Mrs Hamilton’s desserts were triumphant, as always, with not a crumb being left of either her pavlova or lemon meringue pie, while a fair sized dent was made in all of the others as well.
I, of course, over-indulged and afterwards felt like wandering off to some place quiet to sleep it off. That wasn’t going to happen, however, as once the plates and dishes were cleared away someone decided to turn up the volume of the music and really bring the party to life.
At Mike’s insistence I did at least introduce him to Carol, choosing that moment when we had all been lined up at the tables, waiting for our turn at the dessert. We crept into the line just behind where she and her two other suitors, who didn’t appear to be giving up the chase, had been standing.
‘Hi Carol,’ I said, while touching her gently on the elbow. ‘How are you enjoying your evening so far?’
At the sound of my voice she spun around, her expression almost one of relief when she saw me there, then turning to one of curiosity when she noticed Mike standing beside me.
‘Oh, you know how it is, Tony,’ she said quietly. ‘I’m beating them off with a stick … or I’m wishing I had a stick!’
‘Oh dear. Perhaps we had best grab some dessert, then I’ll introduce you to my family.’
‘Oh, would you?’ she almost pleaded, placing a hand on my arm and giving it a gentle squeeze as she did so. It was obvious to me that it was a sign of desperation, or something close to it. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.
‘Well, I guess there’s no time like the present,’ I said. ‘Carol Granger, this is Mike Scott, my kid brother. Mike, this is Carol … television interviewer extraordinaire.’
‘It’s very nice to meet you,’ Mike said, as he shook Carol’s offered hand.
‘And you too, Mike,’ Carol replied. She looked him up and down and I could already see that she liked what she saw. She was a couple of years older than Mike, I thought, so this could get interesting.
I then glanced to Tim and Guy’s brothers, who were both looking slightly pissed.
‘Sorry guys,’ I said to them. ‘I just need to borrow her for a while … she wanted to meet my family.’
They mumbled something that I didn’t hear, then finished piling up their plates, before wandering back over to where they had been sitting earlier.
‘Oh, god! Thank you both,’ Carol cooed. ‘I’ve been trying to get away from them for ages, but didn’t want to offend them, or Guy for that matter, seeing as I work with him.’
‘I’m sure he would have understood,’ I reassured her.
Moving our way along the table we filled our plates, as well as two extra for Jess and Kellie, then made our way back to our table, with Carol in tow.
‘Jess and Kellie, I’d like you to meet Carol Granger,’ I said to them, as we found our seats, and a spare one for our guest. ‘Carol, this is my sister, Jess, and her partner Kellie.’
‘It’s so nice to meet you both,’ Carol said, then after taking a glance at Jess, who was by now showing signs of a baby bump, she added, ‘Or should I say the three of you?’
Jess simply blushed and nodded.
‘How far along are you?’ Carol enquired.
‘Four and a half months,’ Jess answered. ‘Just half way there,’ she added with a sigh.
‘Well, my older sister had a baby a couple of months back and said the closer she got to the due date, the faster the days seemed to go by. It’ll all be over in no time at all.’
‘Oh god, I hope so,’ Jess laughed.
The four of them were soon chatting away as if they were old friends, so I took the opportunity to turn my attention back to Aaron for a moment, after feeling like I had abandoned him for part of the evening.
He was still sitting beside me, but had been chatting away with Paul and Damien for most of the evening, so I slipped my hand across his thigh and gave his leg a gentle squeeze.
‘How are you going, babe?’ I whispered to him.
‘All good here,’ he replied, while offering me his usual cheeky grin. ‘I see you’ve saved Carol from the clutches of the invaders.’
‘Oh yes, and wasn’t she pleased about that,’ I chuckled.
He looked past me at Mike and Carol, who seemed to be deep in the middle of some deep discussion, and smiled. ‘I think he’s going to have his work cut out there, though,’ he said.
‘Well, I did try to warn him,’ I said. ‘At least he should be able to get himself out of his own messes these days.’
‘You can only hope,’ Aaron replied, giving me a wink as he did so.
‘So, how has your night been? How are Paul and his friend doing?’ I asked.
‘It has been good,’ he replied. ‘I’ve enjoyed catching up with Paul, and I really like Damien. Maybe we could invite them up again sometime … you know, if and when we get our own place.’
‘I think I’d like that,’ I said. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him about ‘Bayview’, but this wasn’t the time. I wanted it to just be the two of us.
After dessert, people tended to spread themselves around a little, swapping chairs and sitting down with different groups for a chat and a catch up. Just as Samantha came over to our table, bringing with her Jake and Callum, who quickly climbed up onto mine and Aaron’s laps, I noticed Paul and Damien had wandered over to sit with Mrs. Hamilton, as had my Aunt Helen.
As Callum (I think) snuggled in close to me, I glanced across at Jess, who was smiling my way.
‘That looks so good,’ she said to me from across the table.
‘I’m just lucky he’s all worn out,’ I answered her.
‘You’re going to make a great uncle,’ she added.
‘Oh, don’t you worry,’ Sam chimed in. ‘He already has. Actually, they both have, haven’t you, boys? My lads already love their Uncle Aaron and Uncle Tony.’
‘Whatever you say, Sam. Whatever you say,’ Aaron replied as he gently rocked a sleepy Jake (I think) back and forth.
She laughed, with her sweet sounding voice easily being carried around the back yard, causing a few people to look our way and smile.
The night was clear and warm, with the stars easily being visible high above us. Where we were sitting, beneath the strings of coloured lights in the back yard, the place wasn’t too brightly lit, but there was still enough light to see by. Most of the light which was illuminating the back yard was coming from the floodlights near the back door of the house, however, with the gentle breeze that was blowing, swinging the temporary lights back and forth, there was a strange mix of shadows and splashes of colour dancing around us, creating an atmosphere that was relaxing and pleasant.
‘Whereabouts have you hidden Chrissy?’ I asked Sam, as Cal squirmed around on my lap and snuggled in closer against my chest.
‘Asleep in Tim and Guy’s room,’ she replied. ‘I’ll have to go and check on her in a few minutes, but first, I think I need a little sit down.’
‘You deserve it,’ I said to her. ‘You’ve been going non stop all afternoon.’
‘Not really … but thanks anyway. Actually, I’ve been surprised by Luke’s mum … there’s just no stopping her, is there?’
‘No, she’s a real trooper, that one,’ I replied, looking across at where she and Mrs. Hamilton were sitting and chatting away, like they were old friends.
‘Do you think we should go and light the bonfire?’ Aaron asked a few moments later, referring to the stack of branches that had earlier been piled up outside the back gate, ready for tonight.
‘That’s probably a good idea,’ I answered. ‘I suspect the entertainment will be starting quite soon though, and we don’t want to miss that.’
‘Miss what? Watching our half drunk cousin and his friends getting up on stage and making gooses of themselves?’ Mike asked, obviously still half listening to what was going on around him, despite his conversation with Carol.
‘That’s just the comedy act,’ I said to him. ‘I’m sure it won’t all be like that though,’ I added, while glancing at Samantha, who conveniently looked away just at that moment.
‘You don’t really think that anyone here will actually be able to sing, do you?’ he teased.
I knew it was just an off-the-cuff remark, and wasn’t meant as a put-down for anyone in particular, but I also knew that before this night was over he would be eating those words. Until tonight he had never before met anyone else who was present, apart from Matt and Luke, and that was quite a number of years ago now, so tonight would be a real eye opener for my little brother.
‘Oh, you just never know what little surprises you might unearth on nights such as this,’ Aaron added. ‘Hey, why don’t you get up and show us how it’s done?’
‘We’ll see,’ Mike replied. ‘We’ll see.’
* * *
Aaron and I helped Samantha take the boys up to the house, putting them on Tim and Guy’s bed with their sister and getting them to go back to sleep, before we then left Sam with her three children and went back outside to light the bonfire.
‘I’ll be out soon,’ Sam promised, ‘just as soon as I know they’re out to it.’
‘Good,’ I whispered. ‘You’ve got to put my kid brother back in his place.’
‘Oh, I think we’ll be able to manage that,’ she said, as she flashed me a conspiring smile.
The music was still playing, and people were still milling around and chatting, when we ventured back out into the night, and I stopped briefly to let Luke and Matt know what we intended to do.
‘That’ll be great,’ Luke replied. ‘And have you seen Sam anywhere?’
‘She’s just putting the kids to sleep, in Tim and Guy’s room. She said she’ll be out shortly.’
‘Excellent!’ he said, with just a glint of mischief in his eyes. ‘Apparently we have some doubters in the audience tonight.’
‘Yes, I know. And my brother is one of them, but don’t worry, Sam is keen to lay any doubts to rest.’
‘And so is Tim,’ he said with some confidence.
‘Looks like it’ll be a great night then.’
‘I reckon so.’
Leaving them there we walked down through the middle of the party and out to the pile of sticks that would be our bonfire. Earlier in the day we had prepared everything we would need, including some fuel to pour over the pile before we lit it, along with some buckets and a garden hose, just in case they might be needed. We had also made sure that there was nothing else too close by that was flammable and in danger of also going up in smoke.
‘You want to do the honours?’ I asked Aaron. ‘You’ve probably done this sort of thing more times than me.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that,’ he replied, ‘but yeah, I can do it if you like.’
I handed him the small bottle of kerosene we had put aside, along with a box of matches, then watched as he seemed to be testing the air.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Just seeing which way the wind is coming from. Need to make sure the side we light is the side the wind is blowing on … that way the fire will have the wind behind it and will take hold quicker, blowing into the sticks.’
‘See, I knew you weren’t just a pretty face.’
‘The guys might say otherwise if I end up burning their house down.’
‘It’ll be fine. We’ve got a hose handy in case you do too good a job.’
With a grin on his face, Aaron knelt down near the base of the bonfire and gathered some dry grass and some loose and dry twigs and branches together, building another little pile right in against the base. He then took the lid off the kerosene and sprinkled some on top of his new pile, then all over that side of the main pile as well. He only used about half of the bottle, so there wasn’t that much kero spread about.
‘That should be enough,’ he said, as he stepped back and moved the buckets, hose and kerosene bottle a little further away from the pile.
Next he returned to the pile and knelt down beside it, with matches in hand.
‘You ready?’ he asked me.
‘As I’ll ever be.’
He grinned, then struck a match, before leaning in closer and dropping it onto his smaller pile of sticks and grass.
Flame erupted with a whoosh, straight up through the main pile, igniting the kerosene-soaked timber, and sending Aaron sprawling backwards and landing on his backside, as he tried to avoid the fountain of flame which shot upwards and outwards.
‘Shit! Are you okay?’ I exclaimed as I jumped forward and reached for him.
He got to his feet, laughing, and dusted off his pants.
‘All good!’ he said. ‘Took hold a bit better than I thought it might.’
Turning our attention back to the fire we watched as the initial burst of light and flame died down. Sticks were glowing red, with small flames clinging to them, but even as we watched we could see them growing stronger and stronger, coming to life as they ran upwards along branches and through the centre of the pile, while sending a plume of smoke and sparks into the night sky.
‘Now we’re cookin’,’ I said.
We were standing back admiring our handiwork when a deep voice disturbed our reverie.
‘You lads got a permit for that?’
Spinning around we found the Sarge standing there behind us, his arms crossed in front of his chest, but grinning all the same.
‘You better go see the land owners, Sarge,’ I said to him. ‘It’s all their doing!’
‘Says the man with the matches in his hand!’
‘Not me, Sarge. See!’ I replied, while holding both hands up.
Stepping closer he thrust out his hand. ‘It’s good to see you back here, Tony. It’s been far too long,’ he said, as I shook the offered paw.
‘Yes it has Sarge. And it’s good to see you too. Are you still running down all the local crims?’
I had only spoken to him briefly when he and his wife had arrived, but it was easy to see he hadn’t changed at all in the past few years.
‘Yeah, but not for much longer though,’ he answered. ‘Retirement isn’t too far away, so then I might be able to do some of that fishing I’ve always been wanting to do.’
‘Fishing? What the hell are you talking about? You live on a lake and by the sea, you can go fishing any time you like.’
‘Yeah, where I get interrupted every time I even think about it. No, I’m thinking about something different … some trout fishing up in the mountains … just hooking up the caravan and heading west of here, where I can sit by a quiet country stream and relax, without the threat of a police radio going off and waking me from my snooze.’
‘And what about Mrs. Sarge?’
‘Oh, she can come too, if she wants,’ he joked, to which we all laughed.
As we talked and the flames grew higher, continuing to send sparks high into the black night, we were soon joined by a few others from the party, with Scott and Justin, along with Dan and Jake, all wandering down to stand around the fire with us.
We chatted freely, as the old friends we all were, reminiscing about old times, and in particular the day I first met Dan and Jake; the day that the entrance to Scott’s caravan park was trashed and had anti-gay slurs splashed across it.
‘Man, I’ll never forget the sight of you crash-tackling that Jacko to the ground,’ Justin said to me. ‘That was quite a day, huh?’
‘Yeah, it sure was. But it ended up being a good day, in spite of everything that happened. It was the day we met Dan and Jake, and it was the day that all of us found out just what a great community this place actually is.’
‘And whether or not they realise it,’ the Sarge added, ‘it was the day this community changed, or at least began to change. All you guys helped make that happen, and I don’t want any of you to forget that!’
‘No Sarge. We won’t,’ I replied.
‘You’ve heard about what happened to young Jacko, didn’t you?’ the Sarge asked me.
‘Yeah. Poor bastard,’ I said.
‘He always had something of a screw loose, that kid. Still, you wouldn’t wish what happened to him on anyone. That Andy Thompson has a fair bit to answer for still, as far as I’m concerned. He got these kids mixed up in all sorts of shit.’
‘And now he’s out,’ I said, while placing an arm around Aaron’s shoulders and hugging him to me.
‘He may be out, but we’re certainly keeping an eye out for him. If he comes back here we’ll be on him like glue,’ the Sarge promised.
It was just then that we heard something of a disturbance up where the party was going on and we looked up to see Matt and Luke up on the deck at the rear of the house. They both had microphones in their hands, while off to one side Guy appeared to be fiddling with the karaoke machine.
‘Oh, god no!’ I exclaimed. ‘Please don’t let them sing!’
My plea fell on deaf ears, of course, as Guy was urged on by the crowd to press the button.
‘Are we ready?’ we all heard him ask Luke, speaking directly into his own microphone.
‘Why not?’ Luke answered, for all of us to hear, so Guy pressed the button on the karaoke machine and the introduction to a song started playing, while Luke and Matt readied themselves in the middle of their stage.
It took me a moment to recognise the song, but when I did, and when Luke started singing, loud and off key, I started laughing, just as others in the crowd also did.
‘They say we’re young and we don’t know … We won’t find out until we grow …’ Luke sang.
‘Well I don’t know if all that’s true … Cause you got me, and baby I got you …’ Matt replied.
Then they both sang, ‘Babe … I got you babe, I got you babe …’
With most of the party goers clapping, or laughing, or cheering the pair of them they really hammed it up, while working their way through the verses and the chorus. A lot of us also joined in the fun, really putting the emphasis on the word ‘Babe’ each time it came around.
By the time we reached the end of the song we all sang with them, ‘I got you babe … I got you babe … I got you babe … I got you babe …’ then bursting out into raucous applause and laughter when it was over, while Matt and Luke too their bows.