1975 – Sandmen Ch06

sandmen-hdr
Sandmen  –  Chapter Six

Danny was dreading the thought of having to go home and face his mother, who he knew would be aware by now that he had stayed out all night, so he stayed away from his home for as long as he could. He also knew there would be hell to pay, but strangely, now that he had shared his biggest secret his and greatest fears with his best friend, while also having made the big decision to join Jake in that adventure they called life, he felt surprisingly calm.

As for how long that feeling might last, however, that might be a different story, as firstly there was bound to be a barrage of questions from his mother, and then there was the fact that his father would be returning home today. Whether he liked it or not, his afternoon was shaping up as a doozy, as his mother would sometimes say; not that he was particularly worried by it.

‘You want me to come with you?’ Nate had asked when they made it to the caravan park at the edge of town. It was just before lunch time. ‘You know . . . safety in numbers, and all that?’

‘Thanks, but nah, I’ll be okay . . .’

‘You hope!’ Nate added, while giving his friend a cheeky grin, trying to lighten the mood just a little. ‘So, what are you going to tell them?’

‘I . . . I don’t really know . . .’ Danny answered, truthfully. ‘I know that I can’t tell them what I told you . . . and I sure as hell can’t tell them that I’m going to clear out and run away with a poof from the big city who drives a fancy car . . .’

‘No, doofus! I meant about last night, and where you were?’

‘Something will come to me,’ Danny replied. ‘Just promise me that you won’t say anything to anyone about what I’ve said, okay?’

‘What do you take me for? Of course I’ll keep quiet . . . even if they try and torture me . . .’

At that, Danny giggled. ‘Just so long as they don’t tickle you, then, eh?’

‘Oh, fuck, they wouldn’t, would they?’ Nate chuckled.

‘I fuckin’ hope not!’

They bumped fists and said farewell a few minutes later, with Nate heading uptown, while Danny rode the last few blocks home, turning things over in his mind as he pedaled away, still not sure what he was going to say when faced with the inquisition that he knew he would be bound to face. All he was sure of was that he couldn’t turn back now. His future was beginning to take shape in his own mind, and it was going to be a whole lot better than the one he would be faced with if he stayed in Thompsonville.

When he reached his home he was relieved to see that there was no sign of his father’s Kenworth, but even more relieved to see that there was no sign of his mother’s car either. That gave him a little breathing space, but it also meant that it was only stalling what was inevitable.

Entering the garage with his bike he noticed that the remnants of his tinkering from last night were still lying around, so after propping his bike against the wall where it usually stood he set about packing away the few tools he had used and hanging the bike tyres and inner tubes back where they had been twenty-four hours earlier.

After that Danny decided that he was hungry and so he headed inside in search of something to eat, and to then await the impending storm, so he could get that out of the way and suffer whatever fate awaited him. Then maybe, he figured, he would be able to move on with his life.

It didn’t take him long to find the makings of a sandwich, along with a can of soft drink from the refrigerator, and once he had fixed himself some lunch he sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat.

As he chewed in silence he looked around the old house, taking in the outdated kitchen, the comfy living room, and the view down the hallway, and idly wondered if he would miss it. The house had been the only home he had ever lived in, and in some respects he was fond of it, but lately his vision of life here had begun to sour.

What would he think of it in another ten, or twenty years, he wondered? Would he look back at it with that same fondness, or would those memories be poisoned by recent events?

It was while he pondered this question that he heard the sound of a car coming down the driveway beside the house. His heart skipped a beat, as he paused in mid-bite.

Show time was about to arrive.

As he heard the car doors open and close he continued eating, while he tried to not get too worked up about what the next few minutes might bring.

Somewhat nervously he watched the back door, as he listened for the tell-tale sound of footsteps.

It was those of his brother and sister he heard first, as they ran up the path and jumped up onto the landing, before stomping across the boards and yanking open the door.

For a few seconds they were startled when they saw him sitting at the table, before glancing at each other with worried expressions.

‘Yup, they know I’m in deep shit,’ Danny thought to himself.

‘Errr . . . Hi,’ Pete said to him.

‘Hi, Pete. Have you been downtown?’

His brother nodded, but then they all heard the sound of their mother’s footsteps and the two kids took off down the hall toward their rooms, but not before Pete whispered, ‘Good luck!’

Turning his attention back toward the door, Danny tried to steel himself for what was about to come.

He heard his mother crossing the landing and then saw her as she appeared at the doorway and pulled open the screen door, while juggling two large brown paper bags of shopping from the local supermarket.

When she spotted him sitting at the table she too stopped and stared at Danny for a few moments, before continuing on across the floor and setting the bags down on the counter near the sink. Danny turned his head and watched as she leaned back against the counter and folded her arms in front of her, while looking down at him.

She didn’t look angry or upset, which unnerved Danny slightly. He had expected an explosion, but what he saw etched across her face instead was more like concern, or worry. Suddenly Danny was feeling a bit guilty about what he had been thinking earlier, and about not coming home last night.

‘Are you okay?’ his mother eventually asked.

‘Yes,’ Danny replied.

‘So, do you want to tell me where you were last night? I was up half the night worried sick about you.’

For a few moments Danny wasn’t sure what to say. This wasn’t what he expected at all.

‘I . . . I’m not a little kid any more, mum. I . . . I just needed some time to think,’ Danny replied. ‘I was up at the lighthouse . . . I ended up watching the sun come up.’

‘Are you in some sort of trouble?’

‘Nooooo . . . why would you ask that?’

‘Well, what is it, then? Has somebody done something to you?’

‘No, mum, it’s nothing like that. And it’s got nothing to do with dad . . . and I’m not into drugs, or anything like that . . . it’s just . . . I’m just . . . I dunno . . . I’m confused about something and I just needed some time to think, that’s all! End of story!’

‘And I take it that you don’t want to talk about it?’

‘No, mum. I just want to work it out for myself, okay?’

For what seemed like an eternity the woman looked down at her son, trying to hold back the emotions that were bubbling up inside her. She knew, of course, that he wasn’t a little boy any more – he had reminded her often enough about that of late – but it certainly didn’t make it any easier for her each time she was reminded of that. In the end she turned away from Danny and looked out the window above the kitchen sink, steadying herself by placing her hands on the counter, while trying to focus instead on some point in the back garden.

Danny stayed where he was, watching her back, unsure if he should stay or go, or perhaps even go to her.

‘Okay, then,’ his mother eventually replied, after she had managed to compose herself. ‘Maybe I’m just being a bit over protective?’ she added, as she turned around to face him once more.

‘Thanks, mum,’ Danny replied, as he pushed away from the table, the feet of the chair scraping across the linoleum floor and making a noise which made him wince. Crossing the floor to where his mother stood he stopped in front of her, looking down at her.

‘You’re growing up so fast,’ his mother said as she looked up at him and then leaned with her hands against his chest. ‘Way too fast.’

‘I can’t help that,’ Danny replied.

‘No, I guess not,’ his mother replied, before reaching out and hugging him. ‘I can’t stop you from doing whatever it is that you want to do in life . . . but I do hope you’ll be careful with whatever you do, and that you end up happy. And no matter what you do, or where might you go, or whomever you are with . . . I just want you to just remember that this house will always be your home.’

‘Thank you, mum,’ Danny replied, as he returned the hug, while at the same time wondering to himself if she might not already have some idea of what he was planning.

*     *     *

So now it was Saturday, and Christmas was just five days away. Danny didn’t know how many days he might have left in this town after Christmas, but he knew he would enjoy ticking those days off, even if he couldn’t share that with anyone other than Nate.

After spending the night cold and alone on Lighthouse Point he had no such plans for a repeat performance tonight, and with his father coming home chances were the family would all be heading out to either the local Chinese restaurant or the bowling club for a meal anyhow, which was about the only time they would usually go out, apart from birthdays or other special occasions.

After his chat with his mother, Danny helped pack away the groceries, before retreating to his room, where he tried to take a nap and catch up on some of what he had missed out on last night. That proved almost impossible, however, with both his brother and sister in the house, stomping up and down the hallway or arguing over which channel they wanted to watch on the television.

In the end he decided to call Nate, to let him know how things went with his mother and also to see what he might be up to. An idea was forming in Danny’s mind that maybe they should go fishing out on the lake, or upriver, just for a change, and when he eventually got through to Nate his friend jumped at the idea of going out on the water. It wasn’t long after that when the two of them pushed an aluminium tinnie into the water just around the corner from Nate’s place, before starting the small outboard motor and pointing her nose toward the wide stretch of water where the Thompson River flowed into the lake.

‘I know you mightn’t be here for much longer, but this can’t be the last time we do this,’ Nate yelled to his friend, trying to be heard above the straining motor, on which he had opened the throttle out wide.

‘No,’ Danny replied from his spot at the bow of the boat, where he could see the water rushing beneath them. ‘How about we go camping after Christmas? Maybe Pat and Thomas will be able to come too?’

‘That sounds good to me,’ as the pair of them grinned at each other.

With the water relatively calm the boys made good time. It was a gorgeous afternoon, with the sun reflecting off the wide blue river. They were heading to a sandy beach they knew which was near a bend in the river, quite a few kilometres upstream from where the river joined the lake. Here the water ran slow and deep, and the well shaded river bank was the perfect spot to get away from it all for a few hours, or even a few days if the need arose. It had been ages since the boys had come up here, and as Nate cut the motor and they let the boat beach itself on the sandy riverbank, both jumped out, one on either side, to help pull it far enough out of the water so that it wouldn’t float away, back out into the river.

By the time they tied a rope from the bow to a nearby log, a surge of excitement went through them.

‘Hey, is that the path that leads up to that old timber workers cottage?’ Nate asked, while pointing to a gap in the bushes and a narrow trail leading between some trees.

‘I don’t care if it is . . . I ain’t going up there,’ Danny replied. ‘You’re not getting me anywhere near a haunted house!’

‘What? That’s just an old wives tale . . . isn’t it?’

‘Maybe . . . maybe not . . . but I have no desire to find out. Let some other silly bugger be the guinea pig . . . and then you can send me a fucking postcard when you find out!’

‘Chicken!’

‘And staying that way!’ Danny laughed.

They both knew the story about the old cottage, which dated back to when the town was originally founded, more than one hundred years ago now. Two timber cutters, supposedly brothers, but no one ever knew that for sure, were apparently murdered by the local natives, and their ghosts were said to haunt the place to this very day.

There were also rumours they were queer, and other rumours that they had been murdered by the Thompson brothers who founded Thompsonville, so that they could get their hands on the timber mill, but that was all they were; rumours. Very few people ever went near the place, and it certainly wasn’t going to be receiving any new visitors today.

‘C’mon then, what do you want to do? Throw a line in, or go for a swim?’ Nate asked.

Without replying Danny pulled off his t-shirt and threw it into the boat, before kicking off his sneakers and then dropping his shorts, right in front of his friend.

‘Jesus, that Jake has turned you into a right proper queer, hasn’t he?’ Nate laughed.

‘Nothing queer about going skinny dipping with a mate, mate. We’ve done it often enough before.’

‘Yeah, but I didn’t know then that you might be perving on me, did I?’ Nate chuckled.

‘Get over yourself!’ Danny teased as he tossed his shorts directly at Nate, before wading out into the cool water. ‘Now just get your gear off and come on in. The water’s fine.’

So, without a second thought, Nate did just that.

*     *     *

As the days ticked down to Christmas the boys spent every day possible together, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before they would be parted; and who knew just when they might see each other again after that happened. On a couple of occasions they even let Pete come along with them, although Danny made sure that Nate was careful about not saying anything that might give the game away.

They saw little of Pat or Thomas, and Danny’s father was away on the road once more, so the days were pretty much theirs to do with as they pleased, apart from having to do their usual chores for their parents.

During this time Danny hadn’t heard a thing from Jake, although he thought of him every day. Despite the odd little twinge of doubt, he knew that Jake would come back for him.

Then before they all knew it, Christmas was upon them and Danny found himself being woken that morning by the sounds of his brother and sister running up the hall toward the living room, where a real pine tree, complete with all its baubles and tinsel, stood in one corner of the room, dropping real pine needles all over the gifts and the carpet beneath it, much to the disgust of Danny’s mother.

When the door of Danny’s bedroom burst open and Pete came running in, yelling, ‘Merry Christmas!’ while jumping onto his bed, Danny knew it would be futile to try and stay there. Instead, he grabbed hold of Pete and dragged him down beside him, while tickling the younger boy as he did so, which only resulted in excited shrieks and laughter. That was followed shortly afterward by the sound of a fist banging on the wall, coupled with a command to, ‘Keep that bloody racket down!’

The two of them giggled, before Danny hugged his brother to him and whispered, ‘Merry Christmas, kiddo,’ then quickly kissed Pete on the cheek.

‘Ewww . . .’ Pete initially responded, before rubbing his cheek vigourously, but after a moment or two he looked up into his brother’s face, then kissed him in return. The two boys smiled at each other in a way they hadn’t done in years. Suddenly Danny realised that he was going to miss the little twerp.

‘Hey, do you think you’ve got any presents waiting for you out there under the tree?’ Danny asked.

‘Reckon so,’ Pete replied.

‘And how about me?’

‘Nope! None for you! I’m getting them all!’

‘You wish!’ Danny protested, before then proceeding to tickle his brother once more, which was followed by more laughter, until Danny managed to place a hand over his brother’s mouth, before the inevitable shrieks began.

‘Hey!’ Pete tried to protest, but Danny held firm, while at the same time saying, ‘Sssshhhh . . . you’ll get the old man all stirred up again!’

At this Pete finally quieted down and as Danny felt him relax he took his hand away from his brother’s mouth.

‘When do you think we’re going to open the presents?’ Pete asked in a conspiratorial whisper.

Danny smiled. He could remember what it was like being eleven years old.

‘Well, I’m not too sure, mate. Dad was late getting home last night, so he might want to stay in bed for a while,’ Danny replied. He was just about to say he would go and ask his parents when their mother arrived at his bedroom door.

‘Just what’s going on in here, you pair?’ she asked, looking quite surprised that her two sons were in bed together. It was something she didn’t ever think she had seen before, and as far as she was concerned it was a sight which filled her heart with happiness.

‘Somebody wants his presents,’ Danny replied, while grinning up at his mother and jerking his head toward Pete.

‘Is that so? Well, your father was on the road until late last night, so how about we leave him in bed for a bit longer, while we get started on some breakfast, then we’ll open our presents afterwards.’

‘Can’t we open the presents first?’ Pete whined.

‘No, young man. I want you to go have a shower . . . and make it a quick one . . . then you can come and help me in the kitchen . . .’

‘Ohhh, mum . . .’ Pete groaned.

‘Come on. Move it! And I mean both of you!’ their mother ordered, even if the expression on her face told them they wouldn’t be in that much trouble if they ignored her, at least for a few minutes more.

After their mother had left them the two boys continued to lie in Danny’s bed, both on their sides and with Danny’s arm draped over his brother, snuggling him in against his chest. For Danny it was a closeness that he couldn’t recall their ever really having before . . . his kid brother had always been a pest, at least in his eyes . . . but now that things were changing he was feeling a little guilty that he hadn’t made more of an effort.

When the kid pushed back against him Danny became painfully aware of his morning wood and tried to move away from Pete.

‘I know what that is,’ Pete whispered, before giggling.

‘And how would you know that?’ Danny asked.

‘Because it happens to me, too. And my friend Max said it happens to him as well . . . we even . . .’

‘You even, what?’

‘We even touched each . . .’ Pete said quietly, before cutting himself short, as if he had just realised he had said too much already.

His voice sounded as if it was filled with confusion, or fear, so Danny hugged him closer before waiting for Pete to continue.

‘Do you think . . . I mean . . . is it bad to do that?’ Pete eventually asked.

For a moment Danny wondered how he was going to be able to answer that. The last thing he wanted was to start an in-depth discussion about the birds and the bees with an eleven year old while they were both lying in bed, wearing nothing but their boxer shorts, but at the same time Danny knew it would be the perfect opportunity to raise the scepter of what Pete should do if someone made unwanted advances, or more specifically, if their father made a move on the boy.

‘I think,’ Danny began. ‘I think it’s okay if friends want to do that sometimes . . . but they shouldn’t really go and tell other people about it . . . it’s something private . . . you know what I mean?’

‘I . . . I think so.’

‘And sometimes people might want to do it when you don’t want them to . . . or a grown-up or a stranger might want to do it with you. If that ever happens you’ve got to say no, okay! Especially if it’s a grown-up! They’re just not allowed to . . .’

‘Does that mean all grown-ups?’ Pete whispered.

‘Well, yeah, everyone . . . unless maybe they are a doctor or something. And if someone tries to do that and you don’t want them to, then you should tell them to stop, and you should tell someone about it, okay?’

‘Ummm . . . okay, I guess.’

‘Good. Now I want you to make sure that you remember that.’

‘I will,’ Pete promised.

For a few moments more they continued to lie there, seemingly content in each other’s company, but for both of them their minds were racing.

‘Ummm . . . Danny . . . have you . . .’ Pete whispered.

‘Yeah, mate?’ Danny replied, but before Pete could say anything more their mother called.

‘Boys! Showers! Now!’ her voice echoed down the hall.

‘Aarrgghh . . .’ Pete growled.

‘What were you going to ask me?’ Danny urged.

‘Oh . . . it doesn’t matter . . . I . . . I better go . . .’ Pete answered, before pulling away from his brother and getting up off the bed.

For a moment he looked down at Danny, letting his eyes run up and down his brother’s body, before settling on Danny’s boxer shorts.

‘Geez . . . what else have you got in there?’ Pete teased, before reaching out, as if to grab hold of Danny’s package, only to have his hand batted away.

‘What the hell!’ Danny complained.

‘Just checking if it was real!’ Pete replied, before bolting for the door.

‘Bloody little punk!’ Danny laughed as Pete disappeared.

*     *     *

Apart from the opening of presents, one of the usual rituals of Christmas mornings in the Anderson household was for all the relatives to be called on the phone, or for them to call, in order to pass on Christmas greetings and catch up on everything that had been going on in each other’s lives. This year wasn’t any different, with a procession of grand-parents, aunts, uncles and cousins all putting in an appearance while the phone was passed around all of the members of Danny’s family.

For Danny it felt quite strange, and was even tinged with some sadness, knowing that this could possibly be the last time he would speak to some of these family members, but he was extra careful not to let slip anything about what he was planning. For a few moments he even wondered whether or not he would be able to go through with his plan to run away with Jake, but when he thought about what staying here might mean, and about the adventures he would be missing out on, he knew that his future lay elsewhere and he simply had to go.

It was after breakfast and the present opening and all the telephone calls that Danny finally thought about his best friend, Nate, and how he might be spending Christmas. Just as he was about to go to the phone and pick it up to call him, however, it rang, and as Pete was closest he almost jumped on it, answered with an excited greeting of, ‘Merry Christmas!’ without even knowing who was calling.

All eyes turned toward him as the family waited to see who it was who was calling this time, but it was Danny who he turned to and held out the phone for.

‘It’s Nate,’ Pete declared.

‘Hey, mate,’ Danny said, after taking the phone from his brother. ‘Merry Christmas!’

‘Hey, lover-boy! Merry Christmas to you, too. You heard from your boyfriend yet?’

‘Nate says Merry Christmas, everyone,’ Danny said.

‘Merry Christmas, Nate,’ Danny’s mother called out across the kitchen, while his father could only manage a grunt.

‘Tell your mum I heard that,’ Nate laughed. ‘Now, have you heard from your boyfriend yet?’ Nate repeated.

‘No, nothing so far,’ Danny replied.

‘Well, I’m sure he’ll call. I mean, if he’s serious he bloody well should!’ Nate offered.

‘We’ll see. So, how did Santa treat you?’

‘Oh, the usual. How about you?’

‘The same,’ Danny answered, while turning away from everyone and lowering his voice so they all wouldn’t hear. ‘Socks and jocks, shirts and deodorant and stuff . . . you think they’re trying to tell me something? Oh, and I got my own shaving kit.’

‘Sweet. My main man is getting all grown up!’ Nate teased.

‘Asshole!’ Danny hissed.

For a few moments they both remained silent, before eventually Nate said, ‘I’m sure he’ll come back,’ answering the question that had quickly formed in Danny’s mind.

‘I bloody hope so,’ Danny said quietly.

‘Have a little faith, my man!’

‘Easier said than done, dude!’

‘Yeah, I suppose you have a point there.’

‘Anyhow, what are you doing this arvo? Want to come around?’

‘I thought you’d never ask,’ Nate replied. ‘After lunch sometime?’

‘Sounds cool. But leave it ‘til about three-ish will you? Let me sleep off my Christmas Dinner first.’

‘Geez. You are such a slob! You know that, don’t you? I wonder if Jake knows what he’s letting himself in for?’

‘Ummm . . .’

‘Yeah, I know . . . I’ve got to keep it quiet. You can trust me, Dan, I won’t let it slip. And there’s no one around to hear me at the moment, so it’s safe.’

‘Thanks mate. I appreciate that.’

‘Okay then, I’ll see you this afternoon.’

‘Okay,’ Danny replied, before the line went dead.

For a second or two Danny stood there staring at the receiver, before his mother asked, ‘Is everything all right, Dan?’

At the mention of his name Danny’s head snapped up.

‘Huh?’ he asked.

‘I asked if everything was all right?’

‘Errr . . . yeah. Nate’s going to come around later this arvo.’

‘That’s nice, dear,’ his mother replied, as she busied herself by cutting up potato for her special potato salad, which Danny suddenly realised was just another of many things that he was really going to miss.

Looking around the living room he noticed all his presents still sitting on the floor, so he walked over and scooped them up and headed for his bedroom, where he soon dropped them onto his unmade bed.

As he looked down at his presents he was suddenly aware of just how much there was for him to think about between now and whenever Jake came back for him. What would he take with him? How would he get it to wherever he was going to be picked up from? How would he get out of the house without being caught? And the biggest question of all; would he even be able to walk away from this house, and everyone and everything he had ever known and loved?

It was a big move. It was the biggest move he had ever made, or would ever be likely to make. That question that was still burning in his mind right now, at a time when he was feeling loved by those he would be leaving behind, was whether or not he would be able to actually do it?

While he thought about that he heard the telephone ring once more, then moments later he heard the sound of Pete running down the hall.

‘It’s for you,’ his brother said. ‘Said it was one of your friends.’

Curious as to who it could be, Danny followed Pete out into the hall and back to the living room, where the phone was located.

‘Hello,’ Danny said, a little unsure as to whom it might be, seeing as he had already spoken with all his relatives who usually called on this day, as well as with Nate.

‘Hey, babe! Merry Christmas,’ Jake cheerfully greeted him. ‘Have you missed me?’

‘Hey! Merry Christmas to you too! And yeah, you’ve sure got that right!’ Danny replied, with a laugh in his voice that hadn’t been there just a short time ago. Suddenly he was feeling brighter than he had in days, but at the same time he was trying to keep a lid on his excitement, just in case he might give something away.

When he glanced at his mother in the kitchen he caught her watching him for a second or two, before she then turned to Peter and asked him who was on the phone. Pete had simply shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘One of Danny’s friends, he said,’ before swiping a slice of cold meat from the plate which his father was trying to fill as he cut the leg of ham for their traditional Christmas lunch of cold meats and salads.

‘Was that your kid brother? And I’m guessing that your folks are there too?’ Jake asked.

‘Yeah, right on both counts.’

‘Well, I won’t keep you long . . . I know what it’s like trying to talk to friends about stuff when mum and dad are trying to listen in. I just . . . I just needed to hear your voice again . . . I’ve missed you.’

‘Yeah, likewise,’ Danny replied, as he cast a furtive glance at what his family were all doing. Thankfully, no one seemed to be paying any attention to him, as both his parents had their hands full with Danny’s siblings.

‘I’ll be back there as soon as I can, okay? You still want to come with me?’

‘You better believe it!’

‘Well, it won’t be long now, I promise you. I heard about this place up the coast that might be just what we’re looking for, so I’m heading that way in the next day or so to try and find it.’

‘That sounds cool.’

‘Just keep an eye out for me, okay? I’ll find you when I get back there, then we can take it from there.’

‘Okay.’

‘And Danny . . .’

‘Yeah?’

‘I love you . . . and I can’t wait to see you again!’

For a second Danny closed his eyes and cupped his hand around the mouthpiece, as he let those words echo around inside his head.

The only person who had ever said that to him was his mother, but that was different. It didn’t mean the same thing.

‘I . . . love you too,’ he whispered in reply, but only after first making sure that no one could overhear him. ‘I’ll see you soon.’

*     *     *

It was exactly a week after Christmas Day when Jake drove back into Thompsonville; New Year’s Day in fact. It was now 1976.

Pat and Thomas had both gone away on holidays with their families, so Danny and Nate spent most of the week hanging out together, camping out overnight at that spot up river, then spending time at the beach, or on the lake, or hanging out at one house or the other.

New Year’s Eve found Danny and his family at a party thrown by Nate’s parents, which lasted until well past the stroke of midnight. Danny and Nate had decided to camp out at the bottom of Nate’s back yard, sleeping under the stars in swags until well after sun-up, then later on New Year’s Day they were seen sitting by the creek which ran out of the lake, watching all the holiday makers on the lake, while they shared some hot chips and a large bottle of Coca-Cola.

When they heard the familiar, deep rumble of a V-8 motor coming into town, they looked at each other sharply.

‘Hey, that sounds kind of familiar,’ Nate said, before jumping to his feet.

Suddenly Danny’s heart started beating faster. Had Jake finally returned for him?

‘Well, don’t just sit there,’ Nate urged. ‘We better go find out if it’s him or not!’

After looking up at his best friend for a few moments he held up his hand and Nate reached out for it, before pulling Danny to his feet. After scattering their remaining chips across the grass, upon which a flock of squabbling seagulls quickly descended, they set off for the main street, and the car park located at the end of it.

‘What do you reckon?’ Nate asked as they strode along the sidewalk. ‘You think you’re ready to go?’

‘I . . . I don’t know,’ Danny answered.

‘Why the hell not? It’s the chance of a lifetime, dude!’

‘I don’t know . . .’

Nate looked across and studied him as they walked. For a moment he couldn’t put a name to the expression on his friend’s face, but then it dawned on him. He reached out and grabbed Danny’s arm, bringing them both to a stop on the street, outside the bakery.

‘Mate, you’re not having second thoughts, are you?’ Nate asked.

‘What?’ Danny replied.

‘Well, I mean, it’d be okay if you were . . .’

‘Well, I’m not!’ Danny shot back, before continuing to walk along the street, forcing Nate to fall in alongside him. ‘I’m just . . . I dunno, I guess I’m just a bit nervous, that’s all . . .’

‘You know, it’s okay to be nervous . . . I know I would be too.’

‘Do you . . . ummm . . . do you think I’m doing the right thing?’

‘Mate, all that matters is what you think.’

‘That’s not really much help, you know.’

Nate didn’t know how to respond to that, so he said nothing as the two of them continued on their way toward the car park at the end of the row of shops, while trying to dodge people on the street.

‘What I meant,’ Nate eventually said, ‘was all that matters is that you are happy with what you are doing. What would happen if you didn’t go? You’ll be kicking yourself forever, and saying “what if” for the rest of your fucking life. And if you do go, well, at least you’ll know what the rest of the world is like, whether that’s good or bad or otherwise.’

Danny looked across at his friend, noting the worried expression on his face.

‘And if it doesn’t work out?’ Danny asked, after coming to a stop once more. ‘What if he actually turns out to be a nut job? What if we start to hate each other? What if we don’t have any money . . . or we get busted by the cops . . . or . . . or . . .’

‘Well, if anything like that happens, I suppose then you’ll come home . . . because no matter where you end up, this will always be home, won’t it?’

‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ Danny answered.

‘So . . . what have you got to lose then? Give it a try, and if it turns out he’s a psycho after all, jump on a bus and come home, or just call someone and we’ll come get you!’

For what seemed like an eternity Danny simply stared at Nate, before eventually a smile broke across his face. Turning away from Nate he setting off once more, only this time he was really striding out, determined to reach that car park.

‘Well? Aren’t you going to say anything?’ Nate asked as he hurried to catch up with his friend once more.

‘You’re totally right,’ Danny said. ‘I won’t know if I don’t go!’

‘No, you won’t.’

‘And I’d be a fool not to at least give it a go . . .’

‘Yes you would.’

‘And it’s not like I won’t see any of you guys, or my family, ever again . . .’

‘It better fuckin’ not be!’

‘And I’ll write and call you when I can . . .’

‘I’m gonna want to know everything!’

Danny cast him a sideways glance and grinned.

‘Okay then, maybe not quite everything,’ Nate chuckled.

‘I’m gonna miss you, you know.’

‘Of course you will . . . who wouldn’t?’

Danny could only laugh.

They were nearing the car park now and they both knew that if it was indeed Jake and his Sandman panel van that they had heard, then their lives were about to change. As they approached the corner Danny slowed, then stopped just before turning the corner.

‘You okay?’ Nate asked.

‘Take a look for me,’ Danny asked. ‘Tell me if it was him.’

‘Oh, man. You’ve really got it bad, haven’t you?’

This time a silly grin was all the Danny could manage.

With a shake of the head Nate walked to the corner and looked out across the car park. There were quite a few cars around, as even though it was a public holiday there were folks down by the lake, and some of the shops were still open, trying to pick up a few tourist dollars.

Nate spotted it in an instant, the panel van with the burnt orange paint job, with flames up the sides. And there was Jake, casually leaning against the driver’s door, his arms folded in front of him as he looked around. It took a few seconds before he looked in Nate’s direction, and at first his eyes seemed to pass over Nate as Jake looked round, but then they snapped back and focused on him.

‘Well?’ asked Danny, from where he stood, out of the view of anyone in the car park. ‘What can you see?’

‘It’s him,’ Nate said. ‘And he’s just spotted me.’

‘What’s he doing?’

‘He’s holding out his hands, and making like he’s shrugging his shoulders . . . like he’s asking me where you are.’

‘Now what?’

‘Now it’s your turn,’ Nate said, as he grabbed his best friend by the arm and started dragging him into view. Danny came willingly and was soon pushed out into plain view, with Nate standing just behind him.

Immediately Jake stood to attention as they watched each other from across the car park, but then Nate pushed Danny forward another step, and then another, until soon they were both walking toward a grinning Jake.

‘Hey, boys! I’m back!’ a cheerful Jake said as he high-fived them both. Jake wished he could hug Danny, or both of them for that matter, but they were standing out in the open and that just wasn’t the done thing, especially not in a town like this one.

‘And about bloody time, too,’ Nate replied. ‘Your boy here has been climbing the walls waiting for you to arrive and ride off into the sunset with him!’

Suddenly Jake looked surprised and glanced nervously at Danny.

‘Yeah, what can I say, he figured us out,’ Danny said. ‘But he’s cool with it . . . aren’t you, Nate.’

‘Well, about as cool as I can be . . . considering I’m about to lose my best friend.’

‘And you’re not pissed with me, or with Danny, over that?’ Jake enquired.

‘Man, why should I? You two obviously want to be together, so why shouldn’t I be happy for you? Some of the others might think a bit differently, but as far as I’m concerned if two people want to go for it, then what right does anyone else have to stop them?’

Turning to Danny, Jake grinned and said, ‘See, didn’t I tell you he might surprise you?’

‘Yeah, you did,’ Danny chuckled.

‘Wait, you guys talked about how I might react?’ Nate spat.

‘Of course,’ said Jake. ‘Your best friend here was worried about how you might take the news . . . he didn’t want to lose you as a friend, you know. I told him that I had a feeling you would be okay about it. Seems like my instincts were spot on.’

‘Well, near enough,’ Nate grinned. ‘So, where to from here? What’s going to happen?’

‘I think, Nate, that Danny and I first need to catch up . . . and have a chat. Among other things, there’s a lot we need to discuss before either of us do anything . . . ’

‘Oh, you mean, like, just the two of you?’ Nate replied.

‘Ummm . . . yeah. I hope you don’t mind?’

‘And you want to do more than just chat, don’t you?’ Nate grinned.

Danny could only blush.

‘Jesus, I can’t believe I’m standing here with my best friend and his . . . his . . . boyfriend . . . and they’re talking about going off and doing it! What fucking planet am I on? This is just so surreal!’ Nate laughed.

‘I thought you didn’t have a problem with this?’ Danny pouted.

‘What? No, I don’t . . . geez, how many times do I have to say it? I’m cool with whatever you want to do with your life, mate . . . just, well, just so long as you don’t go and run off without saying goodbye . . .’

‘We’d never do that,’ Danny promised.

‘I know that, man . . . it’s just . . .’ Nate began, before cutting himself short and gazing out over the lake. Suddenly he was feeling quite emotional about the thought of Danny soon leaving him and he hoped that it wouldn’t show.

‘It’s okay, Nate. We understand,’ Jake offered, while placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘Anyhow, it’ll be a couple of days before we do anything, so you’ll get to say goodbye properly.’

‘You promise?’ Nate asked.

‘Yeah, we promise,’ Danny replied. ‘And we promise that one day we’ll come back too, won’t we, Jake?’

‘Of course we will.’

Nate looked at the two of them and blinked back the dampness he could feel building up in his eyes. They were standing side by side, both with concerned expressions of their faces.

He knew he was going to miss Danny when he left, but he also realised now that he was going to miss Jake almost as much. He may have only known him for just a few weeks, but in that short time Jake had taught him so much about life, and about a lifestyle he had always been taught to look down upon. There was nothing wrong with being queer, just as there was nothing wrong with being a long-haired surfer. Everyone is different, Nate now knew, and what of it? No one has a right to look down upon anyone else. No one has a right to judge anyone else. All that matters is that we all should treat everyone equally and with respect, and that we be good to one another. All the other shit that people carry on with, is just that . . . shit . . . and not even worth thinking about any more.

‘I’m really going to miss you guys,’ Nate eventually said to them, as he rubbed the heel of his palm into an eye and wiped away something that vaguely resembled a tear.

Without even thinking about it, Danny reached out and hugged his friend, before Jake then wrapped his arms around the pair of them.

None of them were worried about being seen this time. They knew that their friendship was more important than what anyone might think about them, and when they finally separated they were all grinning.

‘I love both of you guys, you know that?’ Nate said quietly. ‘But you better treat Dan right, Jake, or you’ll have me to answer to.’

‘I will, Nate. You can count on it,’ Jake replied.

‘And as for you, asshole, you better not forget about me!’

‘Never!’

‘And you better let me know where you end up, so I can visit or something.’

‘We can do that,’ Jake replied.

‘Good. Now you two go and catch up, or whatever it is that you crazy kids call it these days, and I’ll see you later,’ Nate said, before breaking away from them and heading toward the road.

The sun was only just above the mountains by now and the day had taken on that late afternoon glow. They watched as Nate walked away from them, glancing back over his shoulder just once and giving them a grin and a wave.

‘It’s not hard to see why you love him,’ Jake said. ‘He’s certainly a character.’

‘He’s more than that,’ Danny replied.

‘So, do you want to go for a drive? Somewhere where we can talk, and whatever . . .’

Danny glanced at Jake, who was smiling.

‘I want to tell you all about our Utopia,’ Jake continued.

*     *     *

They drove south, after going through town and then skirting the small harbor that was home to the local fishing fleet, before heading along the old coastal road that was the original route into Macquarie Harbour. Jake pushed a cassette tape into the player and the van was soon filled with the sounds of the Beach Boys.

For Danny it felt great to not only finally be alone with Jake, but to also be hitting the road in the panel van with him, even if this was only just a short trip. With the music blaring, the windows down and the wind in his hair, this was a newfound freedom, the likes of which he had been yearning for, for ages.

As they drove, Danny tried getting some detail from Jake, but on each occasion he was to be disappointed.

‘Come on, man. Give me something!’ he complained, but Jake would only grin at him.

Then, not too far out of Thompsonville Jake slowed the car and turned off the road, following a track which eventually led to a bluff which looked out over the ocean. There was a car park there, which was empty, and as they came to a stop near the timber fence which surrounded the car park Jake cut the engine.

‘Well?’ Danny urged, as he turned toward Jake.

‘I found it,’ Jake answered. ‘And it’s beautiful.’

‘Where?’

‘Have you heard about the little place up the coast, between here and Brisbane, where the hippies are moving in?’ Jake asked.

‘No.’

‘Well, there’s this little run-down town that was almost a ghost town. It’s called Nimbin. People who are sick of living in the city have been buying up the place . . . all the old houses are being fixed up and painted in bright colours. The place has been reborn, it’s really amazing. The people there come from all walks of life . . . there are writers and artists, and even professional people like doctors, all of whom just want to live an alternative lifestyle, close to the land and free of all the crap people have to put up with in bigger towns . . .’

‘That sounds pretty cool,’ Danny remarked.

‘Yeah, it actually is. There’s this real buzz about the place . . . it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. But that’s not the best part. Some of them are buying up property outside of the town as well, like run-down dairy farms and such . . . they are as cheap as anything, and the countryside is beautiful, with rainforests and rivers and mountains . . .’

‘But what about . . . us? How can we get to be able to stay there?’

‘Well, on one of the farms there’s a group of artists who are starting a commune . . . I stayed there with them for a few days. I’ve told them all about us, and if we want to we can join them. It’s way up in the hills and has its own creek which flows down into the river . . . and it’s not too big a drive to the beaches either, so we can still go surfing and stuff whenever we want. And there are others there just like you and me, you know, living with each other, so no one will be judging us at all.’

‘So, just like that . . . we can move in?’

‘Well, we’ll be buying in . . . they want to get some people to share the cost of buying the farm, so I spoke to my parents and they’ve agreed to give me the money . . . it’s not very much, so they can afford it, it’ll just mean that they’ll be giving me some now instead of me getting handouts from them all the time . . .’

‘Do your parents know about me yet?’

‘Yes, mate. They do. And they want to meet you . . . they really do . . .’

As Danny thought about it the thought of living amongst others who were just like them was incredibly appealing, but even then there were still some doubts in his mind.

‘And what will we do there? What will we live on?’ he asked.

‘That’s just it . . . we don’t need much to live on at all. We can paint and sell our pictures at the markets they have in the surrounding towns, so that’ll give us some money . . . and we’ll be growing our own food, even a little dope as well . . . and I’ll still be able to get some money off the folks if I ever need it . . .’

‘No. We can’t do that. Not even if we’re desperate,’ Danny said firmly.

Jake looked at him curiously.

‘If it’s just you and me, then we have to do it ourselves,’ Danny added. ‘I want to be an artist, and a good one, just like you are. We don’t need to be rich, all we’ve really got to be able to do is get by . . . don’t we?’

‘Yes, that’s all. We won’t need a lot of money.’

As his head buzzed with all sorts of thoughts Danny turned and looked out toward the ocean. He could see all sorts of possibilities, but he could also see all sorts of problems. This was a big move. Was he really ready to give up everything and follow his heart, and his dreams?

‘So, babe. What do you say?’ Jake asked. ‘Are you ready to come and be a penniless, dope smoking, hippie artist with me?’

To be continued . . .

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