Shortly after I had recovered from the shock of Harry’s news, there was another knock at the door. I looked up to see Luke standing there, his face etched with concern.
‘Are you okay, mate?’ he asked. ‘I heard you yell out a while ago, so just thought I should check.’
‘Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for asking,’ I replied. ‘I was just checking my emails. Harry, my agent, has sent through a contract for me to have a look at. I was just yelling at him on the phone.’
‘Is everything all right? Nothing too serious I hope?’
‘Nope. It’s all good now,’ I answered, trying not to let my excitement show too much. ‘He’s talking about flying down in the next couple of days, so we can go through the details of it all, so would you mind if he stayed here for a night?’
‘No, of course not. If he doesn’t mind slumming it he can use the other bedroom.’
‘Thanks. I appreciate that. He’ll let me know once he’s organised when he’s coming.’
I thought about telling him about the offer from America, but in the end I kept it quiet, not wanting to jinx it by letting the cat out of the bag too soon.
‘I just thought I should warn you … apparently Matt and Scott have been talking again this afternoon. I’m sure they’re cooking something up.’
‘I’d be surprised if they weren’t,’ I chuckled as I headed into the bedroom and pulled on some shorts and a t-shirt. ‘How was Aaron, have you heard?’
‘He’s fine. He just had a bit of a moment after he got back to the park. I guess it would have been something of a shock for him when he saw you get out of the car, especially after all this time, but at least now he knows that you are here, and that you want to talk to him, so that’s a start.’
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘I was thinking I might call in there tomorrow morning and try again.’
Luke nodded, then said, ‘Just be careful, okay?’
‘I will,’ I promised.
‘Oh, we’ve also started doing a ring around about the party next weekend. It’s quite short notice for a few of them, but I think we’ll still pull a crowd. Ben and Samantha have already said they’ll be here, complete with their three kids in tow. I also left a message for mum and dad, and I told them you’re here, but I’m not sure if they will be able to make it.’
‘It would be good to see your folks again. And Ben and Sam have three kids now? Wow! They’ve been busy. I thought they only had one when I left here. Anyhow, it already sounds like it’s going to be a blast.’
I had only ever met Ben and Sam a couple of times, but I loved them both. They had lived here with the guys for a while, but had moved back to their home town not long before I came on the scene. From my experiences with Ben he could be a total nutcase when he wanted to be, while Samantha was a total sweetheart. It wasn’t hard to like them both though.
‘Yep, they had twin boys about three years ago. They’ll have their hands full when they all get to the teenage years … especially if the boys are anything like Ben was!’ he answered. ‘Anyhow, yeah, I think the party will go off well. Now do you have any plans for the rest of the afternoon? Or do you just want to chill?’
‘To be perfectly honest, I was thinking about going for a walk up to the lighthouse, just to get out and clear my head a bit, you know. Apart from the Aaron issue, there’s some other stuff I need to think about and sort out in my head before Harry comes down.’
‘Anything that any of us can help with?’
‘Nah, it’s cool, thanks. Just trying to weigh up a few ideas.’
‘All right then,’ he replied. ‘If you need, or want anything, all you’ve got to do is holler.’
‘Thanks. You’re the best.’
‘I know,’ he replied, ‘but there’s plenty who would disagree with you.’
‘As if,’ I rebuked him.
With a wink he headed back outside and disappeared, but only for a moment, as he soon stuck his head back inside the doorway once more.
‘I almost forgot. We thought we would grab some take-out from Charlie Wong’s for later on. Is that all right by you?’
‘Anything is fine, thanks.’
‘Okay. If you’re not back by about sundown we’ll send out a search party.’
‘Sounds good,’ I replied.
Once Luke had left I dug out some socks from my bag, along with my runners, then pulled them on also. I was now ready to climb the headland up to the lighthouse and so I headed outside.
‘Running away so soon?’ I heard someone ask, turning to find Guy sitting on the deck near the back door of the house. He looked to be reading a magazine.
‘Yeah, it’s all this fresh country air,’ I replied. ‘I’m missing the smog already.’
‘Ahhhh … withdrawls,’ he said, nodding wisely. ‘It gets ’em every time.’
‘So they tell me.’
‘Take it easy then. You don’t want to over-do it.’
‘I won’t. I’ll be back in a while.’
I headed out the gate at the back of the yard and along the path toward the beach. It was still warm, but with the afternoon more than half gone the temperature was now on the downward slide, so my walk was pleasant enough, especially when I felt the cool caress of a sea breeze blowing in from the ocean.
When I hit the beach I noticed that there were a few people down the far end, closer to the northern headland, with another couple of people also out in the water. I turned right and headed south along the beach until I came to the end of the sand, where there was a rocky outcrop at the water’s edge. From there several paths tracked away through the sparse scrub, with the main path climbing directly over the ridge and heading toward town, while another led upward, toward the lighthouse, skirting the edge of the headland and the cliffs, following a rather narrow and rocky course. If you followed the path heading over the headland toward town, you would come to another path that led straight up through the middle of the bush, which was a relatively easy walk.
When I had first come here I had taken the more dangerous climb every time, loving the danger and the thrill of it, while looking straight down at the water smashing on the rocks below, and so, for the sake of old-times, that was the path I chose today.
By the time I reached the half way mark I was sucking in some deep breaths. At this point there was a rocky ledge which looked out over the dark blue waters of the little bay, so I stopped and sat down on a large rock for a brief rest.
Scanning the beach below me I saw that the people on the far side were packing up and starting to make their way back to wherever they had come from, which I assumed was one of the other houses located along the road past ‘Avalon’. From where I now sat, which was quite a height above the water, I scanned the bushland between the beach and Beachside Lane, starting from the northern end, where I could see the roofs of several houses off in that direction. I also noticed one large, sprawling white house that appeared to be on the far side of Beachside Lane and built on top of a hill. I tried to remember which house it was, but came up blank. I could only ever recall that area being covered with scrub. Even so, I idly wondered what kind of a view the place offered of the bay. It would certainly be a spectacular spot to live if it had the view I thought it would have.
Shifting my gaze back to the southern end of the beach I could clearly see Luke and Matt’s house amongst the trees, standing out well with its coat of white paint and distinctive blue roof. I figured that they had certainly done well in being able to buy the place, and having the security of owning it would be sure to set them up well for the rest of their lives.
Once I had caught my breath after the steep climb, I stood up and wiped the sweat from my face, then looked up ahead of me. From here I knew there were two ways to get to the top. I could continue to follow the same, precarious path along the edge of the headland, or I could duck through the scrubby growth which surrounded me and find the more sedate path which ran up the middle of the headland and was just a few dozen yards away from where I now stood.
I didn’t even need to think twice about it.
* * *
A short while later I climbed over the last of the rocks, sweating as if I’d just run a marathon, and as I pulled off my t-shirt I started across the cleared grassland that topped the headland, heading for the white lighthouse which had stood like a sentinel above the town for more than one hundred and fifty years.
The lighthouse itself was no longer in service, however as an important part of the local history it was well maintained and was a popular tourist spot, even if a little inaccessible. I noted that since I had last been here there had been the addition of picnic tables and other amenities, so it was obviously still a well frequented place.
I walked over to the southern side of the headland and looked down at the scene below, which took in Five Mile Beach and the road into the township; Lighthouse Lane.
Between the lighthouse and the township, a small car park had been carved into the side of the mountain, with the narrow roadway climbing up to it from below. From there any visitors then had to climb a path to reach the lighthouse at the top of the headland, but for those who were keen enough to do that the view was always worthwhile. There was also a picnic area just above the car park, which is where the other path led to when leaving Hidden Beach.
The car park had just a single vehicle parked there today, but as I let my eyes follow the road back down the hill toward the town I could see another one on its way, just clearing the foothills and starting its climb up the side of the mountain.
Back closer to town from the car park the road passed several houses, then as you hit the edge of town you came to Scott’s caravan park.
From where I was standing today, it could easily be seen, with the vans and cabins all neatly arranged amongst shady trees, just over the sand dunes which ran between the beach and Lighthouse Lane. I wondered which of the vans Aaron was living in and tried to see if I could spot his vehicle there.
When I was living here Aaron and I had followed the route from ‘Avalon’, across the headland and into town along Lighthouse Lane, many a time. It usually took us about twenty minutes to get from Scott’s place to the house, unless of course we got distracted on the way … which, I have to admit, happened on more than just the odd occasion.
As I revisited some of those memories now I couldn’t help but smile to myself. They were good days, and god I missed them.
After taking in the view on the town side of the headland, while thinking wistful thoughts about adventures that had been experienced in happier days, I found a bench seat looking out over the ocean and sat myself down, leaning back on it and spreading my arms out either side of me along the backrest.
Off in the distance I could see a huge freighter inching its way down the coast, no doubt heading for Newcastle or Sydney to unload, while further out I could see the clouds building, all dark and ominous and threatening to swamp the coast later on tonight.
Between the shoreline and where the freighter steamed along I could see several smaller boats rocking on the choppy water, either fishing boats or sail boats, all going about their business as they always have.
For a long time I simply sat with my eyes closed, content to just breathe in the cool air blowing off the sea, and happy to have the mists that were being generated by the waves crashing on the shore far below me, rise up over the headland and land gently on my bare skin.
In spite of what was going on in my head, I was suddenly feeling alive, and in a way that I hadn’t felt in quite a while.
Given the events of the past twenty-four hours I had a feeling that one way or another life was about to change for me.
What I wasn’t quite sure of just yet was exactly how.
* * *
It was almost dark when I finally made it back to the house. The lights were on inside the house and there was a flood light on at the rear, pointing out toward the back gate, so it was easy enough to find my way.
As I came through the gate I heard Luke call out, ‘Lucky for you. We were about to send out that search party!’
‘Nah, it’s all good. I’m back!’ I said cheerfully.
As I walked up toward him, with the flood light blazing away in my eyes, I could sense, rather than see, him studying me.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked as I stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up onto the deck.
‘Actually, yeah, I am,’ I replied. ‘I was just doing some thinking. It was always a great place for that.’
‘Yeah, I know just what you mean. And what momentous decisions did you come up with?’
‘Nothing major really … just putting some thoughts in order.’
‘Well, let’s just say that between the news I got from Harry, and my coming back here, I have a feeling that things are about to change for me. I just spent a few hours just thinking about everything that is going on and I’m starting to feel like the old me again.’
‘Jesus, that’s scary!’ he shot back at me.
‘Yeah, it is, isn’t it?’ I laughed.
‘Well, you’re just in time. Tim and Guy went into town a little while ago to pick up dinner, so they won’t be very far away now, I wouldn’t think.’
‘Okay, I might just grab a quick shower then I’ll come straight on up to the house.’
‘All right. We’ll see you soon.’
As I turned to head toward the guest house I noticed car lights coming down the road, which I figured was probably them, so I hurried myself along.
I made sure my shower was a short one, after having had another earlier in the day, and when I emerged from the guest house less than ten minutes later I was feeling refreshed and relaxed. When my eyes settled on the vehicle that I had heard pull into the yard, however, my nerves were immediately on edge, as I definitely knew it wasn’t Tim and Guy’s vehicle.
The old Ford pick-up truck was more familiar to me than most other vehicles in town, being Scott’s dependable old work horse. I would have thought by now he would have traded it in on something newer, but apparently his attachment to the old tank was a strong one.
I knew it would be good to see him again, but it was with some mild trepidation that I climbed the back steps and let myself inside. Would it be just him, or would Justin, or perhaps even Aaron, be there as well?
There was only one way to find out, so I headed down the hallway toward the living room, from where I could hear voices coming.
When I entered the room Matt spotted me first and his face lit up with a grin, which the others quickly noticed as well. Suddenly all eyes turned my way and upon seeing me Scott and Justin immediately got to their feet and crossed the room to greet me.
Scott shook my hand and then pulled me into a hug.
‘Ahhh … the prodigal son has returned,’ he said to me as we shook hands. ‘Man, it’s good to see you again.’
‘You too, Scott.’ I said. ‘It’s been way too long.’
There was no Aaron, although I couldn’t be sure if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
Then it was Justin’s turn. We shook hands and hugged as well, and told each other how good it was to see each other, but when compared to Scott he was rather more reserved than his partner, which, given what the guys had said to me last night, about him and Aaron, wasn’t that great of a surprise.
We all sat back down and Luke quickly thrust a drink into my hand then said that Tim and Guy had called from Charlie’s, who was apparently having quite a busy night, so they were running a little behind with their take-away orders.
‘So, everyone tells me you’ve really hit the big time,’ Scott said as we settled into our seats. ‘It’s always good to see the small town boy do well.’
‘I’m doing okay,’ I answered. ‘I can’t complain at the moment. Although my accountant is always complaining.’
‘Doing okay?’ Scott teased. ‘Jesus, Tony, two number one selling books, one movie down and another supposed to be on the way … don’t think we don’t read the entertainment pages in New Idea and Women’s Weekly! We keep up with all the hot gossip.’
‘Ahhh … I think you just blew yourself out of the water, Scott! Everyone knows that those glossy trash mags just make it all up!’ I replied, with more than just a hint of truth in there.
‘What? And now I suppose you’re going to tell me that the photo of those aliens meeting Bigfoot that was on the cover of last week’s National Enquirer wasn’t real either! Fuck, I think I’ll cancel all my subscriptions now!’
‘And finally you’re talking some sense,’ I joked. ‘Anyhow, what about you guys? How have things been going for you? Is the caravan park still doing all right?’
‘Never better,’ Scott replied. ‘Thanks to you of course! We’re getting asked all the time by visitors wanting us to show them all the places referred to in your books. We ended up getting a map printed which we just hand out to them now.’
‘Yeah,’ Justin added, before then fishing something out of his back pocket and holding it out for me. ‘Here it is.’
I took it and opened up the glossy flyer, complete with lots of great photos of the area. I quickly read the short blurb and then looked at the map and the photos they had displayed. Everything was there for the true fan to enjoy, even down to having all the locations listed with both their real and fictitious names.
‘Whose idea was this?’ I asked, somewhat surprised by it all.
‘That would be my young hot-shot business partner,’ Scott said, while grinning at Justin and giving his leg a gentle squeeze. Looking at the two of them I could see they were still as much in love as ever. I could only hope that Aaron and I … oh shit … what was I thinking …
‘You wouldn’t believe the business you’ve generated in this town,’ Justin added, snapping me back to the present. ‘If you ever move back here one day, I reckon they’ll probably even make you Mayor!’
‘Mayor? Fuck that!’ I answered. ‘I have enough trouble managing my own life, let alone a whole bloody town.’
‘Well, if Clint Eastwood can do it, why not you?’ Matt offered.
‘What are you doing? Trying to make my day?’ I joked.
We talked for a little while longer about what I had been doing and some of the places I have been, and about why I had come back to town after spending so much time away, which of course included the details of the party that almost never was.
‘I’m sure it was all just a ruse,’ I said to them, while looking straight at Luke. All he could do was grin at me.
‘And I heard you bumped into Aaron today,’ Scott said, casually changing the subject.
Suddenly the room seemed to go totally quiet.
‘Yeah,’ I finally answered, then looking straight at Justin I added, ‘I’m not sure which one of us got the biggest surprise. It was really great to see him again. I’d like to think that he felt the same way, but that wasn’t the impression I got.’
‘I wouldn’t worry too much,’ Scott remarked. ‘He’ll come around, I’m almost sure of it.’
‘I hope so. I’ve certainly missed him.’
‘And you can take it from me, he has missed you too, mate,’ Scott said.
The slight squeeze that Scott gave Justin’s leg didn’t go un-noticed, and when I glanced at Justin I thought I detected just a faint nod.
Maybe all’s not lost after all, I thought, just as we heard a car horn sound outside, signalling, at last, the delivery of our meal.