Website: The Cosmos
"Brett babe!" The high-pitched squeal could be heard across the cafeteria. "So good to see you." The voice belonged to Melissa Grove. She was the typical grungey chick from school. On any given day she could be seen in either a Kurt Cobain or Zero-Smashing Pumpkins shirt, spitting angst wherever she walked. Always in trouble, she was the perpetual truant.
Her appearance was something of a shock to the system. Too much eye-makeup. Over-baggy clothes which further accentuated her cumbersome proportions. An over-sprayed head of hair that was tied back into an intricate system of knots. Paul wondered when the last time was, if ever, that she'd washed it. Yet he found he wanted to touch it for some unknown reason. Maybe to see if it was real.
Mel and Brett hugged as they greeted each other. Paul had long before learned not to call her Melissa. On their first encounter she introduced herself as Mel. `No one calls me Melissa', she emphasised, even before Paul could say anything. The menace in her voice warned Paul not to tempt fate. She immediately followed this with a Cruella Deville smile, showing all her teeth, which chilled Paul even further.
"Hey Paul!" Paul felt instantly relieved that she'd acknowledged him. Whenever they'd spoken before, they'd managed to converse quite well. Yet he would have felt weird acting all friendly on his initiative. "How's it hanging?" she asked, taking a step back and giving a playful punch.
"Nine inches and raring to go!" said Paul, playing along with her. He was quite surprised at his own witticism and timing. He'd never said anything so cool before.
"Wouldn't you rather point it towards my Brett here?" she coyly asks, looking over her shades and down her nose towards Paul. Mel just keeps a smile on her face as Brett openly giggles.
"She's joking," Brett states for Paul's benefit. Paul was conscious of his flushed cheeks and burning ears, but he knew it was just a joke. "She's cool with it, aren't ya Mel?"
"Yeah I'm cool with it," says Mel as she takes a seat at the closest table.
Both Brett and Paul follow her lead. She is a commander, Paul notes. It's not like she could actually exert any real force. But the manner in which she presents herself commands, or rather beguiles others' obedience. Paul finds her dominance over Brett quite funny. They're almost like a married couple. Brett the passive husband, and Mel the domineering wife.
"So what brings you here?" she asks, as if the answer is something other than the obvious.
"Oh... You know... We were just in the neighbourhood, and thought we'd pop on in to see you," says Brett. Paul wondered if these two always spoke in metaphors and sarcasm. Maybe this is just how they start, and the real conversation is just around the corner. Still he couldn't help but smile at all the things they said. It was sweet and friendly, even if a little silly. He just wished he knew what to say so he could be a part of it.
"Oh, I'm touched," says Mel as she clutches her heart. Her look towards Brett was quizzical though. As if to say, no really, what are you doing here?
"Just got sick of school I guess." Maybe this is where the real conversation starts?
"Honey... That's why I don't go anymore." It was true. Paul tried to remember the last time he'd seen Mel within the school grounds. It would have to have been a couple of weeks at least. Mel's truancy was something of a fable within the school. Kid's looked up to her. Firstly due to her blatant disregard for authority. But more so because of her unique ability of getting away with it.
There was a brief silence. Through it Paul knew what each of them was thinking. The empty conversation was just a front for their real thoughts. Mel undoubtedly was plagued by many of the same questions that vexed Brett earlier. Brett was desperately thinking of something to talk about before Mel's abrasive forwardness opened a can of worms on Paul.
"So I hear you decked the shit out of Dave," says Mel. Paul let out a giggle. He felt sure she was going to ask him all sorts of probing questions about being gay. Maybe she had some tact after all. She'd opted for the middle-ground. In the present state of things Paul was more than happy to talk about this.
"Yeah.... Him and Phil jumped me on the street," he began with modesty. "So I guess I gave him a few." His modesty faltered as he allowed himself a smug-filled grin.
"Fuck I hate that shit!" She said it with such conviction that you'd think she was somehow wronged in all this. Paul was actually happy to hear her say this. He'd thought David and Mel had been friends until now. Hearing this allowed him to rid the last of his inhibitions regarding Mel from his system.
"I mean where does he get off treating his best friend like that," she continued. Her voice had a certain concern and caring in it that Paul immediately found both sweet and endearing. Yet at the same time she spoke with enough strength in her voice to command attention from her captive audience.
"It's not like you actually came on to him or anything... Did you?" She asked this last question jokingly, but also as a clarification point. Yet Paul took it in all seriousness.
"Well no.... But he did find one of my... Ahhh... Porno's," Paul mumbled meekly, almost ashamed to admit the fact to these two. There was the briefest silence as the two friends looked at each other. Suddenly unable to hold it back any longer, they both laughed out loud. Much to Paul's surprise, and further embarrassment, they both insisted on seeing them as soon as possible.
"Wanna compare yourself, do ya Brett?" asked Paul, once the giggling had died down.
"Well maybe I'm curious," he simply replied. "Ya never know yer luck in the big city Pauly," continued Brett as he digged Paul in the ribs repeatedly with his elbow. Again the three of them burst into laughter.
After a brief period of silence Brett and Mel decided they wanted a few games at the arcade. Timezone was at the far end of the food court near McDonalds. The best thing about Timezone was that it was a refuge from footy-heads like David. And at this time of day you managed to avoid all the geeks and younger kids who basically lived there outside school hours.
They chose a racing game and climbed inside. Paul chose to stand between the two consuls, watching from over their shoulders. The two opponents began with the usual promises and threats during the startup. `Man I'm going to kick your pansy arse, Brett,' Mel would say. Brett would retort with `I'm gonna wipe the streets with you, bitch," or something similar. Pointless, immature, and at times completely corny; yet a smile would beam on each face following the insults.
Engines revving, they headed off. The game started out normal. Once Brett had assumed a commanding position however, the pushing started. Mel pushed Brett, forcing him to the left. He would naturally push back. This would signal an all out war as both parties tried to maintain control of their own vehicle whilst also trying to interfere with the other. Steering wheels were nudged, elbows were used, and Mel even threw in a kick for good measure.
Watching the ensuing melee, Paul couldn't help but think this was commonplace for the two friends. They're certainly an eccentric couple, he thought to himself. But through their rough exterior there's a friendly element that Paul hadn't encountered in any of his friends before.
It continued even beyond the end of the game. Their laughing and actions caught the attention of the manager, who began to take an interest in them. Rising to their feet they ran out of the arcade in a giggling stupor before he could say anything. Paul couldn't help but get carried up in this. As he looked back, the manager was just watching them leave. He had the strangest look on his face, but he was obviously not bothered too much by them.
They headed down the mall, laughing to themselves the whole way. For the first time ever Paul felt he was a part of `the group'. He could joke and make fun without the slightest notion of self-consciousness.
Once they made their way outside, Mel said she had to make her way home. If Rhonda found out she'd skipped school again, the shit would really hit the fan. Paul thought it strange that she always referred to her mother by her first name. He knew for a fact that when she was present, it was all mum, mother, etc. This was something that neither he nor Brett were willing to bring up.
Alone with Brett again, there was an instant dead-calm as the aftermath of cyclone Mel was finally realised. Paul took the moment to reflect briefly on his day. How could he expect to find two such good new friends? And in two such unlikely people.
Paul caught himself staring at Brett as he took a long draw from his cigarette. He has such a boyish face. His supple lips gripped the cigarette with carefulness; it remained perfect in shape. The wind whistled through the few strands of hair that were long enough, and billowed about.
It was only a second's worth of a look, and the moment Brett focused on him again, Paul found he needed to look away. When he looked back again, Brett had turned his head the other way. The moment was over.
"She's insane," Paul finally announced. The silence had gotten to him. Yet the tension of the past couple of minutes had clogged his mind of thought. He spoke with the first thought that entered his mind.
"Yeah... That's Mel," says Brett with a laugh. "C'mon... Let's go."
With that, Brett about faced and they made their way out of the mall, and back in the direction of Brett's house. Paul found it strange that Brett would want to go back there already. When they'd dumped their bags off their earlier, it seemed like Brett couldn't leave quick enough. Even though the house had been empty, Paul could tell Brett didn't like the sight of his own home too much. So when Brett had suggested they go to the mall for a bit, Paul made no arguments.
At some point Brett must have thought better of his intended destination. Without speaking he drifted off the road into a park a few streets from his house. Paul sighed as he quickened his pace to catch Brett on his new destination. As they walked however he found himself speechless. He wanted to know and he didn't at the same time.
Paul desperately wanted to understand why Brett's house was so foreign to him. It had seemed like a nice home from what Paul could tell in his brief stay. His mother was quite obviously a clean-freak, for the house was spotless. Both Brett's and his brother Anthony's room were immaculate for boys of their age. He couldn't understand it at all. He could only assume it had to do with his family members. Maybe he didn't get along well with his brother. That's quite likely it. Although Paul had no idea what it was like to live with a big family, he could imagine it wasn't easy sometimes.
They walked through the park like two desperado's. With a lit cigarette in his mouth, Brett slumped down onto the cricket pitch in the middle of the oval. Still asking no questions, Paul sat opposite him, waiting for the right opportunity to begin a conversation again. Brett just sat still with his legs crossed, and his arms supporting his weight behind him. His gaze was unfocused, as he stared at nothing.
"I don't really feel like going home right now," said Brett. His face was strangely expressionless as he spat the words out. Paul wondered if he ever felt like going home. Maybe his home life really is bad, he thought to himself. He'd never really seen Brett like this at all. But still, he'd had days like this himself. When your parents just shit you to tears. Like every little thing they do can be the most annoying thing too.
"It's cool... Parent's can really shit ya sometimes...." he voiced his thoughts at last.
Brett just smiled at this and took another puff, shifting his weight to his left hand so his right could flick the loose ash from the cigarette. Once the first cigarette was finished he stamped it out on the cricket pitch. He had a strange way of doing this, which Paul noticed immediately. Most people would stub it once or just flick it. Brett however stamped it down on its end then twisted it backwards and forwards until the filter and what was left of the rest was a twisted, mangled mess. This process left a burn mark in the astro-turf of the pitch. Looking up the pitch Paul noticed many more similar marks. Brett immediately lit another cigarette.
"So... What do we do now?" Paul was a little bored by their sudden silence, but didn't want to leave Brett alone. He could tell Brett was doing a lot of thinking through this silence. With a bemused look, he finally noticed he'd been spoken to.
"I dunno," said Brett between puffs. His shortness was an attempt to prolong the silence, but Paul wouldn't let him.
"Well... Ummmm..... What do you usually do?" asked Paul with a degree of caution this time.
"Nothing...." His terse reply saddened Paul. It's always hard to speak with someone when they talk like this. Paul was almost ready to pack it in and leave him here, but a look into his lowered face convinced him otherwise. He saw an emptiness in Brett that Paul had known before. Paul knew he couldn't leave.
"... Except avoid my parents," continued Brett, more to himself than to Paul. He accompanied this with a small smile, which he was unable to hide from Paul. This instantly made Paul smile back. As Brett tried to hide his face, Paul peaked under to reveal his smile to Brett once again. He tried to avoid his gaze, but soon Brett was sporting a full-blown grin.
"Yeah I know what you mean.... They're always on my case about some shit," said Paul.
"Oh... Well... I told my dad last night that I loathed him," said Brett without batting an eyelid. There was something about his voice that chilled Paul to the bone. It was his lack of feeling. He was neither proud, nor sad about what he said. Simply that he'd said this to his father, like it was the only thing he could say. Paul thought that it may have been a joke. But it wasn't. One look at Brett's face was enough to convince.
Still he continued to smoke. In Brett's eyes what he'd just said meant nothing. It was like saying you had your hair cut yesterday. But Paul could feel the change in mood. He felt like he should give him a hug. Brett's physique told him that to try was not a wise move. He was a pillar of defiance and callousness. Yet through his hard exterior, Paul could perceive a heart that was breaking, and a mountain of love that yearns for release. He could see it in his eyes.
As he stared into nothing, Paul watched him. There was no fear this time. He openly stared at the huge lovable eyes before him. It seemed that every definition in his face was like a panel in a stained-glass window. He could look and appreciate each for their own worth, and then stand back and admire the full masterpiece.
His sorrow filled eyes drew him in. He could hear each breath he made like a sonic-boom in his ears, and each seemed to take forever. The lips that turned out were simply made for kissing. And plush cheeks which impressed with each suction on the cigarette, looked soft enough that Paul knew he wanted to caress them and kiss them forever.
It was a few minutes before Paul became conscious of what he was thinking and feeling. He knew now that he was attracted to Brett. Is this what love is, he thought to himself. Maybe. All he knew was that he wanted to be much closer to Brett than he was now. He could remember feeling faint traces of these feelings every time he saw him in the past couple years. Like somehow Brett entering a room or turning a corner into his field of vision made him feel better.
"I dunno what to say man..." said Paul at length. He knew he had to say something, or make some noise to break the deathly silence.
"That's okay... I just don't wanna go back there just now." Paul nodded, showing he understood.
So they sat there well into the evening, laughing and talking about various things. Paul tried his hardest to keep the silences to a minimum. If they'd stopped for too long he'd ask open questions like "What do you think of the Simpsons?" and so on. They never really had anything serious to say, but just talking about anything was welcomed readily by both of them. The topic didn't seem to matter.
Eventually 6:30 rolled around, and they were both getting hungry. So reluctantly they made their way back to Brett's house to retrieve Paul's bag. As they approached the house Paul noticed the same tension enter back, and the silence returned also.
They went around the side of the house to the back. Brett opened the door and they stepped inside the kitchen to see his mother busy cooking something on the stove. The familiar sounds of the television could be heard from the next room. It sounded like Neighbours, Paul noted. He could hear some argument between Billy and one of the girls.
Brett said hi to his mum and continued through the house. He passed his father and brother with a degree of stealth. They were just lounging on the couch. His father with his shirt off, pretended not to notice his son, or his friend. Anthony merely glanced in their direction.
At first glance Paul didn't like him. He could see why Brett might say something like that to his father, even though Paul hadn't spoke with him. He sat there with arrogance, as if he were some lord on a throne, looking out over his vast empire. His face had a look of perpetual stubbornness and hatred. This was a man who tolerated very little.
They went into Brett's room and retrieved Paul's bag. Once he had it, Brett was anxious to get him moving for some reason. Paul guessed it might have something to do with his father.
"Man..... I just dunno how to thank you for today..." Paul blurted out, before Brett got him out into the lounge room. He thought of giving him a hug, but remembering the thug that sat only a few metres beyond the door made him change his mind. Instead he offered his hesitant hand. Brett shook it with a knowing smile, saying it was cool.
"Hey Brett!" came the voice from the lounge-room. It was surprisingly higher than Paul would have thought for a man of his physique. "Who's your friend?" Brett rolled his eyes before turning and walking out of his room. Paul followed.
"His name is Paul dad..." said Brett once they'd reached him. Brett just watched as his father offered his hand. Paul felt uncomfortable shaking his hand. He made sure his shake was firm, fearful that a sudden attack of abuse from him may ensue if he didn't. He knew how these macho Aussie-pub-guys were. That's basically the way David was headed. In fact as he looked at Brett's father all he could see was David and Phil and all those other footy-head guys in 25 years.
"I always like to meet the people you bring into my house Brett... You know that," he said with authority. "Don't you!" he demanded again when Brett made no answer.
"Yes...." Brett answered at last. It seemed like a ritualistic humiliation his father found necessary to perform in front of Brett's friends. Paul assumed it was meant to be funny and endearing, but it seemed nothing more than harsh and unnecessary to him. He felt an instant hatred for this man, and wondered how a guy as sweet and beautifully natured as Brett could survive with this on a constant basis.
To his credit though, Brett seemed to let his father's comments roll off his shoulder. But still Paul could feel that Brett didn't really want him here for this. Maybe he acts up more when Brett has his friends there. As if he's playing to a knew audience. He understood, and made his way to the door, making sure he said goodbye to Brett's parents, so as not to get Brett in more shit with them.
"So.. I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" asked Paul with a certain hesitancy in his voice. He still half expected Brett to decline on his offer, but in his heart was a quiet confidence that spurred him on.
"Yeah... Of course man!" Brett patted Paul's back to reinforce his sentiments. Paul's face lit up like Luna Park as he almost skipped down the front yard to the road. He looked back to see Brett's smiling face disappear behind the door. In the window Paul noticed the curtains shift back into place. He paid it no mind.
Paul made his way home alone. It wasn't far. The whole way he couldn't get the image of Brett's old man out of his head. Paul wondered just how bad he got sometimes. He felt sure that what he'd witnessed today was only a small sliver of his cruel potential.
As he went to sleep that night, Paul thought back on the day. All the laughs he'd had with his knew friend. As he drifted off to sleep he kept his mind on Brett until the last second. His face was smiling as it had been when they were at the food court earlier that day