When the cool water rushed over my feet for the first time, then cascaded back around them, dragging sand and seaweed with it, I soon found myself struggling to stand. It was just like it had been on my very first visit to a beach, when I was six years old. I stopped and Guy finally let go of my hand, then turned back toward me.
‘What’s up?’ he asked. I looked at my feet and he looked down there as well.
‘Quicksand!’ I giggled.
‘Oh man, get a grip!’ he laughed.
I loved the sensation of the water and sand rushing about my feet; the coolness and the feeling of something being alive.
Picking up one foot, with some difficulty I might add, I moved it forward and placed it back in the water, then stepped forward with the other. Another wave rolled in and bashed against my legs, almost unbalancing me and causing me to fall.
‘Are you having fun there?’ Guy asked.
‘Man, it’s been ages since I’ve done this. I feel like a little kid again,’ I replied.
‘How many times must I tell you … you ain’t no twink no more!’
‘Fuck off!’ I said, as I took some high steps and walked further into the cool water.
As I waded out further from the shore it was soon above my knees, then half way up my thighs, and before long I felt my balls shrink back inside my body as a wave of coldness swamped me.
‘Holy shit!’ I exclaimed. ‘That’s fucking cold!’
‘Toughen up, princess,’ came the response from my companion.
‘At least you didn’t say harden up,’ I spat back.
‘Oh, believe me, I was tempted!’ he joked, as I shot him a curious look, which I was sure he took for what it was; a sign of confusion. I also had no doubt that he also recognised what I was thinking.
‘Since when have you been so out there? I always thought you were the quiet one?’ I said.
‘Let’s just say I’ve come out of my shell,’ he replied. ‘But don’t flatter yourself, sweetheart, I’ve already said your virtue is safe with me, haven’t I? I’m taken, remember? And besides, I’m sure you have your mind on some of the other talent around here, don’t you?’
I watched him for a few seconds, still feeling slightly confused, as he dived forward into the water and started swimming away from me.
No, he wasn’t flirting with me, of course. But as for the rest of what he said … yeah, he was right about that. There was other talent around here that I was more interested in. The question was, how was I going to go about repairing the damage I had already done?
We swam and laughed and played around like a couple of twelve year olds for about an hour, before we finally emerged from the surf and flung ourselves down on the sand, still naked, in the shade of some trees.
I couldn’t remember having had so much fun in ages. Life seemed all too serious these days, so it was good to just be a kid again, especially while I was still young enough to be able to enjoy it.
‘So, how was that?’ Guy asked me, almost breathless.
‘Fucking amazing. I felt like I was about twelve years old again.’
‘Yeah, and judging by that shrivelled up thing you’ve got there, it looks like it was the feeling the same way.’
‘Charming. Just fucking charming,’ I laughed as I fell back onto the sand.
He laughed with me for a moment, but then fell silent. Propping himself up on one elbow he looked at me seriously.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Tell me something,’ he said. ‘Did you really mean what you said … you know, about setting things right with Aaron?’
I rolled my head toward him and studied him for a moment. His expression was one of total seriousness.
‘Absolutely,’ I replied. ‘I don’t know what it is going to take to get my message across, but I truly do still care for him. I’ve never stopped caring for him, and without him in my life there has been an emptiness there that has been almost impossible to live with.’
‘I see,’ he said. ‘But do you love him?’
‘I’ve never stopped loving him,’ I replied, truthfully.
With a nod of his head he fell back onto the sand and put his hands behind his head, staring up into the branches above us and the blue sky beyond.
I did the same, and for several minutes there was silence between us as we listened to the rolling waves and the breeze whistling through the trees.
Eventually it was Guy who spoke first.
‘At the moment,’ he began, ‘I think he’s in a good place … you know, in his head. It has almost been like he’s back to his old self again.’
‘So, you’ve been in touch with him then?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, every now and then. He comes and mows our lawns for us whenever we need it. He only charges us mates rates.’
‘I’m glad you guys do that.’
‘Well, it kind of gives us the chance to keep tabs on him, you know, without making it too obvious. Although I’m pretty sure he knows exactly what we’re up to.’
‘It’s just that, well, seeing as he’s come so far,’ he continued, ‘we would hate to see anything happen to him. We would hate to see him hurt again.’
‘No one wants to see that,’ I assured him, although rather too tersely. I instantly regretted the tone of my voice. ‘I said that I loved him and I meant it.’
‘I believe you,’ he replied, while sitting back up and looking straight at me. ‘Mate, we’re not trying to have a go at you, or your intentions. We just want to see you both happy again. It broke our hearts too when you guys split, so if this is what you want, you can count on us to help, all right?’
‘Thank you,’ I replied.
‘So, when are you planning on going to see him? How are you going to work it … or do you want us to arrange something?’
‘No, I’ll go see him …’ I started to say, but then I had a sudden thought. ‘Actually, now that you mentioned it … I have an idea. You said he mows your lawn … well, it looks like it might need mowing again, don’t you think? You know, before the party next week.’
‘You sneaky bastard!’ he laughed, while thumping me in the shoulder. ‘Do you think it’ll work?’
‘If you can get him to do it as soon as he can, like, tomorrow or Monday, it just might.’
‘But what if you happen to bump into him, or Scott or Justin for that matter, in the mean time?’
‘I guess that’s a risk I’ll just have to take,’ I replied.
‘I’ll make the call just as soon as we get back, and let the others know as well.’
‘Thanks mate, I appreciate that. Now, I guess we had better start back ourselves, otherwise Luke will come searching for us.’
I got to my feet and held out a hand for him, which he took, allowing me to pull him to his feet as well. Before he had the chance to move anywhere I reached out for him and hugged him to me, our bodies coming together and catching him slightly off guard.
‘What was that for?’ he asked when we separated, with a curious expression adorning his face.
‘Just a thank you,’ I replied. ‘For the welcome last night, for your support when Tim had a go at me, and for today. It really does mean a lot to me.’
‘Mate, isn’t that just what friends are for? Now come on,’ he said, while patting me on the bum. ‘Let’s get dressed and get home, so we can put this stunning plan of yours into action.’
* * *
We only pulled on our shorts and flip-flops for the return trek to the house, both choosing to simply tuck our t-shirts into the waist bands of our shorts and let them hang there.
I felt like I had a new spring in my step as I walked back through the bush toward the house, and that was clearly thanks to Guy, who not only helped me realise exactly what it was I wanted to do, but was also clearly supportive, even to the extent of becoming a co-conspirator.
‘Hey guys. How was the swim?’ Luke called out from the rear deck of the house as we came through the back gate, where he was seated at the outdoor table with his laptop open in front of him.
‘It was brilliant,’ I called back. ‘Man, it’s been ages since I’ve had that much fun. I didn’t realise how much I actually missed that beach.’
‘Well, it certainly looks like it has put you in a good mood.’
‘Oh, it’s done more than that,’ Guy added. ‘It has even provided him with a little inspiration.’
‘Oh yes,’ continued Guy. ‘Our boy here has come up with a cunning plan to attract his potential mate.’
By this time we were leaning against the railing and looking directly at Luke, whose facial expression was clearly one of confusion.
‘Someone want to tell me what’s going on? Luke asked.
‘All in good time my dear chap. But right now I need to make a quick phone call,’ Guy teased, while jumping up the few stairs and heading through the back door of the house.
Before Luke had even had the chance to open his mouth to ask me what the fuck was going on … which was clearly what was on his mind, Guy returned to the deck and was punching buttons on his phone.
‘Hey babe, it’s me,’ he said. ‘You haven’t bumped into Scott or Justin or Aaron today, have you?’
We, of course, couldn’t hear the reply.
‘Okay, good. Well, if you do I need you to do something please. Whatever you do just don’t mention anything about Tony being here, okay. Can you do that for me? … Great. See you in a little while for lunch. We’ll explain it all then. Bye hun.’
‘Okay then, is anyone going to tell me now what’s going on?’ Luke asked again.
‘Well … we’re setting up a little meeting,’ Guy offered. ‘The plan is this. We get the two of them together, here, but, hopefully without Aaron knowing anything about our Tony being back in town.’
‘And just how do you propose to do that?’ Luke asked.
‘Simple … we need the lawn mown before next weekend. We get the A-man out to give it the once over, and who does he run into but his old boyfriend?’
‘Oh sweet Jesus,’ Luke giggled. ‘You pair take the cake. When did you cook up this idea?’
‘It was his idea,’ Guy quickly replied, while pointing in my direction. ‘Now, we need you to make a call to Matt and make sure that if he sees any of the guys he doesn’t spill the beans either. Then we just have to call Aaron and get him out here.’
Luke picked up his phone and hit the speed dial to call Matt and was soon talking to him. He quickly managed to extract the same promise from Matt, then disconnected, while still shaking his head and laughing.
‘Great,’ said Guy. ‘Now we bait the trap.’
Punching in some numbers on his phone, we soon heard it ringing. This time it was on hands-free, so we could hear the conversation. While this was happening Luke got up from the table and came over to stand beside us.
‘Hey Guy,’ I heard a familiar voice say. Aaron must have recognised the number, or had it in his phone already. ‘What’s happening?’
Just hearing him utter those few words left me breathless, as I felt my chest tighten. At the same time I felt Luke’s comforting arm reach around my shoulder and hug me close to him.
‘Not much, mate,’ Guy said. ‘I was just wondering if you could do us a favour and run your mower over the grass sometime in the next few days. We’re going to have a bit of a party next weekend, you know, Australia Day and all that, so a bit of a tidy-up won’t go astray. You’re invited to the party as well, of course. And I’ll call Scotty and Jay later on to invite them also.’
‘Ummm … okay,’ Aaron replied. ‘I’ve got a few jobs to do early in the week. What if I did it this afternoon? Just after lunch. Is that okay?’
Aaron’s voice sounded flat, almost without any real life in it, but it was him all right.
Guy looked at me and winked.
‘All right. If that suits you, that’ll be perfect. Are you sure we’re not cutting into your weekend or anything?’
‘Nothing better to do,’ Aaron replied.
‘Okay mate. We’re about to head into town ourselves, but will be back just after lunch. If we’re not here when you get here you know where everything is, help yourself to a beer or whatever … we won’t be too far away.’
‘Right then. Thanks. I’ll see you then.’
‘Thanks, mate,’ Guy said, then the call finished, with Aaron disconnecting first.
‘Well, that was easy enough,’ Luke said.
‘Absolutely,’ Guy added. ‘And if everything goes to plan, hopefully he’ll be here when we get back from lunch.’
They both looked at me and grinned.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘What do you mean by, what?’ Luke said, while ruffling my hair. ‘It has just been set up perfectly for you. Now the ball is in your court …’
‘… so don’t fuck it up,’ Guy finished.
‘Thanks guys. I really appreciate it,’ I replied.
‘Don’t mention it. Right, now that’s done,’ Luke said, ‘perhaps we’d best get ready for our lunch date?’
‘Yep, shower time,’ Guy said.
As I headed for the guest house, Guy headed inside, while Luke started packing up his laptop and notes from the table where he had been working.
I couldn’t help but feel optimistic as I crossed the yard toward my room, knowing that in just a short while I would see Aaron for the first time in ages. In the weeks and months which had followed our parting, it may have been easy for him to ignore my emails and messages, but today we would finally see each other face to face again.
Once inside my room I quickly stripped off my clothes and retrieved my toiletries bag from my carry all, then headed for the shower. Beneath a stream of hot water I washed the salt from my body and my worries from my mind, and while some parts of me appeared to be quite excited at the thought of what the afternoon might bring, I refrained from letting them get too excited.
Finally I switched off the taps and grabbed the towel from the rack where I had left it hanging that morning, and while wandering back out to the bedroom I roughly dried myself, before moving to where my carry-all was sitting it on the bed.
I guess I called it my carry-all, because that was exactly what I used it for … to carry everything I needed on my frequent short trips away from home. Technically though, it was one of those multi-purpose travelling bags that had numerous separate compartments, including ones for a laptop computer, clothes and files, while also having various pockets on the outside for all those other little items I couldn’t do without. It had been one of many gifts I had received from my publisher upon the success of my first novel, and it has been my constant companion ever since.
I had opened it this morning, for the first time since my arrival, to retrieve from it some shorts and a t-shirt and that was where it still sat, opened up to reveal the compartment in which my clothes were packed.
One by one I started taking them out of the bag and either laying them on the bed beside it, or hanging them up in the robe along the wall on one side of the room. I had learnt to pack well over the years, and for the most part everything came out still looking fresh, although I do have to admit to doing some cheating, as most of the time these days I tended to buy clothes made from those fancy new materials which I knew wouldn’t crease.
After I had finished unpacking I quickly looked through what I had brought with me and selected what I would wear to lunch. I wanted to look good, but at the same time not too fancy, as I knew that there was every chance when I returned here after lunch I would be face to face with Aaron.
I chose a pair of dark blue trousers and a pale grey shirt with faint stripes, the same clothes I thought I would wear to the writers centre event through the week, then set about applying some deodorant and tidying my hair, before eventually dressing and heading outside, with my thoughts firmly on Aaron and what has passed since that last night together.
For both of us life had moved on, of course, with each of us trying to forge our own place in this world. Whether or not we both found what we were looking for was debatable, and while I can’t answer for Aaron, I think I have a pretty fair idea just what he might say if he were asked about that now.
As for me, though, I think it is fair to say that while in some respects my ship might have come in, when it comes to the things that really do matter to me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was still searching for that elusive happy ending.