After Luke had left me I finished my breakfast, then sought out the trousers I had been wearing yesterday, before retrieving my phone from the pocket.
I had turned it off before my flight had left Brisbane yesterday and had deliberately left it off all day, for the simple reason that while I was here I was wanting a little bit of alone time, a little bit of time where I didn’t have to think about deadlines or contracts or offers of any sort. I knew that once my presence here was known there would be a good chance that offers and requests would start coming out of the woodwork, so I figured if I kept contact with the outside world to an absolute minimum then I could at least keep some control of what could loosely be called my personal life.
After switching the phone on it didn’t take long for the text and voice mail messages to start coming through, so with a sigh I sat back down on the bed and started flicking through them, starting with the text messages. Most of these were of no real consequence, apart from one from my agent, Harry Preston, asking me to call him asap about the new Hollywood deal, and another from my publicist, Shi-Anne Manning, saying that Harry was chasing me and asking if everything was still okay for the writers’ group event next week. The one I liked best though was that which I received from Luke, wanting to know what the fuck I was doing coming to town and not letting him know?
I replied to the first two and told them I’d gone home for a few days, but would call them on Monday, then started thinking about whether or not I should send Luke some kind of a smart-arse answer, but in the end decided to simply leave it.
I then started checking my voice mail messages, which were largely just repeats of the text messages, from the same people and asking the same things, although there was one there from the new head of the Macquarie Harbour Writers’ Centre asking me to call her back to discuss this week’s event.
After a quick rummage through my carry-all I found a pen and notepad and jotted the number down, then punched the numbers into the phone and called her.
‘Anne Rummery speaking,’ a rather sharp sounding voice eventually said. I guessed her to be in her fifties, and immediately conjured up a none-too-flattering image of a librarian on the other end of the line, although fully aware that oftentimes the person you visualise can turn out to be nothing at all like the actual person you later get to meet. I wondered how far off the mark I would be when I would finally get to put a face to the name and voice.
‘Oh, hello Anne, it’s Tony Scott here. You asked me to call about the event this coming week,’ I said.
‘Oh, Ton-eeeee,’ she almost cooed in what was suddenly now a smooth and cultured voice. ‘So good of you to call. Thank you!’
Okay, so maybe now the grey-haired librarian with the hair in a bun and steel rimmed glasses was now sounding like a frustrated fifty-something, well-to-do housewife. Oh god, this game could be fun!
‘We can’t wait to see you on Wednesday. The whole group is excited by your coming visit. I’m sure we’ll have a full house.’
‘That sounds lovely,’ I replied.
‘Now, we were wondering if you might like to pop by the centre beforehand, you know, just so that you were familiar with the set-up and so on. If there’s anything special that you need you can let us know.’
‘Well, I have been there quite a few times before, back when I was studying, so I actually have a pretty fair idea of where you’re located and what you have?’ I said.
‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’ she responded.
Okay … she was now a frustrated blonde housewife, with no idea what she was doing. This could get interesting!
From my recollections the writers’ group met in rooms adjacent to the town library, in the old Council Chambers, I believe they were. For most of their events these rooms were sufficient, however, for particularly large gatherings they used the conference facilities which were contained in the library itself. If this one already had the house full sign up and was booked out, then I suspected that we would be at the library on Wednesday.
Back when I attended the centre there was a retired English Professor from the University in charge, a guy by the name of William Joyce. The students in those days were a mixed up bunch of school kids (like me), University students with high ideals and fancy ideas, the occasional person wanting to write a serious work about historical subjects, or frustrated housewives looking to escape into a world of fantasy, even if only for those few hours a week. We were certainly an eclectic group, with a range of talent to match, but I do have to say that I learned quite a lot from every one of those people and I will always be thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of it all.
‘Oh yes,’ I eventually added. ‘Your writers’ group provided a very important part of my education. I’ll always be grateful for the assistance that I received from old Bill Joyce, who was in charge back then. That’s the main reason I’m so happy to come back.’
‘Well, we’re certainly happy that you are able to spare the time and come to see us.’
‘Will we be in the rooms, or at the library,’ I asked.
‘Oh, most definitely the library,’ Anne replied.
‘Wonderful. If I get the chance beforehand I’ll drop in and say hello, but if I don’t make it then I’ll see you Wednesday morning. It was a ten thirty start, wasn’t it? I’ll make sure I get there early, just in case there’s anything you need a hand with setting up,’
‘That would be wonderful. Thank you. I’ll see you then,’ she replied.
The term I was left with in my mind after we had disconnected was simply airhead. The woman sounded like a complete ditz. I was already missing old Bill. I wondered whatever had happened to him.
I switched off my phone and left it on the table beside the bed, then after dipping back into my bag I pulled out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and pulled them on, before then picking up the tray of breakfast things. I figured I would take them back up to the house before setting off for the beach and a morning swim, then take a shower afterwards.
When I emerged from the guest house moments later, I found Tim and Guy outside also, sitting beneath the shade of the jacaranda tree in the corner of the yard.
‘Good morning,’ Guy called out. ‘Good to see you’ve made it outside finally.’
‘What do you mean? I’m up early today. Don’t you know what us writers are like?’
‘Yeah … I’ve heard all about your type,’ he laughed.
I glanced at Tim and found that he was at least smiling this morning, so that was something of a positive start to the day.
‘So what are your plans for the day?’ Guy asked me.
‘First up, the beach. Then a shower. Then I thought I’d take all you guys out to lunch at the Boardwalk. How does that sound?’
‘You can count me in for all of it,’ Guy replied.
‘Yeah, and you can count me in for lunch,’ Tim added, ‘but I have to duck into town for a few things this morning, so I’ll have to pass on the beach. I’m a bit worried about you two and the shower though! Can I trust you both?’
‘I promise I’ll only look, not touch,’ I joked.
‘It wasn’t actually you I was worried about,’ Tim smirked, giving me a wink as he did so, which only left Guy pouting. At least it told me that things between Tim and me were okay, even if only for the time being.
‘Okay then, Tim,’ I said. ‘How about we meet you there? Twelve o’clock all right with you?’
‘Sounds perfect,’ he said.
I left them there and headed inside with the breakfast tray, where I found both Matt and Luke in the kitchen.
‘So you’ve finally surfaced,’ Matt said.
‘Yeah, well, I figured I had to face the world sooner or later,’ I replied, while placing the tray on the bench beside the kitchen sink. ‘So, do either of you guys want to come down to the beach with me and Guy?’
‘Actually, that sounds like a great idea,’ Luke said, ‘but I’m afraid I have some work I need to catch up on.’
‘And I have to head into town as well, so I’ll have to take a rain-check on that, mate,’ Matt added.
‘I’ll still be here all morning, though,’ Luke said, ‘and I mentioned your lunch idea to Matt, so you and I can slip into town and meet him then if you like.’
‘Okay, that sounds like a plan. Guy will come in with us too, as Tim also has to go to town early, then Tim will meet us there as well,’ I replied.
‘That sounds good,’ Matt said.
‘Right then, that’s all organised. I’ll go and grab Guy and we’ll head off. I guess we’ll see you when we get back.’
* * *
The path through the scrub from the house to the beach had been rather well worn when I had last walked its length, and nothing appeared to have changed during the intervening years.
The sand track with grass growing to the edges was soft underfoot, while only a few branches seemed to have grown across its course. Guy led the way, although after copping the first few branches which had grown across the path I quickly learned to slow down and increase the gap between us.
‘Does the beach get used any more than it used to?’ I asked him.
‘Yeah, a bit. There’s a few more people living out this side of town these days and it didn’t take long for them to discover its hidden charms.’
‘That’s a bit of a shame.’
‘It’s okay though. Most of the time if we come through here there’s no one about, it’s only on the odd occasion when we find someone else here, and even then it’s usually not too many of them. As far as most of the world is concerned, the place is still hidden.’
We walked along in silence for a few minutes, then I remembered the guy I had sat next to on the plane yesterday.
‘Hey, this bloke I was sitting next to yesterday said something about the place being full of hippie sheilas and poofs,’ I said. ‘What would that be all about?’
‘You mean you don’t know?’ he asked, sounding somewhat surprised.
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Mate, you bloody-well should,’ he said, while coming to a stop just in front of me. ‘It’s all your fault, you know.’
I stopped and looked at him with what must have been an odd expression, as he suddenly started laughing.
‘How the hell do you work that out?’ I asked.
‘It was because of your first book … when folks figured out that our little slice of paradise was the town referred to in your story, even with all the names having been changed to protect the innocent, just like you promised all those years ago, more and more people started coming here. They all wanted to check it out and maybe, just maybe, find their own Dane or Christian or Blake or Lydia or Jules,’ he said, referring to a few of my main characters from the novel.
‘Bull shit!’ I exclaimed.
‘No shit, mate. It’s true,’ he replied. ‘This town has made a fortune from visitors since your little ditty was published, and if you don’t believe me just ask Scott and Justin, or even Mrs Hamilton at the corner store; they’ve never been happier!’
‘That’s fucking amazing,’ was all I could say.
‘Ahhh … but wait, there’s more!’ he added as we continued walking.
‘Yeah. The thing that bloke said about hippies and poofs … the place really is full of them. All the old run down places around here have been snapped up by the alternative lifestyle and sea change brigade. They’ve even bought up some of the old empty shops that were in town. We’ve become the new Nimbin, although not quite as colourful … yet!’
I knew of the place he was talking about, Nimbin. It was once a small run down rural village which, in the early nineteen seventies, had been bought almost in its entirety by people seeking to live an alternative lifestyle.
Within just a few years the once decrepit looking place was thriving, with all the buildings in the town’s main street having been painted in bright colours, and even murals, while the town embraced a bohemian kind of lifestyle. There was a downside, of course, which was a culture of drugs and sex, but even that depended on who you would ask about it. Now the place is a thriving example of just how a town can be reborn.
It would certainly be interesting to see how Thompsonville had changed, I thought, and said as much to Guy.
‘I think you’ll be surprised,’ he said, giving me a wink as he did so.
A few minutes later we emerged from the scrub and were soon standing on the edge of the beach, looking out over the small, secluded, horse-shoe shaped bay, which I knew so well. To my right the beach stretched around the edge of the bay, until reaching a rocky outcrop which was the start of the high, rocky headland, atop which the old lighthouse stood. To my left the beach led around toward another headland, although this one was much lower, and entirely grass covered.
‘What do you think?’ Guy asked me. ‘Has it changed any?’
‘Not at all,’ I replied. ‘It’s just as I remember it.’
Thankfully there was no-one else about and we had the place to ourselves, so we both slipped off our flip-flops and then pulled our t-shirts over our heads, dropping them on the sand beside our footwear.
I glanced at Guy and saw the mischievous grin on his face.
‘I’m game, if you’re game,’ he said. I simply laughed, then hooked my thumbs in the waistband of my shorts and the boxers underneath them, and pulled them both down in one motion.
This was something I had been dying to do again for ages, and was yet another thing that I missed about this place; having the freedom to do things like this any time I felt like it.
As I had dropped my shorts Guy did the same thing, and before long we were both standing there naked and looking each other up and down, grinning. We had all done this often enough over the years, so none of us were bashful or embarrassed by our nakedness.
‘You look a bit pale there, mate. A bit of this sun will do you the world of good I reckon,’ he said.
‘Yeah, it has been a while,’ I laughed. ‘For an old guy you’re still looking pretty good though.’
‘Hey, who are you calling old? You’re no twink yourself these days!’ he scolded.
In truth there was only about three years’ difference in our ages and in many ways we weren’t that much different. We were both of similar, medium builds, with good definition, though not too muscly. The main notable difference was that I was a few inches taller than Guy, being a little over six feet, while he was just under that mark. The only other difference, these days at least, was that while I had minimal body hair myself, and what I did have didn’t show up all that prominently anyhow due to its being blonde, he had started shaving or waxing; all over.
‘So what do you think of the new look?’ he asked, when he noticed me staring.
‘Actually … I quite like it,’ I replied. ‘It makes you look younger.’
‘Ha, thanks … I think. It was Tim’s idea actually. He’s done it too!’
‘Simply amazing!’ I replied. ‘You think you know someone and …’
‘Come on, let’s go get wet,’ he quickly said, while taking hold of my hand and dragging me toward the water.
‘Fuck, I hope you boyfriend doesn’t come down and see us like this,’ I joked.
‘Don’t worry, your virtue is safe with me,’ he laughed.
‘That’s not exactly what I was meaning,’ I replied.
‘I know,’ Guy answered.
As we walked over the hot sand to the edge of the water memories of the last time I had been here came flooding back. It was the day that I told Aaron that I was leaving, of that I was certain. The day I told him I needed to go and chase my dreams.
I had pleaded with him to come with me, to share the adventure, and for most of that day and night I thought he would do just that. We spent that last carefree day on this very same beach. We made love that last night, in a sheltered and well grassed nook amongst the very trees I had just now passed between. Later, we had climbed the headland and sat against the lighthouse, watching the moon rise out across the ocean, while wrapped up in each other’s arms.
I thought we were in love. I thought he would come. But in the end he had refused.
When we finally parted, in the faint light of dawn, we went our separate ways. And our lives changed forever.