Byron Bay Town Hall buzzed with the hubbub of a thousand voices, eagerly awaiting an evening of pugilistic thrills. Seated beside me were my dad, Graham, a bunch of guys from the swim team, Stuart, Susan and Melanie. Brett sat with his team some distance away but saw my hand wave and returned the gesture. Face tensed, he anxiously focused on the grim task ahead.
"Where do you think you're going?" my dad asked as I rose from my seat.
"I'm just gonna give Brett a bit of encouragement."
"This is not the time, boyo. Grow up."
I bit my lip and sat down. Grow up? Brett was my mate for Christ sake. My dad's remark wounded my pride, but I kept my simmering frustration to myself.
The lighties were first to belt the crap out of each other in the ring, followed by an interval prior to the senior competition. A couple of the guys and I chose that time to head for the refreshments area. When I returned to my seat, dad was missing. I checked the crowd and spotted him chatting to Brett. Upon his return, I asked him why he could talk to Brett but not me.
Chill? My face glowed beet red. I was so mad I could spit. Brett caught my glance and smiled knowingly. What was going on here? Some sort of conspiracy?
Time dragged before Brett's division was called. My bud wore a red top with gold shorts while his opponent wore blue and white. They were about the same size, but the other guy had slightly bigger arms and neck-less, bull-like shoulders. Brett bounced around the ring appearing calm and confident; a good and uplifting omen I thought. After listening to the referee explain the rules, the guys touched gloves. The big moment arrived at last and the crowd roared itself hoarse.
Damn! Just after the first bell, Brett caught a jab in his weak spot. What the hell? He backed off right away. The remainder of the round resembled two dancing roosters, each sizing up the other for the inevitable kill.
The start of round two quickly became a disaster. Brett completely lost his cool, often raising his arm, providing several opportunities for his opponent to hammer his weak spot. Then, halfway through the round, a perfect jab sent the other guy flat on his back. At the count of 8, he struggled to his feet. Brett was back in control. Woohoo! The ref signaled for the match to resume.
Brett jabbed with his left, but this time pulled it short. Bullneck fell for the ploy and aimed for Brett's weak spot again. With precision timing, Brett lifted his right and connected with Bullneck's jaw. It was all over bar the shouting, and there was no shortage of that from the ecstatic onlookers who rose as one from their seats. Brett's opponent was unable to find his feet in time for the count. The ref took my mate's arm, raised it in triumph, and declared him the winner.
Brett looked our way and saw all of us jumping, screaming, and frantically waving our arms. Sweet, glorious victory! I think it was Graham who made the most noise, but my dad wasn't far behind and I was somewhere in the middle.
Toward the end of the tourney, Brett made his way over to our group after showering and changing into his school uniform. Susan greeted her beaming hero with a huge hug and kiss, then the rest of us shook his hand until it was in danger of needing amputation. Even Graham, who hardly knew my mate, impulsively threw his arms around Brett's neck then hugged the hell out of me. What a marvelous and lovable little bloke.
All of us piled into my dad's VW Kombi. It was his treat for `shakes all round. Later, after dropping off the girls, we drove Brett home. He took my dad's hand firmly in his and thanked him. Thanked him? "For what?" I asked as the Kombi pulled away from Brett's house.
"A bit of advice."
"That I gave him."
"Boxing," I laughed. "You?"
"Don't knock it. I boxed when I was Graham's age, and I've always followed the sport."
I was amazed. "No shit? So what did you tell him?"
"To hit the deck before the other guy's glove gets him and to play dead."
I cracked up, knowing my dad was joking. But he was also keeping something from me. He could be an infuriating tease sometimes; a character trait, according to my friends, that I'd inherited. "Come on, dad, cut the crap and tell me what happened."
Shortly after we arrived home, my mom answered the phone, then handed it to my dad. I could tell from his half of the conversation that the caller was Brett, who then asked to speak to me.
"Hey, bro, I just wanted to say thanks again, not just for tonight but also for chillin' with me this afternoon at the beach. And, hey, your father's one helluva special man."
"Yeah, I know."
"Well, if he hadn't spoken to me tonight, I might have lost. Did he tell you?"
"Yeah, about your weak spot, and how to pull that jab so you could line up that dude's jaw. I told dad earlier about your weak spot. I guess he figured out how to turn it to your advantage, then told you. I was mad at the time, though."
"When he spoke to me before the match?"
"Yeah, I wanted to speak to you and let you know we were all rootin' for you big time, but he told me to chill."
"Yeah," he laughed, "I saw you red as a beet. So how come he never told you he boxed before?"
"Tell me about it--it was a surprise to me too!"
"Well, mate, I'm bushed. See you in the morning. And thanks again, big time."
I found it curious that Brett thought so much of my dad yet never spoke about his own. He confessed to me one day that the first time he phoned my house to ask if he could visit, he tried several times but hung up before dialing the final two digits. Brett was by no means a shrinking violet, so why he should be nervous about me or my folks was a riddle.
His mood swings also puzzled me. Sometimes his disposition was so ugly he targeted his aggression at me in the ring, and made no secret of it. If I complained, he accused me of wussing out on him.
I suspected part of the cause was his mom's boyfriend whom he occasionally mentioned but not in sufficient detail to enlighten me: until one day in the gym showers.
"What does your mom say?"
"I don't think she can see what's actually going on. She doesn't know about the violence. Problem is she really likes the guy. And he's good to her, as well as good for her. She's also had a pretty rough time since my old man walked out."
"You're gonna need to sit down with them and talk, before you do something really stupid."
"It's cool, Kyle. I'm okay."
"Oh? Like this morning when you seriously hurt me in the ring?"
"Hey, just let me deal with this thing."
"Beat you up every morning to release the tension," he joked laconically. I lunged and tried to bear hug him, but he pushed me away. "Fuck, Kyle! Put on some pants, dude. What if someone walked in here and saw us wrestling nude?"
"Yeah, you're right. I kinda forgot we're naked. Sorry."
"It's cool. Just think first."
"You wanna come around to my place after school?"
I was on the roof fixing tiles that shifted during a recent storm when Brett arrived. "G'day. Wanna hand?"
"Yeah, you can jack me off while I fix the tiles."
"Thanks, Brett. I need about four hands up here."
He wore a tank top that exposed the bulging of his biceps each time he lifted a tile. It was one of those Mr Fitness attributes that commanded observation. "I just wanted to chill with you a while before I see Susan later on," he said.
Normally it was me who quizzed Brett about stuff, but he decided to reverse that role one time during school recess.
"So you went around to Melanie's house Saturday night?"
"And her folks were out?"
"That's two `yeps' so far. Did you guys have sex?"
"We just did some necking and stuff."
"She gives pretty good head, huh?"
Brett cracked big time at my startled expression, and slapped his knee. "Melanie phoned Susan first thing Sunday morning to tell her she'd gotten into your pants. She said you were nervous as all hell, especially when she took you in her mouth."
My neck and face were a raging inferno but I tried desperately to remain calm. "Yeah, well, I wasn't expecting it."
"Oh, yeah! Tell me another one. Into her house and nobody's home? And you didn't wanna do the big number?"
"I had no protection on me, anyway."
"Are you getting mad at this convo?"
"Nope, I'm just pissed at Melanie phoning Susan with the details."
"Don't sweat it, mate. I'm sure Susan tells Melanie about her and me. Anyway, Melanie's been talking about seeing you naked ever since your first date, and she's not disappointed. So just enjoy it."
"So what's the story?" I snapped. "Each time we do something she phones Susan?"
"Hey, Kyle, chill for Christ sake. We do the same thing."
"I guess so. You just caught me by surprise."
"Weeeell," Brett began with an evil grin, "she described your boner the way I see it every morning in the showers. So how was it?"
"So when are you gonna go all the way?"
I snapped again. "Fucking hell! Why is that so important to you?"
"Whoa! Hold it! I'm sorry I even brought it up, okay?"
"I'm not mad at you, Brett. It's just that it's such a huge deal that all the guys at school have to get laid."
"Well, it's better than spending every night wanking."
Time to change tack, I thought. "I had a cool chat with Melanie last night. She visited my place."
"I asked her what it was like when you were dating her."
"I'm not sure I should tell you."
"Cut the crap, Kyle. We're mates."
"She said she likes you a helluva lot but she couldn't handle your mood swings from one day to the next. She couldn't predict what kinda mood you were gonna be in."
"You seem to handle my moods okay."
"You've got a hot bod."
"Fuck off, Kyle. Every time I ask you something serious you change the subject and talk shit."
"It's not shit. Anyway, I handle your moods `cause I wanna. Sure I get pissed when you act like the world's gonna end, but you're my mate, and that's what mates do."
"Probably an 8."
"Is that closer to a 9?"
"Pretty close. Anyway, Melanie says I got a pretty neat room."
A man's house is his kingdom, but in the case of a teen it's his room. According to my little grommet buddy next door it was our room. He slept over often, bombarding me with questions about sex. Melanie fascinated him. He wanted to know all about her, and what she and I did together during our intimate moments. His interrogations were different to Brett's; Graham was a boy approaching puberty and I was his "big bro", willing to chat about the things he was reticent to discuss with his parents.
I wondered about the relationships established by children without siblings. All of us were in the same boat: Brett, Melanie, Susan, Graham, Stuart and me. Was that why we developed such close bonds? Would a real brother or sister be any closer? Was blood really thicker than water? If that were the case, I couldn't imagine it being so. All my friends were family to me, and not just me. My folks embraced my friends as family, too, especially Graham who probably spent as much time in our house as his own.