I felt so helpless and confused when I left the cabin, not knowing if I should go look for Justin and Peter, or if I perhaps should just leave them to sort things out for themselves.
Then, as I trudged back up towards the house, I remembered that if they hadn’t been able to sort things out between themselves so far, what hope would they have of being able to do it now? Assuming that is, that Peter managed to find Justin this afternoon anyway.
When I reached the gateway to my carport, Sally was still waiting there, still quite anxious about the whole affair.
‘Aren’t you going to try and find him?’ she asked me.
I leant against the back of the truck and folded my arms in front of me, then let out a great sigh.
‘Scott, you simply have to,’ she pleaded.
‘I know. I know,’ I replied.
‘Well? What are you waiting for then?’
‘I want to know what happened when he left this morning?’
Sally’s mouth closed, with her lips forming a tight, straight line.
‘Well?’ I asked.
‘He came up here, to the office and asked if you were here. I told him that you had gone off someplace . . .’
‘Oh, Scott. You should have seen the look on his face. If ever he needed someone to talk to, someone to be his friend, it was right then.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I was worried about . . . my not being here if and when he did actually need me.’
‘You do care about him, don’t you?’ she asked.
‘Of course I do.’
‘No. I mean you c – a – r – e about him?’ she repeated, carefully spelling out the word and looking long and hard at me.
I just returned her gaze.
‘Well?’ she asked again, clearly becoming exasperated with me.
‘I . . . I don’t know quite how I feel about him,’ I eventually answered.
For the first time the hint of a smile came to her lips and she switched to her ‘mother’ role, looking at me out of big kind eyes.
‘Now what?’ I asked.
‘Scott, I’ve seen the way you’ve looked at him. And I’ve seen the confusion in your eyes. As much as you like Justin as a friend, I think you’d like it more if he were more than that.’
‘But he’s not gay,’ I replied.
‘What makes you so sure?’
To that question, I could find no answer, so I climbed into the truck and slammed the door.
‘Just go and find him,’ Sally said to me. ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, but either way, you need to find him first.’
I looked up at her then smiled and said, ‘All right then, anything for a quiet life,’ then started the truck and backed it out of the car-port.
* * *
I had no real idea where I should have even started looking, so as I headed down towards the centre of town I started going over the places that I knew he had frequented, like the Royal Hotel, the boardwalk, and maybe the park by the river.
The pub was the first place I came to, a huge old two-storey red brick building that was built about one hundred years ago. It had been built on a corner and had a second floor verandah along both sides which covered the pavement, which was where I found Tom, hosing it down in readiness for the coming nights trade.
I pulled up beside him and leant out the window.
‘Hi, Scott,’ he said as he looked up from his duties.
‘G’day, Tom,’ I answered. ‘You haven’t seen Justin about anywhere today, have you?’
‘The kid from the other night?’ he asked.
I nodded and said, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’
He shook his head and said, ‘No, Scott, not today I haven’t. Sorry.’
‘That’s okay,’ I replied, ‘Thanks. I’ll keep looking then.’
‘His father was in a while ago though,’ he added. ‘He had a couple of beers and asked if we’d seen the boy also, then he left.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied and then, with all sorts of thoughts racing around inside my head, I put the truck into gear. Tom waved to me as I pulled back out onto the road, heading for my next intended port of call, which was the boardwalk.
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I pulled into the car park nearest to the old timber structure and got out of the truck. As I walked down towards it I noticed that there were hardly any people about, and by the time I reached the end of the boardwalk, after also checking the couple of small cafés along the bank, my spirits were beginning to sink.
There was no sign of Justin anywhere, and I was fast running out of options.
After a few moments of indecision, I decided to leave the truck where it was and headed off along the foreshores, in the direction of the toilets and showers near the creek, where I had first seen Justin all those years ago.
As I trudged along, with my mind going over everything that had happened over these past days, I couldn’t help but hear Sally’s words ringing in my ears.
Could she really see my confusion over Justin? Was I really that transparent?
I tried to dismiss it as just more of Sally’s ramblings, but I couldn’t. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that she was right. I did care about Justin more than I had let on, even to myself, but then I realised that I was still faced with the other problem of Justin not, as far as I was aware, being gay.
No matter what though, the first thing I still had to do was find him.
* * *
When I reached the toilets and showers I found that there were only a few people about outside, but none of them looked like Justin.
With a sigh, I went inside and found the building to be totally empty, which made me feel even more depressed. I went back outside and just stood there, staring at the lake and the creek, then casting my gaze around the foreshores.
When I looked up towards the old Moreton Bay Fig tree, however, my heart leapt into my mouth when I noticed someone there, and so I started heading in that direction straight away, but then I stopped in my tracks as I spotted two other people join whoever it was. None of them was Justin.
Once more I didn’t know which way to turn.
I tried to think of the places that he would have frequented where I hadn’t been yet, but the only place that came to mind was the beach, so that was the direction in which I headed next.
It wasn’t far away, perhaps a couple of hundred yards, and I didn’t really hold out much hope of finding him there anyway, but I trudged on regardless.
And that was where I found him, standing waist deep in the swirling waters of the creek, about halfway between the footbridge that was still standing after all these years, and where the waters emptied into the sea. How I had missed seeing him earlier I had no idea.
He had his arms stretched out either side of him, with his hands barely skimming the surface, almost as if he were talking to the waters.
* * *
It took me a few seconds before I realised that the figure standing in the water that I was watching was actually Justin, but as soon as I did I ran toward him. I stopped at the bank and called out to him, ‘Jay!’
Almost in slow motion, he turned around and faced me, his face void of any expression at all.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked, as calmly as I could, trying not to appear too worried, but with my guts churning and my heart going at ten to the dozen inside me.
‘I was wondering if I should just keep walking,’ he said calmly. ‘If I kept going I wouldn’t have to worry any more, would I?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The water. It would just take me away. All I have to do is go a little further, let the water pick me up and take me out into the sea. Let it finish the job it tried to do nine years ago, and that I couldn’t do myself later on. Then the rip out there would do the rest, wouldn’t it? It would just take me, tear at me this way and that, and then it would all be over.’
I couldn’t believe that he was being so calm as he was telling me this. I have to tell you, it was scaring the shit out of me.
‘You can’t do this Jay,’ I said to him.
‘Why not?’ he calmly asked. ‘That’s what my life is like, you know? Everyone pulling and tearing at me, or poking and prodding me, just like that current that you dragged me from that time. This current. Only if I did it properly this time it wouldn’t last for very long, and then I’d be free, wouldn’t I?’
‘You can’t do this Jay,’ I repeated.
‘Why not?’ he repeated. ‘No one cares about me. No one loves me.’
‘That’s not true,’ I said to him.
‘Yes it is.’
I shook my head and said, ‘No, it isn’t. Your parents care about you. They love you. They asked me to try and help you. And I care about you.’
For the first time he offered a smile, then said, ‘I know that you care, Scott. You’re about the only friend that I do have in this world.’
‘Then let me help you,’ I pleaded. ‘Please!’
He turned his head towards the mouth of the river and for a moment I thought I was going to lose him to it.
‘Jay! Did you hear me?’ I asked him.
He turned back and faced me once more, and I let out a sigh of relief.
‘Why would you want to even try?’ he finally asked me. ‘I’m not worth it.’
‘Why do you keep saying that?’
‘Coz it’s true.’
I shook my head at him and said, ‘No, it’s not true. Whoever told you that you were worthless?’
‘My father,’ he said, in a voice so soft that I thought I was mistaken when he had said it.
‘Who did you say?’
‘Dad! Who else?’ he said, his voice now showing the first signs of emotion and his eyes now appearing a little red, even at the distance I still was from him.
‘Why would he tell you that?’ I asked him, as I saw him wipe his first tears away with the back of his hand.
He didn’t answer.
I was starting to get worried by the fact that he was now starting to get a little emotional. In this state he would be liable to do anything, so I said to him, ‘Justin, I’m going to come out to you.’
He looked up at me, and as I took my first steps out into the cold water I could see the tears now streaming down his face.
‘Don’t, Scott,’ he said to me, as he took a step backwards, but there didn’t sound as if there was a lot of conviction in his words.
I kept walking. The water rose up my calves. Then it was above my knees.
‘Just a few yards more’ I thought to myself.
By the time I was standing in front of Justin it was lapping at my balls, which soon retreated at the water’s icy touch.
I reached out my hand towards him, but he just looked at it and did nothing.
‘Please take my hand Jay,’ I said to him. ‘I think it’s time I took you home.’
For a long while he did nothing, then finally he lifted his hand out of the water and placed it in mine and said, ‘You’re getting wet.’
I stifled a giggle but kept a straight face as I said, ‘So what?’
He just looked at me through reddened eyes.
‘I wanted to do it, you know,’ he said to me.
‘You probably did. But I still don’t know why?’
‘I keep telling you, it’s because I’m worthless!’
‘But why? What makes you so worthless? Why would your father say something like that?’
‘Because, according to my father, all poofters are worthless,’ he said in a voice so flat and unemotional that I could hardly believe he had said it.
* * *
By the time I got him back to the shore a few minutes later, those words were still ringing in my ears.
Firstly, I couldn’t believe that anyone could have such a bigoted, narrow-minded attitude in this day and age. Secondly, I couldn’t believe what Justin was telling me about himself.
There was a woman standing on the bank as we climbed out of the water, looking rather anxiously at us both.
‘Is everything all right dears?’ she asked me.
‘Everything is fine,’ I said to her. ‘Thank you for asking.’
She nodded and turned away, heading towards the beach and looking back over her shoulder at us every now and then.
‘I’m glad that I came along when I did, mate,’ I said to him when we were once again alone. He looked up at me through tear filled eyes, but said nothing. I looked at him for a long time, not quite knowing what I should be doing next.
‘Can you take me home?’ Justin finally asked. It seemed such an odd question, coming from him just at that moment, but it was the first practical thought that he had come up with, which showed that at least he was still functioning, and thinking.
‘It’s a bit of a walk to the truck,’ I answered. ‘But yeah, that’s the best idea I’ve heard in a while.’
Slowly, on unsteady legs, we made our way back along the river bank, towards where I had parked the truck, and as we walked we also started talking. They were stilted sentences to start with, punctuated by long silences, but the further we went the further that Justin opened up to me.
‘When I was a kid,’ he said, ‘dad used to always go on about how no poofter would be welcome in his house.’
I didn’t respond. I just nodded in agreement. I had heard something similar.
‘He used to go on and on about it all the time. When I was little, I didn’t understand much about that sort of stuff . . .’
This story was sounding more and more familiar with each word spoken.
‘But as you grew older . . . and realised that you were how you were . . .’ I added.
Justin suddenly stopped walking and stared at me, then said, ‘And you didn’t know which way to turn either?’
I simply nodded.
‘And the pressure just kept getting greater and greater?’
‘Yeah,’ I replied.
‘What did you do?’ he eventually asked.
‘In the end, I just accepted who I was and decided that I wasn’t going to change for anyone.’
‘But . . .’
‘No buts. We are who we are, mate. Pure and simple. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s no point trying to be someone you aren’t, just to please someone else. In a perfect world we might even be able to celebrate who we are . . . but it’s not a perfect world we live in, so all we can do is be ourselves and take comfort in the fact that we can be whoever we want to be, no matter what some people might think of it.’
He looked at me with his mouth open, as if totally dumfounded.
I took him by the elbow and pointed him in the direction of a nearby seat, where we both sat down and looked out over the lake.
‘So . . . is that why you . . .’ I ventured to ask, but didn’t finish the sentence.
He turned and looked off into the distance somewhere, rubbing his wrists as he did so, most likely without even realising that he was doing it.
After a lengthy silence he said, ‘I just couldn’t stand it any more. Every time that anything was ever mentioned about anyone being gay, he would come up with some snide remark about them. It made me feel dirty. It made me feel cheap. Helpless, even.’
I didn’t say anything. I just let him go on, now that the floodgates appeared to have opened.
‘Every time he would do that I would just feel like putting a fist through the wall. He had absolutely no idea what he was doing to me . . . it was like someone was punching me in the guts, or reaching down my throat and just twisting my insides . . .’
‘And you couldn’t tell anyone?’
He simply shook his head and said, ‘Who could I tell? In the end it just got too much, and well . . . you know the rest.’
‘Yeah, I do,’ I answered, reaching across and taking one of his hands in mine, and just holding him.
He looked down at our hands intertwined and then back up at my face.
‘I have a confession to make,’ he said to me.
‘Another one?’ I jokingly asked.
He managed a wry smile and said, ‘Do you know why we used to come back here every year?’
‘No, I don’t. I just figured your family liked the place.’
‘I used to make them come back here.’
I looked at him with what must have been a quizzical expression.
‘That day I walked in on you and Billy . . . it was no accident. I saw you guys go into the showers and my curiosity got the better of me.’
‘What’s so funny?’
‘And you got a little more than you bargained for, huh?’
‘Yeah, something like that.’
‘What about your dad? What did he say about you seeing me and Billy?’
‘At first he was disgusted. But after . . . well after you both saved me, I think that he forgot all about that.’
‘I often thought about you guys, you know? It sort of, got me excited . . .’
‘I bet it did.’
‘But then, when I was nearly fifteen, well . . . I think that’s about when things started to get the better of me,’ he said.
‘Hmmm . . .’
We let the silence take over after that, as we both just sat there and watched the afternoon sky start to change colour above the mountain. There were still a few sail boats out on the lake, but as darkness would start to fall, they would soon start to disappear.
‘What do you say we head home?’ I said to him after the last boat had gone.
‘Yeah, I think that would be a good idea, but only if you promise me something.’
‘I know I have to tell them sooner or later, but I’m not ready just yet. Please don’t say anything to them about this afternoon, or about what I’ve told you. Not yet anyway.’
‘No, of course not. Your secret is safe with me. Both of them are.’
‘Thanks,’ he said to me as he got to his feet, dragging me up with him.
We headed off, back towards the truck as a strange twilight settled over the town, still hand in hand as there didn’t seem to be anyone else about.
‘There’s something else . . .’ Justin said to me as we neared the jetty.
‘Would you mind if I stayed for a little while? With you I mean?’
I smiled at him, although I wasn’t sure if he would have seen it in the fading light. I put my arm around his shoulder and said, ‘We’ll see,’ with just a hint of laughter in my voice.
To be continued . . .