Most people live in dread of the telephone ringing in the middle of the night, and I am no different. It usually means bad news, and in the short time from when we are first woken by the incessant ringing until we pick up the receiver, it can be guaranteed that it will get our hearts pumping faster than almost any other activity known to man.
When the telephone rang that night I was laying naked on top of the sheets of my bed, with a window open, allowing a cool breeze to gently caress my body, as I drifted in and out of sleep.
Rolling over, I looked up at the digital display on my alarm clock to see it reading one twenty seven.
I cursed, and wondered just who the fuck would be calling at this hour, then having something of a panic attack and sitting bolt upright in bed, hoping that it truly wasn’t bad news.
Reluctantly I reached out and picked up the receiver, then put it to my ear and said, ‘Hello,’ dispensing on this occasion with my usual greeting of, ‘Good Morning. Beachside Caravan Park.’
‘Is that you Scott?’ the voice on the other end said to me.
‘At this hour, who else would it be?’ I testily replied.
‘Errr . . . sorry,’ the voice said. ‘It’s Tom Ellis here, Scott.’
He was the local publican, the owner of the Royal Hotel in town.
‘Hello, Tom. This better be good,’ I said to him.
‘Well . . . errr . . . I wasn’t really sure who to call, but I figured you’d be the best place to start,’ he said.
‘What are you going on about?’
‘That kid,’ he said to me. ‘You know, the one you saved that time? What’s his name? Jason, or something like that? I didn’t want to call the cops, but I think someone needs to come and get him. I almost called the Ambulance actually, but he seems a bit better now.’
I was suddenly wide awake, ‘Fuck! What’s happened?’
‘I’m not sure to tell you the truth. We found him in the toilets when we were locking up. He had been drinking with a few other young guys earlier, and we thought he had left with them. When we found him he was shaking all over, but since then he’s thrown up a couple of times and he seems a bit better now.’
‘Shit. Where is he now?’ I asked.
‘In the kitchen, we’re trying to get him to drink some coffee or something, but all he’s doing is pushing it away. He was mumbling something earlier, but the only words we could understand were something about him being fucking worthless.’
‘Fuck,’ I said, in a quiet, resigned sort of way.
‘What should we do? Should I call the cops?’
‘No, please don’t,’ I answered. ‘I’ll come and pick him up. His family is staying here at the moment. Just give me a few minutes will you?’
‘Sure,’ he answered, then disconnected.
I sat there on the side of my bed, with the telephone receiver in my hands, thinking about what I should do.
Justin’s parents were asleep in a cabin not far from me, but somehow I figured that I shouldn’t wake them. If I was to try and get through to Justin as I had been asked to do, there wouldn’t be any chance of that happening if his parents were there fussing over him all the time.
I placed the receiver back into its cradle, then got to my feet and rummaged around in the dark to find the clothes I had dropped on the floor earlier when I had gone to bed. I walked out into the kitchen and retrieved the keys to my Ford pick-up from on top of my refrigerator, then stepped out into the night air.
The old truck, which I had held onto for years simply because it was a handy vehicle for towing and moving caravans with, started first go for a change. I backed out of the carport and then put it into first gear and headed out onto the street.
There was no traffic on the road at all at that hour and so it was only a few minutes from the park to the pub. I pulled up near the back door, not caring about parking on the wrong side of the street at this hour, and then went and knocked on the door.
‘I’m sorry I woke you, Scott,’ Tom said to me as he let me in.
‘It’s okay Tom. Don’t worry about it,’ I replied. ‘Is he still in the kitchen?’
‘No. He’s in the toilets again, throwing up.’
‘Do you know what happened?’ I asked as he led me through to the toilets.
‘Sorry. No idea,’ he said, shrugging and then pointing me to the end cubicle, from which I could see a pair of feet protruding, wearing joggers.
While Tom remained at the doorway, I walked to the cubicle and looked down at the sad shape of Justin, slumped over the toilet bowl. The stench was overpowering, but I knew I had to get him out of there and try and get him cleaned up and home to the park.
I reached down and placed my hand on his shoulder, then pulled him back, until he was upright and leaning against the cubicle wall. His face was all covered with sweat and muck, so I grabbed some paper towel and wet it under the tap, then started to try and clean up his face, wiping his forehead and the mess from around his mouth.
At first he resisted, trying to push me away, yet despite his weak attempts at evading me I managed to get the job done, in a fashion. He looked up at me through unfocused eyes and I think he tried to say something, but this only brought on a fresh wave of nausea and he once again he went searching for the toilet bowl.
‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ he asked weakly when he had finished, and was again leaning back against the wall.
I wiped his face once more, expecting him to push me away again, but this time he didn’t.
‘I could ask you the same thing,’ I replied. ‘Besides, someone needed to save your sorry arse . . . yet again! You’re just lucky that old Tom here didn’t call the cops.’
Without saying a word his gaze shifted from me, up to Tom and then back to me again.
After a minute or so he said, ‘Thanks. But you shouldn’t have bothered. I’m not worth it.’
‘Hey, don’t be like that,’ I said to him.
‘Why not?’ he replied. ‘It’s fucking true.’
‘We’ll talk about that later,’ I said. ‘Right now I just want to get you back to my place and let you sleep this off.’
* * *
Tom helped me to get Justin to his feet and between us we somehow got him out to the truck and onto the passenger seat. As I did up his seat belt, even just for the short drive home, I could feel his body trembling all over and wondered if maybe he had done more than just drink a bit too much.
After thanking Tom for calling me, I then got in and started the truck and pointed it toward home, while Justin promptly went to sleep, leaning up against the door window.
I managed to wake him sufficiently when we arrived at the caravan park and with him offering little assistance I half dragged him, half carried him from the truck, up the steps and into my living room and from there into my bedroom, which was the first one we came to, dumping him as gracefully as I could onto my bed. His feet were still hanging over the side of the bed and were touching the floor, so I picked up his legs and swung them up onto the bed as well, then straightened up and looked down at his still body, wondering what it was that he had done to himself, and what I should do next.
Looking down at him I realised that his clothes were a mess and so I decided that they needed to be the first things to go. If I could get them off him I would at least be able to wash and dry them overnight so that they would be clean for him in the morning.
His joggers and his socks were the first to come off, followed by the floral printed shirt that he was wearing, then his khaki cargo pants, leaving him wearing only a pair of white boxer shorts with red kisses all over them, at the sight of which I allowed myself a wry smiled.
If I was impressed with the way he looked the day he had arrived, I was more than impressed with how he looked now, in spite of his obviously inebriated condition. Without his clothes on, Justin’s body revealed several surprises, not the least of which was a ring through his left nipple and a stud through his navel, at the sight of which I suddenly found myself becoming slightly aroused.
In the four years since I had seen him, he had also developed a body that any guy would be proud of; smooth, firm and muscular, without being overly bulky.
As I stood there admiring him, I noticed that several of the buttons down the front of his boxer shorts were undone, and that there was a slight opening, which would have no doubt provided anyone with a view of the package contained within. I was so tempted to sneak a peak at what he had hidden in there, but I quickly snapped out of it and cursed myself for even contemplating it.
I even asked myself what sort of a pervert was I? But funnily enough I never received a reply.
Eventually I took Justin’s clothes through to the laundry and put them into the washing machine, after first checking his pockets and retrieving a wallet, a comb, a handkerchief, some loose change and a small foil packet which I wasn’t quite game to look at more closely.
I put these things aside and then found a clean towel, which I wet under the laundry tap and then carried back into my bedroom, to wipe his face and body over with once more. As I wiped his face and shoulders and then the rest of his torso, I could still feel him trembling, and this worried me. I was tempted to ring my local doctor, even allowing for the hour, but eventually decided to just keep an eye on him throughout the night and see what sort of shape he was in the following morning.
After I had finished wiping him over, I then covered him with a sheet and left him to sleep, while I went and collapsed into a lounge chair in my living room and waited for his clothes to wash.
My thoughts kept going to the foil packet that I had found in his pants pocket, and I was tempted to investigate it further, but then I realised that if I was ever going to have any success in trying to get through to Justin and get him talking, he would have to trust me. If I started going through his personal belongings now, what chance would I have of being able to build any new foundation of trust between us?
I sat there in darkness for a while longer, and eventually the washing machine finished its cycle, so I got up and hung his clothes on clothes hangers in the laundry. Then, after looking in on Justin once more, I returned to my lounge chair and promptly went to sleep.
* * *
Just before daylight I was woken by a noise and when I looked around the room I found Justin sitting on the second lounge chair. I could see that his forehead was bathed in sweat, but he held his arms wrapped tightly around himself and his body was shivering.
It took a few moments for the scene to sink in, but once it did I was wide awake and moving across the room towards him.
He looked up at me with real fear in his eyes, almost pleading with me to help him.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, feeling his damp forehead. He was burning up, and his body was still trembling uncontrollably.
‘I . . . I’m not sure. But I think it’ll pass,’ he croaked, his voice raspy and dry.
‘How do you know?’ I asked. ‘I think I should call my doctor for you.’
‘NO,’ he said, as forcefully as he could.
I got up and grabbed the blanket that I had around me, which I must have gotten for myself sometime through the night, and wrapped it around him, then felt his forehead once more and looked at him curiously.
‘All right,’ I said finally. ‘But if you get any worse, you tell me. All right?’
Outside the new day was starting, with the sky becoming lighter by the minute. I could see people starting to move about, getting ready to either go fishing or swimming, but there was no sign of any activity yet at the cabin where Justin’s parents were staying.
‘You took my clothes off?’ he said to me after a lengthy silence, looking at me suspiciously.
‘Yeah, sorry, but I had to. You had spewed up all over them. You were a mess. I’ve washed them for you. I hope you don’t feel embarrassed by my doing that.’
He shook his head. ‘I’ve seen you naked. You’ve seen me naked . . . well sort of. I guess we’re kind of even.’
‘Shit, you remember that?’
‘A bit hard to forget actually.’
‘You know, that’s the first time that I have ever heard you mention anything about that. Ever!’
‘Well, I never forgot it. I remember that it gave me quite a fright at the time.’
‘I suppose it would. I’m sorry about that. Has anyone else ever mentioned it? Like your brother or your folks?’ I asked, slightly curious.
He shook his head. ‘I think they’ve all forgotten now. They were more worried about everything else that happened that day.’
There was another lengthy silence, then after a while I said, ‘Are you okay with it? I mean, you’ve always known about me, and now you wake up in my bed, almost naked. I mean . . . I hope you didn’t think . . .’
A smile came to his lips briefly.
‘Nah, it’s cool Scott. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t have any hang-ups about gays, if that’s what you are worried about. Besides, I don’t think you had your wicked way with me last night.’
‘Yeah. I’m sure,’ he answered.
Just at that moment he gave a shudder, then pulled the blanket more tightly around himself.
‘Is it getting any worse?’ I asked him.
He just shook his head and said, ‘I’ll be okay. It’ll pass. It always does.’
‘What do you mean always? You do know what caused it, don’t you?’
‘Do I want to know about it? Or do I need to know about it?’
‘Ummm . . . no. On both counts.’
‘Hmmm . . .’
‘I’ll be okay, Scott. Please don’t worry about it.’
‘You’re in my house. You’re obviously not well. So why wouldn’t I be worried?’
‘Christ. Now you’re starting to sound like my father!’ he said with a grin.
‘Sorry. I guess it’s just that I am worried about you,’ I replied. ‘I know that it’s been a while since you’ve been here and all, but that doesn’t mean I worry any less. We were friends once, and I’d like to think we still are.’
‘I know you care, Scott, and believe me, I do appreciate it. And yeah, we are still friends, you can count on that much.’
I simply nodded.
‘You know, I haven’t been able to talk like this to anyone in quite a while. Mostly they have already judged me or have some pre-conceived idea that I was nothing but trouble, even before they had met me.’
‘Well, I want you to know that anytime you want to talk, I’m here for you.’
‘Thanks. I don’t know why, but I feel like I can talk to you. There’s stuff that I couldn’t possibly talk to anyone else about, so when I’m ready, I will . . . if you’re prepared to listen.’
‘Anytime you’re ready, mate. Okay?’ I said to him as I reached across and placed my hand on his bare knee. I could still feel him trembling, but he didn’t flinch, or pull back. What he did do though, really surprised me.
He placed his hand over mine and gently squeezed.
‘Thank you,’ he replied, then pulled his hand back and pulled the blanket tight once more.
I nodded and sat back, then asked, ‘Feel like some coffee?’
‘That’d be good. Thanks,’ he answered.
I got up and went into the kitchen, wondering what the hell had just happened.
* * *
When I returned, carrying with me two mugs of strong black coffee, I found Justin standing by the window, looking out towards the ocean, which you could just see between some trees that were beyond one of the boundaries of the caravan park.
‘Thanks,’ he said to me as I handed him the mug.
‘It hasn’t changed much since I was here last,’ he said, after taking a sip of the murky brown liquid.
‘Well, it’s only been a few years really. How much could change in that time?’
‘You’d be surprised,’ he answered. ‘Just look at how I’ve changed. And you for that matter.’
I looked at him for a moment and then said, ‘Yeah, I suppose you are right there.’
As we stood there in silence for a few minutes, both lost in our own thoughts, I had this sudden urge to put my arm around his shoulder and pull him to me. I looked up from my mug and found him staring at me, but when I did, he quickly looked away.
As he continued to drink the coffee, Justin started wandering around the room, soon coming to a halt in front of the photograph of himself, being supported by Billy and me.
He picked it up and I saw him smile at the memories it obviously brought back for him.
‘It seems so long ago now,’ he said as he put the photograph back on the shelf.
‘Yeah, it does,’ I answered, walking over to join him.
‘Whatever happened to Billy? You’ve probably told me already, but I forget.’
‘He joined the army. About six months after that photo was taken,’ I answered wistfully.
He looked at me for a moment, then asked, ‘Do you miss him?’
‘At first, yeah, I did. I missed him a lot. For months and months I ached for him in a way that I couldn’t understand. But after a while the ache subsided and I got on with my life.’
‘Have you seen him at all since then?’
‘Only a couple of times, but it was never the same. We had both changed a great deal. We were different people . . .’
Justin looked at me for a moment, then nodded, as if he understood.
After a lengthy silence he asked, ‘Has there been . . . errr . . . anyone else?’
‘Hmmmppff . . . you mean as in having a relationship? Someone to wake up beside every morning? Nope. A few guys that I thought things may have developed with . . . but they never really worked out. They didn’t hang around for long enough.’
It seemed odd talking to him about stuff like this, yet at the same time it felt natural. Like he understood.
‘Sorry,’ Justin said, which made me look up at him.
‘Whatever do you have to be sorry about, mate?’
‘I’m just sorry that you haven’t found someone, that’s all.’
I nodded and said, ‘Thanks. I’m sure that someone will come along one day.’
‘Dad says that when he was little, his grandfather used to tell him that everything that ever happens to us, happens for the best. It’s hard to believe it sometimes. But other times I think it’s spot on.’
‘Maybe. Maybe not,’ I said, as I swallowed the last of my coffee and glanced at Justin, who was once again gazing at the photograph, seemingly lost in his own hazy memories.
After a few moments he turned towards me and asked, ‘Would you mind if I had a shower, before I went and faced the folks?’
‘Not at all mate. You going to be all right talking to them though?’
‘Yeah. They’re used to me going off and getting pissed, or stoned, or whatever. I don’t think they care too much what I do.’
‘They do care, you know. They care a great deal, actually. I just don’t think they know how to talk to you, that’s all.’
‘Well, that cuts both ways, you know?’
‘Yeah, I suppose it does,’ I answered. There was an awkward silence there for a few moments as we both stared at each other, then I said, ‘I’ll get you a clean towel.’
‘Thanks,’ he replied.
‘Do you feel like some breakfast?’ I asked him, as I showed him where the bathroom was.
‘Only if you are having some. Please don’t go to any trouble.’
‘It’s no trouble. And I’m starving, so yeah, I’m having some too.’
While Justin had a shower I went into the kitchen and turned on the stove, deciding that I felt like some fried eggs, at the very least.
I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I had actually cooked breakfast for someone, and I smiled to myself at this thought, as I broke some eggs into the frying pan and dropped some bread into the toaster.
When Justin emerged a few minutes later, still wearing only his boxer shorts and drying his hair with the towel, I was just serving up our meal. His short hair didn’t need combing; he just ran his fingers through it and then kind of patted it down, then slung the towel over his shoulder and sat down as directed, at the end of the table.
Just as I put the plate down in front of him however, there was a noise at the door, and Sally waltzed in unannounced, just as she seemed to do almost every morning.
She took one look at me, then an extra long look at Justin, who was sitting at the kitchen table, at the end closest to the door. I could see her appraising eyes looking him up and down, taking in the boxer shorts and the damp towel hanging loosely around his shoulders.
‘Jesus, Scott, you sure move fast,’ she said, with a wicked grin.
To be continued . . .