Next morning, before first period at school, I looked and looked for the beautiful newcomer but couldn’t find him anywhere.
‘Maybe he’s chickened out,’ Ben said to me as I dejectedly walked along the corridor towards our classroom.
‘I hope I haven’t scared him off,’ I said back to him.
‘Nah. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure that he’ll show.’
When we reached the classroom we headed straight for our usual seats, right down the back where we would hopefully be out of view of ‘Old Eagle Eyes’ (alias Sister Mary).
She took us for math and had earned the nickname because it didn’t matter what any student was doing, or how quiet they were doing it; she just always seemed to know.
Most of our teachers had nicknames of some sort, some more colourful than others. I remember when I had first started at the school, it was in the first couple of weeks of Year Eight, I was listening in on a conversation between some of the older students one lunchtime which had my head spinning. It went something like this;
‘So Snowy told Old Eagle Eyes that he caught Tom Johnson smoking in the boys toilets. And then she told Drummer, who was his Pastoral Teacher and he had to ring Tom’s parents. Then when they got here they all went into The Slug’s office, for like, an hour. I wouldn’t have liked to have been in Tom’s shoes.’
‘Who the fuck were they all talking about?’ I remember whispering to Ben, who I had recently become friends with and who already had the advantage of one full year at the school.
‘Well, Snowy is Mr Snowden, the music teacher. Old Eagle Eyes is Sister Mary, the math teacher. Drummer is Mr Sandler. He’s got that name because he plays in a band. And The Slug is Brother John, the Principal. They call him that because he’s real slimy and always creeping about the place like a big slug.’
‘Are there any others I should know about?’
He laughed. ‘You’ll figure them all out in time.’
I remember looking at Ben for a long time, taking in the stocky build and ruggedness that was already evident, even at this age. For the first time in my life, I felt the strangest of urges, like a knot in my stomach, like my heart skipping a beat. I felt scared and yet at the same time I was excited. I guess it was the first inkling of what was to come, although I had no idea what it was all about back then.
Anyway, back to the present.
Our class was the usual rag-tag mixture of students that you would find in any classroom and today, as usual, we were being our usual rowdy selves while awaiting the arrival of Old Eagle Eyes.
Ben and I made our way to the back of the room, cutting a swath through our classmates by playfully pushing them out of the way. We managed to make it just in time, plonking ourselves down in our seats at the desk that we always shared just as we saw Sister Mary arrive (we only ever called her Old Eagle Eyes when she wasn’t around).
She dropped her books and notes onto her desk at the front of the classroom with a thud, just as she did every lesson, and then just stood there with her arms crossed, looking at us all rather contemptuously.
There was still no sign of the new kid, Guy.
Sister Mary never said a word. She just stood there staring at us. When we had all finally quietened down and taken our seats, she picked up the text book and opened it.
‘Right, then,’ she said to us in an almost manly voice. ‘We were working on algebra, were we not? If you would open up to page one hundred and seventy three of your text book we will carry on from where we left off yesterday.’
The class as a whole, groaned, bringing a wry smile to Sister Mary’s lips, which was soon short lived however when the door burst open and in walked Guy.
All heads turned in his direction and stared.
‘And you are?’ asked Sister Mary.
‘Harding, Guy. Sorry I am late, Sister. I had trouble finding the classroom.’
‘Ah, the new student. Please take a seat, Mr Harding, and we will be able to start the lesson.’
All eyes followed Guy as he walked across the room to the only vacant desk that was left. Just before he sat down he glanced quickly around the room, his eyes settling on Ben and me for a moment, then giving us the slightest of nods before he sat down.
Ben gave me a dig in the ribs. I think I might have blushed.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the lesson. I think I spent most of it just staring at the back of Guy’s head, lost in dreamy thoughts that shouldn’t ever be spoken aloud at a Catholic School.
At the end of class I got up the courage and walked over to Guy, to properly introduce myself.
‘Hi, I’m Tim. We didn’t really get properly introduced yesterday,’ I said to him.
I stuck my hand out in front of me, which he shook and said, ‘Nice to meet you.’
His grip was firm and strong, and he spoke clearly, with a voice that was as smooth as silk, unlike the rest of us who somehow always seemed to blend our vowels and consonants together into a largely indecipherable drawl.
‘And I’m Ben,’ Ben added, thrusting his hand forward as well which was also shaken.
It was the first chance that I had had to see him up close and I wasn’t disappointed. He was about five foot eleven, not quite as tall as I was, with a slim but well toned build and he had this golden brown hair and these beautiful dark brown eyes that just held you in a trance. There wasn’t even a hint of a pimple anywhere.
Man, this guy looked almost perfect.
‘So, you’ve just moved here, huh?’ I heard Ben ask.
‘Yeah,’ came the smooth reply. ‘My parents have just split up and mum and I have moved back here. This is where she was originally from. She went to school here, in fact.’
‘Sorry to hear about your parents,’ I managed to say.
Guy just shrugged and quietly said, ‘Shit happens.’
From behind us Sister Mary asked, ‘Don’t you boys have a class to go to?’
Ben just rolled his eyes at me. I had to stifle a laugh.
‘We were just going Sister,’ I said to her and then the three of us walked out of the room together and down the hall.
‘So, what subject do you have next?’ Ben asked Guy.
‘Ummm . . . science,’ he said, after consulting with the timetable that he pulled from his pocket.
Ben snatched the timetable from him and started looking at it, which caused Guy to raise his eyebrows and look sideways at him.
‘Oh, don’t mind him,’ I said to Guy. ‘You’ll get used to him after a while.’
Guy suddenly smiled, and it was like the whole hallway had lit up.
‘Hey. You’ve got the same classes as us. Every last one of them,’ Ben finally said, looking up from the timetable.
‘Great,’ Guy said, while glancing briefly in my direction. ‘I won’t get lost then, will I?’
We all laughed and just followed the crowds towards the science block.
* * *
When school was finally out for the day we asked Guy what his plans were. He simply shrugged and said he didn’t really have any, although his mother did expect him home at some stage.
‘Would you like to come downtown and hang with us?’ Ben asked.
‘Is that what you guys were doing down there the other day when I spotted you?’
‘You could say that,’ Ben answered, grinning.
‘Sure. Why not.’
Ben and I started heading straight for the school gates, both assuming that Guy would follow.
‘Where are you guys going?’ he asked as we started walking away.
‘Downtown. You coming or not?’ Ben asked.
‘You’re walking?’ Guy asked.
‘Yeah. How else?’
He pulled some keys from his pocket and then, waving them at us he said, ‘Wouldn’t you prefer a lift?’
‘In a car you mean?’ I asked.
‘Well, I’m not going to give you a piggy back ride.’
We stopped and started walking back towards him.
‘Why didn’t you tell us you had a car?’ Ben asked.
‘You didn’t ask.’
We walked from the front of the building around the side, towards where the students and teachers parked their cars.
‘So, which one is it?’ I asked, looking out over the tops of about thirty cars, some of which were already leaving in the mad afternoon rush to get home.
Guy just smiled and said, ‘Come on.’
He led us to a sporty looking machine, a white Mitsubishi Galant VR4 with red stripes up the sides. It looked pretty neat, although we could tell that it wasn’t all that new.
‘Is this yours?’ I asked, rather incredulously.
‘Mum’s, actually,’ he answered.
Ben and I looked at each other with our mouths open.
‘Are you rich?’ Ben suddenly asked.
‘No,’ Guy answered, laughing. ‘Why?’
Ben just turned to me and said, ‘Well, two out of three ain’t bad.’
‘You don’t want to know,’ I quickly answered, before opening the passenger side door of the car and climbing inside, hoping my embarrassment wouldn’t show; while Ben climbed into the back.
We drove out of the schoolyard and headed downtown, with envious eyes turning in our direction as we passed the bus stop where hundreds of our fellow students were now lining up to catch their buses home.
Guy slotted a tape into the tape deck and the sounds of the Beach Boys soon came blaring out of the speakers.
‘Good, good, good, good vibrations. . .’
He tapped the steering wheel in time to the music as he drove along and pretty soon we were all singing along. It was summer after all. And we were still kids!
When we reached the shopping centre we parked as close as we could to The Mall Arcade and then after locking the car we headed off in search of refreshments.
‘Where are we actually going?’ Guy asked us a couple of times.
‘You’ll see,’ Ben answered, striding out slightly ahead of us.
‘So, is this where you guys come all the time?’ Guy asked.
‘Pretty much,’ I answered. ‘It’s fairly cool. And it’s right next door to the amusement arcade.’
‘The Milk Bar?’ he asked.
‘Yeah. It didn’t take long for you to find your way around town then, did it?’
‘Mum used to live here, remember? She used to come here as a kid too. I’ve heard all of the stories about growing up here and going to school here. It made me think twice about coming here actually, it sounded so damn boring, but I’m glad I did now. It’s going to be great.’
Ben was already at the counter by the time we got there, drumming his fingers impatiently on the glass top.
‘What kept you guys? You want a drink or what?’
‘Yeah, just get me the usual,’ I answered.
‘Whatever you’re having, I suppose.’
We sat down at the front booth, where we could see out into the Mall, while Ben ordered and paid for our drinks.
‘Here, I should give you some money for that,’ Guy offered as Ben sat down beside me.
‘Nah. It’s cool. It can be your shout next time. That’s what we usually do.’
‘So, how did you like the first day at your new school?’ I asked him.
Guy smiled and said, ‘Good, actually. I think I made some new friends. And it looks like I’ve already done some of the stuff at my last school that you guys are studying now. So I think it’ll be all right.’
‘Friends, huh?’ Ben grunted.
‘Well, I’d like to think so,’ he answered, suddenly looking worried and going all defensive on us.
‘Cool,’ Ben answered, grinning. ‘We haven’t got many of those.’
All worry quickly disappeared from Guy’s face, soon being replaced by the same radiant smile that we had seen earlier in the day.
I felt a familiar tingling sensation in my loins and quickly thought, ‘God, not here.’
‘So, what do you think of the idea for the musical?’ I asked him.
He shrugged and said, ‘It’s something different I suppose. It won’t be easy coming up with all those songs though.’
‘Hmmm. Have you got any suggestions?’ I asked.
‘I’ll have to sit down and go through my collection. You guys ought to come over one day after school and have a look. You might find something you like.’
‘Yeah, that’d be great,’ we both answered.
‘I suppose there would be a heap of songs we could use for the musical if we have a look. But we better make sure there’s not too much soppy shit through it. I think that that’s what the girls will come up with mainly.’
‘Hmmm. So, what sort of music do you like listening to?’ I asked.
‘All sorts of different stuff really. Ummm, I don’t like too much of the new stuff, but mostly the oldies from the eighties and that. Bruce Springstein and Meatloaf for starters.’
Ben and I glanced at each other and I could see him grinning.
‘What?’ Guy asked.
‘Dufus here is a Meatloaf nut too,’ Ben answered, punching me in the shoulder as he did so.
Suddenly Guy appeared to be looking at me in a slightly different, almost appraising kind of way.
Our milkshakes were brought over to us just then. Three chocolate malteds, with double malt, so we soon busied ourselves with drinking them. All the while, however, Guy seemed to be studying me over the top of his drink.
‘Do you guys know if there’s much part time work around here?’ Guy asked us between slurps on his shake.
‘We both work at the supermarket,’ I answered. ‘Usually just Thursday nights and Saturdays. That’s the only time outside of school hours that it’s open really.’
Guy nodded, with the straw still in his mouth.
‘Do you want us to put in a good word for you with the boss?’ Ben asked.
‘That’d be great if you would,’ he answered. ‘I could do with some pocket money, seeing as I have to put petrol in the car if I want to use it.’
‘How often do you get to drive it?’ I asked.
‘All the time, basically. Mum has another work car that she always drives, so I get to drive the sports model,’ Guy said with a grin.
‘Lucky bastard,’ I said to him.
‘So, where did you come from before you landed here?’ Ben asked.
‘Sydney, mostly. But I’ve been all over. My father manages large department stores. He’s still in Sydney now, but we’ve lived in Victoria and Queensland at various times. When he and mum decided to call it quits she decided to come back here when a job came up, seeing as this was where she was from. I could have stayed with dad if I’d wanted to, but I didn’t like the city all that much.’
‘Fair enough,’ I said.
‘So, what do you guys do for fun around here?’ Guy asked.
‘Fun? Here?’ Ben said. ‘You’re out in the boondocks now, mate.’
‘Don’t listen to him,’ I said, trying to reassure Guy that he wasn’t totally out in the wilderness. ‘There’s always the movies, or skating, or bowling, or the Amusement Arcade next door. There’s plenty to do, really.’
It was about then that I felt Ben kick me under the table and nod towards a guy that happened to be walking past. He was in his twenties and had an earring. And was wearing a T-shirt that was a size too small for him, which showed off his well-defined chest and abs.
‘Hmmm,’ was all I said, quietly, trying not to let Guy catch on to what we were doing.
I saw Guy spin around in his seat, but the cutie had already passed the shop and was safely out of sight.
Shit, that would be all I need, Guy finding out I was gay! I felt a shudder go through me at the thought of it.
Just then a girl of about eighteen came in to the milk bar and sat at a table opposite us. She had long blonde hair and was wearing shorts and a fairly revealing top.
I gave Ben an elbow in the ribs and nodded in her direction.
‘Definitely,’ he whispered.
We both laughed.
‘Just what the fuck are you guys doing?’ Guy asked, obviously feeling as if he was somehow being left out of the loop.
‘It’s just a little game we play,’ Ben answered. ‘It’s called ‘Pick a Partner’. What you do is pick out someone you think the other would fancy and ask them. It’s stupid really. But it passes the time.’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ he said, shaking his head and grinning at us.
‘Don’t worry, if you hang around us long enough you’ll get to be included too,’ I said to him.
‘Thanks. I think.’
We talked for a while longer, about cars, about friends, about movies, about music. You know, all the usual things that teenagers get to gossip about.
Ben asked him if he had left a girlfriend back in his old town. He quickly said no, and all of a sudden started staring intently at his milk shake container.
Ben and I finished our milk shakes.
After a while he said, ‘Well, I suppose I better be getting home soon. Mum might start getting worried about me.’
Just then another guy about twenty came into the milk bar and without even hesitating Ben pointed at him and said, ‘There you go.’
It wasn’t just a subtle nod this time. He had actually said it aloud, and plainly enough for Guy to hear. I quickly kicked Ben under the table; the bastard probably didn’t even realise what he had just done. Up until now Ben was the only other person in my life who actually knew that I was gay. The last thing I wanted was for Guy to find out about me after having only just met him!
Guy turned and looked at the person that Ben had pointed out, and I saw his expression change and his eyes widen.
Suddenly my chest tightened and I felt like I was gasping for breath.
He looked from the man to Ben and then back to me. Then he just smiled.
‘So that means you’re, ummm, gay?’ Guy asked.
I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. I felt my cheeks burning. I felt my stomach twisting into a tight knot that I just knew would never be unwound. I felt paralysed by fear.
The world stood still for a long time. I looked from Guy to Ben and then back again.
‘Shit. . . I . . . ummm . . .’ I started to say, but nothing else came out.
All I could think about was running. So that was exactly what I did.
To be continued . . .