For the next hour I typed away feverishly, working on a synopsis for the story and getting down as much additional detail as I could.
I had, of course, already written a number of paragraphs, scenes and sections, which could easily be incorporated into the story at the appropriate point, and these would also be used as something of a selling point when I pitched the idea to Harry tomorrow. The other thing I needed to write, however, was a decent opening chapter, so once I had the outline complete I turned my attention to that.
The opening was something which needed to grab the reader’s attention, while at the same time introduce the primary character, or characters, in such a way that the reader was engaged by them, having been given a brief introduction to them and being left wanting to know more.
Some action was always good. So too was letting slip some of the characters’ flaws or vulnerabilities . . . just enough to get the reader to want to take their side and invest some time in their new relationship, even though they had only just met.
I thought for a few moments about how I could do that and it didn’t take long before an idea started to form. Once more I began to type, just putting down some rough notes for starters, but fairly soon I felt I had the basics of my opening chapter mapped out, ready to be fleshed out and polished up in the morning, in readiness for its unveiling.
When I stopped a short time later, my attention having been interrupted by the sound of a vehicle coming down the road, I was actually feeling quite pleased with myself. It was approaching six o’clock and it wouldn’t be long before the guys would start arriving home, so I figured that it was about time I switched hats once more and turned my attention back to my cooking duties.
I believed that I had enough to work with now so that Harry would be able to get a fair idea of where I was heading. I was also confident that after some edits in the morning he would know enough about my vision for this story to feel comfortable with what I was trying to achieve.
Whether Harry liked it or not I still intended writing the story, but I would feel a whole lot better by having him onside. When it came time to push it toward a publisher, especially having been written by an unknown, I knew that the process would be a whole lot easier if it was being driven by someone as respected as Harry obviously was.
Satisfied with what I had achieved for the moment I turned my attention toward finishing dinner. I still had a salad to finish, as well as the berries to wash and cut up for dessert. Neither of those jobs would take too long, I thought, by which time the guys would likely be starting to arrive home, so I would then be able to start cooking the seafood.
The car I had heard zoomed right on past the house, obviously not being one of the guys, so I headed for the refrigerator and retrieved the ingredients for the salad. After selecting a large bowl from those I had pulled from the cupboards earlier, I set about combining the ingredients for a tasty Asian noodle salad, which I thought would serve as a nice accompaniment for the salmon.
With that soon done and placed back in the refrigerator I set to work on the strawberries, washing, cutting off the tops and then cutting into quarters, before then mixing in the blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. Served with the Mango Sorbet I had purchased, and drizzled with fresh passionfruit pulp, they would top the meal off quite well, I thought.
Just as I was finishing those and placing them back in the refrigerator as well I heard a vehicle drive into the yard, and looking out the kitchen window I was just in time to see Matt climbing out of his beast and head toward the house.
I heard his feet on the steps by the back door and then the door squeak open. ‘Honey, I’m home!’ he called out.
‘Smart arse!’ I called back, just as he appeared in the kitchen.
‘Hey Tony, what’s going on?’ he asked, after taking a quick look around at everything I had spread out.
‘It’s called dinner,’ I replied. ‘My treat.’
‘Don’t sound so shocked. And if you stand there any longer with your mouth open I’ll give you something to do.’
‘Orright, orright, my mum always taught me to never get in the way when a girl was busy in the kitchen!’
‘You can be such an arse sometimes!’
‘Yeah, but you love me anyhow!’
‘You keep dreaming,’ I replied with a laugh.
He disappeared down the hall and a few moments later I heard the tap running in the bathroom. Not long after that he re-appeared in the doorway, changed out of his work clothes and wearing shorts and a t-shirt which looked a size or two too small for him.
‘I hope you’re not trying to impress me with that get-up?’ I said as he entered the room.
‘Ha! Who are you kidding?’ he remarked, offering a grin as he did so.
‘Yeah, well, I was just getting in early . . . you know, just in case.’
‘So, what do you want me to help with?’ he asked.
‘For starters, how about you light the barbeque?’ I suggested. ‘Once it’s hot the guys should nearly be home, then there are some King Prawn skewers in the refrigerator that we can put on. I’ll get started on the Hollandaise sauce to go with them.’
‘And what else have we got?’
‘Salmon steaks with Thai sauce and a Thai noodle salad, followed by Mango sorbet and fresh berries for dessert.’
‘Oh wow. Sounds great. Is anyone else coming?’
‘Just the six of us. Just like old times, eh?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ I replied.
* * *
By the time Luke arrived home, and then Aaron showed up, followed shortly afterwards by Tim and Guy, Matt and I had things really humming. The appetizer was ready, the Salmon was almost done, and I was about to start plating up.
Without a great deal of effort I managed to convince Aaron to set the table on the back patio so that we could eat outdoors in the late afternoon, just before the sun settled down for the night, and with some candles lit and subtle lighting I was sure it would prove to be the perfect place to eat.
While I was putting the finishing touches to the appetizers Aaron had hunted the guys outside. They had poured themselves some drinks and were sitting down, already waiting, when we emerged shortly afterwards, carrying the beginnings of our feast.
A seat was empty at one end of the table, which is where I sat down. Aaron was on my left then there was Matt, Luke at the far end of the table, then Tim and Guy both to my right.
‘Oh wow!’ Guy said as I sat a plate down in front of him. ‘Whoever knew you could do this?’
‘Well, I sure as hell didn’t know,’ Luke said.
‘Me neither,’ added Aaron. ‘But now I do know, I can tell you who will be doing all the cooking when he’s around me.’
The plates I had served up each had three King Prawn skewers, each with three prawns impaled upon them, served over a bed of chopped lettuce, with a bowl of sauce to the side. I had also done a few extras, just in case they did go down a treat, although Matt had polished off the first of those just as soon as he had finished cooking them, having been unable to resist.
The sounds of satisfaction which came from the group as they chewed through them was, in itself, the most satisfying thing to me. There was very little talk. All that could be heard was the sound of chewing, accompanied by the song of the local insects coming out to play, and the not too distant waves, rolling in onto our favourite beach.
When we had finished Aaron and I quickly gathered up the plates and we retreated to the kitchen so that we could serve up the next course.
‘Thanks, mate,’ I said to him, pulling him into a hug once we had dropped the plates on the kitchen sink.
‘What for? I don’t mind helping you. It’s the least I can do for the guy who has given me a reason to live again.’
‘Tony, you just don’t know how much these last few days have meant to me. There were times when . . .’
‘Sshhhh . . . none of that talk here, babe,’ I said as I hugged him once more. ‘Whatever has happened in the past is just that, in the past. Let’s just enjoy the present and make the most of what is ahead of us, okay?’
I wasn’t sure what brought this sudden little episode on. It could have been any number of emotions that had been building up inside of him, but the fact that he was now willing to let them out and even talk about them was, in my mind at least, a positive.
I quickly kissed him, then released him. ‘Now, how about we serve up the next course before they start rioting out there? We can talk again later . . . if that’s what you want, of course.’
‘Okay,’ he quietly answered.
‘Great. Now, can you please grab some plates, while I get the mains from the oven?’
‘Yes, chef,’ he replied.
I quickly cast a curious glance his way, which didn’t go un-noticed.
‘What? Don’t you think I watch some of those cooking shows on TV?’ he cheekily replied.
‘You crack me up sometimes,’ I said.
‘Is that anything like having something up your crack?’
‘Sweet Jesus!’ I muttered. ‘I’ve created a monster.’
‘No, but we can work on that later too, if you want.’
I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry at that one, or at what seemed to be a swing from a low to a high in the space of just a few minutes. Sure, this was a roller-coaster ride that we have been on since I had returned, and I guess that allowances needed to be made for such emotional times, but nonetheless it still sat there in the back of my mind. Hopefully it meant nothing. But . . .
Aaron headed for the large cupboard where he knew the plates were stored and retrieved six dinner plates, while I opened the oven and pulled out the tray of salmon, which had been finishing off as we ate our appetizers.
I could hear the gentle sizzle of the steaks as I carried the tray across to the counter. I just hoped they weren’t over-done.
‘Hmmm . . . smells great,’ Aaron said as I sat the tray down.
‘Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? They look pretty good too,’ I replied. To me at least, the golden-brown salmon, having been seared on each side and cooked for a couple of minutes, then placed into the oven to finish cooking through, looked perfect. ‘Now, there’s a large bowl of salad in the refrigerator, can you grab that and take it outside. I’ll put these on the plates, then we’re good to go.’
I set about placing a piece of fish on each plate, along with a drizzle of sauce, run around the plate in a decorative swirl. When Aaron returned I was standing back looking at the meals, admiring my handi-work.
‘Are all you fancy chefs so bloody conceited?’ he joked. ‘They look perfect, so let’s eat already!’
I cracked a smile at him, which he returned, then he moved in to pick up three plates. I picked up the other three and followed him outside, placing the plates on the table in front of Matt and Luke, before sitting down myself.
Everyone seemed to be studying what was in front of them. Well, everyone but Aaron, who seemed to be studying me.
I smiled at him and he smiled back, then gave me a wink.
‘Guys, before we start,’ I said, ‘There’s just something I wanted to say.’
‘Oh, this’ll be good,’ Matt teased, for which he received a thump in the arm from Luke.
‘I just wanted to say thank you,’ I said. ‘Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me, and for Aaron, right from when I first arrived here, almost ten years ago. We both truly appreciate your friendship, your support, and your love. I’m almost certain that neither of us would be the people we are today if it wasn’t for everything that you guys have done for us over the years, and in particular over this past week.’
For a moment there was silence, but then, surprisingly, it was Tim who spoke first.
‘Tony, it has been our pleasure,’ he said. ‘We all know that you are Luke’s blood relative, and as unconventional as it all may seem to most folks, we are all family here. I can’t explain why or how that came about . . . well, we all know how . . . but just what bonded this little group together like it has is something that has always amazed me, right from when Guy and I had met Luke and Matt and their other friends during schoolies all those years ago. You both became a part of this family, and I know that even though we’ve all had our grumbles over the years, we’re still a family and we’re all here for each other.’
I noticed Guy place a hand over Tim’s and give a little squeeze. They looked into each other’s eyes and I could almost swear I could tell what Guy was thinking.
‘Yeah, what he said,’ Matt said, to which Luke simply rolled his eyes, before getting up and coming around to kneel between where Aaron and I were sitting. He placed an arm around each of our shoulders and hugged us both to him.
‘Like Tim said, the pleasure has all been ours,’ Luke stated. ‘We love you guys and it has given us all a whole lot of pleasure to see you get back together. The two of you belong together, you always have, and we’re all happy for you.’
He then gave us both a kiss on the temple, before getting back to his feet and starting back toward his seat. I reached across to Aaron and took his hand in mine once more, before bringing it to my lips and kissing the back of it.
‘I love you,’ I mouthed to him.
‘I love you too,’ he mouthed back to me, then leaned across the corner of the table and kissed me.
‘Right, enough of this lovey-dovey stuff. Can we eat now, before this fish gets too cold?’ Matt asked.
‘Yeah, enjoy!’ I said to them. And they did.
* * *
Over the main course our conversation ebbed and flowed as we talked about a lot of things. Tim asked about how my morning went, so I told them about meeting up with Bill before the session started, then talked them through what the whole visit had entailed. They were all genuinely interested, which meant a lot to me.
From there the subject worked its way around to the upcoming party on this weekend, with Luke giving an update on who was coming. His parents would both be there; however, his sister, whom I hadn’t seen in years might not be able to make it. Matt said his parents were coming also, along with some of their old school friends, whom he was pleased about seeing again, especially as he and Luke had missed their tenth anniversary school reunion that had been held late last year.
There were other names mentioned as well, including Ben and Samantha and their kids, Guy’s mother, and some others, most of whom I didn’t recognise. At least i sounded like plans were coming together all right.
‘Whereabouts is everyone going to stay?’ I asked. ‘I mean, I can go and doss down with Aaron for the couple of days, so you’ll have both of your guest rooms, but things could get a bit cosy around here.’
‘Well, that’s where I was going to ask a favour of Aaron,’ Luke asked. ‘Do you think you can mow that jungle just outside the back gate and clear it, so we can let a few people camp there in some tents? That’s what Ben and Sam suggested they could do.’
‘Not a problem,’ Aaron replied. ‘Just let me know how big an area you want cleared and I’ll get onto it over the next couple of days.’
As I started gathering up the empty plates, so that I could then serve up the dessert, Matt asked, ‘Hey Tony. Can you cook us up some more of those prawn things for the party? They were ace! You’ll probably need to do a fair few of them though!’
‘Gladly,’ I replied.
Luke went to get up to help me, but Aaron stopped him and took the plates from him, then came inside with me.
‘I think they liked that,’ I said to him as we set everything down on the bench beside the sink.
‘Yeah, it was all ace,’ he laughed.
‘Okay, now for the dessert. Can you get the plates please?’
While he was doing that I pulled the sorbet that I had bought today from the freezer, along with the berries from the refrigerator.
‘They look great,’ Aaron said, then went to pick out a piece of strawberry.
‘Hands off!’ I warned him as I swatted at his hand. ‘How about you find me the ice cream scoop, which Luke said was there, while I start to cut up some passionfruit.’
‘Yes chef,’ he cheekily replied, but not before managing to quickly steal half a strawberry.
While he started looking in the utensils drawer for the ice cream scoop I set about cutting six passionfruit in half, so that I could later scoop the flesh out over the berries.
A few moments later I heard, ‘Ta-Da!’ and turned around to see him brandishing the required utensil in his hand.
‘Okay then. Two neat scoops in each plate,’ I demanded.
We grinned at each other, obviously both feeling comfortable in the roles we were playing here, then we set about finishing what we had started to do.
As he scooped out the sorbet and placed it into the plates I took a large spoon and dipped it into the dish of berries, before placing them beside the iced sweet. Then I picked up two passionfruit halves and scraped the juice and pulp out of them and over the sorbet.
We repeated this for the six plates, then carried our prize to the outside table, where four hungry men were waiting.
To be continued . . .