The remainder of the afternoon slipped by almost unnoticed, as the three of us sat in the shade of the trees, discussing our plans and sipping cold drinks. Aaron stuck to soft drinks and fruit juice, and I joined him, while we found some beers for Harry.
At one stage when Aaron went for a pee break Harry asked what was up with my not having a beer, so I quickly explained Aaron’s situation and why he wasn’t drinking himself. Harry nodded, but said little, as Aaron was returning. He understood where I was coming from though, and I was grateful that he didn’t try to cajole me into having a beer, like he would usually do.
Eventually the others started to arrive home as well, firstly Matt, followed by Luke, and then finally Tim and Guy. Harry was well received by all of them and seemed to be accepted, for which I was appreciative. I had to admit to having had a few butterflies about dropping him amongst six gay guys, given his propensity to throwing around words which some people would consider politically incorrect in these times, such as fags or poofters, but, for a change, he was on his best behaviour.
Once the drinks started flowing, so too did the stories, with them all seeming to take great delight in telling tall tales, most of which usually involved me and the many precarious positions I had found myself in over the years; starting with the one that had unfolded this very afternoon. I had little choice but to sit there and take it all, although I was sorely tempted to fire back with a few stories of my own, especially about Harry.
I had earlier asked Harry, Aaron and Luke not to discuss any of my other plans with anyone else, at least until I knew if things were going to fall into place or not. My intention was to first have a quiet chat with Guy about the documentary idea before going too much further with it, then if that looked feasible I would start thinking about how best to handle the next step.
It would take time for everything to fall into place, but I figured that once I had managed to transplant myself from Brisbane back to Thompsonville time would be something I would have plenty of, which would, hopefully, enable me to devote myself not only to my writing, but to everything else that I had in mind as well.
With the sun dipping dangerously close to the mountains behind us and with darkness approaching, it was Matt who made the first mention of dinner, getting to his feet and saying he would see what was in the freezer that could be thrown on the barbeque. Tim got up and said he would help, leaving Guy sitting with the rest of us. It seemed the perfect opportunity to bring up what I wanted to talk to him about, but just then the late afternoon air was suddenly filled with a cacophony of sound, unlike anything that most people would ever experience.
‘What the fuck is that?’ Harry asked, sounding startled and jumping to his feet, while looking skyward for the source.
I had experienced it a few times before, and the other guys would have seen and heard it far more often than I would have.
‘Flying foxes! Fruit bats!’ Luke said. ‘They’re heading back to the mountains to roost. Look, there they are.’
We all looked in the direction in which he was pointing and immediately we saw them. A cloud of screeching, squabbling, beasts streaking the crimson skies with black, but soon becoming so thick that they blocked out the sun and cast a dark shadow over the land below.
‘What the fuck! There must be millions of them. Look at how far they go for! They stretch for miles!’
It was a common enough sight for those who lived around here, although there seemed to be far more this time than I could ever recall seeing.
‘Aren’t they a pest?’ Harry asked. ‘Surely they must do some damage.’
‘Yes, they can certainly do some damage, but they’re actually protected,’ Guy said. ‘Up until recently they haven’t been much of a problem, but being protected now it means they have no real predators … not even man. This colony seems to live in the National Park and were never this big, but in recent years they’ve just kept on multiplying.’
For at least fifteen minutes we stood and watched them; which is how long it would have taken between when we first spotted them and when the last few stragglers finally flew off into the sunset.
‘That is amazing. I’ve seen some around Brisbane, of course, but only ever in small numbers. I’ve never seen anything like that before.’
‘The first time we saw them was just after we moved here,’ Luke said. ‘We were all heading into the Harbour for a night on the town and it was about this time of day. All of a sudden everything just went black, as if the sun had been totally blocked out. When we looked up we saw them. We pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car to take a look. It was the most eerie thing I had ever seen, or heard. Like a scene out of some Hollywood disaster movie.’
‘We’re pretty much used to it now though,’ Guy added. ‘Our company helped film a documentary on them not long ago. They are fascinating animals. The scariest thing these days though, is that they are carrying viruses. Have you heard of the Hendra virus? It was originally identified around that suburb in the Brisbane area. The bats can spread it, and it has been known to get transferred to horses, and from there it has also spread to humans … and it’s nearly always fatal. When the bats get stressed they seem to excrete more of it, making it even more dangerous. There have been calls for major culls to be done, but then that would just stress them more and the risk would be even greater.’
‘Sweet Jesus!’ Harry said. ‘I had no idea about that.’
‘So far there haven’t been any cases of Hendra this far south, but the authorities reckon it will only be a matter of time.’
‘Hey, Guy,’ I said, butting in while seeing what seemed to be the perfect opportunity. ‘Speaking of your company, can I ask, how do you guys go about finding projects to work on?’
‘They come from anywhere, really. News stories, appeals, disasters, public interest items. Or sometimes they even get commissioned by the television networks. Why do you ask?’
‘Do you think they would go for something about a woman who runs a hostel for kids who get thrown out on the street?’
‘What sort of kids?’
‘LGBT kids. Kids with nobody to help them or nowhere to turn to.’
‘I’m not sure. They could be. What else can you tell me about her? And why are you so interested?’ he asked, obviously picking up there was a reason for my raising the subject.
We sat back down and I related to him the story of Nathan Reynolds and the trust that was set up in his name. He listened intently as I told him how Nathan’s mother now ran the hostel, helping kids who had nowhere to go, and how they so desperately needed money to be able to not only continue operating, but also expand their operation.
‘She must be an amazing woman,’ Guy said.
‘She certainly is,’ Harry replied. ‘I’ve spoken with her several times.’
‘But you still haven’t said why you’re so interested.’
‘I want to help them,’ I replied. ‘Obviously it’s a subject that is close to my heart, and if there are kids out there now who are going through what I went through, and what my sister is currently going through, then I want to do something to help.’
Guy nodded, and by his expression we could all tell he was obviously thinking hard about the idea.
‘Tony wants to help inject some of his own funds into their program, which will help them get by for a while, but that’s about all,’ Harry added. ‘But we think that if someone who is reasonably well known, like he now is, were to get involved, then the chances of being able to raise the money they need to expand would be a great deal easier … especially if there is a story aired on Sunday Night or Sixty Minutes or Current Affair.’
Guy nodded once more. ‘It’s one hell of an idea,’ he said. ‘And it certainly won’t do your profile any harm either.’
‘That’s not …’ I began to say, only to be cut short.
‘Yeah, I know, Tony, but you have to look at these things from every angle. And unfortunately there will be cynics who will think that … but still, doing good like this will certainly outweigh any negatives.’
‘And any publicity is good publicity, right?’ Harry said.
‘For the most part, yeah,’ Guy answered. ‘So, Harry, when are you going to be flying back?’
‘Eleven o’clock tomorrow.’
‘Can you two spare half an hour in the morning to come by the office? I’ll give the boss a call now and pitch him the idea, and if we can give him some details to work with he can take it to the next level and see if we can get one of the big guys at the networks interested. I can’t make any promises, of course, but I think we should be able to do something at least, then we’ll see where it takes us.’
‘For real?’ I asked.
‘For real, mate. Like I said, no promises, but my gut feeling is that this one will get picked up. It’s a human interest piece that is current … and especially if we can throw a teaser out there before the Sydney Mardi Gras in a couple of weeks … although that might be cutting it fine.’
‘I could kiss you,’ I said to him.
‘Yeah! You do that and you’ll have me to deal with, mister!’ I heard Tim call out from the deck at the rear of the house. As Guy pulled his phone from his pocket to call his boss the others could only break out in laughter.
* * *
Aaron decided not to stay that night, which I didn’t find surprising, given that he knew Harry would also be staying in the guest house. Around new people Aaron had always been kind of reserved, at least until he got to know them a little, and so I guess that to him at least, the thought of sleeping in the room next to someone who was basically a stranger would be quite daunting, even if he was wrapped up in the protective arms of his lover.
Of course, I knew that Aaron had trust issues, and if the truth must be known he had other issues as well, all of which I had full intentions of discussing with his therapist. But to be honest, I found that it was all a part of what made him into the person who I loved, and I wouldn’t have him any other way. To be able to understand him a little better, well, that was all I wanted.
At one stage late in the evening, while Harry was deeply engrossed in a conversation about the publishing industry with Tim and Guy, I pulled Aaron aside and we wandered off into the night, hand in hand and away from the others, so I could have a little quiet time with him.
‘I’m so sorry about this afternoon,’ I said to him. We were sitting on a log out through the gate at the bottom of the yard, with my arm draped around his shoulder and his body leaning against mine. ‘I should have told you what I was doing today.’
‘You really don’t have to explain,’ he answered. ‘If I had stopped and asked what was going on, instead of panicking and jumping to the wrong conclusion, maybe I wouldn’t have reacted that way.’
A brief silence stretched between us, interrupted only by the sound of crickets and the chatter being carried to us on the still night air, coming from our friends who we could see sitting in the light in the back yard.
‘I guess I still need to work on a few things,’ he said quietly.
‘No. We’ve got a few things to work on,’ I whispered. ‘And like I said before, we’re going to work on them together.’
‘Do you think I’ll be worth the effort?’
‘I know you will be. So please, just stop putting yourself down and know that I love your quirky arse just for who you are, and nothing else matters.’
‘If you say so,’ he whispered back to me, while at the same time wrapping his arms tightly around my body and snuggling close into me, ending up with his head resting on my chest.
We sat there for a while longer, without exchanging another word, each just content to be holding the other, while above us the stars of the Milky Way twinkled away in all their splendour. At about the time I noticed Matt and Luke disappear inside the house I also heard some small creature of the night scurrying through the scrub somewhere close to us, so I figured it was about time we made a move.
‘Come on, mate. I think it’s time we headed back. Harry will be wondering why I deserted him,’ I said.
‘He’s a big kid, isn’t he,’ he replied.
‘Yeah, that he is.’
‘Then he can wait a few minutes more,’ Aaron said, as he disengaged himself from me and stood up.
In the darkness I felt, more than saw, him move his body in front of me, then place a hand on either side of my head. I didn’t need to ask what he was going to do, as I soon felt him lean forward, followed by his hot breath on my cheek. Moments later his lips found mine, tentative and gentle at first, but soon becoming more forceful. I opened my mouth and invited him in, then I felt my own hot breath get sucked from my lungs, leaving me with my head spinning, but wanting more.
Breaking apart for a moment I sucked in another lung full of air, then dove straight back in, forcing my lips onto his and thrusting my tongue forward.
He had always been a great kisser and had lost absolutely nothing in my absence. For the next few minutes he reminded me of that, as we playfully wrestled with each other, before eventually coming back up for air.
‘Okay. Now we can go back,’ he said with just a hint of mischief in his voice.
* * *
After Aaron had left, promising to return first thing in the morning to do the work he had been going to start today, and the other guys had finally retired to the house, Harry and I sat up until the early hours of the morning talking about our plans and tossing around ideas. He also asked me how things were going with my family in Sydney, after I had recently mentioned the events that had taken place down there.
When I told him that I hadn’t spoken with them for a couple of days he looked at me thoughtfully and asked, ‘Have you thought about inviting them up here, now that you’re going to be settling in?’
‘Well, I did briefly mention the idea to Jess, but she was a bit non-committal. It’s not a bad idea though, is it? Luke and I, and Aaron and Matt, of course, were all thinking of heading down to see them after the party this weekend, maybe I could run it by them again then.’
‘It’s just a thought, but if you invited them up here for the weekend instead, they could have a look around and see their big brother in his natural environment. Would the guys mind if they came to the party? Or even if they came up afterwards?’
‘Natural environment? What am I? Some wild animal or something?’
‘Well, I’m not one to tell tales, but I have seen you get a bit wild on occasion …’
‘That was just that one time,’ I said, rather defensively, remembering a night in Brisbane that wasn’t long enough ago, where copious amounts of alcohol were involved. ‘Anyhow, no, I wouldn’t think it would be an issue with them coming here … especially seeing as they are Luke’s family as well.’
‘Well, what are you waiting for? Bring them up, show them around … you never know what their reaction might be. And it’ll let them forget about your darling mother for a while.’
At the mention of her I had to smile. I could just imagine the look on her pious face when she found out that all three of her kids were working on being a family once more, and she wasn’t invited.
Pulling my phone from my pocket I looked at the screen and saw that it was almost one a.m.
‘What the hell,’ I muttered, before sliding my finger across the screen to bring it to life, then opening the messaging app.
There was a message from Mike near the top of the list, so I opened it, then hit ‘reply’.
‘Feel like some fresh country air? How about you guys come up for the weekend? There’s a party on! lol’
Satisfied with my efforts I hit the ‘send’ button.
‘There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?’ Harry teased as he heard the beep from the phone. ‘Now you just need to see what they say tomorrow.’
‘Yeah. Let’s just see what happens,’ I replied as I stifled a yawn.
We didn’t have to wait that long though, as within a minute my phone ‘beeped’, letting me know that I had received a message.
‘By the go of things, somebody’s still up,’ I said.
Opening the messaging app once more I saw that it was a reply from Mike.
‘Sounds like a plan. I’ll talk to the girls.’
I smiled to myself and read it out to Harry.
‘See, what did I tell you?’ he said. ‘I hope that house you want has got enough bedrooms?’