‘So, was that a friend of yours?’ Carol asked as I rejoined her.
‘Never seen him before in my life,’ I replied.
‘I saw him earlier, when we were doing the interview. He was watching us for a little while, but after we got started I didn’t take that much notice of him then.’
‘I think he’s one of my lot,’ I offered, which received a questioning look. ‘He wanted to know if my story was true, and did I really get thrown out.’
‘So, you think he’s gone through the same thing?’
‘I’m fairly sure of it. He … he wanted to know why our parents even have us at all if they don’t want us when we don’t turn out how they wanted.’
‘Oh, wow! Can you help him?’
‘I wish I could, but he wouldn’t tell me much, other than he might see me around.’
‘So he’s local then?’
‘Maybe. Or maybe he just ended up here, looking for someone he read about in a story.’
‘Oh, shit. That makes it a bit close to home, doesn’t it?’
‘Yeah, it does.’
We continued our walk through the rows of amusements and food stalls, talking to people from time to time, and occasionally signing autographs, while also listening to some live music, which seemed to be coming from down near the lake. I liked it. It seemed to add to what was becoming quite the carnival atmosphere. I noticed that Guy and his crew had the camera pointed our way for most of the time, which made me wonder if they may have managed to get some shots of the exchange between Zack and me. I wasn’t sure if that would be of any use, but you just never know about these things, so I made a note to ask Guy when I had the chance.
The time was now well beyond noon and the day was heating up, with the January sun beating down on us and carrying with it some bite. When we passed a stall offering free watermelon, which was being provided by one of the local ladies service organisations, I stopped and collected two of the sweet, fresh triangular slices, handing one to Carol.
‘There’s nothing better on a hot summer’s day,’ I said.
‘Other than maybe going skinny dipping,’ she replied. I almost spat out the mouthful of fruit, surprised by such candour.
‘Errr … yeah. I can relate to that,’ I eventually said.
It was just then that my phone rang, so I fished it from my pocket and checked the caller ID. It was Guy.
‘Yeah? What’s up?’ I asked, once I pressed the button to accept the call, while at the same time looking back toward where he and the guys were located.
‘The Mayor just called. He’s at the stage down by the lake. And Aaron is here as well. I’ve just sent him your way.’
‘Okay. Thanks,’ I replied, while looking amongst the sea of faces for Aaron, who I soon spotted. ‘We’ll see you down there at the stage.’
I disconnected just as Aaron joined us.
‘The Mayor is waiting,’ I said to Carol. ‘And Carol, I’d like you to meet Aaron, my partner in crime. Aaron, this is Carol Granger,’ I added, introducing them.
‘Yeah … ummm … hello. You’re off the TV, aren’t you?’ Aaron stammered.
‘Hello there, Aaron. It’s lovely to meet you,’ she said, while offering her hand for him to shake. ‘And yes, I work for the television station, and for Guy’s company, Harbourside Media.’
‘Oh, wow. It’s nice to meet you too.’
‘Okay then fanboy, you can get her autograph later. Right now we need to go meet the Mayor,’ I ordered.
‘Well, I guess that it won’t be long before the official activities start,’ Carol said.
‘That’s good,’ Aaron said, then to me he added, ‘People have started arriving at the house and there’s still stuff that needs doing … like your prawn skewers.’
Carol raised a questioning eyebrow in our direction.
‘There’s a party on tonight, at Guy’s place,’ I said, filling her in. ‘That’s my other engagement for the day! Hey, would you like to come along?’ I asked.
‘I … errr … I don’t know. Will it be okay?’
‘Of course it will. You can come as our guest,’ I replied. ‘I’m sure Guy would love for you to be there.’
Aaron shot me an odd look, obviously not sure what was happening, but I gave him a wink and a smile, which he returned, so I figured he was cool with it.
‘Well, if you’re sure then, thank you, I’d love to come.’
‘That’s great. It’ll give us the chance to talk some more. The party is kind of an anniversary party, with it being almost ten years since Guy and the rest of the gang moved into the house. There’ll be heaps of people there … that’s what Aaron was meaning; they’ve started showing up already. Anyhow, I’ll let Guy know that you’re coming later on, but right now we better hurry down to the stage.’
‘Sounds like it’s kind of a big deal. Are you sure …’
‘We’re positive,’ Aaron stated, quickly cutting her off. ‘Now, come on, we better get you two down there before Guy sends out a search party.’
* * *
The stage was in fact the back of a flat-bed truck and we found it easily enough, by simply following the music that was coming from the young rock band that was currently entertaining the crowds. It was located right at the edge of the water, and just as we reached it Guy and his merry band also arrived.
There was a group of people standing not too far away, at the front of the truck, and while Joel and Kieran started setting up their equipment, just off to one side, Guy took us over to where the others were standing and quickly introduced us to a rather portly man with a receding hairline, who we soon discovered was the Mayor of this little town, Rick Campbell.
‘So nice to meet you, Tony, and so good of you to join us,’ he gushed.
‘It’s my pleasure,’ I replied. I wasn’t exactly sure, but I thought I had in fact met him before – I had a suspicion that he had a son I had gone to school with – but before I could say anything more he confirmed that for me.
‘You know, my boy Andrew, he was telling me the other day that he went to school with you. He said to say hello if I saw you.’
‘Andrew Campbell? A red-headed guy with freckles?’ I asked.
‘Ha, yes, that’s him.’
‘Oh yes. I remember him well,’ I replied, neglecting to add that his son was homophobic prick who would fuck anything that even so much as looked his way, provided it was in a skirt. Personally, I couldn’t stand the bastard. ‘So, what’s he doing with himself these days?’ I asked innocently enough.
‘Oh, he’s been living in the Hunter Valley for a couple of years now, working at the mines there. He seems to like it, and the pay is pretty good, which is handy as sometimes there are periods when they don’t have any work for them, which can be unfortunate, but does happen occasionally.’
‘Well, tell him I said to say g’day.’
‘Yes, yes, I’ll do that,’ he answered. ‘Now, I guess we had best start thinking about this ceremony, eh?’
He quickly introduced us to the remaining guests, including the hometown football star, Kurt Hewson, who I was afraid to admit I had never even heard of, along with some of the other award recipients. He then gathered us all around so that he could explain the proceedings.
‘Now, what we’ll do,’ he began, having to speak up thanks to the band being in full swing, ‘once we get our MC to ask everyone to be seated, is get everyone up on the stage. The whole ceremony should hopefully only take half an hour or so … we don’t want to send everyone in the audience to sleep now, do we? Then I’ll start things off with a few words, then welcome Kurt.
‘When he has finished his speech, and hopefully he won’t have gone overboard,’ he added, giving the footy star a nudge with his elbow as he said it, ‘then we’ll hand out the few citizenship certificates we need to, which will be to the folks sitting in the front row down there.’ He pointed to the rows of seats in front of the stage. ‘Then it’ll be the presentations to the rest of you guys, and you can also say a few words if you would like to, culminating in the announcement of the local Young Australian of the Year, then our Australian of the Year. How does that all sound?’
‘Well organised,’ I replied, which caused a quiet ripple of laughter.
‘Yes, well, in my experience the locals don’t like this part of things to go on for too long, so if we make it short and sweet everyone can get on with the party.’
I noticed Guy look my way and smirk as he said this, which I returned.
‘Right then, I’ll go find our MC and we’ll get this show on the road.’ He left us then and disappeared into the crowd, at which time Guy, Aaron and Carol also headed over to where Joel and Kieran were with the camera and other equipment, leaving the rest of us to talk amongst ourselves.
That left seven of us there, with, apart from me, there being Kurt, the real guest of honour, then a good looking boy of about seventeen, whose name was Adam and who was apparently going to receive a bravery award, two well dressed teenage girls, a kind looking lady who appeared to be at least in her seventies, plus another woman who looked to be in her fourties, at a guess. Just why they were all here I wasn’t quite sure just yet, but I figured I would find out soon enough.
‘So, they’ve brought you all this way for just half an hour?’ I quietly asked Kurt, trying to make polite conversation.
‘Oh, it’s a bit more than that,’ he replied. ‘I did a footy clinic for the kids this morning, and have been signing autographs at the lunch time barbeque today, so I’ve been kept busy enough. What about you?’
‘I was already in town for something else,’ I said, ‘so the television station arranged for me to put in an appearance, simply because I was here and we’ve been working on some other stuff. It has worked out well, I guess.’
‘If this is over and done with in half an hour, I’ll eat my hat!’ one of my companions, the elderly lady, said.
‘Is that right?’ I asked.
‘Oh, yes dear. It’s the same every year. He’ll talk for half an hour on his own, you mark my words.’
‘Wonderful,’ I said with a sigh.
‘It’s not all bad,’ one of the young girls said, sound quite curt. ‘It’s an honour to be recognised, don’t you know?’
‘Of course it is. Everyone who receives an award on this day can hold their head high and be proud,’ I replied.
‘So why do you sound as if you don’t want to be here?’ the same girl asked.
‘It’s not that I don’t want to be here … it’s not like that at all. I was surprised and honoured that I was even asked. It’s just that I have another event, which I had accepted for first, that I have to also be at later this afternoon, so I might be cutting it a bit fine if this one goes for too long, that’s all.’
‘Oh. I see.’
I deliberately didn’t mention that it was a party that I had to be at, as I didn’t think that would go down too well. I also hoped like hell that no one else knew of my plans for later today.
‘Anyhow, I’m sure this will go off extremely well,’ I offered.
‘Yes, yes, I’m sure it will,’ the elderly lady added.
Just then I heard my phone beep, indicating that a message had come through, so I fished it from my pocket and checked who it was from. It was from Harry, so I opened the message to see what he was saying.
‘Contracts have been signed and sent to the US. Also had a call from Steffan. Things looking good. Do you want to make an offer if they say yes? Let me know asap.’
Hurriedly I sent a text message back, while no doubt grinning like a madman to myself. ‘Hell yes! I don’t care what it costs. Leave it in yours and Steffan’s hands as to how much!’
‘Good news?’ I heard someone beside me ask. It was Kurt.
‘Could be,’ I replied. ‘But we’ll just have to wait and see.’
For the next few minutes we chatted amongst ourselves and I had the opportunity to find out a little more about Kurt. He was pleasant enough to talk to, and seemed quite interested in my story, as I was with his, however I’m afraid that he didn’t do very much to change that footballer stereotype that everyone seems to have ingrained into their minds. Shortly afterwards the Mayor came bustling back, with another man hurrying along in his wake and our conversation was cut short.
‘Right then, I’ve found him,’ Rick said, then quickly introduced him to everyone as a local radio announcer and our Master of Ceremonies, before pushing him along and onto the stage, to first of all silence the young musicians, and then introduce the official party.
While that was happening a row of chairs was quickly spread along the stage, in front of where the musicians were set up, although they themselves didn’t leave the stage, which, we were soon to find out, was because they were needed there to play the national anthem. When all was ready, and the crowd had settled into place, we were asked to follow Rick onto the stage, where we were directed to the available seats. Once we were settled, our MC began his spiel, officially welcoming everyone to this wonderful day of celebration, then, one by one, introduced the guests on stage. I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my stomach as I awaited my turn. As each of us was given a cheer we stood and offered the crowd a wave, before returning to our seats.
The MC then called upon Rick to open the proceedings. He stood up, brushed his hair back into place, straightened his jacket, then stepped up to the microphone, while pulling some folded papers from his pocket and carefully unfolded them.
This was his moment. We all knew that. The question was, as far as I was concerned, just how long that moment was going to last.