From time to time throughout the night Charlie would come and sit with us, as we all recalled stories from our younger years. At times we would be laughing. At times a more sombre mood would prevail. All the while, however, we were recalling times that had meant much to us all, and we all knew that no matter what happened from this point forward, they were still memories to be cherished, and which we would carry to our graves.
All night the food just seemed to keep on coming, and yes, I was served my favourite Mongolian dish, although this one wasn’t just the usual dish of only beef. This one was a combination of beef, chicken, pork and King Prawns, and when the sizzling dish with its distinctive aroma was set on the table between us I noticed Aaron grin when I frowned slightly.
‘Don’t complain. Just shut up and eat it. Trust me, you’re going to love it!’ he urged. ‘It’s way better than just plain old beef.’
I picked up the serving spoon and heaped some onto my plate, then added some more of Charlie’s Special Fried Rice for good measure.
I knew that the hot and spicy Mongolian flavour would be the same; it was just that I wasn’t sure about the other ingredients, as I had never tried them in a Mongolian dish before. I had nothing to worry about though, as Aaron was spot on. From the very first mouthful it was everything I had expected, and then some.
The trick to Chinese food, Charlie had taught me many years ago, was to find balance. If you ordered all sweet dishes, or all spicy dishes, or even just all plain flavoured dishes, you would usually wind up disappointed in the meal. If you ordered a little of everything, however, with all the flavours blending together and balancing each other out, then you would go home satisfied every time.
It seems that I had taught Aaron well in passing on Charlie’s wisdom, as the feast we enjoyed this night was perfect … even if there was way too much for us to handle.
During the evening I noticed that Aaron hadn’t pursued any more the question of my net worth, after we had been cut short at the start of the evening, but I promised myself that I would talk to him about it before the night was through. Perhaps a walk on the beach afterwards might be a good idea, I thought.
‘Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m totally stuffed,’ I said to Aaron, as I sat back and rubbed my belly, which after tonight seemed to be threatening the safety of the buttons on my shirt.
‘We can’t go doing this too often,’ he replied. ‘It’ll send us broke and we’ll have to go out and buy all new clothes.’
‘We can still do it often enough to remind us we need to enjoy life. But as for the clothes, well, how many fat Chinese people do you know? Maybe we don’t have to worry too much about that side of things?’
‘Ha, if only it was that easy. Anyhow, I just thought it was because they always used chopsticks and it’s too hard to ever have a decent feed using them,’ he replied.
‘Oh geez, you know you’ll be going straight to hell for that comment, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I know,’ he replied, with a sigh. ‘But I also know that you’ll be there right with me, so at least I won’t be lonely.’
‘Ohhhh … nasty!’
The waitress soon came and brought us some tea, then after she had cleared away the plates we sat there and enjoyed the sweet brew.
When we had finally finished we got up from the table and started to make our way to the front counter, it was approaching ten o’clock. As we went we were soon intercepted by our waitress, carrying with her two bags which we could see had take-away containers inside them. Our doggy-bags, as they were commonly referred to.
‘Mr Charlie insisted I bring these to you,’ she said, as she placed them on the counter. ‘I’m afraid that he has left for the night, as he wasn’t feeling very well, but he asked me to say to you how honoured and happy he was to have you both here this evening, and that he hoped he will see you again soon.’
‘Please tell Mr Charlie that the honour was all ours,’ I said to her, ‘and that we will come back to our favourite Chinese restaurant again just as soon as we can … definitely before I return to Brisbane next week.’
‘He will be very pleased.’
Behind the counter was a board with a number of clips on it, on which there hung numerous orders. She quickly flicked through them and retrieved ours, then started adding up the total using a calculator.
Aaron glanced at me and saw me watching her.
‘Here, you want to go get the truck?’ he said to me, while flashing me a quick smile and handing me the keys. ‘I said I’ve got this one.’
‘All right, all right,’ I replied as I took the keys from his outstretched palm.
‘I’ll be there in a minute.’
I went outside and stood at the front of the restaurant, where, through the window I could still see Aaron standing at the counter.
After adding up our tab the waitress turned the calculator around and showed him the amount, which, judging by his reaction was considerably more than he had expected. She then showed him our docket, then both of them broke out into huge smiles.
Aaron handed over his card and paid for the meal, while the two of them continued to chat, then once the transaction was completed and he had been given his card back he picked up the bags and came outside to meet me.
‘Everything okay?’ I asked.
‘It seems Mr Charlie likes us,’ he said to me.
‘Of course he does, but what makes you say that?’
‘He wrote on the docket, in big red letters … GOOD BOYS. HALF PRICE.’
Even I had to laugh.
‘Did you ask her to tell him that we like him a great deal too. We might even have to come back even more often if he keeps doing that for us,’ I joked.
‘Actually, I did,’ Aaron said. ‘She said “I’ll let him know.”‘
* * *
It was only a short walk down to the beach from where we had parked the old truck, so rather than go straight home we decided to take a stroll and let our meal settle.
The moon was rising and giving off enough light for us to see by, even if the full moon itself was still days away yet, so we followed the walkway beside the creek and headed for the spot where we could hear the surf rolling in and smashing endlessly on the beach.
It felt wonderful that we could walk freely around this town now and not have to worry about being caught holding hands, or worse. We had both seen the wrath of the locals in full flight in our younger years, and it had always been in the back of our minds whenever we were out and about, but these last few days here had been so wonderful, so carefree, that I think we had both relaxed.
As we strolled along in the moonlight, with my arm around Aaron’s shoulders and his around my waist, we noticed the shadowy figure of someone coming toward us. The closer he got the more unsteady he seemed, crossing from one side of the path to the other, so Aaron and I stepped off the concrete path and onto the grass to let him pass us by. When he reached us, however, he stopped right in front of us, swaying there on the spot and looking us up and down.
‘Are you okay, mate?’ I asked him.
‘Wasshiit to yoooo?’ he slurred.
With his face in shadow it was difficult to make out his features, so I couldn’t tell who he was, but it was fairly obvious that he was under the influence of something.
‘Nothing,’ I replied. ‘Just seeing if you were okay.’
‘Look at you two! Fuckin’ poofters, yooz are everywhere around ‘ere now. The whole place ‘as gone to pot!’
I felt like telling him to get used to it, but thought better of it, as if there’s one thing worse than a drunk, it’s an aggravated drunk, so giving Aaron a gentle squeeze I motioned for us to move on.
‘Yeah, thasshh right … piss orf then … take your poofta boyfriend ‘ome why dontcha!’
‘Maybe you should head there too, mate,’ I replied.
‘Wha?’ he said, while taking an air swing at us, before then overbalancing and landing on his arse, shouting expletives.
‘That was a close one,’ I said to him.
‘We weren’t really in any danger. It would have only taken a push and he’d have gone down.’
‘Yeah, but what if he’d had a mate around somewhere? That could have made life interesting.’
‘I guess you’re right.’
‘Have you had any close calls like this since I’ve been gone?’ I asked.
‘No more than usual.’
‘Well, just promise me that you’ll be careful, at least until I manage to get back here.’
We walked on for a minute or so, in silence.
‘Speaking of which …’ he eventually said. ‘What did you mean when you said to Charlie that you had been thinking about coming back? Were you going to let me in on your plans?’
By this time we had reached the edge of the beach, just away from where the creek was flowing into the ocean. I looked around and found a bench and took us there to sit down.
As the ocean mist, coming off the breaking waves, swirled around us and landed on our skin, cold and sharp, yet fully welcome, I started to fill him in on what I had been thinking.
‘These last few days have been wonderful,’ I said, as I sat with my arm still around his shoulders. ‘They have made me realise just how much I have missed this place … and especially you.’
‘Same here,’ he replied.
‘The other thing I’ve realised is that because of what I do, I don’t really need to be living in the city, so coming back here is an option. I have an agent who handles all my business and finances, in conjunction with a firm of accountants, so I’m going to talk to them both about what I need to do to be able to come back here and maybe buy a place of my own right here.’
‘Really?’ he enthused, sitting bolt upright and facing me.
‘Yes, mate. I am. And if I do that, I want you with me.’
He snuggled in close to me and put both arms around my waist.
‘I’d like that,’ he said softly.
‘I also didn’t answer your other question from earlier on,’ I said.
‘About how loaded I was,’ I chuckled.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Actually, it does matter. I want you to know,’ I said.
‘Well, to be totally honest, at first I was a bit worried how you might react …’
‘You don’t have to worry about me. I can handle being a lowly lawn-mower man while my boyfriend is a hot-shot writer making millions and signing autographs like it’s going out of fashion. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, then that’s all that really and truly matters.’
‘I’m glad to hear that,’ I replied. ‘You constantly surprise me.’
‘I thought you’d be used to me by now?’
‘So, if we are going to be partners in more than just a lawn mowing business I just thought you should know.’
‘Partners, eh? That kind of has a nice ring to it.’
‘Yeah, it does.’
‘So, hot-shot, what’s your bottom line then?’ he said, while making a playful grab at my arse.
‘Right at this moment,’ I replied. ‘I’m worth about one point eight million dollars, give or take a few thou.’
Suddenly he sat upright and looked me square in the eyes.
‘Are you freakin’ serious?’
‘Dead serious mate. That includes the unit in Brisbane, plus what I have as investments and in the bank. And when I get paid for my next movie contract, there’ll be about another million to add to that — after tax of course.’
He let out a long, low whistle.
‘I had no idea,’ he said.
‘I probably don’t have to ever write another book,’ I added, ‘but life would be too boring if I took that route.’
‘You could always help me mow some lawns,’ he chuckled.
‘We’ll see,’ I replied.
We sat there for a while longer, before eventually we both started to yawn.
‘It has been a big day,’ I whispered to him. ‘Thank you for everything.’
He cuddled in closer and said, ‘Your welcome. It has been the best day I’ve had in ages. I don’t want it to end, but I have a lot to do tomorrow as well, so I guess I should really be making a move and get you home before the coach turns back into a pumpkin.’
‘Do you want to stay?’ I offered.
He tilted his head back and studied my face. He looked so beautiful in the moonlight, with his eyes sparkling.
After what seemed like a long time he finally whispered, ‘Not tonight. It’s not that I don’t want to, I do, it’s just …’
‘Shhhhh …’ I said, while placing a gentle finger over his lips. ‘You don’t have to say anything.’
* * *
It was after midnight when he finally dropped me home and then left me at the guys’ house. We had sat in the truck for a few minutes just talking, then we kissed goodnight and I climbed out and closed the door, trying not to make too much noise as I knew the boys would by now be in bed.
After I watched him drive away and started toward the guest house the floodlight at the back of the house suddenly came on. I figured it must have been hooked to a motion sensor, as they all seemed to be these days, but then the back door opened. I stopped to see who it was that was checking up on me, while holding one hand up to the light, trying to shield my eyes from the brilliant glare.
‘Everything okay, bud?’ Luke asked.
‘Just perfect,’ I replied.
‘Excellent. You can tell us all about it the morning.’
‘Be glad to.’
He shut the door and switched off the light and I walked the rest of the way across the yard to the guest house and let myself in, then without even turning on the lights I stripped off naked, dropping my clothes on a chair, and collapsed on top of the bed.
For the first time in a long time I was actually feeling content. I was happy with what was currently happening in my life, and more to the point, where I was headed. Sure, there would still be obstacles ahead to be faced, but everyone faces those. What I was most pleased with, though, was the fact that I had reconnected with those I cared about most in the world and that these relationships were actually growing stronger.
Smiling to myself, I acknowledged that this really was a good place that I was in right now. Everything I had ever wanted was finally coming together. I could only hope and pray that there would be nothing that would come along and fuck that up for me.