‘All good?’ Harry asked, once I had disconnected.
‘Yeah, he’s on his way,’ I replied, to which he gave a nod.
Just then our waitress came to our table carrying a basket containing the garlic bread I had ordered.
‘Someone else is going to be joining us,’ I said to her, before she had the chance to leave us. ‘Would it be possible to add another meal to our order please?’
‘Certainly. Would you like to see a menu again?’
‘No, that’s okay. He only asked for a salad, or something light.’
‘We have a Chicken Caesar salad on the menu,’ she suggested.
‘That sounds perfect. Thank you.’
‘I’ll let the chef know.’
As she left, I watched with some amusement as Harry’s head turned and he studied her retreating backside. When he finally turned back around to face me he found me grinning at him.
‘What? It’s not just you poofters who like to have a good perv, you know!’
‘Apparently not! But whatever will your wife think?’ I teased.
‘Fuck, she’s worse than me!’ he laughed. ‘You should see her when any of the Brisbane Bronco football team and all their muscles are around!’
‘Well yeah, I guess I can understand that.’
For a moment he looked at me with this blank expression, then suddenly smiled. ‘Yeah, of course you would,’ he said.
‘So, how about the rest of our business?’ I prompted.
‘What? Oh, yes, of course,’ he replied, while reaching for his folders.
‘You said there was good news and bad news.’
‘Well, it’s like this,’ he said. ‘As far as that house is concerned, I have a real estate agent, from one of the large national chains, working on it for you. He rang me this morning before I left Brisbane and the latest is that they have the contact details for the owners and are trying to get in touch them, but at this stage they are waiting for them to respond.’
‘It’s an estate or something, isn’t it? So would that complicate things, in as much as trying to make an offer?’
‘There’s no way of knowing. Whoever it was left to might be keen to offload, so they can get their hands on some cash, or they might fancy the coastal lifestyle and want it for themselves. We’ll know more once Steffan, the agent, has spoken to them.’
‘How much do you know about the place?’
‘Not a lot. I had a good walk around it and definitely like the look of it. It’s empty at the moment and it could do with some fixing up. It has great views, and it looks like there are some acres. The guy who bought it disappeared in his yacht. The owner before that was found dead in the garage, and had been lying there for a year or so, but apart from that, no, I don’t know much more. I’ll show it to you when we get to the house.’
‘Do you have any idea what it’s worth?’
‘None whatsoever,’ I replied. ‘What does Steffan say?’
‘Well, it’s a coastal property, but despite that it’s not really close to a major centre, which helps. We’ve had a look at other similar properties in the general region and they range from about six hundred and fifty thousand, up to about one point five million. That doesn’t really take into account the views though, which would probably add a little. We did find one property, however, that was very similar but on less land, and it was priced at less than six hundred thousand. It was only twelve acres, as opposed to almost one hundred for the one you want, but Steffan is optimistic that if they will in fact sell, the price won’t be over the top.’
‘Wow. That’s still a lot of money.’
‘That’s true. But for someone who is going to be earning six million plus over the next three or four years, before taxes, is money really an object?’
‘I . . . I never really thought about it like that.’
He smiled at me. We both knew that this was all new to me and that without him I would be way out of my league. Over the past few years, while he had been guiding my career, he had become the closest thing I’d ever had to a father, unless I counted Luke, but he was too young to be a father figure, even despite everything he had ever done for me. I really needed Harry’s advice as I entered this stage of my life, and while he would benefit handsomely financially from my success, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge him one cent of it.
‘I’ve also had a chat with the financiers who handle our firm’s business,’ he added. ‘Given the pending deals that you have on the table, and will most likely sign, they have no problems in arranging the finances for whatever you want to do, and over whatever terms you want . . . within reason, of course.’
‘Really! Mate, I don’t want it to go to your head, but you’re about to hit the big league. With the ideas you’ve already flagged to me, it’s obvious you’re thinking about the future, which is commendable, and I’m here to help you in whatever way I can.’
‘I know, Harry. And I truly appreciate that. Thank you.’
At that moment our waitress re-appeared, carrying with her a tray with two small plates on it, and with Luke following hot on her heels.
I stood up as they approached and Harry turned in his seat to see why, as the waitress set the tray on the edge of the table and then placed a plate in front of where both Harry and I were sitting.
‘Tony, fancy meeting you here!’ Luke said.
‘Yeah, whatever,’ I laughed. ‘Luke this is Harry Preston, my agent and all-round guardian angel. Harry, my cousin, Luke.’
‘Great to meet you,’ Harry said, as they shook hands. ‘I’ve heard quite a lot about you over the years.’
‘Likewise,’ Luke replied. ‘I hope he doesn’t cause you too much trouble?’
‘Nothing we can’t handle,’ Harry replied. ‘If he gives us to much grief I just sick Shi-Anne onto him . . . she’s his publicist and she’s about the only one who doesn’t take any crap from him.’
‘Nice to know that someone has him under the thumb, then.’
‘Oh yeah, Shi-Anne has everyone under her thumb . . . even Harry,’ I added, which caused Luke to raise his eyebrows toward Harry.
‘You better believe it,’ Harry joked. ‘She can certainly be savage when she wants to be.’
I sat back down at the table, and the others joined me, with Luke taking the seat beside me.
‘I ordered you a Caesar salad, that okay?’
‘Yeah, that’s fine. Thanks,’ he replied, then helped himself to a piece of garlic bread.
‘How about we get the first order of business out of the way, then we enjoy lunch?’ Harry asked, as he pulled the contract out once more and passed it over to me.
I flicked through to the page with the little yellow tab sticking out to one side, which indicated the page I needed to sign, then pulled out my pen and scribbled my signature on the dotted line, then printing my name and adding the date on the spot beside it.
‘That sure looks a bit neater than it used to,’ Luke said.
‘What can I say? I’ve been practicing,’ I said, as I passed the papers and the pen over to him, while Harry looked on intently.
Just below my signature was another dotted line, with the word Witness printed below it.
Luke added his signature, along with printing his name and the date, then handed everything back to me.
‘There you go. Nothing to it,’ I said. ‘Well worth the price of lunch.’
‘So, do you want to talk about your other project now, or leave it ’til later?’
‘No, now’s fine,’ I said, while giving Luke a wink. ‘Luke might as well hear all about it now, as later.’
‘Projects? Just what have you two been up to?’
‘Not a lot . . . yet,’ Harry replied. ‘Your young cousin here has some big ideas, and now that he’s about to get an income that might match those ideas, he’s all gung-ho about springing into action.’
Luke looked at me with his eyebrows raised, already curious and silently asking for more detail.
‘Well, you know how I made mention the other day about moving back here?’ I said to him.
‘How would you like me, and Aaron, as your neighbours?’
‘That old Perkins place, Bayview, just past Avalon, we’re trying to track down its owners. It’s empty and I want to make an offer on it.’
‘Man, that would be awesome!’ he enthused.
‘Yeah, it would be, wouldn’t it? At the moment it’s just an idea though, so please don’t go telling everyone just yet. At least not until we know more.’
‘No, of course not. I love the idea of it though.’
‘So do I, mate. So do I.’
‘And what else are you planning?’
I turned back toward Harry, who passed me a folder, which I set on the table between Luke and me and opened it. While I was doing that Harry picked up his fork and started on his appetizer.
‘What’s this?’ Luke enquired.
‘Hopefully, my plan to do some good in the world,’ I replied, which earned another quizzical look from Luke and a chuckle from Harry.
‘Does it involve a mask, tights, and a cape?’ Luke teased.
Turning my attention to the papers in front of me I saw that first page was simply a letter, addressed to Harry and from a group called the Nathan Reynolds Trust, who I had never heard of.
‘Hey, I think I’ve heard of them,’ Luke said. ‘Aren’t they . . .’
‘Sssshhh, Luke. How about we just let him read it,’ Harry said.
‘What the fuck are you pair on about?’ I demanded.
‘Just read it and see what you think,’ Harry scolded, so I turned my attention back to the letter.
‘Dear Mr. Preston,’ it began.
‘Following our conversation of today I am writing to thank you for your interest in our organisation.
As you are aware, the Nathan Reynolds Trust was set up by the family and friends of a young gay man named Nathan Reynolds, who tragically lost his life in 2001, the victim of a senseless and violent attack.
The Trust was established so that his name would live on, and so that others who found themselves in a similar situation; alone, afraid and rejected, had someplace to turn to.’
I stopped reading and looked up at Harry. ‘What happened to him?’ I asked.
‘He was kicked out of home, and for the same reason you were,’ Harry replied. ‘He was seventeen. He was on the streets, he had no place to go.’
‘What happened to him?’ I repeated.
‘He was bashed. One night he was in a park and this group of guys started hassling him. They were drunk. They started calling him names. He tried to push past them and get away, but they set on him, punching him, pushing him down, kicking him . . .’
‘He was on life support for several weeks,’ Luke continued. ‘But there was no hope, and eventually his family turned it off.’
‘His family!’ I spat. ‘It was their fault in the first place!’
‘They know that, Tony. And they live with that every day,’ Harry said. ‘They didn’t bash him though, and when they started finding out about how often this happens that’s when they set about wanting to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone again.’
‘A bit fucking late now, isn’t it?’
‘For Nathan, yes. But not for the countless others out there.’
I looked back at the letter, trying to hold back the tears which I knew were coming, tears for someone I didn’t know personally, yet knew intimately. I knew his struggle. I knew what he had endured. And I knew that it was something that shouldn’t be happening in this day and age.
‘That . . . that could have been me,’ I said softly, as I felt Luke’s hand close over mine.
‘But it wasn’t,’ Luke said.
I wiped away the beginnings of my tears, then started reading again.
‘Through the hard work and dedication of Nathan’s family and friends, many thousands of dollars were raised to establish the Nathan Reynolds Trust, with the aim being to obtain suitable accommodation which could be used to provide a safe haven for any LGBT teens who found themselves in the same situation as Nathan. Thanks to a generous benefactor a house was bequeathed to the trust in 2005 and the Trust was able to begin operations, opening the Nathan Reynolds Hostel.
It is, however, a constant battle to obtain funding and maintain the services the Trust provides, let alone dare to dream that we may one day expand on these services, so we are always grateful for any support that we may receive, however large or small.
Please find enclosed our brochure, further detailing our facilities and the services we provide.
If you would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
We look forward to hearing from you.
When I had finished I looked up at Luke, then at Harry.
‘Is she . . .?’
‘Nathan’s mother,’ Harry answered.
‘The Trust has a house on Sydney’s northern beaches which they operate out of. Shelley handles most of the administration herself, while other family members and friends help out with maintenance and whatever else they can. The Trust employs a counsellor and a live-in housekeeper. They get fuck all help from the state government and their operational expenses are pretty high, simply because of where they are located. They get buy with small donations and fundraisers, like car washes.’
‘How much?’ I asked.
‘Bottom line . . . they need about one hundred thousand a year just to pay their staff and basic operational expenses.’
Luke let out a low whistle. ‘That’s not chicken feed,’ he said.
‘No, it isn’t,’ Harry replied.
‘So, what can we do, then?’ I asked. ‘I’d be happy to give them their hundred grand a year, but that’s obviously not enough.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Luke.
‘You heard her. They want to expand, so they need more than that. A fucking lot more than that.’
* * *
At about that time our waitress returned to the table carrying three plates with our meals. When she spotted my untouched appetizer she asked, ‘Is everything all right?’
‘Yes, of course. Sorry, we were just tied up discussing business,’ I said to her, while picking up the small fork that was sitting on the plate.
After placing the meals on the table she picked up Harry’s plate, while I finally started on my appetizer, which I found to be delicious.
For the next little while we ate in silence, as the three of us all concentrated on our meals, although our thoughts were obviously elsewhere, interrupted only by another visit from the waitress, bringing with her a bottle of red and three glasses.
‘You know, wouldn’t it be good if there was a hostel like that in this part of the state?’ Luke eventually said.
‘What?’ I asked. ‘Now you really are dreaming.’
‘No, I’m serious. Sydney isn’t the only place where this kind of shit happens . . . it goes on in every town, I’m sure.’
‘And your point is?’
‘They want to expand, and you want to do some good yourself. Why not help fund their expansion, or at least partly fund it? But tell them you want them to expand up this way, so that it’s not just the city kids who have access to these services.’
‘It’s not a bad idea,’ Harry offered, between mouthfuls of steak. ‘They obviously need a bit of help with their Sydney operation, so maybe you could give them just enough cash to help them balance their books down there, then you could ask them to look at opening a similar hostel in this area, saying you will partly fund it, if they’ll administer it.’
‘And we could start fundraising ourselves, get local businesses on board, even establish a group to help out . . . or, better still, I’m sure there is already a Gay and Lesbian Support group in the area.’
‘I think I need to talk to Guy,’ I suddenly said, as things seemed to fall into place in my mind.
‘Guy? What for?’ Luke asked.
‘He works for a production company . . .’
Suddenly I saw his eyes light up, as if the proverbial light bulb had suddenly switched on inside Luke’s head.
‘And he knows people who produce documentaries . . .’ he said.
‘And he told me himself they are always on the lookout for stories.’
‘And having a well known author supporting the cause certainly wouldn’t hurt!’ Harry added.
‘Sweet Jesus. I think this could work,’ I said. ‘Highlight the plight of these kids, then hit the fundraising trail. Who knows, we might even be able to shame the government into dipping into those notoriously tightly zippered pockets of theirs.’
‘One way or another, it looks like Nathan is going to be remembered by more than just those who knew him,’ Harry said.
I picked up my wine glass and held it up in front of me.
‘Here’s to the memory of Nathan Reynolds,’ I said. Harry and Luke both picked up their glasses as well and clinked them against mine.
‘To Nathan Reynolds,’ they both said.
* * *
It was mid-afternoon when Harry and I finally turned onto Beachside Lane and headed toward the house.
‘Nearly there now,’ I said to him. ‘The guys’ place is just up here on the right, and the old Perkins place is just down past it.’
‘You truly like it here, don’t you?’ Harry asked me, while looking around at the rolling hills and patches of thick Australian bush.
‘I love the place,’ I replied. ‘It’s the only place I could ever really call home. I just don’t understand why it has taken me so long to come back here.’
‘I think I might know why,’ he replied.
‘Yeah, I’m beginning to understand why as well. There’s a bit of guilt and a whole lot of being afraid rolled up in the answer to that one!’
‘You could quite possibly be right there.’
As we came to the last bend in the road before we reached Avalon, I slowed down slightly so that Harry could get a good look at it as we passed.
‘This is where the guys live,’ I said to him. ‘And it’s where I used to live when I first came here.’
‘Home, sweet home, eh?’
‘Yeah. For quite a while it was just that.’
‘And the other place?’ he asked.
‘Just up ahead,’ I replied, as I noted that Aaron hadn’t yet arrived and began to accelerate back up to speed.
A minute or so later I slowed once more and pulled into the gateway of the place I one day hoped to call home. ‘This is it,’ I said to Harry, as I came to a stop and turned off the ignition. We were pointing uphill, directly toward the house.
‘Come on. I’ll show you around the place,’ I said to him. ‘There’s never anyone here.’
We climbed out of the truck and jumped the fence beside the impressive gates, then made our way up the hill toward the house. About half way up I suggested that he take a look behind him, and when he did his eyes lit up at the view.
‘Fucking hell. That’s spectacular,’ he said, taking in the scene.
‘See . . . what did I tell you!’ I laughed. ‘Can you imagine waking up to that every morning?’
‘Yeah. Actually, I can.’
We continued the rest of the climb up to the house, where we found that nothing had changed from my last visit.
I took Harry for a walk around the outside of the buildings, peering in through all the windows and getting a good look at what the place had to offer. He made all the right noises and said that he was on my side and that he hoped that he and Steffan would be able to put something together that the owners would find appealing, but at the same time offered me a word of warning about getting my hopes up.
‘Yeah, I know,’ I replied. ‘But a guy can dream, can’t he?’
‘Oh, absolutely. Anybody who has ever achieved anything in life has started out with just a dream. The trick is to know what will only ever be a dream, and what has, or can be, turned into reality. Recognise the difference, and you’ll be able to go as far as you ever want to.’
‘Or stay stuck in the same old routine, hoping and wishing and dreaming, but never getting any further ahead, until one day you realise you’ve missed the boat altogether.’
‘I’ve seen it often enough, mate. Talented people with the world at their feet, who simply fail to recognise the signs, or heed the advice of those who offer it. They think that the world is going to drop everything in their lap and all they have to do is keep doing the same thing over and over and that eventually they’ll make that big breakthrough, and fame and fortune will follow.’
‘Even I know it doesn’t work that way,’ I said, as we sat ourselves down on the edge of the front verandah and gazed back toward the blue waters of the bay. ‘No matter what we want to do in life we have to work for it. We also have to be smart enough to recognise that we need to grow, to change, and to be willing to accept that not everything we do will work.’
‘I know you can see that. That’s why I think you’ll do way better than most of the other writers I’ve worked with, at least those in the past ten years or so.’
‘You do?’ I asked, quite surprised.
‘Yeah, I do. You can already see the need to change things up, to try something different. You showed me that today with those few pages of your new story. You were even ahead of me on that front, so it shows that you’re thinking ahead.’
‘Even if you yourself were the one who kept telling me to stick with what I know?’ I teased.
‘Even then!’ he laughed.
‘So, where do I go from here, oh wise and powerful one?’
‘One step at a time, sunshine. First we get this new story done, or at least the first draft, so we can show our American friends where you’re heading. Then after that we start thinking about what follows that one.’
‘Oh, I already have a few ideas about that,’ I answered.
‘Why does that not surprise me?’
* * *
When we reached the house a short time later there was still no sign of Aaron, so I showed Harry into the guest house and dropped his bag onto his bed for him.
‘Very cosy,’ he said, while taking a look around.
‘Yeah, it is, actually. It’s a pretty good idea their having somewhere separate for guests.’
‘I think so too. What time do they all usually get home?’
‘Matt . . . Luke’s partner . . . is usually home around five-thirty, with the others getting here around six-thirty or so. Plenty of time yet. What do you want to do for the rest of the afternoon?’
‘There’s a beach not far from here, isn’t there?’
‘Just through the scrub. And it’s a great beach too.’
‘Then what the hell are we waiting for?’
To be continued . . .