Before I packed away my laptop for the day I decided I needed to go online and check my emails. Once I had connected I found that for the most part there was just the usual crap, which was quickly deleted, but there were also a few that I needed to deal with, mostly from Shi-Anne.
She and Harry were starting to put together the schedule for the launch of the new novel, so book signings and morning television shows and all sorts of other stunts would no doubt be on the agenda.
Did I want to do a book signing in Melbourne to correspond with the launch? Only if I had to, I replied.
How about appearing on the Sunrise breakfast show? Only if I got to be interviewed by Samantha Armytage, I said. As a gay guy, I thought she was a seriously cool chick.
The next email had the subject heading of, ‘Few Good Men’, and proved to be a list of names … likely candidates to be characters in my murder mystery novel. I chuckled to myself as I read through the list. Blake Smithers. Leo Barlow. Jack Weston. Ian Baker. The list went on.
All good men, I’m sure. Too bad half of them would have to be killed off.
I kind of liked the name of Blake for the hero, but that would have to be a wait and see.
I replied to the email and thanked her for her efforts, then shut down my laptop.
If I was going to see Aaron, I decided, I would need a shower, so I stripped off and found a fresh towel. Just as I was heading into the bathroom, however, I heard my phone buzz, letting me know that a message had come through, so I decided to check it first.
It was from Matt, saying that he and Justin were at the local hotel and that the rest of the guys were coming in for a beer and a meal, and asking if I wanted someone to collect me.
‘Sounds good. I’ve picked up some wheels today, so I’ll meet you there,’ I replied, then decided I should give Aaron a call and see if he was happy for us to join in, or if he had any other plans in mind for the two of us.
He answered on the third ring. ‘Hey babe. I was just thinking about you,’ he said.
‘That’s a coincidence. I was just thinking about you too. I just wanted to know if you had made any plans for us for tonight? The boys are heading to the hotel apparently.’
‘No, that sounds fine. Just as long as … ummm …’
‘As, ummm, what?’
‘I get a little alone time with you later on.’
‘Your place or mine?’
‘How about we cross that bridge when we get to it?’
‘That sounds like a plan,’ I laughed. ‘I’m about to have a shower, so I’ll be there in about half an hour.’
‘Okay, I’m just packing up, so I won’t be far away by the time you get there.’
‘Hey, how has old Betsy been today?’ I asked.
‘Oh, about as grumpy as usual.’
‘Hmmm …’ I replied.
‘See you soon.’
‘Yeah, mate. I can hardly wait.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to say something else, but I refrained from doing so, wanting the new truck to be a real surprise for him. It was then that I decided that what better surprise would there be other than for me to pick him up anyhow, so that it would just be him and me when I sprung the surprise on him and not have any of the others share in it, or possibly complicate the situation.
I jumped into the shower, setting the temperature to be just slightly above being cold and enjoying the feeling of my body being blasted by the cool and refreshing water. Following the heat of the summer day it was almost a relief.
After a quick scrub I turned off the water and stepped from the shower, then picked up my towel and started drying myself, while at the same time walking back out to the bedroom.
I was quite excited about seeing him and seeing what his reaction would be when I handed him the keys to the new truck, but at the same time I was slightly nervous. How would he react? Would he think it was being too over the top, as Luke had put it? Would he think I was trying to force something onto him that he didn’t want?
Only time would tell, I guessed.
By the time I had shaved and then dressed I was feeling quite civilised again and so I headed out into the late afternoon sun and climbed into the truck. I didn’t forget that it was diesel this time, and once I had glowed the plugs it started first time and was purring like a kitten.
A few minutes later I was pulling into the driveway of Scott’s caravan park, where I found him just coming out his front door and locking it. I gave him a toot of the horn and a wave and noticed him look at me strangely for a second or two, before then apparently recognising me and breaking out into a smile.
‘What’s this?’ he asked as her approached the vehicle.
‘Just a little something I picked up today for the boy,’ I replied.
‘Does he know yet?
I simply shook my head and said, ‘It’s a surprise.’
‘Fucking big surprise, if you ask me,’ he chortled.
‘Yeah well, it’s about time old Betsy was retired, I think.’
‘That could be a good thing, but you and I both know you’ll have to prize the keys out of his cold, dead hands using a crowbar to get that off him.’
‘We’ll see about that. So, are you heading down to the pub with the others?’
‘Yep. Justin’s already down there apparently. I might need the back of this thing to bring him home on.’
‘That wouldn’t be a problem. How about we give you a lift? Just let me go and pick up the lad, if he’s ready.’
‘He should be. I saw him heading back from the shower block a little while ago. He tells me that you two are going okay. I’m really pleased to hear that.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied. ‘We’re getting there. Luke and Guy say that he’s back to his old self again, so that’s got to be something at least.’
‘Yes. I think we can all see the change in him. Jay has said the same thing, and if Jay has seen it and you’ve gotten a pass mark with him, then you’re home and hosed. He’s been a bit protective of Aaron these past few years and I would hate to be the person who would dare to hurt Aaron in any way, because Jay would be on their case like you wouldn’t believe.’
Anyone else might have taken that as a threat, but I knew both Scott and Justin well enough, I hoped, to know that they were only looking out for Aaron, and that anything they said was meant because they cared, not because they were trying to interfere in any way.
I smiled at Scott and said, ‘I hear you, mate. He still means the world to me.’
‘I can see that. I’m glad that you’ve come home.’
There was that word again. Home. It was certainly starting to sound good.
‘You go and see Aaron,’ he eventually said. ‘I’ll see you at the pub. It’s only a few blocks walk from here, the exercise won’t hurt me, and besides, you need to explain this to him,’ he said, while waving at the truck.
‘Thanks Scott. Tell the lads we’ll be there shortly.’
He patted me on the arm and then turned to walk away, while I started the truck up again and drove slowly down the driveway towards his cabin, before eventually pulling up directly outside the front door.
Aaron must have heard the sound of a vehicle and came to the screen door, buttoning up his shirt as he peered out into the early evening, but quickly turning away when, I guessed, he didn’t recognise the vehicle.
‘I hope you’re nearly ready?’ I asked, loudly enough so that he could hear me, which quickly caused him to snap his head back to the door.
He pushed on the door and stepped out onto the small porch. He looked cute wearing just his briefs and a half-unbuttoned shirt.
‘What the hell is this?’ he enquired.
‘I needed some wheels while I was here, so I picked it up today.’
‘Something like that. You like it?’
‘Wouldn’t a car have been better?’
‘It was all they really had,’ I lied. ‘Anyhow, if we go to Sydney to see the family, and I have to move some my sister’s stuff, it’ll be handy.’
‘I guess so,’ he said, while eyeing me suspiciously.
After talking to Scott I had made a snap decision that I would let Aaron have a drive of it first, before I told him that it would be his. That way, I figured, if I ask him if he likes it before I tell him that I had bought it for him, and he says yes, then he wouldn’t have any excuse to say no.
‘So, are you ready? Apparently the guys are down at the pub already, and I was just talking to Scott outside his house, he’s walking down there now. I offered him a lift but he reckons he needed the exercise.’
‘Yeah. I’m almost there,’ he replied. ‘You want to come in for a few minutes?’
After shutting off the truck I climbed out then stepped up onto the small porch outside his door, which he was holding open for me.
‘Velcome to my ‘umble ‘ome,’ he said, mimicking an advertisement from the television, complete with the German accent that had accompanied the original. I laughed. At least that quirky little sense of humour of his was still intact.
Quickly I glanced around the small living area. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see, but somehow this wasn’t it.
The cabin was only about ten or twelve feet across, with an old lounge along one wall and a cabinet on the opposite wall that housed a television and small stereo, along with a jumble of various books and magazines. Beyond the small living area was a kitchenette, complete with bench and stools for eating, then past there I could see a short hallway, leading to what must be the bedroom.
As Aaron hurried through the kitchen and down toward the bedroom I glanced at the book titles and noticed a couple of Wilbur Smith’s and a few Bryce Courtenay’s, but none of Tony Scott’s; not that I was worried by that.
The cabin was plain, but looked comfortable enough. The walls were lined with timber panelling, which reached up about a metre from the floor, then above that was plain plaster sheeting, all painted in a pale, off white colour. There were no frills anywhere to be seen. The only photo I could see was a copy of the one of Aaron and me that I used myself as the desktop image on my laptop, which had been taken by Justin, along with another one of two kids, which was of Aaron and his brother when they were younger, both sitting on the swings down by the lake. Apart from that there was nothing else of a personal nature anywhere, at least that I could see.
Everything did look quite neat and tidy though, yet I thought I could detect a musky scent in the air which seemed familiar, bringing a wry smile to my lips.
‘This looks cosy enough,’ I said to him as I looked up to see him standing in the bedroom doorway, pulling on some jeans.
‘Yeah. I guess it’s okay for just me, but I’d hate to have anyone else in here living with me for any length of time. It could get a bit cramped.’
‘Yeah, I see what you mean.’
He disappeared back inside the bedroom so I walked to the doorway, where I found him sitting on the edge of the double bed, one leg hoisted up over the other, while pulling on a sock.
Once more I glanced around the room. The bed clothes were only roughly pulled up and his work clothes were thrown into one corner, but what my eyes eventually settled on was a rather ragged looking copy of Shifting Sands, with what looked like a bookmark sticking out one end of it.
He looked up at me and noticed where I was staring. ‘Yeah, what can I say, I’m a fan!’ he said, with a grin.
‘It’s nice to know I have at least one!’
‘Jesus, you’ve got a few more than that.’
‘But there’s only one that really matters.’
‘Even if you won’t make any money off him?’
‘Oh, I think I can get him to agree to some other means of paying.’
‘Good luck with that,’ he laughed. By this time he had pulled on both his shoes and socks and was standing up in front of me.
‘All set, then?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, why not.’
* * *
When we made it back outside to the vehicle a few moments later I tossed Aaron the keys and said, ‘You may as well drive.’
‘Yeah, why not,’ I replied, then walked around to the passenger side and climbed in.
He opened the driver’s door and took a look inside, before eventually climbing in as well.
‘Never thought I’d get the chance to drive something as new, or as flash, as this,’ he said, while placing both hands on the wheel.
‘It’s just a car. Come on, we better get going,’ I ordered. ‘The guys will think we’re having a shag or something.’
I noticed him blush as he fumbled with the key for a moment, before managing to insert it into the ignition, then after placing a foot on the clutch he turned the key and the engine roared to life first time.
‘Sounds pretty sweet,’ he said.
‘Yeah. And it goes pretty nice too.’
Without any more prompting he made sure it was in gear, then he let out the clutch and we were on our way.
‘Hey, why don’t you turn right at the front gates and take it for a quick spin up toward the lighthouse, before we come back to the pub. See what you think of it.’
‘Yeah, a few more minutes won’t hurt.’
He turned out onto the road and put the accelerator down, and as we passed the signs at the edge of town we were already over the speed limit, speeding past houses and paddocks and lots of scrub.
By the time we reached the approach to the light house car park we had slowed right back down, then when we drove into the car park he turned it around in a tight circle, ready to head back the way we came.
‘You want to pull up for a second?’ I said to him.
‘Why? Is something wrong?’
‘No. Nothing at all. There’s just something I wanted to talk to you about, that’s all.’
For the second time that night he was eyeing me suspiciously.
‘How did that feel? Driving this, I mean.’
‘Pretty nice, actually.’
‘Better than old Betsy?’
‘Yeah, well, she’s been good to me, so I can’t knock her, despite the occasional tantrums.’
‘What would you say if I said I wanted to get you one of these then?’
‘Nah. It’s too much. Betsy will do me until I really need to get something else, then I’ll find another cheapie somewhere; just like she was.’
Aaron shot me a confused look. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
I simply grinned at him.
‘Well … I … errrr.’
I loved this guy dearly, but sometimes he could be a bit slow on the uptake.
‘It’s yours,’ I finally said to him, after dragging out the suspense for a few moments. ‘This one. I bought it today. You need something a bit more reliable for your work, for the business, so here it is.’
For a long time he looked at me, open mouthed and as if he were in shock.
‘No. No. You shouldn’t have,’ he finally stammered.
‘Because it’s too much, that’s fucking why not!’ while starting to sound slightly agitated. ‘I can’t afford to pay you for it.’
Suddenly he threw open the door and stepped outside, walking a few metres away and standing there with his arms folded across his chest, staring angrily back at me, as I struggled to undo my seat belt and get out as well.
‘You could’ve at least asked me … or something!’
‘Aaron, I wanted to do something for you,’ I said to him. ‘I wanted to do something that mattered. I wanted to give you something that showed how much I cared about you.’
‘But … but this?’ he said, as he gestured toward the truck.
‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘I care about you Aaron, and I’m coming back here to be with you. I know that life has knocked you down a few times and given you the short end of the stick, but that’s not going to happen again! I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to have to struggle for every dollar. I want you to be secure, to have a good home, to have someone around you who … who loves you.’
At that his attention snapped back to me, our eyes locking, just as they had the first time we saw each other again, just a few days ago.
‘Please don’t fuck with me,’ he whispered.
‘I’m not. I told you I wouldn’t ever do that to you again, and I meant it. These past few days have made me realize just how much I do care about you. If I could I’d buy you a fucking mansion if I thought it would make you happy … but I don’t think you need that.’
‘I don’t? What is it I need, then?’
I stepped in closer to him and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him to my chest.
‘You just need to be loved,’ I whispered. ‘And that’s what I’m here for. I love you, Aaron Wagner.’
* * *
When we finally made our way back into town and to the pub, darkness was falling rapidly. A fair crowd had already gathered in both the bar and the bistro and we found the guys already half way through their meals when we sat down in the two empty seats, which had been saved for us at the end of the table.
We received some friendly ribbing from a few of them, although I did notice that both Luke and Justin seemed rather quiet and were studying the two of us carefully.
‘So, what’s good here?’ I asked.
‘The steak is always pretty good,’ Aaron offered.
‘Then steak it is. Do you still like yours well done? Dianne sauce?’
‘Okay. I’ll go place our order. What would you like to drink?’
‘Just a Coke or something, thanks.’
‘Coming right up.’
I stood up from the table and headed for the counter at the bar, where I placed the order and was given a number for our table. I handed the cashier some cash and as she dug out my change and gave it to me I found myself being joined there by Luke.
‘So, how did you go, you know, with the present?’ he asked me quietly, as the cashier then turned her attention to getting our drinks.
I didn’t really want to share anything about Aaron’s little moment up there, but I knew Luke would still want to know how things went.
‘It’s all good,’ I replied.
‘Oh, that’s a relief. I was worried he might take it the wrong way, or something.’
‘No. He was surprised, that’s for sure, but pretty cool about it really.’
‘You’re a good influence on him.’
‘Really? I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but that’s not one that readily comes to mind.’
‘Get used to it,’ he said, while giving me a pat on the back
Luke ordered another round of drinks as well, then once they had been poured we made our way back over to the table, carrying our prizes.
‘So, they tell us that you bought your boyfriend a present today?’ Guy asked as I sat back down.
‘Seems like news travels a lot faster around these parts now than I can recall it ever doing so,’ I answered, while giving Aaron a wink.
‘Well, they do say that times are changing,’ Scott added. ‘Next thing you know we’ll have that National Broadband Network thingy up and running, like the government has been talking about, then there’ll be no stopping us.’
‘The NBN? Here?’ Tim scoffed. ‘That’ll be the day. They’ll have it in Macquarie Harbour soon enough, but little places like this are going to be stuck with what we have now for a bloody long while yet, I would think.’
The National Broadband Network, or high speed internet, had been something of a contentious issue in our country of late. The government was currently in the process of rolling it out across the nation, but so far it was only limited to the more populous areas and the whole process was going to take years to complete, and at a cost of billions.
‘Is that right? So, do you think they should have gone down this path of laying out hundreds of thousands of miles worth of optical fibre, or done something else? Were there any other options that give the same speed?’ I enquired.
‘Oh, the NBN is definitely fast, and it’ll be of huge benefit to business and to everyone who uses the web,’ Tim replied. ‘But I suspect that it would have been far cheaper and quicker to supply high speed broadband through satellite technology, rather than lay all that cable,’
I didn’t pretend to be up to date on all the facts, but that seemed to make sense to me.
‘What do you think about it, Luke?’ I asked.
‘From what I’ve been told, from people in the towns that already have it, is that the difference in speed is certainly noticeable, but the plans being offered are a bit on the pricey side. There are pros and cons for both arguments. The cable will certainly be more reliable, I think, but the cost seems prohibitive, and not everyone will receive it. Going via satellite would be cheaper, while giving a far greater number of people access, but the reliability could be suspect, I think.’
‘So, we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t?’ Scott asked.
‘That’s about it,’ answered Luke.
I had to admit that I was kind of glad that the topic of conversation had changed, and I was grateful that Scott had steered it away from what I had been up to today. I wasn’t sure if that was deliberate or not, but I suspected that he knew what he was doing.
Aaron and I received our meals and we all sat and talked for a while longer, sharing a few more rounds of drinks until the place seemed to have started to empty out, before eventually Scott and Justin made the first move and said it was time to call it quits for the night.
They got to their feet and said their goodbyes, refusing the offer of a lift home, and headed out into the night.
‘Thanks for another great night, guys,’ I said to them all.
‘Anytime, mate,’ Matt replied. ‘When you’re back here and all settled, you can play host to us to make up for it!’
‘It might only be in your guest house for a little while,’ I joked.
‘We’ll see about that then! What about you Aaron, you got any room at your place for a lay-about like this guy?’
‘My landlord says I can’t have pets,’ he replied, which only served to cause us all to break up into fits of laughter as we got up from the table.
‘It’s okay. I’ll try and find somewhere quickly. I wouldn’t want to embarrass any of you.’
‘Embarrass us? Jeebus, there’s nothing you could do that we haven’t seen you do before! Anyhow, you know you’re welcome to stay at our place for as long as you want,’ Tim said. ‘Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of this little family of ours … you both are … so no matter what happens, you’ll always have a place to call home.’
‘I know that. And thank you. That means a lot to us, but I think both Aaron and I will need our own space. We have some catching up to do and I think we both need to be able to do that without being an imposition on anyone else.’
‘We understand,’ Luke said. ‘But what Tim said is right. So just remember that.’
‘We will,’ Aaron said. ‘And thank you.’
As we made our way outside into the cool night air, each of us seemed to instinctively reach for our partners, placing an arm around the other and walking outside together. There were still a few people in the bar, or playing pool, and while some may have dared to glance our way there were no stares, no furious glares and nothing was said. Times certainly had changed around here.
‘So, these are the new wheels?’ Guy asked as we reached the car park and Aaron and I stopped beside the truck. ‘Whatever will poor old Betsy think, now she’s got some competition?’
‘I’m sure she’ll get over it,’ Aaron said, as he unlocked the doors.
The two of us climbed into the truck together, which seemed as natural to us as holding hands, while the others stood there watching. A wry grin seemed to come over the faces of both Matt and Luke. It obviously wasn’t lost on them that I was going home with Aaron, although I suspected that the fact would have also been going through the minds of both Tim and Guy as well.
Aaron started the truck and we waved the others farewell, then set off back towards the caravan park. Nothing was said during the short trip back through town. Nothing needed to be said. Everything simply felt so right. So perfect.
When we pulled up outside Aaron’s cabin we got out and then locked the doors of the truck, before I then followed him inside.
Aaron didn’t bother turning on the lights, as there was enough light filtering through the windows to see by, and no sooner had I closed the front door behind us than I felt his arms wrap themselves around me.
I felt his head come to rest against my chest and so I moved a hand up to cradle the back of his head, gently rubbing my hand back and forth in his hair.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered to me.
‘You don’t have to thank me,’ I replied. ‘I meant every word of what I said today.’
I don’t know for how long we stood there like that in the darkness, but we didn’t care. We were together and that was all that mattered.
‘I love you, Tony Scott,’ he whispered into the night.