When I finally pulled out of the airport car park I pointed the truck back toward the centre of town, following the main drag along the edge of the bay. The waters were shining, reflecting the late morning sun, and with a slight swell rolling gentle waves in onto the stone break walls that had been built along the bay to protect the shoreline.
The hire business which Luke had asked me to visit, to collect the marquee and fold out tables and chairs for the party, was located in the industrial area, reasonably close to the airport, so it didn’t take too long to find them and arrange to get everything organised. The staff there were helpful and between us all we had the truck loaded in no time. They gave me the instructions for setting up the marquee, which all looked simple enough, but … well … we would just have to see how things went, wouldn’t we? Thankfully, though, one of the workers said he lived in Thompsonville and so he gave me his telephone number, with instructions to call him if we got stuck.
While I was there I also asked them if they could recommend the best place to buy some camping equipment. They pointed me in the direction of a business which sold outdoor equipment, just near the main shopping centre, and so that was where I headed next. When I walked through their front doors a short while later I was immediately struck by the wide variety of goods and equipment that they had on display, with rows of tents set up along either side of the centre aisle, and the walls stacked high with every imaginable product that you would need to survive when out in the wilds.
After browsing the row of tents for a few moments a guy who looked to be about my age came over to me and asked if he could be of assistance.
‘Yes, I’m after a tent and some other camping gear to go with it,’ I said to him.
‘Sure thing,’ he drawled, in a casual, laid back tone that kind of grated on me. I almost felt like I had interrupted his siesta or something. ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘Just some basic gear, enough for a couple of people to spend some time camping,’ I said. ‘I’m thinking something big enough to be able to move around in, so that we’re comfortable, plus an inflatable mattress, some camp chairs and whatever else you think we might need.’
At this his eyes seemed to light up – no doubt at the thought of the sale he was figuring on making – and his whole attitude changed.
‘Certainly, sir,’ he cheerfully replied, while starting to walk down along the aisle of tents, in the direction of what appeared to be a row of small canvas houses, as opposed to the small a-frame two-man jobs set up closer to the front of the store. ‘We have a great range of lightweight multi-room tents that I think would suit perfectly … enough room for sleeping, plus room enough for your gear as well.’
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go quite to these lengths for just a few nights in the back yard, but I figured I should at least check out his wares, so I followed along.
When he stopped at a large, green, family sized tent I stood back and raised my eyebrows at him.
‘I only wanted a tent, not a bloody house,’ I joked.
‘Then I think this one would be right up your alley,’ he replied, while patting a hand not on the large dark green monstrosity, but on a smaller khaki coloured number standing beside it. I wondered for a moment if that statement was like a loaded question, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, as he began his sales pitch. ‘Two rooms, gauze panelled walls with zip-up panels, so you can open them up if you want to let the breeze through and keep the bugs out. It even has its own awning out the front. All in all, it’s big enough to stand up in, but still small enough to carry about when packed up’
I looked it over with a critical eye and quickly decided that I liked the look of it, but asked him what else he had to show me. Without skipping a beat he moved on to the next tent in the line-up, which was much the same as the khaki one, except the rooms were slightly larger and it was blue in colour. Several more followed, but to my eye they were either too big, or too small. In my mind I kept going back to the khaki model and once we had been up and down both sides of the aisle I went back to it, this time stepping inside and having a closer look, while my salesman watched from the doorway.
‘What do you think?’ he asked when I eventually re-emerged from inside it.
‘I like it,’ I replied, honestly. ‘Just let me have a think about it while we find the other gear I need.’
‘Okay, so, what else then?’
‘Well, I guess an inflatable double mattress, a couple of camping chairs. Oh, and something for lighting.’
‘Sleeping bags?’ he asked.
I thought about what Aaron had said earlier, about his having a couple of older ones, but decided if I was going this far I may as well set us up properly while I was hot to trot.
‘Yes, of course.’
‘What about cooking equipment? And power?’
‘Both covered for this trip,’ I said. ‘The others will have all that organised, but I’ll keep it in mind for when we head out next time.’
‘Okay then, when you’re ready we’ll have everything you’ll need, from gas cookers to generators, even combination gas and 12 volt shower systems, or solar power systems,’ he replied.
‘You’re kidding, right?’
‘Oh no, going camping these days isn’t like roughing it like we all used to do in the bad old days,’ he chuckled. ‘The missus can even take her hair drier with her these days.’
‘I’ll have to keep that in mind,’ I replied, while trying my best to keep a straight face.
When I left the store a short time later, my credit card having been exercised yet again, I was the proud owner of a new tent, two new sleeping bags, an inflatable mattress, with accompanying electric pump, chairs, lights, a ground sheet, a fly sheet, insect repellent and mosquito coils and just about everything but the kitchen sink … although I also could have bought one of those there if I’d cared to.
I was now well equipped – for this little expedition at least — and thankfully it didn’t actually cost me as much as I had expected. I knew already that I wouldn’t be getting off as lightly on my next trip to this store, not that I minded, of course, as I intended making sure that this was one investment I would be getting my money’s worth out of.
* * *
It was well after one o’clock when I finally made it back to Avalon, where I found Aaron just finishing up with the loading of his trailer.
‘Looks like I timed that well,’ I said as I climbed from the truck.
‘Yeah. What kept you?’
He came over to me and hugged me, then kissed me quickly on the lips.
‘I told you. I was going shopping,’ I answered. He smelt of hard work and sweat, and my body immediately started to react.
‘More bloody money than sense,’ he chided, while suspiciously eyeing the load on the truck tray behind me. ‘Just what did you get?’
‘Enough to make us comfortable for this weekend. We can get the rest of the stuff we need later.’
‘Yeah … everything for some proper camping trips later. Just like the old days, but this time we’ll do it in style. You’ll even be able to take your hair drier … the salesman said so.’
‘What the fuck are you on about?’
‘Not a lot, babe. You should see what they have in that store, though. I’m just thinking that I’d like to set us up with some decent gear so we can go and spend some time out in the bush doing the things we used to do, that’s all.’
‘I’ll be in that.’
‘I knew I could count on you,’ I said, while pulling him close to me and hugging him tight. ‘Okay then, what do you say to a quick dip in the ocean, then we’ll get some lunch in town?’
‘Don’t go getting too carried away; we’ve got a tent to erect.’
‘Somehow I have a feeling that won’t be the only thing erected around here today.’
‘You’re incorrigible, you know that, don’t you?’
‘Nope. I don’t even know what that means!’
* * *
As we had walked down to the beach I noted just how much work that Aaron had done that morning, with quite a large area now having been cleared outside the guy’s back fence. There would be room for quite a few tents, and probably parking space as well, which was sure to be needed, given the number of people who were supposed to be coming; the first of which were apparently arriving this afternoon.
‘Geez, mate, you’ve really worked your butt off this morning. This looks great,’ I said to him.
The area was a large semi-circle, starting at one back corner of the house yard, extending out about thirty metres or so, then continuing around and finishing at the other back corner. Apart from a few small trees that were still standing, it was all neatly mown, with longer grass and the scrub resuming past the mown border.
‘How about we bring the truck through later and set our tent up back here somewhere?’ I asked him, while pointing to a spot about half way around one side. ‘Maybe we should see if we can get a bonfire or something set-up in the middle. I’m sure the boys would like that.’
‘I reckon so,’ Aaron replied.
We found the beach to be empty and the water inviting when we arrived there, and so we stripped off and waded out into the warm waters, hand in hand and allowing the waves to wash over us. For a short time it felt almost as if we were the only two people left on the planet, but that thought was soon dashed when we looked up and could see the vapour trail of an airliner high overhead, which was soon followed by a ship coming into view way out off the shoreline.
Still, that feeling of the two of us being all alone was good while it lasted and I looked forward to feeling that way again, perhaps on our next camping trip.
As I had had done several times this week, I rolled back the years and swam and clowned around in the water like I once had. With Aaron beside me I had to admit that it carried much more meaning for me than it did with anyone else … I was revisiting our past and washing away those lonely years that had come between us. I felt like I was sixteen again, happy and carefree, and amidst our happiness I idly wondered what the future may have held for us both, had we known back then what we knew now.
Eventually, after we had come back together in the water and embraced, then kissed, we dragged ourselves from the sea and walked back up the beach toward where our pile of clothes sat. As we walked I glanced across at Aaron and saw him smiling at me.
‘What’s your problem?’
‘Nothing much,’ he replied. I reached out my hand for him and he came close to me, allowing me to wrap my arm around his naked shoulders and pull him closer still. His arm snaked around my waist.
‘This feels so good,’ I said.
‘Better than good. It feels perfect.’
We walked on in silence, pausing only to pick up our clothes, without bothering to put them back on.
‘I’m sorry, you know,’ he said as we set off through the scrub.
‘For not going with you.’
‘Ssshhh … you had your reasons, but that’s in the past. We were both as stubborn as each other, and we both fucked up. All that matters now is that we have a fresh start, and we’re both going to make the most of it.’
It concerned me a little that Aaron was still feeling like this, especially after we had already had this chat this week, although I could certainly understand just how everything that had happened over the years would have weighed heavily on his mind. Despite that, however, I still had a feeling that he was finally coming to terms with it all. That he was thinking about it in this way meant, at least to my untrained mind, that he was recognising the issues, which itself had to be a positive. I was now looking forward to talking with his therapist, if for no other reason than to have my suspicions confirmed. Of course, there would still be work to be done, but even the most pessimistic person would surely agree that the light at the end of the tunnel was now, gradually, starting to glow just that little bit brighter.
When we reached the house I suggested a quick shower to wash off the salt water, which didn’t take long, then we jumped into the new truck and headed to town for a late lunch, settling on a meal at the local pub. When we entered the bistro we quickly spotted Scott and Justin, who waved us over and asked us to join them, which we did once I had placed our orders and Aaron had bought some drinks at the bar (Cokes for both of us).
‘So, how has your week been?’ Scott asked me once we had settled in.
‘Quite busy, but it’s been great to be back,’ I replied. ‘I’m almost dreading the week ending and my having to go back to Brisbane.’
At that statement all three heads snapped to attention and looked my way.
‘I thought you were staying?’ Justin asked, while I also noticed that Aaron had frowned slightly, which itself caused me some concern.
‘Oh, I am,’ I replied, while at the same time leaning over and placing a hand over Aaron’s, simply to reassure him. ‘But I will still need to go back for a little while, if only to pack up my unit and put my stuff in storage, or get it sent down here, once I’ve found someplace new. Then, of course, I’ll have to arrange for the unit to be put on the market, so that will all take up a little bit of time.’
I noticed the fear in Aaron’s expression quickly dissipate upon hearing those words and the gentle squeeze he gave my hand told me all that I needed to know, his way of offering me some reassurance this time, that everything was okay.
‘Have you started looking around here yet for a place to live?’ Justin enquired.
‘I have my eye on a place, and my agent has been making some enquiries, so I’ll just have to see what happens after that, I guess. If it doesn’t work out with this one, then it looks like I might have to start going door to door between the real estate agents.’
‘Well, if there’s anything we can do to help, you only have to ask,’ Scott offered.
‘Thank you, Scott. We really appreciate that.’
Conversation turned to the long weekend ahead, with both the party at Avalon and the town’s Australia Day celebrations being talked about.
Justin mentioned that he and Scott would come out to the house early in the morning to help with setting up for the party, which would be held that night, while Aaron said he would be there too, to help out.
‘And what about the town’s celebrations?’ I asked. ‘I have to admit that I can’t really remember much of what happens at those, but apparently Guy’s media company wants me to make an appearance there, so they can get some footage for something they might be putting together later on. He and I will just have to slip away from the party prep for a little while to do that.’
‘I’m sure we’ll be able to handle it,’ Scott replied. ‘The town activities are normally a barbeque and a bit of a street party, held down by the lake. Some of the local politicians hand out Citizenship Certificates for people who have become naturalised Aussies, plus they give other awards for locals who have achieved recognition for this or that. I think some footballer who grew up here is the guest of honour this year,’ Scott informed us.
‘Oh, that’s right. And didn’t you get presented with some medal or something once?’ I replied, suddenly recalling a story from my long forgotten past.
‘Yeah, or something,’ he replied, although somewhat sheepishly, I thought, which was unusual for him. I couldn’t quite remember what it was he had been presented with, but I knew it would come to me sooner or later.
We chatted for some time about what we had all been up to and what was going on around the town, then when our meals eventually arrived Scott and Justin excused themselves and left us to eat in peace, promising to see us bright and early in the morning, ready to help with the party preparations.
‘Those guys haven’t changed a bit,’ I said as we watched their retreating backs.
‘No, they haven’t. And if it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be dead by now,’ Aaron said.
‘Well then, I know that some might call this blasphemy, but I thank the Lord for sending you those two angels.’
‘So do I,’ he said softly. ‘I can never repay them for what they did for me.’
* * *
After lunch, and before we left town to return to Avalon, we paid Matt a quick visit, just to see if there was anything he needed doing. He said he was fine, but warned us that the first of the visitors would be arriving soon: Ben and Samantha and their kids.
‘They were going to be camping, weren’t they?’ I asked him.
‘Yeah. It was actually their idea.’
‘Okay, well, Aaron has got the place cleared, so we’ll be ready for them,’ I said. ‘And we’ve decided that we’re going to set up a tent too, rather than come back to Aaron’s cabin. And that way you’ll also have the guest house free for someone, while we can still be close to the action.’
‘That’s a great idea,’ he replied. ‘Thanks.’
‘Oh yeah, and what do you think about us having a big bonfire? Are there any regulations or laws about those sorts of things?’
‘I don’t really know, but I’ll see what I can find out,’ he promised.