passed anyhow by the time we had sat down to eat, but whatever it was at least it didn’t seem to prevent them from having a good time as well.
They too both had good jobs, although they were both in different jobs to those they had been in when I was last here. Still, they were both excited by what they were doing and seemed happy, with Tim working in the computer industry, like Luke, and Guy working for a production company that filmed documentaries and provided freelance production facilities for various television shows. The more I listened to Guy and found out about what he was doing the more fascinated I became.
They in turn quizzed me about how my writing career was going and seemed genuinely excited when I told them that my second novel, Footprints in the Sand, was also about to be turned into a movie, following on from Shifting Sands.
The whole Hollywood process intrigued them so I explained how the film rights had just been sold by way of an auction and had been picked up by the same independent studio that had produced the first movie; for what I can only describe as an absurd amount of money (not that I was complaining). The same company had also approached my agents about taking an option on novel number three, Sand Castles, even before it had officially gone on sale, so all things considered I had to admit that things were looking promising. Considering how I had gotten a start in this industry in the first place, it was all quite mind-blowing actually.
All those years ago when I first started down this path, often just sitting on our beach and scribbling down ideas and notes for articles or stories for the local newspaper, before progressing to slightly longer articles and short stories for nationally produced glossy magazines, I never imagined that I would be in the position I am in now. Even I had to admit that I had done all right for myself, but having said that, I still took nothing for granted. My early attempts at writing had helped pay my way through some writing courses while I was still learning my trade, but more than that it now gave me the freedom to be able to pick and choose the projects and publications I really wanted to work for, while still giving me the opportunity to work on my novels. With three under my belt already, in the space of five years, I was in a good place right now. How long that might last for, however, I had no idea, so my intention was, as the old saying goes, to make hay while the sun shines.
We could have stayed up talking for hours, but I was thankful, when Luke noticed me yawning, that he made moves to start packing things up and call it a night.
‘You look like you’ve had a long day,’ he said to me as he took the empty plate from in front of me and gathered up the remaining plates.
‘You could say that,’ I answered.
‘You go turn in,’ he said. ‘We’ll finish packing this stuff away … and the washing up can wait ’til morning.’
‘It’s okay. I can give you a hand to take it all inside, then I think I’ll hit the hay. Besides, I haven’t even been inside the house yet to see what kind of mess you guys made of my old bedroom!’
‘Mess?’ I heard Guy mutter. ‘It’s a damn sight better than when you were in there, let me tell you!’
‘We’ll see,’ I scoffed.
Picking up some platters of left-over food I followed Luke up the steps and through the back door of the house, then to the kitchen.
‘Oh, wow!’ was all I could say when I took a look around. The kitchen had been completely renovated and now looked like something out of the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, with fancy appliances and shiny surfaces everywhere.
‘You like?’ Luke asked.
‘It’s a bit different to how it used to look!’ I replied.
‘Wait until you see the rest of the house,’ he teased, while grabbing me by one hand and dragging me through into the next room, the dining and living area, which had also been given the Better Homes and Gardens treatment.
From there we went down the hallway, which looked somehow cleaner, but still not all that different, apart from the removal of the old light fittings and door frames and a freshen up with some bright colours, but when we stopped at what had once been a bedroom door I soon noticed the major changes that had taken place within.
Where once there had been two bedrooms on one side of the hallway, with a bedroom and bathroom on the other side, there was now two much larger bedrooms, each with its own walk in robe and immaculately presented ensuite.
‘Can you see what we did?’ Luke asked proudly. ‘We now each have our own side of the house. No more sharing bathrooms with everyone else, giving us all a bit more privacy, and even the guests have their own place; as you’ve already seen. So, what do you think?’
‘Luke, it’s fucking amazing!’ I answered. ‘It truly is!’
‘Yeah, we like it,’ I heard Matt say from behind me. ‘Mind you, we’ll be paying for it until we’re all old and grey, but it’s home, and that’s what matters.’
‘Absolutely,’ I said. ‘You should be proud of what you’ve got here.’
‘Oh, we are, mate. Don’t you worry about that,’ Matt replied.
Looking at my watch I noticed that it was later than I had thought, so I decided that it truly was time I turned in. Walking over to where they both stood in the doorway I gave them both a hug.
‘Thanks for a great night, guys,’ I said to them. ‘It feels awesome to be back.’
‘We’re glad to have you back,’ Luke replied. ‘And … and don’t worry about anything, all right. Everyone will be happy to see you, you’ll see.’
‘I hope so, Luke. I really do.’
I said good night to them and then headed for the back door, only to have Luke call out for me once more.
‘Before you go to bed, just switch on the hot water system in the bathroom,’ he said. ‘It’ll heat up overnight and be okay for in the morning.’
‘All right. Thanks,’ I replied, then stepped out into the night and headed for the guest house.
Outside it was a beautiful night and as I walked across the yard I stopped for a few moments and just stood there, breathing in the freshness of the air that was blowing in from the ocean, taking in the sight of a zillion stars twinkling away overhead, and above all, listening to the quiet. These were all things that I had once taken for granted, none of which I could experience in the place I currently called home.
With that thought in my mind I headed inside and followed Luke’s instructions about the hot water heater, then opened the window and stripped off. Giving the bed a little test with my hands I decided it looked and felt comfy enough, so I lay myself down in the darkness, my arms folded behind my head and just listened.
At first the silence was all encompassing, but as I lay there and listened I re-discovered all the sounds that I had once been familiar with, from the gentle breeze whistling quietly through the River Oaks, to the sound of the insects buzzing and chirping, to finally the soft sound of the ocean rolling in and crashing on the not too distant beach.
My last thoughts before I drifted off to sleep were about how I missed these sounds, and how I missed this place.
* * *
When morning came, and all too soon it seemed, I awoke to a room bathed in a soft, golden light. It was just after sunrise, which is way too early for any self-respecting writer to be up and about, so I rolled over and pulled a pillow across my head, hoping to keep the day at bay for just a short while longer.
When I next awoke, jolted to life by what I recognised as the sound of a sliding door closing, the light was much brighter. A quick look at my watch, through crusty, sleep filled eyes, told me it was nearing nine o’clock, but as I looked around the room I couldn’t see what had caused the noise which had woken me.
Moments later I heard a noise come from the small kitchenette in the next room, so I got to my feet and started for the door, just as a figure appeared there, almost scaring the crap out of me.
‘Ahhh … you’re awake,’ Luke said, while giving my almost naked body, save for the boxers I was wearing, a quick looking over. ‘Didn’t want to see you starve, so I brought out some breakfast for you.’
‘Very thoughtful of you, my dear sir,’ I replied. ‘This establishment appears to have improved markedly since my last visit. Can I expect this treatment every morning?’
‘Fuck off!’ he laughed. ‘It’s only because there’s supposed to be a V.I.P. staying here at the moment that we managed to get the kitchen staff to come in early. It looks like he might not be quite so important after all though, so after today I expect that everything will be back to normal.’
‘How disappointing,’ I replied.
With that Luke turned and walked back into the kitchen, so I duly followed, where I found him lifting the lid off a tray to reveal an impressive looking breakfast of toast and bacon and eggs and coffee, all laid out for me.
‘Wow, you have been busy,’ I said. ‘Thanks! Just let me wash up first.’
Quickly I headed into the ensuite and washed my face and hands, then dried them on a fresh towel that was sitting on the cupboard, before returning to the kitchen and sitting down opposite Luke. He had poured coffee for both of us while waiting for me and pushed a cup across the table toward me as I sat down.
‘Still take it black and no sugar?’ he asked.
‘Most of the time,’ I replied. ‘It looks like I taught you well!’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ he replied. ‘So, how did you sleep?’
‘Best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages,’ I answered truthfully. ‘I didn’t realise how much I missed the simple things like looking at stars and listening to the wind in these trees, or hearing the sound of the waves on the beach. I don’t get to enjoy any of that sort of stuff living where I do.’
‘No, I don’t suppose you would.’
After another sip of coffee and a mouthful of bacon I said, ‘I enjoyed last night. Thanks for that.’
‘You’re most welcome. We enjoyed catching up too. I hope you didn’t take anything too much to heart that Tim said?’
‘Nah … if that’s the worst I get then I’ll get off lightly.’
‘I had a word with him this morning. He’ll be okay. He knows that it takes two to tango, and Aaron did have the opportunity to go with you, so despite everything that did happen to him, he still had the chance to get out of here and live happily ever after himself.’
‘Happily ever after? Fuck, if only it were that simple,’ I said.
‘Sometimes it can be, mate,’ Luke replied. ‘It just needs a little magic.’
‘Magic? Oh man, this salt air must be starting to rust your brain or something!’
‘You’re the writer … maybe you can come up with the happy ending?’ he joked.
‘I’ll see what I can do! Anyhow, thanks for talking to Tim. I kind of expected the crap to come from someone, I just hope that Scott and Justin will be okay when I go to see them.’
‘Ummm … about that …’ Luke said. ‘You probably need to know that if you go to the caravan park it’s possible that Justin might react the same way …’
‘See, as we mentioned last night it was largely Justin who helped Aaron get through his troubles …’
‘Which was obviously more than his just being down in the dumps over breaking up with me, or being abandoned?’
‘Yeah … he hit the bottle pretty hard at the time … even got in some trouble with the Sarge, although the old bugger was pretty understanding and took it easier on him than most would. Justin kind of made it his own personal mission to see that Aaron got through it all, seeing as he had already been there himself, so as a result of that the two of them have gotten pretty tight. You just need to know that if you want to make it up to Aaron, then you might have to win over Jay as well, if you catch my meaning …’
‘Just don’t expect too much, too soon, that’s all I’m trying to say. Just let Aaron tell it to you himself, in his own time, in his own way, okay? Guys in this kind of situation can, so I’m told, be quite fragile … even allowing for the fact that a few years have passed, so Aaron still needs to know that he can trust us.’
‘I thought that you guys said he was okay now?’
‘At the moment he is … but he’s still a work in progress. I hope that your coming home will help finish the healing process, but who can say just how he will react. Whatever you do, you need to be sure of what you’re doing before you even start down that road … for his sake, and for everyone else’s. Do you understand?’
Luke stood up and looked down at me and smiled.
‘We all love you Tony, and we’re all proud of what you have achieved in your career. We know that you’ll make us proud of the man you’ve become as well.’
‘Thanks, Luke. And yeah, I will try.’
Coming around to my side of the table he placed a hand behind my head, then leant forward and kissed my forehead.
‘I know you will, mate. Now, what are you going to do today? Do you want a lift into town?’
‘Actually, I thought I might head through the scrub to the beach first off, then try and head into town mid-morning. If someone can pick me up around then, how about I buy you guys lunch down on the boardwalk. That’s something else from around here that I’ve kind of missed.’
‘That’d be great,’ he answered.