The gravel road that led up the hill was straight and well formed, although in places there were cracks, some at least an inch wide, up through which there were weeds growing, giving me the distinct impression that it didn’t get used that often.
As I walked up the hill I nervously looked around me, half expecting a guard dog to come hurtling down the road, with its mouth foaming, or for someone to jump out from behind some bushes and yell at me for trespassing, or worse still, take a pot shot at me with a gun!
Just what I would say if said residents came out and wanted to know what I was doing on their property, however, was something I wasn’t sure of myself.
Thankfully though, there was no one else to be seen.
While I was looking about I was also making sure, every twenty metres or so, that I looked back out toward the ocean, hoping to finally see what sort of a view the residents had of the bay.
It wasn’t long before I could see the two headlands and the lighthouse, and between them I could see the distant ocean and the curvature of the earth a way off on the horizon, but it wasn’t until I was about half way up the hill that the waters of Hidden Bay started to reveal themselves. By the time I reached the top I had a view of the entire bay, with only the beach closest to Luke’s house (which I could also see the roof of between the trees) being obscured, because of the trees.
It was truly spectacular and if I had been envious of the owners for having what looked like a nice place, from the road at least, I was even more envious now for the view that they had.
Turning to face the house once more I ran my eyes over everything I could see. To my mind it was obvious that a lot of money had been spent on the place to bring it up to what it looked like now, with fresh paint and new fences for starters, but even to my untrained eye I could see that it wasn’t complete. The whole place still looked quite bare, although at first I couldn’t quite grasp why I had thought that.
As I walked closer to the house it was then that two things struck me. Firstly, the lawn, although not lush, was desperately in need of mowing and some tender loving care, while secondly, there were no curtains in the windows. On closer inspection I could also see that there was no furniture in any of the rooms.
The place wasn’t even being lived in.
Suddenly, that flicker of an idea that had popped into my head when I first saw the place from the top of the headland was now being fanned into something brighter. The question was, however, what, and how, could I do something about it?
As I walked along the stone verandah at the front of the house I took careful note of everything about it. That it was an old house was plain to see. It was a timber weatherboard homestead with an iron roof, all recently painted by the look of it. The place was long and low, and along the front of the house were a number of rooms, which I presumed would be bedrooms, with double French doors all opening out onto the verandah, while inside there appeared to be a hallway running up the centre of the house.
It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself using one of those front rooms as an office, perhaps sitting there at a large timber desk and gazing out toward the ocean as I worked on what I would hope would be my next best seller.
Yeah, I could handle that, I thought.
Continuing along the front of the house I discovered that close to one end was a large living and dining area, complete with polished timber floors, and behind which was what looked like a quite functional kitchen area. Right at the end of the house there were several more rooms, possibly a separate master bedroom, I thought.
Every now and then I would try the handle of a door, hoping that one might have been left unlocked, but on each occasion I was to be disappointed, which was probably for the best; the last thing I would have wanted was a breaking and entering charge.
Moving around the back of the house I took a look through the back windows at the kitchen, as well as the bathrooms (there looked to be an ensuite attached to the main bedroom as well as another bathroom adjacent to the other bedrooms), laundry, and a couple of other empty rooms. I found myself rather surprised at just how big the house was.
At the rear of the house there was a large paved courtyard, over half of which there stood a pergola that was covered with grape vines that were bearing fruit. I reached up and picked a bunch from the vine and popped one of the large juicy looking dark fruits into my mouth, savouring the sweet and juicy flesh as I bit down on it.
At the edge of the courtyard there was also a barbeque area, then beyond that was a large garage, with doors for three vehicles, all of which I found to be locked.
When I reached the end of the building I noticed that there was yet another building just beyond that, partially hidden behind some trees, so I decided to take a look at it also. It turned out to be a small cottage, or granny flat perhaps, probably for visitors or for workers on the farm, although the state of this building wasn’t quite up to that of the main homestead.
Walking back to the front of the house I sat on a stone wall at the edge of a garden and looked around me at the whole scene, taking in the house, the rolling green fields, the view of the bay, with its sparkling waters, and the two headlands. It was all truly captivating, and I have to say that I was totally enthralled by the whole place.
The idea of living in a home like this, or in one similar, was beginning to excite me and I knew now that it would only be a matter of time before I would be packing up my belongings and returning to this town, where I had once been so happy. I also knew, however, that the chances of that happening, at least in the immediate future, hinged on quite a few things first falling into place. I just kept telling myself though, that it never hurt anyone to have a dream.
It was while I was sitting there, enjoying the quiet and the serenity that location offered, that my phone rang in my pocket, spoiling the moment and quickly bringing me back to the real world.
Pulling the phone out I flipped it open, without even looking at the screen to see who it might be, then said hello.
‘Hey, Tony,’ Aaron said.
‘G’day mate. How are you doing today?’
‘I’m g-good, thanks,’ he replied, although sounding slightly nervous. ‘Matt said you would be home this morning, but you aren’t here.’
‘You’re at the house?’
‘Yeah. I was wondering if you … ummm … might want to …’
‘I’d love to,’ I said to him, jumping in without even giving him a chance to finish.
‘You’d love to what?’ he chuckled.
‘Anything! Whatever you want to do,’ I answered.
‘Lunch then?’ he prompted.
‘Bit early for that just yet.’
‘Where are you now?’
‘Just up the road from Matt and Luke’s. You know the house up on the hill with the white fence?’
‘No reason. Just went for a walk and saw it, so I decided to check it out. The views are awesome.’
‘Well, no one lives there, I don’t think.’
‘So you know the place then?’
‘Yeah. Kind of a long story attached to it.’
‘I’ve got all day,’ I said.
‘Don’t go anywhere. I’ll come and pick you up. See you in a couple of minutes.’
After flipping the phone shut I sat it down beside me and then put my hands out behind me, leaning back and taking in the surroundings. Within a minute or so I could hear a vehicle coming down the road and before long I could see Aarons truck coming around a bend, spewing dust into the air behind it, before eventually slowing and pulling into the gateway at the bottom of the hill.
He stopped and climbed out of the truck and I could see him looking up toward the house, so I stood up and started waving to him. He saw me and waved back, then after he checked the gate, just as I had done, he clambered over the fence and started walking up the hill.
As he came closer I marvelled at the sight of him, dressed in his khaki work clothes, just as he had been when I saw him for the first time on Saturday. With his hair cut shorter than it had once been, he was wearing dark glasses, and with his tanned skin he looked every bit the outdoor worker he was. His shirt was unbuttoned and hanging loose, while beneath that he also wore a khaki singlet. When he came close enough for me to see he was wearing a pair of green and gold striped football socks, and his battered work boots, I couldn’t help but give a chuckle. Then when I saw his skin, coated with a sheen of sweat from his morning exercise in the sun, which had also stained the front of his singlet, that chuckle turned into a muted groan of desire; though one which I didn’t really want him to hear, or at least not just yet, lest it be too much, too soon.
Finally he stood directly in front of me, looking hot – and I mean that using both meanings of the word – and so desirable.
‘Hey, babe,’ I said to him.
He seemed to blush a little, but didn’t flinch.
‘Hey, yourself,’ he replied, as he took off his sun glasses. ‘What the hell are you doing up here?’
‘Just taking in the views,’ I answered. ‘What a great place this is, hey?’
‘Yeah. It is. But a bit out of your league isn’t it?’
‘A guy can dream, can’t he? Man, I’d love a place just like this. What a fantastic place it would be to live, or raise a family, just kicking back and watching the world sail on by,’ I said as I pointed out to sea.
He turned around and looked at the views with me, then looked back at me and smiled.
‘So, you’d come back here?’ he asked, before adding, ‘Family? Is there something I should know?’
‘No mate, I’m not having a baby. I’m just saying that if I ever thought about having kids around, then this would be a great place for them to grow up. Don’t you think?’
‘Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it,’ he replied.
‘And yes,’ I continued. ‘I’ve often thought about coming back here to live, especially now that I’ve kind of got myself established doing what I want to do. I don’t really need to be in the city, so if I wanted to live here, or anywhere else for that matter, there’s actually nothing stopping me from doing that.’
‘Then why haven’t you done that … come back, I mean?’
‘These past few days I’ve been asking myself that exact same question,’ I replied.
‘And you still haven’t answered me.’
‘I … I guess there were too many memories,’ I said, while turning away and taking a few steps back toward the house. ‘When I thought you wanted nothing more to do with me, I didn’t want for either of us to be uncomfortable. Every time I’d have seen you would have been like having my heart ripped out again, and I couldn’t have gone through that over and over. I was nervous enough just at the thought of coming back and possibly seeing you again this time.’
I heard footsteps behind me, then felt the touch of a hand being placed on my shoulder.
‘And there I was thinking that it was you who didn’t want to see me, just because I wouldn’t go away with you,’ he said quietly.
‘Yeah, well, now we both know different, don’t we?’ I replied, while turning back around to face him.
He smiled at me, then wrapped his arms around me and hugged me, holding me tight in his strong arms. I wrapped my arms around him also and held him tight.
Being slightly taller than Aaron I found his head nestled against the base of my neck, allowing me to breathe in the rich smell of him, a heady and intoxicating combination of sweat and Old Spice, which had always been his favourite. Instantly I found my body reacting in the way it always used to, as I struggled with holding my emotions in check.
‘I know you only want to take things slowly, and I can respect that,’ I whispered in his ear. ‘But there’s something I really need to do.’
He tilted his head back and looked into my eyes. I saw an old and familiar fire flash within his eyes, and I knew it would be okay, so I tilted my head forward and placed my lips over his, ever so gently at first, but with the passion rising in both of us it wasn’t long before our tongues were struggling against each other, our bodies were grinding against each other, and we could both feel the firmness of the desire we had for each other.
It felt just like old times.
* * *
I wish I could say that the years that had separated us were soon cast aside as just a bad memory, and we had made mad and passionate love right then and there, but that wasn’t to be.
What we shared as we lay beneath the shade of a massive Jacaranda tree was as an intense encounter as I could recall, yet restraint proved to be the victor on this day, as both of us knew that it would take time for us to reach the old familiarity and depth of feelings that we had once shared. It was a start, though. And for now, that was enough.
I don’t know for how long we lay there, nor did I care. Aaron was flat on his back, his head tilted toward me, while I was propped up on one elbow, one hand supporting my head. My other hand was resting on his chest, through which I could feel the strong beat of his heart.
‘Can I ask you something?’ he said.
‘Anything,’ I replied.
‘Has there … ever been anyone else? Since you left here, I mean?’
I simply smiled, then shook my head.
‘I just couldn’t,’ I replied. ‘I mean, there could have been, but no one ever measured up. There was someone else who I had always wanted more.’
He lifted his head and kissed me once again.
‘What about you?’ I gently asked.
‘Fuck! You know how crazy my life has been. Who would want to come near me?’ he laughed.
‘I’m sure there would be plenty … but they’ve missed their chance now,’ I replied.
‘Really? What makes you so sure?’
‘Because I’ll scratch their fucking eyes out if anyone even thinks about it,’ I answered.
‘Ohhh … my hero!’ he giggled.
‘You better believe it!’ I said, then leaned in and kissed him again, before eventually sitting up.
‘I still can’t believe you’re here,’ he said as he sat up beside me and leaned into me, our shoulders touching together.
‘I’m kind of surprised myself actually, but it seems that the gods were smiling down on us. You can thank Luke, in part, because of this party idea, and then there’s the thing I was asked to do at the writing centre on Wednesday. Somehow everything just fell into place.’
‘Well, I’m glad.’
‘You were going to tell me about this house,’ I said, jerking my head toward the building behind us. ‘What’s the long story about it? Is it haunted or something?’
‘Nah, nothing freaky like that. At least not that I know of,’ he said. ‘Can you remember it from when you were here last?’
‘Not really. I can vaguely remember that there was an old house here and the paddocks going down to the road were all scrub and overgrown, so you could hardly even see the house.’
‘Yeah, it used to be all overgrown and rough. There was an old lady who used to live here. I think her name was Perkins, or something like that. Anyhow, did you see the cottage out the back? Well, that was where she lived, not here in the main house. She used to keep to herself pretty much. She would go into town every now and then, but not very often.’
‘Can you really blame people for wanting to keep to themselves these days?’ I suggested.
‘No, not at all. Anyhow, nobody seemed to have missed her, because she rarely ever came into town, but one day some kids decided to check the place out and they found her dead, on the floor in the garage she was. The thing was, they reckon she’d been dead for nearly a year before they found her, because that’s about when she was last seen, and all that was left was the skeleton, but still inside her clothes.’
‘Oh man. That’s so sad,’ I said. ‘You do hear about it happening though.’
‘Yeah. You do.’
‘So what happened after that?’ I asked.
‘The place got sold to some old guy from Sydney who was going to move up here and live. He spent all that money on fixing it up, but he also had a boat and would sail up and down the coast apparently, until one day he just disappeared. No one knows what happened to him, whether the boat sank or something, and so the house has been sitting here empty ever since.’
‘And no one has lived in it?’
‘Nope. It’s been empty all this time. Why do you ask?’
‘No reason,’ I said, while lying through my teeth. ‘Like you said earlier, it’s out of my league. I just think it’s such a waste.’
‘Yeah. That it is!’
We got to our feet a short time later and had another wander around the house, before then trudging back down the hill to his truck.
Before I got in I dug my phone out and checked the time. It was almost noon and I suddenly remembered that Matt was going to come out to the house and pick me up.
‘Shit, I better call Matt. He was going to come and collect me at lunch time,’ I said.
‘No, it’s okay. I told him I was coming out to see you, so if you wanted to go to town I’d take you in,’ Aaron said, while grinning at me.
‘What? You had this whole morning planned?’ I teased him.
‘Only some of it,’ he sheepishly replied. ‘But the rest of it turned out better than I had hoped.’
‘You conniving little shit!’ I joked, then pulled him to me and hugged him once more.
‘I really didn’t think you would mind,’ he added.