It was while I was inside the guest house with Aaron, a short time later, that we heard a second vehicle arrive. We knew that the flood gates would soon open, with people set to come from everywhere, so we both headed outside to greet whomever it was who had pulled up this time.
‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ I said as soon as I stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine.
‘And it’s so nice to see you again too, Tony,’ my Uncle Tom said. It was Luke’s father, whose wife, my Aunt Helen, was my mother’s sister. He was accompanied by Aunt Helen and Luke’s kid sister, Katie, my cousin.
I went straight to them, shaking hands with Tom, then hugging him, before moving to Helen and Katie, and embracing them both.
‘I’m so glad you could all come,’ I said to them. ‘Luke said he wasn’t sure if you would all be able to make it.’
‘Well, when he told us you were here, we just had to make the effort,’ Helen said.
Aaron had stayed in the background while I had greeted them, and it was only when I noticed Katie looking at him I regained my senses.
‘Oh, forgive me. I’m so rude sometimes. You haven’t met Aaron before, have you? Aaron, this is Luke’s mum and dad and sister, Tom, Helen and Katie.’
‘It’s nice to finally meet you all. I’ve heard so much about you from Luke over the years,’ he said, as they all descended upon him, like vultures on a carcass. The last thing I saw before he disappeared from view was the terrified look in his eyes as he was wrapped up in a hug from my aunt. I couldn’t help but laugh.
‘And it’s about time you came to your senses, young Tony,’ Tom said when I finally managed to pry them off my boyfriend and wrap my own arms around him. ‘When Luke told us a few days ago that you two had patched things up, well, we couldn’t have been happier. Your mother might think otherwise …’ he shrugged.
‘Let’s not go there,’ I said to him. ‘This weekend, the less said about my mother, the better. No doubt you’ve heard what my sister has been going through lately, haven’t you?’
Both he and his wife nodded grimly.
‘I’ve spoken to her a few times,’ Helen said. ‘I can’t believe that she is my own sister.’
‘No, neither can I,’ added Tom.
‘As I recall, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, your attitude wasn’t that different at one stage,’ I said to him, as gently as I could.
‘Ahhh, yes, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about the hurt I caused Luke, and everyone else. But at least I saw the error of my ways,’ he replied, ‘and now, well, with the love I see between Luke and Matt, and between the two of you as well, I know just how wrong it was to think that way. It was all to do with the way we were raised though, you realise that, don’t you? They were far different times back then.’
‘Yes, I can understand that. The good thing is that times do change, and what was frowned upon by one generation hardly raises an eyebrow for the next. Anyhow, enough of this morbid talk, how about we get you settled?’
‘The guest house?’ Helen asked.
‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘Nothing but the best for you guys; although I think you might be sharing it with Matt’s parents as well, once they arrive in the morning.’
‘Yes, they filled us in on everything. But where are you staying?’ she asked.
I pointed toward the huddle of tents. ‘We’re camping out,’ I replied. ‘But we just need to clear my stuff out of the guest house first.’
‘Separate tents?’ Jess enquired, with just the hint of a mischievous glint in her eye.
‘Oh no, the other one is for Ben and Samantha … you’ve all met them before haven’t you? They actually used to live here with the guys … but that was back even before I first arrived here.’
‘Yes, we met them several years ago. Such a lovely couple,’ Helen said.
‘And they still are … and now with three cute kids in tow as well. At the moment they’ve taken the kids down to the beach, though I expect they won’t be too far off getting back.’
‘And all the guys?’ Tom asked.
‘Well, it’s after their knock off time from work, so they shouldn’t be too far away either I would expect. I’m not sure if any other party goers will be arriving tonight though. Maybe Luke will have some idea when he gets here? Anyhow, how about you guys grab your gear, while Aaron and I get the rest of my stuff out of the rooms, and then you can move in.’
We left them at their car, starting to unpack their luggage, as Aaron and I headed back to the room. We had already packed up most of my stuff and had it ready to move. I just needed to collect my toiletries from the bathroom and then change the linen on the bed before it would be fit for someone else to sleep in. By the time they were knocking on the door we were all but done.
* * *
About an hour later, after everyone had arrived home, things were starting to get a little crowded, not to mention noisy.
So far the crowd totalled eleven adults and three kids, with at least two more — being Matt’s parents — expected to arrive tonight. There would apparently also be another battalion of out of town family and friends arriving in the morning, and I haven’t yet even thought about adding to the list any of the locals who were coming. It seemed like a party and a long weekend spent on the coast was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Luke was about as excited as a kid in a candy store when he stepped out of his car and noticed his parents and sister sitting with me, Aaron and Matt, while Tim and Guy were sitting on the back deck with Ben and Samantha, catching up. He ran over to us, jumping up and down like a school boy, then hugged and kissed them all, before eventually coming back down to earth. The kids, I mean the little ones, were playing in the back yard and could only giggle and laugh at his antics.
As Luke had been doing his little dance I glanced across at Aaron, who was studying him intently, a curious expression etched onto his face. Instinctively I reached out and placed one hand over his and he turned to face me, offering me just half a smile.
I knew exactly what he was feeling; that sense of loss for not having had the close family around to share that experience and those feelings with.
‘We’ll make our own family, and have our own memories,’ I whispered to him.
‘I know,’ he answered quietly. ‘But we’ve both missed out on so much already.’
‘I know, mate. I know.’
He was dead right, of course, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about that now. All we could do was look ahead, at the promise that our new lives held for us.
‘All right then, you lot, what are we going to do for dinner?’ Matt suddenly asked.
It was starting to get quite late in the afternoon and the sky had once again turned the colour of an artist’s palette, so it wouldn’t be long before everyone would be wanting something to satisfy their empty stomachs.
‘What time will your folks be here?’ Luke asked.
‘Not until late, so we’re not waiting for them.’ He then looked at me with eyebrows raised, as if he was asking what I thought.
‘Can you throw some salads together?’ I suggested. ‘We’ll slip into town and just grab some barbeque chickens. Nice and easy. Will that do?’
‘Perfect! I’ll go in and get started, and leave all this lot to catch up. Can you get some hot chips too? That’ll help fill ’em up.’
‘Sure thing,’ I replied, while getting to my feet and holding a hand out for Aaron. He took it and I pulled him to his feet also, then we started to head toward the truck. It was still parked down near our tent, so we headed in that direction, only to have Luke call out after us.
‘Here.’ he said, as he tossed a set of keys my way. ‘Take my car, but if you smash it, you can buy me a new one.’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it,’ I said, while quickly changing course.
* * *
When we arrived back at the house about twenty minutes later we found them all still in the exact same spots as when we had left them, apart from Matt, who we could see working away in the kitchen.
We took our offerings inside and found him just putting the finishing touches to some devilled eggs, which would accompany the other salads he had already prepared, being a tossed salad of lettuce and various other goodies, as well as a tomato, cucumber and onion salad which looked to be marinating in a vinaigrette of some sort.
‘What do you reckon?’ he asked. ‘Think that’ll feed ’em?’
‘If they go hungry it’ll be no one’s fault but their own!’ I replied. ‘What’ll we do with these?’ I asked, of the chickens I held up for him to see.
‘How about we just break ’em up and let everyone help themselves?’
‘You’re getting good at this,’ I teased.
‘Well, living around here with these lazy buggers, you’re likely to starve if you don’t learn how to do something in the kitchen.’
‘I can vouch for that,’ Aaron quickly added.
‘Yeah, I can remember what they were like almost ten years ago,’ I replied.
While Matt and I started cutting up chickens, Aaron made himself useful by putting the hot chips on a tray in the oven, to keep them at least warm while we finished what we were doing.
‘Can you go tell them it’s ready, please Aaron?’ Matt asked. ‘We’ll serve it up in here, then they can go back outside if they want to.’
‘Okay, will do.’
When he had gone Matt turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe the change in that boy since last week. You two are so good together, you know?’
‘Thanks, but I think this week has changed us both,’ I replied. ‘I can’t believe that I had kept putting off coming back. If I’d done this years ago I’m sure that things wouldn’t have got to where they did.’
‘Probably not, but you’ll never really know that, will you? So don’t go beating yourself up over it.’
‘Oh, no, I’m not doing that. I’m making the most of every day now. I have a new motto … enjoy life and make each day count … and from now on that’s exactly what I intend to do.’
Just then we heard a commotion in the hallway as the hungry hordes started to come inside, and we looked up to see them all start to spill out into the kitchen.
Aaron retrieved the hot chips from the oven and set them on the bench, while Luke fetched a pile of plates from a cupboard and also set them down nearby. Miraculously some cutlery appeared from somewhere, to be placed beside the plates, and before long the plates themselves were being passed around and food was being piled onto them.
Aaron, Matt and I just stood back while everyone helped themselves, accepting the compliments and thanks that were also being passed around, then thankfully the crowd started to disperse and the place started to quiet down.
When Jake and Callum both cried, ‘Chippies,’ after Samantha handed them each a smaller plate containing only chicken and chips, but smothered with more than an ample squirt of tomato sauce, I simply had to laugh. Sam looked up and grinned at me as she ushered them, and their father, back outside into the warm evening, while she then set about putting something together for her daughter.
‘Need a hand?’ I asked her.
‘Thanks, but I’m almost there,’ she said, but then had a quick change of heart. ‘Actually, would you mind holding her for a second while I just finish serving something up for us both?’
‘Not at all,’ I replied, and put my hands out for Chrissy, who was starting to look a little tired.
‘I don’t think she’ll be awake for very much longer,’ Sam said, ‘So as soon as we have a bite I might take her and the boys down to the camp.’
‘Yes, she does look like she’s getting tired.’
‘A long drive can do that to them … and us,’ she said as she stifled a yawn.
‘A good night’s sleep and you’ll all be as good as gold,’ I offered.
‘That sounds lovely,’ Sam replied. ‘I hope you’re right.’
I couldn’t help but sense and underlying tone in her voice. I wouldn’t have called it a sense of despair, that would have been going a bit too far, I think, but perhaps it was one of exhaustion, or at least tiredness. I guess that having three kids aged five and under would almost certainly be enough to bring that on, and that’s without even bringing Ben into the equation, who, from what I’ve been told, can sometimes be the biggest kid of all.
As she carried the plates with their dinner I carried Chrissy outside for her, then when they were all settled I returned to the kitchen, where a few minutes later Aaron and I had each filled a plate. We then joined the rest of them outside, where the conversation was lively as family and friends continued with their catching up.
It felt good to be a part of this group. It felt good to finally belong.
* * *
It was late when we eventually left the party and made our way down to the tent. Samantha and the kids had left shortly after finishing their meals, with all three children struggling to stay awake. Luke’s parents excused themselves not long after that, leaving Ben, Kate and the rest of us sitting around, enjoying some drinks, shooting the breeze, and planning what needed to be done tomorrow.
It was a warm night, and after Aaron and I had finally stripped off in the privacy of our tent we collapsed, naked, on top of the blow-up mattress. It felt rather strange, yet at the same time quite exciting. The previous few nights we had spent together had been in accommodations that one or the other of us knew, yet this time it was different. This time we were dossing down somewhere where neither of us had been before, at least in this incarnation of our relationship. This was somewhere that was ‘ours’ rather than it belonging to someone else; even if it was only a bloody tent.
I suddenly had visions of us spending the rest of our days right here, living in this tent and staying in the back yard of Avalon, where we could walk naked through the scrub down to the beach and swim in the bay on moonlight nights whenever we wanted, or perhaps plant a small vegetable garden and eke out an existence, supplying the guys and anyone else around here with food. Ahhh, the life we could lead.
I started to chuckle quietly to myself, as I ran these ideas through my mind. Aaron rolled over, propping himself up on one elbow and throwing his arm across my body, demanding to know what was so funny?
‘Oh, nothing much. I was just imagining us staying right here, living like this, forever.’
‘I think I could handle it for a while,’ he giggled. ‘But the novelty would be sure to wear off eventually.’
‘You’re probably right. I think the mansion on the hill and the occasional trip out into the wilderness will just have to do.’
‘Just so long as I can take my hair drier,’ he laughed. Before I could say anything in reply he quickly covered my lips with his, preventing me from making any sort of comment thanks to his tongue soon pushing through my defenses, while his hand slid down my body, caressing and teasing me, until finally finding its target.
I returned the favour and it was some time later, only once we had finished what we started, that we both fell back on the mattress, panting hard and with our bodies slick with fluids. Gradually our breathing quieted and our pulses slowed, before eventually we both drifted off into a world of happy thoughts and pleasant dreams.
Several times through the night I woke, unsure exactly why, but thinking that I may have heard something outside. For minutes on end I lay there listening for whatever sounds I could, but each time there was only the muted sounds of waves crashing onto the not too distant beach, or the occasional call of some bird of the night.
I tried to check on Aaron, but he was breathing evenly and in the pale light I could see that he was sleeping on his side and facing me. I could easily make out his angelic features, noting that his eyes were closed and his mouth was open slightly.
Rolling back onto my side I slowly edged my way backward, until I could feel his chest just touching against my back, then as gently as I could I lifted his arm and draped it across my body, hoping he would snuggle in close. Nothing much happened while I lay awake, and eventually I nodded back off to sleep once more, but when, some time later, I awoke once again I found myself being cuddled tightly and with something hard jabbing into my buttocks. I couldn’t help but smile to myself.
Outside I thought I could hear a train coming, such was the noise that was being made nearby.
‘You awake?’ I heard Aaron whisper.
‘Is it just me, or can you hear that racket coming from next door?’
‘No, it’s not just you. I’m guessing it’s Ben.’
‘Ya think?’ Aaron giggled.
‘I’ve never, in all my life, heard anyone snore like that! I hope that Sam has some ear plugs?’ I remarked.
‘I have some in the truck.’
‘Oh good, I was thinking I was going to have to ask her if she has a spare pair in the morning.’
‘No need, I’ve got it covered.’
‘So, when are you going to get them?’ I urged.