Brett's mood was exceedingly somber when we met for coffee one morning before starting work at our respective jobs. "Cheers," was all he said before leaving.
Next morning, he appeared with cuts to his ear and cheek. "SFB?" I asked.
"He doesn't approve of my drinking his beer and smoking his stash."
Brett leaned back as coffees were placed on our table. He waited for the waitress to leave before moving forward again. "Listen, Kyle," he announced. "I'm going to Perth."
"I almost killed SFB last night. My mom was in tears and screaming at me. If not for her hysteria, I would have put a carving knife through the bastard."
"It was intense; I lost my head completely. I had him over the kitchen sink with a knife at his throat. We screamed blue murder at each other."
Uncontrollable tears immediately took my eyes hostage. "That's why you're leaving?"
"Last night made up my mind. As you know, I've been thinking about it." Brett saw I was too choked up to respond, so he continued. "That guy who offered me the job in Perth is visiting the Gold Coast, probably next week. I phoned my dad about 3 this morning, about midnight his time. He says if it doesn't work out, I can stay with him for as long as I need to, or I can get my own digs and he'll help out." I still couldn't respond. "Jesus, Kyle, that's the most maudlin look I've ever seen. Don't put me on a guilt trip, please."
"I'm trying not to. I can't help it. But I understand you need to go."
"I'll probably move into Susan's place this weekend if her folks approve."
"You can move into my house for a short time."
"I can't do that."
"I just can't."
"You can," I insisted. "My folks will be cool about it."
"And you'd be all over me like a fucking rash every minute. You're my mate, Kyle, and the other night was special, but I can't do that all the time. It drives me crazy."
"I won't. You can sleep in the spare room or the den."
"It won't work. You'll be watching every move I make."
"C'mon, Brett, we're mates," I pleaded. "It'll be a short while and I won't hassle you."
"Stop it! It's not gonna happen."
"Maybe Susan's folks won't let you stay there."
"Then I'll make a plan."
"Then consider my offer."
"No! Listen up, dumbass. You took me on a journey I didn't believe could ever happen. I'm not gonna say I didn't like it; I did. But I cannot do that all the time. I'm not like you, Kyle. I'm madly in love with Susan and I can't afford to stuff up the relationship."
"But the other night?"
"Was fucking wrong! And I should never have done what I did. It was my fault because I wanted it to happen. I needed to see what makes you tick."
"You've lost me. I'm not understanding anything here."
"Just gimme a break; my mind's swimming. Kyle, I don't want to hurt you, okay? You don't deserve that."
"When are you going?"
"It depends on this other bloke from Perth."
"Maybe he's gay and he wants you."
"He's not. I would have sensed it. Don't think that possibility didn't occur to me. Anyway, so what? Gay is a dirty word now? With you? That's a turn-up for the books."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot--you got a gay girlfriend."
Brett's fist slammed my jaw with such power I saw stars. The nearby restaurant patrons sat bug-eyed. "Fuck you, Kyle!" Brett snarled. He appeared ready to hit me again. Veins in his forehead bulged and pulsated. If he had hit me a second time, he would have sent me clear into the next world. Instead, he rose from the table and spat the words, "Stay away from me!" Then he stormed off, leaving me sitting there stunned.
Friday night, I phoned Brett but he was out. I phoned Susan. "He says he doesn't want to speak to you, Kyle. What's going on?"
"Hey, ask him."
My folks were out so I stayed home. I tried surfing the internet but my brain refused to focus. I searched for friends on line with zero result. Then I checked a few porno pics and got naked. How pathetic, I thought, if Brett could see me now.
My folks arrived home about 1am. Good ol' mom. She entered my room after knocking and asked how I felt. "I'm cool, mom," I lied, "just having a quiet one at home for a change."
She placed a hand on my forehead as I lay in bed. "You don't feel ill."
"I'm fine, mom. Really."
"Sure you are, son. You're feeling on top of the world. So, tell me, why are your eyes are watering?"
"I had a helluva barney with Brett," I admitted.
"Hmmm, so let me calculate what number fight this is," she smiled. "And that explains the cut and bruise."
"This was different."
"Would you like to talk about it? Or maybe with dad?"
"Nah, it'll be cool--really."
As expected, mom spoke to dad who, after a few minutes, entered my room and sat on the side of my bed. The conversation began with small talk about surfing conditions and weather but soon graduated to the obvious topic at hand. "I had a friend when I was about your age," he volunteered without prompting, "We were tight. So tight, I'm sure some people had strange thoughts about us. One day, we argued about something stupid. I said something--I can't even remember what it was--and we never spoke to each other again. I went into depression; I was stubborn. And so was he."
"So you never saw him again?"
"Never. And I suspect you and Brett hurt each other with words--and that the bruise on your cheek doesn't bother you at all. You young blokes suit each other as friends, and I think Brett is pretty much a no-bullshit person, whereas you, son, can be stubborn. Don't throw it away, Kyle. Even if you don't see each other for a while, get the words happening. If you throw it all away, all the good memories will go with it."
Later, I phoned the shipyard. A woman answered. "Brett?" she yelled, "you're wanted on the phone." After a pause, she relayed his message: "He said he's busy and can't take the call."
That night, I phoned Brett at home. His mother answered. "Brett, it's Kyle for you."
He must have been in close proximity to the phone because I overheard him say, "Tell him I'm showering." Nonetheless, I rocked over to his house. His bedroom door was closed. I knocked and announced myself. A few seconds elapsed, then the door opened. Brett immediately turned his back and resumed packing two sports bags which were open on his bed. He was normally a tidy person so I was surprised to see him shoving stuff in like it was meant for the laundry.
Eventually he turned to face me. His eyes were red from crying. "What the fuck do you want, Kyle?"
"I didn't mean what I said about Susan, you know I didn't." He ignored me and continued packing. "Where are you going?" I asked. Still with his back to me, he said he had a small garden flat on the Gold Coast. "The Gold Coast!"
Brett began to pack his toiletries while I stood there, silent and dumbfounded. Then he rolled his quilt around his pillow and folded sheets. By that stage, tears rolled down his cheeks and his nose ran. He brushed past me on his way to the ensuite shower where he blew his nose.
"How are you getting there?" I asked upon his return.
"With all your stuff?"
"Two bags and some bedding. It's cool."
"My dad will take you."
"It's okay, I can manage." He went to his desk, took an envelope and handed it to me. I saw my name written on the front.
"It's for me?"
"I was going to give it to Melanie. Don't open it now."
"Why don't you just tell me what's written inside. I'm here."
"You can read it later."
"Will you ever come back to this house?"
"What about Susan. Have you seen her? Does she know you're leaving?"
"Are you leaving because of me?"
"You know that's not the reason."
"Will I see you again?"
"Are we still friends?"
Despite the tears brimming in his eyes, Brett turned to face me directly and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Mates forever, right?"
"I need to say goodbye to my mom, Kyle. Maybe you don't want to be here."
"I can give you a hand with your stuff."
"I can manage."
"You want me to leave?"
"I think it's better--for now."
"Catch you for coffee as usual in the mornings?"
"How can I get in touch with you?"
"Will you phone me?"
"I'll see, Kyle."
"I'm fucking hating this!"
"Look--I'll try to phone you later, or maybe see you for coffee."
"I'll see." He offered me his hand and we shook. "See you, Kyle."
"See you, Brett. I love ya."
About half way to the bus station, I sat on the curb under a street light and opened the envelope:
"Please don't show this note to anyone. Get rid of it when you read it.
"By the time you get this I will be out of my house. My boss and his wife offered me a garden flat at their house on the Gold Coast. The rent will be taken out of my wages. It's not free but he says it won't be too expensive.
"I can't fathom what's going on in my head at the moment. It may be best if we don't see each other for a while. There are many things I want to say but can't. I figured it might be easier to write them down.
"I met a lot of guys I thought were mates but I never really knew what a friend was until I met you. You're a pain in the ass sometimes but I understand that I can be as well. You showed me what real friendship is all about and now I've screwed that up. I hope that, one day, we can get it back together again.
"I realized the other night that you are like no other person I've met or will meet during my whole life. I want you to know something: I loved the night we shared together, every special moment of it. I can't describe exactly what I felt. I would never have believed I could have such strong feelings--and still have.
"I need to sort myself out, Kyle. I need the space to think things through. You know how I feel about certain issues and that hasn't changed. I have feelings for you that I find difficult to cope with.
"I know you won't be happy with my decision to leave without letting you know, but it's better for both of us. Look after yourself, mate. I'm sorry for the things we said to each other.
"Hey!" I called the moment I spotted Brett on his way to the bus station, laden with all his belongings.
"Thought you'd gone."
"Yeah, well, I knew you'd need a hand." I grabbed one of his bags and walked beside him. "Anyway, I wanna make sure you leave." After a pause, I told him I read his note.
"I knew you would before you got home, because you never bloody listen."
"I'm gonna hate not being able to rock over to your house to see you."
"I just need some time."
"Will you ever move back?"
"My mom wants me to stay but she also understands."
"I know you need to move but I don't have to like it."
"I'll miss Byron."
"Thanks for the note."
"I also thought what you wrote was pretty damn special."
We sat quietly on a bench at the bus station where the coach waited, engine idling. Nothing remained to be said that hadn't been said already. The horrible scenario I dreaded had arrived. I was completely at the mercy of destiny's course.
Eventually, Brett loaded his luggage and prepared to board. "See you for coffee on Monday," he said solemnly. I watched the fading lights of the bus until they vanished from view.