‘And just where the hell did you guys get to last night?’ Matt enquired as soon as he and Luke sat down alongside us by the fire. ‘We missed you.’
Aaron and I exchanged glances. I think we were both wondering just what, or how much, we should tell them?
‘The beach,’ I simply replied. ‘Then we watched the fireworks from the picnic area on the town trail, on the ridge just below the lighthouse.’
‘Yeah, it was a fantastic show,’ Aaron added. ‘They had it all set up on these barges out on the lake. Could you see any of it from here?’
‘Some of it,’ Luke replied. ‘It looked and sounded pretty intense.’
‘Best fireworks show I’ve ever seen,’ I said to them, which brought nods of approval.
So far there was no sign of any of my siblings, but I knew that they would surface sooner or later. I also knew that I would most likely either receive a full run down on their evening, or another inquisition, wanting to know where we had gotten to.
I had told Mike and Jess earlier in the evening to use our tent when they wanted to crash after the party, as Aaron and I could have gone back to his cabin at Scott’s caravan park if we needed to, so I hoped that they had taken me up on the offer … or at least I hoped that Jess and Kellie had. After seeing the way they had hit it off, and knowing something of his track record with the ladies, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if Mike and Carol had ended up somewhere together, or perhaps that was just me jumping to the wrong conclusion, as I often seemed to do.
‘So, where did you go after the fireworks then?’ Matt enquired. ‘Did you come back, or go to Aaron’s place?’
‘Matt!’ Luke scolded.
‘What? I’m just asking? You were worried about him, remember?’
Luke just rolled his eyes and grinned at me, while looking slightly embarrassed.
‘If you must know,’ I replied, ‘we sat and talked for ages, then fell asleep, right there on the ridge. We were woken by a bloody kookaburra right on daybreak, so that’s when we came home … but only after we had a quick dip in the bay.’
‘I thought you looked a bit too fresh,’ Matt teased, which only earned him a belt up the back of the head from his partner.
It was still quite early and the morning was cool, and as we were talking a few more brave souls emerged from the tents and headed our way, with the warmth of the fire obviously having some appeal. The first of these were Ben and Samantha’s two boys, who ran straight over to us and climbed up on Aaron’s and my laps, but we noticed some others were heading our way as well, including Luke’s sister Kate, and their friends Dwayne and DJ, along with Tim and Guy’s two brothers.
‘Seems you’ve really made an impression there,’ Luke offered, as Cal (I think) hugged me.
‘They’re great kids,’ I replied.
‘It must be the genes,’ we suddenly heard a voice behind us say. Looking up we saw Ben and Sam approaching us, arm in arm.
‘Yeah, their mum is certainly a pretty special lady,’ I shot back.
‘You’re right there,’ he chuckled. ‘And bloody talented too!’
‘I think we would all agree on that,’ Luke remarked. ‘That was quite a show last night. You guys really surprised a few people.’
‘Well, it’s always fun when we can talk Tim into cutting loose. He should do it more often,’ said Sam.
‘I wish he would,’ added Matt.
As we continued to chat about the night before we were gradually joined by a few more people, all bleary eyed and quite subdued, apparently thinking that sitting around the fire looked like as good a place as any to be on a cool morning such as this.
It was obvious that everyone had had a great time last night, especially given that it was taking them a little while to get active this morning. However, talk soon turned to other topics, including what was being planned for today. For most it meant a day of relaxation, given that the following day was the Monday of a long weekend and they wouldn’t need to travel home until then, but there were those who would be checking out today to either travel home, or move on to visit other relatives or friends.
When one of the guys mentioned that Aaron and I had already had a dip in the ocean this morning it sparked some interest in a few of the guests, and before long there was a troupe of people ready to head down to the beach. Luke and Matt went over to the guest house and stuck their head inside to try and rouse their parents, while Jason and Kevin went up to the house to drag Tim and Guy out as well, along with their parents.
‘What about you guys?’ Sam asked Aaron and me.
‘It’s okay. We’ve already been wet once this morning. How about we start the barbeque while you’re gone and get something happening for breakfast, for when you all come back?’ I replied.
‘That would be great. Thank you,’ she replied, as she leant down and kissed my cheek.
‘What about you boys?’ she then asked the twins. ‘Do you want to have a swim?’
We all knew what the answer to that was going to be, and even after the whole group had disappeared into the bush land we could still hear the excited chatter of the two boys for some time, until it gradually faded away.
* * *
Jess and Kellie surfaced from our tent just after the rest of them had left us, apparently having been woken by the noise they were all making as they had passed the tent.
‘Good morning girls. How was your night?’ I asked them as they sat down beside us.
‘Actually, it was quite good, thanks,’ Jess replied. ‘Although we were a bit worried when we couldn’t find you two last night when we went to turn in. I wasn’t sure if we had the right tent or not.’
‘Yeah, sorry about that. We went for a walk down to the beach and got … errr … sidetracked.’
‘Sometimes it’s simply best not to say anything,’ Jess chuckled.
‘True that,’ Kellie added.
I couldn’t help but agree.
‘So, what was all the noise we heard this morning?’ Jess asked. ‘It sounded like the party had started all over again.’
‘That was just the mob heading off to the beach. You can go and join them if you like. It’s just through there,’ I said, while pointing toward where the path led through the bush.
‘Maybe later,’ she replied. ‘But only if you and Aaron come too.’
‘Sure. And what about your other brother? Assuming of course he surfaces. Where did he get to, do you know?’
‘Last seen escorting a young lady to her car, I believe.’
‘Oh, sweet Jesus. And which one of them do you think will be the one that needs rescuing?’
‘Carol seems nice, but my money will be on Mike giving us a call.’
‘Funny, that’s just what I was thinking,’ I laughed. ‘Now, what about you two? I have to say that this came as a bit of a surprise.’
‘Why? How long has it been since I’ve seen you, Tony? I grew up in all those years and you were never around to see how I was doing, or how I had changed, were you?’
‘No, you’ve got me there,’ I replied, suddenly feeling quite guilty that I hadn’t stayed closer to my siblings, even if just to keep more of an eye on them as they grew up. Something must have shown on my face, because she quickly reached across and placed a hand on my arm.
‘Oh, please, don’t think I’m complaining. I know why you weren’t around … or at least I now know why you weren’t around. That bitch of a mother of ours had both our minds poisoned … especially as far as you were concerned. If anything though, that actually helped me to realise that some people are different and in the long run, that in turn made it easier for me to accept myself.’
I nodded, understanding just what it was she was meaning. It was the relationship between Luke and Matt which finally opened my eyes and enabled me to see myself for exactly what I was, despite my muddling efforts to fuck things up for them at the time. Why they ever forgave me I really don’t know. For a long time I sure as hell didn’t think I deserved forgiveness, but I’m eternally grateful that they did.
‘When Kellie came along I still wasn’t sure about everything, but as we got to know each other and things progressed, well, everything fell into place for me.’
‘And me,’ Kellie added, while reaching across and taking Jess’s hand.
‘Well, I’m pleased, for both of you. Now, how about we continue this discussion over some coffee? We told the crew we would cook some breakfast for them while they were at the beach. Who knows, maybe even Mike will come back to us by the time they return.’
‘Don’t go holding your breath,’ Jess declared.
* * *
Apart from the four of us, there was no one else around at the house for the next hour or so. While Jess and Kellie organised the coffee and started cooking toast, Aaron and I started up the barbeque.
We cooked ourselves up a lavish breakfast of bacon, eggs and fried tomato, along with toast and some left over sausages from last night’s affair, then settled back down at the tables in the back yard for a little while to eat and await the return of the troops, figuring that once we heard them coming we could quickly throw on some more food and have it ready by the time they arrived. At least it sounded good in theory, we thought.
As it was, the first of them to return were almost about to emerge from the scrub by the time we heard them coming, so we had to move quickly to get things started once more for them. We needn’t have worried too much though, as it was a group comprised of all the parents who were first to arrive, and they spent the next fifteen minutes washing off the salt water and sand anyhow, using the hose in the backyard, before they were ready to eat.
By the time they came to us, all eager and ready for breakfast, we were able to serve up a feast for them all, just in time to then have to start cooking the next round, as another boisterous group emerged from the bushes and path down to the beach.
Over the next few minutes the rest of them also arrived, coming to us like the proverbial Brown’s cows, in dribs and drabs, with Tim and Guy, Ben and Samantha and their boys being the last to arrive. Cal and Jake ran over to Aaron and me, holding their hands out to show us something and we squatted down to their level to see what they had.
‘Look! We got sea sells!’ an excited Cal said to me as I examined his offerings, the mispronunciation sounding quite cute to my ear. He was proudly holding an assortment of about six different shells of varying sizes and colours, while Jake had about the same number, which he was showing to Aaron.
‘Wow, they’re pretty,’ Aaron told the boys. ‘But I know where we can find some bigger ones, later on, if your mum and dad will let us take you to where they are.’
‘Really?’ squealed Jake.
‘Go now?’ added Cal.
‘Not now, boys. You’ve got to have breakfast first,’ their mother decreed. ‘Maybe later.’
‘Goodeeee!’ the boys chorused, which brought nothing but smiles to all of our faces.
With breakfast being well and truly ready, it wasn’t too long before there was a rather large group of people all sitting around the tables, jabbering away and stuffing their mouths with food. It was a fantastic way to start the day, sitting in the sunshine, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company while the opportunity was there.
Rather surprisingly, there didn’t appear to be too many sore heads, especially after the morning dip in the sea, and everyone seemed ready to face whatever the rest of the day was set to bring. For some, this would be having to pack up and head back to their own lives today, while for others it would be tomorrow, so this little time-out was a welcome distraction to everything else we all had going on in our lives.
It was Tim’s parents who finally made the first move, saying that they were expected at a relative’s place that night, and so they wanted to get going. A few others indicated that they needed to get away today as well, so after we had cleaned up the breakfast mess they headed off to start packing their things in preparation for leaving.
‘So, what about you guys? What have you got planned for the rest of the day?’ Luke asked Aaron and me, once half of the crew had wandered off.
I looked around at just who was left here and smiled to myself.
‘Actually, after that breakfast, I’m thinking a good walk up the road and back might be a good idea … for all of us!’ I replied, cocking an eyebrow at Luke as I said so, hoping that he would realise I had an ulterior motive for suggesting that.
He looked at me blankly for a moment before it finally dawned on him.
‘Oh, yeah,’ he finally said. ‘That doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.’
‘What?’ his mother asked, sounding quite surprised.
‘Yep. After all that grease that Tony served us for breakfast, it’s time we got out and walked it off,’ he added. ‘That goes for all of us. Come on, it’s an easy walk and you’ll love the views, and we can come back along the beach. A nice leisurely Sunday morning stroll.’
There were a few odd looks exchanged and a few grumbles, but in the end everyone who wouldn’t be leaving this morning agreed to come along. There still wasn’t any sign of Mike, but even without him a quick head count still came up with more than twenty people, being Matt and Luke, along with their parents and Luke’s sister, Tim, Guy and Jonathon, Jess and Kellie, Ben, Samantha and their three kids, plus Dwayne and DJ.
It was about an hour later when we waved farewell to Tim and Guy’s families, following hugs and handshakes and kisses all round. I guess that even for those of us from amongst our motley crew who weren’t directly related to them, they were all still just as much family as anyone else here. That was one of the things I loved about this whole gang … we all were indeed family, just like Luke and Matt had been telling me for years.
We watched the vehicles disappear down the road, leaving a trail of dust in their wake, then just as we were about to set off in the opposite direction for our walk we heard another vehicle coming our way, so I turned to check it out.
‘That’s Carol’s car,’ I heard Guy chuckle from beside me.
‘This should be good then!’ I replied.
‘Oh, absolutely. But not half as much fun as it’s going to be when we’re all back in the office on Tuesday and she shows up for work,’ he added, with a devious grin on his face.
‘Poor girl. I almost feel sorry for her.’
‘She’s a journo … she can handle it!’ he laughed.
We watched as the car slowed, then pulled off onto the edge of the road, parking just behind Mike’s car. Guy and I were standing together, our arms folded across our chests and staring at the new arrivals, trying our best to keep serious expressions on our faces.
We could see the two of them staring at us from inside the car, both looking somewhat guilty. They looked at each other and then Mike said something to Carol, then they both laughed, before both reaching for their door handles at the same time.
‘Well, it’s so nice of you two to show up,’ I said to the pair of them as they stepped out and closed the car doors.
‘I hope you gave him the full guided tour?’ Guy added, which only caused them both to blush.
Personally I thought that went a little over the top, and judging by the look that Carol was now giving Guy I figured she was thinking the same. Guy, on the other hand, appeared totally non-plussed by his statement. Whether that was deliberate, or by accident, I couldn’t exactly be sure.
As if to affirm his carefree attitude he pointed his camera at them, which he had picked up and brought with him, and clicked.
‘Anyhow, you’re just in time,’ I continued. ‘We’re all about to head off for a bit of a walk …’
‘A walk?’ Mike replied. ‘What the hell for?’
He sounding a little peeved, but I wasn’t going to let him blow me off totally.
‘Yep,’ I replied. Then stepping between them and taking them both by the arm I said to him quietly, ‘There’s something I want you to see.’
He gave me an odd look in response, but when I led them forward they both came with me, even if somewhat reluctantly.
It appeared that we were finally ready, as we joined the rest of the group, and so, with Matt and Luke leading the way we set off down the road. I had wanted to ask them how their night was, but I knew that would be pushing it. Instead I simply told them I was glad they had made it back in time, then let go of them, taking hold of the outstretched hand of Aaron instead.
‘Just what are you cooking up?’ Mike asked.
‘All in good time, my man,’ I replied.
He and Carol exchanged glances and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. For all intents and purposes it appeared that in just a short time together something had clicked. I could be wrong of course, but hey, noticing and interpreting what goes on around me is, in part, how I make a living, so I was willing to bet that something was developing there. I wasn’t sure where this would lead them, but it sure was going to be fun to watch.