Together with the rest of the Grade Eights, Graham toured our school to meet the new teachers and familiarize himself with the school layout. For welcome light relief, Frank organized a swimming competition between our team and the new guys, an event Mitch and his goons deemed a perfect opportunity to insult me as I fussed over my little bro.
"So, Kyle, you really are into little boys."
My blood boiled instantly but, before I got the chance to react, Graham piped up: "Hey, Mitch, you still pissed off `cause I won't touch your ugly dick?" A heavy backhander from the blimp sent the grommet flat on his back.
Brett's response was immediate and instinctive. Two lightning-fast punches put the bully on his fat ass. Brett was also prepared for trouble from the goons who, wisely, kept their distance. One of them helped Mitch to his feet and led the pathetic sight away.
"Did you hear that crack?" I asked Brett. "Sounded like his nose."
"Serves the idiot right," he answered, then turned his attention to Graham. "Hey, you okay, mate?"
"Of course!" the little bloke lied; face smarting bright red from the smack; eyes on the verge of tears. Brett winked, then grabbed the grommet's arms while I took his ankles. "One, two, three!" We watched Graham hurtle clumsily through the air before an undignified splashdown, a comical sight that relieved the tension and put the fun back into the day.
Later, Brett asked if the altercation between Mitch and Graham was the reason I fought the bully a few months back. "He was into Graham's pants?"
"Sort of," I replied, unwilling to discuss the sordid details.
When the day arrived for Final Assembly, the last thing I expected was to hear Brett's name called by the principal. He never mentioned his nomination for prefect. "I didn't think I'd get it," he explained.
"You sure are full of surprises."
"Me? Yeah, right. Who do you think the principal was talking about when he said he hoped not too many of the boys would parade around the beach without clothes on, and give the teachers heart palpitations?" Brett referred to a bunch of us recently goofing off in the pool when a guy grabbed my Speedos and threw them toward the stands. To everyone's surprise, I casually exited the water and retrieved them, ensuring our female biology teacher got a good view of my six inches swaying in the breeze. "Anyway," he added, "why didn't you nominate for prefect?"
"I'm not the type."
"I'm just not the type, that's all. Anyway, I'll be helping the swim team train during vacation. That'll keep me out of crap."
"Yeah, right," he laughed. "Nothing will ever keep you out of crap."
Actually, the final day of school was tinged with sadness as well as joy. Many of the seniors took time to say their goodbyes to other pupils and teachers. For the seniors, a big chunk of their lives had drawn to a close. For those teachers who befriended students, it was a day when many familiar faces were destined to vanish from their daily routine.
The night prior to our ten-day hiking and camping trip at Nightcap, Graham breezed into my room and bounced his rucksack on my bed. "You're not gonna believe this," he bitched as he unzipped the bag, "my mom made me pack PJs. Two pair!" The PJs were immediately dispatched to the floor. "Who the hell wears PJs in a sleeping bag? And look at this! Socks! Ten! A pair for each day!"
As various items were tossed from the bag by the disgruntled grommet, I commented: "Rule number 1 on hiking trips, bro, never let your mom anywhere near your rucksack."
A few days into the Nightcap National Park hike, we made camp on the grassy bank of a mountain stream. Gareth, the hike leader and one of the previous year's seniors, approached me as I tended a small fire, preparing to boil the billy. "Your little buddy is loaded," he belly-laughed. "I went for a swim and saw Graham whacking his wand behind a tree. Hell, I never realized lighties had that much juice in them!"
Coffee-making postponed, I fell about, cracking up. "Did he see you?"
"Yeah, but he'd reached the point of no return by then. All he could do was say "g'day" between squirts. You should've been there, man. It was hilarious! The look on his startled face was priceless!"
Both Gareth and I bellowed so hysterically we woke the rest of the group. One by one, sleepy-heads staggered from their tents wondering what the hell triggered the mirth, then quickly retreated to the bushes for more urgent considerations.
Once coffee was brewed and served, I noticed Graham's absence from the group. I found him at the spot where Gareth took his earlier swim. Graham sat forlornly on the bank, playing with a blade of grass.
"What's up, mate?" I asked as I sat beside him.
"Gareth caught me jacking."
"So he said."
"He told you?"
"He said you shot a bucket."
"Hey, don't beat yourself over it! Oops! Freudian slip. Sorry. Listen up, bro, all the guys will jack this trip. It's either that or wet dreamland."
"You too?" he asked, surprised and hopeful.
"Hey, this is Kyle, remember. I've jacked every day since we started--in fact, twice yesterday." Graham's infectious smile return to his innocent face. Then, together, we indulged in a hearty laugh. "Take my advice," I said, "if you don't want the other guys to see you, don't go beating your meat near swimming places. Anyway, Gareth says you got quite a monster for a little guy."
"Serious?" Graham's brown eyes widened and sparkled. "Have you seen his? Whoa! It's huge! His veins look like a vine wrapped around a tree trunk."
We spent the morning swimming in the cool, crystal-clear mountain stream, marveling at the tranquility of the surrounding forest and the sheer isolation of a genuine boys' paradise where boys could indeed be boys. Well, frankly, it wasn't all that tranquil for Graham. He got more than his share of roughhousing from the older guys. But the little guy had surprising spirit, refusing to be dominated without a fiery struggle. His strength astonished many, some of whom had to settle for second best. Soon, all agreed that Graham was a tough little customer worthy of everyone's respect.
On the other hand, being a virgin hiker, Graham did not escape initiation. During the early stages of the hike, where the going was pretty heavy and the merciless summer sun cooked our skin, the grommet overheard us talking about dehydrated water as we trudged a narrow winding uphill trail, humping our backpacks.
"Kyle? Why didn't you tell me about dehydrated water? Then I wouldn't have to carry all these damn water bottles!"
Darren produced an empty bottle from his bag. "This is dehydrated water, bud. Want some?"
"Sure!" Graham watched Darren pour water from a full bottle into the empty one, which he then handed to the kid. "But this is your normal water," Graham complained, unable to hide his disappointment and puzzlement.
None of us could maintain control a moment longer. We fell about laughing, much to Graham's chagrin. On another occasion, Frank told Graham to fetch a sky-hook from Brett, who cracked up at hearing the request. "Frank wants a sky-hook. You got one?" But, that night, Brett became the target of sinister grommet retribution. He woke screaming after slipping into his sleeping bag wherein a creepy-crawly lizard lurked. The grommet's raucous laughter at seeing a naked Brett flee from his tent stamped him as the undisputed culprit. The boy, still inside his sleeping bag, was promptly bundled onto the upper branches of a tree, where his every delicate effort to free himself resulted in ominous creaks and groans and the threat of a harsh and painful landing. Considerable time elapsed before he managed to gingerly lower himself to safety, covered with scratches and mumbling profanities.
Graham knew well my stories of previous hikes, and how we often walked naked. "Let's do it now," he suggested at one point, wearing an impish grin. Darren agreed it was a cool idea. And Brett? No way, Jose. But he relented because everyone else got naked--the peer pressure being too great for him to reject.
"Hey, Kyle," he said as in fell into line beside me, "what happens if someone else comes along and sees all these naked asses?"
"They might get as excited as you are," I answered, observing his boner.
"This is insane! A whole lotta guys naked on Peates Mountain! Ah! This is crazy! I can't walk down here with a hardon!"
"Look around you. Check Graham's hugging his gut. He's not worried."
As it happened, we didn't see another soul during the afternoon hike, which was just as well. Brett was definitely not comfortable with the idea despite his generous endowment.
That night as we lay in our sleeping bags, he said: "I guess I gotta get used to this naked thing with you guys."
"Not my style--parading myself in front of guys like that."
"I don't know why you're so hung--excuse the expression--up about it. You got a killer bod and a cock a lotta guys would die for." Then I added an afterthought, "Oh, and a cute butt."
"I should've known not to get involved in a convo like this with you."
"Listen, the guys do it `cause they can, not `cause they're parading. All of us were shy the first time--you just get used to it."
"Graham's not shy."
"He's loaded in that department," I chuckled, "and he likes to show off."
"All that jacking he does?"
"So? Don't you?"
"You're gonna have a wet dream."
Not keeping a diary on the trip was a bummer. By the same token, keeping a record of everything would have been a major hassle. And I was still peeved about losing the diary I kept during the Gold Coast surfing trip with Stuart. The disk became corrupted before I could email it to G.
The first day of the hike was hard slog to get us to the first peak and Mount Nardi proper. It took us all day and a lotta the guys struggled, particularly Graham. His bag was huge and heavy. Fortunately, his legs were strong: one of his best and most admirable features.
Brett, on the other hand--aided by his boxing, weight training and general fitness--took the hike in his stride. Steve also handled it well, but his smoking habit took its toll by the time we reached the first peak.
We sat around the flickering glow of the campfire after dinner that night when Graham piped up: "So when's the jacking competition?"
Brett was stunned. "The what?"
"Kyle told me there's always a jacking competition on hikes to see who shoots the furthest."
"We don't always have one," Darren explained, diplomatically. "Depends on the mood. Anyway, it stops the guys from having wet dreams in their sleeping bags."
"Count me out," Brett mumbled as he poked the fire with a stick, sending a flurry of sparks into the night air.
"Count me in," Steve grinned. "I reckon I could win that one."
"Yeah?" Graham asserted, puffing his chest. "You'll probably come second after me!"
Concern about Brett's discomfort with the direction of the convo prompted me to change the subject. "Anybody know anything about the different star constellations?" Darren took the bait and spent ages telling us about the stars and how to find the Southern Cross to navigate at night.
"How come you can only use it at night?"
As the trip progressed, Brett and Gareth became tight buddies, often wrestling and roughhousing during skinny-dip sessions in the mountain pools and under waterfalls. It was pleasing to see Brett mellowing and enjoying the company of his peers, including the physical contact; something he avoided and even resented until now.
One morning I woke early and waded into the river for a swim. Its surface was mirror smooth and glassy. Suspended just above it drifted an eerie white mist like something from a fairy tale. My strokes were slow and casual, sending quiet unhurried ripples to the rich-green grassy banks.
I recognized Brett's voice. "G'day, mate."
"This is so beautiful," he remarked, standing naked on the bank, observing the wonder of a Nightcap dawn.
"It is, hey. C'mon in!"
"Later. I lit a fire just now for coffee."
I emerged from the water, sporting a boner, and joined Brett by the fire. "I need a woman," he lamented.
"'Cause I'm turned on by the sight of you naked."
"Fuck off, Kyle. I'm joking." Then he cracked up. I loved to see Brett laugh. He always looked so cool and...well, kind of vulnerable and huggable.
We took two cups of steaming coffee back to the river bank where we sat and watched the mist slowly evaporate, giving way to a hot new summer day. "Wicked coffee."
"What are you thinking about?"
"Just this place--us--being naked and totally natural. Having fun and being free. I never thought a hike could be this good, and that's the truth, bro."
The tranquility was shattered by a sudden ruckus. We glanced over our shoulders to see Gareth and Richard carrying Graham, still in his sleeping bag, toward the river. We watched his unceremonious and short flight through the air before splashdown. Everyone cracked up, except Graham of course. He stood waist deep, clutching his drenched sleeping bag, and called each of us every name in the book, and then some.
Breakfast of bacon and eggs and toast cooked over the hot coals, was a deliciously welcome treat. "Smells wicked," the grommet enthused, rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of filling a hungry belly.
"You're gonna have to do your share of cooking, Graham. Can't just sit there and be treated like Lord Muck."
"Yeah, right. Lord Muck? Like whose soaked sleeping bag is hanging on the fucking tree?"
I learned a lot about Brett on that trip. Much of his private shell had melted away. One night, as we sat around the campfire telling jokes and laughing, little Graham succumbed to sleep. His head rested against Brett's shoulder. I expected Brett to push the kid away, but no. He allowed the grommet to enjoy his peaceful slumber. Later, he helped the groggy little guy into his sleeping bag and put him to bed in his tent.