I have to say that despite my travels, and having sampled food in some pretty fancy places, as far as I am concerned Charlie Wong’s restaurant is still my all time favourite Chinese joint. The food from there is out of this world and, for me at least, nothing else even comes close.
Of course it is probably just all to do with my wearing rose coloured glasses or something. I mean, after all, Charlie’s place was what I partly grew up with and because of that nothing else will ever measure up, but hey, who cares really; I like what I like, and that’s all that matters.
I enjoyed the evening at home with the guys, like no other that I could recall in quite some time actually, with the seven of us sharing memories, telling tales and drinking beer until it was quite late. It was just like old times.
Even though he wasn’t there, we all knew that Aaron was close by in all our thoughts, as many of the tall tales that were told seemed to revolve around what he and I had gotten up to when we were younger; like the time we were skinny dipping in our little bay and when we emerged from the water, oblivious to anything and everything around us, with our hands all over each other, we were confronted by a group of ladies from the local Country Women’s Association who had, up until then, been enjoying a beach picnic as one of their group outings.
There was also a more serious side to the evening as well, when I asked if anything had ever been heard of Andy Thompson, who, by my reckoning, should have recently been released from prison for the attacks on Aaron and another kid named Paul.
‘I heard that he’s out,’ Scott said. ‘But he hasn’t been seen back here, or at least not as far as I know.’
‘That’s good news then,’ I replied.
‘For this community, yeah, it is …’ Luke added.
‘… but no doubt he’s living in some other similar place and god only knows what he might be getting up to,’ Matt continued.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself at how Matt and Luke still finished off each others’ sentences. They had done it for years, but now that they had been together for so long as a couple, at least eleven years now, and had been best of mates at school for many, many years before that, it was almost like they were one person sometimes.
I knew that Scott and Justin also weren’t that different, and the thought of one day having someone in my life for that long and with whom I could be that in tune, sharing that kind of bond or connection, was something that I aspired to.
Could that person be Aaron? Deep down in my heart I was wishing it to be, but whether or not we would ever end up like that was in the lap of the gods, I feared. Our relationship had already been damaged enough, I reasoned, so the odds of Aaron wanting to take that chance once more were not that great.
‘And what about Red? Is he still about?’ I asked them. I recalled that he’d been given a two year sentence for the fire bombing of the house — or the garage to be more precise — along with other property damage, and had been released just eighteen months into the sentence. I could also remember seeing him around town after that, which had been prior to my leaving.
‘Well, he’s still in town,’ Tim said, ‘but not going anywhere or doing anything.’
I raised my eyebrows at him, questioningly.
‘What he means,’ Guy added, ‘is that Red is in the hospital. In the full care section, the nursing home, where they look after the old folks and those who can’t look after themselves.’
‘Why? What happened to him?’ I asked.
‘He was doing some drugs, stole a car, then while being chased by the cops he smashed it into a tree out on Pacific Drive, south of the town. He survived, but it would have been kinder to just pull the plug … the guy is a vegetable,’ Justin said.
‘Oh, shit. The poor bastard,’ I said. ‘Nobody deserves to have something like that happen to him.’
‘No,’ Scott replied.
When I eventually made it back to the guest house, after the seven of us had made plans for a barbeque lunch at Scott’s place on the following day, Sunday, I was totally exhausted. The past twenty-fours hours had been quite a day and sleep was now calling.
It was a hot night and so I left the windows and the glass doors all open, just keeping the screen doors firmly shut to keep out any insects, then turned on the fans, stripped naked and climbed into bed.
Sleep came to me quickly, at least initially, but as often happens, it proved a restless night. Quite simply, the heat of the night, coupled with the events of the recent past, had my mind on edge. The faces of people I knew, along with many I didn’t, started coming to me, like visions, and their stories started swirling around in my head.
At some stage I was awoken by something so vivid I could almost hear the sirens, see the flames and smell the burning rubber. I sat upright in bed, then rolled over and reached for my phone to check the time. Three thirty five am it read.
‘Fuck!’ I growled.
This has happened to me often enough over the years and I knew exactly what it was that I now needed to do.
Somewhat reluctantly I swung my feet down onto the floor and stood up, then shuffled through to the kitchen, where my laptop was still sitting from when I had used it earlier.
I reached out and switched it on, then while it booted up I filled a glass of water from the tap and drank it down, before soon returning to the table and sitting down. The log-in screen opened up and I typed in my password … aArOn … and within a few seconds I had opened up Word and had started typing.
My thoughts and what I typed were entirely random, remembering bits and piece of my dreams and visions and simply typing them down as they came to me. In the morning, or some other time, I would have the chance to re-read and re-arrange them into something more coherent, but right at this moment all I needed to do was record the basics.
Later on I would then start to flesh it out with more detail, add some themes and various plots, then one day, hopefully, it would become another story.
* * *
If you talk to anyone in this industry, or anyone who does anything creative, you will find that for each of them the creative process is uniquely different.
For me, what had just happened, my waking up in the middle of the night with a head brimming full of memories, ideas, themes and plots, wasn’t just a one off. It had happened on quite a few occasions, and whenever it did I would spring into action and try to get every scrap of information recorded, in one form or another.
Sometimes it would just be flashes of scenes, short pieces which, when added together later and then sorted into some kind of order, became a whole. When it was like this the process of producing a whole story could be quite difficult, with the details usually being rather scant, perhaps just an idea that I would then need to really do a lot of work on to fill in the gaps and turn it into something worthwhile. This could often be a real chore, and in nine cases out of ten the end result was usually not what I had wished for; although even when that proved to be the case, I could often find that what I had written may be useful somewhere else, in a different context on some other project.
Tonight’s little episode wasn’t like that, however. Tonight it was like I had been watching a full length movie, up on the big screen, complete with technicolour and stereosonic sound. When it was like this, so vivid, crisp and clear, my job was easy; I could recall and record every little detail with remarkable accuracy, and the end result usually reflected that.
Tonight I had been given a glimpse into the life of a hospital patient; perhaps it was someone not unlike our friend Red. His would be a strange story, with just a touch of mystery, and possibly even the macabre, although it was a story that I felt was still one that needed to be told.
It would also be one that would be far, far removed from what I usually wrote, so I could just imagine what Harry’s reaction to this would be when I ran the idea past him.
I knew in my own mind that for a long time now I’d had a desire to branch out and try different writing styles and genre’s; however, if there was one thing that Harry was always careful about it was trying to maintain my brand as he always put it. My bread and butter, he keeps telling me, had always been writing about romance and sexuality and love, and it would hurt my bottom-line (and also his I would presume) if I strayed away from what had obviously, so far, been a winning formula.
As I sat there mulling over the concept, the idea even came to me that perhaps I should write this one under a pen name. I mean, if it worked for Stephen King — well, at least until some sharp eyed fans picked up on it — then why couldn’t it work for me?
Where Mr King went wrong, I had always believed, was that while he may have been writing as Richard Bachman, he was still working in the same genre. So, when it came to comparing the different styles of the two writers it was a little too easy to pick out that the differences were few, and that, coupled with all the other little facts that were collected by the sharp eyed fans, made it relatively easy to deduce that they were one and the same person.
I wouldn’t be caught in the same way, I reasoned. The romance writer in me and the wannabe mystery writer were two entirely different people.
It could work, I thought. I decided I would see what Harry thought of the idea when he came down. In the meantime, however, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a couple of chapters to try and give him a taste of what I had in mind.
When I had eventually finished making notes about what had come to me tonight, I checked the time and noticed that it was nearing five-thirty. I had just spent two hours typing up more than twelve hundred words of what, to most folks, would look like total gibberish. To me, however, there were ideas and storylines forming. To me there was a story in the offing, and my gut instinct was that it could be a good one.
After saving what I had done, I logged off the computer and closed it down, then headed back toward the bed, content in the knowledge that a new day was coming, bringing with it new ideas and fresh opportunities.
Somewhere outside, quite far away, a rooster crowed, confirming what I was already sure of; however, ignoring him as best I could I crawled onto the bed and closed my eyes anyhow, eventually managing to get back to sleep.
Some time later I was again awoken by the sound of the door and rolled over to find Matt propped against the door frame studying me.
‘Jesus, will you put that thing away!’ he chided, trying to shield his eyes, as when I had rolled over my morning wood was standing up and looking about at what all the commotion was.
‘Don’t you assholes ever knock?’ I testily replied.
‘Nope, not now that we own the joint,’ he laughed. ‘We can pretty much come and go as we please!’
‘Yeah, and I bet there’s more cumming than going, too!’
‘You cheeky little cum bucket! You really haven’t changed a bit, have you?’
‘I hope not,’ I replied, while getting to my feet and pulling on some shorts.
‘Oh, please, don’t get dressed on my account! I was kind of enjoying the view!’
‘And I see you haven’t changed a bit either!’ I teased. ‘Anyhow, what fucking time is it?’
‘After nine-thirty,’ he answered. ‘The day is half over already.’
‘Shit. I guess that’s what I get for spending half the night working.’
‘Working? What on? A story?’
I nodded. ‘It came to me in the night, so when that happens I have to get down all the details I can before I forget them.’
‘What, like in a dream or something?’
‘Yup, just like that.’
‘Wow. I didn’t know that’s where you get your ideas from. I’ve often wondered. So, what’s this one about? Is there lots of sex? Will we like it? Are we in it?’
‘Ha! Wouldn’t you like that! Let’s just say that this one is way different to anything I’ve ever done before. The chances of it even seeing the light of day are miniscule at best, especially if my agent, Harry, doesn’t warm to the idea, so I wouldn’t go holding your breath waiting for it to come out, okay?’
‘Bloody hell, and there I was hoping I’d get to be in a hot and steamy sex scene or something …’
‘Mate, if you end up in this one, it could be as a corpse … so, like I said, don’t go holding your breath!’
When I mentioned the word corpse he gave me a funny side-ways look, as if to ask just what I was on, but he said nothing. I guess the idea of a romance writer trading genres would be a difficult pill to ask most folks to swallow. The nom de plume idea was really starting to grow on me.
I pulled on a t-shirt and then walked past Matt and into the kitchen, where I unplugged my laptop and then carried it back into the bedroom.
‘Anyhow, I really just came down to see if you were awake and wanted some breakfast,’ he added. The coffee is on and Luke is starting some scrambled eggs, or something, so just come on up if you want to.’
‘Thanks, that’d be great,’ I replied. ‘Just give me a minute to wash up and I’ll be there.’
* * *
When I arrived at the house I found that Luke had cooked up not only some eggs, but also some tasty fried tomato and onion, complete with herbs, which I remembered his mother was almost famous for, accompanied by toast and coffee.
‘Geez guys, I’ll get spoilt … and fat … if you keep this up,’ I joked with them as I found a place at the kitchen table.
‘You should just make the most of it, Sunshine,’ Guy said, while reaching for some toast. ‘He doesn’t do this unless there are visitors, and even then it doesn’t last for long.’
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ I replied.
We ate in friendly companionship, chatting about the day ahead, which would of course include lunch at Scott’s place. I was very much looking forward to that, even if feeling just a little bit of trepidation about what Scott and Matt may be planning, which Matt took great pains to remind me about.
I wondered if Aaron knew anything about what they had in mind, and if so, was he feeling the same?
I mentioned that I felt like going for a walk after breakfast, especially after having eaten so much, and the guys said they would all come too, so once we had finished eating and then cleaned up afterwards, we went our separate ways to change into some suitable clothes.
After heading back to the guest house and pulling on some joggers, I went back outside and waited for the guys, who all came dawdling out of the house a few minutes later, looking like a disorganised bunch of rabble.
‘Come on guys, get your shit together,’ I said to them, knowing that they probably had no real idea just what they were about to do. Walking was something that I did quite a bit of, as I found it to be the perfect time for thinking things through, especially when I was working on a story or had other things on my mind. What they didn’t know was that when I usually went for a morning walk, it wasn’t just for a stroll in the park.
‘Keep your shirt on,’ Matt said, ‘we’re coming.’
While they were still coming down the steps at the back of the house I headed for the gate out onto the road, then turned right, intending to head in the direction of the houses I had spotted from the headland yesterday. From there I knew that somewhere along this road there was a track we could take, which cut across country to our beach, then it would be an easy walk following the beach back until we reached the path to the house.
It was a simple plan, and all up I figured it would take about an hour, or maybe an hour and a half if they dawdled, which is actually what I expected to happen.
‘Bloody hell, you haven’t turned into one of those power walking freaks have you?’ I heard Tim say from somewhere behind me. I just smiled to myself and kept on walking, although definitely not at a power walking pace, as tempting as that may have been.
The guys caught up to me quite quickly; obviously not wanting to be outdone by some young whippersnapper, and we strolled along Beachside Lane at a brisk, though still rather easy pace, chatting about this and that, about what all the gossip was around town, and also about the upcoming party.
Guy asked me if I enjoyed living in the city, which was something that left me scratching my head for a few moments, as it wasn’t something that I had actually contemplated all that often.
As we walked along I did start to think about it and the conclusion I came to kind of surprised me.
‘To be honest,’ I said to Guy, ‘the only reason I think I’m living there is for the sake of convenience. I mean, everything I need for what I do is handy to where I live, but I don’t really need to be there.’
‘That wasn’t what I asked,’ Guy said, while offering me a wry smile. ‘I asked you if you liked living in the city? And if you need to think about it that hard, then the answer should be as obvious to you as it already is to us!’
He was right of course, I quickly realised. I didn’t really enjoy living in the city. Like I had said, I lived there more for convenience than anything else, and as we continued our walk, past the houses whose rooftops I had seen from the headland yesterday, I started to think about that some more.
Shortly afterwards, when we came around one of the bends in the road, I looked up ahead and saw a white post and rail fence which followed the road. About one hundred metres from where it had started we came to an elaborate stone gateway, with a cement panel inset, adorned with the name ‘Bayview’. The white fence then continued on past the gateway for about the same distance, while from the gateway a gravel road led up towards a large and sprawling homestead, painted white and surrounded by trees, that was perched on top of a low hill.
It was certainly an impressive sight, nestled amongst a leafy garden and surrounded by paddocks of lush grass, and as I came to the gateway I stopped to take a better look. It was then that a thought struck me.
‘Has this place always been here?’ I asked. ‘I can’t remember it.’
‘Yeah, it was here when you were,’ Luke answered. ‘It was just that the house had been surrounded by a lot of trees and scrub and was run down, so even if you could remember seeing it from the road, it would have looked nothing like this.’
‘The fence and gateway are new,’ Guy added. ‘They must have spent a fortune on clearing the land and fixing the house up, but I don’t actually think anyone lives there.’
‘I could see it from up on the headland yesterday,’ I said to them. ‘I reckoned you would have a view of the whole bay from up there on the hill.’
Pulling ourselves away from checking out the country estate of someone who was obviously loaded, we continued our stroll, soon coming to the track that led to our beach. We turned down it and kept walking, still chatting as we were going, and before long we found ourselves standing on the beach and looking out over the familiar blue waters of Hidden Bay.
‘Not far now,’ I said to the guys. ‘We’ll even have time for a shower before we head in to Scott’s.’
* * *
We drove into the caravan park and Matt pulled his Commodore to a stop in one of the visitor parking spaces alongside Scott’s house.
As I stepped out of the car I looked around and noticed that the park hadn’t changed all that much in the five years since I had lasted visited here, although it was obvious that Scott and Justin had kept themselves busy maintaining the place. There had been some work done on the gardens, picnic areas and the kid’s recreation area, which all looked neat and tidy and gave the impression that the park was both welcoming and successful.
Scott was outside near the pool when we pulled up and came over to greet us as we climbed out of the cars.
‘Hey guys,’ he said. ‘How did you all pull up after last night?’
‘Pretty good,’ Matt said. ‘Are you ready for round two?’
‘Always mate. At least this time I don’t have to go easy and be worried about being busted for DUI on the way home!’
‘Me neither mate. I’ve just nominated Tony to be our designated driver, especially after the pummelling he gave us this morning on what was supposed to be a leisurely morning walk!’ Matt replied, while giving me a slap on the back.
‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever!’ I said to him as we started toward the gateway into Scott’s yard.
I always enjoyed coming to Scott’s place for barbeques or meals, as he was the consummate host, always putting on a spread that would make any of the ladies from the Country Women’s Association proud. I idly wondered if perhaps his mother may have been a member?
Scott showed us in to his outdoor entertainment and barbeque area, a place he had always taken great pride in, where we soon found that things had been set up ready for our lunch. The first thing I noticed was the addition of a new brick walled barbeque area, complete with adobe coloured cement rendering, and including not just the barbeque, but also housing a pizza oven and a refrigerator, which fit perfectly into the structure. There was also a tinted glass-like roof over the entire area, protecting it from rain, while still letting the light through.
‘Hey, this is nice,’ I said to Scott as I surveyed the changes. ‘Mate, you sure like doing things in style.’
‘Well, at least I can afford to now,’ he laughed. ‘For a long time business around here was quite lean, but these last few years it has really picked up and so things have changed quite a bit.’
‘So I keep getting told.’
‘Yeah, it’s great actually. Now we can fix things up how we’ve always wanted, not to mention do a few of those things we haven’t had the time or the cash to pursue, like actually take a holiday ourselves.’
‘You get to take holidays? How do you manage that?’ I chuckled.
‘Well, Sally still works for me part-time in the office, and having Aaron on hand has also been a big help, so between the pair of them they seem to manage.’
‘Sounds like you’ve got it covered then.’
Just then we heard the door of the house open and we all looked up to see Justin and Aaron come outside, both carrying trays of food for our lunch.
When he spotted me standing there Aaron stopped, frozen to the spot, causing Justin to run into him, almost upsetting the tray he was carrying.
‘Hey, watch yourself, doofus!’ Justin exclaimed, but then he looked our way and noticed us standing there. ‘Oops, sorry mate.’
The world stood still as Aaron and I just stood there staring at each other.
‘Hey, do you guys know each other?’ Matt asked.
Someone behind me chuckled, snapping me out of the daze I seemed to have been in, while Scott stepped forward and took the tray from Aaron.
‘Tony, this is Aaron, a good friend of ours,’ Scott said. ‘Aaron, this is Tony. He’s Luke’s cousin.’
The two of us looked at Scott, as if he had gone crazy, then looked back at each other. I noticed the corners of Aaron’s mouth turn up slightly and I couldn’t help but smile back at him.
I stepped forward and stretched out a hand, saying, ‘Nice to meet you. You kind of remind me of someone I used to know.’
‘Yeah, it’s nice to meet you too,’ he replied, going along with the charade. ‘Your friend must have been a bit of a looker, eh?’
‘Yeah mate, he was that and a whole lot more. I kind of lost track of him, but I hope I run into him again one day, even if it’s just so I can tell him how much I’ve missed him.’