So, today is Friday. Three weeks exactly since we had landed back here in Thompsonville. Permanently this time though, and not just for some overnight stay, like we had been doing when we first discovered the place.
When I got back to the house this afternoon Matt was the only person home, and I found him sitting at the table in the kitchen, with a cup of coffee in one hand, a red pen in the other and a newspaper stretched out in front of him.
I walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him from behind, kissing the tender base of his neck and burying my face into him, much as I did every chance I got.
‘Well, it’s nice to see you too mate,’ he said to me.
‘Nobody else home?’ I asked him.
‘Nah, I haven’t seen anyone all day,’ he replied. ‘So, how was your day? That fancy university taught you anything yet?’
‘Very funny, wise ass!’ I replied, as I ran my fingers lovingly through his dark hair. ‘And as a matter of fact, I’ve had quite a good day.’
‘That’s great mate.’
‘How was yours?’
‘Pretty boring actually.’
‘Hmmmm…’ I replied.
‘And before you say anything, I’ve taken your advice and have been looking through the newspapers today to see if there are any jobs going,’ he said, tapping the newspaper in front of him.
I glanced down at it and could see that it was open on the Positions Vacant columns, which had already been adorned with large red circles around those jobs it looked like he was interested in.
‘Well, I’m very pleased about that, then. Sooner or later you were going to need to start doing something down here. We can’t have you turning into a couch potato and spending all your days watching Days of Our Lives!’
‘Yeah mate, I know. But, just for the record, you should know that I much prefer Oprah instead.’
‘Oh that’s cute. Very cute!’
He just laughed at me.
As I said, it has been three weeks since we had moved into this house with Tim and Guy and Ben and Samantha, and while we were all enjoying it here in Thompsonville, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing by any means.
Living like this is certainly one good way of finding things out about each other, but actually learning to live with each other, now that is what has probably proved to be the hardest thing to do.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but we are getting there at least.
It started out with Ben and Matt getting off on the wrong foot, and while things have since simmered down between them and they seemed to be getting on all right now, there has always been that something there between them which still makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
Having said that, however, I’m not too concerned about it now, because I know that we all have to try and make this whole arrangement work, and that they are both man enough to work out their differences.
What does concern me a little though, is that while Tim and Guy and I have all settled into our new routines and have started our studies at the university, neither Matt or Ben have so far done anything at all about trying to find themselves a job. Nor have they, as far as I can tell, even so much as thought about what it was they wanted to do with their lives.
And speaking of Ben… well as far as I am concerned he can do as much, or as little, with his life as he wants to. It’s Matt that I’m more worried about. After seeing him throw himself into everything he ever did when we were back home, including his job in the auto shop, the last thing I would want to see now is for him to throw all that away and end up as yet another person who promised so much, but never amounted to anything. Ultimately though, the choice is Matt’s, so if I am to continue to love him, which I most certainly wanted to do (and for as long as he will have me), I will have to love him as he is, faults and all.
As we had lay awake in bed last night, listening to the distant sound of the surf crashing down on our own private beach, Matt and I had discussed this very subject. I had tried to do this several times before of course, but up to this point he had always brushed me aside whenever I had mentioned it. I didn’t want to push the point too much, though, preferring instead to let him settle in at his own pace and make his own decisions, and I have to tell you, that hasn’t been easy. I hoped that he wouldn’t think of me as the nagging lover, but I did think that someone needed to make sure that he didn’t fall into the trap of becoming permanently unemployed.
Thankfully, however, in the past few days I think I have sensed a change in Matt, and after two weeks of nothing much to do I could feel that he was starting to grow restless. Finally it seems, the tide has turned. Maybe he has finally realized that being a beach bum sounds fine in theory, but it isn’t very practical in the real world, especially when it comes to the mundane little things like putting food on the table and paying the rent and putting fuel in his beloved car.
‘So, have you found anything interesting in there?’ I asked him.
‘Well, yes and no,’ he replied. ‘I’ll start making some calls tomorrow and see what I can come up with.’
I leant across and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.
‘What was that for?’ he asked.
‘Do I really need a reason?’ I answered, feeling quite happy that he was doing something about the situation.
‘Errr… no you don’t actually,’ he answered, then leant across and kissed me back.
Getting to my feet, I dragged him up with me, our faces still locked together, our hands exploring each other eagerly.
‘What if the others come home?’ he breathlessly whispered.
‘We could ask them to join in?’ I replied.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well, I guess it’s just us then,’ I said as I dropped to my knees in front of him and reached for the buckle of his belt.
* * *
By nightfall we still hadn’t seen or heard from any of the others, so Matt and I decided to head down to the local pub for a meal and a drink.
Deciding to walk, and leaving the car at home, we figured that it would be a few kilometers into the township itself, and would most probably take the best part of an hour. After leaving a note on the kitchen table, just to let the others know where we had gone, we then set off on our evening stroll, trying to make the most of what was a glorious summer evening.
As it turned out, it really was quite a walk into town, but being right on dusk it was an enjoyable one, with the sounds of crickets and cicada’s filling the air and the smell of the ocean rolling in over the land, filling our nostrils. To the west of the town a high mountain range towered over us, like a sentinel. While above us there were only stars.
‘It really is beautiful here, isn’t it?’ I said to Matt as we strolled along the narrow, tree lined lane way, which led out onto the main road into town, hand in hand and safe from being spotted by prying eyes, for now.
‘Yeah, it is,’ he answered. ‘It’s like a totally different world to back home.’
‘Are you missing it?’
‘What’s that? Home? Well, maybe a little. But I’m trying to look ahead, not back. I do miss the people though… you know, like our families and friends.’
‘Yeah. I know what you mean,’ he replied, before letting go of my hand and placing an arm around my shoulders.
I wrapped my arm around his waist and we walked like that until we reached the main road, where we parted once more and simply walked side by side, holding hands but ready to let go the moment we saw or heard a car or anyone coming. Both of us were still aware of the consequences of our actions, even in a place like this. Thankfully, we were yet to strike any trouble here, but you never could tell.
While neither of us had gone out of our way to advertise that fact that we were gay, we weren’t naïve enough to think that should the local population find out that little morsel of what would most likely be juicy gossip, we would be totally accepted by everyone, so therefore we knew we still had to be careful. We still had to think about where we were and what it was we were doing, and had made a deliberate decision not to flaunt our sexuality, especially not in the first few months of our arriving here.
I’m not sure about other people like us, but I figured that it would probably be pretty much the same for anyone in the same situation as Matt and me. Moving into a new area is never easy, and having to be careful about what you said and did, at least until you became accepted, made it even more difficult.
Maybe one day things will be different. But it won’t happen in a hurry I don’t think.
We turned out of our laneway and headed towards the lights of the town, and it was here that we finally let go of each other’s hand. As we walked along we would occasionally brush up against each other, or reach out and touch one another gently on the shoulder or arm or back. Every time this happened I felt this surge of energy rush through me, like electricity. It still amazes me that after all the time that Matt and I have known each other, it took but the slightest touch to generate this reaction in me.
There was very little traffic on the road into town as we walked along the grassed edges, but of those vehicles we did see, none seemed to take any notice of us.
As we got closer to the edge of town, we could see the reflection of lights on the opposite bank of the river dancing merrily upon the water, and ahead of us we could see the lights of the town growing steadily brighter. We passed some houses, some paddocks, in which there were lazy looking horses and cattle grazing, then some more houses, and then some shops, before finally reaching our target, the two-storey red brick Royal Hotel on one of the corners along the main street.
It was a large and old building, having been built at the turn of the century according to the year that had been inscribed upon the building’s well lit façade. To one side of the building we could see lights and people in what looked to be a pleasant beer garden, while above the concrete footpath which wrapped around both sides of the building that faced the two streets, there was a verandah, upon which we could see and hear several groups of people making the most of their Friday evening.
And we could hear music, which sounded much like a live band.
‘Well mate, it looks like this is the place to be on a Friday night,’ Matt said to me as we crossed the street and headed for the main door.
‘Certainly looks like it. Too bad the others aren’t here too,’ I replied.
‘Maybe they’ll show up later.’
‘I hope so.’
We reached the foot path on the other side of the road and went straight inside, finding a typical old style pub interior, complete with lots of dark timbers, high bar stools and framed ads for beer that looked like they were something straight out of the nineteen-fifties.
In the air there hung the distinctive odour of beer… stale, fresh and spilt, mixed with the familiar smell of tobacco smoke.
There were quite a few people in the bar when we walked in, and quite a few of those turned their heads in our direction and looked us up and down as we headed across the floor.
It almost felt like one of those old black and white western movies, you know, where the stranger walks into the Dry Gulch Saloon and heads toward the bar. The place falls silent, and everyone looks his way. The piano man stops playing and the card sharks look up from their royal flushes and watch with suspicious eyes as the stranger makes his way across the room. The only sound that could be heard was the jingling of his spurs as he walked.
To me it was almost like that. But not quite.
In our case, at least the band played on.
Finally the locals appeared satisfied that we at least didn’t have two heads or something and so Matt and I were able to make it to the bar without anything catastrophic happening. He ordered a couple of beers for us and once the barman had placed them in front of us and proved to the rest of the world that we were indeed normal, life appeared to go on.
Picking our glasses up from the bar we headed into a less crowded part of the pub, which proved to be a restaurant.
‘Will this do you mate?’ Matt asked me, pointing toward an empty table along one wall.
‘Yeah, of course,’ I answered, then followed him to the table.
There were only about half a dozen other tables occupied, mostly by couples, one with a family and the last one by two guys, one of which looked to be in his mid-twenties, while the other was about our age, or maybe just a little older.
They nodded to us as we sat down, and we nodded back.
‘Do you know them?’ I asked Matt, softly.
‘No, I don’t think so. But the older guy does look a little familiar.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I thought too.’
We could hear the band playing in the other room, and we could hear the raucous laughter of the locals enjoying themselves, so we sat where we were for a while, just chatting and enjoying our drinks. When we were finally ready to eat, we got up and went and ordered our meals, before returning to our table.
‘This old place is kind of nice,’ I said to Matt as we sat back down.
‘Yeah, and at least it’s better than staying back at the house for Ben’s spaghetti bolognaise,’ he replied. ‘It’s his turn to cook again tonight. Remember?’
‘Yeah, that’s right,’ I laughed, remembering the last time it was Ben’s turn in the kitchen. All I can add to that, is that we were lucky that there had been some cans of other food in the cupboards. I mean, how the hell could anyone make such a stuff up cooking spag-bol?
‘Hey, don’t look now, but I’ll have a bet with you that those two guys over there are gay,’ Matt whispered.
‘What makes you say that?’ I asked him.
‘They’re playing footsies under the table.’
‘You have a look then!’
Slowly I turned around and glanced at them as I pretended to look at something just past them, and sure enough, their feet were rubbing together under the table.
‘Well, good for them,’ I said to Matt when I turned back to face him. ‘I wonder if they’re from around here?’
‘I think they are,’ he answered. ‘I think that older guy is from the caravan park. You know, where we stayed last year?’
‘Oh yeah, I remember,’ I answered, grinning. ‘Come to think of it, I reckon you might be right about him. I can’t remember seeing the boyfriend there. He sure is kind of cute though, isn’t he?’
‘Hey! What do you think you’re playing at?’ Matt asked.
‘Relax mate. He’s still not a patch on you though. You know that don’t you?’
He simply winked at me and said, ‘Well, just so long as you keep thinking that way.’
‘There’s nothing for you to worry about Matt, you’re safe.’
‘Worry? Who is worried?’
I got up and ordered ourselves another round of drinks after that, then a few minutes later our meals came out to us and so we ate them, while continuing to listen to the band do their worst impersonation of Jimmy Barnes.
Afterwards we got up from our table and wandered around the pub, finding the room where the band were playing, plus several rooms that were filled with poker machines, before finally settling on a room where we found an empty pool table.
Matt cajoled me into playing a game with him, despite the fact that I had never played pool, snooker or billiards in my entire life.
‘Come on, there’s nothing to it,’ he kept telling me.
‘That’s easy for you to say.’
In the end, I beat him easily. Apparently he’d never played it in his life either!
* * *
It’s a fact of life that some people just never learn. Did you know that?
Well, apparently Matt is one of those people! I only learned that tonight! Three more times he challenged me to a game of pool. Three more times I whipped his sorry ass.
Man, I really have to say that I’ve enjoyed this night so far!
After his last loss to me, Matt headed over to the bar and retrieved a couple of more drinks for us, obviously looking to drown his sorrows, then we both wandered in to where the band was playing and found a table, where we sat and listened to them for a while.
The place was dark, and loud, and crowded. And we were enjoying ourselves, even allowing for the fact that our friends weren’t with us.
As the night wore on the crowd started to thin a little, but those that remained became a little rowdier, which was the only to be expected I suppose. Even Matt seemed to be coming alive, but I put that down to one too many visits to the bar.
We spotted the guy from the caravan park and his friend a couple of times, and while we didn’t actually talk to them at all, I have to admit that I was curious about them.
‘Hey you! Get your eyes off them,’ Matt cheekily said to me after noticing me staring at the two of them, who were sitting at a table on the other side of the room.
I was catching glimpses of them through gaps in the crowd on the dance floor, and they looked to be enjoying their evening as well.
‘I can look can’t I?’ I asked.
‘Well, just so long as that’s all you do! You’re spoken for, remember?’
He winked at me and had that cheeky grin on his face that I loved so much, but I had this feeling that deep down there was just the tiniest hint of jealousy there.
I just laughed at him.
‘How about another game of pool?’ he asked me, after downing the last remnants of his beer and putting his glass back on the table.
‘Oh, I don’t know…’
‘Come on, Luke,’ Matt pleaded, getting to his feet and grabbing my hand as he did so, trying to get me up also. ‘You’ve got to give me a chance to win at least one game here tonight mate.’
‘Well, maybe just one more… but only if you buy me another beer.’
‘That’s my boy,’ he answered as I gave into his efforts and dragged myself to my feet also. Matt put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me too him briefly, in a half-hearted hug, before quickly releasing me.
Nervously I glanced around us, but it didn’t appear as if anyone had noticed.
When Matt let go of me he started to turn around, to head toward the bar, but as he did so he bumped into a young guy with bright red hair, who looked about our age. Red-hair staggered sideways for a second, bumping into someone else as he did so and spilling the entire contents of the glass of beer he was holding.
‘Shit! Sorry about that, mate,’ Matt said, reaching out to help the guy and make sure he didn’t fall over entirely. He was rocking sideways in front of us and I thought for a moment that he might fall over all together.
‘Get… your… stinking hands… offa me,’ the guy managed to say, with a voice that was slurred and difficult to understand.
‘Fine. Whatever you want,’ Matt replied.
‘You made me spill my beer,’ he mumbled, looking down into his now empty glass.
I didn’t think that it was Matt’s fault entirely, but that was beside the point really.
‘I’m sorry. Here, let me buy you another one,’ Matt said to him.
‘Just… fuck off,’ the guy said, then from out of nowhere he took a swing at Matt, who easily dodged it.
‘Hey, watch it there Red,’ we heard someone say. It appeared to be a friend of his, who was standing just behind him.
‘Fuckin’ poofters… spilling my beer…’ the guy said again, while staggering toward Matt.
We all knew what it was that was coming and instinctively, a couple of people stepped back out of the way.
The red-haired drunk took another swing, and missed again, but I knew that if this guy kept this up Matt wouldn’t wait to let any of these haphazard air-swings land anywhere.
Unhappy that he kept missing Matt, the guy took yet another swing at him. Matt cocked his fist, ready to put an end to this madness, but just as he was about to jab the guy he found a hand on his, which caused Matt to spin around, to look straight into the eyes of the guy from the caravan park.
‘You don’t want to do that mate, it’ll only attract attention to you and your friend,’ the guy said to him, before then turning toward the aggressors and telling them to go home and sober up.
‘Why don’t you mind your own business you fuckin’ poofter,’ one of them said. ‘Just coz they’re one of your sort! Lookin’ after each other! Prob’ly screwin’ each other too!’
‘Just piss off home, Jacko, or I’ll get Tom to call the cops in just for you,’ our hero replied, while Jacko and his mate, who had so far kept his distance, backed off and eventually slunk away, like dogs with their tails between their legs.
‘Sorry about that,’ the hero said after the clowns had disappeared. ‘Give these kids a few drinks and they think they’re Superman.’
‘Yeah, I’ll say.’
‘Don’t take any notice of what they said. It’s just the grog talking. Anyway, I’m Scott, by the way. And this is Justin,’ he said. ‘Looks like we happened along just at the right time.’
We shook their hands and introduced ourselves and thanked them.
‘You’re from the caravan park, aren’t you?’ I asked Scott.
‘Yeah, we thought so. We stayed there a couple of times when we visited here last year. We thought we recognized you.’
Scott just nodded.
We watched as the drunk wandered off, still cursing at anyone who got in his way, and eventually headed outside into the night.
‘He’ll sober up eventually,’ Scott said.
‘One of the regulars, is he?’ I asked.
‘You could say that.’
‘Well, can we buy you guys a drink?’ Matt asked. ‘It’s the least we can do.’
Scott looked at Justin, who simply shrugged, then said, ‘No. How about you let us buy you one, seeing as you are the new guys in town.’
Never being ones to knock back a free drink, we all headed over to the bar and ordered, then went into one of the other less crowded rooms where we sat down around one of the tables and chatted for a while.
We told them that we were living with some friends in an old house just out past the edge of town.
‘That’d be the old Norton house?’ Scott asked. ‘Down along Beachside Lane?’
‘Yeah,’ I answered. ‘It’s old, but not too bad. Big enough for the six of us at least.’
‘Yeah, I suppose it would be.’
We found out that they lived together, and I was so tempted to ask them if they were gay or not, but figured that was just a little bit too risky. In the end my question was answered when Justin placed his hand on Scott’s knee and asked him if he was ready to head home.
‘Whenever you are, mate,’ he answered. Matt and I glanced at each other, knowing that the question that had been buzzing around in both our heads all night had finally been answered.
It was now after midnight, and it seemed that their night was just about over, and ours may as well be too. We all finished our drinks and got to our feet.
‘Well, I suppose we’ll see you guys around some time?’ Matt asked them.
‘Yeah, I reckon we will. Call in and say hello if you’re heading past the ‘van park sometime,’ Scott replied.
‘Yeah, we’ll do that. Thanks. And you guys make sure you call in out home too, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.’
They both nodded and we all shook hands, then they left us.
‘Well, how about you? You ready to call it quits for the night?’ I asked Matt.
‘But I haven’t beaten you at pool yet!’
‘How about we save that for next time?’ I answered. ‘I’ll let you win at something else when we get home tonight, if winning means that much to you.’
A wicked grin came over his face and I knew then that he liked the sound of that response.
We headed for the door, receiving a nod from the barman as we passed him, and stepped out into what was a cool, though pleasant, summer night and started across the street.
‘So, just whose idea was it to walk tonight anyway?’ Matt asked as we took a short-cut through the car park beside the local video store.
I didn’t answer him.
Just before we exited the car park I saw some shadows move in front of us and instinctively reached out for Matt’s arm, grabbing hold of him and stopping him in his tracks.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, looking at me anxiously.
Still, I said nothing.
I was too busy staring ahead of us at the four guys who were standing in front of us, blocking the roadway and now silhouetted by the lights of a car that had pulled in behind them.
Matt turned back and looked at them, and even without looking at him I knew what his reaction would be.
‘What’s up guys?’ he asked, with just a little too much bravado, I thought.
‘We don’t like nancy boys,’ the guy in the middle answered. It was red-hair, the guy we had met earlier. What did Scott call him? I think it was Jack, or something like that.
‘And we don’t like redneck drunks,’ Matt replied.
Yup. I’d say that was more than just a little too much bravado this time.