‘Awwww… man! This is going to be just so cool! I can hardly wait,’ Matt said to me when we were eventually alone.
We were still at the kitchen table and I had just got up from my seat and carried our plates and cups over to the sink and started washing them.
Tim and Guy had gone for a drive into town, and Ben and Samantha were safely behind closed doors, doing god-only-knows what, which left just the two of us here in the kitchen.
I could almost see the excitement dripping off Matt, like a kid about to be taken for his first ride on a roller-coaster, and as difficult as it was for me to grasp the concept of his being out there on the water, at the mercy of the gods, it was hard not to feel that same sense of anticipation. I just hoped that something would actually come of this opportunity for him and that he wasn’t getting this excited for nothing.
‘Steady on there, sunshine,’ I said to him, trying to make sure he didn’t get too carried away with this whole idea. ‘You know it’s only a shakedown cruise or something. You haven’t got a job out of it just yet!’
‘Yeah, I know, I know. But just think of it,’ he replied, beaming. ‘Out there on the water. Cruising around. The wind and the sea in our faces. Every day, battling the elements. We’ll be like Leonardo di Caprio… Kings of the World!’
‘It’s a fuckin’ fishing boat, Matt! And an old fishing boat at that!’ I laughed, half turning around to face him but with my hands still immersed in the suds. ‘I bet it leaks like a sieve, and you pair will be nothing but slaves to the old fart who owns it! And on top of all that, you’ll both come home every day smelling like shit!’
‘Yeah… maybe! But we’ll be getting paid to smell like shit!’
‘I truly hope so, mate. But just remember that there’s more to life than that! Don’t forget that there’ll be someone here worrying about you every time you go out there on the water… and that he’ll be here waiting for you to come home every day.’
‘Really? You’ll actually be worrying about me?’ he asked, suddenly looking all concerned.
‘Yes. Of course I’ll worry. Why wouldn’t I worry?’
‘I promise I’ll be careful. All right?’ he said, suddenly turning serious and getting to his feet, then crossing the floor and coming over to me. He wrapped his arms around my waist and hugged me, while letting his chin rest on my shoulder as I continued to wash dishes.
Turning around to face him, while still in his embrace, and with my hands dripping wet with dishwater, I said, ‘That’s all good, mate. But it’s not so much what you’ll be getting up to that concerns me. It’s more like what everyone else around you may do, plus the things that we can’t control! That is what worries me most.’
‘It’ll be all right, Luke,’ he said. ‘I promise you that.’
I so wanted to believe him, but deep down I couldn’t help but have some reservations. After all, how could he really promise something like that?
‘Just trust me, all right?’ he pleaded, obviously sensing my doubts. ‘You do trust me, don’t you?’
‘You already know that I do,’ I whispered. ‘But it doesn’t mean I’m going to worry any less about what might happen when you’re out there on the water. I’ve heard all the stories about mountainous waves, or fishing boats getting run down by freighters. I just don’t want anything like that happening to you! I…’
‘Honestly, I’ll be fine,’ he said, cutting in before I’d had the chance to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to live without him.
‘You better be!’
‘I will be,’ he chuckled, now sounding amused at my concern. ‘Now just shut up, you fool, and kiss me, will you?’
‘Errr… actually, I had something else in mind,’ I replied, while letting my still wet hands slide around his body and settle on his firm buttocks, then pulling him toward me until our stomachs were resting against each other.
‘Did you now? Well, what say we go and do something about that?’ he remarked, before covering my lips with his.
When our mouths parted he stood there smiling at me, looking into my eyes and flashing that devilish grin which I had fallen in love with so long ago now. I knew what would be next, him pushing his hips forward and rubbing himself against me, allowing me to feel his growing excitement.
He didn’t disappoint me. A few moments later he did just what I thought he would do, before then leading me away from the dishes and back down the hallway, past the closed door of Ben and Samantha’s room, from behind which we could hear muted sounds of passion, and into our own room.
* * *
The first we knew of Tim and Guy arriving home was our hearing the back door slam and one of them walking up the hallway saying, ‘The bastards! The mother-fucking-arse-licking-pieces of shit! What is it with the people in this fuckin’ town?’
It was accompanied by two sets of footsteps stamping up the hall, and followed by another voice, this one sounding a little more soothing.
‘Try not to worry about it, mate. It can be fixed!’
That was Tim speaking. Although it took a moment for me to recognise that.
Matt and I both broke away from our embrace and got up off the bed and pulled on our boxers, before then venturing out into the hallway to see what all the fuss was. We found Ben and Samantha doing exactly the same thing, venturing out of their bedroom with puzzled expressions on their faces and both of them wrapped up in the same sheet.
‘What’s going on?’ Ben asked.
We all looked at each other blankly, then Matt and I simply shrugged, as the four of us then headed toward the kitchen, where we found an extremely agitated Guy pacing back and forth, with a clearly frustrated Tim trying to calm him down.
‘Hey guys, what’s going on?’ Ben asked again, this time directing the question at our two housemates.
Guy looked furious. Too furious to talk even. In the end it was Tim who spoke.
‘Remember those guys from the other night? From near the pub?’ he said. ‘Well, we just bumped into them again as we were going into the store. When we came back out and got to the car, well… we found all the front lights and grill smashed in! And there was glass and plastic all over the road.’
‘Jesus…’ Matt said. ‘Are you sure it was them? I mean… did you see ‘em?’
Tim simply shook his head, while Guy just scowled, still pacing around the kitchen like a caged animal.
‘So, have you been to the Police yet?’ Samantha then asked, which only seemed to send Guy off into another rage.
‘Fuck this!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’m going outside. You tell ‘em!’
The five of us could only watch as he stormed off down the hall once more, with the whole house seeming to shudder with the slamming of the door.
This was the first time that Matt and I had ever seen any of our housemates in any sort of a mood like this, and judging by the expressions on Ben and Samantha’s faces it was quite possible that it was also the first time either of them had seen him like this.
When the echoes of the slamming door had finally faded we turned back toward Tim, who was looking somewhat overwhelmed by the whole deal.
‘Okay, what else happened?’ Ben asked him.
‘It was weird, you know?’ Tim began. ‘The lady in the shop asked where we were from and we told her that we were living here. She told us to be careful! Now, why would she do that? Then the next thing we find is Guy’s car all smashed up like that!’
‘There was obviously a reason for her saying that to you,’ I said to him.
‘And what about the cops? Did you go and see them?’ Matt asked.
‘Yeah! Fat lot of good that did?’
‘How come? What happened?’ Matt prompted.
‘Well, we went and saw him… the station in this town only has one guy at it… and when we said who we were and where we were from, he said, ‘So, you’re from that Queer House, then?’
We all exchanged uncomfortable glances. And no one looked more uncomfortable than Ben!
‘I mean, it’s like we’re lepers or something!’ he continued. ‘Everyone in this town seems to know that there’s a bunch of gays living here! And he wasn’t even interested about the car! I mean, he had a quick look at it, but unless someone saw someone else do it, he reckons he can’t do a fuckin’ thing!’
‘Well, that’s probably right,’ Samantha remarked. ‘But he still should have treated you a bit better. I mean, it sounds like he was putting you down, or even dismissing you guys, just because of your address.’
‘Yeah, well that’s exactly what it felt like!’
‘That’s so unfair,’ Samantha said. ‘They can’t do that!’
‘Well, in a place like this, they can pretty much do whatever they like!’ Matt replied.
‘And obviously they do!’ added Ben.
‘Well, they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it,’ Samantha replied.
‘Yeah?’ said Ben with a chuckle. ‘And who’s going to stop them? You?’
‘Well… I… errr… we…’ she began to stammer, before Ben put her out of her misery and placed a finger over her lips and silenced her.
‘I was only joking,’ he whispered.
‘Ummm… maybe we shouldn’t joke,’ I said. ‘Maybe we should be thinking about the other issues that point raises?’
‘What’s that?’ Samantha asked.
‘Well, like what we were talking about the other day! That this town isn’t quite the town we expected it to be! And that there really is a side to this place, and the people in it, that we hadn’t considered when we all decided to move here!’
‘Yeah. I think you’re right,’ Matt remarked.
‘The question now is…’ Samantha offered, ‘what are we all going to do about it?’
We all just looked at each other.
None of us knew the answer to that, but she had certainly hit the nail on the head! That was the real question, wasn’t it?
* * *
Guy was outside removing the remnants of his broken headlights when we all went outside a short while later, into a morning that was considerably warmer and brighter than it had been earlier. We stood back and watched him work, grim faced, before Matt eventually went over to him and offered to help.
‘Thanks,’ Guy said to him, with a nod. ‘It’s going to cost me a packet to replace these! Do you have any idea what new parts are worth for this damn thing?’
‘What about insurance?’ Luke asked.
‘No, it doesn’t cover this sort of thing,’ Guy replied.
‘She’ll be right, Guy!’ Matt said. ‘I know they aren’t cheap, but at least if we help you out it’ll save you the cost of the labour.’
‘Thanks! I appreciate that.’
‘Hey, what are friends for?’ Matt replied, while slapping a friendly hand on Guy’s back as he did so.
Guy looked up at him and for the first time since he and Tim had arrived home he actually smiled, which was a sight that considerably lightened the sombre mood of everyone who was gathered around the car, especially Guy.
‘I’ll have to ring the local dealer later and see if they’ve got the parts in stock. Two headlights, plus the grill in front of the radiator. They won’t be cheap, but I can always ring mum, I suppose…’
‘Oh, no you won’t!’ I heard Tim suddenly say to him, before Guy had a chance to even finish the sentence. ‘We’re here to stand on our own two feet. We’re going to work this out for ourselves, and not run back to our folks every time something goes wrong!’
Guy looked up at him and grinned, then said, ‘Yeah, and since when did you turn into Action Man?’
‘You know I’ve always been a man of action, mate! Or were you forgetting last night?’
‘That’s enough! I don’t want to hear another word,’ Samantha shrieked, throwing her hands up and turning away.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Matt asked her. ‘You don’t see Luke and me getting all squeamish, now do you, especially after listening to you and lover-boy here all bloody morning?’
Even Ben had to grin at that one.
Samantha wasn’t interested though. She continued on her merry way back into the house.
‘Strange girl that, sometimes,’ Matt said to Ben after she was safely inside.
‘Man! You’re tellin’ me!’ Ben laughed.
* * *
The wharves for the fishing co-op weren’t anywhere near the lake or the river or the main part of town. They were located on the south side of the small harbour which the lake had originally spilled into, before the weir had been built many years ago following a shark attack in the lake.
To get there you had to drive through town and across the weir then follow the harbour shore for a couple of kilometres until you reached the co-op on the far side. The harbour itself was protected by two huge rock break walls which stretched out from either shore and overlapped in the middle, allowing room for the boats to pass and providing the fishing fleet and other boats that were moored in the harbour, like a few houseboats and yachts, with shelter from the open seas.
Looking at the assortment of boats that were secured to every available spot it was easy to see that the harbour would have been quite a busy place at times.
When we all arrived there after lunch things were fairly quiet, with the water calm and a number of fishing boats rocking peacefully at their moorings. A handful of people were going about their business, loading and unloading, sitting around talking, or fishing from the break wall, while the only other real sign of activity came from the numerous seagulls, which dotted the smooth water, or squabbled amongst themselves along the break wall, fighting over the scraps of bait or lunch that the fishermen would throw aside.
We spotted Scott and Justin’s pick-up truck parked not far from an old boat with ‘Wanderer’ painted across the front of the wheel-house and the two of them talking to a crusty looking old guy on the wharf.
‘I guess that’s it then?’ Matt said as we looked across at the three of them.
‘Yeah. I guess so.’
‘It certainly doesn’t look like much, does it?’ he remarked.
‘Hey, do you remember reading those books by Colin Thiele when we were kids back in school?’ I asked him. ‘You know, like “The Fire In The Stone” and “Storm Boy”?’
‘Yeah. I do actually.’
‘What about “Blue Fin,” remember that one? Man, this is just like it’s straight off those pages!’
‘Didn’t that boat sink?’ he suddenly asked.
‘Errr… no. It got knocked around a bit, but it made it back to the harbour,’ I replied, deliberately leaving out the bit about it being smashed upon the rocks!
‘Thank Christ for that then!’
I laughed at him.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘Hey, you were the one telling me not to worry! Remember?’
‘Yeah. I know, mate. But now we’re here…’
‘Come on. Let’s get over there and meet this old guy. The others should be here any minute now.’
‘Yeah, you’re right. We probably should!’
We got out of the car and crossed the car park toward them, all the while being watched by the old seafarer.
‘This them, then?’ we heard the old guy say as we neared.
‘It’s one of them,’ Justin replied.
‘Where’s the other guy then, eh? He’s not some slacker, always going to be late, is he?’
‘No. He’ll be here, Cye. Just relax,’ said Justin. I didn’t think that Cye looked convinced though.
‘Hey, fellas,’ Scott said to us when we reached them. ‘I see you made it.’
‘Of course!’ Matt replied. ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world!’
‘You might think otherwise later today, lad, eh!’ the old man chuckled.
‘Matt and Luke, this is Cye. He owns the boat,’ Justin said, introducing us all. ‘And just watch him… he’s a bloody old slave driver!’
‘That’ll be enough of that now, young’n,’ Cye said to Justin, before thrusting his hand out in our direction. ‘Pleased to meet ya, lads!’
We both shook his hand and were surprised by his firm grip. Looking at him it was hard to say just how old he was, but he would have had to be in his sixties I would have thought. He was a little shorter than either Matt or me, was dressed in a blue and white checked flannelette shirt, which somehow seemed to match the fading and peeling paintwork on his boat, and had a short grey beard and grey hair, upon which was perched a tattered dark blue knitted beanie.
‘So, you all set for this then, eh?’ he asked.
‘Sure am,’ Matt replied earnestly.
‘What about your mate, eh? Where’s he then?’
‘Oh, he’s coming. He and his girl were leaving at the same time we left. I think they were just going to get some petrol in their car on the way though.’
‘All right then, but they better not take too long. There’s work to be done, eh,’ he said as he turned and started back toward the gang-plank.
Matt looked at Justin, expecting some sort of explanation, but all Justin did was wink at him and said, ‘It’s all right, Matt. You’ll get used to him pretty quickly… and to every second sentence ending in ‘eh’. He’s a great old guy, really. Come on, I’ll show you blokes around the old tub, eh!’
As we headed up the gang-plank, chuckling to ourselves, we heard the sound of an approaching car and turned to see Samantha and Ben come into the car park and pull up beside Matt’s car, in a cloud of dust.
‘Looks like he’s just in time,’ Scott remarked as we stepped onto the deck for the first time and we suddenly felt the deck shudder as Cye tried starting the engines.
A cloud of thick dark smoke spluttered out of an ancient looking exhaust somewhere behind the wheel-house and billowed all around us, which caused Ben and Samantha to break into a run, quickly crossing the car park and then coming up the gang-plank rather cautiously.
‘Hey guys. Nice of you to show up!’ Justin said to them as they joined us. ‘Where are the others? Aren’t they coming down too?’
‘Sorry, it was my fault,’ Samantha said to him. ‘We had to get some petrol and then the car wouldn’t start! Tim and Guy are still back at the house.’
‘That’s okay, although old Cye was starting to get a bit tetchy,’ Justin replied. ‘I was just going to show Matt and Luke around the old tub, so come on, I’ll take you to meet him, then you can all get the guided tour.’
With Justin leading the way we headed for the wheel-house, where he introduced Cye to Ben and Samantha, before then showing us everything above and below decks.
I was amazed at just how confident and at ease Justin seemed to be on the boat, and said as much to Scott.
He gave me a grin and said, ‘You’d be even more amazed if you’d have known him when he first came to live here. He’s changed so much in the past six months or so. He’s been through more than you could possibly imagine, and now it’s like he’s finally found his place in the world.’
I could see and hear the admiration in Scott’s tone and looked up at Justin and Matt standing together, with Ben and Samantha.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be our place in the world too, or if perhaps this morning’s events would hang like a shadow over us, clouding our futures in this town.