Excitement seemed to have been coursing through my veins when I had finally crawled into bed last night, and for a long time I couldn’t get to sleep as I tossed and turned and went over and over in my mind the events of the last few days.
I was convinced that all the elements of the life I wanted were finally coming together, and that it wouldn’t be long before I would be embarking on a new journey, yet despite my earlier feelings of contentment, after a while there also seemed to be another feeling creeping into my consciousness, and one that I couldn’t quite shake. It was one of uneasiness.
Was I doing the right thing? Would I only end up hurting Aaron again? Would he really be able to handle a full-on relationship again? Would I even be able to handle such a relationship again, myself?
For some time I lay there staring at the ceiling as my head spun with conflicting thoughts, yet somehow, eventually, I managed to drift off to sleep; most likely lulled into a dream world by the sound of the wind in the trees outside and the waves rolling in, onto the nearby beach.
I dreamed of days gone by. I dreamed of two boys running along a beach. Laughing. Playing. Swimming. Surfing.
I dreamed of two boys discovering each other … of an awakening love … of their trials and tribulations as they grew, and learned, and matured.
But then they came to a fork in the road on which they were travelling. It was a barren, lonely looking place where mists swirled and voices cried out in the dark. An unknown obstacle loomed out of the darkness, driving them apart. They became separated, lost, and alone. Blindly they staggered on until each finally accepted his loneliness and continued on, moving down his chosen path, yet not knowing if it was even the right one, or if there was any way back.
Years would pass, but eventually the two roads came back within sight of each other, and much to their delight, the two boys were reacquainted, though not quite yet reunited. Looking ahead they could both see far off into the distance, as the two paths carried on, side by side, yet never quite touching; never quite becoming one, once more.
The two boys started going faster, searching for the place where the two roads would join, yet the further they went, the farther away that place seemed to be. Would it be around that next bend? Or over that next hill? They wouldn’t know until they reached that destination, but they were trying. They were still searching. Still looking for that elusive place where happiness could be found.
As the dawn came, with a grey light seeping into the world, washing it with watercolours that were ever changing, the boys were still looking forward. They could see something ahead, something familiar, yet the light, growing brighter and brighter, was playing tricks on them. Could they trust their own eyes? Was it really what they had yearned for?
Soon, they reassured each other. Soon they would have that answer.
But just then, just when they thought the answer was within their grasp, the cock crowed, breaking the spell and filling the morning air with a cacophony of sound.
Shaking the sleep from my eyes I sat up and looked around. Whatever it was I had thought I had seen was once again nowhere in sight. Now all there was was another grey morning, and another day of waiting.
I got up from the bed and found a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and pulled them on, then padded to the bathroom. When I had relieved myself and washed, I returned to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed once more, just wondering what it all meant.
Our happiness was there for the asking. Was it that simple, or was there something else yet that would be an obstacle to us? I couldn’t answer that, but what I did know is that I had to keep moving forward. We both needed to do that, for if we didn’t we would only fall back into the same old routine, the same old existence, and if we weren’t careful, any chance at our achieving happiness would slip through our fingers.
It was still early, way too early for the guys to be up and about in the house even, but I figured there was no chance of my being able to get back to sleep now, so I decided to pull out my laptop and get an early start on what I had planned to do today.
Once it had fired up I opened Word and then, stretched out across the bed on my stomach, I started to type up the details of the dream I’d just woken from, while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. It wasn’t the most comfortable position to work in, but it was one that I often assumed, especially when just doing a quick note taking job.
As I typed, I realised that I wasn’t sure exactly where, or how, I would be able to use this, but it would be added to the folder of little vignettes and sketches that I kept on file, and one day I would have just the story that would have a need for just this scene.
When I had finished, and I was finally satisfied that what I had put down made at least some sense, I saved the file in the folder that contained all my other little orphans, then closed the file down.
I glanced at the time display on my desktop and saw that it was only just after seven a.m., so I opened the folder that I had saved my earlier dream notes into a few days ago, then opened that file and re-read it through several times. I was happy with what I read, although there was much that I was still uncertain of. Just what shape would the story take? What are the names of the characters? Who would be the heroes and villains?
What I did have in mind was something of a murder mystery, set in a small seaside village, where the townsfolk were dropping like flies. The prime suspect, however, ends up in a coma in hospital following a car accident, but yet, the murders continue. Our hero policeman, new to town and no doubt haunted by his own demons, is somehow convinced that the comatose patient in bed thirteen (yeah, I know, way too cliche!) had something to do with it, but can’t quite figure it all out.
Could he find the answers? Would he get to the bottom of things before it was someone he cared about who would become the next victim?
Now, all I had to do was turn that into about two hundred thousand words, or so.
Sure. That’ll be all too easy.
* * *
I worked for around half an hour, just sorting through and expanding on some of my notes, then decided it was time to make an appearance at the house. Hopefully the guys will have saved me some breakfast — assuming of course that Luke had cooking duties again — although after last night’s meal I wasn’t sure that I would even be needing anything other than coffee.
When I entered the back door of the house I could hear some excited conversation going on in the kitchen, so I headed in that direction. It sounded like all of the guys were there and the talk was about the upcoming party.
It was Guy who spotted me first as I sauntered down the hall toward the kitchen.
‘Well, if it isn’t the stop-out, finally making an appearance,’ he teased. ‘And what time was it that you finally dragged your sorry arse in last night, young man? Did you get lucky or something?’
The others turned and saw me standing at the doorway.
‘Good morning all,’ I said to them. ‘I hope I didn’t wake you all up last night?’
‘Wake us up?’ Tim laughed. ‘Jesus, that old crate of Aaron’s would wake the dead. We could hear it coming for miles.’
‘Sorry about that. I know how you old men need your beauty sleep.’
‘Ha! If that’s the case then I think Tim should still be in bed,’ Matt teased.
‘And a big fuck you to you too,’ Tim shot back.
We all laughed, knowing full well that this was the usual banter that went on among the four of them and no-one ever took it seriously. Even so, I did kind of feel like an outsider, or that I was somehow intruding on the dynamics of their relationships, especially as I had been out of the loop for so long now.
Luke reached over toward the electric jug and switched it on, then picked up a cup from the bench. ‘Coffee and sugar are already in,’ he said as he handed it to me. ‘And the water is hot again.’
‘Thanks cuz,’ I replied.
‘You’ll have to help yourself to breakfast, if you want any, as we haven’t done anything special this morning.’
‘That’s cool. I’m not that hungry anyhow.’
‘Something you swallowed last night perhaps?’ Tim joked, which only earned him a belt up the back of the skull from Guy.
‘Are you ever going to grow up?’ Guy scolded him.
‘Not if I can help it,’ he replied.
I’m sure he meant nothing by it, but I found it odd that just a few nights ago Tim was the one admonishing me for how I had treated Aaron, yet, here he now was putting a whole different kind of heat on me. Deep down I think he was just testing me out, perhaps trying to find out if I was being genuine in what I was trying to do with my relationship with Aaron, or was there really some other meaning in the way he was treating me? Had I finally been welcomed back into the fold, or did I still have work to do with Tim as well?
When the jug had boiled I filled the mug most of the way up, then added an inch of cold water, as I usually did.
‘So, how was last night?’ Matt asked as I turned back around to face them all, then brought the mug to my lips and took a sip.
‘Actually, it was awesome,’ I replied. ‘We had a great night at Charlie’s, then we went for a walk down along the creek and along the beach. The only dampener on the evening was some old drunk yelling homophobic slurs down near the beach, and then taking a swing at us, but when he fell on his arse the mood definitely lightened up.’
‘Yeah, there are still a few folks like that around. I know that for the most part folks like us can all get about and just be ourselves, as you’ve probably already noticed, but it’s not all wine and roses, by any stretch,’ Guy said.
‘Still, it’s a damn sight better than it was five years ago,’ I replied.
‘That is certainly true,’ said Luke.
‘And how does Aaron seem to you?’ Matt asked. ‘He certainly looked pretty happy when you guys came into the shop.’
‘I think he has finally put his demons to rest,’ I replied. ‘The first couple of days he was a bit skittish, but now he seems to be putting all that behind him. We’re only taking it slow, and there are a few times when he seems like, I don’t know, like he’s in another place almost, but having said that, for the most part it’s also like he’s almost back to his old self again. It might sound crazy, but I reckon I can see the difference in his eyes … like there’s a spark there now that he didn’t have when I got here.’
‘Actually, now that you mentioned it, that was what I noticed yesterday,’ Matt added. ‘I was trying to put my finger on it when you were on the phone to your brother and Aaron and I were chatting. It’s like he’s all excited about life again, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.’
‘Did you say anything to him about moving back here?’ Luke asked. I quickly glanced at Tim and Guy, who didn’t seem surprised, so I guessed that Matt and Luke had filled them in on my plans.
‘Yes. I mentioned it, but we didn’t go into any great detail. He just said he would like that, so I guess I’m still in the game,’ I replied.
‘Good for you,’ he said.
It was right at that moment when two things suddenly came into my head.
‘Hey, what time are all you guys heading into Macquarie Harbour?’ I asked. ‘Have I got time to grab a quick shower and grab a lift with one of you? There’s a couple of things I’d forgotten about that I just thought I should try and do today.’
‘You’ve got fifteen minutes,’ Luke replied.
‘That’s all I need,’ I replied, then quickly drank down my coffee. ‘Just give me a blast of the horn when you’re ready to go and I’ll come a runnin’.’
I left them there, all with slightly bemused looks on their faces, and quickly headed outside for the guest house. I had suddenly remembered that I had promised Anne Rummery from the Writer’s Centre that I would try and call in before the event tomorrow, while the other sudden thought I’d had was an idea that involved a surprise for Aaron, and even though I wasn’t too sure exactly how he would react, I knew that it was a good one. Having made an early start to the work I’d set today aside for, I figured that I would be able to take a couple of hours out of the day to do some errands.
* * *
I was just pulling on my shoes when I heard the sound of the car horn outside, but I didn’t keep Luke waiting very long by the time I finished that and then found my phone and wallet.
‘Thanks, mate,’ I said to him as I climbed into the front seat.
‘No problem,’ he replied.
He soon backed the car out of the yard and we hit the road. Matt was the only person still left at the house, but he would be heading into work shortly also.
‘So, what were you guys talking about this morning?’ I asked. ‘It sounded like plans for the party.’
‘Yeah,’ he replied with a grin. ‘Guy wants us to hire a Karaoke machine. You’ve heard Tim sing before haven’t you?’
‘Yes. He’s pretty damn good.’
‘Well, Guy wants him to belt out a few tunes again. It’s been ages since he’s sung anything.’
‘And I suppose with a few brews under our belts the rest of us will be forced to get up too?’
‘Yeah, it could work that way too.’
‘Not this little black duck,’ I replied, to which he simply laughed.
We drove on for a few miles in silence, each of us apparently wrapped up in his own thoughts. It was a beautiful, clear summer morning, giving promise of a hot day ahead. I hoped that we would get an afternoon storm, but wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for it.
‘So, what’s with the sudden rush to get into town?’ Luke asked casually.
I looked across at him and grinned.
‘I almost forgot that I told the Writer’s Centre lady that I would try and get in today,’ I said to him.
‘And what else?’
‘Fuck, I can’t get away with anything with you around, can I?’
‘I know you too well, mate. Besides, you’ve got a grin on your face like a fox locked in the hen-house, so it’s not hard to tell that you’ve got something planned.’
‘Well, if you must know, I wanted to buy something for Aaron,’ I said.
‘I’ll let you know if and when I find one.’
‘Ahhh … secret men’s business, eh? Okay, I can take the hint.’
We had now turned off Thompsonville Road and were on the Pacific Highway, heading into Macquarie Harbour. Traffic was quite thick with people heading into work, but we still made good time and pretty soon we were slowing down as we came to the outskirts of the city and the speed zones changed.
‘Where do you want me to drop you off?’ Luke asked as we approached the city centre.
‘Anywhere near the library or the old council chambers, I guess. I can find my way around from there on foot.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah. I’ll be fine, mate.’
A few minutes later he pulled into a parking space just off the main street. I undid my seat belt and opened the door.
‘How long do you think you’ll be? And what about lunch, or even going home?’ he asked. ‘Just give me a call later and let me know what you want to do, okay?’
‘Okay. I’ll do that. Don’t worry too much about me though. I’m a big kid these days, you know.’
‘Oh. I’m not too worried about you … I’m more worried about how I’m going to explain it to Aaron if you get run over by a bus! He’ll tan my hide.’
‘Just relax Luke. I’ll be fine. Honest.’
‘Okay. Just call me and let me know what you’re doing, all right?’
I got out of the car and waved him goodbye as he dashed back out into the traffic, then I had a good look around me to get my bearings.
Some decent coffee and something to eat now seemed to be what was required, so I headed toward the main street to try and find a coffee shop. It was after nine a.m., so there was bound to be something open by now, I figured, and within a couple of blocks I came to a clean looking little place, named Elly’s, with tables and chairs on the sidewalk beneath large green umbrellas.
Heading inside I ordered and paid for a cappuccino and a toasted sandwich, then headed outside to find myself a seat. On the way out I passed a table covered with newspapers and magazines and I soon found today’s local newspaper, which I picked up and took with me.
Flicking through the pages I soon caught up with the local news. Starting with the sports pages, as I always did, I found that the local summer 20/20 cricket competition was drawing to a close and the final was set to be played this coming Friday night, between the MH Wanderers and the Southern Stars, with a bumper crowd expected.
Personally I loathed the game of cricket; however in recent years, with the invention of the 20/20 game, where each team bowled just twenty overs at their opposition, rather than draw it out over five days as they did in the big Test Matches, the game had been totally transformed. In the cities this new version of the game was attracting huge crowds, even rivalling American Baseball (which I had always wanted to experience) for entertainment value. I idly wondered if Aaron or any of the guys might want to go.
I found the classifieds and the car yard pages, which I glanced over, then continued on. A building at my old high school had apparently been set fire to over the school holidays, with two teenage students having been arrested already and charged.
There was concern within the town about the number a shops on the main street that seemed to be closing. Some people were blaming the economic conditions, while others were blaming it on the local council for not encouraging business.
The Australia Day celebrations were apparently going to be held this coming Saturday at the local racecourse, where there would reportedly be loads of fun events for all the family, as well as live music and the presentation of citizenship awards.
As I flicked back through the paper once more I spotted a small headline I hadn’t noticed the first time round. LOCAL AUTHOR RETURNS, it read, so I zeroed in on the article. There was even a small photo of me shown; the one that Shi-Anne always sent out for promotional articles.
I quickly read through the article, which wasn’t very big on detail, but at least they had gotten the word out about the little talk fest we were going to have tomorrow. It would be interesting to see how many people actually showed up.
By the time I had finished reading, the waitress brought out my coffee and sandwich, placing it on the table in front of me. I thanked her and she left me, then while sipping on my coffee I dialled Shi-Anne’s number.
She answered after the third ring.
‘Good morning sexy,’ she said.
‘Hey Shi. How’re things in sunny Queensland?’
‘Oh, you know, same old, same old. How’s your love life going? Getting any yet?’
‘Now Shi, don’t you know that a gentleman never tells?’ I rebuked her.
‘Hey, I see you’ve been sending my photo out again. I just found myself smiling back at me in the local rag down here. Hopefully it might drag a few extras in off the street tomorrow.’
‘Well, every little bit helps.’
‘Yeah. I guess so. Now, the real reason I’m ringing … can you put your thinking cap on for me and come up with some character names again. I just love it when you do that for me.’
‘Flattery will get you everywhere!’
‘I’m hoping so.’
‘What did you have in mind?’
‘Can you keep a secret?’
‘Oh shit. Harry isn’t going to like this, is he?’
‘Possibly not, but I’m trying to get a couple of chapters of something new done today before he gets here. If I can do that and impress him then maybe he’ll warm to the idea.’
‘What is it?’ she said, with a loud sigh.
‘Think Steven King meets Bryce Courtenay!’
‘What the fuck?’
‘Yeah, I know,’ I said. ‘Harry, of course won’t like it much, so I think I’ll write it under another name.’
‘I guess that could work. But he’ll still give you a hard time about it.’
‘Yeah well, I’m the one who writes the fucking things … he’s just got to help me get them out there when I’m finished.’
‘Good luck with that then!’ she laughed. ‘So, what’s it about?’
I gave her a very brief run down on what I had in mind for the story and the types of characters I intended writing, and I was sure I could hear her sucking on her pen on the other end of the line. Every now and then she would say something like, ‘Cool,’ or ‘Hmmmmm,’ but that’s about all I got from her.
‘And what’s your pen name going to be?’
‘No fucking idea,’ I answered. ‘But I’m sure you can come up with something. Can’t you?’
‘Okay then. Just let me sleep on it.’