Following my little chat with Matt’s dad, Matt Snr., he wandered off in search of his wife, so I decided to do a little mingling amongst the guests, starting with those who were sitting closest to me, being Luke, Samantha, Mrs Hamilton and her two boys, Dan and Jake.
I gave Mrs H. a hug and told her I was so glad she came. I’ve always had a soft spot for the lady, as she has always been so good to all of us. I remember Luke telling me years ago how right from the time they first arrived here she had been supportive of all the guys, even giving them some gentle, motherly warnings about watching out for themselves. It was only later that we learned she had a gay son herself, so it seemed she was speaking from their own experiences, which was very much appreciated at the time.
It was great to talk to them all, sharing some jokes and memories as we chatted for a while, before I eventually moved on to where Aaron and Paul were sitting, quickly finding myself being introduced to their friends, whom I didn’t know. From there I sought out Carol and the two young men who seemed so enamoured with her, making sure that she was in no danger before then introducing myself to a few of the others at the gathering who I also didn’t know, and spending some time chatting and answering questions, and even signing a couple of autographs, not that I minded in the slightest.
Finally I made it to Matt and the lads standing around the barbeques, who had been joined by Tim and Guy, along with their parents.
Matt and Justin had the two barbeques going full throttle, with the enticing smell of prawns, steak, sausages and onions being cooked soon drifting through the air and filling our nostrils. If we had still been peckish after the appetizers had been served, we were even more so now.
I told Matt to be careful how he cooked the prawn skewers, which were all being served with the mains tonight, and despite the faux expression of hurt and indignation he presented, I knew he would get them just right.
It was during this exchange that my phone rang again, and as I pulled it from my pocket I took note of the caller ID. It was Mike, once again.
‘We’re almost there,’ he said to me when I answered the call.
‘And about bloody time,’ I replied. ‘What’s kept you?’
‘Have you ever driven from Sydney with a pregnant woman?’ he sighed.
‘Ummm … I can’t say that I have,’ I laughed.
‘Okay, we’re turning onto Beachside Lane now.’
‘Great. It’s a couple of clicks down there. Look for lights and some cars parked on the road. I’ll meet you out front.’
‘Okay. See you in a minute or two.’
I ended the call and put the phone back in my pocket, then to Matt I said, ‘They’re just about here.’
‘Excellent. Go and greet them and bring them around. I can’t wait to meet them.’
With a nod I set off for the front of the house, only to soon have both Aaron and Luke fall into step beside me.
‘Are they finally here?’ Aaron asked.
‘Yup, just coming up the road now. Mike is complaining about having to drive from Sydney with a pregnant woman in the car.’
‘Oh, lordy. That sure would be some experience, wouldn’t it?’ Luke said.
‘I’d imagine so.’
As we rounded the corner of the house and started down the driveway I looked off down the road and could see some lights coming steadily our way.
Up until this point in time I had been quite calm and composed, having been focused so heavily on everything else that was happening today. At the thought that my siblings were almost here, however, the butterflies in my stomach suddenly started to come alive, causing me to become fidgety and nervous, and to break out into a light sweat.
‘Are you okay?’ Aaron asked, while taking my hand and trying to reassure me that everything was indeed okay.
‘I’m fine,’ I scoffed.
‘Yeah, right. You look about as nervous as a groom on his wedding day,’ Luke teased. ‘Just remember that they’re family, that’s all you’ve got to do.’
‘Right!’ I said rather too firmly, which only brought chuckles from my lover and my favourite cousin.
The car slowed right down then we noticed it pull in at the end of the line of cars parked on the grass verge outside the yard. As we walked out through the front gate and started toward them the engine was cut and the lights were turned off, then the car doors opened.
Mike was the first to get out of the car, standing up and then stretching his limbs, before noticing the three of us walking toward him.
‘So, is this the welcoming committee?’ I heard him ask.
‘You could say that,’ I replied, as I then noticed the two girls step out of the car also.
In the glow coming from the lights around the house I could see them all clearly. Mike looked different to the last time I had seen him, although at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on just what it was that was different about him. He looked taller. He looked like he had built up and filled out, which was no doubt thanks to the labouring work he had been doing. He was now a young man, and a good looking one at that. He was definitely no longer that frightened kid I had last seen.
I reached out and hugged him to me.
‘About bloody time you got here,’ I scolded.
‘Don’t blame me,’ he laughed.
‘Well, it’s great to have you here anyhow,’ I said. ‘And the same goes for you two as well,’ I added, while turning my attention to my kid sister and her girlfriend, Kellie, hugging them both at the same time.
Jess had also changed considerably since I had last seen her. She had only been a little girl back then, but now she was an attractive young woman. It was good to know that there were some good genes in our family somewhere.
‘It’s so nice to meet you. And thanks so much for inviting us up here,’ Kellie said.
‘Yeah,’ added Jess. ‘It’s a long way, but it’ll be great just getting away from the rat-race for a few days at least.’
‘Not to mention our rat of a mother,’ Mike added.
‘You’ll love it here,’ I promised. ‘And there’s so much I want to show you. You won’t want to go back.’
‘That already sounds appealing,’ she replied.
Up until this point Aaron and Luke had both stayed in the background, just letting me greet my family, but I soon dragged them forward as well.
‘Guys, do you remember your cousin, Luke?’ I said to them. ‘And this fella here is the love of my life, Aaron, whom you’ve no doubt already heard about.’
‘So, he is real, then?’ Mike teased then thrust out his hand for Aaron, before soon pulling him in for a hug at the first available opportunity. Aaron looked a little afraid for just a moment or two, but Mike was quick to put him at ease, by saying, ‘Welcome to the family, dude. We’ve heard so much about you that we figure we know you already anyhow.’
‘Errr … thanks … I think,’ Aaron managed to reply, while casting a nervous glance my way. It was obvious he wasn’t quite sure how to react, but I instinctively knew that he and Mike would get on really well.
They all managed to greet and hug Luke, who hadn’t seen them for even longer than I had, and then we slowly started making our way back to the party, arm in arm and chatting excitedly as we began to catch up.
When we entered the back yard Matt was the first person to notice and came over to us straight away, after passing the barbeque tongs to Scott, for him to take over for a few moments. Our entrance was also quickly noticed by Luke’s parent’s who made a bee-line toward us. Pretty soon we were swamped with family and friends all wanting to catch up with, or meet up with, my long lost family.
* * *
It wasn’t long before the meal was ready and everything was being set out on the tables by Aunt Helen, Samantha and a few of the other ladies.
Before allowing everyone to help themselves, however, Luke picked up the microphone that was attached to the karaoke machine and asked Matt, Tim and Guy to join him on the deck at the back of the house. This put the four of them in a position where they were looking out over the rest of us. Obviously it was speech time, and with our stomachs beginning to rumble once more, I think we were all hoping that this would only be a short one.
‘Well folks, before we let you all loose on the food,’ he nervously began, ‘we all just wanted to say a few words. As you’re aware, it has been ten years since we all arrived in this beautiful place, so we thought that was a good enough excuse for us to have a party.’
The crowd all laughed and Luke seemed to relax a little, as Matt draped his arm over my cousin’s shoulder, while Tim and Guy were likewise conjoined. They all looked happy, and we were all happy for them.
A flash went off as someone took a photo.
‘I think it’s fair to say,’ Luke continued, although his voice was raw with emotion and I could tell he was close to losing it altogether, ‘that for all of us, it has been the best ten years of our lives. We have made some great friends here, not to mention receiving a lot of support from our families and the friends we grew up with, many of whom have joined us here tonight. I guess we all just wanted to thank you for helping it to be so, and to thank you all for being here to share this occasion with us. We especially wanted to thank our families, for everything they have done for us to make this all possible, and finally, I want to thank my cousin, Tony, for his insistence that tonight go ahead, especially after we had suggested it in the first place, then sat on our backsides and did nothing about it!’
I gave him a small bow, and received a few pats on the back from those around me, then Luke offered the microphone to his companions as the crowd started clapping, with the occasional wolf whistle also being thrown in. They soon quieted down, however, when Guy took the microphone and we waited for his words of wisdom.
‘Yeah … what he said,’ Guy offered, which quickly got everyone laughing. ‘I guess that brings us to the point where dinner is served, but before we let you loose, as Luke so eloquently put it, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who pitched in this afternoon and tonight to help prepare and serve this wonderful feast. So now, everyone, please tuck in … let’s all have a great night!’
When they stepped down off the deck Luke came straight over to me and hugged me. ‘This was all your doing, you know. So, thank you. It just makes me so fucking happy that everyone has come here tonight.’
I could hear the emotion which was still in his voice and knew from past experience just how close he had come to turning into a blubbering mess. Public speaking, even when amongst family and friends, wasn’t exactly his forte.
‘Mate, it was still your idea originally, and I’m just glad it has come together so well,’ I whispered into his ear as I hugged him tightly. ‘What you guys have here is amazing, and I just hope that in ten years’ time I’ll be able to throw a party just like this one to mark my return to the place.’
He pulled back and looked at me, his eyes searching for the answer to the burning question.
‘Does that mean …’ he asked.
‘Yeah … but don’t tell Aaron just yet,’ I whispered. ‘I want to surprise him later on.’
‘You sneaky bastard! You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?’
‘Cuz, you have no idea,’ I ginned.
* * *
The meal was a raucous affair, accompanied by a good deal of banter, plenty of lewd jokes, and washed down by copious amounts of alcohol … well, for most of the participants at least. I was so proud of Aaron and the fact he hadn’t touched a drop in ages, and I was glad that I could support him in this small way. To be honest, even though I had always enjoyed a beer, I wasn’t even missing it myself, so if it was good enough for him, it was definitely good enough for me too.
When we eventually filled our plates from the tables laden with food, I sat down with Aaron, Paul and Damien, plus my own family. With Aaron sitting on one side of me, Mike on the other side, and Jess and Kellie sitting opposite, the conversation bounced back and forth as we all caught up with all the goings-on in our lives.
At our table we were also joined by Luke and his family, along with Matt and his parents, so at times the conversation tended to be more like a gathering of town criers than an intimate family reunion, but we somehow managed.
As I studied Jess throughout the evening, and her interaction with Kellie, I could definitely see a bond between them. The gentle touches, the loving gazes they gave each other, the radiant glow about Jess. It was easy to pick a young couple so in love.
‘So, what about you?’ I asked Mike. ‘Any lucky ladies about?’
He looked at me and grinned. ‘Oh, there’s been plenty that have been lucky enough,’ he boasted, ‘but when they found out my brother was a poof, that’s the last I saw of them!’
‘Very funny, wise ass!’ I said, while reaching across and clipping him across the back of the head.
He grinned, then scooped up another fork filled with potato salad.
‘Seriously though,’ he said a few moments later, ‘who is that over there, dressed in blue?’
I looked across at where he had indicated and noticed Carol, sitting with Tim and Guy and their families.
‘Out of your league, I think, pal!’ I said to him.
‘Is that right? Just because she looks like she should be on television or something!’
‘Mike … she is on television. That’s Carol Granger, she works for the media company Guy is involved with. As a matter of fact, she interviewed me today.’
‘No shit!’ he said, while still gazing intently in her direction. ‘Think you can introduce us?’
‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘This should be good to watch.’
‘Oh, ye of little faith!’ he said, with far too much confidence for my liking.
When it looked like everyone had just about finished eating, Aunt Helen and Samantha got up and started clearing away plates and dishes from the serving tables, so I got to my feet as well and gave them a hand. I was soon joined by Scott’s partner, Justin, and a couple of other ladies, and in no time we had the tables squared away and ready for the desserts to be taken out.
‘Great night so far,’ Justin said to me as we walked inside, our arms laden with half empty dishes of salads and other goodies. It looked like there would be plenty left over for lunch tomorrow by the go of things.
‘Absolutely,’ I said to him. ‘And we haven’t even switched on the karaoke yet!’
‘I’m not so sure that will be such a smart idea,’ he laughed.
‘Provided Tim is still sober enough, that’s all that will matter.’
‘Yeah, that’s true enough. It’ll be worth it just to hear him again.’
Everyone in our little circle of friends knew Tim’s little secret — that he could sing like an angel — so when the idea of hiring the karaoke machine had originally been floated, I was truly excited. I had heard Tim sing often enough over the years to know how good he was, but I had also seen the video tape of the high school musical that he had performed in, about twelve years ago now, and like most other people I had been blown away by it. Just why he didn’t pursue it after he had finished school, I wasn’t too sure. Maybe we would be able to convince him to audition for X-Factor one of these days?
As Justin and I chatted the desserts started appearing in the kitchen, ready for being transported outside.
Mrs Hamilton had excelled herself yet again, providing the biggest pavlova I had ever seen in my life, topped with cream and strawberries, banana and kiwi fruit and passion fruit, along with my own personal favourite, one of her special, home-made lemon meringue pies. Added to this there were cheese cakes and jellies and trifle, and a caramel tart that almost looked dangerous.
‘Oh shit, I think I’m going to be sick,’ Justin moaned.
‘What, not now?’ I asked, quite alarmed.
‘Oh no, not just yet’ he giggled. ‘But just give me half an hour or so … after I’ve finished sampling all these desserts.’
‘Yeah, I think there could be a lot of that going round. Should we call for the doctor now, do you think?’
‘Oh, knock it off you two. Why don’t you make yourselves useful and carry something outside,’ Aunt Helen admonished.
‘Are you sure you trust us?’ I asked her.
‘If there’s any finger prints in the cheese cakes we’ll know exactly who to blame,’ she said with a smile, as she swept past us, with two dishes containing wobbly jellies in her hands.