Having been indoors all morning, in the relative comfort of an air-conditioned room, I was a little unprepared for the day that greeted us outside once we had finished and I finally left the library. It was one of those hot summer days, but worse than that, it was also a quite humid, with the distinct feeling in the air that a storm was brewing.
As I took the short walk from the library to where I had parked the truck I continued to speak to Aaron on the phone, and by the time I reached it I could feel my damp shirt clinging uncomfortably to my body.
Aaron offered to organise something for our lunch, then we arranged to meet at a local park, which I knew well. It was located on a grassy headland, overlooking the ocean, and from the last time I was there I recalled there was a row of rather large Norfolk Island pines, as well as an historic battlement, where a row of cannons had once stood proudly, protecting the harbour in the event of the expected foreign invasion; which of course, never came. I think it was the French they were worried about at the time.
These days the fortifications were painted brilliant white, and of the cannons, only two remained, each now painted glossy black. Still, it was an important site that was an integral part of the history of the area, and each year many visitors came to take a look and have their photographs taken beside the impressive iron beasts, and walk or run through the surrounding trenches, along which soldiers had once gathered.
Compared to many countries ours was relatively new, and the history around us only went back a few hundred years. I remember some friends who had visited England a couple of years ago and upon their return we got to talking. They spoke of how old the place seemed, with buildings dating back many hundreds of years. In particular they spoke of a church they had visited, which had a cornerstone dating to around 1690. They were amazed that something like that still stood, but that was nothing compared to what they thought when the vicar told them that 1690 was only the year they had extended and renovated the place. The foundation stone had actually been laid in the Year of our Lord of 1271.
Of course, we had nothing quite like that in this country, but what we did have we were still proud of, and I hoped and prayed that what our forefathers had built would all still be here for many hundreds of years to come. Our future generations deserved the chance to enjoy such places, and marvel at what our settlers had achieved, doing much with just their bare hands.
After the short drive to the park I stopped the truck in the parking bay, finding a spot in the shade of one of the towering Norfolk Island pines and got out, then strolled over to a covered picnic table to wait for Aaron. At least the place didn’t seem to have changed any in the years since I had last been here, with its manicured lawns and well kept gardens surrounding all that was old. I sat and watched some people walking around the old battlements. They were obviously a family, with mum and dad and two energetic young, fair haired boys. A short way away, sitting on a bench and looking out to sea, was another couple. He with his arm around the shoulder of the blonde haired girl, her with her head resting against his shoulder. There was just something about young love that made you feel good, all the way down to the soles of your feet.
It didn’t take long before I heard the familiar sound of Old Betsy climbing the hill up to the headland, and presently Aaron appeared, soon parking beside the new Toyota.
He was all smiles as he climbed out of his vehicle and started toward me, carrying with him a plastic shopping bag with bulging sides in one hand, and a large bottle of Coca Cola in the other.
I smiled back at him and walked toward him, then when he was close enough I gave him a quick hug, only to immediately hear, ‘Mum! Those two men just hugged each other!’
We turned and noticed one of the two young boys had stopped and was looking in our direction, his mouth agape.
‘It’s all right Liam,’ his mother quickly said. ‘They must be friends.’
She flashed a knowing smile in our direction, then took young Liam’s hand and dragged him away, with the kid all the while looking back over his shoulder at us, until they finally went around to the other side of a large four wheel drive and disappeared from our view.
‘Seems like we attract attention everywhere we go,’ I said to Aaron, half joking.
‘Well, you are a very good looking man. But seriously, you could find yourself in some real trouble if you start attracting twinks like that one!’
‘There’s only one twink I want, even if he is getting to be a bit too hairy-arsed to be called that anymore.’
‘So, what now? You want me to start waxing my backside?’
‘I didn’t say that!’ I exclaimed, while holding up my hands in mock surrender. ‘But now that you’ve …’
‘You just keep dreaming, mate,’ was all he said, before turning away from me and heading for the picnic table.
I watched his hairy, khaki-covered arse, as I followed him, and marvelled at how firm and shapely it seemed to be these days. All this exercise was obviously doing the boy some good, I thought.
When he reached the table and set the shopping bag down on it he turned and looked back at me.
‘What the fuck are you staring at?’ he asked, knowing all too well just where my gaze had been directed.
I blushed and quickly looked away. When I glanced back at his face a few moments later he was grinning.
‘See something you like?’ he asked.
‘You know it!’
‘I might give you a better look later on … if you’re good.’
* * *
We ate buns with sliced chicken and salad on them for lunch, with Aaron having purchased all the ingredients from the local supermarket, then afterwards we sampled some fresh cakes from the bakery, before washing it all down with Coca Cola, drunk from plastic cups.
Sitting on the headland and feeling the breeze blowing in off the ocean, it turned out to be the best improvised picnic I had been on in years.
‘So, how did it all go this morning?’ he asked over a shared vanilla slice. ‘You had them all hooked when you were reading, I thought.’
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘I was actually really pleased with it. I was a bit nervous to start with, but I think I managed to get through it all okay. And it was great to catch up with Bill and a couple of the others there I knew.’
‘They wanted to know if I would come back again, which I should be able to do quite often once I’m back here with you. Oh, and they gave me a present too.’
‘Let me guess, a souvenir spoon, or maybe a Macquarie Harbour tea towel?’
‘No,’ I laughed. ‘It was actually something I’ve been wanting for years. Hang on, I’ll get it and show it to you.’
I jumped up and trotted to the truck, retrieved the parcel from the front seat, and then jogged back, before handing it to him.
‘A book?’ he asked, when he felt the shape of what was wrapped in the purple paper, which I had earlier wrapped back around it.
Unravelling the paper he took the book and held it in front of him, studying the title for a moment, before turning it over and reading the back of the jacket.
‘George Johnston! The guy who wrote My Brother Jack? Wow! I didn’t know he wrote many others.’
‘This was his last. It’s the third in the series that began with My Brother Jack. And he died before he had even finished it.’
‘Is it any good?’
‘I guess I’ll find out soon enough,’ I replied. ‘I’ve always wanted to read it but haven’t ever really been able to get my hands on a copy.’
‘Well, it sure as hell beats the crap out of getting a lousy tea towel!’
‘Errr … yeah!’ I laughed.
I sat back down beside him, just happy to be spending any time with him that I could, and we leaned back against the table and looked out to sea, watching the sea-born traffic inch its way up and down the coast.
After a while Aaron started to lean against my shoulder as well, so I stretched my arm upwards, then let it settle around his shoulders, hugging him closer. For just a moment I wondered what little Liam might say if we wandered past again now, but I needn’t have worried, as neither he, or anyone else seemed to be around anyhow.
‘It’s lovely here,’ I said quietly.
‘Yeah, but not as nice as it is around home. And besides, there’s usually too many people here these days.’
‘Yeah, I tend to agree.’
‘And speaking of home … I’d love to stay here all day, but …’
‘But you have a broken down lawn mower calling your name!’
‘Yeah, and old Mrs Johnston will be screaming my name if I don’t get her lawn mowed this afternoon.’
‘You had best get a move on then. I don’t want to be the one to get blamed for holding you up and having your customers get cranky with you.’
‘I suppose I should. And what about you? What are you doing this afternoon?’
‘Well, I preached this morning about writing every day, so I suppose I should practice what I preach. I have some stuff I want to work on before tomorrow, so I really should get a start on it.’
‘Hey, thanks for buying lunch. Why don’t you come out to the house for dinner tonight? I think I’ll surprise the lads with something special.’
‘You? Cook something special?’
‘Like I said, come out and you might be surprised too.’
‘I might just do that,’ he answered, his face adorned with an almost sly grin.
‘You may mock me, but tonight you will be amazed.’
‘We’ll see,’ he said. ‘We’ll see.’
‘Seven o’clock. Just be there.’
* * *
We parted company shortly afterwards, and while Aaron headed straight home, I made a couple of pit-stops in town before I left, heading first off to the supermarket for some supplies.
I found a parking space in the large ground level car park and turned off the ignition, then before I went inside I decided to first call Luke and check on a few things.
‘Hey Tone. How did this morning go? You get out of there in one piece?’ he said when he picked up his phone.
‘Yeah, I think it went off really well. All sounded very happy, so that’s a start.’
‘That’s great to hear.’
‘Listen, what I rang for, I was just wondering if you had a few things in the kitchen pantry that I could use tonight?’
‘What for? You want to impress your boyfriend or something?’
‘Kind of, but I actually thought I might cook something up for all of us, Aaron included, that’s if you don’t mind me using your kitchen?’
‘Knock yourself out, mate. Impromptu dinner parties are always welcome. What did you need?’
I was no gourmet chef, and I sure as hell wouldn’t ever get a start on My Kitchen Rules, but there are a few things that I liked to whip up for myself from time to time back in Brisbane, so I thought it might be nice to give the guys a treat. I rattled off a list of things to Luke which I thought would be useful, and it seemed that most of them they already had, so that narrowed down my shopping list somewhat. Now all I would need would be a few odds and ends from the spices section of the supermarket, plus of course the main ingredients for the meal, which I was thinking would be seafood.
‘That’s great, Luke. Thanks for that. Now, just one other thing. Do you guys have a decent printer in the house, on which I could get you to print off a few chapters for me in the morning, before Harry arrives?’
‘Yeah, sure thing. There’s a little laser printer on my desk. You can just unplug it and take it down to your room if you like. We don’t use it very much and it should be a snap to set it up on your laptop. There should be plenty of paper there too, so just help yourself.’
‘Sounds perfect. Thanks.’
‘Okay, I’ll see you tonight. I’m looking forward to dinner already.’
‘Let’s just hope I don’t fuck it up then?’
‘I’m sure it’ll be great.’
‘We’ll see,’ I answered, before we both then disconnected.
This shopping centre was the new one that had been built since I had last lived here, so I wasn’t exactly sure where everything was. Getting out of the truck I made my way across the car park to the escalators that took customers up onto the upper level, where all the stores were, and rode them to the top, accompanied by several other customers. As we came up through the hole in the floor I looked around and could see that it came out into the centre of a large arcade, lined on either side with shops of all descriptions.
I stepped off the escalator and looked around me. I could see that the supermarket was at one end of the arcade, while a well known discount department store, which I knew was owned and operated by the same company that owned the supermarket, was at the other end. Between them were about twenty smaller shops selling just about everything you would ever need.
I decided to take a stroll down the arcade, heading first toward the department store, to check the place out. There was a music store, numerous clothing stores, a couple of food outlets and a gaming store down one side. When I turned around and started back along the other side I found men’s and women’s fashions, a kitchenware store, a gift store and, best of all, a book store, toward which I naturally made a bee line.
When I walked through the front door I was immediately taken aback, as standing right there in front of me, was me; or at least a life sized cardboard cut out of me, smiling and holding a copy of my upcoming book, Sand Castles, for all to see. In front of the cut-out was a table with about a dozen or so copies of my first two books.
It looked like Harry and Shi-Anne and the team were going all out with promoting this one.
I stopped for a moment to check out their display and that’s about all it took before I felt a presence beside me. I turned to see a young lady standing there, wearing a blouse emblazoned with the logo of the store in which I was in, and below which was a name tag that read, Melanie. She was smiling, but it was a shy, nervous kind of smile.
‘I saw you coming in through the door and thought it looked like you,’ she said. ‘But when you stopped here beside, well, this, I knew for certain then.’
‘So what do you think? Is it a good likeness?’ I asked her.
‘It’s not bad, but you’re so much better looking in person.’
‘Awww, shucks,’ I replied.
‘Would you mind … errr … signing it for us? The owner was going to give it away later on, after … you know …’
‘Yes, I know. It’s a vicious cycle. Once the next new release gets shipped into stores and poor old me here has passed my used by date, there isn’t much future for it, is there. Most of them will just become landfill, but one with my scrawl on it might actually mean something, well, to someone at least.’
‘You don’t mind then?’
‘No, not at all. I get it all the time. Now, do you have a marker pen or something?’
She walked quickly over to the counter and picked up a red marker and returned, holding it out for me. I took it from her and pulled off the cap, then leaned forward and scrawled my signature and the date across the nice pale blue shirt I had been wearing for that photo shoot, while using my other hand to try and hold myself steady.
When I had finished I held the marker out for her, then said, ‘How about the books? Do you think your customers would like a surprise when they opened up their copies?’
It was something I had often done, sign copies of my books when visiting a book store, but I only ever did it after asking permission first; I had no desire to have the police called on me and have charges of malicious damage levelled at me, as I recall almost happened to Steven King.
‘I’m sure they would love it,’ Melanie replied, so I pulled my favourite pen from my pocket and quickly signed the title page of all those books that were sitting on the table.
‘I’m going to have to buy a copy of each of these now,’ she cooed, as I signed the last one.
‘Do you already have copies?’ I asked.
‘Yes, but that’s okay, a new set, in perfect condition, with signatures attached are definitely worth adding to my collection.’
‘Well, next time I’m in I’ll sign your old ones too, if you like. You could always put those on eBay afterwards. Please tell your boss I’d be happy to do a signing in store when the new one comes out in a few weeks. I’ll get my agent to contact him and arrange it, okay?’
‘That would be awesome. He’ll be stoked.’
‘I’m sure he will.’