1975 – Sandmen Ch04

Sandmen  –  Chapter Four

Danny was already awake the next morning when Jake finally opened his eyes. He had been lying there beside him, propped up on one elbow and watching him sleep, trying to figure out just how he had managed to end up in bed with such a beautiful young man. Well, not exactly in bed, it was more like on the bed, as that was how they had fallen asleep the night before.

‘Hey,’ Jake said, as his eyes focused on the boy lying next to him.

‘Hey, yourself. How are you feeling this morning?’

‘Oh, I’m fine . . . I think. Though my mouth feels dry and my head is throbbing a little,’ Jake replied, as he looked around the bedroom, as if trying to remember just where he was. ‘How are you?’

‘Never better,’ Danny replied.

‘No ill effects from your little experiment with the wild side last night?’ Jake probed.

‘No, I don’t think so. I kind of expected there to be some . . . but . . . but I feel fine.’

‘Well, that’s good.’

‘And what about you? How’s your face . . . and . . . errrr . . . down there . . .’ Danny enquired.

‘Both a bit tender . . . but I have some Vincent’s powders some place, which will take the edge off, and some cream for, well, you know. They’ll both do me some good.’

‘And another joint as well, don’t forget . . .’

‘Oh, no, I won’t forget that,’ Jake chuckled. ‘But I think I’ll save that for later.’

‘Well, at least the swelling around your eye has gone down, but you’ve still got a beaut shiner!’

‘I just bet I do,’ Jake acknowledged. ‘So, how long have you been awake?’

‘Long enough. You looked so peaceful sleeping there . . . and so . . .’

‘So, what?’

‘I was going to say beautiful . . . but I didn’t think it sounded right.’

‘What? Even with a face like this?’ Jake chuckled.

‘Yeah, even with a face like that. I like your face . . . and your hair . . . and everything else below that,’ Danny replied, as he reached out and brushed Jake’s fringe away from his face, then ran his fingers through his long blonde locks. ‘I know that might sound . . . I dunno, silly, but that’s just how I feel.’

‘I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s sweet. And I think you’re sweet . . . and . . .’

‘And what?’

‘And I’m going to miss you when I go home.’

‘But you said you’ll be coming back,’ Danny said, with his voice suddenly sounding alarmed.

‘Of course I will.’

‘And after that?’

‘Let’s just take it one day at a time, eh?’

Danny glanced away, and for a few moments, as he studied the curtains framing the window he sucked on his bottom lip. He wasn’t sure what Jake meant by that. There was so much he wanted to ask him, and say to him, and so many adventures he wanted to share with him, but he just wasn’t sure where to start.

For Jake’s part, he could see the confusion which now clouded Danny’s expression. He knew that there must be quite a lot going on inside the young man’s head, but he too wasn’t sure where he should start. How could he tell him that he was falling in love with him? How could he tell him that he wanted to take him away from this place, but given his tender age there was just no way that he could do that. At least not just yet. Would Danny be able to handle hearing something like that without going into an emotional overload?

Eventually Danny turned back to face Jake. ‘You could always take me with you,’ he quietly suggested.

What was this kid, a mind reader? Jake wondered.

‘Oh, Danny, one day I would love to do nothing more than that,’ Jake responded. ‘I would love to take you with me and show you the world outside of Thompsonville. This country is such an amazing place . . . and it’s changing so fast.’

‘Then why can’t you do that? Don’t you love me, like . . . like I think I’m . . .’ he said, before cutting himself short.

Jake raised his eyebrows questioningly at Danny.

‘What I was going to say was . . . like I think I’m beginning to love you . . .’

Jake smiled up at him.

‘I’m beginning to feel the same way, my beautiful boy . . .’ he said, as he reached up and cupped Danny’s cheek in one hand. Danny placed a hand over Jake’s and turned his head slightly, kissing the palm of Jake’s hand. ‘But how can we be sure it’s love? Have you ever been in love before? I’m pretty sure I haven’t . . .’

‘Then what else could it be? We want to be with each other, don’t we? What else matters?’

‘And what about your family . . . and your friends? And what about the fact you are still only sixteen? The risks are so great . . . for both of us. I’m sure you don’t want to see me in jail . . . just as I don’t want to see you locked away in some boy’s home until you’re twenty-one.’

‘It’s just so complicated, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, mate. It sure is.’

‘I . . . I just wish we could find a place, some utopia, where we can be together? Where it won’t matter that I’m only sixteen and you’re only nineteen . . . and where people won’t care if we’re in love, or if we’re having sex, or anything about us!’

‘Oh, god, if only such a place existed,’ Jake replied.

‘It has to. I’m sure it must be out there . . .’

‘And if I found it, would you really want to come with me?’

‘Do you really need me to answer that?’ Danny replied with a shy grin, before leaning across and placing his lips over Jake’s.

There was nothing shy about what followed, however, as the two young lovers picked up where their earlier interactions at the campsite had left off. This time, however, there was a new experience awaiting Danny, culminating in his releasing all of his pent up frustrations into the hot and welcoming mouth of his lover; leaving him excited, and exhausted, and feeling as if he had just died and gone to heaven . . . yet still wanting more. Much, much more.

*     *     *

They stayed inside the cabin until mid-morning, laying naked beneath a sheet until finally starting the day late, dragging themselves out into the small kitchen and fixing some coffee, along with dry crackers, which they smothered with butter and jam from Jake’s food chest.

Neither bothered to dress as they went about preparing their feast, and Danny couldn’t remember ever have felt so comfortable around another person, other than perhaps Nate. With every gentle touch from Jake, as they moved around the small cabin, he was growing more and more accustomed to being around him.

Eventually Danny said that he would have to get going, as he would need to see Nate and make sure that he had covered for him, just in case his mother had checked in on him. He was also a little worried about what Nate might think about his not going around there last night, so he wanted to make sure they were still cool.

‘So, what are you going to tell him?’ Jake asked, after Danny told him of his fears.

‘I dunno . . . maybe just that we sat up all night, talking.’

‘And don’t forget the bit about smoking dope,’ Jake added.

‘Oh yeah, I guess we did do that too, didn’t we?’ Danny chuckled, as he started pulling on his clothes.

‘I wouldn’t be too worried if I were you. I think Nate’s a pretty cool character . . . and I think he’s the kind of guy who takes in a lot of what he sees around him. I also think he’s the type of guy who doesn’t judge people for who they are . . . instead judging people on what they do, and how they treat him and his friends . . . so if he found out one of his friends was queer I really don’t think it would bother him that much . . . at least not once he got over the initial shock.’

‘You really think so?’

‘Yeah. He’ll be fine. I’m sure of it.’

‘Well, I hope so. I just hope he doesn’t start asking me if we’re fooling around or anything . . . I definitely wouldn’t know what to say if he suspected that might be happening . . .’

‘You could always try the truth,’ Jake suggested.

‘Nate might be cool . . . but I don’t think even he would be that cool.’

‘You might just be surprised,’ Jake responded, before reaching out and pulling Danny into another kiss before he left him. ‘Have a little faith in your friend. He reminds me a lot of my best friend from school, James, and he was amazing when I finally got up the courage to tell him I was queer.’

‘What did he do?’

‘He simply hugged me and said that it didn’t matter.’

‘And what did you do?’

‘I cried. After agonising for weeks over the decision to tell him, when he finally said that I just couldn’t help it . . . the relief was like, I don’t know, a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders.’

‘And are you still friends?’

‘Yeah. We are. He’s studying at university in Sydney now, though, so it’s not very easy staying in touch . . . especially with me, you know, travelling about and such.’

‘I’d like to meet him one day,’ Danny replied.

‘And you shall. I will make sure of it. Now, you better go and see your friend, and make sure your alibi is air-tight!’

‘Okay. I’ll come around again later, okay.’

‘I’m looking forward to it already!’

Before parting, Danny kissed Jake once more, then in an instant he had the door to the cabin open and was ready to leave.

‘Thank you . . . for everything,’ Jake said to him.

Danny simply smiled, before saying, ‘Shouldn’t it be me thanking you?’

‘Let’s just call it even then, shall we?’

‘Just until later, then maybe we’ll to try and figure it all out again?’

‘I think I’d like that,’ Jake remarked.

Before he’d even had a chance to blink, Danny was gone. Jake heard him as Danny picked up his bike outside the door, then watched through the window as Danny rode away. It had been a long time since Jake had felt this way about someone else, and it was a feeling he welcomed. A feeling of joy, of finally connecting with someone who he could call a kindred spirit . . . someone who shared his passions, but also someone who understood him, without his having to explain every thought or feeling he had.

They had both even talked about the “L” word. Was it too soon for that, Jake wondered?

*     *     *

After leaving Jake behind Danny sped off toward town. He intended going straight to Nate’s place and so as soon as he reached the main road he swerved between the traffic and crossed over, before swinging into the street that would take him there.

All the way there he kept going over in his mind what Jake had said to him about Nate. It was true that Nate hadn’t been too worried about finding out about Jake, but would his reaction be the same if and when he was to find out about him? Would their friendship be strong enough to pass that test, should it ever eventuate? Danny wasn’t sure about that, but the one thing he was sure about was that he didn’t want to put it to the test in that manner. At least not . . . well, at least not until he really had to.

The only thing that Danny was sure of was that he hadn’t ever felt this way about anyone ever before. It was new territory for him, and by the sound of it for Jake as well. No matter what happened it would mean that things in his life were changing rapidly, and by the end of this summer he could see that he would be leaving his childhood behind. Whether that meant leaving his family and friends, and even this town, behind him, well, he would cross that bridge when he got to it. He just had to make sure that he started to prepare himself for that eventuality.

When he reached Nate’s house he turned into the driveway and rode straight down alongside the old weatherboard building and dropped his bike beside the back steps. There was no sign of their family car, or Lachie’s car for that matter, so he figured that everyone must be out.

Jumping up the steps he banged on the back door and called out, ‘Are you home, Nate?’

At first there was no answer, but just as he was about to bang on the door again he heard a noise coming from inside, then moments later the back door opened.

‘Hey, mate. Where the hell did you get to last night?’ Nate asked him as he stepped aside and allowed Danny to come through the door.

‘I was at Jake’s cabin. We ended up sitting up and talking nearly all night . . . oh, and smoking some dope,’ Danny answered, while sporting a huge grin.

‘You sly dog. My mate, Danny the pot head! Oh, the guys are just going to love this!’

‘Not a word! Especially not to Thomas and Pat! Remember, we both know where it came from . . . but I’ll just tell everyone I got it from you!’ Danny threatened.

‘Well, at least they’ll believe you, with a brother like mine!’ Nate replied, while he grabbed a jug of orange juice from the refrigerator and then poured them both a drink.

‘Yeah, I suppose they would. And what about him? Any news?’

‘He didn’t come home last night, so we haven’t seen him since yesterday. I guess we’ll find out soon enough though if anything happened.’

‘Yeah. I guess.’

‘So, what was the dope like? Did you like it? Did it make you feel crook or anything?’

‘It was okay, I suppose,’ not wanting to actually admit that at first it had made him want to throw up. ‘So, did anything happen here? Did you have to cover for me for last night?’

‘Nah, no one asked after you, if that’s what you’re worried about.’

‘That’s a relief.’

‘And how’s Jake?’

‘Better than yesterday, that’s for sure,’ Danny replied.

He noticed Nate studying him carefully over the rim of his glass of juice and a stab of fear suddenly grasped at him. There was no doubt in his mind that a question was forming in the mind of his friend. Was he about to be asked the big question? He hoped to God that wouldn’t be the case, but what if Nate did ask him about his spending so much time with Jake? What would he say?

Thankfully, however, that moment never came, as just seconds later the sound of a vehicle could be heard coming along the driveway.

‘Great! That’ll be Lachie,’ Nate said with some confidence.

Both boys were now wondering the same thing; had anything happened with Frank Thompson yet?

They looked at each other as they waited listened to the sound of the engine being shut down, then the sound of the car door being opened and closed.

‘He probably wouldn’t even tell us if anything did happen,’ Nate said, in a voice that was just above a whisper.

‘Probably not . . . but I still want to know either way,’ said Danny.

‘Yeah, me too!’ Nate added, just as the sound of boots on the back steps could be heard.

Both boys turned and looked at the back door in expectation as it opened and Lachlan stepped inside, stopping suddenly when he saw the two boys staring at him.

‘What the fuck are you girls lookin’ at?’ Lachie demanded.

‘Well? What happened?’ Nate asked. ‘Did you mess him up for us . . . and for Jake?’

‘Mess him up for you? Do you know how weird that sounds, you little freak?’

‘You know what I mean! We want some payback, that’s all.’

‘Well, no, I can honestly say that I haven’t laid a finger on him . . .’

‘But?’ Danny asked, sensing that there was more to come.

Lachie just shrugged. ‘I don’t know what you mean . . .’ Lachie added.

He was grinning like a fool as he crossed the kitchen and pulled a can of coke from the refrigerator, but despite their pleading and urging he didn’t say another word to the boys before heading back outside into the morning sunshine.

‘The bastard!’ Nate spat as the screen door slammed shut.

‘He’s done something . . . or he knows that someone else has!’ Danny declared.

‘But there’s no way in the world he’ll tell us,’ Nate pouted. ‘I know how stubborn the prick can be.’

‘Well, maybe . . .’

‘Maybe what?’ Nate demanded.

‘Well, maybe he’s just trying to protect us, you know, by not admitting to anything . . . if he doesn’t tell us, then we can’t know about it!’

‘Oh, Jesus, that sounds like something out of Homicide, or Hawaii Five-0 now!’

‘Well, it’s just a thought.’

‘So how do we find out if he’s done anything . . . I’ve got to know.’

‘Yeah, me too . . . and then I need to tell Jake if we find out anything. We’ve got to come up with a plan.’

‘C’mon, let’s go down town. If anything’s happened maybe Thomas or Pat might have heard something,’ Nate suggested.

‘Yeah. That’s a good idea.’

It was only a short while later that Nate and Danny were heading into town on their bikes. The sun was shining, the hot wind was in their faces, and they were on a mission. By the time they reached the main street they both had a faint sheen of sweat covering their tanned bodies and their hair was soon plastered to their brows and the side of faces.

Nate had pulled his t-shirt over his head even before they had left his house and had shoved one end into the elastic of his shorts, leaving it hanging down beside him. Danny couldn’t help but take a good look at his friend, marveling at how his body had changed over the past couple of years, from the skinny kid he had once been. Nate was definitely filling out, becoming more muscular and defined. He had noticed it previously, of course, but now that he had been hanging around with Jake he seemed to be taking more notice of just about everything around him.

He had also noticed the changes in his own body over that same period of time, and thought it was little wonder that Jake had wanted to paint them both. In a way it felt quite strange to him, after all it wasn’t a sexual feeling or attraction that was going through his mind when he looked at Nate, even though he loved the guy in a way that he found difficult to comprehend; it was something else entirely. It was that he was finally seeing what Jake had meant when he spoke about the glory and the beauty of youth; something which Danny hadn’t really appreciated before today.

*     *     *

Summer was a great time on the coast. It made you feel like you were alive. But today the boys had things other than their usual summer fun on their minds. They had tried to phone Thomas and Pat before they had set off, but there was no answer at either of their homes, so they decided to simply hit the road.

‘Keep an eye out for them,’ Nate said to his friend as they cruised along the quiet streets.

‘We better try the lake, and the beach,’ Danny suggested.

‘And the milk bar and the boardwalk too,’ added Nate. ‘They could be any fuckin’ where.’

‘Yeah, they could be, but they’ll show up eventually,’ Danny reassured him.

They rode on in silence after that, with Nate soon standing up on the pedals and going for all he was worth. Danny could only sigh, then go after him. This was becoming a habit, but Danny knew that he would follow Nate anywhere, just as Nate knew that Danny would always be right there by his side.

They came to the entrance to the gravel car park beside the lake and without any warning Nate swerved in there, narrowly missing a car that was coming out. He rode for where he could see groups of people close to the bank, but there was no sign of Pat or Thomas amongst them, so he kept riding, now heading straight for the boardwalk.

Danny tried calling out to him once, but Nate either didn’t hear him, or had ignored him. He got like that sometimes when he was truly determined about something.

When Nate stopped near the start of the boardwalk and dropped his bike on the grass Danny thought he might have a chance to talk to him about what they were doing, but Nate didn’t give him a chance.

‘Just watch my bike for a sec, will you? I’ll go and check the shops along here and come back.’

‘Nate . . .’ Danny had begun to say, but he was gone in an instant, leaving Danny standing guard over his old maroon coloured Malvern Star.

Danny could only watch as Nate jogged along the timber boardwalk as he passed his eyes over the interior of each of the small eating houses along there, while his feet echoed on the rattling boards with every step. When Nate reached the end and started jogging back, he knew that the search had been a washout.

‘Where next?’ Danny asked, as Nate rejoined him.

‘The main street, then the beach, I suppose.’

‘You know, you can slow down a bit, don’t you?’ Danny suggested.

‘No I can’t. We need to find out. We need to know what happened . . . if Lachie gets in trouble it’ll be my fault . . .’ Nate said.

‘Is that what you’re worried about? Do you really think it’s going to make any difference whose fault it is if Lachie gets caught? Anyhow, you said yourself he can handle himself . . . and he knew what he was getting into . . . and if it’s anyone’s fault it’ll be mine . . . I was the one who got us involved with Jake, wasn’t I?’

‘But . . . he’s my bro . . .’

‘And he’s my friend as well. And I want to make sure he’s going to be okay, just as much as you do! So let’s see if we can find Thomas and Pat and see if they’ve heard anything . . . then we’ll worry about whatever else we need to worry about after that. Okay?’

‘Yeah . . . I guess.’

‘Good. Now, next stop the main street. Then the beach. Then after that, if we need to, we’ll go and check out their houses . . . and if we have to wait for the useless bastards to come home we will.’

This time it was Danny who set the pace as they pushed off and started along the creek that led away from the lake and toward the sea, before then turning down Main Street.

Being mid-week there wasn’t a lot of traffic about, thankfully; just the usual lot of holiday makers. The big influx would come on the weekend, after the city workers finished their nine to five jobs and came looking for an escape. With the influx of tourists in Thompsonville, summertime weekends were quite often a good time to actually get away from the town and go bush, or maybe even head into the city if you wanted to go and see or do something different.

A couple of their school friends called out to them or waved to them as they rode along, but they didn’t bother pulling up for a chat. What they did pull up for, however, was Danny’s mother, as she stepped out from the curb in front of them and ordered them to stop.

‘Oh, shit,’ Danny said under his breath, just before he slammed on his brakes and came to a stop, just inches from his mother.

‘Hello, boys,’ Mrs Anderson said to them, standing there with her arms folded in front of her, then before either of them could answer she asked, ‘Now do either of you two want to tell me what it was you were doing with Sargeant Bailey yesterday?’

Nate and Danny glanced at each other. How the hell could she know about that already, they wondered?

‘Do you have any idea what it’s like being stopped in the street and asked by someone what your son was doing being spoken to by the police?’ she continued.

Neither of the boys were surprised. It was still a small country town after all, and any hint of a scandal was always quick to be spread about.

‘It was nothing, mum, I swear!’ Danny pleaded. ‘It was us who called him. We went out to see Jake at Hidden Beach and we found him having been bashed up by someone, so we got the Sarge to come out. You can go and ask either of them if you don’t believe us!’

‘Is that true, Nate?’ Mrs Anderson asked.

‘Yes it is Mrs A. Honest.’

‘And what were you up to last night?’

‘He was with me,’ said Nate. ‘We went to see Jaws at the movies.’

Danny’s mother eyed the two of them suspiciously, not sure if she could believe everything she was hearing.

‘And just where do you think you are you off to now?’ she asked.

‘We were looking for Thomas and Pat,’ Danny offered.

‘I think, Danny, you and I need to have a chat. I don’t care what you think you are going to do now, I want you at home in ten minutes. Is that understood?’

‘But mum . . .’

‘Ten minutes, Danny! Or else!’ she threatened, before turning to Nate and saying, ‘I’m sorry, Nate, but you’ll have to catch up with him later.’

Danny had never felt so humiliated in his life. It wasn’t that unusual for his parents to go all Jekyll and Hyde on him, and he was tempted to just ride away and ignore her, but in the end he thought better of it. He knew that if his mother told his father and then he started in on him when he got home, then things would likely blow right up. No, it was best to cop whatever it was that was on his mother’s mind and then just hope things settled back down. At least he should have a couple of days before the old man was back in town.

He watched his mother walk away before then turning to Nate and saying, ‘Sorry about that, mate. Looks like you better go and see if you can find them on your own.’

‘Don’t sweat it. I’ve got a mother too, you know!’ Nate grinned. ‘Anyhow, I’ll come around later and see you after I find them, okay.’

‘Sounds cool. Thanks.’

‘Now get going, man, or your ten minutes will be up!’

‘Smart arse!’

*     *     *

When Danny made it home he found that his mother still hadn’t arrived, and so he spent the next ten minutes sitting on the back steps growing crankier and crankier.

‘Jesus, if she wasn’t coming straight home why the fuck did she tell me I had to?’ he fumed. Was it little wonder he felt his family was going crazy and he was now thinking about getting the hell away from here just as soon as he could?

After a while he picked up a tennis ball that was lying around and started throwing it at the wall of the garage and catching it when it bounced back, all the while trying to avoid the temptation of throwing it directly at the window just on the other side of the side door into the garage.

Eventually he heard the sound of the family car and so he stopped what he was doing as he watched the white Datsun station wagon – which he thought was a total embarrassment of a vehicle – come up the drive. He just watched as his mother and his brother and sister climbed out of the car. The two kids hurried inside, but his mother just stood there looking at him.

‘Thanks a lot, mum,’ Danny finally said. ‘Why don’t you embarrass me in front of my mate! Don’t you know that I’m not a little kid any more, or hadn’t you noticed?’

‘Danny . . . I . . . I’m sorry. I’ve been talking to Sargeant Bailey and he told me what happened to that Jake fellow, and what you and Nate did for him.’

So, which face was Dr Jekyll and which one was Mr Hyde, Danny wondered?

‘Couldn’t you have thought to find that out before you bawled me out in front of my friend and made a complete fool out of me, like I was a twelve year old?’

‘He’ll get over it,’ Mrs Anderson responded.

‘Yeah, maybe he will. But what about me? Don’t you care about how I felt about it?’

‘I said I was sorry, Danny. What more do you want me to say?’

‘I just told you . . . I want you to stop treating me like a little kid. What Nate and I did yesterday was something good . . . something important. Hell, we might have even saved Jake’s life, and all you can think about was how embarrassed you were about someone seeing us being spoken to by Sargeant Bailey. You know, that’s what’s wrong with this whole fucking town! And I’m sick of it and I can’t wait to get out the hell out of here!’

‘Danny! Don’t you dare use that language in front of me!’ his mother scolded him.

‘Or what, mum? What are you going to do?’ Danny yelled back at her, before storming off into the house, slamming doors as he went and making the whole house shudder.

These days he towered over his mother and seeing him like this had scared the hell out of her.

With a sigh she closed the car door before leaning back against it, on the verge of tears as she struggled to figure out just what was going on inside the head of her eldest son these days. He was right, of course; she was still treating him like he was her baby boy, and she would probably always think of him in that way, but still, that certainly didn’t give him an excuse to talk to her like that. Perhaps his father might be able to get through to him, she wondered, although she also suspected that would be a lost cause as well, given their recent run-in, for which she still didn’t know the reason why it had happened.

After giving herself a few minutes to gather her senses Mrs Anderson gathered up the few bags of groceries from the back seat of the car and started to make her way inside. Before she had even made it halfway, however, she was stopped in her tracks as Danny came out the back door. He stopped at the top of the steps just briefly, looking down at his mother, before jumping down and crossing the yard to where she stood, then taking the bags from her.

‘I’m sorry, mum. I didn’t mean to swear like that . . . it’s just . . .’

‘It’s okay, Dan. I know that growing up isn’t easy these days . . .’

‘It’s . . . it’s more than just that,’ he said.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’

‘No,’ he answered. ‘Not now,’ he said, before turning and heading back inside the house.

*     *     *

While Danny was helping his mother pack away groceries in the kitchen, Nate was still riding around downtown in search of Thomas and Pat. He had been down to the beach, and back to the boardwalk, but without any luck, and was just about to give up and head for Thomas’ home to see if he was there when he spied the two of them coming out of the milk bar, so he headed over to them.

‘Hey, guys. What’s cookin’?’ he cheerfully greeted them.

‘Hey, Nate,’ Thomas answered.

‘Where’s your boyfriend?’ giggled Pat.

‘I think he’s been grounded,’ Nate replied, while not wanting to give too much away. ‘So, what have you been up to? Anything exciting happening? Man, wasn’t that movie cool last night?’

‘Yeah, it was awesome. Nothing much else going down though,’ Thomas replied.

‘Unless you count what happened to Frank’s car,’ added Pat.

‘Why? What happened?’ Nate asked, his interest suddenly piqued.

‘Seems it was trashed last night. All the lights got broken and someone painted stuff up the sides,’ said Pat.

‘What kind of stuff?’ urged Nate.

‘I don’t know. We were going to ride around the other side of the lake and see if we could get a look at it. You want to come with us?’

‘Yeah, why not,’ Nate replied. ‘I sure as hell don’t have anything better to do.’

Thomas and Pat had stowed their bikes in the racks near the lakeside car park and so the three of them walked down the main street until they reached them, before the boys quickly undid the combination locks and pulled the bikes out.

From downtown it was a fairly leisurely around the shores of the lake to where the row of old houses stood looking out over the water, heading south from the main street and over the two bridges, the first of which crossed the creek, and the second of which was in fact a weir, separating the freshwater lake from the saltwater harbor which the small local fishing fleet called home.

The weir had been built back in the nineteen thirties, not long after someone had been attacked by a bull shark in the lake . . . not unlike what had happened in Jaws last night. It wasn’t long after that when the build-up of water in the lake threatened some of the low lying areas along the lake’s edge and needed to be released, so that was when a canal was built just near the end of the main street, which is what everyone these days simply calls the creek.

From the weir the road simply followed the edge of the lake, while another road also turned off it and headed south toward Macquarie Harbour.

This was now considered to be the better side of town, with new houses going up all the time, but the further you went around the lake these days the more run down things became – despite the fact that these properties had million dollar water views.

Finding Frank Thompson’s place didn’t prove too difficult, the boys just had to look for the house with the pile of broken down cars along the front of it. When they found those they also found a red Valiant which had some newly applied graffiti along both sides, with words like rapist and homo still being clearly visible, despite the efforts of Frank and several of his mates who were all working hard at removing the new additions.

‘Holy shit! Do you see that?’ Thomas whispered as they stood there and looked at what was going on in Frank’s yard.

The car was a mess. Way worse than what Jake’s was. And Nate couldn’t have been happier.

‘Why the hell would someone do that?’ Pat asked.

‘Well, maybe that’s what Frank is?’ Nate ventured. ‘Maybe whoever did this knows him better than any of us?’

‘What? That’s plain crazy!’

‘They said it happened while he was at the movies last night and half the town saw it as they were coming out after the late show!’ offered Thomas. ‘So now everyone will think he’s like that, whether he is or not. Apparently he was pretty pissed about it!’

‘Funny that,’ said Nate, while trying not to laugh. ‘What a way for someone to get revenge, eh?’

‘What do you mean by revenge?’ Thomas asked.

‘I . . . errr . . . well, it just seems to fit doesn’t it? You wouldn’t do something like that unless he had done something to you, or someone you know, would you?’

‘No, I guess not . . . I dunno . . .’ Thomas answered.

It was just then that Frank noticed the three boys watching him and his friends working on the car and he started taking a few steps toward them, yelling out, ‘What the fuck do you punks think you’re doing? Go on, fuck off out of here!’ while waving his arms around at them.

The boys didn’t need to be told twice. They’d already seen enough anyhow, so they hit the road, soon pedaling like crazy to get as far away from Frank and his cronies as they could. They knew he had a short fuse and they certainly didn’t want to be the next to face his wrath.

They continued around the lake, riding in the same direction as they had started out, which would eventually bring them back to town, but on the northern side, where they all lived. Nate wasn’t sure about what might be going through the minds of his companions, but in his own mind he was fairly certain that he knew who had done that to the car. What he was somewhat disappointed about though, was that Frank himself seemed to have gone untouched. After what he had done to Jake, Nate would have been much happier if Frank had at least been roughed up a bit.

For a few moments he wondered if that made him a bad person, but when the image of a naked and beaten Jake came back to him, not to mention all the stories he had heard about Frank over the past few years, he realised that he felt no guilt about those feelings at all. Frank Thompson deserved everything that he got and he hoped that one way or another there would be more to come.

When they reached the edge of town, and the road that he knew would take him toward Danny’s house, Nate called out to the others and said he was going to head off to see Danny. They waved him farewell and kept on riding, while Nate swerved off the road they were on and started pedaling along the road to Danny’s; a road that was lined with leafy, shade giving trees and older styled, but well-kept houses.

It was the middle of the day and he was enjoying that feeling of having the hot summer sun on his back and the wind in his hair. And when the ocean breeze kicked in, cooling his hot, sweat covered skin, he felt a shiver pass through him which told him he was alive, and school was out, and there was no better place in the world to be at this time of year.

As he turned into Danny’s street the first thing he noticed was that there was no sign of Danny’s father’s truck, which was a relief to him, as the guy had always creeped him out . . . not that he could ever tell Danny that. Nate didn’t know what it was about the man, but he always tried to avoid him wherever possible, and besides, Danny had told him enough about his father to know that he was worth steering clear of.

When he got closer to Danny’s house, which was about half way along the block, Nate could hear the sound of a lawn mower going, but wasn’t sure exactly where it was coming from. When he rode into Danny’s yard, however, he soon found the source of the noise, as Danny was busy mowing the front lawn, pushing the Victa mower back and forth across the front yard, while trying to avoid the garden beds and various shrubs that were his mother’s pride and joy.

‘What’s this? Punishment?’ Nate asked when Danny cut the mower’s engine after spotting him standing there by the mail box.

Danny simply shrugged. ‘Not really. I’d have to do it sometime, so now seemed like as good a time as any. Besides, I reckoned I needed to get back in her good books after mouthing off at her when I got home.’

‘What a suck!’ Nate giggled.

Just then Danny’s mother stuck her head out the front door, obviously wondering why the mower had stopped.

‘Oh, hi there, Nate. How about I get you boys some drinks,’ she said. Nate gave her a wave but she disappeared back inside before she would have even seen it.

‘Is it just me, or is your mum doing a Jeckyll and Hyde act today?’ Nate asked, as Danny led him over to a shady spot below a Jacaranda tree which was in full bloom, where they sat down with their backs against the fence.

‘No, it’s not just you. That’s exactly what I was thinking earlier. I can’t work her out at all . . . she just gets like this sometimes,’ Danny replied, with a sad edge to his voice. ‘Between putting up with her and the old man I sometimes wonder if I’m the only sane one in the house.’

‘C’mon, it can’t be that bad.’

‘Want to try swapping places for a while?’

‘Nah, mate. I have enough trouble figuring out how to handle my own family, let alone someone else’s.’

Danny smiled. He knew just what Nate had meant.

‘So, did you find the guys?’ Danny asked, but it was just then that his mother chose that moment to came out the front door carrying some cans of coke for the two of them.

‘Errr . . . yeah, I did,’ came Nate’s somewhat guarded reply as he eyed Danny’s mother who was approaching.

‘Here you go, boys,’ Mrs Anderson said, while crossing the freshly mown lawn, before handing the boys their cans of drink.

‘Thanks Mrs A.,’ Nate replied.

‘Thanks mum,’ added Danny.

For a moment or two she looked down at the two of them and appeared as if she was about to say something, but in the end she just gave them a nod and left them.

‘Geez, I thought for a minute she was going to say something then and send me packing,’ Nate remarked, once she was safely back inside.

‘She’ll probably say it all to me later,’ Danny sighed. ‘So, you said you found the guys. What did you find out?’

‘Oh, man. Just wait ‘til I see Lachie. I think I’m going to kiss him!’

‘What the fuck?’ squeaked Danny.

‘Thomas and Pat heard that Frank’s car got worked over, so we went for a ride round the other side of the lake to where Frank lives. You should see it! All the lights are smashed in and it’s been painted with words like homo and rapist up the side.’

‘Fair dinkum?’

‘Oh, shit yeah! I don’t know if there was much else done to it . . . Frank and his buddies were trying to clean the paint and stuff off it when they saw us there and chased us off, so we couldn’t really get a close enough look at it. Apparently it happened last night while he was at the movies, so then he had to drive it home like that! Half the town would have seen it!’

‘Oh, man! How sweet is that!’ Danny exclaimed, his excitement obviously difficult to contain.

‘I’ll talk to Lachie when I get home and find out just what happened.

‘Shit, I hope the sarge doesn’t put two and two together and come up with Jake as the answer!’ Danny said, suddenly sounding concerned.

‘But he had an alibi, didn’t he?’ Nate replied. ‘You said that you were with him.’

‘Yeah, I was, but if it comes to that do you think the sarge is gonna believe someone like me? And besides, that would just put me in the shit with my folks even deeper, because we both told them that I was with you.’

‘Well, I’ll tell them all that I was with you guys as well.’

‘You can’t do that, mate. You’ll only get in the shit yourself by doing that.’

‘Well, let’s just hope that the sarge doesn’t find out and start asking questions then.’

For the next little while they both leaned back against the fence and sipped on their drinks, while they turned things over in their minds.

The more he thought about it the more pleased he was about what had happened, although, truth be known he too would have liked to have seen Frank get the touch-up he deserved.

By the time he had finished his drink Danny was chuckling to himself, which earned him a curious look from Nate.

‘It actually said rapist and homo?’ he asked, unable to disguise the note of incredulity in his voice.

‘In big white letters . . . spray painted on!’

‘How cool is that?’ Danny laughed.

‘Fuck, you should have seen it . . .’

‘Yeah, I can imagine, but seeing the look on Frank’s face would have been even better!’

‘Oh, man, it was well worth having him chase us out of his yard just to see it. Trust me!’ Nate laughed. ‘What the fuck do you punks think you’re doing? Go on, fuck off out of here!’ he yelled, while still laughing and at the same time waving his arms around, doing his worst Frank Thompson impersonation.

Danny started laughing with him, and pretty soon the pair of them were cackling away like a couple of idiots, totally oblivious to the anything else that might be going on around them.

When the laughter eventually died down, and reality brought them back to earth, the boys were left grinning at each other, satisfied that in some way at least Jake’s bashing had at least partly been avenged.

Nate would tackle Lachie about it again later and try and get some more detail, he promised, but at least now he had something solid he could challenge him with.

‘When are we going to tell Jake about it?’ Nate asked, as he polished off the last of his coke.

‘I told him I’d call around this afternoon . . .’

‘But?’ Nate prompted, sensing that there was something else that Danny had wanted to say.

‘But that might depend on how things are here . . .’ Danny replied.

‘You mean, like if you’ve been grounded for the next hundred years?’

‘Yeah, something like that,’ offered Danny, giving a wry smile as he did so, while at the same time silently contemplating just how he could get to visit Jake again today, no matter the cost.

‘Don’t worry too much, mate. We’ll get there this afternoon,’ Nate reassured his friend. ‘Even if we’ve got to smuggle you out in a wheelbarrow, covered over with lawn clippings!’

‘Yeah, right! I can see that working!’ Danny laughed.

In the end it proved much easier than they thought. After Nate had helped Danny finish mowing the lawn and cleaning up he suggested that they go down to the beach for a swim; being sure to say it while inside the house to grab another drink and being within earshot of Danny’s mother. Danny didn’t hold out much hope that his mother would let him go, so when she suggested that it would be a good idea, especially after his having mown the lawn on what was a hot day, he was more than just a little surprised.

‘Just be home in time for dinner,’ she called out to them as they raced out the back door.

*     *     *

When the boys arrived at the caravan park a little while later, with their hair plastered to their skulls and sweat pouring from their bodies, eager to tell Jake their news about Frank’s car, they hadn’t counted on finding the cabin he was staying in being empty.

His car was still there, all locked up, just as the cabin was, but when they banged on the door there was no answer.

‘Maybe he’s taking a shower or something?’ Nate suggested. ‘Or maybe he’s found some guy and they’re off doing it someplace!’

‘Shut up!’ Danny snapped. ‘He wouldn’t be doing that.’

‘Heyyy . . . don’t bite my head off!’ Nate replied, while at the same time wondering just why that would matter if he was.

Danny was looking around the park, then looking through the cabin windows, then trying the doors on the panel van, yet again. When he finished that he straightened up, then his gaze settled on the roof racks on top of the van.

‘He’s at the beach,’ he said.

‘How can you tell?’

‘There’s only one surf board here. Where else would he be?’

Nate looked at the roof racks and the lone surf board that was now tied to them.

‘He must be feeling better, then,’ Danny said.

‘Well, let’s go find out,’ suggested Nate. ‘I’ll race you to the beach.’

The beach was only just over the sand dunes from where the caravan park sat, and with several paths leading through the grass and scrubby tree-covered dunes, so they didn’t have far to go. No sooner than had Nate issued his challenge he set off at a run in the direction of the nearest path through the dunes, getting a head start on Danny, but not being one to ever shirk a dare Danny quickly set off in pursuit of his friend, leaving bemused park residents wondering just what they were up to.

‘You’re getting too slow, old man,’ Nate called back over his shoulder without looking back, knowing that Danny was somewhere still behind him. What he hadn’t prepared himself for, however, was the fact that Danny was much closer than he thought he would be, and suddenly being crash-tackled into the sand by a flying body.

‘Now who’s getting too slow, asshole?’ Danny growled into his ear, before laughing and letting go, then jumping back to his feet and continuing down the path at a run.

‘You’ll keep!’ Nate called out to him as he got to his feet and dusted himself off, before jogging the rest of the way, soon finding Danny standing on the beach, scanning the waves for Jake. ‘Can you see him?’ Nate asked as he rested his forearm on his friend’s bare shoulder and leaned against him.

There were quite a lot of people out on the beach today, as well as there being quite a few people both in and out on the water, but so far there was no sign of Jake.

‘Nah, not yet. Maybe he’s sitting out past the breaks waiting for a wave or something?’ Danny wondered aloud.

‘Or Jaws has got him already!’

‘Geez . . . you can be such a dick sometimes!’ Danny chuckled, then playfully pushed his friend away, before turning his attention back to the water, where he could see there were some nice waves rolling in.

Each time a rider managed to grab a wave Danny was quick to check them out, hoping that it would be Jake who would be on his way back to shore, but each time he was to be disappointed. He couldn’t help but admire the teen guys who seemed to make it look so effortless . . . not just for their skills with the boards, but also for what they represented; the freedom of being a surfer and living that life, as well as their youthful beauty, which was something he was rapidly beginning to appreciate, thanks to what Jake had been showing him these past few weeks.

It wasn’t a sexual thing, although those thoughts did cross his mind often enough, it really was more of a growing appreciation of the beauty that surrounded him, which Danny seemed to be taking more note of lately. He was seeing everything around him in a different light nowadays, from nature’s beauty with the lake and the ocean and the mountains, to the beauty of the people.

There was, of course, another less attractive side to everything that surrounded him, which he had been reminded of by what had happened to Jake, but being able to see and absorb the beauty of the world he lived in, that was what really mattered, and far outweighed the negatives.

To be continued . . .

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