Matt looked up from whatever he was doing behind the counter when we walked in, his face immediately breaking out into a broad smile when he spotted the two of us coming through the door.
‘So, you found him then?’ he said to Aaron as we reached the counter.
‘Eventually, yeah. He wasn’t at the house though, I had to track him down.’
‘That’d be right. So, how has your day been? Are you guys all good then?’
‘I reckon so,’ Aaron replied.
‘We had a picnic lunch by the lake, supplied by Mrs Hammo,’ I said to him. ‘Then tonight we’re going to old Charlie Wong’s place for a night out.’
‘Geez, you don’t waste any time then, do you?’ Matt laughed. ‘Next thing you know you’ll be looking at rings and there’ll be an engagement notice in the paper.’
‘Give us some time,’ I chided, while glancing quickly at Aaron to see what his reaction was. His face remained impassive, difficult to read, but I knew there would be something going on in that head of his that I would be finding out about later.
It was just then my phone rang, vibrating in my pocket. I fished it out and glanced at the screen. It was Mike. I pressed the button and took the call.
‘Hey Mike,’ I said. ‘I haven’t forgotten about Jess, I’ve just had a busy day.’
‘Hi, Tony,’ he said. ‘You been busy with Aaron then?’
‘Yeah, you could say that,’ I replied, while giving Aaron and Matt a wink, then covering the handset I said to them, ‘It’s my brother, Mike.’
They both nodded their understanding, and as I stepped away from them slightly they began talking amongst themselves. Aaron knew of my brother and sister, but had never met them. I figured that Matt would fill him in on what was happening now, while I chatted with Mike.
‘So, how are you guys getting on then?’ Mike asked.
‘Actually, bloody great. We’ve had a good day and have talked through a lot of stuff.’
‘So, there’s some hope for the two of you then?’
‘I just reckon there might be,’ I replied. ‘And how’s Jess? Have you spoken to her today?’
‘Yeah. I told her you would call her. She’s climbing the walls at the moment, not sure what to do. She’s at her girlfriend’s place, but needs to get back home to get some of her stuff. She doesn’t want to go there though, just in case the Dragon Lady is there.’
‘That’s understandable. I haven’t had a chance to talk to the guys about things just yet, but I’ll do that as soon as they all get home. I’ll figure something out about getting down there to see you both, then we’ll work out what Jess wants to do.’
‘All right. You promise you’ll call her though?’
‘Yes, mate. I’ll do it as soon as Aaron drops me back at the house.’
‘Okay then. Just give me a buzz when you get things organised, so I can be there too.’
‘Will do. And mate, thanks for ringing. It feels good to be back in touch with you again too.’
‘No worries, bro.’
We disconnected and I turned back toward Aaron and Matt.
‘Everything okay?’ Matt enquired.
‘It’s … complicated. Just like everything else in my life, it seems.’
‘Well, life wasn’t meant to be easy. Who was it that said that?’ Matt said.
‘Malcolm Fraser, the ex-Prime Minister,’ Aaron answered, which surprised both Matt and me.
‘So, did you fill Aaron in?’ I asked Matt.
‘Yeah, he did,’ Aaron answered. ‘Why didn’t you say something today? Have you spoken to your sister yet?’
‘Honestly, because I had my mind on my own issues,’ I answered. ‘And no, I haven’t called her yet.’
‘When Luke gets home we’ll talk about when we can go down. I might be able to get Friday off work?’ Matt offered.
‘But the party is Saturday. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the roads in and out of Sydney at the start of a long weekend would be like!’
‘We could go down and back in one day, but yeah, you’ve got a point about the long weekend.’
‘We’ll see what Luke says.’
‘You can count me in, if you’re going down,’ Aaron said. ‘That is, unless you don’t …’
‘Aaron, of course I’m counting you in. You’re as much a part of my family as anyone around here is.’
At that he smiled at me, then reached out and wrapped his arm around my waist, while leaning his head against my shoulder.
Matt grinned at the two of us. ‘It’s so good to see you two back together like this. Luke is going to be so stoked.’
‘We’re not rushing things just yet, but yeah, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be together again. We were a pair of fools; we both know that now,’ I replied.
‘So, where to from here then?’
‘Like I said, we’re not rushing things,’ I repeated.
* * *
We left Matt a short time later, then strolled the rest of the way back to where we had parked the truck. It was getting on in the afternoon and it was still quite hot, but at least we had left the truck parked in the shade of some trees, so when we opened it up it was quite cool inside.
We climbed in but sat there for a little while longer, watching some boys at the skate ramps, which I hadn’t noticed earlier. They were new additions since I was last in town.
‘You wouldn’t believe the drama’s they had trying to get those skate ramps built,’ Aaron said. ‘The town council was dead against it for a long time … reckoned it would attract the wrong kind of element to the area. But all the kids banded together and started a petition. They got the signature of just about everyone in town — except the councilors, of course — so in the end they had to back down and allow it.’
‘And so they should have. Kids need somewhere to hang out. We never had any place like that.’
‘No, we didn’t,’ he replied. ‘It surprises me that there weren’t more kids preyed on by guys like Andy Thompson, just because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.’
‘Whatever happened to Paul?’ I asked.
‘He’s in Sydney these days. Got a good job after finishing university down there. He comes and says hello every time he’s home. He always asks about you.’
‘What did he say after we … errr … split?’
‘He was pissed with you. And he was pissed with me for not going after you,’ he said with a smile.
‘I guess everyone except us knew what a pair of knuckleheads we were then?’
‘Yup. Everyone,’ he answered, then paused, as if he was going to say something else, but then closed his mouth.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I was going to ask how long it had been since you’d seen your brother?’
‘Since I was kicked out of home, only a handful of times really,’ I replied. ‘The last was just after I landed in Brisbane I think. I had kept in touch with him both before and after that by phone, having to be careful when I called their house so mum wouldn’t be the one who answered. I had to hang up a couple of times when she did.’
‘You don’t like her very much, do you?’
‘Any woman who throws her own kid out on the street to fend for himself, knowing full well just what he would most likely have to do to survive, doesn’t deserve to be called a mother,’ I said, just as calmly as I could.
‘Yeah,’ he said quietly.
‘And now she’s done it to a second child. Man, that’s just beyond belief as far as I’m concerned. I bet our darling mother must have had a coniption fit at Jess’s news.’
‘Well, at least you couldn’t get pregnant!’
‘Oh, very funny, that is!’
We let the silence stretch out for a few minutes more, while we watched a cute looking blonde kid of about fourteen do some jumps and spins in mid-air on his board.
‘I grew up with this fear of what would happen if anyone found out I was gay … my mother in particular. The way she used to go on about it when I was a kid, about anyone who was like that, left me quaking in my boots when I eventually came to the conclusion that that was exactly what I was. When she found out about me and one of my friends fooling around with each other she went ballistic, then threw me out, just like that,’ I eventually said. ‘There must be lots of kids out there like me and Jess … and you even. I’d like to be able to do something to try and help some of them some day.’
‘I know what you mean.’
‘I think that you and I were actually amongst the lucky ones. I mean, I know that you were a bit older than I was when you found yourself abandoned by your family, and by me, I guess, but you had friends like Luke and the guys, and Scott and Justin, who all gathered around you and helped you out. I didn’t have any place to turn, at least not until I managed to find out where Luke was and then come here, but even then I wasn’t sure if he would even want to help me, especially after what I did to him and Matt the previous year.’
‘I know you’ve never really wanted to talk about it, and I’ve always respected that, but how long were you on your own for?’ Aaron asked gently.
It was true. Strangely enough I don’t think I’ve ever discussed that period of my life with Aaron. And I’m not even sure why.
‘It was only about a month,’ I replied. ‘I went to hostels when I could. Slept under bridges a few times. Hitch-hiked around. Fuck, anything could have happened to me really. Every day of that month was like living an eternity. I had no idea where to turn or even where the next meal was going to come from.’
Aaron reached over and placed one of his hands on mine.
‘I remember when I first saw you; at Scott’s that day. Do you remember that? We went swimming in the pool and if it wasn’t bad enough that I was star-struck by what you looked like when we met inside his house, with your tanned skin and surfer looks, when you stripped down to your boxers and dived in I knew I was in love straight away.’
‘Yeah, I remember the look you had on your face. Luke told me later that he and Scott knew straight away that we had hit it off. They could see it in both our faces, apparently.’
‘What about that month, before you came to Luke’s? I bet there were a lot of other guys that would have loved to have gotten their hands on you while you were on the streets. You know, like, older guys?’
‘Yeah. There were. I’ve never told anyone what happened during that time. It’s like I almost blanked it out of my memory or something … like I wanted to wipe all record of that month from the pages of history. They were dark times for me; the only time in my life when I truly didn’t know what the future would hold.’
Shit. Now it was my turn to start feeling like an emotional wreck.
I just knew that I was about to part with my deepest, darkest secret, the part of me that I hadn’t ever spoken about to anyone. I trusted Aaron. I knew he would keep it safe.
‘I think I know what you’re getting at,’ I said. ‘But the answer is no, I just couldn’t bring myself to have full-on sex with anyone. The opportunity was certainly there, and had I been on the streets for longer, then chances are that I would have quite likely gone down that road and into that side of living on the streets, but right then, there was just no way I could do it.’
I stopped for a moment, while I gathered my thoughts. Outside the kids were still skating around the park. Free. Innocent. And without the fear that I had of the world when I was that age.
‘I will admit to receiving a few blow-jobs, but never giving one, or doing anything else for that matter. I didn’t see anything wrong with getting twenty bucks here or there for letting someone blow me, after all, that was all there was between me and total destitution, but that was as far as it ever went. One day I got pushed to go further and I refused. The guy punched me and left me crying in a toilet. I didn’t even get my twenty bucks that day, so I went hungry. I realised then that if I stayed there doing that, eventually I wouldn’t have any choice but to go further, whether it was of my own volition, or otherwise … so that’s when I scrounged some coins together and rang Luke’s mum and dad and found out where he was, then hitch-hiked up the Pacific Highway, leaving the city behind.’
See. We all have our skeletons in the closet.
‘When I did eventually lose my virginity it wasn’t to some fat old shit who couldn’t get anyone to have sex with him unless he was paying for it. I lost it to someone I cared about deeply.’
I looked across at Aaron, whose face was as white as I had ever seen it. A single tear had trickled down his cheek, leaving a tell-tale sign.
‘I … I never knew,’ he whispered.
‘Mate, no one did. Not even Luke. He and Matt would of course ask me. They poked and prodded for information for ages, but I would always close right up on them whenever they tried. In the end they gave up and we all just got on with life. All I asked of Luke and his parents was that they didn’t tell my mother where I was.’
I reached across and with my thumb I gently wiped the tear away, before leaning over and kissing him again.
‘And the rest, as they say, is history. For both of us.’
‘And now we have the chance for a fresh start.’
‘Just you and me?’
‘Yeah babe, just you and me.’
We sat there for a little while longer, not saying anything, each of us content to just hold the other. To the west of the lake we could see the sun dipping down to just above the rim of the mountains. That was when Aaron finally turned to me and suggested that he should drop me home.
I agreed with him, as I knew I needed to call my sister, talk to Luke and Matt when they arrived home, plus have a shower before we headed out to dinner later on.
He started the truck and backed out of the parking space, then pointed it toward Matt and Luke’s, arriving there less than five minutes later and pulling up on the lawn, right outside the guest house door, but not turning the motor off.
‘Thank you for telling me about that part of you life,’ he said. ‘It really is like we are getting to know one another all over again, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. It is.’
‘Now, you go do what you’ve got to do, and I’ll come and pick you up at about seven, is that okay?’
‘Sounds perfect to me,’ I replied, as I leaned across the seat and kissed him again. ‘Thank you for a great day,’ I said to him.
The smile that he gave me in return was worth taking a photo of and framing.
* * *
Once Aaron had left and I made it inside, I stripped off my shirt and pants and pulled on some shorts, before grabbing my phone. I figured I needed to also touch base with Harry, so I dialled his number first, while at the same time I pulled out my laptop and fired it up as well.
As I had said to Aaron, it really had been a great day. Having unloaded the burden that had been so carefully hidden from everyone for all these years, my mind was suddenly going into over-drive. Today was a day when ideas had come swirling up to the surface of my consciousness one after the other, and I needed to run some of them past Harry, as I would need his help in sorting the wheat from the chaff.
‘Hey, Tony,’ he said when he picked up his phone. ‘I was going to call you tonight.’
‘G’day Harry. I thought I had better try and catch you before you went home. I’m heading out with Aaron later on anyhow, and there’s some stuff I wanted some advice about.’
‘Oh shit. What’s it going to cost this time?’ he joked. ‘And how are things going with you and lover-boy?’
‘You first,’ I said. ‘When are you coming down to talk about the contract?’
‘I’m flying in to Macquarie Harbour on the Thursday morning flight. Then I’m flying out Friday,’ he said. ‘I think it gets there about ten-thirty, doesn’t it?’
‘Yeah, that was the flight I came in on. There’s a spare room here for you, so we can do what we’ve got to do, then you’ll be right to get away on Friday.’
‘Sounds workable then. Can you organise to pick me up at the airport? Now, what hair-brained schemes have you come up with this time?’
I told him how things were going with Aaron, and he seemed genuinely interested, and pleased, as he always was with the personal lives of his clients. I guess a happy and productive client meant for a healthier bank balance for the agent, but all things considered, he did do a great job for the handful of people he represented. Amongst his clientele were not only fiction writers like myself, but also people involved in the television and film industries, as well as sporting personalities who had turned to the media when their days with the bat and ball, or whatever it was they had played with, were through, writing memoirs and exposes to try and keep their names in the public eye.
I then proceeded to explain the situation with my family and he made all the right sympathetic noises.
‘I need to go and see them first, then afterwards I’ll know more about what we need to do,’ I said.
‘When are you fixing on doing that?’
‘Not sure just yet, but sometime soon.’
‘Now, there are some things I was hoping I could get you to look into for me, as I have no idea where to start.’
‘Oh, shit. Here we go.’
‘This is probably above and beyond the call of duty,’ I said, ‘but I’m sure you’ll be able to point me in the right direction at least.’
I rattled off my ideas and I could almost hear the cogs turning in his brain as he listened.
‘Uh huh … I see … Hmmm … Well, maybe …’ he said at various intervals, before finishing with, ‘Okay, leave it with me and I’ll see what we can do. Now is there anything else?’
‘Only that I might have a new story idea,’ I teased.
‘Right! NOW we’re talking!’ he laughed. ‘See you Thursday. Oh, and have a good night.’
‘Thanks. You too.’
When we disconnected I logged in and checked my emails, most of which were crap, as usual, then I found Jess’s mobile phone number and dialled it.
‘Hello?’ the voice on the other end said, sounding slightly uncertain.
‘Hello sis. Long time no see,’ I said to her.
‘Tony? Is that you?’ she exclaimed.
‘Yes, Jess. It’s me. I’ve had a few calls from our favourite brother. Are you okay?’
‘Just peachy,’ she said with a sigh.