As it turned out we weren’t the only guests who had been invited for lunch, with Dan Hamilton (whose mother owned the corner store) and his partner, Jake, also pulling up not long after we had arrived. I remembered them both from my time here, having first met them the day that the garage had been fire-bombed by Red, and, along with all the rest of the gang, had become firm friends with them both afterwards.
They became an integral part of our posse in the years that followed, bringing to five the number of gay couples who had made this town their home at the time. I was sure then that there would have been quite a few more, however, hiding in the woodwork and just itching for the chance to step out into the open, and by the way the guys have been talking since I had arrived two days ago, it sounded like they had just done that.
One of the favourite memories that I have of the town was one day when all ten of us were walking down the street together. It was a busy Saturday morning, not too long after I had met Jake and Dan, and the street was crowded, but as we all walked along together the crowds just seemed to part before us. Some folks may have frowned at us, some folks may have just stood back and studied us as we passed, and some folks may have nodded and said hello, but the thing was, they all took notice of us.
It was that day when I knew that things had changed. That was the day I knew that all of us had been accepted for who we were, and even though some of the people on the street may not have liked us, or what we represented, or even approved of our lifestyles, they knew that we were to be respected.
While I chatted with Dan and Jake and the other guys I realised that this was the first time that all ten of us had been together in the one place in quite a while. It somehow seemed fitting that we were all here together now, even considering the huge gulf that still stood between Aaron and me. I idly wondered if any of the guys had their camera’s with them.
Justin and Aaron had stepped in and started doing most of the preparation for our lunch, starting up the barbeque and putting everything out on the tables ready for us, while the rest of us sat and talked and started on the beers.
Several times I found myself zoning out of the conversations around me as I just sat and watched Aaron. Several times I caught him looking my way as well, pausing as he was in the middle of doing something, like cutting up onions. Several times our eyes locked, and then we would both smile, before quickly looking away again.
I had no idea of what the conversation was about that was going on around me but when I felt something touch my elbow I jumped, startled.
‘Go and talk to him,’ Luke said quietly in my ear.
I turned and looked at my cousin. He was leaning in close to me and looking … what? Concerned? Protective? Fatherly?
When I looked back at Aaron I saw that Justin was leaning in close to him as well, and whispering something to him.
‘Go on. You know you want to,’ Luke whispered. ‘Go and talk to him. Go for a walk down the beach or something. You need to get hold of whatever it is that is between you two at the moment, grab it by the scruff of the neck, and kick its arse out of the ballpark!’
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Get off your arse and talk to him. You’ll never know if you don’t give it a go!’ he said, then with that he gave me a firm push, forcing me up and off the end of the bench I had been sharing with him.
At the same time Justin seemed to also give Aaron a push, and the next thing I knew the two of us were standing face to face.
‘I … ummm … I think we’ve been set up,’ I said to him.
‘Ya think?’ he replied, before breaking out into a smile.
‘How about we … errr … go for a walk and get away from these arseholes for a bit?’
‘Hey, we heard that!’ Matt called out to us, feigning offence.
‘Come on,’ Aaron answered. ‘Yeah, let’s get out of here.’
I nodded, then picked up two fresh beers from the ice chest, but Aaron took one from me and returned it to the ice, before then picking up a Coke.
‘I’m trying to be good,’ Aaron said.
‘Don’t be. Come on, let’s go down to the beach for a bit, where this lot can’t eavesdrop.’
‘Save us something to eat,’ I said to them, then to a chorus of wolf-whistles and heckles like, ‘About bloody time!’ we made our retreat and set off down the road within the caravan park, heading for the track that led through the sand dunes to where we both knew the beach to be.
As we reached the last cabin in the row along the road I noticed Aaron’s truck was parked alongside it.
‘So this one’s yours, eh?’ I said to him as we passed it.
‘Yeah. Home, sweet home,’ he said. I couldn’t help but notice the hint of sarcasm in his voice. ‘I’d invite you in, but the cleaning lady hasn’t been yet, this week.’
He then stopped in his tracks. I stopped and looked at him.
‘I’m sorry. That probably came out sounding like … I dunno, like I’m an ungrateful prick. I shouldn’t be like that. Scott and Justin have been great to me. They’re like the family I should have had …’
‘It’s okay, Aaron. You don’t have to say anything. I’m not here to judge you. I just want to be friends with you again.’
‘So, you heard about my so-called family?’
I nodded. ‘I only found out the other night after I arrived. I’m so sorry, mate. I wish I’d known back then. I’d have come back,’ I said, while rubbing his shoulder. I had half expected him to flinch at my touch, but he didn’t, so I took that as being a positive.
‘Did the others also tell you that I told them not to tell you about it?’
‘Well, I suppose they kept their word to me for a while at least.’
He started walking again, so I fell into step beside him.
‘Why didn’t you want me to know?’ I asked.
‘Because I knew that you would have come back. And I didn’t want to be the one to be blamed for you not achieving your dreams, even if I did want you to come back.’
‘Fuck that. I just would have found another way.’
‘And what if you didn’t? What if you came back to me and ended up having to mow lawns for a living and you never got that lucky break? What then?’
‘Don’t go putting yourself down. Despite everything that has happened to you, you’ve still managed to make something of yourself. That’s no mean feat.’
‘I guess,’ he replied.
We walked on for a few minutes more, with the sandy path passing through some low growing scrub, before soon coming out onto the white beach, where endless waves were rolling in and the ocean stretched away for as far as the eye could see.
Aaron sat himself down on the sand, and so I joined him, then together we watched the sea gulls squabbling on the beach and some children building sand castles.
‘So,’ I eventually asked, ‘if you didn’t want me to come back then, why did you say yesterday that you were pissed about me not coming back for you?’
For a few moments he sat in silence, with his head looking down at the sand between his feet. Knowing him as I did, I knew he was just gathering his thoughts.
‘Because,’ he eventually began, before then taking a deep breath, ‘I was still living in hope that you might come back after you hit the big time. In fact, I was counting on it. I kept telling myself that you would get here … that you were coming … but you never did. That’s when I knew I had lost you.’
‘Oh shit, mate,’ I said. ‘I thought … I thought that after you wouldn’t answer my calls or emails or anything that you simply didn’t want to hear from me again. I was convinced of it.’
He looked at me and grinned.
‘So it seems we both had it all ballsed up then?’ he said.
‘It certainly looks like it,’ I replied.
‘I hated myself for hating you. You were …’
‘Sshhh! It’s okay mate. It doesn’t matter,’ I said, as I placed an arm around his shoulder. ‘That’s all in the past. From here on we start afresh.’
I don’t know how long we sat there in silence, just watching the world pass us by. We may have received some strange looks from some people, but we were beyond caring about those sort of things these days. All I cared about now was the fact that we were at least talking again.
‘So, where does this leave us now?’ I eventually asked Aaron.
He turned his head to look at me, and I could have sworn that there was a tear in the corner of his eye, but he quickly rubbed the side of his face on the sleeve of his t-shirt, removing all evidence.
‘I think … I think I just need a little time to get my head around all this, please,’ he said.
‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘I know that we’ve shared quite a lot together over the years, but things have changed … we’ve changed.’
‘Yeah, we have.’
‘I just want you to know that I’ll be right here waiting for you, all right?’ I said, then leaned in and gently kissed his cheek, which produced a flurry of giggles from nearby. I turned to see three young kids, who had been playing in the sand, sitting there watching our every move.
‘I think we had better get back,’ I suggested. ‘If we’re lucky Matt won’t have eaten everything.’
‘They’ll save us some scraps,’ he said, as I stood up and put a hand out for him. He reached up and placed his hand in mine, then I pulled him to his feet.
The walk back to Scott’s was a slow and very quiet one, as we both seemed to be turning things over in our minds.
I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but for mine, I found myself being astounded at just how simple an apparent problem can sometimes be, and how easy it can be to find a solution. If we had only talked to each other back then, at the times when we had thought we had been upset with one another, I was convinced that we wouldn’t be where we were right now.
When we reached the edge of the caravan park Aaron placed a hand on my arm. I stopped and turned toward him.
‘Thank you,’ he said to me. ‘I just wish we had talked a lot sooner.’
‘Me too,’ I replied.
‘The Goonies will all want to know what happened when we get back,’ he added, jerking his head in the direction of Scott’s house.
‘The Goonies? Ha, that kind of fits,’ I laughed. That at least brought a smile to his face.
‘Well? What do you suggest we tell them?’
‘We could just say nothing,’ I replied. ‘But that will only spur them on. How about we just say we’re friends again, for now, and we’re just going to see what happens from here.’
‘Okay. That sounds good to me.’
‘Before we get back to them though, there’s something I really need to do,’ I said to him.
‘Yeah? What’s that?’ he asked, then before he could do anything about it I reached out and took hold of his shirt and pulled him toward me, while leaning in and gently kissing him on the lips.
I knew that it was just a kiss that we had shared, and nothing more, yet I couldn’t help but feel that this was a turning point. I had felt Aaron’s body tense as I had leaned into him, and had seen the flash of fear in his eyes, but when our lips had met all tension soon evaporated and his body melted against mine.
We walked the rest of the way hand in hand, only letting go of one another once we were about to enter Scott’s yard.
I was disappointed that Dan and Jake had left by the time we finally returned, as I had hoped to catch up with them and find out what they had been doing, but I knew that I would be seeing them again, if not during the week, then definitely at next weekend’s party.
All eyes turned our way as Aaron and I came through the gateway, although nobody said anything, or asked anything, even if we both knew that they would have all been just itching to find out what had happened between us.
‘There’s some meat in the dish on the side of the barbeque,’ Scott said as we rejoined them, ‘and there’s plenty of salad and stuff left out for you, so just dig in, guys.’
‘Thanks,’ we both said.
Aaron found the plates on the table and picked up two, handing one to me, then we headed for the hotplate, where we each picked up a piece of steak and a sausage, before returning to where the salads were. There were plenty to choose from, and I figured that Scott and Justin would be well fed for the next few days at least, then after covering the rest of our plates with potato salad and a tossed salad and various other exotic looking dishes, Aaron and I made for one of the tables, sitting side by side and away from the others.
Slowly the conversation started back up again around us, while we continued to eat, although I have no idea what the guys were talking about, as my mind was elsewhere. It felt great to have Aaron in such close proximity to me, and when his leg brushed against mine a couple of times I found an old and familiar feeling rushing through me.
The second time it happened I glanced at him and found him already looking my way. We both smiled, then turned our attention back to our lunch.
When we were done eating I got up and placed our dirty plates with the others, then retrieved a couple of drinks for the two of us. The guys were still talking and both Aaron and I soon found ourselves joining in the conversation with them.
It seemed just like old times again.
I just hadn’t realised how much I had missed them.
* * *
It was late in the afternoon by the time we finally made it back to ‘Avalon’, with the sun being not too far above the mountains to the west of us and the air starting to cool down.
For a while we all sat in the back yard, in the shade of the trees, where we continued to sip on some drinks and talk. I knew that now we were home, and it was just the five of us, the guys wouldn’t be able to help themselves, so I waited for the inevitable onslaught.
‘Okay, so what happened?’ Matt asked. I also knew that it would be him who would get in first.
‘We talked,’ I replied.
‘And … we sorted things out, or at least we got to the core of the problem, let’s put it that way. It seems we both had our wires crossed and if we’d have got off our arses and actually made the effort to speak to each other way back when, then none of this would have happened.’
‘So you’re all good then?’ Luke asked. ‘You’re back on … as a couple, I mean?’
‘Well, not quite,’ I replied. ‘It’s still a bit soon for that. We’re just going to take it one step at a time. Aaron said he just wanted some time to get his head around it all, and I’m cool with that.’
‘So, you are going to see each other then?’ Guy asked.
‘Yeah,’ I answered, while offering him a grin. ‘I reckon so.’
‘Thank Christ for that,’ Tim muttered, which seemed to break the tension of the moment and caused us all to laugh.
When the sun finally dipped behind the mountains and the insects started coming out to play, we knew it was finally time to move this party indoors, and so we gathered up the few belongings we had and headed for the back door of the house.
It had been a great day, though a long and tiring one, and after the big meal at lunch none of us felt like doing much for dinner that night. Luke filled the electric kettle and switched it on, then asked if anyone else wanted a coffee. Matt and I both said yes, while Tim and Guy said they were going to into their room for a while and might get one later.
‘Yeah … and we all know what they’re about to get up to,’ Matt whispered after they had left, for which he received a clip up the side of the head from Luke.
‘What? What did I say?’ Matt pleaded.
Luke and I just shook our heads and laughed.
For the next hour we sat and talked about some more of the things we had been doing and experienced during the years I had been away, but by that time we were all starting to yawn, with the day finally catching up on us.
‘Guys, I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve just about seen enough of today,’ I said to them as I tried to smother yet another yawn.
‘Yeah, I think that’s about how we all feel, at the moment,’ Luke said, as he got to his feet and gathered up the mugs from the table.
‘It has been a good day,’ I said. ‘I think I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.’
‘We’re all glad that you’ve managed to get things sorted, mate,’ Luke said. He came back over to the table as I got to my feet, opened his arms and hugged me. ‘I’m so happy that you and Aaron look like you’re back on track.’
‘That goes for me too,’ Matt added, coming together with us and forming a group hug.
‘Thanks guys. This all really means a lot to me.’