1975 – Sandmen Ch05

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Sandmen  –  Chapter Five

With an afternoon storm beginning to build out to sea, Danny and Nate weren’t quite sure where to look next for Jake, because at first glance it didn’t appear that he was anywhere near the beach.

From where they stood at the edge of the dunes they could see some board riders still out past where the waves were beginning to form, but they couldn’t tell who they were. One by one they were paddling around and every now and then one of them would catch a wave and manage to ride it for a while, before one by one they were unceremoniously dumped, with surf boards flying one way and riders flying in the opposite direction, just when you thought they might have got the better of the ocean and her wily ways.

Most of these surfers didn’t appear much older than Nate and Danny, but there were a few who were older, and who seemed to have mastered the tricky conditions – or at the very least managed to understand the wave actions better than the grommets. Danny enjoyed watching their reactions as they would wipe out, with some coming up laughing, as if it was all a game, while others came up looking pissed off, upset with themselves, with the ocean, and in some cases with their boards.

Out near the back of them all Danny spotted one guy who was sitting up on his board. He was wearing a pale blue t-shirt, and darker blue board shorts, that much Danny could see, but with the ocean’s swell, and the glare coming off the water, and the spray being whipped up by the surf, it was difficult for Danny to get a good enough look at him.

It could be Jake, he thought, but he couldn’t be sure.

‘What do you reckon?’ Danny asked Nate. ‘Do you think that’s Jake out there? The guy with the blue t-shirt.’

Nate tried shielding his eyes and looking out toward where the guy was sitting.

‘Dunno,’ Nate replied. ‘Could be him . . . I reckon we’re about to find out though . . . he’s just started paddling in toward the break,’ Nate quickly added, while pointing out to sea.

Danny looked back out there and he could see the guy now lying flat on the board and paddling steadily. Every now and then they would lose sight of him as he rose and fell on the swell, then each time they spotted him again he was that little bit closer to them.

‘Yeah, I think it’s him,’ Nate said as the board rider came into view once more.

Danny looked again and still wasn’t sure, but then the guy started paddling harder and hit the swell of a wave which carried him forward. For a few moments he just rode it, but when he started picking up speed and the wave started to form a peak, he swiftly jumped up onto his feet, in one smooth motion, balancing himself for a few moments, before then shifting his stance slightly.

The board was travelling quickly along the face of the wave now, and there was no mistaking the guy who was riding it. It was Jake all right, and he was handling the board and the wave like he was an old pro. As he shifted his weight from one side to the other, ducking and turning, the board danced across the face of the wave. It was beautiful to watch, and Danny found himself wanting to cheer Jake on, like he was in a competition or something.

But then things started to change, as the wave gathered more speed and the boiling barrel starting edging closer and closer to Jake. The boys watched as Jake made one turn across the face of the wave, and it was then that they all knew he was in trouble. Quickly he straightened back up and crouched down a little, like a jockey crouching over the withers of a horse in flight, urging his mount onwards to glory.

Jake was trying to get every inch of speed out of the board that he could, but just as they all thought he might have been able to make it and out-run the wave, it swamped him, pummeling him into the churning waters and sending his board flying high into the air, before coming down tail first, almost right on top of the spot where the boys had seen Jake disappear.

‘Oh, shit!’ Nate yelled. ‘Wipe out!’

Danny’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of Jake being swallowed up by the boiling surf, but when a head appeared just moments later, being shaken from side to side and with hair and water flying this way and that, Danny could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

‘Damn! That was some stack!’ Nate said to him. ‘Glad it was him and not me!’

‘You would have drowned!’ Danny said.

‘Hell, I wouldn’t have made it anywhere near that far . . . I would have come off out in the deeper water . . . and probably got run over by the next guy on the wave.’

‘Me too, I reckon,’ said Danny, as they watched Jake struggle through the water, heading for shore.

Thankfully his board came drifting by him on the next wave and he was able to grab it and ride into shore using it to support him, until finally he was in the shallows, with wave after wave coming in over the top of him as he struggled to get to his feet.

Danny and Nate ran forward to help him, but by the time they reached the edge of the water Jake was on his feet and wading out of the water.

‘Dude! That was some wipe out!’ Nate teased him. ‘I thought you could surf!’

‘You want to try and do better?’ Jake shot back at him, with a grin on his face that was just as big as the ones that the two boys were sporting.

‘I already told him he would have been down and drowned!’ Danny added.

‘And what about you?’ Jake asked of Danny.

‘I wouldn’t have done much better than him,’ Danny grinned.

‘Well. You want to show us?’ Jake asked, offering Danny the distinctive white, yellow and black surfboard he was holding.

‘What? Now?’

‘Yeah. And Nate too . . . he can go back and get my other board if he wants to . . .’

‘For real?’ Nate asked.

‘I wouldn’t have said so if I didn’t mean it,’ Jake replied. ‘Go on, go get it and you can both have a surf if you want to.’

While both Nate and Danny had had some experience surfing, neither of them owned a board, so their experiences were limited to those times they were with other friends who owned surfboards, or times when they were away on holidays or something and they were able to hire a board for a day or two.

What Jake was offering them was a relatively rare experience for them both and not one that either of them would pass up if they could help it.

‘Are you sure? I mean, they look like expensive boards . . .’ Danny remarked, feeling a little unsure about it.

‘Like I said, I wouldn’t have said so if I didn’t mean it, so if you guys want to have a surf you might as well take me up on it while the offer is there.’

‘I’ll be back in a minute!’ Nate quickly said, before dashing off up the beach at a run.

‘Well, that’s one yes,’ Jake said, before holding he board out for Danny once more.

This time Danny smiled and took the board from Jake. ‘Thanks. I’ll be a bit rusty though . . . it’s been a while.’

‘Don’t sweat it . . . it’s just like riding a bike!’ Jake replied.

‘I wish I could believe you,’ Danny laughed. ‘So, what’s with the t-shirt? Are you that big of a sissy? Afraid of a little sun, or something?’

‘Nah, mate. Just keeping a few bruises covered over,’ Jake replied, while at the same time lifting one side of the tee to reveal his battered ribs.

‘Oh, shit. Sorry, I didn’t think of that,’ Danny apologised.

‘That’s okay. I just figured it was best not to give anyone anything to talk about if I could . . . and if anyone did give me any cheek for the t-shirt I was just going to tell them I’m a wuss and didn’t want to get sunburned.’

‘That’d be right. Anyhow, I guess you must be feeling a bit better, then?’ Danny asked as they walked up the beach, out of the surf.

‘Oh, yeah. I am, thanks. And there’s nothing better than getting back outside and into the water to really make you feel like you’re alive.’

‘That’s good, then. We came looking for you because we’ve got some news for you,’ Danny said. ‘About the guys who . . .’

Suddenly Jake stopped walking, while his expression also changed, as a dark cloud came over his face. ‘What sort of news?’ he cautiously asked, but just then they heard Nate calling out as he ran back down the beach with Jake’s second board under his arm.

‘Oh, it can wait,’ Danny answered, somewhat sheepishly, knowing that Jake probably wouldn’t be too pleased about hearing what he had to say.

Jake eyed him suspiciously. ‘I hope Nate’s brother didn’t go and do anything stupid?’ Jake enquired, by which time Nate was almost within earshot.

Danny looked from Jake to Nate and then back again, while wondering if he should say something now, or later. Any decision was made for him, however, as Nate opened his mouth just as soon as he arrived.

‘So, did you tell him yet?’ Nate blabbed.

‘Tell me what?’ Jake demanded.

‘That red Valiant of Frank Thompson’s . . . it’s a total mess. Had its lights smashed in and some spray painting done up the sides of it,’ Nate said proudly.

‘Your brother’s handiwork, I presume?’

‘I have no idea . . . honest,’ Nate replied, while holding his hands up in defence, but they all knew that there could be no other explanation.

The two boys studied Jake for what seemed like a long time. They could see he wasn’t too happy, but there wasn’t anything they could do about that now, after all, it wasn’t either of them who had done the deed; even if they both knew that it just had to have been Lachlan, and possibly with the help of some of his mates.

Finally Jake said to them, ‘Go on boys, you better hit the water. Try not to kill each other out there, eh?’

‘We wouldn’t dream of it,’ Danny replied, as they watched Jake turn and start to head up the beach.

‘Hey, where are you heading to?’ Nate asked.

‘I’ll be sitting up here on the dunes watching you guys and making sure you don’t wreck my boards,’ Jake replied, with just a hint of a smile returning to his face, although Danny couldn’t help but wonder if it might not still be hiding some other feelings.

‘Yeah, as if?’ Nate spat back.

‘Just remember that I’ll be watching you,’ Jake warned. ‘So you better hope that you can stay on that thing if you don’t want me to keep reminding you of it every day for the rest of your life . . . hey, come to think of it, it might even make a great painting one day! I’ll call it Wipe Out!

‘You wish!’ Nate replied, before he pulled his t-shirt from his shorts and dropped it on the ground, then turned and headed for the water, with the surf board tucked under his arm.

Danny hesitated for a moment as he watched Nate wade out into the gurgling surf, then turned to face Jake once more.

‘I hope you’re not too upset about the car thing?’ he asked.

‘We can talk about it later,’ Jake replied. ‘You should go and catch a few waves before your mate steals all the good ones.’

‘I love him, but he wouldn’t know a good wave if it swamped him and dragged his arse across the rocks,’ Danny grinned.

‘And you do?’ Jake chuckled.

‘Maybe,’ Danny replied, before following his friend out into the water.

*     *     *

The boys spent the next hour in the water, riding medium sized waves – with varying results – but having fun all the same. It was too good a day not to be having fun, with the sun shining, the skies clear and the weather warm. It was a perfect summer day.

It took them both a little while to get their board legs back, but once they had done that there seemed to be no stopping either of them, as they all but mastered the choppy waves.

At one stage when Danny looked up to see if Jake was still watching them he noticed that he wasn’t there, but when he looked back a few minutes later he noticed that Jake had returned, this time armed with his sketch book and a camera.

‘Make sure you don’t fall off,’ Danny called out to his friend as they paddled back out for another round. ‘Jake’s got his camera now!’

‘Oh, Jesus. That’s all I need!’ Nate groaned.

‘Let’s make this the last one, so just stay on!’ Danny called back, as he quickly paddled forward to pick up a wave he could see was beginning to form just behind where they were floating.

Not to be outdone Nate started paddling as well, and when the wave reached the two boys and picked them up, they both jumped to their feet, ready to ride it into shore.

Gradually they began to pick up speed as they darted across the face of the wave, dipping and swooping like a pair of old professionals, keeping just in front of the crest and barrel, which seemed to be chasing them, but never quite getting there.

Nate let out a holler, while Danny laughed, before hearing, ‘Oh, shit!’ and glanced around to see Nate flying through the air one way, doing cartwheels, while the borrowed surfboard went the other way.

Danny grinned. ‘Didn’t I tell you to stay on?’ he called back to his friend, but of course there was no way that Nate would have heard him, as he was being pummeled by the roaring water.

Danny concentrated hard on what he was doing, not wanting to end up going the same way as Nate. He could feel the wave surging beneath his feet, pulling at the board, this way and that, as if trying to yank it out from under him, but at the same time he could feel an excitement building within him; that feeling you get when you just know that everything is falling into place perfectly.

Despite his excitement he did his best to keep his cool, however, and as the intensity of the wave and the speed at which he was travelling both rose to a new level he found within him a new confidence; something he didn’t think he had ever felt before. He finally felt as if he had found his place in life . . . some things he loved doing, and someone he could love doing them with. He was on the verge, he knew, of breaking free of his childhood and beginning a new life, and riding this wave all the way into the beach was just the beginning.

Now if only everything would just fall into place the way he imagined it could do so; beginning with these last few metres to the shoreline, which he knew would flash beneath him in an instant.

‘Almost there,’ he was saying under his breath as he drew closer and closer, while the wave beneath began to lose its power. ‘Almost there . . . almost there . . . got it!’ he was finally able to say, as he shifted his weight and dropped the rear end of the board into the water, doing a neat pirouette, before stepping off it and into the shallows.

His mind was racing, just like his heart was. As far as he was concerned, that was almost the perfect ride and he wanted to savour it for as long as he could.

When he picked up the board and noticed Jake jogging down the beach toward him Danny couldn’t help but grin. And when Jake reached him they stood there grinning at each other for a few moments, before finally forgetting all about protocol and decorum and whatever anyone might think, and they reached out and hugged each other.

‘Damn, boy! You didn’t tell me you could ride them like that!’ Jake enthused after letting Danny go. ‘That was a pretty cool ride!’

‘Thanks. I think it must have been the board,’ Danny replied, while at the same time looking around nervously to see if anyone might have seen the hug.

‘No, mate . . . it was the guy on the board,’ said Jake, just as they heard Nate running through the surf and yelling at them, with the surfboard once again tucked safely under his arm.

‘What happened? Did you ride it all the way in?’ Nate was asking, as he high-fived his mate.

‘Right to this very spot,’ Jake said. ‘And I have the photographic evidence to prove it . . . actually, to prove how far both of you managed to last for,’ he chuckled. ‘I’ve got to say that cartwheel looked amazing Nate . . . a definite ten points for that dive! It’s going to look great when I paint it!’

‘You wouldn’t?’ Nate asked, as they started walking back up the beach.

‘Oh, just wouldn’t I? This town has given me so much more than I ever thought it might . . . even allowing for . . . well . . .’

‘Yesterday?’ Danny ventured.

‘Yeah . . . yesterday,’ Jake agreed.

‘I don’t get it . . .’ Nate said. ‘How can you be so cool about . . . about everything? I mean, it was only yesterday that you were bashed up . . . and, well . . . you know! And today you’re surfing the breaks and as happy as Larry! How can you get over that so quickly? It’s almost like it didn’t happen.’

‘Nate!’ Danny said sternly.

‘No, it’s okay, Danny. I don’t mind answering him. It’s . . . it’s just one of those things that I refuse to let get the best of me. If I can’t push it aside, if I can’t move past it, it will just eat away inside me, festering and growing, to the point that sooner or later something is going to explode . . . and that’s not going to be pretty. While physically I’m okay, I can’t forget about what happened . . . and I won’t ever forget about it . . . but I’m sure as hell not going to let it stop me from doing the things I want to achieve in life. That’s what the psychiatrist that I saw back home told me to do, and so far it seems to work.’

‘So, you’re just going to move on with your life?’ Nate asked.

‘Pretty much. What else can I do, apart from wallow in self-pity, or allow the hate to build and build and build until eventually I strike out at something . . . or someone.’

‘But what about, you know, revenge, or pay back? Don’t you want to strike out at whoever did it to you?’

‘Well, from what I’ve heard so far, that seems to have already been taken care of for me, by some good Samaritan . . . even if I’m still not sure exactly what it was that was done exactly . . . and besides, if I did that myself, wouldn’t that just make me as bad as they are?’

Nate and Danny glanced at each other. They both knew they should tell Jake everything they knew but weren’t sure how he would take the news . . . and what if he did react badly, despite what he was saying now?

It was Danny who eventually decided to take the risk and spill the beans.

‘We don’t know if it was Lachie or not, but like we said earlier, the car lights all got smashed, then someone painted words up the sides, life poofter and rapist,’ he said.

For a long while Jake said nothing, but the boys could definitely see the change in his expression. A pall of sadness seemed to come over him, but there was also something else, Danny thought. At first he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that he thought he saw, but then he realised just what it was. It was fear.

‘Did either of you actually see it?’ Jake asked carefully.

‘I did,’ Nate replied. ‘Me and Pat and Thomas took a ride out past Frank’s place. It was in the front yard and him and his buddies were trying to clean it up . . . when they saw us Frank chased us off.’

‘And what about you?’ Jake asked Danny.

‘Nah, I was at home . . . grounded.’

‘And you’re sure about what you saw, Nate?’

‘Yeah, absolutely! Pat and Thomas told me all about it, and that’s why we went for a look. And apparently half the town got a look at it too, because it happened while Frank was at the movies last night, so everyone coming out of the theatre saw it as well.’

‘Fuck!’ Jake quietly cursed.

‘What’s wrong? No one can connect it with what happened to you, can they?’ Danny asked.

‘I . . . I dunno,’ Jake replied.

By this time the three of them were walking through the dunes and nearing the caravan park, but nothing more was said. Jake seemed to have gone quiet and so the boys followed suit as they followed him, glancing at each other and offering worried expressions, silently asking each other what was going on.

When they reached the cabin Jake went straight inside, without saying a word to either of them.

‘Jake? Are you okay?’ Danny asked, while staying at the doorway, not wanting to venture inside while he was unsure of his friend’s state of mind.

He watched as Jake paced around the small room, while behind him Nate was putting the two surf boards back on the racks.

‘Jake?’ Danny tried once more. ‘What’s wrong? Did we do something?’

At least this time Jake stopped and looked at him.

‘What? Oh, no, Dan . . . I . . . I just need some time to think, that’s all.’

‘How about we just go . . . and I’ll come back and see you later? We can talk about it then if you want to.’

‘Yeah . . . that might be best.’

*    *     *

There was something in Jake’s expression when they had left the caravan park which concerned Danny greatly. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it was almost as if Jake had become another person, so Danny was eager to get back there just as soon as he could after dinner to make sure that Jake was okay.

All Danny knew was that whatever was worrying Jake it had something to do with what had happened to Frank’s car, which also, of course, had something to do with what had happened to Jake while he was camping out. Danny knew exactly what had transpired out there, but what he couldn’t see was how any connection could be made between Frank and Jake by anyone else, other than Nate, and Frank’s buddy, Snoz; so really, what was there to be so worried about?

Either way he still wanted to get back to the caravan park to talk to Jake again, so as soon as he had finished his dinner and done the dishes for his mother he decided to give Nate a call, almost whispering into the mouthpiece so as not to be overheard, just to let him know what he was doing, and to make sure he didn’t try to call Danny while he was out.

‘Do you want me to come too?’ Nate asked.

‘Nah, it’s okay . . . I’ll only be quick . . . he was a bit spaced out when we left him this afternoon, so I reckon it might be a good idea just to check on him.’

Nate did wonder for a second or two just why he wouldn’t want him to come along, but what Danny had said seemed to make sense.

‘So, what are you going to tell your mum?’

‘She’ll think I’m out in the shed fixing a flat tyre on my bike.’

‘And if she goes looking for you?’

‘I took the bike for a quick spin around the block to make sure the tyre was okay,’ Danny replied, with the amusement clearly evident in his voice.

‘She’ll skin you alive if she finds out,’ Nate warned.

‘Yeah, well, she’s got to find out first,’ Danny replied, just as he heard footsteps coming up the hall behind him. Without skipping a beat Danny said, ‘Okay, Nate. I’ll come around in the morning. See ya then!’ then hung up the phone, leaving his friend listening to the busy signal.

‘Making plans for tomorrow?’ Danny’s mother asked him.

‘Ummm . . . yeah. Nate wants to ride around the lake or something. He said one of the Thompson guys’ cars got smashed up, and he wanted to take a look at it,’ Danny replied, saying the first thing that came into his head, and then immediately regretting it.

‘Is that so?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea, Danny. Your father will be home sometime tomorrow.’

‘And?’

‘And . . . he’s your father. You should be here.’

‘Why?’

‘Haven’t we been through this already?’ the woman sighed. ‘I wish you would tell me what happened between the two of you.’

Danny looked away. He wanted desperately to forget about the other night, but every time he even thought about his father the memories came flooding back . . . and the more he thought about it the more he hated the man.

‘I’ve got to go fix the leak in my bike tyre,’ Danny said flatly. ‘I’ll be out in the garage,’ he added, before making for the back door.

‘Don’t stay out there too late!’ he heard his mother call as the kitchen door closed behind him.

‘No, not too late,’ he quietly said to himself while heading for the garage.

He figured that his mother would most likely check up on him at some stage, so before he left he thought he should at least make it look as if he had been doing what he said he was going to do.

When he entered the garage he fumbled for the light switch in the dark, before flicking it to on. Looking around him he soon noticed there were a couple of old bike tyres hanging on one wall, along with some inner tubes, so he got these down and laid them on the floor. Next he dragged his bike to the middle of the floor, before also retrieving some tools to complete the setting of his scene.

It was a balmy night and it felt good to be outside, and for a little while Danny sat inside the open doorway just listening to its sounds. Somewhere not far away he could hear the sound of people laughing, obviously enjoying the pleasant night for a social get-together of some sort. He thought he could smell, too, the familiar odour of meat being cooked on a barbeque. Then there was the constant sounds of the millions of insects that summer seemed to bring, as well as that of the nearby ocean, where waves continually crashed upon the beach, all mingled with the sounds of local traffic, as people made their way to or from their homes.

These were the sounds and smells that he had grown up with, and he couldn’t help but wonder what the sounds and smells of other towns, other places might offer, yet despite all that Danny felt surprisingly calm as he pondered his next move. He was more convinced than ever of his feelings for Jake and of his need to see him tonight. He was also convinced of his need to escape this place and see some of the world, and with Jake he knew that he would be able to do that. The only question in his mind now was when.

He would ask Jake tonight, he promised himself.

For the next few minutes he busied himself by checking that everything on his bike was in order, even checking the tyre pressure and pumping them both up to the correct level and squirting some oil into the casing around the pedals, then once he was satisfied that everything was okay he threw a leg over the bike and rode out into the night, totally oblivious to the fact his mother was standing inside the darkened laundry of the house and watching his departure.

‘He’s growing up,’ she said to herself softly. ‘He’s right, of course, he’s not a little boy any more, but I still can’t bear the thought of losing him.’

*     *     *

As he headed toward the centre of town, down darkened, tree-lined streets, Danny’s head was a jumble of emotions. He was excited by the thought of seeing Jake again, even if he was still concerned about the way in which he had been acting when they had left him earlier. He was also worried about what his mother had been saying about his father being home tomorrow.

How had life suddenly become so complicated, he wondered?

He was still turning all this over in his mind when he rode through the entrance of the caravan park and made for the cabin Jake was staying in. What he wasn’t prepared for, however, was the sight the greeted him when he arrived . . . that of Jake packing his belongings into his van.

‘What’s going on?’ Danny asked as he dropped his bike beside the roadway and stood watching Jake.

‘I’m sorry, mate, but I’m heading out,’ Jake replied, while barely skipping a beat.

‘You’re what? But why?’ Danny pleaded. ‘I don’t understand.’

For a moment Jake stopped and looked at Danny, taking in the defiant stance and the quivering bottom lip of the boy he had come to care so much for in such a short period of time.

‘I thought you . . . I thought you loved me . . .’ Danny said, almost in a whisper.

‘It’s not about that,’ Jake replied, as he nervously glanced about to see if there were any prying eyes or ears around.

‘Then what is it about?’ Danny snapped at Jake, with his voice suddenly raised. ‘What is it that is so fucking important that you would sneak out in the middle of the fucking night, without even saying goodbye?’

‘Dan . . . just take it easy. It’s not like that . . . let’s go inside and talk about it. It’ll all make sense when I explain,’ Jake replied, as he placed a gentle hand on Danny’s shoulder.

Immediately Danny pushed Jake’s hand away, then backed away a few steps. ‘All I know is that you’re packing up and pulling out . . . that isn’t too fucking hard to understand.’

‘Dan . . .’ Jake repeated, as he took a step toward the boy. All he wanted to do was wrap him up in his arms and hold him, but Danny wanted none of that. He stepped backwards yet again, the pain on his face clearly evident, then before Jake could even react Danny turned and ran, leaving his bike where it lay, with one wheel still spinning.

‘Fuck!’ Jake quietly cursed, as he watched Danny get swallowed up by the night.

He could see that Dan was heading toward the path through to the beach, so he set off after him. He didn’t think that Danny would get very far before running out of steam, and so he let him go, just following along at a slower pace, knowing that sooner or later Danny would run himself out and Jake would find him on the beach, alone and angry, and waiting for an explanation.

When Jake reached the beach he could see the silver outline of waves crashing upon it, illuminated by the faint light coming from the sliver of a moon and the stars. The beach itself was dark, but as he looked up and down its length he could see a dark shape slumped upon the sand, not too far away from him, so he headed toward it, quietly confident that it would prove to be Danny.

Once close enough he knew he was right. It was Danny, and he was sitting on the beach, with his knees drawn up to his chest, while sobs could be heard in the lull between waves crashing onto the beach.

Without saying a word Jake sat down on the beach beside Danny, then placed an arm around the boy’s shoulders and pulled him closer.

‘I know you’re probably mad at me, but it’s not what you were thinking, Dan. It wasn’t you I was running out on,’ he said quietly.

Danny said nothing, so Jake continued.

‘After what happened to Frank’s car, I just can’t stay here right now . . .’

For a while nothing more was said, but eventually Danny lifted his head and gazed at Jake.

‘Why not?’ he asked. ‘It’s not like the sarge, or anyone else, knows it was Frank who attacked you. So you’re not likely to get in any trouble. So what difference does it make?’

‘But Frank and his mate know who it was they attacked, and what they did, and now it’s painted up the side of Frank’s car . . . so who do you think Frank will blame for it?’

‘Oh, fuck! I didn’t think of it like that.’

‘There’s no telling what might happen if I hang around here, so it’s probably safest if I just clear out early and head home to see the folks, at least for a while . . . until things blow over.’

‘But you’ll be coming back, won’t you?’ Danny pleaded.

‘Of course I will.’

‘But when?’

‘Just as soon as I find something,’ Jake replied.

‘Like what?’

‘Utopia,’ answered Jake.

For a few moments Danny looked up at him in the near complete darkness, feeling confused, but then he recalled one of their recent conversations and it finally dawned on him.

‘I’ll be right here waiting for you,’ Danny cried, as he threw his arms around Jake.

‘You bloody well better be,’ Jake replied, before cupping Danny’s face in his hands and kissing him.

*     *     *

It was near midnight when Jake finally pulled out of the caravan park, after having finished the packing of his van and spending some time chatting with Danny, all the while holding him close in the darkness, inside the front of his panel van. Not wanting a big, emotional scene – for either of them – he had sent Danny away after one last kiss, but not before handing him a small package.

‘What’s this?’ Danny asked, while struggling to hold back tears.

‘Let’s just call it a Christmas present,’ Jake replied. ‘Open it after I’m gone.’

Danny hadn’t wanted to go, of course, but Jake insisted. ‘It’ll be better this way,’ Jake promised.

‘For who?’ Danny demanded to know.

‘For both of us. Now, I want you to go home, and I want you to remember that I’ll be thinking of you every single moment until I come back for you.’

As Jake climbed from the vehicle to return to the cabin for one last time, so too did Danny. He watched as Jake opened the cabin door and disappeared inside, but not before turning and saying, ‘Please go home, Danny. Have a great Christmas and I promise I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’ Then he closed the door between them.

Danny couldn’t know it, but as he walked a few unsteady steps across to where his bike was lying, Jake was standing with his back against the inside of the door, with tears streaming down his face. Jake didn’t want to go, but for his own safety, and the safety of the boy he loved, he felt that he had no choice.

Reluctantly, Danny picked up his bike and threw a leg over the bar, before perching himself on the seat. As he sat there staring at the cabin door, struggling to understand why Jake wanted it this way, he was having difficulty holding back his own tears.

‘Maybe it’s because Jake is feeling the same way,’ he silently wondered.

After a few moments of thought he decided that he needed to do what Jake asked of him, and so he shoved the package he was holding into the waistband of his shorts, then turned away from the cabin and started pedaling along the roadway. Danny passed beneath the street lights that were set at intervals along the roadways within the caravan park, riding past cabins and caravans that were in darkness, past the house and the shop just inside the main entrance and on either side of the roadway, before eventually then turning onto the street outside the caravan park. It was here that he rode around in a circle on the road, contemplating for one last time whether he should continue on home, when he heard the motor of Jake’s panel van start up, shattering the quiet night with its deep sound.

Danny stopped where he was, which was in the shadows cast by a leafy tree not far from the entrance, and listened as Jake’s van made its way toward the entrance.

Across the road a dog barked, startling Danny, then he saw the car’s lights splash out onto the road just in front of where he stood, hidden, before soon passing through the entrance way and turning left, directly in front of him. He saw Jake for one last time and held his breath, wanting Jake to see him, but at the same time hoping that he wouldn’t. Then all of a sudden it was too late for anything, as Jake put the accelerator down. The very air around Danny felt as if it were trembling as the sound of the big motor reverberated off every surface, and as he watched the tail lights grow smaller, and heard the sound start to fade away, a fresh wave of tears came to him.

For a few moments he simply stood there, letting the darkness and the quiet of the night swallow him once more, as he thought about what to do next.

In the end he decided against going home. Instead he turned around and started riding north, parallel with the beach; his destination the lighthouse, whose white walls he could see gleaming in the pale moonlight.

*     *     *

In his sixteen years on this earth, Danny had never seen the sun rise. Not once.

Until today, that is.

Somehow he had managed to sleep through the night for a little while at least, after finding a park bench near the lighthouse which looked out over the town, but when that cold pre-dawn shift came through he was soon awake, hugging himself as he tried to keep warm, but failing miserably.

In the end he started walking around the headland in the pale pre-dawn light and as the eastern sky began to lighten, turning all sorts of different shades and colours he ended up sitting with his back against the lighthouse wall, spellbound by the show that was playing out before him.

God how he wished he would one day be able to paint that, and actually do it justice.

It was then that he remembered the package that Jake had given him, which was currently still sticking into his sides, so he pulled it from the confines of his shorts and studied it, turning it over in his hands and feeling the shape of it.

It felt like it was a book. But there was also something else inside the package.

‘Stuff waiting until Christmas,’ he said to himself, as he tore open one end, before taking a look inside.

He was right; it was a book, but he could also see a piece of leather thong sticking out, and when he pulled on that he was rewarded with a shark’s tooth necklace.

Holding it up in front of him the silver clasp which held the shark’s tooth flashed brilliantly as the first rays of sunlight struck it.

‘Very nice,’ he said quietly to himself, before quickly pulling it over his head, not bothering to put it inside his t-shirt.

Turning his attention back to the parcel he ripped the paper away, to reveal a paperback style book.

The Art of Colour and Light, the title read, and as he flicked through the pages, starting at the back, by habit, as he often seemed to do, he found it to be filled with methods and tips and ideas to help create the perfect painting.

When he reached the title page at the front of the book he found an inscription, which stopped him cold.

‘For Danny,’ the inscription began. ‘The most beautiful boy in the world. Inside and out. With lots of love, from Jake. Christmas 1975.’

He knew then that he wouldn’t be able to let anyone else see that inscription . . . especially not Nate, or his parents . . . yet he also knew that he wanted to keep these gifts close to him. Forever.

*     *     *

‘So there you are! I’ve been searching everywhere for you,’ the voice said, startling Danny from his reading. He looked up to see Nate making the last short climb to the top of the headland.

‘Well, I guess you found me,’ Danny replied.

‘I saw the sun reflecting off something up this way,’ Nate said, answering the question that had begun to form in Danny’s mind. ‘And when I saw that Jake had cleared out, well, I figured I should check it out and see if it was you.’

Danny simply shrugged as Nate sat down beside him.

‘So, what’s happened? And how come you didn’t go home last night? Your mum is worried as all get out, she called home this morning all in a panic, but I told her I’d try and find you . . .’

Danny couldn’t answer him. He could only shake his head, unsure if he was going to be able to trust his voice.

‘Are you okay? He didn’t try something with you, did he?’

At that Danny’s head shot up and he looked Nate square in the eyes.

‘He’s gone home, that’s all,’ Danny replied, in a voice that even to him sounded defensive.

‘But why the rush? Something must have happened.’

‘I’ll tell you what happened . . . Lachie happened!’

‘Huh? What do you mean?’

‘The stunt with Frank’s car . . . nobody would think to connect Frank with what happened to Jake . . . or at least, nobody but Frank would! So, who do you think will be the first person Frank would have thought of when he saw words like rapist plastered up the side of his car? Who would know that’s what he was . . . apart from the person who got raped?’

‘Oh, Jesus! So that’s why he left in a hurry?’

‘Yeah, he didn’t want to run into Frank again, you know!’

They both fell silent, as the contemplated what it all meant.

From where they both sat, with their backs against the wall of the lighthouse, they could see the town spread out below them, looking like a picture from one of the postcards that could be bought in the local news agency. The white sandy beaches, the sapphire blue waters of the ocean and the lake, and the deep green forest on the far side of the lake coming down from the mountains were picture perfect.

They let the silence stretch out, preferring to just take in the morning, not wanting to ruin the moment by talking, but eventually it was Nate who broke the silence.

‘So, did our mystery man say if he was coming back?’ he asked.

‘He’s visiting his folks for Christmas and then he said he wanted to check out a few other places, but he was coming back sometime after that. A couple of weeks, maybe,’ Danny replied.

‘Well, it’ll sure seem quiet without him.’

‘Yeah, it will,’ Danny sighed, in an empty tone that spoke to Nate of something other than just Jake being missed. He had noticed it a few times lately when they had been talking about their new friend, and he had a suspicion as to what it meant, but it was really none of his business, so had remained silent. If Danny wanted to tell him anything more, that was up to him.

As he answered Nate, Danny moved his hand up to the shark’s tooth that was now around his neck. It was an action that didn’t go unnoticed. Nate also took note of the wrapping paper sitting on the ground between them, and the book that was sitting face down upon it.

‘What’s that around your neck?’ Nate asked his friend. ‘Since when did you start wearing a necklace?’

At that same time Nate reached for the book. Danny went to stop him, but was too slow, and when he saw Nate open it to the first page he felt a cold shiver go right through his entire body, while his guts shriveled up into a tight ball.

Nate read the inscription, then flicked through the pages, before placing the book back where he had picked it up from.

At first he said nothing. Danny was waiting for it . . . the accusations . . . the hatred . . . everything that a guy like him could usually expect, but none of it came. Instead, Nate just bumped shoulders with him and said, ‘He’ll be back.’

‘I guess,’ Danny replied, not quite knowing what else to say.

‘He’d be mad not to,’ Nate added. ‘I mean, just look at the place?’ he said, as he waved a hand toward the town.

‘Yeah, I suppose, but . . .’

‘But, what?’

‘Well, do you think it’s a place worth coming back to? I mean, don’t you ever wonder what else is out there, just waiting for us?’ Danny asked. ‘There’s got to be so much more to the world than just what’s around this town, don’t you think?’

‘Well, yeah, I guess there is.’

‘So, don’t you wish you could get out of this backwater and see it for yourself?’

‘Maybe someday,’ Nate replied.

‘Well, that’s what I want to do . . .’

‘Who with?’ Nate asked sharply.

Danny looked at his friend. He so wanted to tell him everything, but he was still afraid. Afraid that his best friend wouldn’t understand. Afraid that his best friend would hate him for what he needed to tell him.

‘With Jake?’ Nate eventually asked.

Danny nodded slightly, but inside his stomach was turning somersaults and his heart was feeling as if someone had reached inside his chest and just squeezed.

Nate could see the pained expression on his friend’s face and it looked as if his suspicions were about to be confirmed. He guessed that something like this could happen one day, but even then it still came as something of a surprise. And as he sat and thought about it, though, everything really did start to make sense. The amount of time that Danny and Jake had been spending together . . . the fact that Jake had hung around for so much longer than he had originally intended . . . and how happy they both seemed when they were together.

It didn’t bother him like he had once thought something like this might. In fact he smiled to himself at the thought of the two of them together. They actually made a cute couple, he found himself thinking, although he also knew that their other friends may not quite see it the same way.

‘So, Jake’s your ticket out of here, then?’ Nate eventually asked.

‘I guess you could say that . . . he wants me to go with him.’

For a minute or so nothing more was said

‘And is that all he is to you?’ Nate enquired.

For a long time nothing more was said, as Nate sat studying his friend, searching his face for some sign.

‘No,’ Danny eventually replied, as he shook his head from side to side. He didn’t know how he could tell his best friend that he was in love with a guy, even if Nate had already worked that part out for himself, and accepted that guy as a friend and shown no hint of ever having a problem with someone being homosexual.

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought.’

More silence followed as the two friends studied each other. Nate was the first to break out into a grin. Danny soon followed.

‘So, you’re not mad at me?’ Danny eventually asked.

‘Fuck, why would I be mad at you? You’re my best friend . . . probably the best friend I’ll ever have . . . I love you, man.’

‘Even if I’m queer, just like Jake.’

‘Even then.’

‘And even if I go, and I leave you here all alone in this miserable place?’

‘It’s not really that miserable,’ Nate pouted. ‘And besides, I’ll still have Thomas and Pat!’

‘Oh, please!’ Danny chuckled.

‘I might be a bit jealous though,’ added Nate.

‘Jealous? What of?’

‘Yeah, man. Jealous . . . of you! You’ll be seeing parts of the country that I’ve only ever dreamed of seeing. You’ll be a Sandman, living the life, doing stuff you love doing . . . and you’ll definitely be getting more sex than me. You’ll have it made, and I’ll still be stuck right here!’

‘It won’t be forever though,’ Danny said. ‘And I’ll come back . . . and maybe you can come visit and stay with us or something . . .’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ Nate replied, but Danny couldn’t help but pick up on that hint of sadness in his friend’s voice.

After getting to his feet he held out a hand for Nate and he pulled him to his feet as well. The two of them just looked at each other for a long time, smiling, before Danny reached out and pulled his best friend into a hug.

‘No matter what happens . . . I’m never going to forget you, you know,’ Danny whispered to him.

‘As if you ever could,’ Nate laughed, before then surprising Danny and kissing him on the cheek.

To be continued . . .

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