From the time we first started our little lawn mowing business all those years ago, we had adopted an unofficial uniform of khaki coloured shorts and singlet for us both, and even though Aaron was still wearing the same clothes these days, I had to say that he didn’t quite look the same.
I couldn’t help but admire the man he had become, at least physically. Working in the outdoors obviously agreed with him as his body looked tanned and hardened, and his legs more muscular than I could ever recall their being, while his hair was now streaked blonde from the sun.
He was the perfect poster boy for the gardening trade and given the opportunity, I thought, I could quite easily imagine seeing him in an advertising program for just about anything to do with mowing or gardening.
I had let my arm drop back to my side and we stood there for what seemed like an age, before I decided to try again.
‘It’s really good to see you again,’ I said. ‘Are you doing okay?’
More silence, came the stern reply.
Looking down at the side of his trailer I noticed the sign with the business name, which he had made using the logo we had designed together when we were first starting out.
I smiled as the memory of how we settled on that logo came back to me.
AA Mowing, it was. A for Aaron and A for Anthony, although I think the last time I’d ever actually been called Anthony had been the time when I’d been called into a court room; quite a while ago now.
The word mowing was then below the two letters, in a lower case font that looked like handwriting.
The logo had two capital A’s, sitting one above the other, with the point of the bottom letter nestled firmly in the inverted V of the top letter. At first glance it was often mistaken for an arrowhead, or something like that, although why we actually settled on the design was far more, let’s say, primal. The real reason we chose that design was simply because it looked like the two letters were fucking each other; such were our young minds at the time.
‘I see you stuck with the old logo and our uniform,’ I said, trying to make at least some conversation.
‘Yeah, well … it really wasn’t worth trying to change,’ he finally replied.
‘Ahhh, he speaks!’
Aaron let out a sigh and looked away.
‘What do you actually want?’ he finally asked.
‘I want to talk,’ I replied. ‘I want to know that you’re okay.’
‘I seem to recall you doing all your talking about five years ago,’ he spat back at me.
‘Hey, that’s not fair,’ I responded. ‘You had a choice. And I tried calling you … I tried writing you …’
‘Maybe, but you didn’t come back for me, did you?’ he said, and with some venom.
‘Just forget about it. I’ve got to go.’
With some force he slid home a lock on the gate at the back of his trailer, then came around and pushed right past me, grabbing the handle of the driver’s door and yanking it open, before climbing in.
‘Please Aaron. I really need to talk to you,’ I pleaded.
‘Maybe some other time,’ he replied, then started the truck and jammed the gears into reverse, before backing the whole rig out in a perfect straight line, even with the trailer on behind him.
I stood there and watched as he drove away, with tears and sadness and regret building up inside me.
‘Faaarrrck,’ I screamed out loud, to anyone or anything that wanted to listen. As far as I knew, there were only insects, birds and the occasional lizard who would have taken any notice.
* * *
When all the guys arrived home about half an hour later I was still sitting on the back steps of the house, my elbows on my knees, hands joined together in front of me and simply staring at the ground.
Never before in my life had I been so fascinated by a group of ants traipsing across a yard. At least it gave me something else to think about.
At the sound of car doors being opened and closed I looked up at them. I was sure that they would have been able to tell, even from a distance, that I had been crying. I didn’t care though.
Luke was the first one to reach me, sitting down beside me and wrapping his arms protectively around me, rocking us back and forth.
‘So much for the grand plan,’ I managed to say eventually.
‘You tried,’ he said to me. ‘That’s all that matters. And it ain’t over yet.’
‘What? No, he’s not even interested in talking. Not in the slightest.’
‘What did he say?’ Matt asked from where he stood on my other side.
‘That doesn’t matter. It’s all simple enough though. I fucked up,’ I said to him. ‘I fucked up five years ago. And now he wants nothing to do with me.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ Matt asked, his hand on my shoulder and rubbing gently.
‘Yeah. I’m pretty sure. He’s pissed that I didn’t come back for him.’
‘Well, you’re here now, aren’t you?’ Luke said.
‘Yeah, better late than never, eh?’ I managed to say.
‘He’ll come around,’ Matt said, tying to reassure me.
‘I doubt it,’ I replied.
In the minutes that followed no one dared to speak, until Matt finally asked, ‘So, what now?’
I simply shook my head and said, ‘I have no fucking idea. I may as well pack up and head back to Brisbane.’
‘So, what? You’re just going to give up? Just like that?’ Luke demanded.
‘He’s made it perfectly obvious he …’
‘You’ve had one conversation with him!’ Luke said, cutting me short.
‘It wasn’t even long enough to even be classed as a conversation … but that was still more than enough. He got his point across.’
‘Bull shit! He’ll come around. He’d be mad not too!’
‘Thanks Luke, but I’m not so sure about that,’ I replied.
I looked up at Tim and Guy and noticed Tim frowning down on me.
‘So, last night you really were just full of bull shit after all?’ Tim said to me.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘You heard me. All that talk about doing whatever it took to set things right. Now at the first sign of trouble you’re giving up! Running away like a mongrel dog with its tail between its legs,’ he snarled.
‘Tim … I …’ I started to say, but he just turned and walked off, apparently not interested in anything more I had to say.
This day was just getting betterer and betterer.
Guy excused himself and headed inside after Tim, which left the three of us sitting on the back steps.
Just then a telephone rang. Matt quickly got to his feet, then dug into his pocket to retrieve his phone and answered it.
‘G’day, Scott,’ he said.
As we listened to the conversation unfold, or at least one side of it, Luke and I exchanged glances.
‘Yeah mate, he’s here, he arrived yesterday … . . No, I’m not sure what happened today, we’ve only just got back from having lunch in town … . . What? He’s crying? Shit, that’s no good. Is he okay? … . . Yeah, I’ll talk to Tony and try and find out. Just let us know what happens, all right … . . Yeah, I agree, I think we need to try and get these two back together as well … . . Okay, I’ll talk to you later.’
When he disconnected he looked down at us, smiling.
‘I think you might actually have an ally there,’ he said.
‘I don’t know if it’ll do much good,’ I answered.
‘You let us worry about that,’ he said, grinning. ‘Just promise us you won’t piss off back to Brisbane without giving us a chance to help you two out!’
‘What?’ I almost squeaked.
‘You heard me,’ he teased. ‘This show ain’t quite over just yet!’
* * *
It was actually quite a warm afternoon outside, but there were some clouds around and the air had that feeling it was going to build up into an afternoon storm.
After excusing myself from Matt and Luke I headed into the guest house, feeling wrung out and sorry for myself. I decided to strip off down to my jocks and just lie down on the bed for a while, hopeful of being able to grab a bit of a nap, but with everything I had learned in the past twenty-four hours I found my head spinning once more and sleep was the last thing that I was going to find just now.
As I lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling and with my arms folded behind my head, I started to replay in my mind just what had gone down between Aaron and me since I had left. He was obviously still hurting and from the time he first laid his eyes on me today I could tell that he was pissed. What I wasn’t sure about was whether he was pissed with the entire world, or whether it was just me.
After the guys telling me what had happened to him following my leaving town, I really felt for him. If I’d only known about it I most certainly would have dropped everything and come back to town.
He had obviously had his reasons for asking them to keep quiet, but even so, I was still annoyed that none of them had ever said anything to me at all. I mean all they had to say was that he was having some troubles and I would have been there in an instant.
Perhaps he was right about one thing, though. I could have come back sooner. I could have come back for him.
Why couldn’t I have even returned? Even just for weekends, or for the holidays, or whatever, once I’d managed to do what I had intended to do in getting my own career going? But I didn’t do that, did I? And now that I’ve had time to think about it all, I’ve finally realised that it was almost like I had turned my back on everyone all together, while I went off chasing my dreams. The scariest part was, however, that just now was the first time I had ever even acknowledged that fact.
Unable to sleep and with these thoughts still occupying my mind, I sat up and swung my legs over the edge of the bed, then ran my hands back through my short hair.
I needed to piss, so getting to my feet I padded to the ensuite to relieve myself, then washed my hands and face, liberally sloshing cold water on my face, before grabbing a towel and drying off.
As I was walking back into the bedroom there was a knock at the door, which I had left open, and when I turned toward it I found Tim standing there, with two bottles of beer in his hands.
‘Peace offering?’ he said, as he held one of the bottles out for me. I strongly suspected that Guy had just given him an earful.
‘Thanks,’ I said while taking it from him. We both pulled out chairs from around the small table and sat down.
‘I’m sorry I snapped earlier,’ he said.
‘You had every right,’ I replied. ‘I was just feeling sorry for myself and thinking that just going back to Brisbane would be the easiest way out.’
We both took sips from our beers.
‘But …’ I added, ‘I’m not going. At least not yet. I do still care about him … love him even, so despite what has happened in the past, I can’t just walk away from that yet again.’
‘And nor should you,’ Tim replied. ‘What happened to Aaron wasn’t your fault, you know. It was simply a combination of a few things happening to him all at once. It was rough, and it was painful to see, but no one is to blame … it just happened, and even Aaron has to recognise that.’
‘He was right though, about one thing.’
‘Yeah? What’s that?’
‘I could have come back. In fact I should have come back, and well before this, but I was always too busy chasing what it was that I wanted, instead of thinking about the feelings of others every now and then.’
‘That might be true,’ he said. ‘But remember he had his chance to go with you as well, and if he’d let himself get taken out of his comfort zone for a just moment and actually taken the plunge and gone away with you, then who knows where the pair of you might be now. Chances are it wouldn’t be here!’
‘You’re probably right,’ I replied.
We both sipped on our beers in silence for a few minutes more as we mulled things over, before Tim eventually spoke again.
‘What would happen,’ he began, ‘if you guys did get back together?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, if you guys do get things sorted out between you, then you asked him to go away with you again and he refused, for a second time? What would you do?’
To give me a moment to think about that, I took another sip of my beer.
Just what would I do? It was a good question, and not one that I had actually given any thought to so far.
‘Okay, let me put it another way then,’ he said, after I had remained silent for a few moments, while thinking things over. ‘Have you ever thought about coming back here to live at all, now that you’ve made your fortune? Or, more to the point … if it came down to it, would you come back if Aaron said he didn’t want to leave here? Do you love him that much?’
I knew in my heart that at some stage I would like to make a return to the area, but I hadn’t actually thought too seriously about when that might be. It was something that I figured would just simply happen one day, when I was ready for it, however, just when that day would come I couldn’t be sure.
If it came down to it and I had to make a choice right now, what would I do? Of course, I already knew the answer to that.
‘Well, now that you’ve put it that way,’ I said, ‘the answer is yes. Absolutely!’
‘That’s what I thought,’ he replied, offering me a grin, before downing the last of his beer.
I finished my beer as well, then stood up, taking his empty bottle from him and dropping them both into the recycling container beside the sink, before leaning back against the cupboard and folding my arms across my chest.
Tim looked me up and down and smiled. ‘Guy told me you had changed since you were last living here. I wasn’t too sure what he meant exactly, but now I understand.’
‘Yeah. I think you’ve grown up … quite a lot,’ he said, as his eyes settled on my jocks. ‘And in more ways than one.’
‘Smart arse!’ I replied.
Getting to his feet he came over to me and stood in front of me, then opened his arms and embraced me.
I hugged him back.
‘Aaron would be mad not to take you back,’ he whispered into my ear.
‘Thanks,’ I replied. ‘I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.’
* * *
After Tim left me I wandered back into the bedroom and found my carry-all, then rather than pull out my new iPad, as I didn’t have a wi-fi connection here, I reached for my trusty old Dell laptop, which I had been using for a few years now. It wasn’t a top of the range model by any means; after all, what penniless writer (as I was back then when I had acquired it) can afford something like that, but nonetheless, it had served me well and I liked using it, so I hadn’t bothered updating.
I carried it back out to the kitchen and set it on the table, then after plugging the power-pack into the wall socket (the battery had given up the ghost long ago) I switched it on.
While the laptop was booting up I also grabbed my phone and turned it on, before then checking my messages.
There were a few there, but basically they were just more of the same; a couple from Shi-Anne, my publicist, another one from Harry, my agent, and several requests for appearances or book signings or to give a talk on something or other.
For the most part this was what my life was actually like, and while I enjoyed my freedoms, I certainly didn’t enjoy the constant demands on my time and my opinions. All that, I figured, I could definitely do without.
By the time I finished answering those demands I then turned my attention to my laptop, which had gone to sleep while I was off doing other things. I placed a finger on the small touch-pad and it came back to life once more, bringing up an all too familiar photo of Aaron and me on the beach, which I had set as the background for the desktop.
I remember that day well. It was a photo that Justin had taken, trying out a new camera that Scott had given him. All the gang had gathered for a day on the beach for some occasion which, from memory, was Justin’s birthday.
We were both happy then, and even now, it was always good to see his smiling face whenever I opened up my laptop, no matter where I was or what I was doing. On the odd occasion I had even found myself just sitting there and staring at the screen, taking in the image and remembering those happier times.
Shi-Anne had caught me doing that once, about a year ago now I think it was, when I had been doing some work at Harry’s office. She had leaned in over my shoulder for a better look.
‘He’s sure a cutie,’ she had said. ‘Is that …’ she started to say, but then cut herself short.
‘It’s okay,’ I had answered. ‘I was just taking a stroll down memory lane … again.’
‘You miss him, don’t you?’ she asked, while placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.
‘So, why don’t you do something about it?’
‘He’s cut me off. He won’t answer any calls or respond to any messages. As far as he’s concerned I don’t think I exist any more.’
‘Are you sure about that? Maybe he’s waiting for you to make a move, like ride back in on a big white stallion and sweep him off his feet!’
‘I’ve never ridden a horse in my fucking life,’ I laughed.
‘No time like the present,’ she replied.
Just then Harry walked through the door, coming from his office, on his way to the photo-copier, with my latest contract in his hand.
‘Take it from me kid, white stallions are so Lone Ranger. They all went out back in the nineteen-fifties. Try a Harley instead, and even if he doesn’t come at that, you’ll still be sitting on something hot and hard and throbbing, that’ll have you feeling great in no time!’
He gave me a wink and a smile as he said it, which only caused Shi-Anne to throw her hands up in dismay and give him the old Shi-Anne Death Stare, which I had seen up close and personal on enough occasions to know that it was deadly.
‘Thanks for the advice guys, but I think I’ll take it under advisement,’ I said to them.
‘Suit yourself,’ Harry said, ‘but don’t blame me if you end up a lonely old man.’
‘Harry!’ Shi-Anne admonished. ‘Give the guy a break!’
‘I’m just sayin!’ he cried, then disappeared into the copier room.
Once the old laptop was fully booted up I plugged in my trusty little USB broadband device, which allowed me to access the internet, then clicked a few buttons and waited for it to connect. At least the signal strength here was okay, it seemed. Some places where I’ve tried using it there was barely enough signal strength to register one bar on the device, which made using the net quite a painful experience.
I quickly opened up Firefox and went to my webmail account to check on what surprises I might have waiting for me there. After three days of not checking my emails I was expecting quite a few, and wasn’t disappointed when I logged in.
Mostly it was junk mail, which was quickly deleted, and some fan mail as well, but thankfully at least the one I was expecting from Harry was there.
‘Read it and weep,’ was all that he had said in his covering message.
With trembling hands I clicked on the attachment, which had originated from a company called Mattachine Productions in the United States, and the document opened.
It was their offer for the rights to the third of my novels; the one that was about to be released. I quickly read through the document, most of which was legalese that I would need Harry to explain to me anyhow, however, when I came to the dollar sign and the figure which followed it I was simply blown away.
Quickly I picked up my phone and pressed the speed-dial button for Harry’s mobile. If my hands had been shaky when I had opened the document, they were ten times worse now.
‘Hey, Tony. So, what did you think?’ he asked when he finally answered.
‘Are they for real?’ I squeaked. ‘They cannot be serious!’
‘What? You want to hold out for more?’ he asked, with just a hint of mischief in his voice.
‘Fuck me, Harry, I can’t believe it! Say yes for christ’s sake!’ I yelled at him.
‘We need to go through it first and I need to explain some stuff to you, plus you’ll need to sign it. When will you be back in Brissy?’
‘Not ’til after the long weekend. The guys are having a party on Australia Day, so I’ll probably head back some time after that.’
‘That’s no good. They’ve got a few clauses in there that I’ll need to talk to you about and explain. Okay, how about I come down then. I’ll fly down on whatever day I can get the earliest flight, we’ll sort through it all, you can sign it, then I’ll fly home and set the wheels in motion.’
‘All right, if that’s what you think we need to do. Let me know when you’re going to be arriving and I’ll meet you at the Macquarie Harbour airport. Just remember though, that I have that writers’ centre thing on Wednesday.’
‘Hopefully by then I will have been and gone. Okay, I’ll talk to you soon.’
‘Right. See you soon.’
‘Oh, and before I forget about it, Shi-Anne wants to know how things are with lover boy?’
‘Next question!’ I replied.
‘Shit. Sorry mate.’
‘Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. I’ll talk to you soon,’ I replied, then disconnected.
For a long while I just sat there in the chair, still staring at my phone. I had no idea if it was five minutes, or fifty, but for the whole time my head was in a whirl.
After all, it’s not every day that a guy like me gets offered one point five million dollars now, is it?