‘Hey, Tim,’ I heard Ben call out to me.
I turned around in my seat and saw him walking towards me, so I flashed him a smile and a wave. He waved back and kept on walking.
‘So, are you going to try out for the musical this year?’ he asked as he sat down next to me. ‘I just noticed they’ve put a poster up on the notice board. Auditions are next week.’
We were the best of friends. We were both seventeen and were both in year eleven at MacArthur Catholic High School. But there were a few differences between us.
The first was that he was blonde, built like a footballer (he played second row in the school rugby team) and was more rugged than what you would call classically good looking.
Me, on the other hand, I was tall, thin, had light brown hair and was supposed to be cute (hey, that’s what the girls told me, and I wasn’t going to argue with them!).
I was also kind of shy. He was an extrovert.
He was a school sports star. I was into other things, like photography and music and drama.
The main difference, however, was that while he lusted after Kathy O’Hara and Rebecca Smith and half of the other girls in our class, I lusted after . . . him . . . and Tom Jackson and Michael Anderson and half of his football team.
So there you go. We were as different as chalk and cheese. But we were still the best of friends. Always had been. Always would be.
Ben was also the only person in the entire world who actually knew about ‘my other side’. I was scared shitless when he had found out about me and I had feared that I would lose him forever as a friend. But, thankfully, that didn’t eventuate.
I think it was about three years ago when it had happened. He was at my house one weekend for a sleepover, when he found one of my gay porn magazines under my bed.
When I had looked up at him he was just holding it in front of him, looking at the picture of the hunk that was on that month’s cover.
He looked from me to the magazine and back to me again. For a long while he said nothing.
‘So, you’re actually into this stuff?’ he had finally asked me.
‘Uh . . . ummm . . . I guess so,’ I had nervously answered. There had been no use lying to him. He knew me too well.
I was shitting razor blades, I can tell you.
The silence lengthened.
‘Ah, well. Whatever cranks your motor,’ he finally said to me, as he grinned and handed the magazine back to me.
‘But . . . but . . .’ I had started to say. But couldn’t quite find the right words.
‘Don’t sweat it, Tim,’ he said to me, still grinning. ‘It doesn’t freak me out or anything. I have a cousin who is gay. And he’s just the coolest dude I know. I’m okay with it. Truly. Just, ummm, keep your hands to yourself. Okay?’
‘You won’t tell anyone, will you?’
‘No, mate. Your secret is safe with me.’
‘And we’re still friends?’
I wanted to hug him just so much. But that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea!
So, can you believe it? Probably not! I still have trouble believing it myself. But there you go. That’s just how we were.
‘Well? Are you going to try out?’ he asked again, bringing me back to the present.
‘Ummm. I don’t know.’
‘Come on, Tim. I’ve heard you sing. You’re fuckin’ awesome. Well, at least you are compared to that great git that they had in the lead last year, anyway.’
‘Thanks. I think.’
He laughed. ‘So, are you going to try out or not?’
I just shrugged. So then he resorted to blackmail.
‘If you don’t, I’ll tell Tom Jackson you were perving on him in the showers after sports class yesterday.’
‘You wouldn’t?’ I whispered.
‘Hey Tom,’ he called out across the courtyard.
‘Yeah?’ came the reply from the other side.
Ben looked at me with that mischievous glint he often got in his eye.
‘Don’t you fucking dare,’ I said through gritted teeth.
‘Aww, nothing. I’ll ask you later.’
Tom just dismissed him with a wave of his arm and turned back towards his friends.
‘You bastard,’ I said to Ben.
‘Well? What do you say?’ he asked, placing his arm around my shoulders.
‘All right. All right. Anything for some peace and quiet. But only on one condition.’
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘That you volunteer to help on the stage crew,’ I said with a grin. ‘Is it a deal?’
‘Yeah, it’s a deal. You won’t be sorry you know.’
‘I think I already am. What sort of musical is it, anyway?’
‘Something that Snowy has dreamt up. A Rock Opera, whatever that is?’
Snowy was our music teacher, otherwise known as Mr Snowden, or sometimes even, Sir, and he was one of the coolest teachers I’d ever had.
Ben must have seen something in my eyes.
‘Is that good?’
‘Don’t know. Could be, I guess. Depends on what sort of songs they use.’
‘It’ll probably be something like The Sound of Music,’ he said.
‘Oh. God no! Anything but that.’
The school bell rang just then, signalling the end of lunch time.
‘Come on, get up off your backside, we’ve got science now,’ Ben said to me. ‘There are some rats awaiting our surgical skills.’
Suddenly, I didn’t feel much like school.
* * *
I made it through science class without losing my lunch, but only just. You can’t imagine what sort of a job Ben did on the poor bloody rat. The dude was sick, I was sure of it.
In spite of the science class fiasco, for some reason I just couldn’t get the idea of the school musical out of my head. I think I was actually starting to look forward to the auditions now, even though they were still a week away and I was naturally nervous about singing in front of anyone.
I was grateful that Ben would be there also; it would make it a little easier. He had that kind of relaxing effect on me.
When classes were finished for the day, we did what we did most days and headed down town to the mall, where we usually either went to the amusement arcade or to a café, or sometimes just sat around with our friends.
We bought ourselves a drink from one of the shops, then sat on a bench in the sunshine and drank it.
One of the strange little games that we often played was one we called Pick a Partner, where we checked out guys or girls that we thought would suit the other.
It was dumb. And it was embarrassing. But what the hell, at least it helped pass the time.
Ben said to me, ‘What about that one?’ pointing at a guy in his twenties that had just come out of the music store.
‘Too old,’ I answered, then asked him, ‘How about that chick over there?’
‘Definitely,’ he answered.
We both slurped up the last of our milk shakes and then threw the empty containers at a nearby garbage bin.
‘Bullseye,’ I yelled as mine went straight into the bin, pumping my arms into the air in a sign of victory.
Ben could only say, ‘Oh, shit,’ when his missed by a mile.
We found a few more likely partners for each other, but soon grew tired of it and ended going back to his place, where we just hung out and watched some television.
Just on dark I decided it was time I headed home, so I said, ‘See you later,’ and left him to it.
As I walked the few blocks to my house I couldn’t help but start singing to myself. Just softly, but I was singing nonetheless, and it wasn’t just in the shower this time.
Yeah, I really was looking forward to next Wednesday and the auditions.
* * *
The rest of the week flew by and on the weekend I was left to my own devices, as Ben and his family went away. Something to do with a wedding that he really didn’t want to go to anyway.
I fantasised about the guy on the cover of my latest magazine and found myself in my room jerking myself off over him on more than one occasion.
It was always difficult for me when Ben was away, because he was really the only guy that I liked hanging with, in spite of his permanent unavailability. It didn’t bother me much that I would never be able to have sex with him. It just bothered me when he wasn’t around and I was left alone.
I’d never had a boyfriend and the only sexual experiences that I had ever had, besides what I did in the shower or in bed at night, were usually quick wanks with total strangers in public toilets. And these were experiences which usually scared the hell out of me and resulted in my not going near the place again for months on end anyway.
I thought about jumping on my push bike and heading down to the park, but ended up just reading and watching television instead.
How did that old country song go? ‘Oh, Lonesome Me.’
Thankfully Ben was back at school on Monday and during lunch he told me all about the wedding and in particular this girl he met there.
‘You should have seen her,’ he kept telling me.
‘So, did you score?’ I asked.
‘Only a quick kiss and cuddle outside the hall where the reception was. I got to feel her tits though.’
‘That’s more than I really needed to know,’ I said to him.
‘What about you?’ he asked. ‘What did you get up to?’
‘Sweet fuck all,’ I answered. ‘It was depressing.’
‘We’ve really got to find you a boyfriend,’ he said.
‘How?’ I asked.
‘Well, we could always put an advert in the newspaper?’
‘How about this? Teenage Boy Wants Boyfriend. Must be cute. Must come from rich family. Must have own car. That’ll do for a start, won’t it?’ he answered.
‘Yeah, right!’ I responded once more, just as the bell rang, telling us it was time to be back in class.
That afternoon after school we went down to the mall and, as usual, sat in the sunshine playing ‘Pick a Partner’.
‘Too old,’ I told Ben.
‘Too ugly,’ he said to me.
‘Cute. But too young,’ I said.
‘Like, wow!’ he said.
This banter went on for about half an hour. You know how the old saying goes, ‘small things amuse small minds.’
Just as we were about to leave however, I looked up and noticed a guy about our age, come out of one of the clothing shops.
I gave Ben an elbow in the ribs and said, ‘Check this guy out.’
We both watched him as he just stood there in front of the shop, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, casually looking around him.
For a moment he glanced in our direction, but his eyes seemed to simply glide over us, causing my heart to sink.
But then his eyes darted back and settled on us, and for what seemed an eternity, we just held each other’s gaze.
I was sure that I saw the corners of his mouth turn upwards briefly, but this soon evaporated when a woman, who I assumed was his mother, came out of the store and handed him some parcels.
I watched as he smiled in my direction, then rolled his eyes in a sign of exasperation.
Then, before I knew it, he and the woman were walking away, in the opposite direction from where Ben and I were sitting.
I continued to watch him. I just couldn’t take my eyes off him, but just before he disappeared into the crowd he quickly glanced back at me, and I was sure that I saw him smile at me once again.
‘Now that was cute,’ I said to Ben. ‘Have you ever seen him around before?’
He simply grinned at me and shook his head.
* * *
The week rolled around quite quickly, and all of a sudden I found it was Wednesday. Audition Day.
The school had been abuzz with rumours about the fantastic new musical that Snowy had dreamt up, but so far he hadn’t let anything slip regarding its content or subject.
‘You will all just have to wait and see,’ was all he had told us during music lessons. So we had waited.
But today was the day.
Ben had been bugging me all week about the auditions, making sure I was going to be there and wasn’t going to chicken out. I have to admit that I felt like doing just that, because the thought of standing up on a stage and singing with god only knew how many people watching me, scared me shitless, but I knew that Ben wouldn’t let me do that.
So here we now were. About twenty aspiring thespians, gathered in the school auditorium awaiting our leader.
Ben was there also, partly just to make sure I didn’t back out at the last minute, but partly also because he was going to honour his end of the bargain.
‘All we need now is for Snowy to show up,’ said one of the juniors, who I could see was starting to get jittery.
‘Well my children. Wait no more,’ this voice suddenly boomed from the back of the hall.
We all spun around to see Snowy walking down the centre aisle.
‘Sorry sir,’ the junior said as Snowy approached us.
‘What for, Mr Harris?’ Snowy said as he walked past the kid, playfully roughing up his hair as he did so.
Ben and I just looked at each other.
Snowy reached the front of the hall then perched himself on the edge of the stage, looking us all over.
‘All right then. Take a seat please ladies and gentlemen and we will begin,’ he said to us, while gesturing towards the front row of chairs with an extravagant sweep of his arm. Quickly, we all found a seat and plopped ourselves into it.
‘Good. All right then,’ he began. ‘I know that there have been many weird and wonderful rumours floating around the school for the past week, about what we are and are not supposed to be doing with this new show. Well, I am here to tell you that all of them are true. And none of them are true.’
‘Huh?’ the same junior that had spoken earlier now said.
Snowy was grinning.
‘Yes, we are going to do the most exciting musical that this school has ever seen. That one is true. As for doing Grease, or Cats, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or Tommy, or any other musical that you’ve ever heard of, that will depend entirely on you.’
‘Sorry sir, but we don’t follow,’ one of the girls said.
Snowy paused before continuing.
‘What I mean is this. We can do songs from any of those musicals if you guys, the stars of the show, really want to. It’s as simple as that.’
‘Sorry sir. But we’re still lost,’ the girl said again.
‘I think that what he is trying to say,’ I said, ‘Is that we get to do whatever songs we want. Is that right, sir?’
‘But what sort of a musical is that?’ the girl asked. ‘I mean, what about the story. Hasn’t it got to be, like, about something?’
‘Yes, it does. And it will be about something. That is your challenge. To piece together a musical, that has a story and makes sense, using only your favourite songs.’
A buzz suddenly went through our small group and Mr Snowden just sat there grinning at us.
‘What about the auditions?’ someone suddenly asked.
‘What auditions? If you are here, you are in. It’s as simple as that. All we have to do is figure out what we are doing, and then see what sort of voices you lot have. After that will be when we decide who gets what roles.’
‘Sir, it almost sounds too easy,’ I said.
‘Tim, easy is one thing it will not be. Trust me on that.’
‘What about the story?’ someone else asked.
‘That is the only thing that I have absolute discretion over,’ he said. ‘Basically, what I want is this. It must be a boy/girl thing. Not unlike Grease, if you will. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl finds out something about the boy. Girl dumps boy. Boy chases after girl and wins her back. Something along those lines . . . an age old love story!’
We all looked around amongst us, not quite knowing what to make of this idea.
‘Is this actually going to work, sir?’ I heard someone ask.
‘You tell me. Let’s see. Where can we start?’ Snowy asked, while scratching his chin.
Once again, there was quite a buzz from our group. I noticed that several students were now shaking their heads.
‘Children, please,’ Snowy said to us. ‘A little quiet if we may.’
Slowly the buzz faded away.
‘Thank you. Now, how about we start by working out what kinds of music we all listen to? I mean what performers? Then from there we will see if we can come up with some songs that might fit our theme. How about you start Carla?’
‘The Bee Gees, sir.’
The next kid was a Beach Boys fan. Followed by a girl who just loved Grease. Graham Lowe was heavily into AC/DC, man! While Peter Simmons was a Kenny Rogers fan.
Next came fans of Madonna, Elton John, Queen, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, The Monkees and ABBA.
There wasn’t a current music act anywhere in sight. It was almost as if we had all been brainwashed into only liking whomever our parents listened to.
‘And how about you, Tim?’
‘Ummm, Meatloaf, sir.’
‘Ahhh. A Bat out of Hell nut?’ he said, grinning.
‘You could say that, sir.’
‘The Eagles, Supertramp and a whole heap of others, sir.’
‘Hmmm. That could be interesting. So, doesn’t anyone, besides our young AC/DC fan Graham, listen to Australian artists?’
‘I know all of Slim Dusty’s songs,’ one kid eagerly said. ‘Dad has absolutely everything of his and we have to listen to it all the time.’
There was an outbreak of laughter from the group.
‘Michael, that probably won’t be of much use to us,’ Snowy said, grinning. ‘But thank you anyway.’
Just then we heard the auditorium doors open and someone start to walk down the centre aisle, their footsteps echoing throughout the hall.
We turned around to see who it was, and instantly my heart jumped into my mouth. That was about the same time as Ben giving me a bit of a dig in the ribs, but I was too busy staring to respond.
It was the boy from the mall. He was looking directly at Snowy as he walked towards us and hadn’t noticed me yet.
‘Please god,’ I whispered, turning back around and facing the stage.
I could feel my face burning up. I could feel a tingling sensation in my loins.
‘Calm down,’ Ben whispered in my ear. I glanced at him and noticed him grinning.
I had never felt like this before, not after merely looking at someone. This was weird.
‘Ah, Mr Harding,’ Snowy said, getting down off the stage and standing in front of us.
‘Sorry I’m late, sir,’ the boy said. ‘We were sorting things out with my enrolment at the office.’
The boy walked over to Snowy and stood beside him, then turned and faced us all.
It was him all right. I wouldn’t ever forget that face. I sunk down lower in my chair.
‘Students, I would like to introduce you to a new boy in school. This is Guy Harding. He will be starting here tomorrow, in year eleven. And he is going to help out with the musical with the set designs and stage crew.’
The boy said, ‘Hi,’ and gave us a wave as he started looking us over, starting at one end and working his way along the line.
When he reached me, he stopped. Our eyes met and held for what seemed a long time, then he blinked, and managed a faint smile, before continuing along the line.
When he was done, he quickly glanced back at me again, before then turning to face Snowy.
Shit! And he was even going to be in my class. Thank you, God!