Being the middle of December, with Christmas now only days away instead of weeks, it was bloody hot. This was summer at its best and I was right, I had decided; one of us definitely needed a car!
For the entire trip up the hill, all I could think about was seeing Guy drive away from me, and judging by how quiet Ben was as he trudged along beside me, his shoulders hanging low, I would say that he would no doubt be having feelings of a similar nature regarding Samantha.
When we arrived at his house, which just happened to be the closest, thankfully Ben's family weren't home, so while I sat in the shade on their front verandah, on one of the old cane settees that were his mother's favourites, he went and raided the refrigerator, returning moments later with two cold beers.
‘Feeling adventurous?’ he asked me, as he handed me the ice cold stubbie (for the uninitiated, that is a small, squat bottle of beer).
I reached out and took it, although somewhat reluctantly, and only after seeing the challenge that Ben was all but issuing with the expression of defiance that he was wearing.
‘I thought you were going to say 'no' there for a minute,’ he said, as he sat down beside me.
‘What chance would I have had of doing that?’ I said, laughing and at the same time struggling to open the bottle.
‘No chance at all,’ he answered, flashing me a familiar grin.
For a while we just sat there in the cool of the shade and sipped our beers, listening to the chorus which filled the afternoon air from the millions of cicadas that seemed to visit us each year.
After he had finished his drink and placed the empty bottle on the table next to him, Ben said aloud what it was that I was thinking.
‘It'll sure be quiet around here with them gone, won't it? I'm going to miss them both!’
‘Yeah, so am I. But I really don't think that we'll have the time to miss them . . . have you seen the rosters at the supermarket for the next couple of weeks?’
‘No,’ he replied. ‘I haven't paid too much attention to them, although I know I've got at least three shifts this week . . . the boss reminded me when I was in there the other day picking up my pay packet.’
‘Yeah, well, like I said, we won't have the time to miss Sam and Guy, our little asses are going to be running flat out this week and next.’
‘Hmmm . . .’
I swallowed my last mouthful of beer and then reached across in front of Ben, placing my empty bottle beside his, then as I sat back upright in my seat I accidentally brushed his thigh with my hand.
I quickly glanced at his face to see what his reaction was, but he was just looking at me with that thoughtful expression he so often seemed to be wearing.
‘Shit! Sorry, mate! I wasn’t trying to hit on you!’ I said to him, pulling my hand back quickly.
‘It's cool,’ he replied, but I could see the uncertainty in his eyes, and almost hear the cogs turning over in his mind.
I looked away, trying to hide my obvious guilt, but nothing more was said about it. It was definitely one of 'those' moments, I thought, and I couldn't help but wonder what he may be thinking right now. I knew I would never find out the answer to that though, as Ben always tended to play his cards very close to his chest.
‘Well, I suppose I'd best do something about getting home, mate,’ I said, getting up from the settee.
‘I'd give you a lift, but. . .’
‘Hehe . . . that's all right, Ben, the walk won't hurt me. But now more than ever, mate, I'm convinced I'm right, one of us needs a fucking car!’
‘Yeah, for once I agree.’
* * *
I left him then, still sitting on the front verandah and looking all thoughtful again, staring after me as I headed down the street.
‘Shit!’ I said aloud, once I was out of Ben's sight. ‘Christ only knows what he's thinking now.’
I marched on, struggling with the thoughts and feelings that were numbing my brain. My feelings for Guy, after seeing him off today, were as strong as ever. But my feelings for Ben, long hidden or pushed into the background, were still lurking about as well, causing confusion and turmoil that I didn't need in my life right now.
All I could do, I thought to myself, was remember that Ben and I had already discussed this subject and we both knew that nothing could happen!
I wasn't sure if that was still the case or not, but for the time being, all I could do was stay cool and not tempt fate.
‘Yeah,’ I said to myself, deciding that that was what I was going to do. ‘If I don't do anything about it, then nothing will happen. Plain and simple.’
I wasn't sure just who exactly I was saying that for, but I needed to say it all the same. Or was it that I just needed to hear it? Maybe now that it had been said aloud it would mean that it was a fact, for sure and certain, and seeing that it was now fact, maybe it would sink into that quagmire of icky grey matter that was my brain and finally lodge itself there . . .
Who was I kidding?
By the time I reached my house, which I also found to be empty, I had worked up quite a sweat in the afternoon sun, so my first stop was the kitchen, where I grabbed a can of soft-drink from the refrigerator (no beers there, I'm afraid). After finishing that and disposing of the empty can, I went to my room and grabbed some clean clothes, then headed for the bathroom, where a cool shower beckoned.
I stripped off and stood in front of the mirror, which was something I tended not to do usually, and had a good long look at myself.
There was nothing special about me. I didn't have Guy's looks. Nor Ben's build. I was just an average teenager with an average build and average looks, with another hickey at the base of my neck and with my sweat soaked hair plastered to my forehead. I was just me!
I often wondered what it was exactly that Guy saw in me, and seeing myself as I was doing now, complete with all of my imperfections, it only served to bring back those inner fears.
If Guy were still here I don't think I would have been feeling like this. He would know what to say. Or what to do.
As I stepped into the shower I wondered if this was what it was going to be like, I mean how I would feel, every time Guy went away from now on!
If it was, then I was going to have to figure out some way of keeping him here with me . . .
Or maybe I could always go with him!
* * *
Christmas came and Christmas went, but it was little more than a blur for Ben and me, stuck in the supermarket, packing shelves for the hordes of frenzied Christmas shoppers.
I spoke to Guy almost every single day while he was away. He made a point of calling me as often as he could, and I called him at his father's place more than once or twice. It felt somehow reassuring to know that he was there, just a phone call away.
One lunch time, sometime between Christmas and New Year, Ben and I decided to go to McDonald's for lunch.
It was while we were sitting there, munching on our Big Macs in between snippets of conversation, that someone asked if he could join us.
We looked up and saw Jonathon Wright standing there holding a tray of food. He was the guy that we went to school with who worked there. The bloke that had seen Guy and me holding hands the day that Guy had gone away.
Before I could say a word, Ben said, ‘Sure,’ and pointed to the empty spot on the seat beside me.
‘Thanks, guys,’ Jonathon said as I reluctantly slid over and made room for him. ‘It's crazy in here today, I'm just grabbing a break before I do another shift. Someone has called in sick.’
‘That's too bad,’ Ben answered.
‘For them maybe,’ he said as he unwrapped a burger. ‘I don't mind doing the extra shift, I could do with the money. I want to put as much away as I can this year so I can afford to go to the Gold Coast for Schoolies Week after we've finished our exams at the end of this coming year.’
‘Sounds like fun,’ Ben replied.
‘It's going to be a blast. I can hardly wait! You guys are coming, aren't you?’
‘Wouldn't miss it for the world,’ Ben said.
I was still chewing, so I just nodded and tried a smile.
‘Kewl,’ Jonathon answered cheerfully, while casting a sideways glance at me and flashing a smile that I read more into than was possibly intended.
Or was that just my imagination again?
For the next twenty minutes we ate our burgers, and drank our Cokes and chatted about this and that, and despite the fact that we had never really been more than passing acquaintances at school, we all seemed quite comfortable in each other's company.
At first I had been slightly anxious about having him sit with us, considering that it had been Jonathon who had spotted me holding hands with Guy that day a few weeks back, but nothing was said about it and it soon passed from my mind.
Just as we were almost finished our lunch, Ben said, ‘Hey, guys, I'll be back in a minute. I need to go take a leak.’
‘Sure,’ I answered, and watched him as he got up and headed for the rest rooms.
‘So, I guess you guys have been pretty busy in the supermarket over Christmas?’ Jonathon asked me after Ben had disappeared.
‘Yeah, we have. How about you? I bet it's been crazy in here through the holidays.’
‘Yeah. I'll be glad when I can get a few days off.’
‘Just think of the money though.’
He grinned. ‘I'm always thinking of that.’
We both watched as a woman with two kids who had been sitting opposite us got up and left, with children in tow, leaving us as the only people left in this particular corner of the restaurant.
‘So. Where's Guy these days?’ he asked rather casually.
I chuckled inwardly to myself, knowing that the subject of Guy was bound to come up sooner or later, but at the same time I felt a shiver go through me.
‘He spent Christmas in Sydney, with his father,’ I answered.
‘Oh,’ he replied, then after a lengthy pause adding, ‘I suppose you miss him?’
I looked straight at him, not quite knowing what to say in reply to that.
‘W-w-what do you mean?’ I eventually stammered.
I wasn't quite prepared for what came next.
Jonathon said, ‘It's all right. I do understand,’ and at the same time moved his hand, which had been sitting on his lap, across onto my leg, letting his fingers gently slide across the top of my thigh and caress that sensitive inner area.
I just froze. I didn't know what to do.
I looked into Jonathon's eyes and could see the question he was asking me, as plain as if it were written in chalk on the school black-board.
The thing was, I didn't know how to answer him.
Thankfully Ben came along and saved the day, returning right on cue from the rest room, which saw Jonathon's hand slide quickly back onto his own leg and Jonathon's attention get diverted to the empty packaging on the table in front of him.
I looked up at Ben, with a face that I could only guess was covered in fear. Ben noticed it and I could immediately see his eyes narrow and a frown form on his forehead.
As Ben's gaze passed from me to Jonathon and back again, Jonathon stood up and said, ‘Well, guys, I'd best get back to work. It's been good to chat with you. I'll catch up with you later.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ Ben said to him, still not quite fully understanding what was going on, an expression of bemusement now flickering across his face.
‘See ya,’ I managed to say, and with one final glance in my direction he turned and went back to work.
‘You want to tell me what was going on there?’ Ben asked me as he sat back down.
‘When we're outside,’ I answered. ‘Come on, we better head back to work.’
* * *
‘Are you shittin' me?’ Ben exclaimed as we headed back towards the supermarket, after I had told him what had happened. ‘But he's like, KING STUD at school! He's always bragging about how he scores with the chicks!’
‘Well, maybe he likes dicks as well as chicks? It's not that uncommon, you know!’ I replied.
‘Maybe,’ Ben answered, looking all thoughtful again. ‘So, what did you do?’
‘What? Besides damn near shit myself? Mate, I just froze.’
‘Hmmm . . . I can imagine.’
We walked on a little further, each of us with our own thoughts racing around inside our heads, but eventually it was Ben who broke the silence, saying, ‘Jesus. Who'd have thought it, huh?’
‘Just keep it to yourself, will you? Neither of us wants that sort of thing becoming known, all right?’
‘Hey! Just what the fuck do you think I am?’ he said, his voice filled with indignation. ‘Have I ever said anything about you? Or about Guy?’
‘Yeah, I know. Shit. Sorry, I didn't mean for that to come out the way it sounded.’
‘That's okay, mate. It is kind of funny though. Even you have to admit that?’
‘That KING STUD might actually be gay!’
‘Yeah, well, I suppose when you think of it like that . . .’ I chuckled, just as we walked back into the supermarket.
* * *
When I got home from work that night, I walked inside and could hear my mother talking to someone on the telephone.
‘. . . no wait, I think he just got home. Who is it again?’
There was a brief silence.
‘. . . all right, Jonathon, I'll just get him for you.’
I walked into the kitchen with my blood running cold.
This couldn't be happening to me. I already had a boyfriend. Surely he knew that!
‘It's someone called Jonathon,’ my mother said, as she handed me the telephone. ‘Isn't he in your class at school, dear?’
I nodded to her, then put the receiver to my ear and said, ‘Hello.’
‘Hi Tim, it's Jonathon,’ he answered.
‘Hi,’ I said, trying my damnest to not sound totally pissed off.
‘I . . . err . . . just wanted to say sorry. For this afternoon,’ he said. ‘I didn't mean to shock you like that.’
I glanced across at my mother, who was peeling vegetables on the sink and not taking too much notice of me, but I was sure that she was trying her best to pick up on the conversation.
‘That's okay,’ I replied.
‘You're not pissed with me then?’
I stifled a giggle.
‘Nah, not really. Just took me a bit by surprise, that's all.’
‘Yeah, I suppose it would have,’ he laughed.
An awkward silence stretched between us.
‘Look, I know your mum is probably still there listening. Is she?’
‘Yup, spot on,’ I answered.
‘Okay then. I won't keep you. I was just wondering if we could talk sometime?’ he asked.
‘I suppose so,’ I answered.
‘And without your protector?’
‘I meant Ben.’
‘Oh, ummm . . . I suppose so.’
‘Great. How about I come and see you at work some time? Like, tomorrow.’
‘Hehe . . . that soon?’
‘Yeah, well, unless you'd rather I didn't?’
‘No, that's OK,’ I replied. ‘I'll see you then.’
I disconnected, and walked out of the kitchen, even before Mum had had time to turn around. The last thing I felt like right now was facing an inquisition from her.
‘Are you all right, dear?’ I heard her call after me.
‘Yeah, I’m fine thanks, Mum. I've just got a headache. I'm going to take some tablets and lie down for a bit.’
All I wanted was the chance to shut my door on the world and have a think about a few things. Like Guy. And like Ben. And like Jonathon.
* * *
‘He actually called you? At home? Jesus!’ was Ben's reaction when I called him later that night. Fairly predictable really, but at least it was nice that I still had someone I could talk to about these things while Guy was away.
‘Yeah, well, when I walked in and I heard Mum mention his name, I can tell you, my blood just ran cold.’
‘Did your mum say anything?’
‘Nah, not really. She just asked if he was someone from school.’
‘That was lucky then!’
‘Ain't that the truth!’
‘So, have you heard from Guy today?’
‘Nope. I guess he's got plenty to keep himself occupied with down there though.’
‘You going to tell him about Jonathon?’
‘Yeah, probably. But not until I know what it is that he wants to talk about, I don't reckon.’
‘Hmmm . . .’
‘So, you heard from Sam lately?’
‘Not for a couple of days,’ he replied, then sighed. ‘I really miss her, you know?’
‘Yeah, mate. I know. When are they supposed to be coming back?’
‘I'm not too sure exactly. What about Guy?’
‘Shouldn't be far away, I wouldn't think. I wish he'd hurry back though. I could do with a . . .’
‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ he said, laughing, cutting in before I could even finish.
‘I was going to say hug, you idiot!’
‘Oh, sorry. Must have been my filthy mind jumping to the wrong conclusion, yet again,’ he replied, his voice edged with laughter.
‘Anyway, I better get going, mate. I'll see you at work tomorrow then.’
‘Sure thing. Good night then.’
After I had disconnected, I lay there on my bed in the darkness, thinking about my friends, and wondering just what it was that Jonathon would want to talk to me about.
I was nervous about him coming to work to see me, but at the same time I was also kind of curious. Besides Guy, he was the only other person I knew who was gay, or might be gay, and I reckoned that it might be kind of nice to know someone else that knew how I was feeling, or what I was going through.
After a while I got up and went back out into the hallway and put the telephone back on its stand, said goodnight to Jason and my parents, who were all watching some obnoxious shoot 'em up movie on the television, then retreated once more to my bedroom.
I stripped off and lay back down on my bed, with a strange combination of thoughts pushing through my mind.
Was my world suddenly getting complicated again? Or was I just imagining things?