"Try not to be so negative on the phone," G wrote. "If you're miserable every time Brett phones, he'll stop. Try to be positive. Be happy for him. Let him know you love him and miss him, but don't give him the guilts. It won't be easy but it'll pay dividends."
Next time Brett called, I was cheerful, and so was he. He spoke about how he loved the motorbike and the freedom it gave him. In addition, he and the girl he met had a good thing going. "She slept over Friday night."
"Melanie slept over too."
"Eventually," I laughed. "Brett, are you planning to stay in Perth?"
"Not sure. I've been happy here. Met my dad this afternoon, and my little bro and sis. We had a cool time. My dad wants me to study over here, and offered to help pay for it. No pressure. He wants me to stay with the yacht thing and maybe do a skipper course."
"So you're not coming back to Byron?"
"I'm not sure, Kyle."
Over the next month, I began gradually to come to terms with Brett's absence. He phoned two or three times a week, which allayed any fear I had of his forgetting me. Melanie, Graham, Steve and other friends kept me occupied, especially Graham who appointed me as his `coach' for the upcoming swim gala. And there was no shortage of busy days at the surf shop.
One day, a group of first year varsity guys entered the shop to sell their `rag' mag to raise money for student health and welfare. Frank was with them. All the students, dressed in weird fashion, were no match for Frank. With his hair dyed bright red, he wore battered old sneakers, a pair of torn boxers over his Speedos, and no top. Not too many guys looked as good as Frank in the chest department. Woohoo! A pair of braces slung over his powerful, tanned shoulders supported the broken elastic waistband of his boxers. He was by far the best mag seller of the group, with buyers all over him like a rash, including me. We discussed the swim gala the following Saturday. Frank was amped, and determined to thrash the `schoolies'. He'd already spoken to Darren, and they were ready for this thing. "We're gonna kick ass."
Brett phoned that night to tell me that he and his girlfriend, Candy, were almost joined at the hip.
"The bloke who brings you coffee every morning."
"He bought a gym set and installed it in the spare room. He wants me to help him train."
"He did it so he can watch you train!"
"I know that, but it's cool. He can watch all he likes. I told him about my boxing at school, so he bought a punching bag as well. You'd piss yourself laughing if you were here, Kyle. He wants me to push him to get fit, but he pisses water after exercising for just two minutes. He's cool, though. You'd like him."
"Does he freak you out with all the touching?"
"Sunday morning he did. I was making breakfast?"
"Oh? So you're cooking breakfast for him now?"
"Shut up and listen. I was making breakfast and he came up behind me. Normal thing--hands on the shoulders and massaging. Then he put his hands around me, under my shirt and onto my stomach. Now that freaked me out. I told him to remove his hands or I'd break his arms."
"What's the diff? Your shoulders or your stomach?"
"He was pressed against me, and as soon as he touched my stomach he got an erection. That freaked me. Anyway, he left the kitchen and looked pissed off for most of the morning. He relaxed afterwards, though, and was back to normal. He's terrified of upsetting me."
"I can identify with that."
"So then his girlfriend arrived and took him out somewhere. Later, when he and I were alone, he started to quiz me--like you do. He asked what the big deal about touching my stomach was, and how good I looked and all that shit. I eventually told him to shut the fuck up, but in a friendly way."
"Oh, yeah--like shut the fuck up--but with a smile on your face."
"What does Candy say about Fingers?"
"I haven't told her what he's like. You're the only one who knows. I don't wanna stuff things up here. He's been good to me as well as a good friend. Who knows? One day I might piss Candy off or something, and then she goes and spills the beans to this bloke's friends, or some shit like that."
"By the way, Susan's got a new boyfriend."
"I know. She and I spoke. He's pretty cool. They were friends long before I arrived on the scene."
"He's a prick."
"He's good for Susan."
"Except he thinks he's God's gift to women."
"Susan's choice. Craig and I got along okay. Sounds like you and he don't."
"We met at Susan's. He says you're history and let's not talk about you. I think he's itching to trash me."
"Don't even start with that bloke, mate. Craig has a rep as a no-rules street fighter. If he gets you down, his boot's gonna go in."
"Don't worry. I'm not looking for shit with him. He's built, but not as built as you."
After swim training, at which Graham and I performed exceptionally well, I quizzed the grommet about his school grades as we walked home. The local buzz was that his academic performance was well below standard.
"Don't talk shit to me. We're bros, right?"
"Okay, they're not so cool."
"How not so cool?"
"Very...not so cool."
"You'll be dropped from cricket and swimming."
"Yeah, right. I'm the best swimmer in school and my cricket's ace."
"Are you listening to me? You'll be dropped from sport unless your grades improve."
"The school said that to my folks so they could crap all over me. Anyway, it's no biggie, I can still surf."
"Yeah...and eventually drop outta school because there'll be nothing to keep you there. And your folks will probably ground you from surfing. Anyway, that's beside the point."
"So what is the point?"
"I'm gonna clout you. You're not listening."
"You're sounding like my dad. Maybe that's why."
"Would you like me to help you with your study and homework?"
"I'm a dunce, Kyle. I don't understand the shit."
"Keep saying that and you'll believe it. It's called a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"When you start believing everything you think, and what other people say about you."
Following supper, Graham waltzed into my room with his schoolbooks. "Know anything about geography?"
Suddenly, Saturday morning arrived, the day of the School Swim Gala. I was showering when Graham appeared and abused me for being lazy. "Move your ass, Kyle. I gotta help organize stuff for the judges and shit."
"So go ahead without me. Bye."
"No way! Then you might not come!"
"My name's not Dickhead."
"You mad at me?"
"Nope. Just nervous."
"You too, huh?"
"Yeah ... because of you competing today!"
Some of the juniors were already at the pool when we arrived early, placing clothing on the judge's tables or cleaning the pool. I helped position the starting blocks while Graham assisted with setting the lane markers. Then the coach asked if I was ready for the competition.
"About as ready as I'll ever be."
"Just do your best, Kyle. Don't expect any help from the top boys, though."
"I'm just here to enjoy the vibe, coach. It's cool to be back at school."
"I wish everyone thought like you do."
Craig arrived in the company of another schoolie, and approached me. He was his usual loud, egotistical self, constantly swiveling his head to see who was `admiring' him. "I'm sorry, Kyle, but you'll definitely see the back of my Speedos today."
"You guys are in training, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna roll over and play dead."
"Might as well," he grinned as he patted my back, "might as well."
The meet started at 9am, by which time the bleachers were packed with parents, teachers and various other spectators. First off the blocks were the juniors. The grommet could not have been more impressive. He won all of his events, including the 100m butterfly, which was most difficult of all. Each time my little mate (not so little, really) exited the pool, he positively beamed at his folks and me.
Soon enough, it was time for the older boys to compete against the school seniors. Some of the older boys, like Darren, were seniors when I was still a junior. Frank, Kevin and another guy were the only ones from my class.
With so many competitors, we swam heats to eliminate the slower swimmers. That knocked me out of the 200m freestyle. To humiliate me further, Craig slapped me on the back after my failure. "Hard luck, Kyle. Guess you might as well be here just for the fun of it."
However, I did manage to make two of the finals, the 100m freestyle and butterfly. In the final of the freestyle, Frank and Craig were first to turn at the 50m mark. Craig then powered home to beat Frank by a length. And me? Sixth. I swam like a stone. I sat next to Graham after the race. He didn't say a word for fear of being bitten by a pissed-off Kyle.
When we stood on the blocks ready for the 100m butterfly, Craig and I were in adjacent lanes. The `fly was my best stroke, but I reckoned I had a snowflake's chance in hell of beating Mr. Unbeatable. During earlier training, the coach warned me I'd need to make up 3 seconds against Craig, and that was totally out of the question.
After the 50m turn, I saw that my head was in line with Craig's Speedos, and I was sure at any moment he would begin to pull away. I don't know where or how I found the strength but either Craig was slowing or I was gaining. As my head reached his, I heard the crowd screaming. "Go, Kyle! Go, Kyle!" With each of the remaining seconds, I continued to gain, inch by exhausting inch. Finally, at the absolute limit of my endurance, I touched the wall a full two seconds ahead of Craig. The stands erupted. The crowd went ballistic. And there was Graham, yelling and screaming more than anyone else.
Craig exited the pool, met with his mate and began arguing about something. Then Darren, Frank and Kevin swarmed all over me with shouts of congratulations.
When the excitement subsided, I walked over to Craig and shook his hand. "You were right, mate. I am here for the fun of it. Are you enjoying it as much as I am?"
"Don't be a smartass, Kyle. One race is all it is. You guys wanna take us on in the 200m relay?"
I checked with Frank about Craig's challenge and he went right into action. He chose Darren and one of Darren's mates, himself and me as the relay team. The crowd must have considered the race to be the highlight of the meet given the unmistakable ambience of excitement and apprehension as the guys took to the blocks for the start of the relay.
Darren, the first of our team to hit the water, finished a few seconds behind the schoolie. His mate made up the distance, though, and touched the wall at the same time as the second schoolie. We were even. Then it was me against Craig's mate. Freestyle was not my best stroke, so I lost a little time despite trying my guts out. However, that was more than compensated by Frank's lap against Craig. Frank must have saved something extra because he creamed the competition--and not by just a few seconds, he blitzed Craig.
The crowd exploded into a deafening roar, all standing with arms raised. Not a single person remained seated. Graham and the rest of the juniors gathered around me and gave me the hero treatment. Yes! It was a sensational moment. They believed, like most of the crowd, that the relay was the one race we ex-schoolies could not possibly win. How wrong they were, and how glad they were to be wrong.