I have to admit that I had difficulty in coming to terms with what Justin had told me, finding it extremely hard to comprehend why someone would feel compelled to do themselves harm in that way, but all the while knowing that the forces that drove people to such lengths were usually beyond anyone’s explanation.
Justin was right, I most probably wouldn’t understand if he did try to explain it to me, and as I walked back towards the caravan park that afternoon I was still uncertain about whether or not I should at least try to listen to him and understand.
‘You’re back early,’ Sally said to me as I walked in through the reception area door, then after taking a closer look at me she added, ‘Are you all right? You look a little pale.’
‘I’m fine,’ I mumbled in reply as I made my way through to my office, then shut the door behind me with a bang.
I walked over to the window and gazed out towards the row of self-contained holiday cabins that were positioned amongst the trees, down along the back fence of the caravan park, staring aimlessly at the one with the dark blue Ford parked in front of it. I turned and picked up the photograph of Justin, Billy and me that was on the shelf beside me.
‘Christ almighty, mate. Why would you want to do something like that?’ I asked the smiling face of the young Justin that was in the photograph, as I ran my fingers across the smooth glass surface.
Carrying the photograph with me I walked back over to my desk and sat down, placing the picture upright on the desk in front of me.
It seemed so long ago now, when that photograph had been taken, and so much had changed since then. I could only hope that things hadn’t gone too far and that any damage that may have already been done wasn’t irreparable.
A few minutes later there was a soft knock on the door, followed by it being opened. Sally stuck her head through into my office, looking concerned.
‘Are you all right Scott?’ she asked, looking at me in a motherly kind of fashion, before shifting her gaze to the photo frame on the desk in front of me.
I rubbed my eyes and the bridge of my nose then sat back in my chair with my arms folded behind my head, gazing at the ceiling. As I hadn’t answered her, Sally started to retreat back through the doorway and close the door, no doubt sensing that I didn’t feel like talking.
‘He tried to kill himself,’ I said to her, which quickly arrested the shutting of the door.
‘When? Not . . . today?’ she asked.
‘No, it was ages ago. I’m not sure exactly when. He showed me the scars on his wrists.’
I shrugged. ‘Who knows. He wouldn’t tell me. He just said I wouldn’t understand.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Just told him that if he ever wanted to talk he could come and see me anytime he wanted. What else could I do?’
‘Not much, I don’t think,’ she answered.
‘You may have been right, though,’ I said to her.
‘He may need saving all over again.’
‘Hmmm . . . the thing is, are you prepared to try and do it again?’
I stared back at the photograph, at the three smiling faces from so long ago, and wondered if Justin or I would ever be that happy again.
‘Well?’ Sally asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I said flatly.
* * *
After a fitful night of sleep, I got out of bed just before sunrise and dressed in shorts and a singlet, then headed down to the oceanside beach for a quick swim, and to watch the sun come up.
It was something that I did every so often when things were bothering me, or when I needed some time to myself to try and think things through. I’m not sure why, but the sharpness of the cold water on my skin, followed by the witnessing of the dawning a new day, always seemed to put me at peace with the world.
It was a clear, cool morning and I didn’t stay in the water for very long, then afterwards I sat on the beach, watching the darkness get washed slowly out of the sky by ever lightening shades of colour, while waves crashed endlessly onto the shore before me and seagulls squabbled amongst themselves around me.
As I sat there, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get Justin’s words out of my head . . . ‘Shit man, didn’t they tell you anything? Jeez, they are slipping. I tried to kill myself.’
This wasn’t the same boy that I had wrestled with and played with and taken camping and fishing just a few years ago. This was a troubled, angry young man who needed some help, and no matter how hard I resisted, telling myself that it really wasn’t any business of mine, I kept going back to the image of a frightened young boy wrapped in a blanket nine years ago, who had just been saved.
Sally was right. He did need saving all over again, and seeing as it was me who had reached out and managed to latch onto him once before, I reasoned it should be me who needed to try it once more. I don’t know if there was any logic in that, but somewhere in the muddled depths of my brain it seemed to make sense to me.
I knew that I may not be what you could call experienced in these matters, but I also knew that I had to at least try to talk to Justin and help him if I could. It was hurting me to see him as this angry young man, as opposed to the playful kid I once knew, so I guess it was as much for me as for him that I had reached the decision I had.
As the sun started to finally make its appearance, sneaking above the distant horizon and blinding the world with that familiar blast of light, I got to my feet and started to head along the beach, toward where the creek ran into the ocean, before then turning up the path that ran beside it and following it back toward the lake. This took me past the toilets and showers that held such fond memories for me.
I noticed a few cars in the nearby car park, which I thought would most likely be surfers or fishermen, but seeing as I was never one to pass up an opportunity I thought I may as well just go and take a look inside anyway.
As I approached the building I could hear the sound of water running inside, so I walked into the shower section, which was still rather dark, given the early hour.
There was someone in there, standing naked under the cold water and once I let my eyes adjust to the darkness I could see that he was around my age, or perhaps a little younger, with short dark hair and a surfer’s smooth build.
I stripped off and dropped my wet clothes onto the change bench, then walked over to the shower nozzle next to him and turned on the water, giving him a slight nod as I did so.
‘G’day. I saw you on the beach earlier didn’t I? Not a bad morning for a swim, eh?’ he said to me.
‘Yeah. It was good out there today,’ I answered, as I turned to half face him and then held my head under the stream of water ran my hands back through my hair.
Through the water I could see him watching me and noticed that he had turned and faced me as well, and was now running his hand down over his smooth chest, down over his flat stomach and to his groin, where I saw his rapidly expanding manhood. I smiled at him and ran my hands down over my body as well, then stepped out from under the water and walked towards him.
We both knew the drill and what was going to happen next.
‘Looks as if this morning is starting to get betterer and betterer,’ he said quietly, as he reached out and placed his hand on my chest, then let it slide downwards.
‘It sure looks like it,’ I answered, then leant in and kissed him.
* * *
Despite the early hour, there were already a few people up and about when I made my way back through the main gates at the caravan park, early risers no doubt looking to head out to catch an unsuspecting flathead or bream, or a few hardy souls who were preparing to brave the cold seas, busily strapping their surfboards to the racks on their cars.
Summers were always like this, and I doubted that I would ever grow tired of them.
I said good morning to a man and his son as they headed out through the gates with fishing rods in hands, and waved back to a really cute guy who had waved to me as he climbed into one of those trendy little four wheel drives, with a surf board strapped to his racks. He had long blonde hair and a six pack that I would kill for, and was wearing only his board shorts. I watched him for a moment as he drove past me and out through the gates, then I headed for the kiosk, figuring that I might open it up a little early today and make myself a decent coffee.
The kiosk was a separate building, located on the other side of the driveway into the park to where the reception area and my own house were, and was comprised of a small shop, where we sold general grocery items for visitors, and a cafeteria and outdoor eating area.
This was the domain of Mrs Richards, an old friend of my mother’s. I knew she would be along in a couple of hours anyway, but I reckoned I would probably be able to man the fort until then. I had known her since I was a kid, when she had first started helping out in the kiosk. Now that her husband had passed on she still liked to keep herself busy by helping out nearly every day except for Wednesday, which was Bingo day.
When I got there I found that the local newsagent had already delivered the bundle of morning papers, so I picked them up, pulled the keys from my pocket and let myself in.
I pushed the door open and heard the little bell ring above my head, then dumped the newspapers on to the counter and went in search of some scissors to cut the string which was around them, crouching down behind the counter and having a scrimmage through the cupboard under the cash register.
The little bell on the door rang once more and I looked up across the counter to see Peter Black walk inside.
‘Good morning, Peter,’ I said to him as I straightened up from my crouched position.
‘Good morning, Scott,’ he replied. ‘I saw you come in here. I thought I might grab a newspaper.’
I pulled one from the pile and passed it to him, which he took and put under his arm, and then started to fish through his pockets for some coins. After he had paid me he just stood there in front of me, looking around the kiosk. I thought that he seemed to be distracted by something, and I had a fair idea what it was, but I said nothing, preferring to let him speak first.
‘Looks like you’ve been busy here since your parents left,’ he said after a while. ‘The park is looking good.’
‘Yeah, well I’ve done a few things since they moved up north.’
He nodded in agreement, then said, ‘They should be pleased with what you have done.’
‘Yeah, I think they are. They haven’t complained . . . well, not yet at least.’
I noticed him grin for a moment, and then he asked, ‘Have you seen Justin around much over the past few days?’
‘I saw him down by the beach yesterday afternoon,’ I answered truthfully.
‘Did you talk to him?’
‘Just for a few minutes,’ I answered.
Peter just nodded and glanced around the kiosk again.
‘He showed me his scars,’ I said. His head snapped back towards me.
‘What did he tell you?’
‘I think maybe I’d like to hear it from you,’ I answered. ‘How about I put the kettle on and make some coffee?’
‘That’s probably a good idea,’ he answered.
* * *
Sitting at one of the outdoor tables in the morning sun, Peter Black told me everything he could.
The reason why they hadn’t been back to Thompsonville in more than four years was because it was just before they had started planning to return that summer, that Justin had tried to slash his wrists.
No one knew why then. No one knows why now. And with each passing year it seemed he was growing angrier and angrier; with himself, with his parents and with the world.
Justin wouldn’t ever tell anyone what had compelled him to do it, and despite the best efforts of a battalion of psychologists and psychiatrists, not to mention the frequent visits to various clinics and an institution or too, he still hasn’t told anyone to this day.
I felt sick to the stomach as I sat in mute silence and listened as Justin’s helpless father spilled his guts to me, growing more and more emotional with each passing minute. He and his wife were approaching the end of their tether. They didn’t know where they should turn next, and they were worried about what would happen to Justin now that he was an adult, fearful that he would try and harm himself again, or possibly even fall into a lifestyle that would prove self-destructive.
It was only as a last resort that a psychologist had made the suggestion that they should try taking him someplace where he had once been happy, and so that was why they had decided to return to Thompsonville, hoping that it would provide the answer that they had yearned for.
By the time he had finished talking, he was crying freely. He went to his pockets in search of a handkerchief, but came up empty, so I pulled a couple of napkins from the dispenser on the table and passed them across the table for him to wipe away his tears.
When he had regained his composure I asked, ‘And he’s never given you any idea why?’
Peter just shook his head. ‘He refuses flatly to talk about it. We try to be around all the time for him. I guess partly in the hope that he might tell us one day, but also partly so that there is someone always around, just so that he doesn’t try again.’
‘I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea,’ I said to him.
He looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face and said, ‘Why’s that?’
‘Justin told me that sometimes he feels he just needs to get away from you and his mother. You may not like this, and he didn’t exactly say as much, but I get the feeling that he feels smothered by all the attention.’
He looked up at me with reddened eyes and said, ‘He told you that?’
‘Well, sort of,’ I replied, nodding. ‘And not in so many words.’
‘That’s more than he’s said to anyone in quite a while.’
‘I’ve only spoken to him the once,’ I added.
‘Yeah, and he’s already told you that! You don’t suppose . . .’
He broke off and looked down at his hands, which were in his lap.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I was going to ask if you would try and talk to him again,’ he said. ‘That’s all.’
‘I’m no shrink,’ I said. ‘I really think that this sort of thing is best left to the experts.’
‘And just look where that has got us so far,’ he snapped. There was a moment’s silence, then he said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. It’s just that you were his friend once, and still are, I hope. I think he needs a friend that he can talk to more than he needs his mother and me at the moment.’
It was my turn to look down at my hands.
‘Scott? Please?’ he asked, almost pleading.
‘I’ll try and talk to him again,’ I said. ‘But just don’t expect any miracle cure, all right?’
For the first time that morning, Peter smiled at me.
‘We won’t. And thank you,’ he said.
‘Let’s just see what happens before you start thanking me. Okay?’
He nodded and got up to leave.
‘You’ve already got him to open up a little,’ he said to me. ‘I just know that he will talk to you.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ I replied.
I watched him as he walked back down the driveway toward their cabin, with the morning newspaper tucked under his arm. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get Justin to talk to me, or even if he would, but I figured that I owed it to them all to at least try.
Getting up from the table I picked up our coffee mugs and took them inside, then set about tidying up before Mrs Richards arrived. I knew that if I left a mess in her little kitchen I was sure to be in trouble.
As I was rinsing the cups in the sink, the dragon lady herself waltzed into the kitchen, blowing in like an unwelcome gale on a calm summer day.
‘Good morning, Scottie,’ she said to me as she dumped her handbag on the counter and then stood there with her hands on her hips, looking around her. She had been calling me Scottie for as long as I could remember, and while I found it extremely annoying, I knew that she was never going to change, so I had just gotten used to it.
‘Have you had a customer already?’ she asked curiously, while watching me dry the cups.
‘Good morning, Irene,’ I answered. ‘No, no customers yet, I just made some coffee for Peter Black and me.’
‘Ahhhh,’ she replied. ‘I had that boy of his in here yesterday. Bought some cigarettes. Surly young fellow that one. Coming in here all smug and arrogant. Got a real chip on his shoulder if you ask me.’
‘He’s not as bad as he seems. I think he’s got a few problems that he needs to work out though.’
‘A few problems?’ she snorted, as she turned her back to me and started packing all the clean crockery and cutlery from the dishwasher away. ‘If you ask me, he is the problem. I don’t reckon he’s quite all there to tell you the truth. What he must be putting his poor parents through . . .’
Just then the bell on the front door rang, cutting her off in mid-sentence, and she turned around at the sound of it.
All I heard was, ‘Hmmmppfff,’ as I disappeared through it and let it close behind me.
* * *
Over the next few days I didn’t see a real lot of either Justin or his parents, although I did spot them all from time to time, each of them alone, either walking on the beach, or swimming in the pool or walking along the streets of our town.
At no time did I see any of them together, and I guessed that they must have all been doing their own thing. I wasn’t sure if they had taken any notice of what I had said about Justin needing some time away from his folks, but it seemed to me that maybe that was just what they were doing. In some ways I hoped so, but in other ways, it had me slightly worried.
Then one evening, just after the sun had gone down and as I sat in the office, filling out the day’s books and feeling reasonably pleased with the season we were having, I looked up and saw Justin walking past my window.
There was a deck running along one wall of the house, and I had the sliding glass door that opened out onto it wide open, letting the sounds and smells of summer waft in through the doorway.
‘Hey, Jay’, I called out to him. It was what I had called him pretty much ever since I had first gotten to know him, and at least it caused him to stop and look my way. I watched as he gave a sigh, then walk over to the edge of the roadway.
I got to my feet and headed out onto the deck to see him.
‘How’s it going, Scott?’ he asked me.
‘Not too bad, thanks. How about you? I haven’t really seen you about much the last couple of days, mate.’
‘I’ve been around,’ he replied, rather coolly.
‘Are you at least trying to enjoy yourself?’
‘Yeah, you could say that I suppose.’
‘That’s good then. I was beginning to think you’d never come around,’ I said jokingly.
For the briefest moments I thought I saw the beginnings of a smile on his lips, but then the darkness returned to his features and he started looking around, almost nervously.
‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘I’d better be going. Maybe I’ll catch up with you later?’
‘That would be good,’ I said to him as he turned and started walking away, sketching something through the evening air that resembled a wave. Then as an afterthought I called out after him, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of going fishing tomorrow, out into the National Park. Do you feel like tagging along?’
‘We’ll see,’ he simply called back to me.
I watched him as he walked out through the gates and turned left, heading towards the middle of town, and idly wondered where he might be heading. A part of me wanted to follow him and make sure that he was all right and didn’t get himself into any trouble, while another part of me was happy that he was making an effort to get out and enjoy himself.
While I was standing there feeling confused about the boy and what I should do, the cute blonde surfer that I had waved to a few mornings earlier drove past me and waved again. I waved back, and then he too disappeared through the front gates.
I walked inside and slid the door closed behind me, feeling myself stir at the thought of seeing the blonde getting into his vehicle the other morning, then switched out the lights and headed towards my bedroom, stripping off as I went.
By the time I lay my head down on the pillow I was growing hard at the thought of this stranger and so I reached down and gently took a hold of myself, then started stroking.
With my eyes closed, and the image of the blonde stranger dancing in front of me I had soon built up to that familiar rhythmical motion that had kept me satisfied ever since I had first discovered the pleasurable feelings that I could give to myself.
Just as I was about to reach an exciting conclusion to my little fantasy, however, another face came floating into my vision, pushing the stranger aside. It was a younger face, one that I had known for many years and as hard as I tried, I found that I couldn’t stop myself. Not now.
Justin was grinning at me, urging me to go on. It seemed so real, I could almost swear that he was in the room with me, and as strange as it felt to me, to be thinking of my friend in this way, I did as he beckoned me to do, which soon resulted in great dollops of my juices soon spewing out over me, hitting my chest and abdomen.
When I opened my eyes, feeling more confused than ever about my feelings for the boy, there was only darkness.
There was no Justin. There was no blonde surfer.
I was alone. And for the first time that I could remember, I felt alone.
To be continued . . .