On sunny Saturdays like this it’s always good to get out and away from the house and the caravan park for a while, so Justin and I went to the boardwalk for lunch today, just as we did whenever the opportunity arose.
Surprisingly, and thankfully, the cafés weren’t too crowded, as most of the people seemed to be still out on the lake or down on the beach, so for a while we actually had the place we had chosen, Squids Seafood, all to ourselves.
It was only for a short while however, as eventually another group of people strolled in, apparently having the same idea we had. At least we knew them… well, sort of anyhow, seeing as we’d only met them all for the first time yesterday, but I didn’t mind seeing them again. In fact, to tell you the truth, they sort of fascinated me.
I mean, let’s face it. Three new couples moving into town, and all living in the one house. Two couples gay. One couple straight. All friends. And all getting on well together… apparently!
To be honest, it sounded too good to be true. And for that reason alone, I decided that I wouldn’t mind getting to know them a little.
When they arrived Justin and I were sitting at a table by the railing, chatting, watching the action out on the water and waiting for our meals. Jay had his back to them and so he didn’t actually see them arrive, but when he heard them all talking behind him he spun around and saw who it was.
‘Hey, aren’t they…’
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘Looks like they had the same idea we had today.’
‘How about we ask them to join us? Would you mind?’
‘No, of course not,’ I replied. ‘I’m kind of looking forward to getting to know them, actually.’
I could see by the smile on Justin’s face that he was feeling the same way.
We watched as they ordered their meals, then started looking around for a table.
‘Well, the people you run into in these places!’ I said to them, before they’d had the chance to sit down.
They looked around and noticed the two of us smiling at them and gave us a wave.
‘You folks want to come and join us?’ I asked. ‘We can move a few of these tables closer together if you like!’
They all looked at each other, and by the go of it nobody said that they didn’t want to, so they did, dragging a couple of tables over next to ours and sitting down with us.
‘Do you come here often?’ Luke asked us.
‘When we can,’ I answered. ‘It’s nice here.’
‘Yeah, it is,’ Matt added.
While we all waited for our orders we got to talking and we found out that most of them were here to go to University, being Southern Star, the new one they had built a few years ago in Macquarie Harbour. We also found out that a couple of the boyfriends, Ben and Matt, were here just because their partners had come here to university, and they were currently looking for some work for themselves.
I also got the impression that Ben was fascinated with Justin, judging by the way in which he seemed to keep staring at him. That seemed a bit odd to me though, seeing as Ben was the one with the girlfriend, but I wasn’t too worried by that and managed to dismiss it from my mind fairly quickly.
Eventually we all ate, then we chatted some more, and the more I got to know these kids, the more I was beginning to like them.
And what’s more, I think Justin was starting to like them too, which in itself was something that I was pleased about, seeing as they were roughly the same age.
You see, Justin hasn’t made too many other friends in town since he had moved in with me a couple of months ago, except for a couple of dubious characters he’d met up with at the local pub and occasionally played pool or darts with. In a way I was actually hoping that he would really hit it off with these new kids, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about him all the time. I probably shouldn’t tell this to anyone, but Justin had a few issues not so long ago and it hasn’t been all that long since he’s managed to straighten himself out.
Ours is a relationship that has been built on trust, and while I have the utmost faith in Justin, I still can’t help but worry about him now, can I? I mean, it’s only natural, right?
Maybe these guys could be just what the doctor ordered?
Looking down at my watch I was surprised to see that it was almost three in the afternoon. How time flies when you’re having fun, huh?
‘Well, I suppose that we should be getting back,’ I said to our new friends. ‘I have some bookwork to catch up on this afternoon. It was nice to see you all again so soon.’
‘Yeah, it was,’ Luke answered first. ‘I hope we can catch up again soon and get to know you guys.’
‘Thanks. We’d like that,’ Justin replied.
We all got to our feet and wandered back out onto the boardwalk where we said our goodbyes. It was then, just as they were about to leave that Justin turned to Ben and Matt and said, ‘Hey, have you guys ever been out on a fishing boat before?’
‘What do you mean? Like a trawler or something?’ Matt asked.
‘Yeah. I work for an old guy who has a boat and sometimes he needs a deck-hand or two,’ Justin replied. ‘If you’re interested at all I’ll let him know.’
Ben and Matt just looked at each other.
‘Hell yeah. I’ll try anything once,’ Matt eventually answered.
‘Yeah, me too,’ added Ben.
‘All right then. I’ll let you know if anything comes up,’ Justin replied.
‘Thanks,’ they both answered.
‘Don’t mention it.’
We waved them goodbye and then set off back toward the car park, where the old Ford pick-up that I had been driving for years was patiently waiting.
‘That was good of you,’ I said to Justin as we strolled along.
‘Yeah, well, I rather like these guys. Anyway, if old Tom needs any extra hands at any stage, I thought they might appreciate the work.’
‘Yeah, they might.’
We reached the truck then climbed in and I started it up.
‘So, do you have any plans this afternoon?’ I asked him.
He shook his head and said, ‘No. Not really.’
I simply nodded and pointed the truck toward home.
A few blocks later, when we reached the corner where the Royal Hotel stood, Justin said, ‘Hey, that’s Corey’s car. Would you mind letting me off here? I might go and shoot some pool or something.’
I looked across at him and sighed, thinking to myself that this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to happen.
‘C’mon, Scott. You know that besides you, and these new guys, he’s about the only person in the town that I actually know. And you haven’t got anything to worry about with him… he’s about as straight as they come.’
‘I know, Jay. But it’s not that that worries me,’ I replied, pulling the truck over to the curb. ‘It’s just that whole pub scene. I guess it’s just that I don’t want to see you going down that path again. I have to keep an eye on you, remember? Daddy’s orders!’
He grinned at that last comment, then reached out and placed a hand over mine, where it sat on the seat between us.
‘It’ll be all right, babe,’ he whispered. ‘All that’s behind me now. I promise you.’
‘I know it is, Jay. And I do trust you. It’s just that I still worry about you… a lot.’
He looked up at me and smiled, then picked up my hand and brought it to his lips, kissing me gently, before letting our hands fall onto his leg, where he just held me, running his thumb across the tops of my fingers.
‘Scott, no one has ever cared about me like you do,’ he said. ‘You’re the only person who has ever worried about me, or even understood me. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am that you’ve been here for me… and so there’s no way that I’m going to go back to my old ways now. Not now that I’ve finally found a place in the world where I’m understood and accepted and loved for who I am.’
‘I’m pleased that you feel that way, mate, and I know that if you say you won’t do something, then I know that you won’t,’ I replied. ‘You just go and have a good time and I’ll see you at home later on.’
‘You sure you’re okay with it then?’
‘Yeah, of course I’m sure,’ I answered. ‘Now get out and piss off before I change my mind!’
* * *
When I got back to the caravan park and parked the truck I found that all was quiet, so I headed up the stairs and into the reception area off the verandah, and then into my little office.
There were accounts to pay and books to balance, and so, reluctantly, after pouring myself some coffee, I settled in for an afternoon of bookwork, with my mind anywhere but where it should be.
At about four-thirty I was sitting back in my chair, sipping on the remnants of my second cup of coffee and wondering what it was I’d missed in the reconciliation that would cause it to not balance, when I heard the squeak of the garden gate, followed by the sound of footsteps coming up the path, then up the steps and onto the verandah. I hadn’t heard a car pull up, so I figured it was probably one of the residents.
Quickly I downed the last few mouthfulls of coffee and got to my feet, sticking my head around the office door just in time to see Matt knock gently on the glass door. Luke was standing there with him, along with a rather dishevelled looking kid who was standing between them.
I recognised the kid as one I had seen around town often enough, but for the moment I just couldn’t put a name to him.
‘Sorry, man, but yours was the closest place we knew. We didn’t know where else to go,’ Matt said hurriedly as I slid the glass door open.
‘That’s all right, Matt. What’s happened?’ I asked, as I looked the kid up and down again.
He had obviously been crying. His t-shirt was ripped, and he had the beginnings of a serious black eye. Most likely he’d been on the losing end of a fight of some sort, I figured.
‘After we left you guys, we decided to walk home along the beach when we heard a noise coming from the scrub alongside the dunes. When we went and had a look we found him there,’ Matt said. ‘He was crying and all upset. We couldn’t just leave him there, but we didn’t know what to do…’
‘It’s okay, Matt,’ I said to him. ‘You better bring him inside and tell me the whole story.’
I stepped aside and let them pass, showing them through the reception area and into my own kitchen, where I sat them down at the table, then switched the kettle on.
‘So, where exactly did you find him?’ I asked them.
‘Toward the north end of the main beach… near where the toilets are below the car park,’ Matt started to say, only to be cut short by the kid.
‘You know the place, don’t you?’ the kid said.
It was more of a statement than a question. The kid was almost challenging me to deny it.
All of a sudden, everything fell into place.
‘Yeah, mate. I know it. I’ve been there a few times.’
Matt and Luke exchanged glances, while I was still being stared down by the kid. It was then that I figured out who he was.
‘You’re one of Billy Wagner’s boys, aren’t you?’ I asked him.
The kid nodded.
‘Aaron, isn’t it?’
He nodded again.
‘Ummmm… are we missing something here?’ Luke asked.
‘That end of the beach,’ I said, ‘or rather, the car park and toilets nearby, are one of the local beats.’
‘Beats? What do you mean?’ Luke asked.
‘He means, as in gay beats,’ Matt answered. ‘As in where guys hang out to pick up others for sex. You remember cruisin’ them back home don’t you?’ he asked with a wink.
‘Oh,’ Luke said.
Slowly then, all eyes turned to Aaron.
‘So, how old are you then?’ Matt asked him.
‘Old enough,’ Aaron answered, with more than a touch of arrogance.
‘I’m fourteen. So, what were you two doin’ there then?’ Aaron spat back at him.
I had to give the kid an ‘A’ for effort.
‘Taking a piss, if you must know!’
‘Is that all?’
Luke and Matt glanced at each other and I noticed Luke start to go red.
‘Bingo’ I thought. How Aaron knew it, I didn’t dare ask.
‘That’s what I thought,’ Aaron said.
‘So, Aaron, is that what you were doing there then?’ I asked him, thinking that I needed to put a stop to this little pissing contest before it got out of hand.
‘What’s it to you?’
‘Well, I really couldn’t give a shit one way or the other,’ I replied. ‘You obviously know I’ve been there… I don’t know how, but you’ve probably been hiding in the bushes or something. This isn’t about me though, it’s about you. And judging by the state that you were in when these guys found you today, I’d say something has happened there. Would I be right?’
Stony silence was the reply.
‘Look Aaron,’ Matt said. ‘We’re not here to judge you or anything like that. We only want to help, if we can. That’s if you’ll let us. That’s why we brought you here.’
‘If you don’t want us to help you at all,’ I offered, ‘then all you have to do is go.’
Aaron looked up at me and blinked a couple of times, then turned away and looked out through the window, gazing off into the distance.
Just then the kettle switched itself off and so I set about pouring some coffee for Matt and Luke and myself, while Aaron refused to answer when I asked him if he wanted anything. I set three steaming cups on the table for us, then pulled a cold can of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator and set it down in front of Aaron, which he simply stared at in silence.
The silence lengthened as Matt and Luke and I all sipped our coffee, while Aaron merely sat there with his arms folded in front of him, looking churlish.
Matt and Luke both looked at me, the expressions on their faces clearly urging me to say something, but I shook my head at them both and took another sip from my cup.
Eventually Aaron reached out and took hold of the can and pulled the ring-top on it, then brought it up to his lips, while the three of us watched.
‘Did you guys happen to see anyone else about while you were there?’ I asked Matt and Luke, as casually as I could.
They looked from one to the other, as if they were unsure of what to say.
Eventually it was Luke who said, ‘Well, no-one came inside while we were in there. At least, not that we know of…’
‘But…’ Matt added. ‘We did pass a guy on the path back down toward the beach. He was coming up the hill in a god-awful hurry. I remember that we had to get out of his way.’
I was looking at Aaron as he said this, and there was a definite start when the other guy was mentioned.
‘Can you describe him at all?’ I asked.
‘Well…’ Luke began, before being interrupted.
‘They don’t need to,’ Aaron said, as he put his can back down on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘Why’s that then?’ I asked.
For quite a while he didn’t answer me. He just looked up at me through scared eyes, as if he were still trying to make up his mind if he should continue, or not. I wasn’t going to press the point with him. If he was going to tell anyone about what happened, then he had to do it in his own time, when he was good and ready.
This felt like a case of de-ja-vu to me. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had tried to get Justin to open up to me. I idly wondered just what it was about me and gay teenagers that were in need of help.
Eventually Aaron gave a deep sigh and leant forward, placing his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, before straightening back up and running his hands back through his brown hair and looking straight at me through his deep blue eyes.
‘Because it was Andy Thompson,’ he said simply.
I leant back in my chair and let out a long soft whistle.
* * *
Over two more cans of Coca-Cola, Aaron told us all about going to the car park and watching the comings and goings from a hiding place amongst the bushes. He said he often went there because he’s met up with a few young guys his own age from time to time… you know, just for a bit of fun.
The first time had been about six months beforehand and had been by accident, when he had called in there to use the toilet after an afternoon at the beach. There was a glory-hole in the wall between the two cubicles and he had been in there that day when someone came in. He could see through the hole and noticed the guy start stroking himself. It didn’t take long before he felt something stir within him and it wasn’t long after that that the other guy, who happened to be in the year above him at school, was in the cubicle with him.
After that, well, it pretty much became a regular pastime, although he always made sure that he avoided any of the older dudes that went there, and if things ever got too spooky he bolted pretty quick.
Today though… well, that was different.
‘Why was that?’ Luke asked him.
Aaron looked from one of us to the other.
‘Well, I waited ‘til everyone had gone, see,’ he said. ‘Then I went inside.’
‘Go on,’ I urged.
‘No one came or anything, so I just sat in there, waiting.’
He stopped for a minute or so, before eventually continuing.
‘I heard someone come in through the door, then they went into the cubicle next to me. I could see them through the hole.’
‘What happened next, mate?’ Matt asked.
‘This guy looked through the hole at me. I didn’t know who it was or nuthin’, then he started talking. He said if I wanted to make some money to meet him on the path down to the beach… about half way down.’
We all looked at each other, but no one spoke for quite a while.
‘I got out of there pretty quick and ran like hell. I was going down that path anyway, and when I got about half way down I started thinking, and I slowed up, then stopped. I mean, the money might be handy, you know?’
I knew his family and they weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, so I suppose I can understand why the offer of some money… any money, would have some appeal to a kid like Aaron, especially if it was for doing something that he enjoyed.
‘It was while I was standing there thinking that I heard someone come up behind me. I turned around and it was him. Andy Thompson.’
‘What did he say to you?’ I asked.
‘That he didn’t think I’d be here waiting. He reckoned I would have buggered off.’
‘Did he do anything at all?’ Luke asked.
‘Not really. Not then, anyway. He just touched my cheek, real gentle like, with the back of his hand and jerked his head as if for me to follow him, then he went in through the bushes.’
‘And what did you do?’ Matt asked.
‘Well, I followed him, didn’t I? I mean, not straight away, but yeah, I went in after him.’
It didn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out what happened next, and Aaron told us pretty much what we had worked out for ourselves.
Thompson offered money, expecting a pretty hot time with this kid. They started fooling around, but then things got pretty serious and Aaron got scared. When he tried to get away, Thompson got aggro and started to rough him up a little, trying to bully him into submission so that he could have his own way with him.
‘So, what happened then?’ Matt asked. ‘What made him run off?’
‘I started yelling out,’ Aaron replied. ‘And I started laying back into him.’
‘Good for you,’ Luke said.
‘Yeah, well, I suppose it was that, or…’ he replied.
‘Yeah,’ said Matt.
There was a long silence as we all contemplated what might have been, had Aaron not shown a bit of spirit.
‘Well, mate, are you going to be all right then?’ I asked him.
‘I… I guess so,’ he answered.
‘Do you want to get yourself cleaned up a bit before you head home? Your mum might get a bit worried if you show up looking like that.’
He looked down at himself and then grinned at us and said, ‘Yeah, I suppose she might.’
‘The bathroom is down the end of that hallway,’ I said to him, pointing toward the hall entrance.
‘Thanks,’ he said, as he got up off the chair.
‘Don’t mention it.’
The three of us watched his back as he headed off to the bathroom, then when he was gone we turned and faced each other.
‘So, who’s this Thompson guy?’ Matt asked.
‘Think about it for a second. Thompson River. Thompsonville. He’s the great grand-son of the founding father of our fair town. And he’s an overbearing, pompous, piece of shit! He was a few years ahead of me at school.’
‘Ahhhhh…’ Matt replied.
‘I honestly didn’t think that that sort of thing would go on in a small place like this,’ Luke asked.
‘It goes on everywhere, Luke. Big towns, small ones, it doesn’t matter,’ Matt offered. ‘You remember what happened to you back home, don’t you? That could just as easily happen to anyone here.’
Luke just shook his head, as if some idyllic image of his new home had just been shattered.
‘This is a great little town, Luke,’ I said to him, while wondering just what it was that had happened to him. ‘But like every town, it does have its dark side. There are gays here. There are drugs here. There are even homeless here. And there are those who think they own the place and that they can do or have whatever they want.’
‘So, can we do anything then?’ Matt asked. ‘About this Thompson bloke, I mean?’
‘Probably not,’ I answered. ‘But I sure would like to. The fact that he likes guys doesn’t bother me, nor does the fact that his preferences may be for younger guys for that matter, provided it’s all consensual of course. I mean, there are plenty of young guys in the world that actually prefer older guys, or young guys that are just wanting to find out what it’s all about and stuff. But what really pisses me off is that he would give a kid a touch up like that. That’s the lowest of acts in my book.’
‘Yeah, I agree,’ Matt replied.
‘Don’t worry about Thompson though. He’ll get what’s coming to him, one way or another.’
‘I fuckin’ hope so,’ we suddenly heard from behind us.
Spinning around we found Aaron standing there, looking a little cleaner and a little tidier. He still had the makings of a pretty good black eye, but he was okay, I thought.
‘Yeah well, Aaron, every dog has his day,’ I said to him.
‘What about the cops?’ Luke asked.
I shook my head. ‘That’d mean Aaron would have to tell all… and I don’t think he’d be up to that,’ I said.
‘Damn straight!’ was Aaron’s reply.
‘So… we just do nothing then?’ asked Matt.
‘Yeah,’ answered Aaron. ‘I don’t want to go causing anyone any trouble.’
‘But…’ Matt started to say, but then stopped.
‘And besides that,’ I offered, ‘Aaron probably doesn’t want anyone else to know what he was doing there. Am I right?’
He nodded, rather sheepishly.
‘It’s all right, Aaron,’ Matt offered. ‘Your secret is safe with us.’
‘Thanks,’ he replied.
‘But I want you to remember something though,’ I said to him. ‘If anything like this ever happens again, or if ever you want to talk about anything, you’ll come and see me, all right?’
‘Yeah. I will.’
‘Good!’ I said. ‘Now, what are you going to tell you’re mum about your black eye?’
‘Nothin’ much. Musta got in a fight or something I reckon,’ he said with a grin.
‘Smart kid this one,’ Matt said.
‘Yeah, I reckon he could be,’ I answered. ‘Now how about I give you three a lift home?’