‘Hey, did you know that they’ve taken in a stray out at the farmhouse?’ Justin said to me one Tuesday morning in October. We were sitting at the breakfast table on the first day of school going back following the spring holidays, which just happened to also be the last day of the October long weekend.
This was one of our busiest times of the year so we were also still trying to catch our breath from the holiday rush, which had only ended the day before with the departure of the last of our visitors. The only people left in the park now were the permanents, and they tended to look after themselves pretty much, so I was looking forward to a bit of a quiet time and the chance to catch up on what Justin and I had been missing out on these past few weeks.
‘What do you mean by a stray?’ I enquired. ‘Like, a kitten or a pup?’
‘No,’ he laughed as he shovelled in another spoon full of Kellogs cereal. ‘A two legged one, about fifteen years old. Male. Goes by the name of Tony.’
‘Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?’ while raising my eyebrows at him.
He simply grinned and shovelled in some more. Disgusting I know, but I found that it was impossible to be annoyed with anyone who looked so cute. Especially one looking like he did with that healthy tan and wearing only the bright pink and white boardies I had recently bought him.
When he had finished swallowing his breakfast and washed it down with the last of his coffee he said, ‘He’s Luke’s cousin. Apparently he showed up on their doorstep the other night, unannounced.’
‘Oh shit. It’s that Tony! The one that Matt had got in trouble because of!’
I recalled Matt and Luke telling us about the court case and the trouble that Luke’s under-aged cousin, Tony, had caused before they had moved down here. Matt had been accused of some impropriety with the boy, however everything had thankfully sorted itself out in the end with Tony coming clean about his being pressured into making a complaint by his overbearing mother, or something like that.
‘The very same,’ Justin answered.
‘And how is Matt taking it?’
‘Oh, he’s fine. He doesn’t hold any grudges or anything like that… though I don’t think I’d be able to be quite so cool about it all if I were in his shoes.’
‘No. It can’t be easy.’
When I finished my coffee he picked up our plates and cups from the table and I watched as he carried them over to the sink and placed them it, then squirted some detergent over them and started the hot water. I couldn’t help but think about the time, not so long ago, when I had managed to pick up a stray as well.
‘What are you grinning at?’ he said to me as he glanced back over his shoulder in my direction and caught me smiling at him.
‘I was just thinking how proud of you your mother would be, with you being all domesticated now,’ I replied.
‘And fuck you too!’ he fired back at me, with a laugh, while flicking some suds in my general direction. They fell short, landing on the linoleum floor about three feet from where I still sat, but like I said, it was impossible to be annoyed with anyone who looked so cute.
I watched him as he washed and dried the few items from breakfast then placed them back in the cupboard and hung the tea towel over the rack. As he came across the floor toward me I couldn’t help but think that his mother would indeed have been proud of him if she could have seen the change that had taken place in him since the day he had asked if he could stay here with me. I’m not sure what his father might say, but I could only hope he too would be proud that his son had finally found his feet and found his place in the world.
If they both knew exactly why Justin had changed so much since his arrival, well that might change their opinion of him a little – and no doubt their opinion of me as well – but given his demeanour when he had arrived and what he had gone through leading up to that time I could only hope that even if they knew their son’s dirty little secret they would be capable of seeing past that. Regardless of the fact that he is gay, the Justin of today is a far better person than the shell of a kid who not too long ago was threatening to walk into the ocean and let it carry him away.
He has become a man. A confident, self-assured and good looking young man with the world at his feet, even if he himself still isn’t quite fully aware of that just yet.
I had been given the pleasure of seeing the change that has come over Justin these past months. Unfortunately for his parents, however, that was something they had missed out on seeing.
Walking around behind me he placed his hands on my shoulders and began massaging them, his firm touch sending shivers throughout my body. I tilted my head back toward him, finding myself looking at an upside down image of his grinning face.
‘Like that, do you?’ he said quietly.
‘You know I do,’ I answered, only to be quickly silenced as he leant forward and covered my mouth with his. I soon found my mouth forced open by an active, probing tongue, before he then started to move around the chair until he was beside me. Collapsing down onto me he finished up sitting across my lap, my face cupped by his hands and our lips still locked together.
‘Wow!’ was all I could say when we both finally came up for air.
‘You can say that again. That was hot!’ a voice said from somewhere close by. Startled, we both turned our heads toward the sliding screen door which opened out onto the deck at the front of the house.
Aaron Wagner, the other stray that I seem to have picked up this year, was standing there looking in at us, his face wearing a grin from ear to ear.
‘Jesus, Aaron. Don’t scare us like that!’ Justin scolded as he stood up from me, giving me one last quick kiss as he did so.
‘Sorry. But I didn’t want to interrupt any earlier. You looked like you were having too much fun. And besides, like I said, it was HOT!!!’
‘Cheeky little cum bucket!’ Justin snapped back at him, then adding, ‘What would your mother say if she caught you talking like that?’
The look on Aaron’s face quickly changed from one of excitement to one that was far more sombre, ‘Yeah, well, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, will it?’ he replied.
‘Probably not, mate,’ I answered. ‘Now, are you going to stand there all day making the place look untidy, or are you coming inside?’
The smile quickly returned to his face and he slid open the screen door and came inside, shutting it behind him and then heading straight for the refrigerator and the carton of fruit juice that he knew would be there.
Since he had first been brought to my doorstep earlier in the year by Matt and Luke, Aaron had become something of a semi-regular around the caravan park, doing a few odd jobs here and there for me to earn a bit of pocket money, and even helping some of the permanent residents out every now and then with their own little gardens.
Over time I had learnt a great deal about young Aaron, and also about the events that had first brought him to my doorstep. At first he had been quite shaken by what had happened, but gradually as we talked about things and he had opened up to me a little I realised that he had become much more comfortable about himself and about who he was. He had also become good mates with Justin, Matt and Luke, although I did notice that he tended to be a little bit reserved, or distant, if he ran into them downtown or anywhere the locals might spot him, not that I blamed him at all for that. After all, he was still just a kid and it just wouldn’t be smart to be seen hanging with the guys from what had become known around town as The Gay House. Besides, this was still a small, very old fashioned, country town, where people still gossiped.
‘So, what are you up to?’ Justin asked him as he gulped down a glass of our juice.
‘Dunno… nuthin’ much doing at home. Thought I’d see if your lawns needed mowing again yet?’
‘Didn’t school go back today?’ I asked him.
‘Nah, not for us. The teachers have a Pupil Free Day or some shit, so we get today off then have to front up tomorrow.’
‘Fuck. We never had those when I was in school,’ I laughed.
‘We did,’ Justin added. ‘They were the best things ever!’
‘So? What about the lawns? They look like they need it again,’ asked Aaron, looking out through the kitchen window at the expanse of grass that led away toward the amenities building.
I knew that he was saving up to buy a motor bike for when he was old enough to get his learner permit at sixteen, so I didn’t mind helping him out. By the go of things it looked like I would be paying for most of the bike, but at least he was prepared to get off his backside and work for it. For that I had to commend him.
‘Yeah, all right,’ I answered. ‘Better you than me I suppose.’
‘How much do you have saved up now?’ Justin asked him.
‘About a grand,’ he answered.
‘Hey. That’s pretty good going,’ Justin said.
‘Still need more yet though.’
‘So I guess the lawns here will be kept pretty short this summer then, eh?’ I added, to which he simply smiled as he headed for the door.
We watched him as he bounded down the path and across the lawn to the small garden shed beside the amenities building and soon disappeared inside. When Aaron was out of sight Justin sat back on my lap, placing one arm around my shoulders and one hand on my chest and said, ‘Now, where were we before we were rudely interrupted?’
‘How about we take this out the back?’ I asked him. ‘Sally can open up the office when she gets here.’
‘Fine by me,’ he answered.
* * *
One of the good things about running your own business is that you don’t really have to stick to a set timetable, within reason of course. If you need to go and do something else you can, especially when you have reliable staff working for you, like I had.
When Justin and I eventually emerged from our morning activities, all showered up and clean, though still a little breathless, we found Sally had opened the office and was busy searching e-Bay for a bargain or two. She worked for me part-time and always knew that if either Justin or I weren’t to be found she needed to open both the office and the small shop that we had on the grounds. If I was going to be away for any extended period of time I would usually leave her a message, but if there was no message then she knew I wouldn’t be far away. She also now knew that she shouldn’t come through into the house area behind the office that fronted out onto the entrance to the caravan park any more, after a couple of embarrassing moments that had occurred since Justin had arrived, or at least not without making herself known.
‘Hey, good morning, you two,’ she said to us as we entered the office.
‘Hey, yourself,’ I replied, while Justin said, ‘Hi, Sal.’
‘I see young Aaron is hard at work again. You’re getting too soft in your old age, Scotty.’
‘Nonsense,’ I replied. ‘Beats me having to do it.’
‘Or me!’ Justin added.
We all looked out the window where we could see Aaron riding the lawn mower up and down the edges of the roadway on a sunny morning. It must be a warm morning as he had already pulled off his t-shirt and had left it hanging over the gate next to the garden shed.
He wasn’t the scrawny kid any more that he had been the first day he had shown up here. It was quite noticeable that he was growing up and his body was changing and for the first time I think I realised that he would make a nice catch for some lucky guy at some time in the future.
‘Hey, you two… you can both stop drooling now,’ Sally scolded, snapping us both back to the present.
Justin and I glanced at each other. I could feel my cheeks burning and I could see that his were flushed with pink as well. I gave him a wink and he smiled back at me. I knew that Aaron would be safe from the two of us, but I also knew that there were others in this town whose clutches he wouldn’t be safe from, given half a chance. I guess that’s probably part of the reason why I was glad that he was coming around here and mowing lawns and doing odd jobs, as it was helping me to keep a bit of an eye on him and make sure he was okay.
‘Well, I can’t stand around here all day,’ Justin eventually said. ‘I have to go and meet up with Matt.’
‘Again?’ Sally asked.
‘You want to come along to keep an eye on us?’ he quickly asked. She simply shook her head and turned back toward her desk, where she had a pile of invoices stacked up ready for entering into the computer system.
As she busied herself with her work Justin and I touched our knuckles together, which was our own little private sign of affection used whenever we were out in public, when others were present or we weren’t within the confines of our home (so much less hassle than kissing in public), and then he left us, heading down the path toward the front gates, before turning onto the foot path and disappearing from view.
I watched him go, then turned and headed for the doorway between the house and the office.
‘Don’t you worry about him?’ Sally asked, just as I reached the doorway.
‘In what way?’ I replied.
‘Well, for starters, him and Matt going off like that all the time?’
‘No,’ I answered her. ‘They are great mates and I trust him… I trust them both actually. But having said that he’s a big kid now and he’s perfectly capable of making his own decisions. If I didn’t place some faith and trust in him then what sort of a relationship would we have?’
‘Hmmppff…’ was all she managed to say, before turning her attention back to her invoices.
I left her at it and went back out into the house to do some cleaning up and put a load of washing in the machine. She was right in some respects, in that I was placing a great deal of trust not only in Justin, but also in our relationship, but just as I had said to her, we wouldn’t have much of a relationship at all if we didn’t place some trust in each other.
As I pottered about the house I soon found myself idly wondering about some of the other guys in this little group of ours and what their relationships were like.
Matt and Luke seemed just as solid as Justin and I were, on the outside at least, but did I really know them well enough to come to that conclusion? Tim and Guy also seemed quite tight, though I couldn’t say that I knew them quite as well as I did their friends. As for Ben, who was no longer here, I always found him a little bit difficult to read, although his girlfriend, Samantha, was a total sweetheart as far as I was concerned. Ben was something of a character and you never quite knew what he was going to come out with next. I was glad that he had made a full recovery, though, and I hoped that we would see both him and Sam back down here again some time soon.
That just left the two other guys who were what you could call ‘on the fringe’ of the group. One of these was Aaron, who I have to say I was growing to like more and more, and the other one was Tony, Luke’s cousin, whom I had yet to meet. I wasn’t sure how he was going to fit into the whole scene, or even if he would be around for very long at all, but with him and Aaron both being about the same age I couldn’t help but wonder if they might become friends – or perhaps even more.
I guess only time would tell how this might all end up.
* * *
At about the time when Aaron finished mowing the lawn, I was taking a little nap, catching some zzz’s on the lounge.
‘What’s this then?’ he laughed as he waltzed straight into the lounge room, topless but with his t-shirt stuffed into the band of his shorts and just hanging down loose, and finding me there. ‘Time for a little nanna-nap, Grand Pa?’
Without even giving me a chance to say a word he went through to the kitchen and grabbed a can of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator, then came back and collapsed onto the chair beside me.
‘All done?’ I asked him as I sat up and came back into focus.
‘Anything else you want done while I’m here?’
‘What, are you trying to steal ALL my profits from the holiday takings or something?’
‘Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?’
With a grin I got to my feet and playfully ruffled his hair, intending to go into the office to find some cash for him to add to his motor bike fund. However, just at that moment I noticed another visitor had arrived, with Luke coming up the path, complete with what I assumed was the new stray in tow.
I waved them inside while I quickly disappeared into the office and found some money for Aaron. When I made it back into the lounge room the three of them were standing there chatting, with Aaron and Tony having already been introduced and each of them eyeing the other off in a way that was all too familiar. Luke and I just rolled our eyes at each other, knowing full well what was going on.
I handed Aaron his hard earned cash, which he hastily shoved into the pocket of his shorts, and then I was subsequently introduced to Tony. He was a good looking kid, tall and thin, about fifteen or sixteen, with blonde hair that was a touch too long and wildly unkempt, and wearing a white t-shirt and faded jeans. His face was thin and free of blemishes and his skin was tanned, like that of someone who had spent a lot of time on a surfboard. Around his neck he wore a bone necklace, with the white of that and his t-shirt contrasting sharply with his tanned skin.
It wasn’t hard to see why Aaron seemed to have been immediately taken by him.
‘So, this is the new stray that you’ve taken in, eh, Luke? Nice to meet you Tony. We’ve heard a lot about you already,’ I said to him as I shook his hand.
He cast a quizzical look from me to Luke and back again, as if to ask just what had been said about him.
‘Don’t worry. It’s all been good,’ I added, which seemed to ease his concern. ‘So, Luke, what’s happening?’ I asked.
‘Not a lot. Just wanted to bring Tony by to meet you. We’ve told him you’re one of the good guys in town. I hope that’s okay with you?’
‘Of course. You guys all know that you’re welcome here anytime, and that goes for you too, Tony, okay?’
‘Thanks,’ he replied, while shuffling about on his feet a little, looking a little unsure of himself, and perhaps a little uncomfortable about being the centre of attention.
‘Hey, Aaron,’ Luke then said. ‘How about you take Tony out and show him around the park? I just want to have a chat with Scott about something.’
‘Sure,’ he answered. ‘Just keep an eye on him though… poor old Grand Pa might nod off to sleep on you! C’mon Tony, let’s go have a swim.’
‘Just bugger off will you, Aaron! And don’t go pissing in the pool!’
We all laughed and Scott and I could still hear Aaron laughing as the two of them opened the gate into the pool enclosure. We watched them as they both dropped their t-shirts on the grass and dived in, wearing only their shorts.
‘Looks like they’ve hit it off all right then?’ Scott said.
‘Yeah. I hope Tony meets a few good guys while he’s here.’
‘How long is he staying for?’
‘Ha! How long is a piece of string?’
‘Ahhh… an open ended visit then?’
‘You could say that.’
Out in the pool the two boys were splashing around and laughing as if they had been friends for years, with the sounds of their enjoying themselves echoing around the park, bringing a few old heads out of their vans to see who it was that had disturbed their quiet morning, before once more retreating inside.
Glancing across at Luke I noticed him staring in the direction of the boys, yet he seemed to be miles away. I waited for him to say something, but there was no sign of him wanting to talk.
‘So, what was it that you wanted to talk about?’ I eventually asked him. He looked at me for a moment, concern etched across his face, then turned and walked across to one of the seats and sat down.
‘I… I wanted to ask for some advice,’ he eventually said.
‘Sure. Only too glad to help if I can,’ I answered. ‘What about?’
‘Something happened the other day… at the University,’ he began. He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together in front of him. Whatever it was he seemed concerned, but coming out with it obviously worried him more.
‘Are you in trouble of some sort?’ I prompted, which at least resulted in his looking up at me.
‘What? No, it’s nothing like that. It’s… well… about my lecturer, Cassidy,’ he replied.
‘The guy with the orange Kombi van?’
‘Yeah, that’s him.’
‘What about him?’
‘The other day when I was handing in an assignment he… he hit on me. In his office,’ he eventually said. ‘He tried pushing up against me and putting his hands all over me. Fuck, he even had a hard on, I could feel it when he pushed against me. I can tell you, it freaked me out a bit, so I got out of there as fast as I could…’
‘But… well, I just don’t know what to do about it… and I guess I just needed to talk to someone about it… someone other than Matt, I mean.’
‘Why not Matt?’ I asked.
‘Because… I’m not sure how he might react. Matt can be a little, errr, protective at times, if you know what I mean.’
‘As in, you’re worried he might do something foolish.’
‘I suppose that’s one way of putting it.’
‘And the other thing is,’ he continued, ‘I still have to face Cassidy every week…’
‘So you’re worried he might try it on again, or even worse, that it might affect your grades?’
He simply nodded.
‘Have you seen him in class since it happened?’
‘No. I skipped the next lecture.’
‘That’s fair enough.’
Outside in the park the sounds of two boys swimming and playing, or whatever it is that teenagers called it these days, had died down and so I turned and looked back out toward the pool to see what they were up to. Aaron and Tony were lying in the sun on their backs on the soft kikuyu lawn beside the pool, both with their arms folded behind their heads and looking at the sky, yet at the same time I could see that every now and then they would turn their heads and talk to each other.
‘So, what do you think I should do?’ Luke asked from behind me. I walked over and sat on the seat next to him.
‘To be honest,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything for the moment.’
Luke frowned at me.
‘Mate, if you don’t want Matt to find out because you’re worried how he might react, then that’s fine, don’t say anything to him. I certainly won’t say anything about it to anyone, not even to Justin, so in that respect the safest course is probably just to let sleeping dogs lie.’
‘And Cassidy?’ he asked.
‘Well, one way or another I think that at some stage you are going to have to confront the situation.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I was worried about,’ he remarked.
‘I take it that you don’t want to take any kind of official action about it… because then Matt would be sure to find out, wouldn’t he?’
‘But what if Cassidy tries again?’ I asked, to which he simply shrugged. ‘I think you have two choices,’ I said to him.
‘First, you just sit tight and simply wait to see what happens. Then if he does nothing and it all blows over that probably means he knows he’s done wrong and won’t be game to try anything again. In which case you don’t have to worry any more.’
‘You could go and see him and lay it on the line. Tell him he was way out of order and that if there’s ever any attempt to try again, or if he tries any sort of retribution through marking your grades down, you’ll go straight to the administration and make an official complaint and tell them exactly what has happened.’
He thought about that for a moment before saying, ‘I don’t know if I could do that. Confront him, I mean.’
‘What about putting it in writing? Could you drop a note on his desk when you next go to one of his classes? Or even email it to him? I’m sure that would put the fear of God into him.’
At the email suggestion I finally saw the gloom lift from his face as his eyes lit up.
‘And I could also tell him that I’ve told some friends and have emailed it to them as well.’
‘Well, that sounds a bit melodramatic perhaps, but yes, I think that could put a bit more pressure on him, just in case he doesn’t take you seriously enough.’
He was smiling now, which was just as well, as we were soon interrupted by the incessant chatter of two boys coming back up the path to the house.
‘How was the swim, boys?’ I asked as they came through the doorway, oblivious to the fact that they were dripping water everywhere.
‘Unreal,’ Aaron answered.
‘Yeah, it was great thanks,’ replied Tony. ‘It’s a nice place you have here.’
‘Thank you, Tony. We certainly like it here,’ I remarked.
‘Well, I guess that we should be getting back then,’ Luke said while he looked at his watch. I glanced at the clock on the wall and it was nearing lunch time. Just where the morning had gone I wasn’t too sure.
We talked for a few minutes more, with Luke thanking me for the advice, then after saying their farewells Luke and Tony headed off down the beach toward their place, accompanied by Aaron.
I smiled at the thought of Luke having to listen to a lot of teenage babble on the way home.
After they had all left I mopped up the puddle of water that had been left by the boys on the tiled floor inside the front door, then headed for the kitchen to have some lunch. After that I tidied up around the house some more, before later that afternoon logging on to my computer to attend to some online banking and pay some of the invoices that Sally had entered that day, and to also check my emails.
My inbox was soon filled with the usual spam and crap that seemed to be commonplace these days, despite the invention of spam filters, but in amongst all that I noticed that there were also two emails from Luke.
Clicking on the first of these I soon found it was addressed not to me but to his lecturer, Tom Cassidy, but I started reading it anyway.
‘Tom,’ it began. ‘I’m sure that you are aware that what happened in your office two days ago was entirely inappropriate and that such contact between faculty and students is not permitted.’
Okay, so far so good, I thought.
‘I have discussed your actions with several friends, who have recommended that I should go straight to the University administration and advise them of the incident; however at this time I have no wish to see you punished for what happened. You must know, however, that there can NEVER be a repeat of this. In the event that you should try to do anything like this again, or should you be considering any form of retribution for my rejection of your advances, please know that I most definitely will go to the administration and let them know exactly what occurred. I am quite serious about this.’
Very good. Talking tough. I like it.
‘You should also know that copies of this email have been sent to the friends I have discussed this matter with and they will have no hesitation in supporting my actions, should the need arise.
‘As far as I am concerned I will never discuss this with you again, unless of course you choose to ignore what I have said. Regards, Luke.’
Okay, so that last bit might be just a bit melodramatic, but I’m sure the message will get through. Good on you, Luke, I thought.
I then clicked on Luke’s second email, which was basically just a thank you for the chance to talk things over with me. I replied to that one and said that he was more than welcome, that I was glad that I was of some help, and that if he ever needed someone to talk to I would only be too happy to be that person.
Just at that moment Sally then stuck her head trough the doorway between the house and the office to say that she was heading home.
‘All right then. I’ll keep an ear open for the bell,’ I called back to her. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’
I heard the bell above the office door ring as she left, then turned my attention back toward the other emails, spending another hour or so working on the computer tidying up a few things.
At around six o’clock I heard the bell above the door ring once more and so I headed out to see who was there. It was an elderly couple wanting an onsite van for the night. As I finished with them and handed over the key to Number Seven, Justin came in through the front door, looking slightly sunburnt and in good spirits. He held the door open for the visitors and was thanked for his thoughtfulness, then after they had left he glanced around to make sure nobody else was in sight, then came and planted a kiss on my cheek.
‘Have a good day?’ I asked.
‘Yep,’ he replied. ‘Matt scored himself a job at the petrol station. Apparently they have added a section with spare parts, so they needed someone who knows all about cars and car parts.’
‘Sounds right up his alley then.’
‘Yeah. He’s stoked. He can’t wait to get home to tell Luke. How was your day?’
‘Interesting,’ I replied.