‘What was that all about?’ we heard coming from behind us moments later, as we stood there watching Red walk away.
We spun around to see Scott and Justin standing there, both looking somewhat concerned.
‘That asshole just keeps popping up everywhere,’ I answered. ‘Now he reckons that they know who ratted on Thompson, so they . . . as in us . . . had better watch out.’
‘I don’t like the sound of that,’ Scott replied. ‘It sounds like he’s planning something.’
‘Yeah, that’s what we thought too,’ said Luke. ‘I don’t know what he would be able to do though.’
‘That’s just it . . . he probably doesn’t know yet either, then he’ll just go with the first harebrained scheme that comes to mind.’
‘Fuck! I hope you’re wrong. That could be dangerous,’ I replied.
‘Yeah, so do I, mate. So do I,’ Scott said.
‘So, what are you guys up to?’ Justin asked.
‘Nothing too exciting, or strenuous,’ I answered. ‘Just thought we would take in the sights. We were about to head down to the lake and enjoy our coffees when we ran into our old friend. I can’t believe how busy it is here today.’
‘Yeah, it’s often like this in summer. Anyhow, boys, don’t let us stop you,’ Scott said. ‘We’re just grabbing a few things before heading home. Go and enjoy your day. We’ll call you if anything exciting, or otherwise, happens.’
‘Okay, you too,’ I said.
We said our goodbyes and started to walk away when I stopped and called back to them.
‘Hey, did either of you two see the television reporter here earlier?’ I asked them.
‘When? Today?’ Scott enquired.
‘Yeah. They only just left. She was set up right here,’ I said, pointing to the spot on the footpath. ‘We didn’t catch everything she said, but she was definitely talking about Thompson. Seems like he’s going to make the news!’
‘Oh, Jesus. That’s all we need,’ Scott laughed. ‘All right, take care then, guys.’
‘You too,’ I replied, then we waved them farewell and headed off in the direction of the lake, where we thankfully soon found our favourite bench, in the shade of a huge old Moreton Bay Fig tree, vacant.
As we had strolled along I couldn’t help but think about everything that had been going on since we had arrived in town. It had been an eventful year, and it wasn’t over yet. I was falling in love with this place, with its beauty and laid-back lifestyle, yet there was still something, this lingering, niggling feeling, that I couldn’t shake, about whether the place loved me . . . or us. Maybe it was just my paranoid mind playing tricks on me, but nonetheless those feeling persisted.
Pushing all thoughts of Thompson and Red, and his idle threats, to the back of our minds we sat and watched the activity on the lake for a while, watching sailboarders and sail boats and paddle boats skim across the water at various rates of knots. Away from shore a kid in a small sailing boat pitched over and ended up in the water, though soon righted himself and managed to get going again, while closer in we witnessed two paddle boats collide, resulting in shrill laughter filling the air as the operators, who were obviously friends, argued and laughed about who was to blame.
‘You know, I think I’m getting used to this life,’ I said casually, as we watched the goings on.
‘Yeah. It’s a bit hard to take, isn’t it?’ Tony added.
‘So, you like it here, then, Tony?’ Luke enquired.
‘Yeah,’ he answered, while looking across the bench at Aaron and smiling. ‘I like it a whole lot.’
‘So, have you thought about what you’re going to do? I mean, do you want to get a job or something, or go to the trades college maybe?’ asked Luke.
‘Actually, yeah I have thought about that,’ he said.
‘And?’ I prompted.
‘I . . . I think I want to go back to school and finish it.’
‘You do?’ the three of us, including Aaron, all chorused.
‘Yeah. I do. I think . . . I think I want to write, you know, maybe be a journo or script writer or something. Or maybe one day even write a book. That’s not a silly idea, is it?’
‘Hell, no!’ I answered. ‘If you’ve got an idea in your head of something you want to do, then that’s a start. Most kids your age don’t seem to have a clue. I know that I sure as hell didn’t.’
‘Well, I suppose you’re always scribbling in that bloody notebook of yours,’ Aaron added. ‘I hope you’re not taking down notes about all of us to use in some sleazy story?’
‘Why? Are you worried someone might recognize you?’ smirked Tony. ‘It’s okay babe, you don’t have to panic. All names will be changed to protect the innocent . . .’
‘Or the guilty!’ I added, quickly cutting in.
‘Yeah, even them too! laughed Tony.
‘I’d love to have a read sometime of what you’ve written so far, Tony,’ Luke suggested.
‘Maybe one day,’ he answered, blushing slightly.
‘Well, I think it’s a great idea, Tony,’ Luke said, while placing a caring hand on his shoulder. ‘I hope it all pans out just how you hope.’
‘Thanks, cuz. I hope so too.’
* * *
It proved to be a pleasant day all round, with the morning being followed by lunch at the jetty, then later on topped off by an afternoon swim at our beach, where we were also joined by Tim and Guy.
As the day drew to a close and the hot afternoon started cooling down, helped along by a cool breeze blowing in off the water, Tony and Aaron began to collect driftwood from along the beach, building it up into a huge pile. Eventually it was set alight, then we all sat around it and watched the sun go down behind the mountains, while laughing, telling jokes and later making out.
For the moment, I could honestly say, life was good.
Well after dark, and after the fire had burned down, four of us made our way back through the scrub to the house, setting off along the by now well worn path we had established. Aaron and Tony decided to stay on, down by the beach, and when we left them we could see Aaron sitting in front of Tony, with Aaron leaning back against his boyfriend and with Tony’s arms wrapped protectively around him.
I looked at Tony and felt a great deal of pride in how far he had come in the past year. He was developing into a fine young man, despite the earlier influence of his mother, and I knew that Luke would also be proud of him.
Luke held his hand out toward me and I took it in mine, then we tagged along behind Tim and Guy as we headed for home.
‘It’s hard to believe that’s the same kid who dropped us in the shit last year, isn’t it?’ Luke said to me quietly as we walked along.
‘Yeah, he’s certainly changed,’ I replied. ‘Your family would be proud of him, I think.’
‘Yeah. I think so too.’
‘Do you think he’ll do what he says he wants to do and go back to school?’
‘I don’t see why not. He’d only have to finish his last two years, so if he sets his mind to it I’m sure he’ll do okay.’
‘Yeah, I hope he does,’ I agreed.
We reached the house a few minutes after Tim and Guy had and when we got inside we found that the electric kettle was already switched on and the mugs were set out ready for coffee.
‘Great thinking, guys,’ I said to them when I noticed.
‘Do you want something to eat?’ Tim asked. ‘We were just going to make a sandwich and then hit the sack.’
‘Sounds good. You get yours and then we’ll sort something out for ourselves,’ I said to them. ‘We might even go and wash some of the salt off while you go for it.’
‘All right then,’ Guy said.
* * *
When Luke and I made it back out to the kitchen a little while later, looking and feeling clean and refreshed, they were just finishing up.
‘It’s all yours, guys’ Tim said to us as we entered the kitchen. ‘I think we’ll grab a shower then hit the hay. We’ll see you in the morning.’
‘Cool, guys. Goodnight,’ I said.
‘Oh . . . I think it will be,’ Guy laughed as they left us.
‘So, what do you fancy?’ I asked Luke, now that we were alone again.
‘Why don’t you surprise me,’ he answered.
‘I thought I constantly surprised you?’ I scoffed.
‘Oh, Matt, you do. Believe me,’ he laughed.
Turning away from him I headed for the cupboard to see what the pantry had to offer, then checked out the refrigerator.
‘Okay then, it looks like it’s going to be Noodle Surprise,’ I finally said, thinking that between the two of us we should be able to turn a couple of packets of cheap two-minute noodles from the cupboard – the staple of every university students’ diet – aalong with a some left-over vegetables and barbeque chicken from the refrigerator, into something that would be edible.
‘Whatever you fancy is fine with me,’ Luke answered. ‘What do you want me to help with?’
‘You do the noodles, I’ll chop up the rest, and then we’ll just throw it all together.’
Thanks to the fact that we used left-overs, and the two-minute noodles quite literally only took that long to prepare, we sat down at the kitchen table less than five minutes later to eat.
‘Hmmm . . . not bad, even if I do say so myself,’ I said to Luke, in between mouthfulls.
‘I think old Charlie Hong’s restaurant will be safe for a while,’ he replied. ‘But it sure hits the spot.’
‘Are you dissin’ my cookin’?’ I teased, taking mock offence at his remarks.
‘Never!’ he replied, with his mouth surrounded by the barbeque sauce I had mixed in with the chicken and vegetables.
‘You want to know something . . . you look almost good enough to eat,’ I said to him quietly, as he grinned back at me.
‘Only almost?’ he replied.
‘Okay then, try this on for size,’ I answered, then leaned over and kissed him. Our sauce-covered mouths met eagerly as I pulled him to me.
‘Hmmmmm,’ he mumbled when we came up for breath. ‘That’s tasty.’
‘Certainly is,’ I replied. ‘It has a meaty taste, with just a hint of spice.’
‘We could always skip the mains and go straight to desert?’ he suggested, as our foreheads rested against each other and as we gazed into each others eyes.
‘I thought you’d never ask.’
* * *
After the physical exertions of the previous night it would have been nice to have had a sleep-in the following morning; however, that wasn’t to be.
I had been dreaming of a holiday, of Luke and me at some exotic location, where there were lots of palm trees and scantily clad waiters wearing only gold coloured Speedos and serving cocktails in coconut shells, when I heard the incessant buzzing of a phone.
I instantly recognized my ring tone and wondered how the hell anyone could have tracked me down to this spot.
‘Maybe it’s just someone else’s phone and they have the same ring tone?’ I thought. ‘Yeah, that had to be it.’ Then I rolled over and tried to ignore it.
‘Great,’ I thought.
But then it started again.
‘Are you going to answer that?’ I heard Luke say.
‘What?’ I mumbled.
‘Your phone, doofus!’
Throwing my arm out toward the bedside table I fumbled around for a few moments before my hand finally landed on the phone. I picked it up and flipped it open, then brought it to my ear. Before I had even had a chance to open my mouth I could hear the frantic voice at the other end.
‘Matt? Is that you? Matt? Matt?’ I heard Justin say. The edginess in his voice was clearly evident. Instantly I was wide awake.
‘Jay! What’s happened? Are you okay?’ I asked, while quickly sitting up in bed and then swinging my legs over the side.
‘There’s . . . there’s been something h-happen,’ he stammered. ‘The dirty rotten cunts! You should see what they’ve done!’
‘What’s happened? Who did something? Who to?’ I asked urgently. By this time Luke was also wide awake and sitting next to me, with one hand sitting lovingly on my shoulder.
‘N-n-not who,’ he managed to say.
‘Okay, what to then?’ I asked.
‘You better come. Please come,’ he said, then disconnected.
I let my hand drop and sat there staring at the phone, not quite being able to make sense of it all. The clock on the phone read 6.54 AM.
‘What happened?’ Luke asked. ‘Is he okay?’
‘I don’t know. And I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘He wants me to go into town.’
‘Yeah. I think so. He’s obviously upset, but he still didn’t really say much. He just said they’ve done something and I should see what they’ve done.’
‘Come on,’ Luke said. He stood up and put his hand out for me. I took it and he pulled me to my feet. ‘We better get dressed and go straight in.’
‘Yeah,’ I answered. ‘Better have a quick shower first though. We both stink of sex.’
‘Yeah. Good idea.’
We quickly dived in and out of the shower, giving each other a quick scrub down, then a few minutes later we were heading for the back door of the house.
As we were going down the hallway Luke stuck his head inside Tony’s room, with the intention of letting him know we were heading out, and where to, but his bed was empty.
‘The kid must have got lucky last night!’ I said to him. Luke just rolled his eyes at me.
The next door down was Tim and Guy’s room. I knocked gently and said, ‘Are you guys awake?’
‘No! Go away,’ came the grumpy voice from the other side of the door.
‘Okay, that’s what we’re doing,’ I answered. ‘Something’s up in town and Justin wants us in there urgently. We’ll catch you guys later.’
Just then the door opened and Tim was standing there with only a white sheet wrapped around him. I was tempted to check it out for cum stains, but managed to resist the urge.
‘Did you guys have a toga party, or something?’ I asked instead. ‘Hey Luke, we haven’t tried that one yet!’
‘That’s very funny, wise ass! Now, what’s happened?’
‘Dunno. But Jay called and was in a bit of a flap about something. He wants us to see what someone has done, so we thought we better go find out what’s going on. We’ll call you and let you know.’
‘All right. You do that. We’ll see you later on,’ Tim said, then closed the door.
We went out the back door and headed for the garage. As I jumped into the car and started it up I noticed that Luke was standing outside and looking off in the direction of the beach.
‘What’s up?’ I asked him as I reached across and opened his door, after backing the car out.
‘The boys are coming home,’ he answered, while pointing in that direction. I looked across toward the beach and sure enough I saw two bedraggled looking figures making their way through the scrub.
‘They must have spent the night on the beach,’ I said to him.
‘Half their luck,’ he added.
‘You want to wait for them?’
‘No, let’s get going. Tim will tell them where we are.’
‘Okay then. Jump in. Daylight is-a-wasting.’
Luke quickly climbed in and pulled the door shut, then before he’d even had time to do up his seat belt I was backing out of the yard and pointing the car toward town for the short drive in.
‘How did he sound when you were talking to him?’ Luke asked as we hit the town boundary.
‘Upset, and a bit shaky,’ I replied. ‘I don’t know what happened, but it’s obviously shaken him up a bit.’
‘I guess we’ll find out soon enough then.’
‘Yeah. I guess so.’
A few minutes later we pulled up outside the caravan park. We didn’t drive inside, as it was fairly easy to see just what had happened, and besides, right at this moment a police car was sitting there in the driveway.
Scott and Justin were there. So too was the Sergeant from the previous Friday, along with another uniformed policeman.
‘What the fuck?’ I almost yelled as I jumped from my car and stormed across the road.
The Sarge just looked at me grimly.
The front fence of the caravan park was a mess. Wooden palings had been ripped off. Plants that had been growing along the front of the fence had been pulled up, along with the timber sleepers that bordered the gardens. But it was the rest of the vandalism that was the worst of it.
Along the fence on one side of the driveway, painted in large red letters, were the words FAGGETTES LIVE HERE, while along the other side it read, COCK SUCKERS AND ARSS BANDITS.
I couldn’t help but be impressed by the spelling.
‘When did this happen?’ I asked, totally gob-smacked.
‘Sometime last night,’ Justin said. ‘One of the residents came and woke us up at daylight. They saw it when they were heading out for a walk, then came straight back in and banged on the door.’
‘Shit, Scott. I’m so sorry,’ I said. It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could come up with.
‘Thanks, Matt,’ he said. ‘It’s not your fault though. In a town like this we were bound to be outed eventually!’ he added, with just a touch of a wry smile.
‘Yeah, but . . .’ I started to say, but just couldn’t think of any words good enough.
Scott placed a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Matt. It’s not the end of the world.’
‘Maybe not, but what about your reputation? You do have one of those, don’t you?’
‘Well, it has just been added to now, hasn’t it?’ he said, giving me a wink as he did so. ‘If anyone wasn’t sure about us they will be now!’
While we were standing there a number of cars slowed right down as they passed us, their drivers taking in the scene, seeing the damage and reading the graffiti, before their eyes would then widen in shock, or disgust, or whatever, before they would then accelerate away.
With every one of them the reaction was the same, but then another car came along, slowing, and then, with a screech of brakes, stopped right behind us. Almost as one the six of us turned around, to see dear Mrs Hamilton from the corner store climb out and head directly for Scott, then straight away giving him a hug.
‘Monsters,’ she said. ‘The town is filled with nothing but monsters.’
‘Mrs H., I sure hope that’s not what you think we are?’ Scott asked.
‘What? Oh no! Not you, love. There are lots of folks in this town who love you, Scotty. It’s the monsters that do this sort of thing, or spread rumours about people, that I was talking about. It’s just not right!’ she added. ‘Oh, and Matthew, I heard about your car being damaged. I don’t know if it means anything or not, but the other afternoon I saw that red headed boy and one of his friends running out from behind the shop where you work. You know the one I mean?’
‘Absolutely Mrs H. and thank you,’ I said, then, turning toward the Sergeant I said, ‘Did you get that Sarge?’
‘Yes matey! I sure did!’ he replied.
‘Well, what are we going to do about this mess, then?’ Mrs Hamilton asked.
‘We’re going to clean it up,’ I answered. ‘And quick smart too.’
‘I think there’s some paint and tools and stuff in the garden shed,’ Justin said. ‘Can we just paint over it? Will that work?’
‘It might take a couple of coats,’ Scott said, ‘but the place probably needed a bit of a brightening up anyhow!’
‘Well? What are we waiting for?’ I asked. ‘C’mon boys, let’s go get the stuff and get started.’
As Justin, Luke and I headed off toward the garden shed to collect what we would need, I heard the Sarge say, ‘We’ll take some photos, just for the record, and get your statement, Scotty, just in case we can find out who’s behind it.’
We found everything just where Justin said it would be and it wasn’t long before we were heading back up the driveway toward the entrance, pushing a wheel-barrow containing paint and paint brushes, along with hammers and nails, while Justin carried some garden tools. As we reached the road a short time later we found that a hotted up blue Holden utility had just pulled up and two guys a little older than us were climbing out. I didn’t know them, but I was pretty sure I had seen them before, either around town, or in the shop where I worked.
Mrs Hamilton went over to talk to them, giving them both a brief hug, before they both went over to Scott and he shook hands with them.
‘You guys didn’t need to come out,’ Scott said to them, ‘but thanks anyway.’
‘Scott, it’s not a problem,’ the taller of the two said. ‘When mum rang and told us what happened we figured we couldn’t leave you in the lurch. Any idea who pulled this fucked up stunt?’
‘I’d only be guessing, Dan’ Scott replied.
‘Sometimes guesses and first instincts are the best way to go. Isn’t that right, Sarge?’
‘I’m sure you’d know all about that, Dan,’ the Sarge answered with a laugh.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the guy who had been talking to Scott was Mrs Hamilton’s son. I guessed him to be about twenty-five by the look of him. Older than Luke and me, but younger than Scott. He was a good looking guy, with short brown hair and dark features, with the look of being a tradie of some sort. His skin was tanned and there was a rugged air about him that I found quite attractive. His companion was quite different, being shorter and thinner, and possibly a few years younger, but still attractive in his own way. Both of them were wearing coloured boardies and tank tops, all set for a summers day.
It was then that they turned and saw the three of us standing there.
‘Hey, g’day there, Justin,’ Dan said to him. ‘And I take it these are a couple of those city boys from out the road?’
‘That’s them,’ Justin replied, as he put down what he was carrying and shook his hand.
‘I’m Matt, and this is Luke,’ I said to him as we stepped forward to shake his offered hand.
‘Nice to finally meet you guys,’ he said. ‘And this is Jake. We’ve actually heard quite a bit about you guys . . . especially these past few days.’
‘Not all bad I hope?’ I asked.
‘No, mate. All good in fact. My mum says that you’re her favourite customer!’
‘Is that right?’ I asked Mrs H.
‘Well . . . maybe you should know that Dan likes to stretch the truth occasionally,’ she replied, blushing. ‘But enough of your chit-chat you lot. I’m sure Scott would like to get this mess sorted out sometime today, so how about you all get to work?’
‘All right then. Jake and I will start with fixing the fence. You guys start painting over this shit. A couple of coats of paint and it’ll look just like a bought one!’
‘I’m not sure if there’ll be enough,’ Scott said.
‘Well, mate. You’d best leave this to us then, now get off your arse and head down to Doolan’s Hardware and find us some more!’ Dan ordered. ‘Between us all we’ll have the place looking like a million bucks in no time.’
I had to say I liked his confidence, but even I could see it was going to take a while to set this right.
Scott left us to it and went back down to his house, while Mrs. H. also bade us farewell. A few minutes later Scott returned in his truck, stopping at the entrance.
‘If you guys think you’re okay I’ll go and see what I can find,’ he said after pulling up and winding down the window.
‘We’ll be fine,’ Dan said, adding; ‘Just go and pick out some paint. We’ll even do the whole fence if you want to change the colour!’
‘We will?’ Justin and I exclaimed.
‘Fuck yeah. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well! Haven’t you guys seen those adds for Dulux paint on the telly?’
With a laugh and a shake of his head Scott turned out onto the road and headed off toward the centre of town, while we turned our attention back to the job at hand, and the Sarge and his offsider started taking notes and photographs.
‘All right then, you lot,’ Dan said. ‘Let’s get this show on the road!’
Reaching into my pocket I pulled out my phone and flipped it open. ‘I’ll see if I can scrape up a few more volunteers for the cause,’ I said.
* * *
By the time Scott eventually returned, loaded up with two large cans of paint and enough paint brushes and supplies for us to be able to do the entire Sydney Harbour Bridge, we were well on the way to having most of the damage sorted out.
Tim and Guy arrived within ten minutes of my calling them, then the sound of hammers on nails soon followed, disturbing the peace of an early Sunday morning and rousing some of the disgruntled neighbours from across the road from their Sunday morning sleep-ins.
As the morning progressed we managed to repair the fence, replacing all the palings that had been torn away, apart from a few that were beyond saving. Thankfully we were able to re-use most of the originals, while luckily Scott had a pile of left-overs down behind the garden shed from when the fence had been built several years before, so we were also able to replace those that we couldn’t re-use.
While the rest of our work detail was carrying out the fence repairs and putting the garden back in place, or at least what they could of it, Tim, Guy, Luke and I started on the paintwork, first up giving the offending slogans a coat of fresh white paint, to hide them from the immediate view of the many passers-by we seemed to be attracting.
It quite quickly became obvious that many people in this small community didn’t actually know that Scott was gay, with him and Jay receiving every possible – and expected – reaction from those who cared to let their feelings known as they passed us.
Time and time again we watched as the pair of them shouldered their burden, pausing in the midst of whatever they were doing as they were stung by one barb or another, or closing their eyes for just a few seconds, before then continuing as if nothing had happened. A few times Dan turned around and let fly with a few choice words, which seemed to give courage to the rest of us, and pretty soon we were all joining in as well, giving back as good as we were receiving!
‘Fuck ‘em,’ Dan said. ‘It’s about time that folks around here woke up to themselves.’
‘Nice sentiment,’ Scott said, ‘but they won’t. It’s not in their nature.’
‘Not quite everyone around here is like that,’ a voice said from behind us, causing us all to spin around.
‘Oh, good morning, Jack,’ Scott said to the newcomer, who was an elderly man holding onto a leash that was attached to a gorgeous long-haired, black and white, Border Collie dog. ‘No, you’re right of course. Not everyone is like that . . . but there’s enough of them to make life difficult if they set their minds to it.’
‘Yes, that is sad, but true, I’m afraid,’ the old man said. ‘Hang in there, Scotty, in a couple of days no one will care,’ he added, while placing a comforting hand on Scott’s shoulder as he strolled on past us.
There had been a few people come past, of course, who had given Scott their encouragement, but as we all stood there and watched Jack go, I think each of us was left pondering his words.
It was Justin who eventually broke the silence that had followed Jack’s departure.
‘So, I guess our secret is well and truly out now, Scotty?’ he said quietly.
I turned around to look at him and saw him staring after Jack, looking quite serious, yet at the same time quite calm and determined.
For the first time, I suddenly realized, that in all the time that we had come to know both Scott and Justin, and seen them out in public, this was the first time, apart when they were on the receiving end of red’s barbs, that there had been any public recognition, in any form, that they were in fact a gay couple. I felt sure that there would be many folks out there in the community who would have at least thought it, but now it was out there and I was suddenly feeling for both of them.
Scott walked over to Justin and placed an arm around his shoulder.
‘Are you okay with that?’ Scott asked.
‘You know something . . . I always thought it would really freak me out if everyone out there thought, or knew, I was gay. But to be honest I think I’ve finally accepted that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I’ve never been happier than I am right at this minute, and I don’t care who knows it!’
‘Is that right?’ Scott asked.
‘Fuck, yeah! Here, how about I show you?’ Justin said, then turned to face Scott. Grabbing him by the front of his t-shirt and pulling him to him, Justin then planted a kiss on Scott’s lips that was gentle and loving and just seemed to go on and on and on.
I looked across at Luke and saw him grinning at me, then I glanced at Tim and Guy, then Dan and Jake. Each of them seemed to be wrapped up in his own little world, silently communicating with his partner in his own unique way.
Somehow that simple yet gentle act of Justin’s seemed to touch us all.
When someone drove past us and blew their car horn, yelling ‘Way to go, boys!’ I just knew that things were going to be all right.
By lunch time we had done about as much as we could, and apart from the patchy look where the fresh paint was covering up the vandals’ efforts, things were once again looking at least close to normal.
‘Okay then lads,’ Scott eventually said, standing back and admiring all our handiwork, ‘it’s time we took a break. Lunch is on us . . . pizza and beer all round, then afterwards we might give the whole fence a new lease on life, if that’s all right with you guys?’
‘That works for me,’ Dan said, while the rest of us also readily agreed, so we downed tools – packing everything just inside the entrance – and headed down the path towards Scott and Justin’s house.
* * *
The lunch break proved to be more than just that, we soon found ourselves deep in conversation with Dan and Jake, comparing and sharing our experiences and starting to get to know them both, as Scott and Justin looked on.
Dan was the local boy, who met Jake while away at university, having opted for a big city education rather than a local one. They were actually both the same age, which I found surprising, as Jake looked younger, and when they had finished their studies Dan felt the heart strings of home tugging him back to his old home town, having already had enough of the big city life.
Although I hadn’t spent much time in any big city, I felt I could relate to how he must have been feeling, as I think all that hustle and bustle would have driven me insane as well.
Jake said he didn’t really care where they would settle, just as long as he was with Dan, so the deed was done.
In a way I envied them their freedom of choice, being a little unsure as to whether Luke and I would have the same option, but so far things were going well for us and the more time we spent here the more we were both liking the place.
‘And what about you guys?’ Dan asked us. ‘Are you all liking it here?’
‘Actually, we’re loving it,’ I answered, before Luke continued, saying, ‘Yeah, one of the things we love is the fact that even despite the obvious fact that the place has its fair share of bigots and drop-kicks, we’ve made new friends and the place has a welcoming feel to it. We may have all left our real families back home, but now we have a new family . . . it’s just us and our new friends and a new town, and despite everything that has happened this year, we’re loving it! Wouldn’t you agree Tim?’
‘Absolutely,’ he answered.
‘So you think you’ll stick around for a while then?’ Jake asked.
‘Yeah, definitely. For a while at least,’ I answered.
We spent another half an hour or so just chatting about this and that, while finishing off what was left of the lunch order. When we had chewed through, and drunk down, all that Scott had ordered in for us we cleaned up and set off back up the driveway, traveling rather slowly, but ready to finish the fence. We hadn’t made it half way, though, when Luke’s phone buzzed in his pocket, so he quickly pulled it out and answered it.
‘What? Slow down Tony . . . what did you say?’ he asked quickly.
We all stopped to listen.
‘What sort of car is it? How long has it been there?’
Something was going down and Luke was sounding concerned.
‘Hang on a sec . . .’ Luke said, then turned to Scott. ‘It’s Tony. There’s a car keeps cruising past the house and is now stopped outside the front gate. He doesn’t like the look of it.’
‘What sort of car? Ask him to try to get the registration number,’ Scott said.
By this time we had stopped and we were all listening intently.
Luke repeated what Scott had said, then said, ‘It’s a white Subaru Brumby ute.’
‘That’s what Jacko drives,’ Justin said.
‘Who’s Jacko?’ I asked.
‘The red headed fuck-wit. Thompson’s cousin!’ Justin answered.
Luke and I looked at each other. I think the blood drained from both our faces at the same time. The thought of Tony and Aaron being there alone while Red was hanging around wasn’t one that sat comfortably with either of us.
‘Scott . . . I think we better go,’ I quickly said. ‘We’ll come back later and . . .’
‘Forget about it,’ he quickly interceded. ‘Just get yourselves home. We’ll follow you as well . . . just in case we’re needed.’
‘Tony, we’re on our way. Just keep an eye on him, okay?’ Luke said, then disconnected.
We ran for my car, which was still parked on the side of the road where we had pulled up that morning, and jumped in. I looked back and saw Tim and Guy running for theirs, while Dan and Jake were also climbing into theirs.
Scott and Justin were running back down their driveway towards Scott’s truck. I could see Scott digging a phone out of his pocket as he ran.
I think it was the quickest trip home we’d ever had. No sooner had I started the car when I dropped the clutch and spun the wheels, doing a u-turn in front of an oncoming car and receiving a blast from their horn and having an angry fist being shaken in my direction for my troubles.
We sped back toward town and then out the main road, before turning off onto Beachside Lane. As we got closer to home we both looked up ahead of us and groaned.
‘Is that . . .’ Luke began to ask.
‘Smoke?’ I said, finishing the question for him.
The scene we found when we screeched to a stop outside the house was something I never thought I would ever have to experience first hand. We jumped from the car, leaving it parked on the edge of the road still, and for a moment stood transfixed by the scene before us. Smoke was billowing around in the hot breeze and through it we could see flames, although at first it was difficult to see exactly what it was that was on fire.
Luke and I both ran through the smoke and into the yard, not giving any consideration to our own safety, but with our thoughts focused solely on Tony and Aaron and their welfare. Ahead of us we could see shadowy figures in the smoke and we ran toward them, hoping and praying that it was our boys we could see and not the perpetrators of the event.
For an instant I thought about the fact that there was no sign of any car, nor had we passed any cars on our way here. Somewhere in the background we could hear the roar of engines and the screech of brakes as the others arrived behind us.
As the wind swirled around, and for a moment cleared the air around us, we could see more clearly what was happening. Thankfully we were right about who the figures were. It was Tony and Aaron, each of them swinging something and trying desperately to beat at the flames along the side wall of the house.
The garage was well alight, the side closest to the house appearing to be engulfed in flames, with fire having quickly spread along its length, while a once healthy green hedge of shrubs which stood along the wall of the house was also alight, with flames starting to lap at the weatherboard walls and threatening to fully ignite those as well.
‘Are you two okay?’ I asked them when we reached them.
‘Yeah,’ Tony yelled back, while both he and Aaron continued to beat at flames on the ground with what looked like two of our bath towels, soaked in water. ‘But what are we gonna do about this?’
Without saying a word Luke ran for the garden hose, which was neatly coiled on a frame that hung along the back wall of the house, then turned on the tap and started dragging it toward the burning bushes.
I turned around and looked at the garage, but that was a lost cause, there was nothing that anyone would be able to do to save that. I was just thankful that we had very little in the way of stuff stored in there, and that both mine and Tim’s vehicles had been in town.
Through the smoke I soon noticed the others running toward us, Tim and Guy, with Dan and Jake on their heels. I could also hear the sound of more vehicles roaring along the road, accompanied by sirens.
‘Here comes the cavalry,’ Tim said as he reached us.
‘And thank Christ for that,’ I answered.
Luke quickly started spraying water on the bushes in the hedge to try and douse those flames, while also wetting the wall of the house, trying to keep the dry old timber boards damp to stop them from igniting. Dan and Jake grabbed the towels from Aaron and Tony and took over beating at the flames along the ground and in the garden, and between them all it was soon apparent that the house would be okay, apart from a few scorch marks and the loss of a hedge.
Behind us, however, the fire was really taking hold of the garage, with flames now lapping at the roof. We could only watch on helplessly as flames started running along under the guttering and then inside. I walked around to the front and looked through the open doorway, where I soon noticed that the beams inside the roof were also alight. It would only be a matter of time now, I thought, before the rest of it would go up.
It was about then that we were joined by Scott and Justin, as well as the Sarge, then the local Bush Fire Brigade, dressed in their distinctive yellow and white overalls. Seeing as we lived in a small rural town, which wasn’t equipped with a full-blown fire station, this was the volunteer group responsible for responding to all fires when they occurred.
They quickly unrolled their fire hoses and attached them to the large tank on the back of their response truck, then one of them started a small petrol pump on the truck and water was soon being directed at both the garage and the side of the house that Luke had been desperately trying to keep damp.
When the water started flowing from the fire hose, Luke was able to turn off the rather feeble stream from the garden hose and throw it aside, while Dan and Jake were also able to take a rest.
‘As soon as Scott called me we could see smoke out this way, so I called the fire guys and told them to get out here as quick as they could,’ the Sarge said to us as we stood back watching the firies do their stuff.
‘Looks like it was a close call,’ Scott said.
‘You’re not wrong there,’ Guy added.
As the garage burned and still more people arrived, none of whom we knew, apart from Dan’s mum, Mrs H., it was then that the investigation started.
‘So, boys, do you want to tell us what happened?’ the Sarge asked Tony.
He and Aaron looked at each other, then at the rest of us.
‘There was a car,’ Tony said. ‘It was driving up and down the road, going really slow when it passed the house, but speeding up when it drove away.’
‘What sort of car?’ the Sarge urged.
‘It was a white Subaru Brumby ute,’ Tony replied.
‘And did you get a registration number off it?’
‘No, I came out the front to try and get a look at it, but he sped off, that way,’ Tony said, while pointing toward town.
The Sarge frowned for a second, then asked, ‘Did you see it again after that?’
‘Yeah,’ Aaron said. ‘He came back and stopped out front again. That was when we rang Luke. We were inside then and were looking out the front window. The guy got out of the car . . . that’s when we saw who it was.’
‘Go on,’ the Sarge urged.
‘It was Jacko, or Red, or whatever you want to call him,’ Aaron said, then while looking directly at me he added, ‘The guy that bailed us up in the street yesterday.’
The Sarge raised his eyebrows and looked at me, then asked, ‘What did he do then?’
‘He reached back inside the car and brought out some bottles with something red inside them and with, like, rags or something sticking out the top. He had two of ‘em. He set one on the roof of the car and kept hold of the other one, then got a cigarette lighter from his pocket and lit it. Then he lit the rag and threw the bottle at the house.’
‘Holy shit!’ I heard Tim say quietly.
‘It must have been that first one what hit the garage,’ Tony said. ‘When he did that we came straight out the side door and yelled at him. That was when he lit the second one and threw it. We saw it hit the side of the house, up there,’ he added, pointing to a spot on the wall.
‘Then he jumped back in his car and pissed off down the road,’ Aaron said.
‘Which way?’ Scott asked.
‘That way,’ Tony answered, pointing in the direction the road took away from the house and away from town.
Scott and the Sarge both looked at each other and smiled.
‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.
‘It’s a dead end,’ Dan said. ‘If he’s gone down there and hasn’t come back yet . . .’
‘Then he must still be down there!’ Justin proclaimed.
‘Or his car might still be down there and he’s hot-footed it across country, either out onto the main road to hitch a ride back into town, or toward Hidden Beach, so he can get back to town that way, along the coast,’ the Sarge added.
‘No, I don’t think he’s that smart,’ I said.
Just then one of the firemen said, ‘You better stand back folks,’ but no sooner had the words left his lips when something within the garage gave way and a part of the roof fell in, sending a shower of sparks and embers in all directions and causing us all to jump sideways anyhow.
We quickly stomped on a few of the sparks, so that they wouldn’t ignite anything, then turned and watched as the garage continued to burn. The heat was intense, forcing us to step back further, then a few minutes later part of the wall closest to us collapsed, bringing down more of the roof. Soon after that, with the whole structure now being so unstable, the rest of it came tumbling down as well, imploding and sending showers of more deadly sparks out in all directions.
The firemen continued to douse the flames with water and gradually things started to die down, the once intense and angry firestorm quickly becoming little more than a sodden and smoldering mess, with smoke and steam rising into the air and hanging heavily around us on what was now a hot and quite still summer afternoon.
Eventually the water tank ran out, but by that time there was nothing left that was worth worrying about. We considered ourselves lucky that we had gotten off so lightly, although the landlord, whoever he might be – we hadn’t ever met him as the rental was through a local agency – might not look at it with quite such a philosophical view.
Of those folks who had come out to take a look at the excitement we thanked them all for their kindness as they started to leave. When I shook hands with one guy he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Son, I think you guys are good for this town. Whether you realize it or not, you’re making some folks around here take a good long look at themselves. You boys just hang in there. There’s a lot more people around these parts who are rooting for you than you might realize, and after what you did to help put that Andy Thompson where he belongs, well, I think you’ll find that you’ll soon be finding out who they are!’
‘Yeah, but this is all because of what happened with Thompson,’ I responded, while crocking my thumb toward the mess in the yard.
‘That may be true,’ he said. ‘But this is nothing. One dickhead thinking he can get away with something simply because you stood up for what was right. When push comes to shove, young fella, I know whose side the town will be on.’
Then with a wink he turned and headed off toward his car.
‘Who was that?’ Luke asked as he came up beside me and draped an arm across my shoulder.
‘I have no freakin’ idea,’ I answered honestly. ‘But he’s on our side . . . and says that there are a lot more folks around here who are as well!’
‘Well, I guess that’s handy to know,’ Luke replied.
For the first time in a little while I turned and faced him, quickly noticing that his face was smudged with soot and dirt and his clothes were also all dirty.
‘This fire-fighting must be dirty work,’ I said to him as I brushed away some dirt on his cheek, then whispering into his ear, ‘But you look good like this.’
He put his arms around my waist and pulled me to him, totally oblivious to the onlookers.
‘I guess you’ll just have to help me scrub up then,’ he whispered back to me.
‘Gladly,’ I replied, then leant in and kissed him, which earned us some wolf-whistles and cheers from some of those who were still here.
‘So? What are we going to do about our fire-bomber?’ we heard Scott asked the Sarge.
‘I think we need to go for a drive down the road and see what we can find,’ the Sarge answered.
‘I don’t think there’s any need for that,’ Tony offered.
‘Why’s that, young fella?’ asked the Sarge.
‘Because I think he’s on his way back,’ Tony answered, while pointing off into the distance. ‘That sounds just like his car coming now.’
Almost as one we turned and looked in that direction and quite quickly the sound of a car travelling this way, and fast, started growing louder. Without giving it another thought I broke away from Luke and started for the open gateway to our yard, and when they realized where I was going the others quickly followed.
I had only been down past our gateway a handful of times, and always only just a short distance. I had no idea how far the road went, or where it even finished. What I did know, however, was that there was a sharp bend in the road not more than a few hundred metres past our gateway.
I had no plan. I was just acting on instinct, figuring, somehow, that if he wanted to get past us then he was going to have to earn that pass!
‘Careful there, lad,’ I heard the Sarge say from somewhere behind me as I walked to the edge of the road, standing between two vehicles.
I glanced back over my shoulder and grinned at him. ‘I’m always careful, Sarge,’ I said, then turned my attention back toward the sound of the approaching car, just in time to see a white Subaru Brumby utility come around the corner at speed.
He was closing in on us quite fast, and that was when I stepped out onto the road, followed by Luke and Tim and Guy and Aaron and Tony, then everyone else who was still there, including Mrs H., the firemen and a couple of the other locals who had come to see what was happening.
I could imagine that seeing someone standing in the middle of the road with his arms folded across his chest and with a crowd standing behind him would have been a sight that would strike fear into most people.
In the instant that he saw us I saw the panic spread across his face, even allowing for the fact he wasn’t yet right on top of us, then I heard the sound of rubber on gravel, as the brakes locked up and the car started skidding. I saw him give a violent yank on the steering wheel and somehow the car responded and started to veer off the road.
It hit the drain at the side of the road, went over a low bank, was airborne for a few metres and then came to rest with the front having been neatly reshaped into a ‘v’ shape by quite a solid young tree.
He didn’t appear to be injured and quickly had the door open, but before he had even put a foot on the ground Tony was off and running.
Jacko got to his feet and tried to run, but he was no match for Tony, who tackled him to the ground before he had gone very far, pinning him down and keeping him there by pulling an arm around behind his back and managing to keep it pulled up tight behind his shoulder blades for just long enough for the rest of us to reach them.
‘You’re . . . under . . . arrest,’ the Sarge puffed as he reached down and pulled Jacko to his feet and pointed him toward the police car.
Jacko took one long look at me then dropped his head in defeat. He finally knew that he’d lost the battle, yet I reckoned that the hatred would burn in him for quite some time to come yet.
Someone slapped me on the back, then someone else did the same. I looked around me at the people who were still here.
There was Luke, whom I loved more than life itself, grinning like a madman. There were my housemates, who were almost as dear to me. There were the new friends I had made in this town.
Then there were those I didn’t yet know. But they had come anyway. They didn’t care about it being the guys in the Gay House who might need some help. They didn’t care if it was the poofters from out the road.
Those who had come out came because they thought that some of their own might be in trouble, or might need some help.
As the guy who I had spoken to just before Jacko had returned had said to me, ‘When push comes to shove young fella, I know whose side the town will be on.’
I had almost dismissed it as nonsense, but he had just been proven right. When push came to shove it was these folks who were all standing behind me. I can’t even begin to describe how overwhelming that felt.
After the Sarge left and we said goodbye to the others, it was just us, the six housemates, plus Scott and Justin, and our new friends, Dan and Jake.
Luke came to me and hugged me tight.
‘I love you,’ he whispered into my ear, then buried his face into the base of my neck. Suddenly it all seemed too much and I let out a few quiet sobs.
Quickly Luke pulled away and looked into my eyes, holding either side of my face, and with our foreheads touching.
‘What’s wrong? Are you all right?’ he asked, showing real concern.
‘Mate. I’ve never in all my life been better!’ I answered. ‘I have the love of my life in my arms. I live in a place I love and whose people have accepted us all just as we are. What more could a guy ask for?’
And that was when the real tears, tears of happiness, started to flow.