‘It’s great to see you again,’ Paul said. ‘And especially here in Thompsonville.’
‘Yeah, it’s great to see you also,’ I replied, before shifting my gaze to his companion, a rather bookish looking young man who wasn’t quite as tall as Paul, and was as pale-skinned and dark haired as Paul was blonde and tanned.
‘Oh, sorry. Excuse my manners, this is Damien,’ Paul offered. Damien and I shook hands, but he didn’t say much. I had the impression he may have been slightly over-awed by the whole Thompsonville experience.
‘So what brings you back here?’ I asked Paul.
‘Oh well, it’s a long-weekend, and Damien hadn’t yet had the pleasure of seeing the place I grew up in, so we thought “what the heck”. And as it has turned out, we chose just the right weekend.’
‘That you did, mate.’
‘And what about you? You seem to be making a name for yourself these days.’
‘I’ve just been lucky, I guess,’ I answered.
‘I don’t think luck has got anything to do with it,’ Damien suddenly said. ‘Your books are brilliant.’
Taken somewhat by surprise I looked at him, and then at Paul, who shrugged, while offering a cheeky grin. ‘He’s an assistant librarian, and he knows his shit!’ he offered.
‘Well, thank you Damien,’ I replied. ‘It’s always nice to know when folks like my stories . . . especially folks who are themselves in the book game, in one way or another.’
‘It took me quite a bit of work to convince him that I actually knew you,’ Paul added. ‘But I think he believes me now.’
‘Well, Paul and Aaron and me, we all go back quite a ways,’ I said. ‘I’m guessing you know the story of how we all met?’
‘Yes. It was quite brave of you all to stand up to them like that,’ Damian replied.
‘Paul and Aaron were the brave ones,’ I said, as I placed an arm around Aaron’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze. ‘But they had plenty of support and they did what was right, so that’s what matters . . . well, that and the fact that they got the right result in the end.’
‘Yes. That’s very true,’ he said, while taking hold of Paul’s hand and shooting him what could only be described as a loving look.
‘So, you saw who was in the crowd?’ Paul asked, while looking toward the group of people closer to the stage, where old man Thompson and his grand-daughter were holding court.
‘Yeah. Bit of a shock that his grand-daughter was an award recipient too. She was lecturing me about something earlier, before the whole show had even started, but neither of us knew who the other was at that stage.’
Just then I felt my phone start to vibrate in my pocket, after my having switched it onto silent mode earlier in the day, so I dug it out and checked the number. ‘Excuse me for a second please, guys,’ I said, before passing my award on to Aaron to hold and then walking a few steps away to take the call.
‘Hey, Mike. Where are you?’ I said.
‘Just north of Newcastle,’ he answered. ‘Traffic was a bitch until we got there, but has lightened off a bit now we’re past.’
‘You’ve still a few hours to go then,’ I stated.
‘Yeah, but we’ll get there. I’ll call again as we get closer to you.’
‘Okay then. We’ll see you soon,’ I said, then returned to the small group.
‘Sorry about that, guys. It was my brother,’ I said, as I slipped the phone back into my pocket. ‘He’s on his way up here for the weekend as well, along with my sister and her partner.’
It was then that the rest of the gang joined us, with Guy and Tim, Matt and Luke, and Luke’s parents all looking relaxed and much like they had been having a great time.
‘So, that went well,’ Luke said, while grinning at me like a Cheshire cat.
‘Yeah, even if I did get the distinct feeling that I’d been set up,’ I replied, while trying to direct a stern glare Guy’s way.
‘What?’ Guy pleaded. ‘Don’t look at me.’
‘Well, who the hell else should I be looking at?’ I complained.
‘Just relax. We got some great footage, and Carol said that the crowds loved talking to you, and that you came across really well. The story will come together nicely.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ I said, then to Luke I added. ‘That was Mike on the phone before. They’re this side of Newcastle, so what’s that, about three hours away?’
‘Yeah, about that, depending on traffic.’
‘Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Carol along as well,’ I added.
‘Cool. The more the merrier,’ Guy answered. ‘Did you tell her how to get there?’
‘No, I didn’t think of that. Maybe you better talk to her before she leaves here?’
It was now well past lunch time, and we all realised that time was of the essence, especially given that we still had final preparations to be made for tonight’s party. With that in mind we all decided to adjourn our little reunion and head back to the house, as we still had much to do before the remaining guests were due to start arriving.
Aaron had invited Paul and Damien along, after having first suggested it to Luke at some stage throughout the afternoon, so after saying a quick thank you and farewell to Rick, Carol and Guy’s camera crew, Aaron and I headed off in the direction of our truck.
‘I was so proud of you up there today,’ Aaron said as we walked.
‘Thanks, babe. It was actually a nice thing to be involved with,’ I replied. ‘Plus, I made a few new contacts as well, so in the end I’m actually glad that I was a part of it.’
‘Contacts? Like who?’
‘Kurt and Janet for starters. They both might come in handy if we go to set up another gay youth centre with Shelley Reynolds. Kurt could be useful with raising the profile of any appeal we start, while Janet already has experience in running that kind of group, so she could be a valuable source of knowledge.’
‘You mean, you’ve hit them both up for help already?’ he asked, sounding quite surprised.
‘Well, not in so many words,’ I laughed. ‘I didn’t give any specifics, but Kurt said to contact him if there was ever anything he could do, while Janet said I could pick her brain when I explained I wanted to talk to her again at some stage in the not too distant future.’
‘Man, you don’t fuck about, do you?’ he chuckled.
‘Only with you, buddy. Only with you.’
* * *
When we all arrived back at the house things were starting to heat up, with there being at least six cars already having parked along the grass verges of the roadway.
‘Jesus,’ I said quietly as Aaron pulled into the yard, following Guy’s Toyota and Matt’s black Commodore, then driving straight down through the back of it and out through the back gate, once Matt had pulled into the garage. Pulling up beside our campsite I noticed the extra tents, and altogether about eight people that I didn’t recognise, who were either finishing off setting up their campsites, or were helping in the back yard. ‘Were these all here when you left?’
‘Nope. Looks like they’ve all started rolling in though, doesn’t it?’
‘Yeah. Even our little campground is starting to fill up,’ I commented. ‘I hope there’ll be enough room.’
After climbing out of the truck we looked back toward the house, where we could see Ben and Samantha fussing about beneath the marquee we had erected earlier. It looked like they had covered the trestle tables with table cloths and were now setting out plates and glasses and trays of eating utensils.
As we headed that way ourselves we found everyone else who had been with us in town also walking over toward the marquee.
‘Hey guys,’ Samantha said. ‘How did it all go?’
‘Like clockwork,’ Matt replied. ‘And you should have seen the look on Tony’s face when the Mayor presented him with this big-arsed, framed, gold printed certificate. I hope someone got a photo of that?’
‘We did better than that,’ Guy chirped. ‘We’ve got the whole thing on tape. Sixty Minutes, here we come!’
‘What?’ Aunt Helen asked.
‘Yeah, that’s what the whole thing was for. And we got plenty of footage of everyone who is here as well. We might be able to get you all on the TV. How would you like that?’
‘Oh, I think you can count me out,’ she laughed.
‘Oh, no,’ I assured her. ‘If I’m in it, you’re in it too!’
‘Ohhh . . . I don’t know about that.’
‘You mightn’t, but we all do,’ Luke scolded. ‘And besides, just think of the bragging rights you’ll have over all those old ducks in your ladies club up home . . . I’ll bet none of them ever got their faces on Sixty Minutes?’
‘Oh yes,’ Uncle Tom said. ‘I can just see the face of that Marjorie Darling now. She’ll have kittens when she sees you on the telly, love. It’ll be worth it just to see that, I reckon.’
‘Good, that’s settled then,’ I said firmly. ‘Now, it looks like folks are already arriving, so what else do we have to get finished for tonight?’
‘Well, most of it is done,’ Ben enthused. ‘The two barbeques are cleaned and ready. The lighting and tables and chairs are all set up. We just have to put the ice and the drinks in that old bath tub that Luke said was in the shed.’
‘And what about music?’ Sam asked.
‘All covered,’ replied Tim. ‘The karaoke machine is in the car. We’ve just got to set it up. Plus we’ve got plenty of cd’s to tide us over in the meantime.’
‘Oh, Lord help us,’ Justin exclaimed. ‘It’s a good thing we’re out of town then!’
‘Ain’t that the truth!’ Matt declared, and receiving a reproachful look from Luke’s mother for his trouble.
‘Most of the food is ready, but you said that some folks are bringing some salads and desserts, is that right, Luke?’ Sam asked.
‘Yeah,’ replied Luke. ‘Mrs Hammo will do something amazing, I’m sure.’
‘What about the prawns?’ Matt urgently enquired. ‘You haven’t forgotten them, have you?’
‘Just relax, Matt. They’ll be right,’ I replied. ‘We’ll go and start preparing them now, so you won’t miss out.’
‘I better bloody not,’ he pouted, just as I felt the phone in my pocket start to vibrate once more.
* * *
Leaving Aaron with Paul and Damien and the other guys, I retreated to the kitchen, along with Aunt Helen, Katie and Samantha, where we began the process of turning a rather large parcel of King prawns into something that any fancy chef would be proud of, along with also throwing together a few more salads. The next few hours seemed to slip by rather quickly and before we knew it we could hear the noise levels outside beginning to rise as cars filled with people started to arrive.
‘It looks like it’s all starting to happen now. Here’s another four,’ I said to my companions as I looked out the kitchen window and noticed another group of people walking over to where all the guys seemed to be holding court, beneath the Jacaranda tree.
I didn’t recognise any of them so I turned to Samantha for help. ‘Okay, so who are all those folks? I think you had best start identifying a few of these for me,’ I asked her.
‘What? I thought you knew most of them?’ she replied. ‘That lot who just arrived are Tim’s parents and his brother, Jason, and the red-head is Guy’s step-brother, Kevin. They are all from where Ben and I live, although I haven’t seen Kevin around for a while . . . I think he might actually still be in the Navy.’
‘Navy, huh? A sailor boy?’ I smirked.
‘Oh, Jesus, Tony! You’re as bad as the rest of them!’ she scolded, while trying to swat me with the tea-towel she was holding. I easily managed to evade her, but my luck didn’t hold, as I soon found that Katie was standing on the other side of me and was able to succeed where Samantha had failed.
‘Ouch,’ I yelled. ‘No ganging up!’
‘Seems like a fair fight to me,’ Aunt Helen said.
‘Bloody women!’ I cried out, which brought peals of laughter from Kate and Sam, and a look of disapproval from my aunt.
‘Enough of that!’ she scolded. ‘Now, just look at the time won’t you? I think it’s almost time that we started thinking about getting the appetizers into the oven, don’t you?’
‘Whatever you say, aunty’ I agreed, after noticing that it was now well after five o’clock.
We turned our attention back to the matter at hand and soon found some baking trays in the cupboard, on which we spread out appetizers of spring rolls, curry puffs and vol-au-vents, in readiness for being heated in the oven.
‘Okay, how about I go and check with the lads and see what time they want to start serving?’ I offered.
‘Good,’ said Samantha. ‘And we’ll get the other platters ready with crackers and dip and cheese and whatever else they’ve got for us.’
Leaving them in the kitchen I headed outside and found a huddle of guys all holding beers and talking amongst themselves. As usual, Aaron seemed to be the only one without a beer, having a can of Coca-Cola in his hand instead. I was quickly introduced to Tim’s parents, Jason and Kevin, and a couple of others I hadn’t seen before, who proved to be some of the guys’ work mates.
Pulling Luke aside I told him the appetizers were ready to go into the oven, and that they would be ready about half an hour after they went in. He glanced at his watch and nodded, saying, ‘It’s about five-thirty now, so how about we put them in at six, and serve them at six-thirty? That should be just about perfect, just about everyone should be here by then. Now, Matt, you better light the barbies soon, eh?’
Even as he said this still more people came through the gate and into the back yard. I instantly recognised Mrs Hammo and her son, Dan, along with his partner Jake, who we all greeted warmly. So too I recognised the police sargeant from my youthful days in this town, accompanied by a lady I assumed to be his wife, which was soon confirmed, once introductions were made. Then there were two other guys who Matt and Luke made a huge fuss over, who were soon introduced as friends from their old home town, DJ and Dwayne.
The crowd was definitely starting to grow, and I could sense a convivial atmosphere already beginning to build. I had a feeling that following on from what I could only describe as a great day, this was going to be an even better night.
* * *
Before dusk had even begun to settle, the party was in full swing, and by the time the appetizers were served just about everyone had arrived, except of course my own family. I knew that they wouldn’t be far away now though, since they had called me as they left Macquarie Harbour a short time ago.
From the landing at the back of the house, while leaning against the railing, I looked out over the scene before me, looking around at my friends, all of whom looked happy and like they were enjoying themselves. Music was playing and beer was flowing, as were the inevitable tall stories about the past deeds of us all, which usually seemed to surface when gatherings such as this took place. Laughter filled the evening air, accompanied by the shrill cries of the handful of children who were also running around the well lit back yard, playing hide and seek, or whatever it is that kids these days played.
Nobody had yet dared to pick up the microphone belonging to the karaoke machine, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before that happened; once a few more beers had been consumed, giving courage a necessary boost.
It was a joyous evening, and as I took a sip from my can of Coca Cola I glanced around at all of those who meant the most to me in this world and I felt my heart swell at the thought of them all, at this very moment, being so happy.
I could see Aaron, deep in conversation with Paul and Damien, along with a couple of the local guys they obviously knew. Luke, who was standing with his parents, his arm draped around his mother’s shoulders and chatting to Samantha and Mrs Hamilton. Matt, who was fussing over the barbeque with Ben and his friends, DJ and Dwayne, while Scott and Justin looked on, somewhat bemused. Tim and Guy, they were talking to their parents, while their brothers were seriously trying to chat up Carol, whose arrival I had missed.
All seemed so good with the world.
‘So, they tell me this was all your doing?’ I heard a voice from behind me ask. Turning around I noticed Matt’s father standing there, with beer in hand.
I had been introduced to him a number of years ago and he didn’t seem to have changed much in that time, at least physically. Whether or not he had changed in any other ways it would be interesting to see, as I had always found him a little difficult to read, and according to Matt he sometimes seemed to have an indifferent attitude toward people, at least until he got to know them a little.
‘Well, not quite,’ I replied, while shaking his hand. ‘Apparently Luke and Matt had dreamt it up but hadn’t followed through on it, so let’s just say that I gave them a little bit of a prod.’
‘And it’s a good thing too,’ he replied. ‘Personally, I think it’s a great idea. Sometimes those boys are just too harebrained for their own good.’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ I laughed. ‘But at least they’re all happy here, and it’s great to see them all like this. I’m so glad I came back.’
For a long moment he just looked at me thoughtfully, then took a sip of his beer.
‘And what about you?’ he eventually asked. ‘They tell me you’re doing pretty well for yourself these days . . . but are you happy? Matt has said you’ve had a few things to work out yourself?’
I shrugged. ‘If you’d have asked me that a week ago I would have probably said no, but as they say, a week can be a long time.’
‘Coming back here was the best thing I’ve done in years,’ I said, as I looked across at Aaron, only to find him staring at me. When our eyes met he smiled. I smiled back. ‘It’s so good in fact, I’m going to be coming home for good. I’ve finally realised just what it is I’ve been missing out on for the past five years, and I have such a lot to catch up on.’
He looked across at who I was staring at, then patted me on the back.
‘Well, good for you lad. What about the others? Do they all know?’
‘Yeah, they know I’ll be staying, but they don’t exactly know where just yet. Please don’t tell them, but I’ve just bought a place here . . . just up the road from the guys in fact. I received a message just a little while ago saying that the owners had finally accepted an offer, so tonight I really do have something to celebrate, even if it’s just quietly, for now!’
‘Good for you, Tony! Good for you!’
To be continued . . .