The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital ward the following day, wrapped in bandages, with tubes sticking into me everywhere and with my family all around me, their faces anxious with worry.
I had one hell of a headache, my chest ached and I was finding it difficult to breathe, thanks to what was apparently a broken rib. I even had bruises and aches in places that I didn’t even know I had.
My family were very quiet and wouldn’t say too much, apart from the standard, ‘We’re so glad you’re okay,’ and, ‘We were all so worried about you.’
I was just grateful for the fact they weren’t hitting me with a barrage of questions; although I had no doubt they would soon be forthcoming.
It wasn’t until the day following my waking up that I managed to find out just what had happened, however, only managing to piece together bits of information from various sources, including my mother and the police.
Apparently my friend (I was told his name was Dwayne) had made a statement to the police after they had arrived at the scene, telling them that I was coming out of the toilet just as he was going in, and that was when the kids jumped us, apparently looking for money, or so he said. We just happened to be the wrong people in the wrong place at the right time.
He had told them I had slipped over while trying to dodge one of them, and while I was down they gave me the boot. Apparently I had then tried to get back to my feet, but was punched to the ground again, on the way down hitting my head rather heavily against the concrete wall.
Dwayne said that he had managed to land a couple of blows on one of them, which distracted them enough for him to make a break for the doorway, with the mob hot on his heels, and leaving me lying there alone, bleeding and barely conscious.
When they had got outside there had been a few people about and the thugs soon called off their chase, which gave Dwayne the chance to get to his car and call the police and ambulance on his mobile phone, who all arrived a short time later, with lights flashing and sirens blaring; the whole shebang.
Dwayne had stayed there with me right up until they had taken me away in the ambulance.
I had asked the constables who came to see me what had happened. They asked me what I could remember and I said that I couldn’t remember even going into the toilets, so that was when they told me what Dwayne had said to them. They asked me if that was accurate and I just said I couldn’t remember. Dumb bastards, didn’t they hear me say two minutes ago that I couldn’t remember anything.
I knew what they were trying to do, of course, being to twist the story around or get one of us to slip up, but I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to give them something new to work with.
They just looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and left.
Dwayne came by to see me that afternoon as well. My father actually thanked him for saving my life. Dad would have died if he knew the real truth. Anyway, Dwayne just looked so embarrassed, the poor guy.
My family wandered in and out and while they were out we got the chance to talk. We both reassured each other that the events actually happened the way that he had said and by the time he left I think that we both actually believed it.
I thanked him and he promised to call back and see me before I was discharged.
‘That’d be nice,’ I said to him, but all I could think about was Matt.
Matt! My friend . . . who I’d argued with. Matt . . . who still hadn’t been to see me yet. Matt . . . the guy I loved more than anyone else in the world.
My parents eventually asked me what I was doing there in the park, and I gave them the stock standard answer: ‘Just clearing my head.’
‘Seems to be a lot of that going on in this town lately,’ my father rather sarcastically added.
I just looked at the ceiling.
‘It wasn’t much more than a few weeks ago that Matt was seen clearing his head there too. Is that just a coincidence?’
I remained silent.
‘Don’t think I don’t know what is going on here young man,’ he finally said.
My head snapped around and I looked straight at him. I winced.
‘How could he know?’ I thought.
My eyes must have been a dead giveaway. I could imagine the fear that they must have held. He just looked at me coldly, then turned on his heels and left.
‘Shit,’ I just said out loud.
* * *
All I wanted to do was sleep, but with my family there in the room it just wasn’t going to happen. I know that they were only there because they cared, and in their own way they loved me, but sometimes they were all just a bit too much. Do you know what I mean?
And even when I thought I was going to be able to get some sleep I found that task next to impossible, thanks to the snoring of the other patient with whom I was sharing the room, an older guy who’d just had an operation and spent most of the time sleeping.
To take my mind off my family, all I could do was keep going over in my mind the last time that I saw Matt, when we’d had the argument on the weekend. I could see his face right there in front of me, filled with tears, pleading with me. I could hear his words ringing in my ears: ‘I love you Luke, but we can’t go on like this. If we are to have any chance together we have to be open and honest, to ourselves, to our families and to the world.’
Those words would remain fixed in my mind for a long while to come.
I found it very hard to comprehend the fact that he was the one who was originally so scared about being found out in that last week of school, while I was the one who had accepted my sexuality ages ago; even if I was still keeping that side of me a secret. Yet now, when push came to shove, it was me that came up chicken.
Just what the fuck was wrong with me?
The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that he was right, of course. We couldn’t go on hiding our true feelings any longer, denying ourselves any chance of future happiness together. I loved him more than anything in the world, yet apparently I was quite willing to throw all that away, simply to keep the peace with my family and to save both me — and them — the embarrassment that my coming out would no doubt cause.
I made the decision then and there that next time I saw Matt I would tell him that he was right, and to hell with the consequences. After that I would tell my parents about us, even though I was fairly certain that they already had some idea about what was going on. After all the rumours and innuendo and questions and hints that had been flying about for weeks now . . . and especially in the past day or so . . . surely they must have had some idea.
The funny thing was that not once had they ever come out and asked the question: ‘Are you gay?’
Is that what they call being in denial? And was it my parents, or me, who was in denial now? Who knows.
The next thought that struggled into my head was that if my parents now assumed that I was gay, telling them about Matt and me would simply be the next step. And it should make it easier. Shouldn’t it?
But how do I do that?
I started to wish with all my heart that Matt were here with me now. To hold my hand. To talk to me. To kiss away the tears. To kiss away the pain.
Pain. There was plenty of that to go around. Even just breathing was causing me pain.
I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the noise. I could hear people wheeling trolleys along the corridor outside my room, with their wheels squeaking and their masters’ footsteps echoing along the hall. People came and went all the time, a never ending chorus of squeaks and footsteps and rattling trolleys.
I wanted to scream, ‘Will you people just fuck off and let me sleep?’
I don’t think I’d have been able to though.
I heard someone walking along the hall, then stop, apparently at my door.
‘Not another bloody doctor,’ I thought, and opened my eyes.
Nobody else in my room had seen, or apparently heard, this person approach. Or if they did they must have simply thought that it was yet another nurse or doctor or someone. Our eyes met. I just looked at him and I couldn’t help it, I started sobbing.
Matt stood there holding some flowers. He seemed quiet and composed, uncertain as to whether or not he should come into the room, or even if he would be welcomed into the room. When he saw me start to cry it proved too much and there were soon tears trickling down his face as well.
You see, sometimes wishes do come true.
I watched him as he mouthed the words, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but no sound came out. He sniffled, and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt, at which point everyone in the room turned and looked in his direction. He looked back at them, and I thought he was going to turn and run, but he stood firm, his beautiful body framed by the doorway, almost silhouetted by a light coming from somewhere behind him.
My angel had returned.
I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. I wanted to hug him. To kiss him. To tell him I still loved him. Instead, I just cried.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he went to step into the room. My father made a move as if to try and stop him, but mum grabbed him by the arm and said, quite forcefully, ‘Tom, don’t you dare.’
He looked at her, his face contorted with anger, but then stepped back, letting Matt pass. He came to my bedside, holding the flowers out for me. I took them, but had no idea what to do or say.
My kid sister giggled, but everyone ignored her.
Thankfully, mum came to the rescue and bustled everyone out of the room, including my father. She also took the flowers from me and said she would find a vase to put them in, and in an instant there was just Matt and me left in the room, along of course with the old guy in the bed opposite mine.
We both had plenty to say to the other, but neither of us quite knew how to say it, or where to start.
The old guy was lying there watching us. His eyes almost seemed to be popping out of his head.
Eventually I patted the edge of the bed and then reached my hand out for Matt’s. I asked him to sit down, which he did, but only after he had pulled the curtain across to give us at least some privacy.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said to him, taking hold of his hand.
‘No,’ he responded. ‘It’s me that should be saying sorry.’
It was a start at least.
I just shook my head, then reached out for him, opening my arms up to hug him. He came to me and we embraced, holding each other for quite some time, with our faces snuggled into each others necks.
‘I don’t ever want to lose you again,’ I whispered to him.
He pulled his head back briefly, then kissed me firmly on the lips.
‘You’re not going to,’ he said to me. ‘But don’t you ever do this to me again.’
When we separated I looked towards the doorway and there was my mother, standing there open mouthed and holding the vase of flowers, with my father at her shoulder. He looked at us, from one to the other, his face drawn and pale, then turned on his heel and left. We listened to his echoing footsteps as he almost ran along the corridor.
My mother closed her mouth and regained her composure, then came into the room and placed the flowers on the table beside my bed.
She looked at us both, then put a hand on each of our shoulders. ‘It will be all right boys,’ she said. ‘It will just take a little time for all of us to get used to the idea.’
I managed a small smile then placed one of my hands over hers, giving it a small squeeze. ‘Thank you,’ I said to her. She smiled back, leant down and kissed me on the forehead, then excused herself, leaving us alone once again.
‘So I guess that now they know,’ Matt said after she had left the room.
‘I suppose they do.’
‘I meant what I said,’ he added. ‘You are stuck with me forever now.’
‘I suppose I’ll be able to put up with you.’
* * *
They let me out of there a few days later, after the aches and pains had dulled and, more importantly, I had stopped coughing up and passing blood.
I was covered in bruises, which had turned the nastiest shades of black and purple that I had ever seen, but besides those I was starting to feel much better.
Matt was basically a fixture in my room for the extra few days I was in there, faithfully sitting by my bed, and while there were some awkward moments where relations were slightly strained, namely between him and my father, things settled down quite quickly.
All the usual suspects came by and visited me; my relatives, DJ, Hoss, Davo, Dwayne and Matt’s family (which really surprised me), so I was never left alone for long. I got flowers and cards, including some from Tim and Guy, which I thought was real sweet of them. Matt said that he had rung them.
We were fairly open about ourselves from the time that Matt first came to see me in the hospital, when we got outed by my parents, and although everything seemed to be basically going all right with this whole new gay relationship thing, there were obviously still some underlying issues that would have to be faced – by all of us.
Thankfully, no one mentioned the events that had put me in this room, it seemed to be a taboo subject, and even though most of my visitors already knew him, everyone just seemed to accept Matt as part of the family now, which felt quite surreal.
My father was the cause of most of my concerns, but he hardly came in to see me at all, so that was one problem that I knew I would have to face later.
Davo and Hoss proved to be the other worries for me, as I think both were finding it difficult to get a grasp on the whole situation. They came and visited a few times however, but each time I couldn’t help but feel that they were looking at Matt and me like we were a couple of strangers. This was due in part, I think, to the fact that this whole deal was something new to them. They hadn’t really had the chance to become a part of our little gay inner circle, being Matt, DJ and me, and in spite of the fact that we had all been such close friends for years I think they now felt as if they were outsiders.
Oh, I didn’t tell you about DJ, did I? He proved to be something of a revelation to me. I already knew that he was gay of course, but outside of Matt and me, and Tim and Guy, nobody else knew up to that point, not even his parents.
Anyway, he came out and said it to the world, ‘I am gay too,’ from right there in my hospital room, and at a time when Hoss and Davo were visiting as well. We all just stared at him in disbelief.
They looked at him like he was some alien life form, and funnily enough they left soon after that. It worried me that after all the years that we had spent at school together friendships could be such transient things, but I sincerely hoped that we would all be able to get over this and get on with our lives without any recriminations or loss of friends.
We all knew that we would have to give them some time to adjust to the situation. We just hoped that they would be able to do that.
After Davo and Hoss left I turned and just stared at DJ, with my mouth open.
‘What?’ he asked me, while grinning like a crazy person.
‘Old Shep,’ or Mr Sheppard as he was supposed to be known, even called in a few days after I had woken up. It was late in the afternoon and I had been sleeping and when I woke up I found him sitting there, quietly reading the newspaper. I remembered that the last time I saw him was the night of the dance, when I was sneaking out to meet my unidentified lover. God, that seemed like so long ago now.
I must have moved or something, because he suddenly looked up at me and noticing that I was awake he put his newspaper down.
‘Hello Luke. How are you doing?’ he asked.
I was still fairly groggy, but I managed to tell him I was fine, in a half unconvincing fashion. He stayed for about half an hour and we talked about all sorts of things, including what had happened to put me where I was. Over the years he had never given me an easy way out with anything at school, and even in my current state, I was smart enough to realise that he wouldn’t let me get away with anything too easily now either, especially since he had the advantage of my not being able to escape him.
‘You and young Matthew have stirred up quite a little hornets’ nest over the past few weeks, haven’t you?’ he said to me in that headmasterly manner that he had.
I felt like pulling the blankets up over my head and shutting out the world.
Eventually he got me talking, and we ended up speaking quite frankly about what had happened. He listened with interest to what I had to say, about the attack, about Matt, and about our families, about how I felt about everything, and then offered any help that we needed. He said he could put me in touch with a counselor if I wanted.
I thanked him, but said that we were working through things all right, now that it was out in the open. He nodded and left it at that.
Shortly after that DJ swept in, minus Davo and Hoss, so Shep excused himself and left us. When he left he shook hands and wished me all the best, and in the past half hour I had completely changed my opinion of him.
The best thing that happened while I was in the hospital, however, was that I got to introduce DJ to Dwayne, who both just happened to call in and visit at the same time. They seemed to hit it off quite well right from the start, and spent a good deal of time just chatting to each other, almost oblivious to that fact that Matt and I were even in the room at the time.
Matt gave me a dig in the ribs, and I winced.
‘Oh shit! Sorry,’ he said.
‘It’s a perfect match,’ I whispered to him. We both giggled.
It was the Wednesday before I was allowed to go home, and I got trundled out of the hospital in a wheelchair (standard operating procedures, they said) and placed gently on the back seat of mum’s car. Dad didn’t come to see me that day, or to help me get home, so Matt sat beside me on the back seat as we drove the short distance.
When I got home I was helped into my bedroom by Matt, with both of us shuffling along like a pair of old invalids, while Mum went and put the kettle on to make some tea.
There was still a great deal that we all needed to sort out and accept about this whole situation, and we realised that there would no doubt be some rather awkward moments over the next few days, weeks, or even months. Matt and I were now taking the first steps in the journey that would be the rest of our lives, and had it all to look forward to.
* * *
I drifted off to sleep sometime after lunch, and when I woke up that afternoon Matt was still there in my bed room, sitting beside me.
He was reading one of my books, I couldn’t see which one, and he didn’t even know that I had woken up and was just lying there watching him read.
It didn’t matter what he was doing, I just enjoyed watching him do it. He was just so gorgeous and I just loved looking at him.
After a few minutes he glanced up at me and noticed me watching him. We smiled at each other and reached out to hold each other’s hands.
He had been almost constantly by my side since the afternoon that he came into the hospital and I was growing more and more used to his being around. I dreaded the possibility that at some stage in the future we may be torn apart again and hoped that he would stay by my side forever. This wasn’t realistic, of course, as in the future we would both need to either get jobs or study, or do whatever it was that we wanted to do for the rest of our lives, but right here and now, he was with me and that was all I cared about.
Mum came in a few minutes later, bringing me a cup of tea, and caught us holding hands. This seemed to be happening all too often these days. She said nothing at all, just smiled and looked down at the floor as she walked around my bed to and placed the cup on my bedside table.
‘Thank you,’ I said to her as she stopped by my bed. She looked up at me, with that familiar motherly look that I had grown to love over the years. She then ran her fingers through my hair, just as she has done ever since I was a toddler.
I glanced across at Matt and noticed him smiling at us.
‘You’ll look after him for me, won’t you?’ my mother asked him.
He nodded, saying, ‘I know that you may find it difficult to comprehend, Mrs Solomon, but I do love him.’
‘I know,’ she answered. ‘It’s just that we didn’t ever think that it would work out quite this way.’
She left us after that, and we could hear her in the kitchen preparing dinner. ‘Are you staying for dinner Matt?’ we heard her call out.
‘Please,’ I whispered to him.
Matt got up and went to the doorway and said, ‘I’d love to Mrs S,’ then came back and sat down beside me on the edge of the bed.
Just on dark we heard my father come home, after picking Katie up from school or swimming or somewhere. We heard them pull up at the back door and then come up the steps into the kitchen.
Dad walked down the hall way, straight past my door, without even looking in. He would have known that Matt was here, as his car was parked in the driveway, but it was apparently still too soon for him to accept that his son hadn’t grown up to be the man that he had wanted me to be.
Katie was different though. She came running into my room and jumped up onto the bed beside Matt and gave him a hug, then gave me a kiss and bounded back out of the room to help mum. I winced as the sudden movement gnashed some broken bones together.
It seemed that Katie liked the idea of having another big brother around, although I don’t think that she still quite grasped this whole situation either.
A few minutes later Dad walked back up the hall way again, and once again he didn’t even bother to look in.
‘Arsehole,’ Matt said quietly under his breath.
‘It’ll take time,’ I said to him.
‘Maybe so, but he still doesn’t have to be such a prick. You know what my dad’s reaction was. Sure he might have ranted and raved for a while that first night, but he’s been great ever since hasn’t he?’
‘It’s just that they are so different. You dad has always been pretty laid back about most things. My dad has always made such a big deal about everything. They’re like chalk and cheese.’
A little while later we were all sitting at the dinner table, but it was a tense affair, as hardly anyone spoke. Mum tried to talk, but only got glared at by my father, and whenever anyone spoke to him, he just grunted.
He completely ignored Matt. And if he looked at me it was only with a look of total disgust. I felt like crying.
When the meal was over Matt and Katie helped my mum clear the table and then wash the dishes. I could hear that Matt and mum were talking quietly between themselves, but I had no idea what was being said. He looked over at me several times and managed a smile, but his expression was one of worry and concern.
I stayed where I was until after they had finished, after which I shuffled to my bedroom, with Matt’s help.
Dad just went and sat in front of the television, ignoring everyone.
‘What were you and mum talking about?’ I asked him when I had laid back down on my bed.
‘You,’ he answered.
‘What about me?’
‘About getting you out of here.’
He nodded, then said, ‘I’m gonna ask my folks if it’s okay for you to move in with me, into the flat.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ I blurted out.
‘You don’t have to say anything, except that you want to . . . unless of course you don’t want to. Your mum thinks it’s a good idea, if only to get you out of this for a while,’ he said, waving his arm about referring to the house that had been my home since I was four years old.
‘Of course I want to,’ I said, starting to sob quietly.
He smiled at me and then hugged me.
‘You fool,’ he whispered into my ear. He kissed me and then told me that he was going.
‘Please don’t leave me,’ I pleaded.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back in the morning,’ he answered, then kissed me again and left the room.
I lay there for a few moments, but I didn’t hear him leave the house. Curious about this, I swung my legs over the bed and put them on the floor, then with some difficulty I stood up. The pain wasn’t as great as it had been over the past couple of days, I was clearly on the mend, or maybe it was just the drugs that were working, I don’t know.
I shuffled out the door of my room, into the hall way and I could hear him talking, although I must have missed the start of what he said and only picked up on what he was saying well into his speech.
‘ . . . I know that you don’t like me very much right now, Mr Solomon, and I can deal with that, but don’t forget that Luke was your son first, long before he became my, well, became what he means to me, and in his own way he loves you too. He’s hurting right now and he needs all of our love and support. From everyone. You might not like what he is, but he can’t help that, it’s how he was made. You’ve got to get over it, or you will lose him altogether. I don’t want that to sound like it is a threat, I just want you to know that that is how it is. It’s your choice.’
My father never said a word, but after that I heard two distinct sets of foot steps, heading in opposite directions.
I was standing outside my room, about half way along the hall way. My father came into the hall at one end then stopped and for the first time in days he actually looked at me. I turned and looked towards the other end of the hall him and saw Matt. He had been heading for the back door and had stopped, having noticed us standing there.
He looked from one of us to the other, and back again. I could tell that all three of us had tears in our eyes. Nothing was said between us, then, in an instant, they both turned and left.
I leant back against the wall and just cried.
* * *
Matt called around the following day, after dad had left for work and Katie had gone to school (in spite of the fact that Year Twelve had finished their exams and broken up the lower grades still had another week of school left before their Christmas holidays would start).
Mum was still home, but she had intended to go out shopping, so she was relieved that Matt had arrived, grateful that there would be someone here with me.
She left basically as soon as he had arrived, saying, ‘I’ll leave you two boys alone and give you some privacy.’
To tell you the truth, I was glad, because Matt and I had a fair bit to talk about.
Physically I was feeling much better, my bruises were disappearing and my ribs weren’t aching quite so badly, although I was still being dosed up on Asprin, so that was probably helping.
I was sitting up watching television when Matt arrived, and he came in and sat down beside me. The first few moments were awkward.
‘That was quite a little speech you gave last night,’ I said to him.
‘I didn’t mean to upset you. I didn’t even want you to hear it. But you have to admit that it had to be said?’
‘So, you aren’t angry with me?’
‘Never,’ I answered, taking hold of his hand and gently squeezing.
‘I spoke to mum and dad last night when I got home,’ he said.
‘I also told them about your father. We all want you to move in.’
‘Yes, as soon as you want to. You do still want to, don’t you?’
I nodded. It was all I had thought about all night.
He put his arm around me and I rested my head on his shoulder. We were just so comfortable in each other’s company and we stayed like that for the next hour or so, just watching television and being together, until that was, I noticed the suspicious looking bulge in his jeans.
I thought about how long it had been since I had tasted that beautiful piece of meat. It was a week. A week since I had sucked on him. And a week since he had sucked on me. My balls tingled at the thought of this and I suddenly found myself getting hard too.
I slipped my hand across on to his lap and started massaging him through his jeans.
‘Mmmm, that feels good,’ he whispered into my ear. ‘You’re obviously starting to feel better.’
‘A little,’ I said to him, looking up at his face and smiling.
If you’ll pardon the pun, I still wasn’t up to doing too much that required physical exertion, but I can safely say that we both managed to satisfy our needs that morning. During our long and gentle love making that morning, both of us reached a climax that far exceeded our expectations, no doubt due to the fact that we had had a week ‘off’ from each other.
I promised Matt that when I was back to full health I would make it up to him and we would indulge our most intimate fantasies.
‘I’m going to hold you to that, boyo,’ he said.
The rest of the morning passed fairly quickly and mum returned just after lunch. Matt and I had got up off our butts and made some sandwiches for lunch and had eaten them out on the back verandah in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day. I just wished that they could all be like this.
After lunch Matt said, ‘It’ll be Christmas soon. I’m going to have to go and see about going back to work soon to get some money.’
‘Yeah, me too,’ I responded.
‘You going to be up to it?’
‘Yeah, I’ll be okay in a few days. It still hurts a bit, and things will still take a while to heal up properly, but I’m on the mend.’
‘Good. You feel like going for a drive?’
‘Where to?’ I asked.
‘Anywhere you like. I just thought you might like to get out of the house for a bit.’
‘Cool, let’s get going.’
He helped me up and I walked over to the back door and stuck my head inside to let mum know we were heading out for a bit.
‘You going to be all right?’ she asked, concerned that I would be up to it.
‘Yeah, the exercise and fresh air will do me a world of good,’ I answered.
‘All right, have fun then.’
We drove downtown and parked in the car park of the shopping centre where we both had part time jobs, and got out and started walking towards the entrance of The Mall Arcade. We didn’t see anyone we knew so we walked through to the other end of the arcade, which opened out onto the main shopping mall, then turned right and headed along the mall in the direction of the Centre Cafe.
Auto Stop was at the end of the arcade, so Matt first called in to say hello to his boss and let him know he was available to work again.
‘That’s great,’ his boss said. ‘We’ll need all hands on deck before Christmas.’
I had met him quite a few times before, from going into the shop to see Matt and stuff, and knew him reasonably well, well enough for him to say that he had heard about my accident and he hoped that I was feeling better.
‘Much better, thanks,’ I said to him, curious as to how we would have found out.
Anyway, we talked with him for a few minutes, mainly about our trip and the general sort of things that we got up to, and then after Matt had organised a day with him so that he could go back to work (the following Monday) we wandered up to the cafe.
It was a fairly quiet day in town, which was surprising as Thursdays were pension days and everyone was usually down town cashing their cheques or drawing money out of their accounts.
Walking along the street was fairly steady going but I was managing all right, far better than I had expected in fact, and we made it to the cafe without any problems, where we sat down at our usual stall and ordered a couple of milkshakes and some fries.
After we had been there for about half an hour, with Matt getting up every now and then to feed the Juke Box, we were joined by DJ, who just happened to be wandering by and noticed us at our usual spot.
‘What are you guys up to?’ he asked.
‘Sweet fuck all,’ Matt answered as he sat back down.
‘How are you feeling Luke?’
‘On the mend, I think,’ I answered.
‘No sign of catching who did it?’
I just shook my head, wishing that we could be talking about something else instead.
‘Oh, well, you never know.’
‘So, what have you been up to for the past couple of days?’ Matt asked him.
DJ just blushed, and we figured out the rest.
I laughed, then clutched at my ribs.
‘A perfect match,’ Matt said to him, slapping me on the knee at the same time.
‘What,’ DJ asked. ‘What do you mean? What do you know?’
‘You and Dwayne,’ Matt said.
‘How did you know?’
‘Who introduced you?’ I asked him. ‘You should have seen the pair of you in the hospital the other day. We picked it straight away.’
‘Bull,’ Matt said.
‘No bull,’ I said. ‘Once you two got talking it was like there was no one else in the room.’
He looked at Matt and then back to me, with that old, ‘Who me?’ look on his face. Then smiled.
‘Bingo,’ Matt said.
‘Sooooo, what’s he like? Apart from being hung like a horse?’ I asked.
‘He’s all right,’ DJ answered, smiling.
‘Come on, DJ, give,’ Matt urged, but that was all he would divulge, no matter how hard we tried.
‘How are Hoss and Davo?’ I asked him, thinking that I hadn’t heard from either of them since the last day they visited me in the hospital.
‘Coping as best they can,’ he answered truthfully. ‘I was talking to them both yesterday and they asked if I knew how you were, so they haven’t completely forgotten about you.’
Reassuringly, Matt held my hand under the table, out of sight of anyone.
‘Give them a bit of time,’ DJ said. ‘They’ll be all right.’
‘Okay,’ I said to him. ‘I will.’
‘How did they handle your bit of news?’ Matt asked.
‘I still don’t think that they believe me,’ he answered. ‘Like they think it’s just some sympathy thing for Luke. It’s weird. They talk to me. Then they don’t talk to me. They’ll figure it all out for themselves eventually.’
We ordered another round of milkshakes and Matt put some more coins in the jukebox and we started talking about other things that were going on in our lives.
We talked about the rest of our separate trips to the Gold Coast. About our jobs. About what was going to happen next year.
‘Oh, I’ve got some news for you,’ Matt said.
‘Yeah, what’s that?’ DJ asked.
‘We’re moving in together.’
His eyes just about popped out of his skull as he looked from one to the other.
‘You serious?’ he almost squealed.
‘Yep,’ I answered.
* * *
Matt stayed for dinner that night as well, and once again we all got the cold shoulder treatment from my father.
After Matt left however, things took a turn for the worse, as dad opened a bottle of whisky and just sat down in front of the television and started drinking it.
Mum kept asking him to put it away. But he wouldn’t. He kept drinking it. One tumbler full after the other.
I pleaded with him to put it away. Fat lot of good that did. He stood up and just looked at me with disgust.
‘You,’ he said to me, holding his empty glass out towards me. ‘You’re nothing but a dirty little poofter. And that smug little shirt-lifting boyfriend of yours, I should just . . .’
He stopped mid-sentence. His hand was gripped so tight around the glass that I could see his knuckles turned white. This was pure anger, like I had never seen it before.
Then, wham! He hurled the glass across the room, smashing it against the brick fireplace, then collapsed onto the lounge chair, with his head in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably.
Katie screamed and ran down the hall way, slamming her bed room door behind her.
Who was this man?
I had never, ever, in all my life, seen this side of my father. I had caused this. It was all my fault. I was to blame. Me. Me. Me.
I looked at my mother, who had tears streaming down her face. She turned towards me and simply said, ‘Go Luke. He’ll be all right. Just go.’
She took my arm and almost dragged me back into the kitchen.
‘I can’t,’ I said to her. ‘I can’t just leave you and Katie with him here like . . . like that!’
‘Just go. Ring Matt and get him to come and pick you up. We’ll be okay . I promise you.’
‘He’s never done anything like this before. How do you know you’ll be okay?’
‘He has gone off the deep end like this before. But it was a long time ago. He’ll be all right in the morning.’
With shaking hands I dialed the number of Matt’s mobile phone. He answered on the second ring.
‘You’ve got to come and get me. Please,’ I pleaded.
He started to say, ‘What’s wr . . .’ but I cut him off.
‘Get some things together,’ mum said to me. ‘Wait out the back, but you better not let Matt come in, all right?’
I nodded, only vaguely comprehending what it was she was trying to tell me, and headed to my room, where I started to throw a few clothes into my overnight bag. It seemed to me to be such a ridiculous waste of time to be doing this, but I followed my orders. I always followed my mum’s orders.
I was too late in getting to the back door however, because just as I did up the zipper on my bag and got back out into the hall way, Matt came running through the back door.
‘What’s happened?’ I heard him ask. ‘Where’s Luke, is he all right?’
‘I’m Okay,’ I said to him as I walked into the kitchen behind him.
He looked into the lounge room and saw the shattered remains of mums crystal, then took a step forward. I tried grabbing his arm, but he pulled away from me and kept walking.
‘Don’t go in there,’ I pleaded with him.
‘I’ll tell you what happened you fucking little poofter,’ my father yelled at him, coming at Matt with one fist raised and clenched, the other wrapped around the neck of the empty Johnny Walker bottle and with eyes that showed fury.
I stepped between them.
After that. Only darkness.
* * *
For the second time in a week, I woke up surrounded by doctors and various people in blue uniforms, only this time there were also flashing red and blue lights bouncing off the walls, coming from vehicles parked outside our house. At least there was no overpowering smell of antiseptic.
My head ached. That was the same as a week ago too.
I looked around the room and saw my mother sitting on the lounge chair with Katie. They were both crying. There was no sign of Matt. There was no sign of my father.
‘Are you all right, son?’ a kind looking man in an ambulance uniform asked me.
I nodded, but when I did that my head started spinning again.
‘That’s quite a nasty bump you have on your forehead. You will be feeling that for a few days.’
I nodded again. Shouldn’t have done that.
‘Can you remember what happened?’
‘Dad . . .’ I managed to croak, but that was it.
He nodded and patted me on the shoulder, then left me and went to speak with my mother. She looked over at me, where I was lying on the floor with a cushion from one of the lounge chairs under my head, and managed a wan smile.
I smiled back at her, but even that made my head hurt.
It was then that Matt came back into the room, rushing over and looking nervously at me.
‘Is he all right?’ I heard him ask the ambulance officer.
‘He’ll be fine, son. Don’t worry, you’ll have him back in one piece.’
Matt knelt down beside me and ran his fingers gingerly through my hair.
‘Don’t leave me,’ I whispered to him.
‘I won’t,’ he said as he leant over and kissed me on the forehead.
To be continued . . .