After We Danced – 03

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Chapter Three

The sun. The sand. The company. The parties. The freedom. For the few days that we stayed on the Gold Coast, it was all just fabulous. But it was also all too brief.

Matt and I had made our plans, and they were to spend a couple of days with our classmates, then hit the road.

In fact we ended up spending three full days cramped into the small unit with DJ and Hoss, which in itself was fine, except that it ended up being more like a half way house for wayward ex-school students seemingly incapable of stepping out and living their own lives, and that was severely cramping our style.

Don’t get me wrong; we had a blast, as we went to one party or bar after another (even though I was still under age, ssshhh!). But we were just so relieved whenever we got the chance to get out by ourselves. It didn’t matter if it was going shopping (which unfortunately seemed to be a lot of looking in auto stores with Matt for things for his car), or taking a walk on the beach, or even just sitting by the pool that belonged to the apartments where we were staying. If we were together, and not a part of a larger crowd, we were happiest.

One place we did find where we could go, however, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn’t meet up with any of our class mates and where we could just be ourselves, was this nudist beach about fifteen minutes down the road from our apartment. Neither of us had ever been anywhere near such a place in our lives, but we thought that seeing as this was an adventure, why not be adventurous?

That first afternoon spent on the beach was what you would call a real eye opener. There were people of all ages and shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life, just being themselves. No inhibitions. No hang-ups. It was just amazing.

At first the whole scene felt rather intimidating for us country boys, and we were reluctant to shed all of our gear, preferring instead to at least leave our swimmers on, but the scowls we received from the beach patrons were enough to eventually force us to lose our inhibitions. As we saw it, we had to get our gear off, or get lost, so we chose the former. I mean, faced with the alternative, which was continuing to hang out with a room full of obnoxious former school students, there was no choice to make really.

Even then, however, we spent most of that first afternoon on the beach just sitting around watching the endless parade of skin, with our knees pulled up to our chests to hide our obvious embarrassment.

Once again we were kidded into getting involved, however, and we even ended up joining in and playing a few games of beach volleyball.

Wow!

Needless to say, we made more than one trek to that beach in the few days while we were on the Gold Coast, and I can honestly say that the more time we spent there the more we felt we had finally found a place where we belonged. It was a place where we felt no shame or embarrassment, a place where no one cared. A place where no one judged us, laughed at us or pointed their fingers at us.

In fact, by our last day on that beach we even managed to follow the lead set by some of the other same sex couples that were there, and believe me there were a few, and managed to take at least one stroll the full length of the beach, holding hands. And what is more, the people around us didn’t care. Some people smiled, some people just nodded at us. But do you know what? No one laughed. Can you imagine how liberating that feeling is for a couple of closeted country lads? I couldn’t imagine us doing that anywhere else though – even with our clothes on.

I kept my eyes peeled too, just in case we did happen to come across anyone we knew, and even though there were quite a few young people there around our age, I was pretty sure that we were safe.

For the first time in our lives we could be just us. And we both remarked that it felt like this huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders.

We also met up with and chatted to a couple of guys our age who were just like us, obviously in love and as it turned out were also from a small country town like ours. It was a great feeling to know that we were not alone.

They came over and introduced themselves just as we finished our walk along the beach and we found out that their names were Tim and Guy. They were here for the schoolies week as well and, like us, they had also come to this beach to try and get away from some of their friends for a little while, to have a little time to themselves.

As it turned out they were in fact staying in a block of units not far from ours, so we invited them down to our unit to hang out if they wanted, and although they were a little non-committal about accepting our invitation, they did seem interested. We didn’t want to push the issue so we basically just left it at that.

That night they did come wandering down, and I was pleased that they did. We introduced them to our friends, but not before we had quietly set the ground rules; being that no one was allowed to know anything about any of us being gay. They were as relieved as we were that we all agreed to do that.

All too soon, however, the parties were over and it was time to leave our paradise. We could have stayed longer of course, but Matt and I really wanted to get away and spend some time together, by ourselves and without the shadow of our friends hanging over us.

DJ and Hoss wanted us to stay, in fact they pleaded with us to stay, but we told them a little white lie about calling in on some relative of Matt’s and then having to get home. We knew that they would be here for at least another week, so we figured there was no harm in that.

Anyhow, we said our good-byes on the Thursday morning and left our friends behind, looking forward to some quiet times together. As we were driving along Pacific Boulevard, we noticed Tim and Guy just coming out of the entrance to their apartment building, so we pulled over onto the side of the road and gave them a blast of the car horn.

They spotted us and crossed the busy road to say hello.

‘Are you guys headin’ off now?’ Tim asked us.

‘Yeah,’ Matt answered. ‘We’re going to see if we can find some place quiet to camp for a few days before we head home.’

‘Sounds cool,’ Guy said, then turning to Tim he said, ‘Maybe that’s what we should do?’

‘You can join us if you like,’ Matt said to them, while looking at me with eyebrows raised questioningly. I nodded my agreeance.

‘Well, we’re booked in here until Sunday, but after that we’re free. Do you know where you are going yet?’ guy asked.

‘No, we just thought we’d wing it,’ I answered, leaning over towards Matt’s window.

‘Fair enough,’ said Tim.

‘Have you got a mobile phone?’ Matt asked them.

‘Yeah,’ Tim replied, reaching for his pocket and pulling out a small Nokia.

‘How about we call you when we find a spot? If you want to call in and spend some time with us you’re more than welcome.’

‘That sounds cool,’ they chorused.

We exchanged telephone numbers and said our good-byes, then pulled out into the traffic, heading south on the first part of our trip home.

*     *     *

      There was quite a bit of traffic on the road, seeing as it was always holiday time on the Gold Coast, and so the trip south was fairly steady.

We stayed on the main highway for a while and soon crossed the border back into New South Wales. We had decided to try and follow the coastline as much as possible, rather than just stick to the Pacific Highway. That way we would get to check out and experience some of the smaller towns along the coast, so after checking our map we turned off onto a road that promised a tour of the coastline and a parade of small towns, then just drove.

Once we got off the main drag and away from the main population areas we found ourselves soon getting lost in the spectacular scenery; wide rivers and dense forests, the rugged coast line, sandy beaches, and lots of small towns and seaside villages.

We stopped a few times and looked around for somewhere to pitch the tent, and thanks to our not being able to find somewhere we thought of as being really suitable we eventually pulled into a caravan park we found on the outskirts of one town, then after finding something to eat we settled in for the night.

The next day we continued our leisurely journey south, but soon found ourselves back out on the Pacific Highway, as that was where the road led us. We could see we were getting close to a town called Macquarie Harbour, and which we knew to be quite a large town at that. It was still about half an hour away, but just a few miles south we found a signpost that read Thompsonville Road.

‘Want to give that one a try?’ I asked Matt. Without saying anything he slowed the car and turned off the highway. I checked on our map and the road led to a town called Thompsonville, which seemed to be close to the ocean, while there also looked to be a lake.

For a while we followed a creek, as it meandered its way through the hills, bubbling over rocks and with green grass growing right to the edge in many places. It wasn’t that spectacular, yet in its own way it was still quite beautiful. After a while, however, we left that creek and began to climb through some hills, before eventually reaching the summit. We were travelling south, parallel with the distant beach and hadn’t yet begun the descent down Thompson Range. As I looked out to that side of the car I could see the Pacific Ocean stretching away to the horizon, while on the western side of us I could see the steep and heavily timbered Thompson Range rising up to meet the sky. With the car windows down we could smell the freshness of the forests and listen to the distinctive sound of the Lyrebirds which obviously made it home.

Suddenly we came to a sharp bend, causing Matt to brake hard, and as we rounded the corner we knew we were on our way down the side of the range, twisting down the side of the mountain until coming out into rolling hills and open farmland.

‘Nice,’ I heard Matt say.

‘Yeah, it is, isn’t it?’

The road took us through some beautiful country, dotted with yet more grazing farm animals, before we came to what the map labeled as Thompson River and began to follow it. As rivers go it wasn’t that impressive; it was more of a wide creek really, but it was still picture postcard perfect. After a short distance the road veered away from the river and continued on through the lush green farmland.

‘It sure is pretty around here,’ Matt remarked as we rounded a bend and found a long straight road in front of us.

‘We’ve obviously been hiding for too long up there in the bush. I had no idea there were places as nice as this just a few hours from home.’

‘No, me neither,’ he replied.

‘There you go, just five clicks to the town,’ Matt said, as he pointed out a mileage sign on the side of the road. ‘Let’s see what this one has to offer, eh? I hope there’s a nice beach here.’

Looking ahead I could see a single sign-post standing at the end of the long straight and I watched it as we drew closer and closer. Before long I was able to read the name that it carried; Beachside Lane.

‘That has a nice ring to it,’ I said, for which I received a smile from Matt.

Just past the sign the road started to take a turn, with a long sweeping bend to the right. Along either side of the road there started to appear old weatherboard farm houses, spaced quite a distance apart and surrounded by rusting iron sheds and spacious paddocks, then soon afterwards we came to the sign at the edge of town.

Welcome to Thompsonville, it read. Population 5730.

‘Looks like we made it,’ Matt said.

‘Yeah, but what year are we in?’ I joked.

‘I guess we’ll find out soon enough.’

As the houses started to become slightly more dense, I noticed a couple of roads branch off to either side, along which I could see more homes. Unlike the road we were on, however, these were gravel and not paved with bitumen, which only added to my sense of being lost in time.

We went around another bend in the road, at which point I noticed another road turn off to the left, which was signposted as Lighthouse Road and beneath which was another sign saying Caravan Park.

I pointed it out to Matt, who smiled and nodded and said, ‘We better check it out, but first how about we get some fuel and some food?’

‘I’m fine with whatever you want to do, babe.’

As we straightened back up we could see that the road was now leading directly into the centre of the town. It was lined with large trees with deep green foliage and looked spectacular. There were a few cars on the road and parked along the sides, though mostly older models which had seen better days. Overall, though, with its older style homes and buildings, which mostly appeared to be in need of a little maintenance or perhaps a coat of paint, the place had an old-world charm about it, which I found quite endearing.

‘Ever get the feeling we’ve gone through a time warp or something?’ Matt asked.

‘I’ve been thinking the exact same thing, but in a way it’s actually pretty cool.’

‘Yeah. I kind of like it.’

Slowing the car down, we came to an intersection on one corner of which there stood a service station, so Matt put on an indicator and pulled in to the petrol bowsers, before stopping the car. It was around lunch time on the day after we had left the Gold Coast, and while Matt filled the Commodore I headed inside to use the rest room. By the time I had finished and left the rest room I found him waiting at the counter, having already paid for the fuel.

‘I’ve got a map of the place. Look at this, they’ve even got a lake in the middle of town,’ he said to me as I joined him, while holding the map up for me to see it. ‘The lady behind the counter said the caravan park just back up along the road is a pretty good place to stay, apparently. It’s right on the beach. There’re some places down along the lake where we’ll be able to get something to eat for lunch, or if we don’t like that there’s the Bowling Club over the road, or the pub on the next corner, or a corner store just a bit further down. How about we check the place out?’

‘Sounds good to me,’ I replied. I picked up a few snacks from the counter anyhow, along with a couple of bottles of drink from the refrigerator, and paid for them, then we headed back out to the car.

‘This place actually looks pretty cool, don’t you think?’ Matt asked. ‘She said there’s a big car park down by the lake, we just take the next right. I’ve got a good feeling about this place, Luke.’

‘Me too, Matt. Me too.’

Climbing back into the car Matt started it up and we pulled back out onto the road. At the next intersection we turned right and after a block we came to a large car park on the edge of a sparkling lake.

‘Wow,’ Matt exclaimed as we pulled into a car space. ‘So this is where everyone hangs out, eh?’

Looking around us we could see quite a few people out on the lake, either on small sailing boats, sail boards and surf skis, or those floating bike type things with inflated wheels and which you had to pedal to get around. There were also a number of people sitting around the water’s edge, picnicking or lying out on the grass, while some kids also played with frisbees, or their dogs, although by no means was the place overly crowded.

From where we sat we had a great view of the entire lake and could also see houses dotted all the way around the shoreline, spaced out quite evenly and built not too close together.

‘That must be where she said to try for some lunch,’ I said to Matt, as I pointed toward what looked like a boardwalk running along the edge of the lake, to our left. ‘Come on, let’s check it out.’

We stepped out of the car and started toward the jetty, but when we reached the edge of the car park we came to a signpost, with fingerboards pointing this way and that. The signs pointed to various locations around the area, which were all in relatively close proximity, including the boardwalk, the lighthouse, the beach, the shopping centre and the hospital.

‘The Boardwalk sounds like the place to be,’ Matt said.

‘Then what are we waiting for? I’m starving!’

We headed off in the direction of the boardwalk, where we could see the timber jetty-like structure following the edge of the lake, and upon which there were several of what we hoped would be food stalls, complete with tables and chairs set up around the front of them.

After ordering at the first food stall we came to, we picked a table close to the edge of the water and sat down to wait for our Fisherman’s Baskets. From his hip pocket Matt pulled the map he had picked up at the service station and spread it out on the table between us.

The town wasn’t what could be called large, by any stretch of the imagination, and it was easy to find where we were sitting on the map, as well as look around us and see all the other landmarks that were shown.

‘This is pretty neat,’ Matt said to me. ‘Everything is all so close together that you can walk everywhere, but it still looks like a sprawling country town.’

Looking at the map it was easy to see the layout of the town and surrounding areas, with the town mostly being built on a spit of land between the eastern edge of Thompson Lake and the Pacific Ocean, which was just a few hundred metres wide.

With the main road into town coming from the north-western side, coming from the mountains that ran parallel with the coastline, it passed through the centre of that land area, with houses built on both sides of the road. These eventually gave way to a shopping centre on the right hand side of the road, with streets running off in that direction, toward the lake. On the left side of the road as you came into town there was a large older style barn-type building, which we had noticed housed a mechanic’s workshop, then there was a bowling club, complete with well manicured bowling greens, then an old country style pub, before the road continued on, over a bridge and into South Thompsonville, which was where we could see the hospital was located, along with a fishing co-op and marina, all protected by a solid stone break-wall.

The lake was, of course, the central focal point of the area, with the town spread around its shoreline, although much of that shoreline appeared to have been reserved as parkland, at least until you got around the far side of it, where there were numerous houses scattered along the water’s edge. The lake itself was fed by the Thompson River, which we had followed for some distance as we drove into town, and it then emptied out into the ocean at the southern end, through what could only be described as a creek.

The caravan park that had been mentioned earlier was on a road that headed out to the north of town, toward what was called Lighthouse Point, which appeared to be so named for the very obvious reason that upon it there stood a large white light house.

‘It looks like there’ll be plenty of places for us to explore while we’re here,’ I said to Matt as we scoured the map. ‘There’s even a National Park we can check out,’ I added, when noticing the area on the map beyond the western edge of the lake and leading up into the mountain range which rose like a sentinel behind the town.

Moments later our lunch was brought out to us and so the map was put aside for the time being, although over lunch we did discuss some of the things we might like to do or explore while we were here, as we both felt that it would be a great place to stop for at least a few days.

While we were eating we watched the activity out on the lake and in the surrounding parkland, enjoying the sound of children laughing as they played, then when we were finished we decided to take a stroll around the little town. Following the path that led along the edge of the creek which flowed out of Thompson Lake and toward the ocean, we walked back to the main road through town, then instead of turning back onto it we decided to cross the road and head down along the beach side of town.

The stroll down to the beach was only a short one, along a bitumen path at first, but that soon gave way to sand as we found ourselves walking a well-trodden path through the dunes. At the end of the path the dunes disappeared and we came out onto a stretch of sandy beach, which seemed to stretch off for miles into the distance, finishing only at the base of the headland on which we could see the stark white lighthouse

‘Holy shit!’ Matt cooed when we stopped to take in the view.

‘Nice, huh?’ I said, as I watched row after row of white capped waves roll in onto the beach, beneath a cloudless sky. ‘How come we’ve never heard of this place before?’

‘I have no idea,’ he replied. ‘But I have a feeling we’re going to really get to know this place after this first visit, don’t you?’

‘Hell yeah!’

We started along the beach, watching some kids playing in the sand, while a few young surfers, their bodies tanned and glistening from the sea-spray, also braved the waves. Some seagulls squawked and fluttered away from us as we invaded their territory, before settling back in their original spots, noisily berating us as they did so.

Before long we came to another path which led off the sand and back through the dunes, toward town. Matt led the way as I followed and pretty soon we found ourselves coming out onto the main street once more, emerging between the bowling club and the mechanic’s workshop we had seen earlier on the way into town.

We crossed the road and started to make our way back along it, passing the petrol station we had visited earlier, followed by an assortment of other shops, including a couple of coffee shops, a newsagent, as well as several shops selling souvenirs and local arts and crafts.

On the last corner, where we were almost back at the path we had started along earlier, there was a small corner store, not unlike many I had seen, where they sold take-away food as well as basic grocery items. We looked in through the large plate glass window and noticed a lady serving behind the counter. She noticed us and smiled, before turning back to her work.

Ducking down the side street we found a bakery and, much to my delight, a quaint looking little Chinese restaurant on the next corner, with a front window that looked out over the lake.

‘We’re definitely coming here later,’ I said to Matt, who readily agreed.

After finding the caravan park a short while later we pulled up outside the office and went inside, where we were greeted by a guy who appeared to be a few years older than us, and who quickly organised our booking and pointed us in the right direction. We paid for three nights, for starters, but I think that both Matt and I had already figured we would be here longer than that.

The park was quite nice, tucked in behind the sand dunes, but still right on the beach. It was green and lush, and well looked after, and had quite a few trees around, lining the boundaries and a few of the internal roadways, which gave lots of shade. They even had a swimming pool and barbeque area, as well as a kid’s play area, so just about everyone seemed to be catered for.

The sun was beginning to set by the time we decided to walk the short distance back to the main street of the town to find some place to get a meal and see what sort of a night life the place had to offer, yet it still seemed quite early. It was then we realised that with the mountains to the west of town, blocking out that late afternoon sun, it would probably be like this every day.

As we headed up the road toward town we took note of how everything seemed so green and tropical looking, which was only to be expected I suppose, given we were at the height of summer. On the warm summer air there was always the fresh and invigorating aroma of the sea and as we walked along the road we could hear the waves crashing on the beach, just over the dunes to our left, coupled with the constant, chaotic sounds of squabbling sea birds.

Given that it was now almost dark, Matt reached over and took my hand. Almost instinctively I pulled back from him, but he gripped tighter and wouldn’t let me go. Out here, in public, even allowing for the darkness, I just couldn’t bring myself to let go of my fears.

‘There’s no one about,’ he said softly.

‘I know, it’s just that it feels so strange. Back on that other beach at Surfer’s, where others were doing it as well, it didn’t seem out of place. But here, right at the edge of this town, out in the open, that’s something that is altogether different.’

I pulled my hand back again, and this time he let go, stopping as he did so. I had walked on for a few more steps, but when I realised he had stopped I turned and walked back to him.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I just thought you were ready.’

Shaking my head I said, ‘Soon, I promise.’ I placed my forefinger on my lips and kissed it, then placed it on his.

‘Okay, I’m going to hold you to that.’

When we reached the main street a few minutes later, we sought out the little Chinese restaurant we had found earlier, and went inside. We were shown to a table just inside the front door, which gave a wonderful view of all the lights reflecting off the waters of the lake out that huge front window. For the next couple of hours we had a great meal, enjoying each other’s company in a quiet atmosphere, while secretly rubbing our toes together under the table.

I know it wasn’t much, but it was all I could bring myself to give him in public at this point. I hope he understood.

*    *     *

      The next day, Friday, we telephoned Tim and Guy to let them know about the little beachside haven we had found and they promised they would join us there over the weekend.

Both Matt and I spoke to them both and we all seemed pleased that our newfound friendship seemed to be one that was developing nicely. I secretly hoped that it would prove to be more than just a passing holiday thing, as we were all so alike that it was scary, given our similar backgrounds, and of course our relationship status. I really hoped that it would be a friendship that would last.

We spent the morning relaxing on the beach, then after enjoying some fish and chips for lunch from a place on the boardwalk we spent the next few hours wandering through the town, inhaling the sweet sea air and further checking the place out. I picked up a newspaper and a couple of magazines from the newsagent, then afterwards dragged Matt back into one of those quaint little souvenir and gift stores we had seen on the main street.

‘I’ll have to take something home for mum or she’ll want to shoot me,’ I said to Matt as we wandered through the shop.

‘Yeah, me too,’ he replied.

Eventually I settled on a printed tea towel as a present for mum, and a stuffed toy for Katie. I know it’s not much, but at least I got them something. Dad, well I could never really buy for him, always much too hard, but in the end I settled on a t-shirt, as boring as that sounds.

I laughed at him when Matt brought exactly the same items to the counter as presents for his parents.

After our shopping expedition we were rather thirsty, so we went and found some refreshments and then went and sat on a park bench, looking over lake and in the shade of this massive old Moreton Bay Fig Tree. We soon noticed that it sat up on a low rise, and while it gave a commanding view of the lake on one side, we could also see out onto the ocean on the other side. With a cool breeze was blowing in from the sea and it was the perfect spot to enjoy a perfect day.

We sat there for a few hours, just watching the world go by, catching up on the news and reading, while watching gigantic ships and other smaller boats out on the ocean, along with the usual procession of holiday makers along the beach and around the lake.

All this walking about and lying about and doing touristy things was starting to wear me out, however, so by late in the afternoon I felt like a nap. I told Matt I wanted to head back to the camp for a lie down and asked him if he was coming.

‘No, I think I’ll just stay here for a bit. I want to phone home and check in anyway. You go ahead and I’ll be down soon.’

‘Suit yourself,’ I said to him and set off down the hill, along the narrow dirt path which wound its way through low bush and back toward the shops. I glanced back up at him a couple of times and noticed he was on the phone. He even waved to me once, and I waved back.

I had this strange feeling that he was up to something, but what it was, I had no idea.

Luckily, be the time I got back to our tent, it was safely covered by the shade of one of the trees, so I was grateful that it wouldn’t be too hot inside, as often tents can be so damned hot that you feel as if you are quite literally cooking in them in the afternoon sun.

I went inside and took off my T-shirt and joggers, then lay down on the mattress. Thankfully it didn’t take long and I was soon drifting off, rocked to sleep listening to the constant gentle sound of waves crashing on the beach just over the hill from where we were camped.

When I awoke, only about an hour later, I could hear Matt breathing gently beside me and felt his arm draped over my body.

Smiling to myself I rolled over and looked at him. I don’t know why, but it always seemed so comforting and secure knowing that he was there holding me. I also enjoyed just watching him sleep, methodically breathing in and out, while I studied his classical features, the turned up mouth, the quivering eyelids. God, he was so beautiful.

A few moments later he opened his eyes, to see me staring back at him, smiling.

‘Hi, handsome,’ he whispered to me.

‘Hi, yourself. Have a nice sleep?’

‘Magic,’ he answered. ‘You?’

‘Yeah . . . perfect.’

We lay there like that for ages, just smiling back at each other, neither of us wanting to move anywhere.

Outside of our tent, our own little universe, it was very late in the afternoon. The sun was rapidly lowering in the sky, readying itself to yet again slip down behind the mountains to the west of us. Eventually we decided that we needed to move, however, and so we ventured outside.

Matt wandered over to his car and opened the boot, retrieving some cold drinks from the icebox he kept there, then returning to where I had sat down at the closest picnic table.

As school was yet to officially break up (it was only year twelve who finished early), which heralded the beginning of the holidays, we basically had the caravan park to ourselves. There were only a handful of caravans with anyone staying in them, and we were the only campers, so it was nice and peaceful.

‘It’s so nice here, isn’t it?’ Matt asked as he sipped on his drink.

‘View’s fine from here,’ I answered, smiling at him.

‘I meant the town, dick head.’

‘I know, I know.’

‘Feel like a walk on the beach?’ he asked.

‘Sure.’

We got up, and after dumping our empty drink cans in a nearby trash can, we headed for the narrow path through the dunes which led to the beach, where we soon found the ocean was quite calm as darkness was falling. As we strolled along the beach we looked back toward the mountains and watched the setting sun, turning the early evening sky into a fiery spectacle of red and gold and crimson.

Matt slipped his hand into mine, and once again, instinctively, I pulled away from him, looking about nervously to see if we had been spotted by the moral police.

‘Just relax,’ he said to me as he took hold of my hand again. ‘Look, there’s no one about.’

Reluctantly I let him hold on to me this time and we walked the few hundred yards to the end of the beach and back again.

I don’t know what it was, but the thought of being spotted holding hands in public, even now, was enough to send shudders down my spine. No matter how hard I tried, I just found it an extremely difficult thing to do out in the open, yet for some reason, when we were amongst our own kind, I had no problem.

It was just something that was screwed up in my head, I knew it, but why exactly, I just didn’t know.

That night, after a meal at the bowling club, we found the small picture theatre, which we hadn’t seen on any of our earlier walk-arounds. We had seen posters up around town, however, so decided to go in search of it, then when we found it we entered, bought our tickets and sat down to watch a movie, some new teen style comedy that really wasn’t all that funny at all.

At least it helped us pass the time, without us having to think too hard, and thanks to the company I had, it was still an enjoyable night. Afterwards we strolled casually back to our campsite and retired for the night.

*    *     *

      With all the activity of the past week, I had almost forgotten about it, but the next day, Saturday, was my eighteenth birthday and when I awoke that morning I got the surprise of my life.

Thanks to our exertions through the night, I didn’t stir very early the next morning, nor apparently did I hear Matt get up and move about.

When I did wake up however, with the sun streaming down upon our little world and shining in through the half open entrance of the tent, I found Matt sitting upright on his side of our double mattress.

Just for the record, we had planned ahead for our trip and had packed both a single blow up mattress each — which we had used when we were staying in the unit on the Gold Coast with DJ and Hoss — as well as the double blow up mattress that we were using here.

Now I realise, of course, that my seeing him sitting there shouldn’t have been all that startling in itself; however, the fact that he was sitting in a tent decked out with balloons and party streamers, butt naked and wearing only a bright red bow around his neck, well that was just too good a sight to behold.

‘Happy Birthday, gorgeous,’ he said to me as I struggled to get my eyes open.

I sat up on the mattress and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands, as if trying to clear the mirage that I thought must have been floating in front of me.

I honestly thought that I was dreaming, but when I smelt the fresh sea air waft in through the front of the tent and heard the raucous sea gulls on the nearby beach, I was instantly awake, with all my senses working overtime.

I just smiled at him. I couldn’t believe the trouble that he had gone to.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’ he asked me.

‘I’m . . . I’m just speechless,’ I eventually answered.

With that he leaned over and kissed me passionately on the lips.

‘Were you surprised’ he asked me when we parted.

‘That’s one way of putting it. I have to say though, you’re the best birthday present I’ve ever had,’ I answered. ‘And the tastiest too.’

‘It ain’t over yet,’ he responded, while reaching under his side of the mattress.

He brought out a small parcel, about three inches square, wrapped in bright blue and silver stripped paper and with a silver bow on the top of it.

‘What’s this?’ I asked him.

‘Just a little something to mark this auspicious occasion.’

Eagerly, I ripped off the paper, which revealed a small jewelry case. I opened it slowly and found a gold chain wrist bracelet, complete with a hand engraved plaque which simply read, ‘For Luke. Always and forever. Matt.’

Slowly I turned it over in my hand, deliberately leaving my head down, trying not to look up at Matt, just in case he saw the tears that were desperately trying to escape from behind my eyelids.

‘What’s wrong. Don’t you like it?’ he asked, sounding almost hurt.

I shook my head slightly, managing only to mumble something about it being oh, so, beautiful, in between my sobs.

‘You fool,’ he scolded. ‘Come here.’

He reached out and took the bracelet from me, undoing the clasp and placing it around the wrist of my right arm.

I reached for him and he took me in his arms, kissing me passionately once more, and that was where we stayed for the next hour or so, rocking each other backwards and forwards, like a couple of old geriatric sweethearts.

*    *     *

      The rest of day just flew by, and I felt like I was on cloud nine for the whole time.

That morning we didn’t do anything special, besides hang out on the beach and go for a long walk, almost to the base of the headland where the lighthouse sat. At lunch time I found that Matt had organised a picnic hamper for us, which we collected from the little corner store, then ate while sitting on the beach. That was when Mum rang me on Matt’s mobile phone, to wish me a happy birthday and to see how we were getting on.

She asked me if I had received any presents from all my friends and I said, ‘No, not really,’ as I fiddled with the bracelet on my wrist, obviously not wanting to give anything away by saying that Matt had given me a bracelet.

After we disconnected, Matt asked what she had said.

‘Oh, nothing much,’ I answered. ‘She did want to know if all my friends gave me any presents though.’ I looked around me and then waved my arms, saying, ‘Come on guys, where are all my presents.’

Matt just laughed.

After the hectic pace and upsets of the past month or six weeks, it was great to spend this time together, just kicking back and relaxing. Undoubtedly our parents would be looking upon this as a frivolous and expensive waste of time . . . oh no, they didn’t do schoolies trips back in their day . . . but we were enjoying ourselves and that was all we were worried about.

During the afternoon we decided to go for a short drive across the bridge into South Thompsonville, where we spent a bit of time wandering around the small break-wall protected harbour, having a look at some of the house boats and yachts moored in the marina there and talking to some of their owners. We also spent a relaxing hour or so throwing some stale bread we had bought cheaply at the bakery into the water for the sea birds, watching them squabble and fight over every crumb. This was something that we could never do at home.

At about six o’clock, when there was still at least some daylight left, Matt said that it was time we headed back to the camp.

‘What for?’ I asked him.

‘I want to have a shower before we head in to town for dinner.’

‘Dinner?’ I asked.

‘Your birthday dinner, you fool. I’m taking you out to dinner at that little Chinese place we found the other night. We’ve gotta celebrate you know. You’re all legal now.’

‘Just us?’

‘Why not,’ he added.

So we left the marina and drove back to our camp, taking the tourist route by driving the long way around the lake, and just enjoying the late afternoon.

It was a nice feeling to have someone caring about you, pampering you, and I thought that I could get used to this really easily. Would it last, though? And would Matt give me the space I needed, until such times as I was ready to come to terms with this whole deal? They were the things that kept playing on my paranoid mind as we headed back to the Caravan Park.

When we got there we retrieved some clean clothes from our bags and headed for the shower block, which we found to be empty. I was just about to head into one of the shower stalls to wash the days sweat off me when Matt grabbed my arm.

‘In here,’ he whispered.

I hesitated for only a second, with the, ‘What if we get caught,’ thought flashing through my mind, but then followed him into the stall he was entering, going in with just a mild case of the butterflies. There was no one about, so I saw no harm, and besides, if someone did come in one of us would be able to sit on the small shelf that was there to get our feet up out of view.

We had a shower, and that was all, it was fun too, but we knew we couldn’t get up to too much mischief, just in case someone did actually come into the building. Even then we did hear someone come inside and use the toilets, but they were down the other end, so they wouldn’t have been able to see us anyway. We just had our showers and then went back to our tent, where we finished getting ready to go out.

Sometime between half past seven and eight o’clock we started walking up the road towards the town, arriving at the restaurant just on eight o’clock as they last rays of daylight ebbed away.

We found a table without any trouble, being the same large table near the front window, and settled in, looking out towards the lake.

After ordering ourselves some drinks, I got a scotch whisky (which I had occasionally enjoyed at home) while Matt ordered a beer, then we started talking about what we would plan for the next few days, before we headed home.

Matt wanted to have a look around and visit the local National Park that we had found out was located up in the mountains behind the town, while I wanted to do some exploring along the coast, using our camp at the caravan park as a base that we could return to each night. We compromised and decided to do both, spending a few days doing each.

We hadn’t been sitting there for more than a ten or fifteen minutes when we heard the little bell above the door ring, signaling the entrance of some more patrons for the restaurant. Matt and I both turned and looked at the same time and I was quite surprised, well shocked actually, to see Tim and Guy come through the door, followed closely by DJ and Hoss.

‘What the bloody hell is going on here?’ I asked Matt, who was sitting back in his chair grinning at me.

‘Not much,’ he answered, waving to the boys and telling them to drag their sorry asses over here.

‘Happy birthday bro,’ Hoss said, jabbing me sharply in the shoulder with a punch.

It hurt, but I quickly jabbed him back, much to the displeasure of the little Chinese guy behind the counter.

DJ came over and shook my hand, in a much more dignified and traditional greeting, while Tim and Guy did pretty much the same.

I was really pleased to see them all, but the shock left me basically speechless.

As they all sat down around the table, Matt leaned over and whispered softly into my ear, so that no one could hear him, ‘Happy Birthday lover.’

I wanted to kiss him, but . . . well, you know.

I settled for giving him a pat on his leg, under the apricot coloured cloth which was draped over the table. I would thank him properly later on, I thought.

*    *     *

      We had a blast that night, and I have to admit that we all drank a little too much. Well, doesn’t everyone on the occasion of their coming of age?

By about ten thirty, however, we were starting to get impatient looks from the little chinese guy, so we decided to settle our bill for the evening and head off back to the caravan park.

Over the course of the evening I had managed to find out that it was Matt, naturally enough, who had orchestrated this whole thing from start to finish, even down to getting DJ and Hoss to drive down from the Gold Coast just for the night. They would be heading back up there tomorrow, however, as they still had their unit booked for another week, but they said that coming down for my birthday was the least that they could do for their best pal. I got my hair ruffled as they said that. You could probably imagine just what they are like.

They all brought presents, which in some respects would have pleased my mother, but they really only served to embarrass me. They included a bright red G-string (from Hoss of course), a packet of condoms and a rather roughly drawn sketch on how they should be used (that was a shocker and just had to be from DJ), and a bottle of Scotch (from Tim and Guy).

The only dampener on the night was Matt having to explain away to DJ and Hoss how come Tim and Guy were invited. It wasn’t obvious or blatant, just a quiet question or two when the opportunity arose (we told them we just bumped into them again didn’t we), but they still gave our new friends a few funny looks throughout the evening. Still we all had fun, getting on the booze, telling tall tales about each other and also the odd dirty joke.

It was just a great boy’s night out. Too bad it had to end.

We got back to the Caravan Park at around midnight, with everyone deciding to leave their cars parked near the restaurant and walk back, instead of driving them the short distance back while under the influence and running the risk of being picked up by the local constable. They would retrieve them in the morning, they said, and so we all walked home on a warm summer night, under a cloudless sky illuminated by a brilliant full moon, the shrill sound of our laughter filling the night air as we stumbled along.

Seeing as there wasn’t nearly enough room in our tent for everyone, Matt had even gone so far as to book caravans for them all, especially after we had to pump up another air bed and get out some more blankets and stuff, just in case DJ or Hoss decided to question our use of just one mattress. We knew that it wouldn’t have bothered Tim and Guy, but our older friends, they were a different story altogether.

We found the two caravans that had been allocated for the guys, then spent another hour or so sitting in DJ and Hoss’s van, chatting amongst ourselves, but it wasn’t long before we all realised we were fighting a losing battle. Tim and Guy were the first to call it a night, wandering off to their caravan at about one o’clock in the morning, while we hung around with DJ and Hoss for just a little while longer.

‘Funny pair of guys those two,’ Hoss said after they had been gone for a few minutes.

‘Oh, they’re all right,’ I said. ‘We seem to get on good together.’

DJ nodded, then asked, ‘Do you think they’re gay?’

Everybody’s head just snapped in his direction.

‘Christ,’ Matt said, glancing just briefly at me as he did so. ‘What makes you think that?’

‘Dunno, just a hunch. Don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t bother me if they were, I don’t care about that sort of shit anymore, not after seeing what you went through. We are who we are. But it’s just this feeling I get.’

Matt laughed, ‘Thanks for bringing that up again asshole. Yeah, I get that feeling too, it’s called being so fucking tired I’m about to fall down asleep. I don’t know about you fellas, but I’m stuffed. It’s time I hit the sack.’

That was all the prompting I needed as well and said that bed was where I was heading also. DJ and Hoss said their goodnights, then we wandered off towards our campsite.

‘That was close,’ I said to Matt in a whisper as we started to undress.

‘Shit yeah,’ he answered. ‘It was interesting what DJ said though wasn’t it?’

‘What, about not caring about that sort of shit anymore?’

‘Mmmm.’

‘What are you thinking?’

‘Not sure really. I’ll sleep on it.’

‘I was hoping you would sleep on me,’ I responded.

He looked up at me and smiled, then reached over and turned out the light.

‘Let’s just see what we can do about that,’ he said softly, as he pulled me into his arms.

*    *     *

      We all slept late the next morning, waking up with giant headaches from our somewhat amateurish efforts to play grown-ups from the night before. None of us had had much practice at this whole ‘hitting the booze once you turned eighteen’ thing, so we were all naturally enough a little the worse for wear.

I awoke to the sound of someone calling our names, and it took a little while for it to register in my brain, just a little while too long in fact. Just as I sat up and tried to rub the sleep from my eyes the front of our tent opened and in popped DJ’s head.

I really don’t know who got the biggest shock, him or me.

I was sitting up on the mattress, with half of my sleeping bag covering my lower half, while the other half of it was half covering Matt, who was still sound asleep. Underneath the sleeping bag, we were both butt naked.

DJ Looked at me, then at Matt, then back at me again. I could only begin to imagine the fear that he must have seen in my eyes.

I thought I caught the beginnings of a smile on his face, but then, in an instant he was gone.

‘Just leave them alone, they’re both still asleep,’ I heard him say to Hoss just outside the tent, then I heard them both walk away, their feet scrunching on the gravel road outside.

After breathing a huge sigh of relief, yet with my head and my guts feeling like they were currently spinning out of control, I leaned over and shook the sleeping figure of my partner by the shoulder, who slowly came to life.

It felt like my whole world was gradually falling apart, with one by one everybody I knew managing to find out about us. Who would be the next to discover our little secret, I wondered?

When Matt was fully awake, I broke the news to him as best I could, my voice trembling with emotion as I thought I was about to burst into tears. He was really quiet for a long time, then he surprised me by simply giving me a hug, before then asking if I was okay with anyone else knowing?

‘No, I’m not fucking okay with it. How many times do I need to tell you that?’ I blurted back at him.

‘I know how you feel, but what can we do about it now?’ he asked.

‘Make sure he doesn’t repeat it to anyone.’

‘And how do we do that?’ he asked. ‘Cut out his tongue? Push him off a cliff?’

He was starting to get a little agitated with me, but believe me, it was nothing compared to the way I was feeling.

His last comment did manage to quiet me down a little, however.

‘Look,’ he said to me, taking both of my hands in his and sitting up straight in front of me. ‘I know how you feel. I’ll go and talk to him now for you. I’ll plead with him for you and ask him not to say anything to anyone about what he saw.’

‘You don’t care that he knows, do you?’

‘About me? No, I don’t. About you? I care heaps. But after what he said last night, I’m sure he’ll understand. Just trust me, please. Okay?’

‘Okay,’ I said, nodding, although still not entirely convinced that everything would be quite all right.

Matt stood up and quickly pulled on some clothes, then went straight outside to try and find DJ. I stayed where I was, still trembling, feeling stick to my stomach, fearing the worst but hoping and praying that Matt would be able to work it all out for me.

Eventually I managed to pull myself together and got dressed, then ventured outside to face the world and all its dangers.

I looked around me, trying to find where everyone was and eventually noticed Matt and DJ sitting at a picnic table in the shade of a tree. Thankfully, there was no sign of Hoss anywhere.

I stood and watched them for a few minutes, unsure if I should venture over or not. Eventually Matt looked up and noticed me watching them, and waved for me to come over.

‘Fuck! Now what?’ I thought to myself. I stood there for a moment longer and he waved at me again, so reluctantly I unglued my feet from the spot they were fixed to and walked towards them.

I sat down beside Matt, desperately wanting him to hold me and tell me that everything was going to be all right, but at the same time knowing that I would totally freak out if he did that.

‘You really don’t have to worry Luke,’ DJ said, seeing my obvious discomfort at the situation. ‘Your secret is safe with me.’

‘That’s what everyone keeps telling me. But for how long?’ I asked.

‘Forever,’ he answered.

He reached across the table and placed a hand on mine, and instinctively I drew it back.

‘Just relax a little, mate,’ Matt said to me, while patting me on the leg under the table. ‘You don’t have to be so jumpy. Don’t you get it? Didn’t you hear him last night? He’s one of us.’

I looked from Matt to DJ and back again.

‘Bullshit,’ I said.

‘It’s not bullshit,’ DJ said. ‘I’m being fair dinkum.’

‘And Hoss?’ I asked.

He just shook his head. After a moments pause he added, ‘We got together once, a long time ago, but he’s not interested anymore. It’s not from my lack of trying though.’

‘Where is he now?’ I asked.

‘In the shower block.’

‘And you haven’t said anything to him?’

He shook his head.

At this point Matt piped up and said that he and DJ had been totally open with each other and had promised never to mention it to anyone ever again.

‘And you’ve told him everything?’

‘Yes.’

‘Including the fact that I’m not okay with coming out?’

‘Yes.’

I looked across at DJ and he nodded. ‘It’d kill me if everyone found about me too, Luke. We understand each other, don’t we? It’s all just between us?’

I nodded. ‘Yeah, just between us.’

At that time a rather refreshed and clean looking Hoss came wandering over and sat down with us.

‘What’s happening guys?’ he asked.

‘Nothing much,’ Matt said. ‘We’ve just thinking about breakfast.’

‘Great idea,’ he said. ‘Where do we go for that?’

‘There are some top little places down on the boardwalk, beside the lake,’ Matt answered. ‘I’m pretty sure they would be doing breakfast.’

‘Great,’ he said. ‘I’m starved.’

‘Has anyone seen Tim and Guy yet?’ Matt asked.

‘Not yet, but I reckon we should go and wake them up,’ I answered.

*    *     *

      DJ and Hoss left shortly after lunch time, heading back to the Gold Coast for the remainder of their stay there. They urged us to come with them, but we told them that we were heading home in the next day or so anyway.

Shortly after we waved them off, the four of us that were left grabbed our towels and headed for the beach, for an afternoon of sunbaking, swimming and relaxation.

DJ’s revelation of that morning had shocked me, and I had spent most of the rest of the morning looking at him in an entirely different light. I really hoped that he would keep up his end of the bargain, but deep down I had to admit that it still worried the hell out of me. After all, it would only take one small slip of the tongue and the news would spread all over the town, like wildfire.

The four of us ended up having a great afternoon, and as we all had so much in common we were just so relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company. There was no having to hide our feelings. There was no having to watch what we were saying or doing. There was nothing to do but just be ourselves.

There were only a few people on the beach throughout the afternoon, so we basically had it to ourselves.

In between diving into the ocean for a swim, or taking walks along the beach, or one pair or the other wandering off into the bushes together, we talked a great deal and found out quite a lot about each other. Not surprisingly, we all had more in common than we first thought, and the more we talked the more comfortable we were becoming with each other.

I asked them if they had come out yet, and both of them said that they were too afraid, which made me feel a whole lot better. I had worried that it might have just been me that was being paranoid, but when they both confirmed that they held exactly the same fears and concerns as I had, that put my mind more at ease.

None of their parents knew about them, and none of their friends knew about them, and that was how they wanted it to stay, at least until they started university and moved away.

‘I can relate to that,’ I said.

‘But . . . don’t you feel like you’re living a lie?’ Matt asked them during one of our many serious discussions on the subject.

‘Aren’t you doing the same thing?’ they both answered.

‘Not any more,’ he said to them, referring to his having said that he wasn’t going to go out of his way to hide his sexuality from anyone anymore.

‘Just because you’ve made the decision not to lie or deceive any more, that doesn’t mean that you’ve actually come out and told anyone that you’re gay now, does it?’ Tim asked. ‘I mean who else in your life, except us and Luke here, knows that you are actually gay?’

‘Only my cousin Phil back home, and DJ,’ he answered.

‘DJ? Shit, is he?’ asked Tim.

‘Phil?’ I asked.

Matt nodded, looking directly at me as he did so, with an expression on his face that I found difficult to read. I don’t know if it was guilt or shame, or a combination of both. But it did start me wondering again.

‘And no one else?’ Guy asked.

Matt just shook his head.

‘Have your parents ever asked you if you were gay and you’ve totally lied to them?’ Tim asked.

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘Ha. So you’re just as closeted as we are then?’ Guy shrieked triumphantly, slapping Matt on the back.

‘Come on, give him a break guys,’ I butted in. ‘If it wasn’t for Matt and the fact that he can think straight in a crisis I’d be a nervous wreck right now.’

They turned their heads in my direction, with raised eyebrows, so I proceeded to tell them what had happened this morning.

‘Christ,’ Tim said. ‘And we missed it.’

‘Yup. You were probably too busy humping each other about then,’ I added. Guy blushed a deep scarlet red. Bullseye, I thought.

Later that night as Matt and I lay in bed, wrapped around each other, I asked him about DJ.

‘You already knew about him didn’t you? You knew that he could be trusted, that he wouldn’t go running to Hoss and tell him?’

‘Yes, yes and yes,’ he answered, kissing me on the forehead in between each yes.

‘How?’

‘How do you think?’

I thought about it for a second, then asked, ‘When?’

‘Years ago. When we were in about Year Nine at School. There’s nothing for you to worry about. It’s you I’m in love with now,’ he said, kissing me again.

I tried to think back to that time. We were all friends back then too, but I couldn’t ever remember them being that close.

‘How did it happen?’ I asked.

‘It’s past history. Don’t worry about it.’

‘I’m not worried. Just curious really. And maybe a little jealous that I missed out.’

‘That’d be right,’ he teased.

‘So how did it happen?’

‘Well, if you must know, I spotted him perving on me in the showers at school one day and noticed he had a hard on,’ he started.

I felt myself stirring at the thought of this, remembering how many times I had watched both of them in the showers through all of our years at school, while trying to make sure that neither of them saw me doing it.

‘I remember giving myself a little rub while he was watching and I got hard too. His eyes just about jumped out of his head. Anyway, after that someone else came into the showers so we had to get out. We watched each other as were drying ourselves off and getting dressed out in the change rooms, then as I was leaving he asked me if I wanted to call around to his place that afternoon.’

‘So you said yes?’

‘No, I didn’t. It wasn’t until the next sports afternoon, a week later, when the same thing happened, that I got the guts up to go around to his place. We fooled around a bit, sucked each other off, but that was about all. I went there a couple of more times after that. But that was it. End of story.’

‘So, I didn’t miss out on too much after all, then,’ I said.

‘No, not really, but come here and let’s make up for the bit that you did miss out on.’

‘What about Phil?’ I asked.

‘I’ll tell you some other time,’ he said, then he covered my mouth with his.

*    *     *

      We all spent another week in Thompsonville and learnt all about the area, its past and its features. Not to mention learning a good deal more about ourselves.

Our friendship with Tim and Guy grew stronger with each day, although there was one scary moment when Tim leant up against Matt’s car and put a small scratch on the mud guard. Matt looked like he was going to explode for a minute, but he chilled out fairly quickly, then spent half the afternoon washing and polishing the car again, taking particular care in trying to polish out the scratch, which was only very minor anyway.

We all thought it was just so funny, but Matt couldn’t see the funny side of it. I tried to explain to our friends just what sort of relationship Matt had with his pride and joy, but hey, when you think about it, that’s not real easy to do!

Tim and Guy moved out of the caravan on the Sunday night, after DJ and Hoss had left, and into our tent. We had to move a few things out and pack them back into the car, but as it was a fairly good sized tent anyway we all managed to fit into it all right.

I have to say that the nights proved rather interesting though, but that’s probably best saved for another story.

For the rest of the week we played tourist and visited all the interesting places we could find.

On the Monday we decided that we should check out the light house and see what the views were like from up there, which proved spectacular, before that afternoon catching a movie. It was a nice relaxing day. We even found the local Tourist Information Centre and also learned about some of the other sights around the town we could visit, and that helped plan the rest of the week for us.

Tuesday was spent driving up through the mountains and visiting the Thompson River National Park. We took a long leisurely walk through the rainforest, then enjoyed a picnic in a clearing by the river whilst surrounded by beautiful parrots and not so beautiful wallabies, after which we swam naked in a crystal clear rock pool.

Wednesday was spent exploring along the coast to the south of the town, where we found some quaint little villages and even this great nudist beach tucked away in a quiet little cove. There was absolutely no one around that day and we had a blast.

On Thursday we went for another drive through the mountains and found some cute little art and craft studios, where we bought a few more presents for our families.

In our spare time we tried fishing off both the breakwall and the boardwalk, as we had seen locals doing, but I have to admit that our efforts proved rather unsuccessful. Then when had nothing else to do we went to the movies or visited the local bowling club or pub.

Unfortunately the week went by just far too quickly and before we knew it, it was Friday, almost time to pack up and head home.

We had all grown to love our little hideaway. It was like our own little slice of heaven and which hardly anyone else seemed to know about. On our last night in town we went back to our favourite Chinese restaurant and over the house specialty we made ourselves a promise that we would all try to meet here again for a holiday every year.

*    *     *

      We finally waved farewell to our new friends about an hour’s drive south of Thompsonville, at the place where the highway that would take us home turned off.

As we were all basically heading in the same direction, south, they had travelled with us until we had to leave the main Pacific Highway and head up into the mountains, so we all pulled up at a roadside diner for our last meal together, until next year.

‘See you next year,’ they both said to us as we said our goodbyes.

‘Not if we see don’t you first,’ Matt and I answered simultaneously.

Minutes later they were gone, after hugs all around, then we watched them as they pulled back out onto the Pacific Highway and waved to them until they had disappeared from view.

The trip home was, at first, a rather steady and subdued one, as I think both Matt and I realised just how much we were going to miss our new friends. Our friendship with them had really opened our own eyes, not only to what our own relationship was like, but also to what it was yet to be. Tim and Guy were more like us than we could have imagined when we first met them, so parting now, after just getting to know them, hadn’t been easy.

We talked about a lot of things as we made our way back up the mountains; our friends, our lives and our future, being the main topic of conversation. Change was coming, for both of us, and I couldn’t help but think that there was a certain destiny about what we were saying and about what direction our own lives were about to take.

My only misgiving, was this innate fear of mine that I didn’t want anyone to know about the real me – at least not just yet. This was the albatross that weighed heavily around my neck, or more precisely, weighed heavily around the neck of the future relationship that Matt and I desired. I knew that if I couldn’t overcome this fear, we would have no future. Plain and simple.

As we climbed the mountain, I reached across the seat and took Matt’s hand. He looked across and smiled at me, flashing those perfect teeth, his eyes sparkling as they always did.

‘It’s been great, hasn’t it?’ he asked me.

‘It sure has,’ I answered.

‘I know this might sound a bit premature, but have you given any though as to what is going to happen once we get home?’ he asked.

I dodged the question, sort of, and told him that he would have to drop me home at my place.

‘That’s not quite what I meant,’ he responded.

I knew that it would come to this eventually. I would have to decide what I was going to do.

‘I know.’

He squeezed my hand and looked at me.

Surely he must know what I’m going through, I thought.

We came to a rest area and lookout that had been carved into the mountain about half way up, overlooking an amazing valley, through which a deep river snaked its way toward the sea. Matt pulled the car over and stopped.

As we sat there and looked back out over the panorama before us, I simply said to him, ‘I need time.’

‘I know.’

‘Promise me you won’t pressure me into anything? These past two weeks I’ve learned that I love you more than I had ever dreamed possible, but no matter how much I want to, I just can’t bring myself to come out and say those other three words just yet.’

‘You’ve already said the “I love you” words, they are the only ones I want to hear from you. The other words are the ones that the rest of the world wants to hear, but as far as I am concerned the rest of the world can wait until you are good and ready.’

‘You promise?’ I asked.

‘Yeah, I promise.’

He leant across and kissed me, then we just sat there, holding hands and taking in the magnificent views for a little while longer, listening to the mountain birds singing their songs.

Eventually we had to get going again, or it would end up being too late when we got home, so after a quick visit to the rest rooms we continued our journey back up the mountain.

The rest of the trip just flew by and it was just on dark when we drove back into our home town. We had only been away for two weeks, but the whole town seemed so much smaller to us now. I guess that’s one of the tricks the world plays on you as you grow up and start to leave your childhood behind, everything becomes so much smaller, because you find out that the world is just so big.

As my house was closer, Matt dropped me off first, coming inside to say ‘Hi’ to my family.

I told him that I would call around tomorrow and pick up all my gear and arranged to borrow mum’s car to do so. That wasn’t a problem with mum, which I was relieved about, as it gave me a legitimate excuse to call around and see him.

After a cup of coffee and some cake, and us having to give a (slightly fudged) blow by blow account of our trip, Matt headed off home and I returned to my old life. As I waved goodbye to him I wondered what I could do to make this life as interesting as the one that I had spent the past two weeks living, and while the answer was blatantly obvious, I still believed that I would never have the guts to do it.

*    *     *

      When I woke the following morning I was informed by my parents that we would all be going out to dinner tomorrow night as a somewhat belated birthday celebration. Despite my protests they insisted, and told me to let Matt and anyone else know who I might want to come along.

Reluctantly I agreed and told them I needed to go around to Matt’s place to help unpack the car and pick up the rest of my stuff, so I would let him know then.

When I arrived at his house a short while later I was greeted with warm hugs and handshakes from his parents.

Matt and I promised to fill them in on the trip once we had unpacked the car, and after we had done this we sat down with his parents and a pot of coffee and once again went over our trip. Just like we had the night before, at my house, we had to gloss over a few things, swap a few days around and generally fudge a lot of the part about the week and a bit we spent in Thompsonville, but we managed. It was quite amazing how straight we actually managed to get the whole story.

After we had finished, Matt’s father excused himself, saying it was, ‘good to have us all home in one piece and all that,’ but it was a Sunday and he had jobs to do. He disappeared down the hall, and excusing herself also for a moment, his wife followed him, leaving Matt and me alone in the kitchen.

It was here that the one slip up we had always dreaded occurred. It was so innocent, so simple, yet the impact that it would have on our lives would be so great.

With his parents out of the room, Matt reached across and placed his hand on mine, squeezing it gently.

‘Piece of cake,’ he whispered.

I said nothing, but instinctively I drew my hand back, and just as I did this I looked up at the doorway through which his parents had left. Standing there, with a quizzical expression on her face was Matt’s mother, not quite knowing what it was she had just witnessed, but at the same time knowing it wasn’t quite right.

Matt’s hand dropped back down onto his lap, and we both must have blushed something shocking. I could feel the heat in my own cheeks, but dared not look at Matt.

I got up and thanked her for the coffee and excused myself, glanced across at Matt, whose mouth was wide open, and headed straight out the back door and down the steps, almost at a run.

Matt looked from his mother to me, and back again as I had stood up, torn between who he should go to first, but as I reached his flat I heard his footsteps behind me.

‘She saw us,’ I cursed at him.

‘So what?’ he asked.

‘What do you mean, so what? She saw us. Do you need it spelt out to you any plainer than that?’

I was pacing up and down like a caged animal trying to get out, only the cage I was in had no bars, just the invisible threads that held our society together, which were stronger than any bars.

‘I can’t deal with this. I’ve got to go,’ I said to Matt and I jumped in my car and drove off. I noticed his mother standing on the back verandah of their house watching us as I drove out of their yard, but I couldn’t bring myself to wave.

*    *     *

      Matt tried three times to call me that night, but I just couldn’t take the phone when I was told who it was. I just felt so sick in the stomach.

‘Did you guys have a fight or something?’ mum asked me, to which I just shook my head.

The next morning he tried three times as well, and on the third call I had the phone physically thrust into my hand by my mother.

‘Talk to him,’ she said.

Raising the phone to my ear, I said ‘Hello,’ then listened as Matt told me how sorry he was for letting that happen.

He sounded like he was crying, he was saying that it was just an accident, saying that he was sorry, over and over again.

‘Calm down,’ I eventually said to him. ‘You’re babbling.’

‘Please come around,’ he asked, then he disconnected.

I pulled up at Matt’s house a couple of hours later, after thinking the whole thing over, and found him outside his flat, wearing nothing but his favourite pair of football shorts as he washed his precious car. Sometimes I thought that he paid more attention to that bloody machine than to anything else, but right now I was paying all my attention to him, with his hard and wet body, glistening in the afternoon sun.

I asked myself how could I possibly be mad at this god for very long?

‘What’s up?’ I asked as I leant against the wall of his flat. After yesterday, I had kind of had this feeling that I knew where this whole thing was heading. I also knew that I still didn’t want to go there, not yet anyway, but I would have to at least hear him out.

He kept polishing for a moment then stood up and looked at me, stretching his arms above his head as he did so. No doubt he was trying to iron the kinks out of his aching back muscles, but all he succeeded in doing was displaying his muscles and glorious body, and managing to get my heart racing at the thought of him standing there in front of me.

‘Can we go inside and talk?’ he asked.

‘Why inside?’ I asked.

He nodded towards his parents’ house and I looked up to see his mother standing on the back verandah of the house, leaning against a post and looking intensely in our direction.

I shrugged my shoulders then followed him inside, shutting the door behind us.

Matt motioned for me to sit down, which I did, then he proceeded to pour us some drinks. When he eventually sat down opposite me I looked up at his face and noted the worry etched into his normally beautiful features.

He took a deep breath, then for the next fifteen minutes he poured his heart out to me.

‘I just couldn’t stand it any longer,’ he started, and I immediately knew what was coming.

‘Couldn’t what?’ I asked.

He looked at me with those beautiful big puppy brown eyes that I loved so much. They were telling me everything I needed to know, without his needing to say another word.

‘After yesterday, I got quizzed all of last night, so I told them,’ he said quietly, almost in a whisper.

I stayed silent, my hands wrapped tightly around the glass of Coca Cola that he had placed in front of me, my eyes just staring into the cool dark liquid, watching bubbles and ice float idly around. Inside my mind there were a million thoughts racing around simultaneously. I thought that in the last twenty-four hours I had almost prepared myself for this moment, but how wrong I was. It felt like my head was going to explode.

‘Aren’t you going to say something?’ he asked.

I just couldn’t, I shook my head, so he continued.

‘After mum seeing us yesterday, they asked me last night at dinner, straight out, if I was gay. I couldn’t believe it. I guess that from that one touch they managed to figure it all out for themselves. I wanted to say I wasn’t gay. Please believe me, I really did, because I knew how you felt and I didn’t want to get you involved or hurt you in any way, even though you obviously were already involved, but when I tried to say it, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m just so sorry.’

He reached across the table and tried to take my hand. Quickly, I pulled back from him.

‘Please don’t do this,’ he cried.

‘What else did you tell them?’ I demanded.

‘Eventually, I told them everything. Mum was okay, I think. She had probably had a bit more time to think about it, but dad ranted and raved for hours.’

I just couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing. The one person in the whole world who I truly loved, and who I thought truly loved me, had now betrayed me.

‘You knew how I felt,’ I said forcefully. ‘How could you? You promised me?’

There was a long silence, which just seemed to go on forever.

‘I couldn’t go on living like this, Luke,’ he finally said. ‘This having to watch everything that I do, everything that I say. Not being able to even hold the hand of the person I love. This living a lie. The whole deal. I just couldn’t do it any more.’

‘And what about me?’ I asked. ‘You said I could come out in my own way, my own time, when I was ready. You said that to me, on our trip together, don’t you remember? You promised me.’

I slammed my fist down hard on the table and Matt jumped, startled by my action.

‘Yes, I remember,’ he said, nodding, fighting back tears.

‘And?’

‘Look, 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.’

‘How can there ever be a “we” if we don’t even respect each other’s wishes?’ I demanded, and with that I got up and left him, slamming the door behind me and leaving him sitting there at his table, crying.

*    *     *

      I just had to get away from Matt, if only for a little while, to think things through.

The words WE, WE, WE, they just kept echoing though my mind.

As I drove back through town all I could hear were 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.’

‘Fuck it!’ I said, slamming my hands down on the steering wheel. ‘Who is he to preach to me about being open and honest?’ I said to anyone who may have been able to hear me. Which at that point was exactly no one, as I was the only person in the car.

A month ago I had held him to me as he cried and shook in my arms, scared out of his wits that our classmates at school might find out about him. Today he is lecturing me about openness and honesty.

That was a laugh.

I was confused, but I was scared too, and for exactly the same reasons that he had been back then. I felt sure that the embarrassment that my, or should I say, our, coming out to the world would cause, not only for ourselves but also for our families, would be too much for all of us to bear.

I knew I was gay. Hell, I had known it since I was about twelve years old, but to actually tell that to my family and friends, well that was something else.

Matt said that he had told his parents last night, and things hadn’t gone all that well. They now knew about him, and I suppose if that was what he wanted, then so be it.

But they now also knew about me, and to tell them that when he knew how I felt, knowing full well that I wasn’t ready to do this, well that was something else altogether.

I wasn’t really concentrating on my driving and didn’t realise exactly where I was, but when I came to the traffic lights in the middle of town and saw the park up ahead I decided that it was as good as place as any to get out and clear my head.

I had this strange feeling of de-ja-vu, but I certainly wouldn’t be parking anywhere near the toilets though!

There was hardly anyone about, so I pulled up on the street, got out and locked the car. I crossed the road and headed for the nearest bench, where I just sat down in the afternoon sunshine, put my head back, shut my eyes and listened to the birds in the trees.

I was past wanting to cry. I just wanted some quiet time to think. It was peaceful and restful here in the park, and in the few minutes that I just sat there, just breathing in and out I had calmed back down again.

Around me there was little happening. There was a young couple sitting on a blanket in the sunshine, the girl sitting with her legs outstretched, propping herself up with one arm while the other hand stroked her boyfriend’s head, which was in her lap.

I had this thought of Matt and me doing that, out in public, and it sent a shiver down my spine.

There were also a few other people around. A group of teenage boys, no more than fourteen or fifteen years old I guess, were on the far side of the park sitting around a table. I’m not sure what they were doing or what they were saying, but they were making a bit of noise. Obviously having a bit of fun.

And there was also an old guy walking his dog, a stumpy legged looking mutt of no distinct breed, and a couple of people just sitting on benches looking around, just like I was.

After a little while the man and his dog and the young couple moved on, while the teenagers went somewhere else, although I’m not too sure where, as I could still hear them.

I decided that I needed a piss, so got up and headed towards the toilets. I could see that I was being watched by the couple of single guys that were sitting around the park.

‘Who knows, I might even get lucky,’ I said to myself quietly, although I wasn’t sure if that would take my mind off Matt and my little predicament though.

When I went inside I found the place empty, so I went straight to the urinal to relieve myself. From where I stood I could see out into the park, through an open window above the urinal, and I noticed one of the guys that had been sitting alone got up and started walking towards the toilets. He looked like he was a few years older than I was, early to mid-twenties at a guess and was quite cute really. Blonde hair. Tanned. Muscular.

I was nervous, and started shaking slightly, but I continued to watch as he came my way. Then I heard his feet on the gravel outside, and the next thing I knew he was standing beside me.

My head was down, pretending to study where my stream was being directed, but I managed to glance sideways at him.

He was gently stroking himself and looking at me.

‘How’s it going?’ he asked quietly.

‘F-f-fine,’ I answered, trying to keep my head down and not look directly at him, but fighting a losing battle. I looked across at him I saw that he had a huge erection and was giving it a good pull. I guess my mouth must have dropped open, as he was so big, and also uncut.

Slowly, he reached over and placed his hand on my penis and started stroking me. It felt warm and comforting and as nervous as I was, I didn’t want him to let go of me.

‘Do you come here often?’ I heard him ask me, almost in a whisper.

My mouth was just so dry. I tried to say something, but couldn’t. Instead I just shook my head.

From the gentle rubbing that he was giving me it didn’t take very long for me to become aroused, and the harder I got the more vigorous his actions became. I was enjoying this, although for some reason my mind just kept going back to Matt and the times that we had already spent together.

We both seemed so engrossed with what was happening that we didn’t hear anyone come into the toilets, but a few moments later we were both surprised by a noise behind us – someone clearing their throat. We looked around and there was the group of teenagers, standing there sniggering at us.

‘Well, it looks like we’ve got us a couple of homos here, boys,’ one of them said, a big kid that only looked about sixteen but must have weighed about one hundred kilos. He was huge.

Quickly my new friend let go of me and tucked himself away. I nervously did the same. He then made a move as if to leave, but got pushed back heavily, bumping into me in the process.

I remember I hit the wall and then slipped over on the wet floor.

I remember hitting my head.

The last thing I can recall was hearing their apparent leader say, ‘Let’s get ‘em,’ then felt someone’s boot land in my stomach.

After that. Only darkness.

To be continued . . .

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