If not for my surfing with Graham and Stuart, I doubted my sanity would survive the first week of Brett's absence. Every morning before work, I waited at the coffee shop only to be disillusioned by his non-appearance. Sometimes, I phoned him at work but he was always too busy to talk. In desperation, I visited his girlfriend and asked her for his phone number at the flat. "He told me not to give it to anybody, Kyle, and that includes you." Calling Susan a bitch didn't help. When she told Brett, he phoned and threatened to break my face.
"Can I get a straight answer, Brett? Are you trying to avoid me?"
"Crap. I've been working my butt off, including nights. Besides, we need to chat."
Oh? Next morning at the coffee shop, whatever he had a mind to tell me failed to materialize. He didn't show. I took a risk and phoned him at work. "I'm not handling your evasive behavior, Brett. You said we needed to chat so I expected to see you for coffee."
"I said I'd see. Anyway, you're gonna need to handle it, Kyle. I'm going to Perth for a while."
"What about your job here?"
"It's mine as soon as I return."
"I don't know. Maybe Perth will pan out. If it doesn't, I'll come back. If it does, well, we'll see."
To my surprised delight, Brett arrived for coffee next morning. He wore a T-shirt that clung to his muscular torso, and shorts that were noticeably intimate with his ass crack. His hair was a little longer on top, but short at the sides. "How's it?" he asked as he gave me a friendly punch on the arm, and sat opposite.
"Cool. I thought you weren't coming."
"Stop looking so damn miserable. I'm here."
"You're relaxed and smiling as if we'd met every day. I've missed you, man."
"So tell me what's happening."
"Busy as all getup. The boss is impressed with my work."
"He should be; you got good legs."
"Cut the crap," he smiled, then paused while two coffees arrived at our table. "I'm going to Perth," he resumed, but cut me short. "Wait, wait, wait! Give me a chance to explain. It's for a short while, and then I'll be back. My boss says my job is safe, anytime. The other bloke, the one from Perth, says he's got a car I can use, plus a room and everything I need."
"You don't have a driver's license."
"There's more. He'll pay for my learner's then license."
"That's cool," I mocked.
"Stop looking so miserable."
"I can't help it. I miss you, and I can't get hold of you. When are you getting a cell phone?"
"I sit here every morning, waiting and hoping you'll show. And then you don't."
"Yeah, well ... I'm sorry."
"So when do I see you again?"
"Stop bitching for fuck sake, I'm here now!"
"When are you leaving for Perth?"
"I don't know."
"Can I phone you over there?"
"I'm not sure."
"But you are getting a cell phone, right?"
"Yes! Stop with the questions already!"
"I'm not gonna handle this," I sighed with resignation.
"You can handle it. Hey, Kyle, I want you to be happy for me. There are things happening now that promise an exciting time for me. I know you'll be unhappy for a while, but you'll get over it. We're mates forever. This is not goodbye. This is I'm--gonna--see--you--again--soon time."
"You might like Perth."
"Look at me," he asked, causing me to raise my lowered eyes. "The worst thing about this whole trip is that I won't be seeing you for a while. But I think it will be good for both of us."
"What does Susan say?"
"Well, that's something I haven't told you yet. But I think you need to know everything right now. Susan and I are splitting."
"Now you're joking, right? So you're not coming back?"
"Susan and I spoke about it when she stayed over at the flat. We agreed it's all for the best. She still has a year of school. She can concentrate on her final year. I'll be away most of the time. It also takes the pressure off her to hang around and wait for me."
"You're not coming back," I said softly but with conviction.
"I'm not sure when. There's a lot of work over there in Fremantle."
Hiding my emotions was next to impossible, which must have been obvious to Brett. "It's gonna be hard, Brett. I thought things were coming together for us."
"And that's another thing, Kyle. I need to sort out my mind. I felt something the other night when we were together at my mom's place--something I never felt before."
"Atta boy!" he laughed. "I love you, Kyle. You'll never understand how much. This move isn't easy for me. There's a lot of shit in my head at the moment. But this is something I need to do."
"I know I've been coming on too strong."
"You were being you."
"Can we see each other? Like a sleep-over before you go?"
"I'll try ... really."
Brett changed the subject and spoke enthusiastically about the yachties he befriended, and how much he enjoyed sailing. It was an exciting new world for him. His green eyes sparkled with a dream I couldn't share. "Early days yet, Kyle, but I dream of owning my own yacht some day and maybe sailing the world. How awesome would that be?"
"All you need now is a pipe and a supply of spinach."
While my best mate spent Sunday saying his goodbyes to Susan, I devoted the day to reorganizing my wardrobe. Brett's looked like something out of Mary Poppins--all his t-shirts folded and stacked neatly on one shelf. Shorts on another. Briefs folded in one drawer. Another drawer for socks. Button-up shirts hung in a row. Jeans folded neatly on a shelf. Chinos, cargos and smart pants all on hangers. However, within an hour, my closet looked the same! My mom couldn't believe her eyes when she saw it. Something inexplicable was happening to her son.
Then I used a blank tape to record all my favorite songs for Brett as a parting gift. But the first song was the one with the most profound meaning.
On Monday morning, Brett breezed into the coffee shop, sat opposite me, and gave me his most evil grin. "Hey, mate, I hope you don't mind."
"I took Susan to your special place on Wollumbin yesterday."
"No worries. That's cool."
"This whole thing isn't easy for me or her, so it was good to be at your special place to chat. It was weird. I felt your presence there with us, and I wondered what you were doing."
"You were thinking of me? That's pretty damn cool."
"Yeah, I was thinking of you."
"You're gonna miss Susan a stack, huh?"
"Susan--and you. Yeah, I'll miss her a lot, but it's best to separate this way. Susan always made me feel king of the world. She taught me how to make love, and I guess you taught me how to love."
"I could teach you more if you stayed."
"Don't push your luck," he laughed. "Susan and I said our goodbyes up there on the mountain."
When we left the café, Brett promised to phone me, and he did. It was just a `howzit' call but a welcome one. That night, however, depression swept down from nowhere and imprisoned me in its talons. One minute, I was eating dinner with my folks and the next I felt a severe lump in my throat. With tears in my eyes, I excused myself from the table. My folks didn't intervene; they understood how devastated I was about Brett's leaving. By 9pm, I'd cried myself to sleep.
Next morning, at coffee, Brett sat opposite and said, "It's not working, Kyle. That plastic switched-on smile doesn't cut it. And there are tears in your eyes."
Awkward silence prevailed for some minutes as we sipped coffee and tried valiantly to think of something worthwhile to say. But then: "Kyle? Wanna spend the night?"
"Spend what night?"
"The night before I leave for Perth--at my garden flat."
"You know the answer to that," I beamed. "You got two beds?"
"Nope. One single."
"Damn! Then it's the hard floor for me."
"What about your boss and his wife?"
"They leave this morning for Coffs Harbor to inspect someone's yacht."
"Will you do me a fav?"
"Come home with me this afternoon after work just to say goodbye to my folks. They'd appreciate that."
"I'd like that too."
During the bus trip home I promised to show Brett something really special. "We're going surfing," I announced. "You can use my stick."
"I don't have a wetsuit. I'll freeze my nuts off out there."
"I won't wear mine either. She'll be right, mate. No worries."
My spare boardies struggled to grip Brett's narrow waist, which was maybe an inch or two narrower than mine. Once we paddled beyond the moderate swell, we sat side-by-side on our boards. Brett commented on the lack of rideable surf, and wondered what the hell we were doing out back sitting atop a flat ocean.
"I checked from the bus, and knew there was no surf. I just wanted to show you another of my happy places."
"I've always known you loved this place."
"I wanted you to share it with me for a while. Listen." We sat quietly, noting the squawking of the gulls contrasting with the gentle lapping sounds of our boards. It was a peaceful place, rather like my mountain in that respect. Wollumbin towered imposingly in the distance, as it had for eons, caressed by angels in the form of fluffy white clouds. Both these happy places allowed one's spirit to absorb effortlessly the soothing beauty of nature. "You haven't told me when you're leaving," I said.
"I planned to tell you tonight. I leave tomorrow, Kyle. I catch a bus to Brisbane airport after work."
"Tell me you'll be back one day, Brett. Please?"
"I'd like that. You know that. I'm shit scared, Kyle. I'm not sure what's gonna happen."
My folks had become Brett's adopted family. Mom's eyes were full of tears during the goodbyes, which was to be expected but Brett certainly didn't anticipate a huge, affectionate hug from my dad, who offered to drive us to Brett's flat. I slid my toothbrush into the side pocket of my cargos and off we went.