1975 – Sandmen Ch08

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Sandmen  –  Chapter Eight

When Danny left the house there had still been no sign of his father’s having surfaced, which wasn’t that unusual following his being late getting in. It was, however, something for which Danny was extremely grateful, as the less that he saw of the man these days the happier he was.

Each time he thought of what might have been on that night in the shed, a cold shiver ran through him. Just what the fuck was happening with people these days? If it wasn’t Jake’s parents all but kicking him out, it was his own father hitting on him for sex!

And then there was his mother! The one person who he thought was finally beginning to understand him, yet continued to confound him by making statements which turned his world upside down, over and over again.

As he rode the short distance toward the caravan park he replayed again and again in his mind the conversation he’d had with her earlier that morning.

At first he thought he had been mistaken, but the more he thought about it now, the more convinced he became about what she had said. Did she actually say that? Did she actually say she hoped to meet him before Danny got swept off his feet and the two of them run away together?

Really? That was beyond scary.

He remembered standing there, just staring at her. He remembered the bit about her telling him, for the second time that day, that he should close his mouth before he swallowed a fly. He also remembered his hands shaking, as he tried not to spill any of the coffee in the near full mug he was holding, although as the conversation had continued he had managed to calm himself down enough so that his shock didn’t show; or so he thought, but when his mother had quickly gotten to her feet and gone to him, taking the mug from his hands and placing it on the kitchen bench, he knew that his shock and discomfort must have been obvious.

‘It’s okay,’ she whispered, as she had wrapped him up in her arms and pulled him to her.

Danny’s reaction wasn’t quite what she had expected, but it had given her so many answers. For a long time she had held him, with neither of them saying a word.

‘I love you, no matter what,’ she eventually whispered, before kissing him on the side of his head, then stepping back from him and holding him at arm’s length.

With eyes that were brimming with tears, Danny looked up at his mother.

‘How . . . how did you . . .’ he managed to say, before words failed him.

‘That doesn’t matter,’ she had answered. ‘We can talk about that later. All that matters, for now, is that you are happy. The rest is just detail. And don’t worry about your father. When the time comes, I’ll handle him.’

And that was where it had ended.

Danny still wasn’t sure exactly what his mother knew, or how she had come to figure it out, but he did know that he needed to talk to Jake – and soon – and so that was where he was now headed.

When he rode through the gates of the caravan park he was relieved to see Jake’s vehicle parked alongside the cabin. He skidded to a stop on the loose gravel along the edge of the road and dropped his bike on the grass, before knocking on the door. After a few moments Jake opened the door, once more wearing only a towel.

‘Hey, babe. You’re early!’

‘We’ve got to talk,’ Danny said, as he quickly stepped past his boyfriend.

‘This sounds serious,’ Jake replied.

‘Mum knows!’ Danny blurted out as he paced back and forth. ‘I don’t know how much she knows, or how she found out . . . but she knows I have a boyfriend! And I think she knows we want to run away!’

‘First off, honey, you need to calm down!’ Jake said to him. ‘It’s not going to do anyone any good getting yourself all worked up.’

‘I can’t . . . I can’t fucking help it . . .’

Seeing that Danny was clearly too agitated to see reason, Jake stepped in front of him and grabbed him by both arms. ‘Danny, listen to me,’ Jake said, quite forcefully.

Finally Danny stopped and looked at him.

‘Thank you. Now tell me, why do you think that she knows?’

‘Because she made some comment about my hickeys, then she said to me . . . “I hope we meet him before you get swept off your feet and the two of you run away together, or something” . . . that’s why! And that is word for fucking word!’

‘Oh, Jesus!’ Jake replied, as the blood seemed to drain from his face.

Now it was Danny’s turn to grab hold of Jake. Together they managed to make it to the couch that was just inside the front door and then sit down.

‘What are we going to do?’ Danny asked. ‘I think we should go right now . . . right this fucking instant . . . just pack up and start driving . . .’

‘But if your mum knows who I am . . .’

‘Oh, shit . . . they could put out an A.P.B. on you or something . . .’

‘They won’t do that, Danny . . .’ a voice suddenly said from the open doorway, startling both boys. Turning toward where the voice came from they found Danny’s mother standing there. Jake dropped his head into his hands and sobbed. He felt certain he would be going to jail now.

‘Did you . . . did you follow me here?’ Danny exclaimed as he jumped to his feet and faced his mother, while trying to shield Jake. He was trembling with both anger and fear. How the fuck could his own mother do that to him?

‘You can both relax, boys. Neither of you have anything to worry about from me,’ she said. ‘Now are you going to invite me in? I think we all need to have a little chat.’

*     *     *

Neither of the boys knew quite what to expect as Danny’s mother turned a chair from the kitchen table around and set it in front of them, then proceeded to sit down and face them. All Danny could do was close his eyes, while praying that this was just a dream, but when he opened them again and he saw his mother smiling at him, he knew it was real. It was very real.

‘First off,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry I had to follow you, Dan, but I didn’t have a choice. I had to know that you were going to be okay.’

‘W-what do you mean?’ Danny replied. ‘Why wouldn’t I be okay?’

‘How about, for starters, we actually start at the beginning? I think you need to introduce me to your friend, don’t you?’

‘You know who he is, mum . . .’

‘Yes, but I haven’t actually met him, now have I?’ she replied, before leaning forward with an outstretched hand and offering it to Jake. ‘I’m Danny’s mother, Jude. And you must be Jake, if I’m not mistaken?’

‘Hi . . . errr . . . yes, it’s nice to meet you,’ Jake replied, while nervously shaking her hand.

For a first meeting it was all quite formal, Jake thought. So what was to follow, he wondered?

‘I’m sorry that we are meeting like this, Jake. I’m sure that you boys had other plans . . .’

The boys nervously glanced at each other, before Jake reached across and took Danny’s hand. If their plans had been figured out, there was no use hiding anything now.

It wasn’t an easy thing for a mother to witness, but as she looked down at their intertwined hands, and the expression in their faces, Jude could finally sense something of what these two boys felt for each other. She remembered what it was like to be young, and in love, and this was no different to what she had felt when she had been the same age as Danny was now. The only difference was, unlike what was between Danny and Jake, that her relationship with Danny’s father wasn’t one that would have ever been considered abhorrent, or dirty. Their relationship had been accepted by society. Her son’s relationship, however, would more than likely always be considered, at best, to be second class, or at worst, an abomination, and for that she was truly saddened.

Pushing her own disappointment aside, she knew that she needed to let her son know that she still loved him, no matter what. She also needed to let him know of her own plans, which until today had only just been a seed in her own mind, but would now need to be accelerated.

‘Jake, I hope you don’t mind my being blunt, but can I ask you something?’

‘Of course, Mrs Anderson.’

‘Do you love my son?’

Jake looked at Danny and smiled. ‘Like no one else in this earth,’ he replied, before turning back and facing her, while doing his best not to wither under her direct gaze.

‘And do the two of you intend running away together?’

They could see her frowning, but when she glanced at her son and smiled, they both knew that things were going to be all right.

‘Yes,’ Danny replied. ‘Jake found somewhere where we could go. Somewhere where we can just be ourselves, around other people like us, and where we could work on our painting and live as we please.’

For most mothers, hearing something like that coming from the mouth of their sixteen year old son, well, they would go ballistic, and probably start calling them all sorts of names, but not this one. Jude Anderson had lived through the sixties and come out of those years as an open minded woman who loved seeing nothing more than people living life as they pleased, and not downtrodden by the restrictions of modern society.

After studying them for what seemed like quite a while she smiled and said, ‘All right then, now that I have seen the two of you together, I can see what you boys mean to each other. I’m not going to stand in your way, in fact, you have my blessing. All I want is for my baby boy to be happy.’

‘Mum,’ Danny complained.

‘When I said earlier that I had to know that you were going to be okay, it was because . . . well . . . let’s just say that it was because you and Jake haven’t been the only ones making plans for your future.’

‘What?’ Danny exclaimed. ‘What do you mean by that?’

‘The conversation we had this morning . . . and knowing what I know now . . . it has all only served to help me make up my mind about something that I’ve been contemplating for some time now. And now that I know you have someone who loves you, it helps make things easier for me. It’s not easy to say this, but I’m going to leave your father, Danny. I’m going to take Peter and Jodi and go to my sister’s place in Brisbane, at least for the time being . . .’

‘What has he done?’ Danny demanded. ‘Has he hurt you?’

‘No, honey, he hasn’t . . . but he did try to hurt you, didn’t he?’

Danny felt Jake squeeze his hand, letting him know that he was there for him. He looked at Jake and saw nothing but love. He looked at his mother and saw the same.

‘Yes,’ he finally admitted.

‘I thought so,’ his mother replied. ‘Your father has certain . . . what’s the word . . .’

‘I think the word is perversions,’ Jake offered.

‘Yes, Jake . . . I think you’re right. Over the years I have been able to tolerate some things, because sometimes a partner needs to submit to their other half’s will, and let’s face it, a bit of variety can be fun, as I’m sure the two of you will discover soon enough. But even I can only take so much, and lately things seem to have changed. Your father’s interest in things relating to other men, which I’ve always been aware of, seems to have become more important to him . . . which is why I suspected that that was what may have happened between the two of you.’

Never in his wildest dreams had Danny ever thought he would be having a conversation like this with his mother, especially not while his hand was being held by the most beautiful young man he had ever met. It all seemed so surreal, yet it was also the most natural thing he could imagine.

‘He tried to touch me, but I pushed him away. Nothing actually happened . . .’ Danny said to her.

‘Well, that’s a relief,’ his mother responded. ‘But still, I can’t take the chance that it won’t happen to Peter, or even Jodi, for that matter, so that’s why I need to get away from him . . . and away from here . . .’

‘How soon were you going to go?’ Danny asked.

‘I’m not sure. It will take me a little while to organize things . . .’

‘You’ll need help, then?’

‘No, it’s okay . . . but thank you. What about you two? When were you . . .’

‘Tomorrow,’ Jake answered. ‘But we can put it off if you . . .’

‘No. You need to stick to your plans. You’ve got your own lives to get started on.’

‘Well, we’ll only be a few hours away from here . . . not too far inland from Ballina, so we can come back and help you if you need us to. I might even be able to help find a place for you to store your belongings if that’s what you need. Just promise you’ll let us know when you are ready to go. I’ll leave you the details for how you can get in contact with us,’ Jake insisted.

‘Thank you, Jake. I can see now why Danny loves you so much.’

They both looked at Danny and could see him blushing. Jake hugged him, while his mother grinned at him. For Danny this certainly was becoming more and more surreal with each passing moment.

‘So, you never did tell me how you figured out what was happening,’ Danny asked his mother.

‘Well, it was a combination of a couple of things actually. First the appearance of that first bruise on your neck told me that you were up to something, with somebody, then I was told by one of the local busy-bodies that you had been seen getting into Jake’s car . . . so I guess that’s when the penny dropped,’ she replied.

‘Bloody old gossips!’ Danny spat.

‘That’s just the way things are in small towns, honey.’

‘So, what do we all do now?’ Jake asked.

‘My suggestion is that you and Danny get going as soon as you can . . . today if possible,’ Jude replied. ‘My husband and I will be taking the kids for a barbeque at lunch time, and Dan has already said to me that he had other plans for this afternoon, which gives him an excuse to not come with us . . . I’ll fix it with his father so that Dan can stay at home when we all leave the house. That’s when you’ll need to pack up whatever you need to take with you, Danny, and just . . . just go.’

‘But Mum, I can’t leave you just like . . .’

‘You have to, Dan. Your father will be back on the road again tomorrow night, so he won’t suspect anything if you stick to what you told me this morning, about camping out with Nate . . .’

‘I’ll have to go and see Nate,’ Danny added.

‘Does he know what’s going on?’

‘Yeah, and he’s been great about it.’

‘That’s good. Go and see him now, and then come home, okay?’ she said, as she stood up to go.

Danny nodded and the boys got to their feet as well.

For a moment Jude looked Jake up and down and smiled. All he still had on was the towel that was wrapped around him, which he was holding together rather tightly at his side.

‘He sure is a cutie, Dan,’ she said. Now it was Jake’s turn to blush. ‘Now, Jake, I still don’t know very much about you, but I want you to promise me you’ll look after my baby here.’

‘I promise I will. He means the world to me, Mrs Anderson,’ Jake replied.

‘You better, or you’ll have me to answer to!’ Jude sternly replied.

‘I will.’

‘I’m going to go now. I would suggest that you don’t collect Dan from the house, Jake, as someone will be sure to notice. You boys need to arrange a time and place to meet this afternoon, and Dan, see if Nate will help you take whatever it is you need with you. Anything else you want can wait until you come back in a few weeks’ time. I’ll make sure that it’s while your father is away on one of his trips again.’

‘I will, mum.’

After kissing each of them on the cheek, Jude promptly left them. They listened as she opened and closed the car door, and then started it up. It wasn’t until after she had driven away that anything else was said.

Jake kicked the cabin door closed with his foot, before turning to Danny.

‘Can you believe that just happened?’ he asked.

‘It did happen, didn’t it? It wasn’t just another dream?’

‘No, it happened all right. So I guess this is it, then? We’re actually going to do this!’ Jake said and he put his arms around the younger boy and hugged him close, allowing their foreheads to touch as they gazed into each other’s eyes.

‘I guess so.’

‘Are you nervous?’

‘Can’t you feel me shaking?’ Danny managed to chuckle.

‘Did you have any idea about what your mum was planning?’

‘None whatsoever. It came as a total shock to me.’

‘But you’re not really that surprised?’

‘No, not now that I’ve been able to think about it. Every time my father comes home from one of his trips, the first thing that happens is they go into the bedroom and . . . well, you know . . .’

‘Parents do have sex too, don’t you know!’

‘Yeah, but I could always hear them and it was . . . I dunno, pretty weird. And dads aren’t supposed to try it on with their kids though, are they? My old man has gone a bit weird, I reckon.’

‘Yeah, maybe . . . but I guess it can happen.’

‘I just can’t wait until you take me away from here, Jake.’

‘So, how do you want to do this?’

‘How about we all meet at Hidden Beach later this afternoon?’

‘It’s a date. But before you go, there’s something we need to do,’ Jake said, as he let his towel drop to the floor and reached for the bottom of Danny’s t-shirt.

*     *     *

After leaving Jake, Danny rode hard for Nate’s place. There was still a great deal he needed to organise, but he needed to make sure that he had Nate on the same page as him before going much further.

He found Nate in the back shed, helping out Lachie, but as soon as Nate saw his friend he could tell that something was up.

‘Sorry, I’ve gotta go, Lachie,’ he said to his brother, before joining Dan at the door of the shed. ‘What’s up?’ he said to Danny, who appeared to be chewing on his bottom lip.

‘Mum knows,’ Dan replied. ‘And now she’s leaving dad.’

‘Get the fuck out of here!’

‘I’m serious, Nate. My whole world is blowing up around me, and I need your help, like, today!’

‘Whatever you need, mate. Anything!’

As they walked back toward Nate’s house, Dan started to fill him in. ‘I told mum that you and I were going to camp out tonight . . . but that was before she figured out what was happening.’

‘And how did she do that?’

‘She followed me to the caravan park this morning.’

‘She what? No fuckin’ way?’ Nate exclaimed, grabbing Danny’s arm as he did so, so they faced each other.

‘Mate, that’s just the start of it!’

By the time they had reached the house, Danny had managed to fill Nate in on most of what had happened so far today, and what still needed to happen.

‘Don’t worry, mate. I’m here for you,’ Nate said to him, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder as he did so.

‘Thanks, Nate. I appreciate that.’

‘So, what have you got to do now?’

‘Go home and then wait until the folks and the brats go out at lunch time, I guess. Can you come around after that? How about I call you as soon as they’ve gone?’

‘That’ll work.’

‘I just need to throw a few things together that I want to take with me, then we need to get it out to the bay.’

‘Want me to get Lachie to help? He could drive us? Plenty of room for your stuff that way.’

Danny thought about it for a few seconds, but then shook his head. ‘Nah, I can’t take a lot anyhow . . . I’ll just have my swag and a backpack of stuff. Besides, it’ll mean that Lachie will know I’ve left, and who with. How about we just ride out there?’

‘Okay, if that’s what you want. I think I’ve got an old backpack you can have, in case you want to take some more gear with you.’

‘Thanks. That might just be handy.’

‘No problem.’

Danny left soon afterwards and rode the short distance to his place, feeling as if things were finally falling into place. He allowed himself a smile as he felt the sun on his face and a warm breeze in his hair, while thoughts of being free of this place, and of his childhood, started to fill his mind. As scary, and as exciting, and as daunting as it all was, he was really going to do this. Tonight, or in the morning, he was going to drive out of this town for what could be last time for quite a while, and not look back.

Freedom, and love, were beckoning him.

When he reached his home he found his father and Pete out front washing down his truck, which was a job that he was usually drafted into doing. He was glad that today he hadn’t hung around the house, otherwise that was how he would have spent his morning, but he did feel a little guilty at the sight of Pete there helping his father, wearing only his swimming trunks. What sort of a temptation would that be for someone like his father? Surely his old man wouldn’t try anything with Pete? Would he?

At the sound of Danny pulling up and stepping off his bike, his father stood up and looked at him.

‘Hi, Dan. You were off early this morning.’

‘Had stuff to do,’ Danny replied. ‘Me and Nate have plans for the weekend.’

‘Yeah, so your mum tells me. I thought we might all go out to the National Park for a barbeque, but if you’ve already made plans . . .’

‘Yeah. We have. Maybe next time, eh?’

‘Yeah, next time.’

Danny kept walking, pausing just long enough to ruffle the damp hair on Pete’s head, before continuing on down the side of the house, pushing his bike with him. He felt his father’s gaze upon him as he walked away, but he didn’t dare look back. He was sure that if he had done so he would have seen his father watching every step that he took, and that thought creeped him out.

He found his mother in the kitchen, preparing some salad for their lunch. She looked up as she heard the sound of someone coming through the door and smiled at him when she saw who it was.

Quickly Danny crossed the floor and embraced her.

‘Thank you,’ he whispered.

‘We’re all going to be just fine, Dan. We just need to get past today.’

‘I never knew you were thinking about it too . . .’

‘I only made my mind up this morning . . . after talking to you. We both just have to follow through with it now . . .’

‘Are you sure you’re going to be okay?’

‘Yes, honey. We’ll be fine, and we’ll see you and Jake again soon. Now have you organized things with Nate?’

‘He’s coming over after you leave, then we’re going to head out to Hidden Bay and meet Jake there.’

‘You’ve got yourself a nice guy there, Dan. Even if I could stop you from going, I wouldn’t, because I can see how much you both mean to each other. I truly hope you are happy together.’

‘Thank you, mum. That means a lot to me,’ he replied, before kissing his mother on the cheek. ‘I better go and figure out what I’m going to take with me.’

‘Undo your swag and roll all your clothes up inside that. That way it won’t take up much extra room. Then just fill up an overnight bag and your school backpack with everything else you need. And remember that you can get the rest of your stuff in a few weeks if you want it.’

‘Thanks.’

*     *     *

Later that morning Danny stood and watched as his father backed the family car down the driveway. His mother was in the front passenger seat and apart from one brief moment when she turned to say something to Pete and Jodi she kept her eyes locked on him the whole time, while smiling at him. He saw her mouth the words ‘I Love You’ and then wave at him, before turning to speak to the kids. Soon he noticed his brother and sister in the back seat start to wave to him as well, while his father simply frowned.

Earlier his mother had come to his bedroom and they had said their goodbyes privately, after which he had then sought out his siblings, giving each of them a hug and telling them that he would see them later on. Pete had frowned at him, as if he thought something was up, but said nothing.

His mother had given Danny some advice on what to do, and had also dug out his birth certificate for him, knowing that he would need it at some point in the future. She had also tried to give him some of the money she had squirreled away over the years, but he refused to accept it, telling her that he had saved some of his own, and that she would need whatever she had saved, for when she made a break for it.

And now, as Danny waved back at his family, he was smiling on the outside, while inside his mind and his stomach he was in turmoil.

He knew what he had to do, but with fresh doubts suddenly filling his head he began to wonder if he would actually be able to go through with it. Those thoughts soon evaporated, however, when Nate rode into the yard, barely moments after his parents had driven away.

‘I thought you were going to wait until I called?’ Danny said to him, as Nate pulled to a stop beside his best friend and dropped his bike.

‘What, and miss out on spending these last valuable minutes with my best bud? Hell no! I decided to ride around until I saw your folks leave, and then pounce!’

Danny grinned at him. ‘You’re a nutcase! But thank you.’

‘Hey, what are friends for? So, you done packing yet?’

‘Nowhere near it. Come on, I better go and get stuck into it.’

‘I brought you my old backpack,’ Nate said, as he slipped it from his shoulders and held it out for Danny.

‘Thanks, man. That’ll be handy.’

Together they walked into the house and went straight to Danny’s bedroom, which looked pretty much just as it had the last time Nate had been in here . . . a mess.

Nate looked around the bedroom and thought about the many times that he had been in here with Danny, playing and laughing and sharing their many secrets. He would miss those days, and those nights, but he knew that for both of them the fun days of their childhood were moving further and further away. There would be new adventures ahead, for both of them, but the memories of the childhood they had spent together would always remain.

‘What have you got to do?’ Nate asked, as he saw Danny reach up above his wardrobe and pull down his swag.

‘Pack some clothes,’ came the reply, as Danny dropped the canvas covered bedroll onto his bed and begin to undo the two leather straps which secured it. ‘Mum said I should roll my clothes up in this, then just pack any other stuff I need into an overnight bag and my backpack.’

‘You think Jake will have room for it all?’

‘Well, we can tie the swag and the overnight bag on top of his surfboards, so it should be okay. It’ll only be a couple of backpacks I need to fit inside. You going to be able to handle carrying a couple of bags out to the bay on you bike?’

‘Too easy, mate.’

‘Good. Well, I better get to it, then,’ Danny said, before letting his swag unroll on his bed.

‘Just tell me what you want me to do,’ said Nate.

*     *     *

Danny had been thinking for a while now about what he would need to take with him, and it didn’t take long for them to find everything and pack it away, marking them of on his list as he did so. His favourite clothes. A couple of pairs of shoes. His toiletry bag. A couple of towels. His painting gear. Some books and a few mementos of family and friends and good times.

That would do for now, he figured, and if he wanted anything else he would get it next trip, when he came back to help his mother.

When they had finished, and the swag and bags were all sitting in the hallway, Danny’s bedroom looked considerably different to when they had started. It was much tidier, the mess was packed away, or into the bags he was taking with him, and the bed had even been made. His mother would be proud of him, he thought.

‘So, I guess that’s it, then?’ Nate said, as he watched Danny quietly close the bedroom door, then run his hand over the “Danny’s Room” metal license-plate styled sign which had first been screwed to his bedroom door when he was eight years old. He could see that Danny’s emotions were close to the surface, but he didn’t want to intrude by saying anything more.

‘Yeah, I guess it is,’ Danny replied.

‘Do you think you’ll ever go back in there?’

‘Maybe. We’re going to come back and help mum when she clears out, so if I remember anything else that I need I’ll grab it then.’

‘Well, just let me know when you come back and I’ll help out.’

‘Thanks, mate. I appreciate that,’ Danny replied, while placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

Nate looked into Danny’s eyes. He could see the fear that was in them, but he could also see the hurt and the sadness that was lingering within his friend, knowing that his life was about to change forever.

Without any thought, Nate pulled Danny to him and hugged him.

‘Fuck, I’m going to miss you,’ he whispered into Danny’s ear.

‘Not as much as I’m going to miss you!’ Danny responded, as he grabbed onto his friend tight, not wanting to let him go.

When they eventually separated they stood back, grinning at each other. There was no embarrassment at having shown their emotions. The bond that had been with them since childhood meant that they were more like brothers than simply friends, and both knew that it would last for many years to come, no matter where they were on this planet.

‘C’mon, we really should get going,’ Nate suggested. ‘We wouldn’t want your boyfriend thinking you have run off with someone else now, would we?’

‘No, I guess not,’ Danny chuckled. ‘I don’t know how jealous he might get.’

For a moment Nate cocked his head sideways and looked thoughtfully at his friend. Danny thought he was about to say something, but nothing came. The moment had passed, and Nate was now reaching down to pick up a backpack and an overnight bag from the floor.

Danny led the way out onto the verandah at the back of the house, where he dropped his two items down, while Nate placed his beside them.

‘What about some lunch first?’ Danny asked. ‘Burgers and milkshakes. My treat. We can cruise around by the caravan park first to see if Jake’s there, he might come downtown too. Then we can pick these up on the way past.’

‘You think there’s time? Is it worth the risk?’

‘Yeah. Mum and dad will be hours yet.’

‘Yeah, but what about if you get seen with Jake, and then you disappear. Won’t people put two and two together?’

‘Shit. I didn’t think of that. They might think he abducted me or something . . .’

‘How about we drop this stuff at my place, just in case? Then we can grab some lunch at the corner store, seeing as it’s the closest, then pick this up afterwards on the way out of town. Might be safer that way.’

‘Okay. If you like. I’m glad you’ve got your thinking cap on today.’

‘Geez, you must have it bad for this guy! You can’t be thinking straight . . . it’s usually you who is telling the rest of us that we’ve got to have a plan!’

‘What can I say? They tell me that love can do that to a bloke!’

‘Love!’ Nate exclaimed, before doubling over and shoving a finger down his throat, making out as if he was about to barf. This only earned him a shove from Danny, which sent him flying off the verandah, laughing as he went.

Danny jumped down off the verandah and headed for the shed, against which his bike stood, then wheeled it back toward the house.

‘And just how the hell are you going to carry the swag plus a bag?’ Nate asked him.

‘Simple. Tie the swag across the handlebars, and put the backpack on my back,’ Danny answered.

‘This’ll be good!’

‘Watch and learn, my good man!’ said Danny, as he propped the bike up against the verandah. For a few moments Nate watched as he looked up and down the verandah for something, but when Danny apparently couldn’t find what he needed he said, ‘Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back.’

Nate watched as his friend jogged back to the shed, emerging a minute or so later carrying some light rope.

‘This ought to do it,’ he said.

Nate picked up the swag and tried to sit it across the handlebars, but it wouldn’t balance there very well, so in the end they set it in front, balancing on the bike’s mudguard, before lashing it to the handlebars.

‘See, it was piece of cake,’ Danny said.

‘All right then. Let’s get moving. I’m getting hungry,’ Nate said, as he swung the second backpack over his shoulders and then set the overnight bag down on the rack behind the seat on his own bike.

Not long afterwards they were riding their bikes down the driveway toward the street. Danny was struggling a little, but once they got moving it was easy going. When they reached the street, however, Danny stopped and took a long look back toward the house, taking in the sight of the only place that he had ever called home.

Nate rode in circles on the street as he waited for Danny; he wanted to give him those few moments of reflection, as he was sure he knew what would most likely be going through Danny’s mind right about now.

When Danny finally turned back and faced Nate, they both knew it was time to go.

Thankfully it was only a short ride around to Nate’s place, but even so the boys had both worked up a sweat by the time they arrived there, having to contend with the extra weight they were both carrying with their heavy and awkward luggage.

They found that there was no one home when they pulled to a stop, and so they took the swag and the bags off the bikes and dropped them beside the back steps, before setting off once more for downtown Thompsonville.

After ordering and receiving their lunch they headed for the hill which overlooked the lake, where they sat on the grass in the sunshine, to eat it, while watching the crowds of summer tourists doing their stuff.

‘So, you haven’t said where you’re going to yet,’ Nate remarked between mouthfuls. ‘You still going to keep it a secret from me? I mean your mum knows now, doesn’t she?’

‘Actually, no, we still haven’t told her either. I promise I’ll let you know just as soon as it’s safe. I’ll talk to Jake about it and see what he reckons, now that we know that mum at least won’t be reporting me missing to the cops. I hope you can understand . . .’

‘Yeah, mate, I think I do. I wish it didn’t have to be like this, but I know where you’re coming from.’

‘Thanks. I knew you’d understand.’

‘Do you reckon that the new place will be as busy as here?’ Nate asked.

‘I somehow doubt it. Jake says it’s a bit like a ghost town . . . although apparently we’ll be out on a farm anyhow, so I don’t know how often we will see it.’

‘You? On a farm? Now that I’d like to see,’ Nate laughed.

‘Well, give it time and I promise you will!’ Danny answered.

*     *     *

When the boys finally arrived at the car park at Hidden Beach they found the place to be deserted, with not a soul in sight.

‘That’s unusual, especially during the holidays,’ Nate remarked as he looked around at the empty car park. ‘There’s usually someone around here on days like this.’

‘Maybe everyone knew we wanted the place to ourselves today?’

‘Dream on, poof!’ Nate laughed, while giving Danny a playful shove with his shoulder, which caused Danny to look at him sharply. It was the first time anyone had ever called him that and for a few moments it really shocked him.

Judging by Nate’s initial reaction at his own shock, Danny figured that he must have surprised Nate as well, but then he saw Nate break out into a sheepish grin, which Danny soon returned, while trying to think of some witty come back. Words failed him, however, but it didn’t matter, they both knew that things were still good between them.

‘So, what do we do now?’ asked Nate.

‘We wait, I guess. Jake’s bound to get here sooner or later,’ he answered, but the slight frown on Danny’s face told Nate that he wasn’t entirely convinced of that.

‘Yeah, he’ll get here eventually,’ Nate said, trying to reassure his friend. ‘Why don’t we hit the waves and take a dip while we wait?’

‘Yeah, that might be a good idea,’ Danny replied.

Pushing their bikes over into the shade of some trees they dumped them and their awkward luggage amongst the bushes, out of sight of anyone who might happen along, before deciding to head for the beach. Walking down the path between the dunes toward the beach each of them had the same thing on their minds; the countdown was on and it wouldn’t be long now before Danny would be saying farewell to the town and his friends.

Nate could see that Danny was in a pensive mood. He wasn’t saying much and was looking at the ground where he was walking, rather than interacting with Nate.

‘Sorry for calling you a poof,’ Nate offered. He was wondering if that might be one of the reasons why Danny had gone so quiet.

‘What? Oh, don’t worry about it . . . I’ll probably get called worse things than that after today.’

‘Yeah, you probably will, but I reckon you’re big enough and ugly enough to handle it . . .’

‘Who are you calling ugly, butt-face!’ Danny snarled.

‘You! You tallywacker!’

‘What? Tallywacker? What the fuck is a tallywacker? And what sort of insult is that?’ Danny teased. ‘You’re going to have to do better than that, my man!’

‘Gimme a sec and I’ll think of something,’ Nate laughed, as once again they playfully bumped shoulders, before Danny grabbed him around the shoulders and began to wrestle with him.

Danny started laughing as well, but then suddenly he stopped in his tracks and turned back to face the car park. ‘Hey, do you hear that?’ he asked Nate.

‘Yeah, it’s sweet, ain’t it? That sound is unmistakable,’ Nate replied, as the sound of a v-8 motor came racing through the trees to greet them.

‘C’mon, race you back to the car park,’ Danny challenged, before setting off at speed back up the path, with Nate in pursuit.

They reached the edge of the car park just as Jake swung the nose of the panel van through the entrance, with the car fish-tailing in the gravel for a few moments, before straightening and then coming right at them, at speed. It was only then that Danny realised something was wrong, with the sound of another vehicle also being heard. No sooner than had that thought registered in his mind he spotted a red flash amongst the trees. It was Frank Thompson’s Valiant, in pursuit of Jake.

‘Oh shit!’ Nate exclaimed. ‘What do we do now?’

‘Quick, grab a branch or something,’ Danny said. ‘Something you can use like a club.’

‘You can’t be serious! You want to fight him?’ Nate said, incredulously.

‘Not unless I have to. But if the three of us stand up to Frank then maybe that’ll be enough to scare him off.’

Quickly the boys looked around them at the dead trees and branches that littered the ground, with both of them managing to find a length of branch that might do the job, just as Jake skidded to a stop in front of them. In one action he seemed to open the door, while reaching down underneath him, then he stepped out of the car holding what looked to be an aluminium baseball bat.

‘Hey, guys. So glad you could make it!’ Jake said to them, while grinning as if he didn’t have a care in the world. ‘What do you reckon? Can the three of us, and my new mate, Hector, take this asshole . . . that’s if he’s game enough to step out of that piece of shit he’s driving!’

The boys exchanged looks.

‘Who’s Hector?’ Danny asked

Jake just grinned and held up the baseball bat so that the boys could get a better look. It was emblazoned with the name Hector Gonzalez.

‘Meet Hector,’ Jake chortled. ‘Apparently he was some big name player in the states . . . but now I just call his bat, Hector the Protector! You like?’

‘Yeah, and he might just come in handy,’ Danny answered, as he looked up toward Frank’s Valiant, which had stopped about twenty yards away.

‘I think you shoulda bought a gun instead,’ Nate deadpanned.

Slowly the Valiant’s door opened, before Frank emerged, taking a couple of steps toward them, but quickly back-pedaling and taking refuge behind the car door when Danny and Nate stepped in front of Jake, while holding their improvised clubs up in front of them.

‘Think you’re pretty smart with your little boyfriends protecting you, don’t you, faggot?’ Frank spat in Jake’s direction.

‘You want to be careful what you say, Frank!’ Nate yelled back at him. ‘They tell me the only guy around here who has fucked another guy lately is you. You wouldn’t want that getting around town now, would you?’

‘It’s you who wants to be careful, young Nate. A guy could end up getting a bad reputation by hangin’ around with the wrong people.’

‘Maybe someone ought to tell that to Snoz, then?’ Danny added. ‘He should be a bit more careful about who he picks as friends.’

‘I know it was you who trashed my car, faggot . . .’

‘Actually, Frank, you don’t know shit. It wasn’t Jake at all . . . but I know who did do it . . .’ Danny announced, grinning. ‘And he’ll do it again if anything like what happened to Jake ever happens around here again.’

‘What the fuck would you know, you little twerp?’ Frank hissed.

Danny simply continued to grin at him. He could feel Nate’s eyes boring into him, but he was on a roll, and he could tell that Frank was starting to get nervous.

‘Did you know it was us who found Jake and called the cops out here? Did you know that we were grilled by the Sarge and then given a lift back home by him? He was pretty interested in knowing just what happened . . . and what we saw . . .’ Danny added, knowing full well that he was laying it on a bit thick, but not caring about that in the slightest about that, or that he had twisted the truth slightly.

‘He’s right, you know,’ Jake also added. ‘The Sarge was really interested in knowing what happened, and in what the boys had to say. I know they haven’t told him everything they know . . . but if the need arises I know they’re more than willing to do just that . . . the only thing holding them back has been me. And why do you think that is, Frank?’

They could all tell that Frank’s brash front was beginning to waver.

‘I’ll tell you why, Frank. You’ve got me pegged, it’s true . . . but I’ve also got you pegged, haven’t I? And you know that’s true as well. I know your type, Frank . . . I had to put up with guys like you at school, hiding behind a big macho exterior, when in fact you’re nothing but a big old fag yourself, just like me. Isn’t that right, Frank?’

Franks eyes went wide and his face exuded pure fear.

‘I didn’t tell your Sargeant Plod everything that happened that day . . . I mean, why would I? I’d only be setting myself up now, wouldn’t I? So here’s what we’re going to do, Frank. You’re going to climb back into that shit-box Valiant of yours and drive out of here, and after you’re gone I’m going to do the same. And if I hear of either of these boys having to put up with any sort of crap from you, just because they are friends of mine, I’ll be coming back to town and suddenly remembering everything that happened that day, and damn the consequences.’

‘You wouldn’t have the balls,’ Frank said, but not with any real conviction.

‘You want to try me? The boys know exactly where I’m going to be, and how to contact me . . . so we can put it to the test if you really want to?’

For the first time Frank looked away, choosing instead to look across the car park, before then looking down inside his car, as if something on the floor needed his attention.

‘I take it that we understand each other?’ Jake pressed, as he bounced Hector the Protector in his hands.

Once more Frank looked back at the three of them. Danny noticed that his lip seemed to curl up into a snarl, but then he simply climbed back into his car and slammed the door shut, all the while holding tightly onto the steering wheel, with his knuckles turning white, and glaring out through the windscreen at Danny, Nate and Jake.

‘This ain’t over,’ they heard him say, before he started his car.

‘Oh, yes it is,’ Jake replied. ‘Now why don’t you just go and get the fuck out of here?’

Without saying another word Frank slammed the gears into reverse and gunned the motor. Gravel flew as he backed away from the others in an arc and then stopped. It flew once more when he slammed it into first and then floored it, heading for the car park exit amidst a cloud of dust.

As Frank turned onto Beachside Lane and headed for town, it was Nate who jumped into the air first, pumping his fist and screaming out, ‘And don’t you forget it, asshole!’ before high-fiving Danny and Jake.

‘We sure showed him!’ Danny gushed.

‘Yeah, we did,’ Jake added. ‘But only for now,’ he cautioned.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Nate, suddenly coming back to earth.

‘You heard him. He said this ain’t over . . . and I have no doubt that he meant it . . . so you’re going to need to watch yourself, Nate. Do you understand me?’

‘He wouldn’t dream of doing anything, would he?’ Danny asked.

‘Pricks like him don’t give up easily, and with you and me both out of the picture, that’ll leave Nate as a sitting duck. If Frank suspects that Nate could be any easy target, then he’s liable to try anything, I’m afraid.’

‘Even if I threaten to go to the cops?’

‘Even then,’ Jake replied.

‘I’ll still have Lachie around, though.’

‘You might need more than just him, Nate. But I think that if Lachie knows what’s going on, and you guys can somehow get the message across to Frank that he and others know his sordid tale, and are willing to keep an eye on you, then maybe that will be enough to keep Frank at bay.’

‘And if that doesn’t work,’ Danny remarked, ‘you’ll just have to come and live with us!’

‘What? Me? On a farm? Geez, wouldn’t that be a laugh!’ Nate replied, as he rolled his eyes at his friend. ‘I’m not sure I’d be cut out for that!’

‘And you think I am?’ Danny laughed.

‘You don’t have to worry, Nate. It’s not like it’s a real farm,’ Jake said, trying to reassure him. ‘It’ll just be a few people growing their own food . . . a few chickens, a cow for milk, a veggie patch, that sort of thing.’

‘Well, that sounds a bit better . . . I think I could handle visiting under those circumstances . . . just so long as I don’t have to pull the cow’s tits! That’s just . . . urrgghh . . .’ he said, while giving a theatrical shudder at the thought of it.

‘Hey, man. If I have to do it, then so do you!’ Danny threatened.

‘Bastard!’ Nate replied.

*     *     *

It was just a short while later when Jake had moved the car over by the trees that were close to the spot where the boys had dropped their bikes and Danny’s bags, and parked it in some shade.

Jake had taken one look at his new companion’s belongings and told the boys he would need to rearrange some of the things in the back of the van, and so after opening up the rear doors and then handing them each a cold drink from his cooler he set about doing just that.

‘Do you remember that first day when Jake arrived in town?’ Nate asked Danny as they leaned against the side of the car and Jake busied himself with the packing.

‘Yeah, who could forget it?’ Danny replied. ‘We were all pretty buzzed about it, weren’t we? This cool looking guy, only just a bit older than us, and with an even cooler car!’

‘Yeah, we were. And do you remember saying that one day you were going to fuck around in one of these things . . .’ he teased, as he slapped his hand down on the bonnet of the panel van.

‘I guess.’

‘I bet you didn’t expect it to be in this one though?’ Nate added. There was no malice or nastiness in his words . . . in fact he sounded kind of amused at the thought.

‘No. It’s funny how things work out, eh?’

‘Yeah. It is,’ Nate replied, before taking a sip from his can and studying Danny. ‘Are you nervous?’ he asked.

‘I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But it’s also kind of exciting, you know?’

‘Yeah. I can imagine it would be. What about second thoughts?’

For a few moments Danny said nothing, focusing instead on the can of drink he was holding.

Nate suspected he knew what was going on inside his friend’s head and gave him a gentle bump with his shoulder.

‘You’ve got to go man!’ Nate said, almost in a whisper. ‘You can’t stay here all your life, like the rest of us . . . you’ve got to go and do what you want to do . . . see all the places you want to see! You’re not just doing it for yourself . . . you’re doing it for all of us. We’ve got no future here . . . but you can go to that new place and be whatever you want to be.’

‘What are you talking about? You’ve got a future . . . you’re way smarter than me at school . . .’

‘But that ain’t the real world, Dan! At least you’re going to get out and see that world, but what chance do the rest of us have? We’ll only end up about as fucked-up as guys like Frank Thompson, maybe. Nah, I think my only hope of getting out of here would be to join the army or something . . . and I might just do that yet, but not until I really have to. So, you go and chase your dreams . . . and think of me when you’re doing whatever it is you’ll be doing . . .’

For a long time Danny simply stared at his friend.

‘It doesn’t have to be like that, you know,’ Danny offered.

‘No, I know that. But that’s just how it is. That’s just how it has always been . . .’

‘So? That doesn’t mean it has to always stay that way. You can do something about it . . . you can be in charge of your own destiny . . . like actually go and join the army, like you said. If you do that you’ll probably get to see more of the world than me.’

‘Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. I’m just not too keen on the idea of getting shot at though!’

‘But it’s not all about being soldiers. Like that guy said who came to school last year and talked to us about it. You can learn a trade in the army these days, so why not become a mechanic, or something like that? Then you’ll be able to go wherever you want to go after you’ve finished your time in there.’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ Nate replied, before both boys fell silent, seemingly lost in their thoughts.

Moments later they heard Jake slam the rear doors of the van closed, before coming around the side to where they stood.

‘All right, lads. That’s your three bags packed away. Just need to tie your swag on top of the surf boards and we’ll be right to go,’ he said to them.

‘Hey, what about your bike?’ Nate asked. ‘Aren’t you going to take that with you, too?’

‘I don’t think there’s any room,’ Danny replied.

‘We can throw it on top with your swag if you like,’ Jake said. ‘It’s no trouble, and you just never know when it might come in handy.’

‘Yeah, like for when Jake throws you out for farting in bed . . . you’ll have to be able to get back here somehow!’ Nate teased.

‘Very, fucking, funny!’ Danny groaned.

‘Come on, Nate. How about giving me a hand and we’ll finish loading up,’ Jake suggested. ‘Then Danny and I will have to do something about hitting the road if want to get to where we’re going by nightfall.’

With a nod Nate walked over to where Danny’s bike lay on the ground and picked it up, then just a few minutes later they had the job completed, after Jake had retrieved some rope and a blanket from the back of his van, so as not to scratch the surf boards.

As the three of them stood back and admired their handy-work a strange quiet fell over them.

The time had finally arrived.

‘Well guys,’ Jake eventually said. ‘I guess it’s that time.’

‘Yeah, I guess it is,’ Nate replied, as he looked across at Danny, who was looking just about as forlorn as Nate was feeling.

Danny tried a smile, but it didn’t come. Instead, Nate noticed that his bottom lip seemed to quiver just slightly. That was when he went to him and embraced him, while Jake walked around to the other side of the van and leaned in and turned the key to the ignition.

‘I’m sure gonna miss you,’ Nate whispered to his friend as they heard the engine fire.

‘Not as much as I’m going to miss you,’ Danny replied.

‘Just send me a postcard or something every now and then will you?’

‘Of course.’

‘Just so, well, that I know you’re all right . . .’

‘I’ll be fine. Anyhow, I’ll be seeing you again in a couple of weeks.’

‘I know. It’s just . . .’

‘Yeah, I know. You don’t have to say anything, mate,’ Danny sniffed, before pulling Nate to him in a hug.

They stood there for what seemed like ages, before Jake cleared his throat behind them and said, ‘I hate to break up this little love-fest, guys, but . . .’

‘Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on,’ Nate shot back as he leaned back and took a look at Danny. They were both grinning; and both still holding onto each other.

‘I’ll see you soon,’ Danny said to him, before quickly giving Nate a kiss on the cheek, then letting him go. A display of affection like that no longer bothered Nate, or at least not like it might have just a couple of months ago. If nothing else, this recent time spent with Danny and Jake had made him see the world in a totally different light. Love is love, no matter who it might be between, he had come to learn, and everyone has a right to be able to experience that emotion, without the judgment of others.

When Nate finally let go of Danny he turned toward Jake, holding out his arms and quickly embracing him also.

‘If you hurt him, watch out!’ Nate whispered into his ear. ‘You’ll need more than just Hector to protect you!’

‘I wouldn’t dream of it,’ Jake replied.

When they separated they were grinning at each other. There was an understanding there which didn’t need to be stated.

Jake leaned forward and kissed Nate on the other cheek, then let go of him.

‘You bloody poofs and all this kissing!’ Nate complained. ‘What are you trying to do, convert me or something?’

‘Even I know that there’s no hope of that,’ Jake remarked. ‘But it sure is fun just getting you worked up!’

‘Asshole! Just get in your car, will you. If it’s not bad enough that you’re stealing my best friend, now you’re really trying to rub salt into the wounds.’

‘C’mon, Dan, it’s obvious we’re no longer wanted around here,’ said Jake. ‘We’ll see you in a few weeks, Nate. Behave yourself now!’

‘I could say the same to you, but I know it’d be a waste of time,’ Nate replied.

‘See, you already know me too well,’ Jake chuckled.

‘All right you two, you can knock it off . . . I’m getting in the car now,’ Danny stated. He gave Nate one last embrace, then opened the car door and climbed in, before slamming it shut, making sure that the window was down just as soon as he was settled.

As Jake walked around to the other side of the car Nate picked up his bike and threw a leg over the bar, before sitting on the seat and then shuffling forward so that he was beside Danny’s window.

‘I guess I’ll be seeing you,’ Danny said.

‘Yeah, sooner or later.’

‘Say goodbye to the guys for me?’

‘Sure,’ Nate answered, as the car began to move.

Nate was holding on to the window frame with one hand and allowed himself to be pulled along, while holding the handle bars of the bike with his other hand. Even as the car started picking up speed as they began to cross the car park he held on, grinning at Danny, who was grinning back at him.

‘You’re a nutcase,’ Danny said to him, laughing.

‘And you’re a poof,’ Nate replied.

‘Yeah, but at least I’ll be getting laid tonight . . .’

‘Urrgghh . . . way too much information!’ Nate laughed.

The car was really moving now, so Nate had to let go. He started pedaling alongside, trying to keep up, while both boys continued laughing at each other.

When they reached the car park exit and turned onto Beachside Lane, Nate was still there, but out on the road Jake was now speeding up and a gap was growing between them. A grinning Danny leaned out the window and waved at Nate, who took one hand off the handlebars and waved back, but no sooner than he had done that he was swallowed up by a cloud of dust and they lost sight of each other.

As Nate slowed, trying to escape the dust, he knew that his friend was gone.

*     *     *

He took his time riding home, as the afternoon shadows began to stretch and the sun dipped low above the mountains to the west of the town. As the realisation that his best friend had now left him began to sink in, a feeling of emptiness came over him. Sure, they would see each other again soon, but things would never be the same, would they? He would never again be able to just ride around to Danny’s place when he got bored, or turn to him when something was going wrong. Or tease him about his latest crush . . . not that there would be any more of those!

Yeah, life around here sure was going to be different, but at least he was now old enough to be able to start to make his own decisions, he thought. Just like Danny was doing, he could leave school. He could get a job if he wanted. He could start making plans about what he wanted to do in life, so maybe that idea about joining the army and learning a trade might just be worth following up on?

As he reached the edge of town he knew in his own mind that that was just what he would do. If Danny could do it, then so could he.

To be continued . . .