by Blake Dawson* <>

From the Preface to Chapter 1:

If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?

*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.

Chapter 13: Garth

By the first Saturday night of the winter holidays, there were no longer any questions about me being last drop off as the route that had been finally settled on avoided Garth needing to double back, but on that night he took a different turn after we had dropped Hayden and pulled up outside a house I did not recognise. He said not to get out and we just propped there for a couple of minutes while he explained that it belonged to an old teacher he had stayed friends with, and who was going back to visit her family in the country for the holidays, and so had invited Garth to house sit so as to provide some security. His parents were more than happy for him to get a taste of independent living from which he could retreat with no loss of face, and he expressed a determination to make sure the place was as clean and tidy when his ex-teacher returned as it was when she departed. Of course, I demanded an immediate guided tour, but he patiently explained, in words I did not want to admit understanding, that we could not possibly risk what the neighbours he hardly knew might think of a ten year old kid visiting late at night. For once, I didn’t say much of what came into my head as we headed back to rejoin his normal route to my place.

Next morning, I was doing my best to appear completely cool and relaxed, using the excuse of being on holidays to lay in an extra half hour of plotting and fantasising, while on the inside I was churning in a sea of imagined possibilities. I wandered the short cut I had worked out to what I was already calling Garth’s “holiday house”, acting ordinary, kicking stones, walking along the top of walls, and checking out whatever caught my eye. Most importantly I made sure I got a good picture of a laneway I gave a good chance of serving a back gate. I did not expect Garth to be in the least surprised when I finally rang the door bell, as he had unambiguously left the door open for me to find him there by showing me the night before where it was. He also conspicuously left the front door wide open all the time I was there, to ensure a public impression that any concerned neighbour who wanted could feel free to walk in and check what we were doing. While such a move made it extremely unlikely that any would, it would not have mattered if they had because neither of us had any ideas about doing anything that could be open to finding out. My first objective was to be reasonable company so that door would stay open, my second was to ensure that I was not rushing to break down barriers, and the third was to validate my hypothesis about a back gate.

I was probably the only ten year old in Sydney whose first priority right through those winter holidays was a cricket season still three months away, but I was still on a high from our success of the previous season, and the organising side of me was starting to come out driven my a knowledge that we only had the basis for a half competitive side for the following season. Even though Troy Wilkins had become amongst the most committed of the players staying in Under 12, his father had made it clear at our presentation night that there was no chance of him being able to find the time to do the job properly, so he was happy to bow out on a successful note. I organised to stay over at Jarod Kendall’s early in the holidays, but the one thing his parents were sure of is that they too could not make such a commitment. They were even unsure whether Jarod would be able to play regularly, which set my thinking back a bit as I had them pencilled in in my mind for the leadership roles after the season we had had together in the tackers. The uncertainties about cricket did not stop me enjoying the extremely comfortable time I have been assured of every time I have been with the Kendalls, so comfortable in fact that any thoughts of pushing that particular friendship to another level never got a chance to take hold in my head. It still had to be a fairly special occasion for Hayden and I to stay over at either of our places, but we did manage to organise it so we both stayed at the Wilkins where we finished up sharing the spare room, which was the only time I managed to get into anybody’s pants for those holidays, an all time low for me but one I didn’t notice at the time because life as whole was achieving a satisfactory balance of other pleasures and challenges.

Mum had a long standing invitation from a client for the two of us to spend a weekend at his farmlet a couple of hours north of Sydney. She had originally met him because he represented one of her firm’s major suppliers, but their relationship had eventually extended to her doing a fair bit of desktop publishing at home for a couple of his side interests. While the invitation had been mentioned occasionally, if was not until soon after my afternoon with Felicity that mum appeared to start taking it seriously. Then as she started to show some concerns about needing to leave me to my own devices for most of the holidays, she began to focus on the middle weekend as an ideal time to get away. Arrangements were settled long before I learnt of Garth’s house-sitting job, but I soon figured that this would also give me a chance to introduce him to Mum and demonstrate his credentials to be given a key so he could keep an eye on our place in our absence, especially as the neighbours who did that for us in the summer were on their annual vacation to North Queensland. In the process of getting extras cut, I somehow finished up with a key to the back door of the place Garth was minding.

Our weekend north was a lot of fun. I think I was always aware of but never confronted with the odd man in mum’s life, but, post-Felicity, she no longer saw reason to disguise the fact that she would be sharing a bed, an eventuality that I came to recognise as an extra bonus from that little performance. Mum’s friend also managed to give me better than equal attention, especially during daylight hours, when I got my first real exposure to farm life. And the three of us could easily have passed as family when we went into Newcastle for a Saturday night on Hunter Street, except maybe that we were having too much fun. On each morning, I was up bright and early enough to rouse both of them with a bit of rough house in their bedroom until I decided it was time to explore the outdoors. By the time we finally had to leave after two full days, mum’s friend and I were comfortable enough with each other that I found it natural to take a running jump into his arms for a big goodbye hug and kiss.

On the long drive home, there were even less inhibitions to the flow of conversation. Mum openly wondered why it was that her friend had only become really passionate after my intrusions into their room, which I at first likened to the heightened passion that Felicity and I had felt after mum had intruded on us that day, but I was happy to concede that it may also have reflected him liking me at least as much as he liked her. I was more than impressed that he had never once tried to organise me the way I saw other fathers do to my mates, and conceded that it would be worse than a pity if we got involved to the point where he felt expectations to act parentally towards me. As it turned out, that question quickly disappeared as the friend soon after decided to finally marry his childhood sweetheart. But we did get to go the wedding reception and to stay another night at his farm while the newly weds were heading for their honeymoon. But by then we had come to recognise that I did not want anybody attempting to father me, any more than mum wanted the bother of a live-in lover. We were both too busy making our own lives and were really coming to enjoy each other’s company.

My other big hope for our cricket team was to finally get Robbie Vander into whites and, while he was more than happy to use the excuse of talking about it to stay over a night at my place, he managed to find every imaginable reason to avoid commitment. In a sense, I was as bad, as I had to keep finding an equal range of excuses to avoid invitations to return his visits just so I could keep the promises I had made to myself re his little sister who I knew still wanted nothing more than to get me into bed, despite our agreements, and despite me still loving her with a passion that I was controlling primarily to prove my own strength of mind. There is a sense in which my continued low key friendship with Robbie through those formative years provided the anchor for us both to keep ourselves pretty straight. Yet it never became a matter of principles, nor of regrets about our uninhibited experimentation of younger days, but by the ripe old age of ten, we both knew that we had choices with what we did in life, although it still pissed me that one of his was not to play cricket “yet.” Visiting Felicity and Corey French the next morning was equally unhelpful, as Corey was more into tinkering with things than anything athletic, and the one thing that never crossed my mind in that era was that Felicity would have been the most likely player had anybody asked. If the four of us had got together three years earlier we would have been into each others’ pants the minute we ran out of other things to do, but it was certainly a measure of our new found maturity that we were able to maintain conversations and activities right through the day without anything more physical than a bit of teasing. One thing Robbie was able to contribute on the cricket front was an assurance that Joey Mantari was keener than ever.

Garth was conscientiously using what would have seemed to many as a lonely fortnight to really straighten himself out and get right on top of his school work in his serious quest to get the marks needed for admission to his preferred university course. Apart from a meal each day with his parents, my several visits were the only breaks he gave himself from the grind. The holidays provided an excuse for a break even from being a dealer, seeing as his clients were all contacted through school. I gradually overcame his resistance to talk about that aspect of his life as I made it clear my interests were in the organisational and business aspects, and that I could not personally identify with the use of even alcohol and tobacco. While he had tried most things recreationally, the only thing about it that at times got him hooked was the ease with which it provided him with unaccounted cash, much of which he used for the kind of extreme partying that he had also sworn off for those holidays. To my still romantic eyes, one redeeming feature was the flair with which he organised the deals. He had a nominal after-school job packing at a gift shop and was allowed to use a reasonable quantity of wrapping materials in lieu of payment, so all his deliveries appeared to be elegantly wrapped presents from some or other admirer of the client. And all his clients were close to his age or a little older, even if he sometimes relied on siblings still at school, including Hayden, to make his deliveries.

During my visits, I did what I could to get Garth a bit more physically active. I knew he had been a handy cricketer in his final Under 16 season but had not made the step up to senior ranks, so I concentrated on getting him at least handling a ball again, and kept pushing the line that a few hours regular commitment to sport each week was the best possible counterbalance to an overload of schoolwork. We also roughhoused a bit, although I was as careful as he not to risk any damage. After an early dinner on the last Friday of the holidays, I left mum with an arrangement that I would ring if I was going to stay over with anybody and turned up unannounced to again interrupt Garth’s studies. He was being careful to only use defined parts of the house but conceded that he would loan me a blanket so I could sleep in the lounge, if that was what I really wanted seeing as he had really come to appreciate my visits. In the early hours I found myself getting decidedly cold and he did not refuse my request to snuggle in beside him, although I was as careful as he not to hint at sharing anything more than body heat. The next night it was back to our usual cruising with Hayden and Brice, although the older boy was full of talk of his new romantic interest which would soon give him better things to do with his Saturday nights.