When I awoke the second time that morning it took me a few moments to remember where I was and just how I had found myself here.
I could see that the fire was still burning weakly but daylight was coming. I could clearly see everything outside our cosy little nook, although the floor of this little valley was still deep in shadow and wouldn’t be likely to receive any direct sunlight for hours yet.
As I came fully awake I realised two things. Firstly that an arm was still draped across my body, although it was no longer hanging loosely, instead I could feel a hand inside my shorts, wrapped firmly around my penis. The second thing I realised was that at the back my shorts felt as if they had been pulled down slightly and that there was something being prodded into my butt. I knew in an instant what that something was.
Was this a dream of some sort? Or possibly even a joke? What the fuck was going on?
I desperately wanted to roll over to see if Dallas was awake, or if this was just something like sleep-walking perhaps, but for a long time I wasn’t game to even move. In the end I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer and I rolled my head slightly to try and see his face.
What I found scared the hell out of me. His eyes were open and staring straight at me. I quickly looked back out into the morning as I contemplated what I should do next. Surely he would say something, wouldn’t he?
I lay there for a few minutes more, but in the end I couldn’t stand it any longer.
‘Dallas?’ I said quietly.
There was no reply.
‘Dallas, are you awake?’ I asked.
‘I … I’m not sure,’ came a croaky reply. ‘I think I’m dreaming.’
‘No. It’s no dream. It’s real enough. Are you all right?’
There was no answer.
As gently as I could I took hold of his arm that was draped across me and placed it back along his side, then rolled forward slightly so that I no longer had his penis rubbing against my crack and adjusted my shorts.
I sat up and turned around, looking down at him. His penis was sticking out of his shorts, looking up at me as if it were asking for some attention. It was a distraction that would remain between us and so, almost without thinking, I leant across and just adjusted his shorts so that his modesty was covered. It was only once I had done it that I realised exactly what I had done and a wave of panic struck me. The last thing I needed was him going apeshit on me because he thought I was trying to take advantage of him, or something. The whole time his eyes were wide open and watching every movement I made, yet he remained silent.
‘Sorry,’ I said to him, suddenly embarrassed. ‘I … shouldn’t have done that.’
Still, he said nothing.
‘Are you all right?’ I asked him, repeating my question from earlier. I could see the confusion in his eyes. ‘It’s okay Dallas. We’re both safe now.’
‘W-w-what happened?’ he asked. He looked me up and down, then looked down at himself. He said nothing about us being almost naked together, at which I had honestly expected him to freak out, so maybe things weren’t quite functioning in his head just yet.
‘There was an accident,’ I said to him.
‘How did we get here?’
‘We … we fell off the bridge. Do you remember that?’
‘I … I’m not sure.’
‘Do you remember being in the water? We were washed downstream.’
For a long time he was silent and unmoving.
‘Something … something hit me … I think.’
‘Yes. That was the bridge. It was a log … we were crossing it …’
‘Timmy … he was there.’
‘Yes. And who else? Can you remember who else was there?’
A frown creased his forehead, but then he shook his head and closed his eyes.
He could remember something at least. That was a start. But how much more would he be able to recall, I wondered?
I got to my feet and found a couple of more logs to throw on the fire. We may not need the fire through the day, but if we keep it going the smoke may alert anyone who was looking for us. Somewhere in the Bear Grylls Survival Manual that seemed to be embedded in my brain I seemed to recall that wet wood gave off more smoke, so I started searching for some that I could add to our stockpile.
When I had finished that I came back to the fire and checked our clothes. Surprisingly they were warm and dry, with the hot air rising up and over them seeming to have done its job well, even if they now smelt like wood smoke. As it was still quite chilly I pulled down my tee shirt and pulled it on over my head. I didn’t worry about my jeans for the time being though.
I also retrieved Dallas’ tee shirt and knelt down beside him.
‘Dallas,’ I said. ‘Can you sit up?’
He looked up at me and I held his shirt out toward him.
‘It’s a bit cool,’ I said. ‘We should try and get your tee shirt on at least.’
He nodded and tried to sit up, putting one arm out and trying to push against it, but he didn’t seem to have the strength. I placed my arms under his ribs and helped him into an upright position.
‘Fuck!’ he exclaimed, grasping at the ribs on the opposite side, his right side, where the biggest and blackest bruise I had ever seen was developing.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, suddenly concerned.
‘H-hurts,’ he wheezed.
He nodded. His breathing was steady, but it did seem to be a bit raspy. I hoped that he didn’t have broken ribs.
Okay, I thought. Maybe the tee shirt isn’t such a good idea. I got up and retrieved his once orange, now murky brown coloured jacket. At least he would be able to get one arm in at a time and then we could do it up.
‘We need to get this on you,’ I said to him, to which he nodded.
Taking his right arm I gently guided it into the sleeve of the jacket, then draped it over his shoulders, before then trying to get his other arm into the second sleeve. Working slowly we achieved that feat, then I zipped up the front of his jacket.
‘Thanks,’ he said to me.
He leant back against the rock wall and closed his eyes. With nothing much else I could do I did the same. The rock was quite warm and I could have quite happily stayed there all day if need be.
‘Why were we almost naked?’ he asked after a few minutes of silence. ‘I didn’t … we didn’t … ummm, do anything, did we?’
I could have almost laughed.
‘No Dal. I was a thorough gentleman. I didn’t take advantage of you,’ I answered.
‘But … did I do something to you? I mean … you know … how we were when we woke up …’
‘What? Shit, Dallas, are you worried that you might have turned gay overnight or something? And I suppose that will be my fault too?’
He looked at me with a sad, almost pained expression on his face.
‘I … didn’t say that,’ he said.
‘So what were you saying then?’
‘Just forget it,’ he replied and turned his head away from me.
I looked at him for a minute, wondering just what it was that he was trying to say, or even if he actually was trying to say anything, then I got to my feet and left him there, walking down to the edge of the waterhole where I stood watching endless buckets of water fall over the edge. Looking westward I saw the top of the mountain start to lighten up as the sun reached its peak and it was bathed in the first shafts of light from the east.
After a few minutes I heard a noise behind me and I turned to see Dallas hobbling toward me, clutching his right side with one hand and walking with a distinct limp. He was hobbling quite badly and it looked like his foot or ankle was in quite bad shape.
‘What the fuck?’ I exclaimed, going to him. ‘If you’re hurt you should stay lying down.’
‘I’m … I’m okay,’ he answered.
‘You sure as hell don’t look or sound like it.’
‘Just bruises,’ he said. ‘Nothing broken, I don’t think.’
‘And you’d know, of course?’
‘I’ve broken ribs before. It … it doesn’t feel the same.’
‘What about that?’ I asked, pointing to his ankle which seemed to be growing darker and larger by the minute.
‘Just a sprain or something,’ he answered.
We just stood there looking at each other. He was a hopeless liar.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said to me. I wasn’t quite sure what he was sorry for, so I didn’t respond. In the end he said, ‘You didn’t answer me earlier, when I asked you how we got here.’
‘It’s a long story,’ I replied.
‘Looks like I’ve got all day,’ he said.
I couldn’t help but grin at him. ‘I guess we do at that,’ I said to him.
I helped him over to a nearby log, where we both sat down.
‘How much do you remember?’ I asked.
‘After we got on the bridge very little,’ he replied. ‘I remember I was following you. Timmy was behind me. When he stepped on he jumped up and down or something.’
‘Yeah. I think he did.’
After a few seconds he said, ‘The look on your face. I remember that. Then … then one end fell into the creek as I went to you.’
‘That sounds about right.’
‘We were both in the water. You were only just hanging on. I tried …’
‘You tried to get to me,’ I said.
‘But then … then the log swung around. I remember seeing the bank rushing at me, but that’s it. It all happened so quickly that I don’t think anyone had much of a chance to react. Then the next thing I know I’m waking up naked with you.’
‘Some trip, huh?’ I said, while thinking about my own experiences on this trip.
‘Hmmm …’ was all he said for a long time, then finally adding, ‘So how did we get here then? And where exactly is here?’
I took a deep breath and began. ‘I don’t rightly know where we are, because I don’t know how long we were in the water for. All I can imagine is that we are further into the wilderness than I ever thought I would get to. We must still be in the National Park though. When you got squashed between the bank and the log you went under. Everyone screamed, including me, but I couldn’t just let you go …’
He looked at me with his eyebrows raised.
‘I dived down into where you had been and somehow found you and dragged you back up, but then we were both swept away by the current.
‘Somehow I kept hold of you as we were washed away. At one stage we hit another log that was stuck in the water and I managed to grab hold of that. We stayed there for a short while, but there was no way out of the water there, so in the end I grabbed hold of you and pushed us back out into the creek and kept going …’
I looked up at him and saw him staring at me in amazement, his mouth open.
‘I was hoping that we would find somewhere else where we might be able to get into the bank and get out, but all the way down it was just rocks and cliffs and there was nowhere we could get out. In the end we came over that,’ I said, pointing up at the waterfall. ‘And that’s how we ended up here.’
‘Fucking hell. You held on to me all that time?’
‘I figured I had to try and save you. I couldn’t just let go of you and let you die. It didn’t matter if I died trying to save us both, but at least I would have tried.’
He sat there for a long time just staring at me. The only movement seemed to be in his eyes, which seemed to become more intense. Had I done the right thing, I wondered.
‘So what about last night and our clothes coming off?’
‘Dude, we were soaking wet and it was getting cold. If we’d stayed in them we’d now be dead from pneumonia or something. I was just glad I found the cigarette lighter in your pocket. Your phone and pack of cigarettes were fucked though. I found that little place there,’ I said, pointing at the little nook where we had slept, ‘and dragged you there, took our clothes off and then got a fire going so we could try to get dry and warm. It was actually pretty warm in there once the fire was going and had built up. And then I hung the clothes above it so they could dry out a bit with the warm air from the fire going through them.’
‘And … and this morning?’ he asked somewhat nervously.
‘It wasn’t me, I swear. I didn’t touch you,’ I implored him.
‘I believe you,’ he said.
We both sat there considering things for a few moments before I eventually said quietly, ‘To be honest, you scared the shit out of me. I thought you would freak out at me completely if you woke up and found us like that.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
Eventually I said, ‘What for? I mean, it was just one of those things wasn’t it? It wasn’t like you were hitting on me or anything … was it?’
He looked away from me and clumsily got to his feet, hobbling over to the edge of the water. That same feeling from earlier, of my thinking he was trying to tell me something, came back to me.
‘Was it?’ I asked him once more.
‘I … don’t know what it was,’ he answered me, still looking out over the water and with his back still facing me. ‘Let’s just forget it ever happened.’
‘Okay,’ I said flatly, but how I was ever going to do that I had no idea. The thought that maybe, just maybe, he knew exactly what he was doing, even if perhaps only subconsciously, was now firmly entrenched in my mind, while that feeling of being wrapped up in his arms, his bare skin against mine, his cock touching me like that … that too wasn’t something I would ever be likely to forget in a hurry.
I had the feeling that something had happened; that this was one of those rare moments where things could change between two people, but realistically, what could I do? I was powerless to influence the great Dallas Pearce, class hero, looked up to by all.
Or was I? It was something I needed to know.
I started going over in my mind the things he had said since he had woken up. It seemed to me that he had quite possibly been thinking that what had happened was in fact at his instigation, that it was he who had made the moves. I knew in my own mind that it hadn’t been me, so what else was I to conclude?
Getting to my feet I walked over and stood beside him in the cold morning air. Spray from the waterfall was drifting around in a gentle breeze and we were both quite quickly covered with a fine mist.
I placed a hand on his shoulder and said, ‘It’s okay. It wouldn’t matter if that’s what you were doing, I don’t care. All that matters to me is that we are both standing here right now, and we’re both alive. Everything else pales into insignificance when compared to the fact we both could be dead. Who cares if people are gay or straight, or black or white or brindle? We’ve both made it this far.’
He turned and stared at me.
‘You still don’t get it, do you?’ he said.
‘Get what?’ I asked.
‘See, that’s just it! If you truly knew how things worked you wouldn’t have to ask that!’
‘If I knew how things worked?’ I asked as calmly as I could, while inside I was starting to boil. ‘You don’t need to tell ME how things work. I’m the one who has experienced it first hand, remember? I’m the one who has lived it! Who is it who has been ridiculed left, right and centre these past five years? And what great event did that all stem from?’
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then shut it again.
‘Dallas,’ I said quietly, but firmly. ‘If there is one person around here who knows how things work, it is me. And do you want to know something … this system that tells us how things are supposed to work in high school, the peer pressure, the bullying, the pecking order, it’s all a crock of shit. It doesn’t have to be like that, like the way you think it is. There’s a whole world out there where people really don’t care if others are gay or straight or whatever, and THAT’S the only world that matters in the long run, because THAT’S the world we end up living in!’
‘That may be so. But we’ve still got to get past high school in once piece first, and until I’ve made it past there, THAT’S the world I live in,’ he came back at me with.
The more he spoke the more convinced I was becoming that what had happened this morning wasn’t just one of those things. The more convinced I was becoming that behind that cool facade that he always wore was another person entirely, just waiting for the opportunity to escape. He was more like me than I could have ever possibly imagined. That made me angry with him, but it also made me sad. If he couldn’t confide in me, then who the hell could he confide in?
‘But Dallas, like I said, it doesn’t have to be like that.’
‘And like I said, let’s just forget it ever happened.’
He turned and stumbled away from me, back to where our clothes were hanging above the fire. Pulling his jeans down he started to pull them on, although it was with great difficulty. I could see he was hurting, but the brave Dallas, the one who couldn’t show any weakness, was trying not to let on.
Wanting to help him I walked over and placed a hand on his arm, but he physically pushed me away.
‘Just leave me,’ he said. ‘Please.’
‘Suit yourself then,’ I said to him, then went back over and sat on the log and continued to watch the endless stream of water coming over the falls.
Eventually I decided that we would need some more wood for the fire, so I spent the rest of the morning gathering all the sticks or logs that I could find, of which there seemed to be quite a lot, having been washed down by the creek during various floods and then accumulating amidst the rocks near the edge of the water, amongst which there were also various other items, amongst which I also found a plastic soft drink bottle, which got me excited right up until I saw it had several splits in its sides and wasn’t capable of holding a thing.
* * * * *
Gradually as the day wore on warmth and sunlight came to the floor of the valley, and by lunch time, with the sun directly overhead, it was actually quite hot.
When I had decided I’d had enough of gathering wood I went back to Dallas, who had ended up lying back down where we had slept that night, and asked him what he thought we should do.
‘I don’t think I’ll be able to travel very fast, or very far for that matter,’ he said to me. ‘We should probably just stay put.’
‘Yeah. I think you’re right.’
‘They’re bound to be looking for us … they would have to be, wouldn’t they?’
‘Of course they would. Even if they thought we were dead they would still be looking for us … or what was left of us.’
It was a sobering thought.
‘I wonder how our folks are handling this? Do you think they would have brought them down here?’ he asked.
‘More than likely. I wonder if all the others have gone back or whether they’ve stayed here?’
‘My money would be on them staying,’ he answered.
‘Yeah, mine too. I hope they’re doing okay, though they’re probably all thinking we’re dead.’
‘Please don’t say that,’ Dallas said. ‘We’ll see them all again real soon. I know it. And it’ll only be because of you that it’s going to happen. If it wasn’t for you I know I’d be dead. I owe you big time.’
‘You would have done the same for me,’ I said to him.
‘I probably would have tried … but as for being able to pull it off? Who knows?’
We sat in silence for a while, just listening to the sounds of the bush; the water flowing, the birds in the trees. I found that it was actually quite soothing. What I had hoped to hear, however, was something mechanical … like a plane flying overhead searching for us, but there was none of that. Just the continual sound of the bush.
‘I could really go a Mars bar about now,’ Dallas said after one of our lengthy silences.
‘Fuck the Mars bar,’ I replied. ‘I want a Works burger from that place on Pitt Street, with a side of fries and one of their Double Thickness Thick Shakes, you know that ones you almost need a spoon to eat it with?’
‘Oh, shit. Why did you have to go and do that? Now I really am hungry!’
‘You started it!’ I teased.
‘Yeah,’ he laughed. ‘I guess I did.’
With no food or drink since yesterday’s breakfast we were by now growing quite hungry, especially after having talked about it. I had thought about drinking from the flooded creek, but it seemed to be more mud than water and I figured it would be safer not to drink it.
‘How about I go scout around and see what’s about? You never know, we might find some berries or something. Will you be okay here if I go?’
‘I guess I’m not going anywhere else.’
‘Can you just keep the fire going please, so that if anyone is out looking for us they might spot the smoke or something.’
I walked into the little clearing around the waterhole and looked about to see if there was a vantage point where I might be able to get a better look at the lay of the land. There didn’t appear to be much on offer but in the end I clambered up the ridge that seemed to come down directly above where we were camped.
I had pulled on the rest of my clothes before setting out, so that I was wearing jeans and my joggers once more and started climbing. It was quite a rocky mountain, with few trees, some low bushes and only a sparse, quite spiky sort of grass, but as I climbed I started to get a better idea of the lay of the land. It took me about half an hour to get to a point where I was able to see out over some of the surrounding hills, most of which I found were as rocky and sparsely covered as this one. In the distance in both directions, north and south, there were some higher mountains which appeared to be heavily timbered, but that was all I could see for miles and miles.
Turning my attention to what was below me I looked back down at our camp spot and saw Dallas sitting on the log, looking back up at me. I waved to him and he waved back.
I was still thinking about the exchange we had had that morning, and the more I thought about it the more I was convinced I was right. I believed he was keeping a secret from me that I also believed he had no right to keep, but having said that, I also knew that I had no right to demand it of him. We were all different and each of us had to handle these things in our own way. I guess what I was most upset about was the fact that when he had found out my secret it had been the end of our friendship, yet now that it looked like he has been carrying the same burden and it appeared to be something that we have in common, instead of bringing us together it was only going to drive us further apart. I don’t know if I could handle that.
It wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair.
Looking back down at the scene below me I studied the course of the creek, both above the twin water falls and then below them. Above them I could only see rocks and the creek carving its way between predominantly bare hills; however, below our camp site things seemed to change dramatically.
Going downstream from where Dallas now sat I could see another drop off, which I figured must have been another set of falls; however, below that the country seemed to change, spreading out into a valley which seemed to widen out the further it went. The creek changed as well, from being a narrow, angry stretch of water trying to force its way between steep rocky sides, to one which spread out much wider and seemed to travel at a pace that wasn’t quite so frantic, although still quite fast and dangerous.
Along the sides of the creek from that point down the vegetation also changed, with bushes growing right to the water’s edge and grassy flats leading away from the water and tall, shady trees also in abundance.
I was quite amazed that if I had only gone downstream a short distance from where we had finished up we would have been right there.
I studied the lay of the land to try and figure out the easiest way to get there, which looked like being straight down along the creek, so I climbed back down the mountain and rejoined Dallas at the camp.
‘There’s a whole different world just downstream,’ I said to him when I finally sat back down. ‘The creek flattens out into a really wide stream in another valley just down below us a few hundred metres, and there are trees and bushes right down to the water’s edge. I wonder if there might be some fruit trees or berry bushes down there?’
‘There’s only one way to find out,’ he replied.
‘Will you stay here, or do you want to try and come down too?’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t think I’m going very far on this,’ he said, pointing to his ankle. ‘It’s really throbbing now. I’ll be flat out getting from here to over there,’ he added, while pointing at the little nook where we had spent the night.
‘Can you wriggle your toes?’ I asked him.
He looked down at his foot and I could see him trying, but there was no sign of any movement. That wasn’t a particularly good sign.
‘Do you want a hand to get over there now?’ I asked.
‘No, I’ll hang out here in the sun for a bit. You go and be the hunter and gatherer for us.’
‘Me? The great white hunter? That’s a fucking laugh,’ I joked. ‘No one would ever believe that when we get back to school!’
‘Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve been awesome. You really have.’
‘Awwwww … shucks,’ I replied.
‘Now just piss off will you and go find us some food. I’m fucking starving!’
He threw his tee shirt to me and said, ‘Here, use that for something to carry them in … once you find them.’
I shoved it into the waist of my jeans and with something of a renewed spring in my step I set off down the creek, heading south toward where I knew the greener pastures lay. I was feeling much better within, more optimistic about things, but I also knew that we were a long way from being saved, either physically or emotionally.
When I came to the second waterfall I found that it would be far from easy to pass around it, as there were steep rock faces on both sides. In the end I had to skirt around the edge of the mountain, like a billy-goat and following what looked like a billy-goat’s track that was half way up the side of it, before eventually coming to a ridge that made its way down. As it was I ended up sliding the last twenty metres or so on my haunches down some loose shale, before finally coming to a stop amongst some bushes and just a few feet from the edge of the fast flowing, murky water.
‘Wow. That was lucky,’ I said to myself when I stood up and looked back up at where I had just descended from. It then struck me that I would still need to find my way back UP the side of the mountain yet, but I figured I would cross that bridge when I got to it.
Remembering what I was down there for I set off along the bank of the creek, looking around me all the time for any sign of berry bushes or fruit trees. I had this hope that somewhere way back in the history of Salvation and the surrounding districts some miner had thrown out an apple or some other piece of fruit and somehow it had miraculously found its way to a fertile spot and eventually grown into a solid tree that bore fruit every year.
I knew I was clutching at straws, of course, but stranger things have been known to happen.
As I walked on and on I started thinking again about Dallas and what had transpired so far today. I felt confident that I was right about him, that he was keeping secret the fact that he and I were more alike than he cared to admit, but just how I was going to get him to admit that, first to himself and then to the world, I wasn’t exactly sure. I needed a plan, I decided, and I would also need some help.
After spending about an hour searching along the creek, mostly amongst scrubby trees and some kind of a vine with purple flowers that seemed to have taken over close to the water’s edge, I came to a small grassy flat which met the creek on one side, then rose up slightly on the other side, tucked right in against the steeper mountain. As I hadn’t had much luck in my search along the water’s edge I decided to scout out around further, moving away from the creek and up the small hill. At first it wasn’t looking too promising, but then I found a gully coming down off the mountain which ran through the pasture. I didn’t really see it until I almost fell into it, and when I stopped and looked down I found that growing along the bottom of the gully were some healthy looking blackberry bushes, and what’s more, they appeared to be loaded with fruit.
Quickly I scampered down the side of the gully to the nearest bush and started picking berries, shoving them into my face like I was an eight year old kid having discovered them for the very first time. Being as hungry as I was I couldn’t have cared less if they weren’t ripe, but as it was they were the sweetest, fattest berries I had ever tasted.
When I had enjoyed a good quantity myself I decided I needed to start picking some for Dallas as well, and so I pulled his tee shirt from my jeans and took a look at how I would be able to carry stuff in it. In the end I tied a tight knot in the bottom of it and found a sturdy branch lying on the ground, which I broke off to the right length before putting it through one arm hole and out through the other, which then allowed me to carry it by holding the branch where the hole for the head was. Satisfied that this arrangement would work I set about picking as many berries as I could, while trying to keep in mind that the hours of daylight down here in the valley would be far shorter than I was used to and that it wouldn’t be long before I would need to head back to where Dallas was waiting.
It took me about half an hour to half fill my impromptu berry carrier, which I figured was more than enough berries to give anyone a bellyache, and so content with what I had gathered so far I decided it was time to head back upstream. It was easy going walking through the grassy pasture, but quite soon I came back to the track along the creek which would take me close to where I had slid down the edge of the mountain on my haunches.
When I reached the spot I looked up, trying to figure out of if there was another way around it, but it didn’t look promising. I was going to be faced with a steep climb either straight up a dangerous wall of loose shale, or maybe a climb up a rock face beside the waterfall, which itself would be hazardous enough, with the spray from the creek making the rocks extremely slippery.
After looking at both those options I decided to see if there was another route, so I headed back down the path I had just come along to take another look. About fifty metres down the path I found another faint track coming down off the mountain, so I decided to try that and see where it would lead me.
By the time I started along that path the sun was just above the lip of the mountain, making it extremely difficult to see where I was going due to the glare. Before long, though, it would be slipping behind the mountain above me, which meant that while it would take some time for the daylight to disappear completely, it would inevitably soon start to fade, and if I didn’t hurry I would soon find myself stumbling around in the dark and unable to find my way back to Dallas.
I tried to hurry along a little but the going wasn’t easy, especially trying to climb uphill along a narrow path with the sun in my eyes, while carrying a bag of blackberries, some of which I suspected were starting to resemble blackberry jam more than the berries themselves.
Eventually I came to a point which was just above where I had slid down the shale wall, which meant that it wouldn’t be long now before I would be close to the waterfall, and from there it wasn’t far back to our makeshift camp.
When the waterfall came into view I felt a huge relief wash over me. I felt excited that my little expedition was a success and I was looking forward to sharing the spoils of that success with Dallas. I had thought that it would be easy, but in the end it had been a slightly more testing experience than I had imagined, especially this last part where I was trying to pick my way along a path that was barely discernable in the fading half light.
I climbed my way around the waterfall and then easily covered the last couple of hundred metres, as there were few obstructions and much of it was across large slabs of rock.
‘Honey, I’m home,’ I called out as I reached the little clearing around the waterhole. I had expected to find Dallas still sitting on the log, but when it came into view he was nowhere to be seen.
‘Dallas?’ I called out.
Just then I heard a noise come from our little nook and looked across at it. Dallas was in there and lying down on his back. I went across to him and placed the tee shirt load of berries down outside.
‘Are you okay?’ I asked him, dropping to my knees beside him.
‘My leg. It’s not real good,’ he answered. ‘Pretty painful.’
‘They’re coming for us mate. It won’t be long.’
‘I fucking hope so,’ he replied, then he looked from me to the bag. ‘What’s for dinner?’
‘Blackberries. I hope you like ’em?’
‘At this stage I would even eat broccoli or rhubarb,’ he replied.
‘Lucky for you, the shop was fresh out of those.’
It felt strange, but to me it seemed as if we were starting to slip back into the same old easygoing ways of our childhood, joking with each other in a carefree way that I had truly missed. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would last.
‘Tuck in,’ I said to him. ‘I had some while I was picking them.’
‘Yeah, I can see that. Your mouth is a nice shade of purple.’
With some effort Dallas sat up and leant back against the wall at the back of our shelter and started picking at the feast I had supplied, while I added some more wood to the fire, before coming back and sitting beside him.
‘I think it might be colder tonight,’ I said. ‘There’s a real nip in the air now.’
‘Well, summer is about over, so I guess it’s getting to that time.’
‘I’d best keep the fire stoked up a bit then.’
I watched him as he picked away at the berries, apparently enjoying them. I helped myself to some more as well, savouring each sweet fruit as if it could be my last.
By now it had grown quite dark outside and the only light we had was that which was being generated by the fire. Shadows bounced off every surface in our little shelter, turning it into a somewhat eerie setting.
‘Strange to think that folks have probably sheltered in here for thousands of years,’ he said to me after a while.
‘I guess so,’ I replied. ‘I wonder if any of them had fallen off a log?’
‘I wonder if any of them were doing what we are doing, just trying to survive, or if they were just passing through?’
‘I wouldn’t mind betting that they used to live downstream where I got the berries from. It’s a lovely place.’
‘Shame I couldn’t get to see it.’
‘Maybe next time.’
‘Next time? Jesus, we’ve got to get over this time first.’
‘Yeah, I know.’
The silence stretched out for a while before anyone spoke again. It was almost as if there wasn’t any need to talk. I think each of us knew that the other would be thinking the same thoughts, being ones of survival and rescue and going home. We both knew that we weren’t now in any imminent personal danger, not now that we were out of the water and had dried out, so it was things like food and water that would become our next major concerns.
‘Can I ask you something?’ Dallas said after a while.
‘You can try,’ I replied.
‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s something about you that I just don’t get.’
‘What’s that?’ I replied.
‘Well, I can deal with … well, you being who you are. I know that for a long time it really did bother me, but now, well, it’s all good as far as I’m concerned … but what I don’t understand is all this,’ he said, while reaching out and touching my hair, before letting it fall from his fingers and then tugging at the sleeve of the once black but now dirty grey or brown tee shirt I was wearing. ‘It’s not you. It doesn’t suit you. If the truth must be known it’s probably what has caused you more grief at school than the gay thing, because everyone can see right through it and sees it as fake.’
I was stuck senseless. I was dumbfounded.
‘I … I don’t see how what clothes I wear or how I let my hair grow can make any difference,’ I eventually said, once I had recovered.
‘It makes all the difference. You know what the pack is like, they’ll jump on anything that they think is phoney, or pretentious, and rip it to shreds, so of course they will see that in you. High school is all about image. That’s what I was trying to say to you earlier. Hasn’t anyone ever said anything to you about it?’
‘Ummm … only Merry. She just reckoned I was crying out for attention or something.’
‘She’s probably right.’
‘Please at least think about what I’m saying. I’m only saying it as a friend.’
I looked up at him with tears almost welling up in my eyes.
‘Is that what we are?’
After a few moments he said, ‘Yeah, I reckon we are,’ he said, then placed a hand over mine.
‘Thanks,’ I said to him. ‘That means a lot to me.’
‘And even though I may not have shown it to you, in fact I’ve probably been a real prick toward you at times, I want you to know that you mean a lot to me,’ he said.
That was all that was needed, it seemed, to release a few of those tears that I knew were welling up. Much to my embarrassment I felt them start to roll down my cheeks.
Dallas just smiled and reached up, brushing them away with his hand.
‘So, what is it with you and Pete? You guys seem pretty tight. Are you two, ummm …’
‘Ha,’ I laughed. ‘Pete’s even more mixed up than me, but at the moment he’s got it bad for Merry …’
‘So you two haven’t … hooked up?’
‘Oh, come on now, Dal. Don’t you know that a gentleman never tells?’