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 33: Ghost

It had been almost five years since the memorable day he had taken me to see my first Sydney Swans game, and to the Woolshed, and to the Cross, when Uncle Bruce finally managed a return visit to Sydney. An opportunity to promote his new business justified that visit and he intended that it would get him back a lot more often in future, including an already anticipated return within the month. But just the news of his return was enough to give me great expectations of simply continuing on five years on from where we had left off, despite our mutual failure to do anything about getting together in the interim.

I found an excuse to meet him in the city after his last appointment on his first day in town and we managed to meander sufficiently that the Woolshed doors were open to let us in as their first customers for the evening. Being a semi-regular, I had hardly noticed the accumulation of cosmetic changes over the five years, but for Bruce both the restaurant and our earlier stroll down Darlinghurst Road just served to reinforce the length of the separation which confronted him when he finally recognised me at our appointed meeting place. Of course I did not see any more change in him than I saw in those two by then very familiar places, and he was more than pleased to be so quickly recognised both by me and the Woolshed team. And while we both again enjoyed the evening, he was more than happy to get away early so he could at least have a bit of a catch up with mum while I attended to a few things for school.

By the time I was done, there was no sign of life up front, so I got ready for bed and found my way through the door left open into his room. He had not managed to fall asleep and welcomed my company, so I crawled in beside him and quickly progressed out first contacts into mutual masturbation to release those five years. Once was never going to be enough, and we rebuilt our excitement through some playful affection mixed with overacted sleepiness until we could no longer delay a second completion. Done, I volunteered that sleeping apart was probably a good idea and we parted after a final hug, with me taking personal responsibility to wake him in the morning.

The next, and for that visit final, night, Bruce and mum went to dinner with his main Sydney business contact and her husband, which left them both ready for bed as soon as they returned. I joined Bruce in his bed at the earliest minute, but the imperatives of the previous night were well spent and we finally got to talk a bit about that part of our lives. While we got nowhere near the real depths of each other’s stories, the surfaces made it quite clear that his severely damaged confidence in such matters was being overwhelmed by my comfort with rampant sexuality. What physical comfort we shared that night was devoid of arousal. But by morning I justified a more playful awakening to reveal a scheme that his planned return should be run over into the following weekend so I could take him down to Bermagui for a couple of days serious therapy.

The next Saturday night I had rung and confirmed that Gary would be home for me to visit and stay over, but I never quite made it to his place, being intercepted at an open door a floor below and told that I was babysitting: “Blake, Charlie ... Charlie, Blake.” I offered my hand to a boy who was obviously a mate of Colin’s, before an ancient memory flooded back: “Charlie Ng?” “Blake Dawson?” His face went about as white as it could and tears started to well in his eyes. When it comes to being emotional, I thought I knew it all, but when I glanced sideways and saw the beautiful Colin who had been so controlled about his own tragedy also heading for tears, the awful truth dawned and I just grabbed Charlie and hugged him to me and we both let the tears flow and flow. Each knew that each knew, but Colin was smart enough to know that I needed to a bit more and he eventually calmed himself enough to mutter in an almost mechanical voice: “A year ago next week ... The big C” which was enough to keep us all howling until Gary finally wandered down to join me for our babysitting duties and wondered what he had struck. Without a word between us, Colin again proved himself better than astute at relationships: “Blake and Charlie’s brother were mates when they were tackers, but he didn’t know and none of us dreamt of their connection before I reintroduced them.” My eyes had opened enough to see Colin grab Gary’s hand and lead him into the kitchen, which I took as enough reason for me to steer Charlie in the direction of Colin’s bedroom where we sunk, still in each other’s arms and teary, onto the lower bunk.

Strength eventually returns, helped that evening by some gentle and deeply felt affection, and a little bit of rubbing our faces together was enough to get the words flowing again too, in fact soon flowing faster than even our tears had. It seemed Charlie had kept himself the stoic little brother right through Jacky’s two year stop start decline. Even though they kept in contact with the Vanders for a while after the Ngs had moved out to Cabramatta, they hadn’t wanted to bother their old friends with their troubles and let the contact slip. In fact if Charlie and I hadn’t spent a little bit of time horsing around on one of their few early return visits, we may well not have recognised each other quite so quickly that night. However, soon after trips to the Children’s Hospital became a regular part of their lives, their parents found an opportunity to take over a restaurant in Glebe, so they had shifted again in January 1992 and Charlie started at the primary school where he was to eventually meet Colin while Jacky had spent what little time he could at a different secondary school to Gary’s. Finding our conversation up to a point for sharing with the others, it was time to rejoin them.

While Colin was fixing us a drink and restocking the eats, Gary mentioned that he had known of Jacky through some of his cricket team who went to the other school and that there had even been talk while he was in remission during the winter on 1992 that Jacky would join their team, but that was never to be. Gary showed a couple of things had rubbed off on him from me as he already had Colin pencilled in to captain their Under 12s and Charlie was so keen to start making up for his unsettled summers that he could even find some good points to his need to go straight into Under 14 and leave his mate with the littlies. Then it was Colin’s turn with the story of how he and Charlie had become instant friends.

For his first few days at his new school, their regular teacher had been away ill and the school principal himself had been looking after their class. Half an hour before lunch on the second day, clearly aware how difficult it could be for a new kid to break into a tight sixth grade community, the principal had invited Colin to tell the class a bit about himself. Colin took up the challenge in such excruciating detail that nobody even noticed the lunch bell and it wasn’t till the warning bell for the end of the lunch break that the principal had drawn attention to the time. We were probably all fortunate that that coincided with their driving over with the first load of furniture two days earlier, and the break gave Colin time to see that as an appropriate place to cut. Having explained to some from other classes than the goody goodies weren’t in deep shit with the head but were being given the period after lunch off so he could attend to some pressing school business, the class were trusted to look after themselves on the far side of the playground, but before the rest could deluge Colin with their questions, Charlie had adopted him with their shared experience of living with a close slow death. They had become each other’s therapy, but neither had ever shown a hint of a crack until silly emotional me had walked in to help “look after” them for the evening.

So there we were, two sex-crazed just fourteens, one who hadn’t known his mother and the other whose mother hadn’t known his father “baby sitting” two hardened well gone elevens through an unmasking of their emotions. Colin tacked a note on his bedroom door: “Do not disturb! Charlie’s late brother and Blake were close mates when they were tackers.” His mother confided in me next morning that she had been unable to resist a peek, but resisted getting out her camera when she found Charlie’s sleeping face still buried in my neck while the two home block boys had finally flaked back to back. The fact that none of us wore anything in bed did not rate a mention.

Midway through a long and lavish Sunday breakfast, I decided that it was time Sean got to repay the odd debt and phoned him with the bare bones of the story so that he could try to liaise with Nicholas and organise a get together with Robbie and Cherie at our still secret hideaway during the afternoon. Nicholas rang me back so that we could get our respective arrivals timed to the minute, and even Gary figured he might as well join us provided he could bring his wetsuit and surfboard.

I wasn’t the only one who had to be far from sight when Robbie and Cherie arrived to find Charlie and Colin, then go through the realisation process and it was time for Colin to rerun his lines: “A year ago next week ... The big C.” They were allowed their time and space before the other four of us gradually showed up for introductions and for me to find that Sean had stayed one up, bringing his own surfboard and wet suit, so he and Gary had a legit out from the emotions of the rest of us. They attempted to lighten things a little before they left by hamming their way through getting changed in front of us all while Nicholas kept his fingers spread wide apart in front of Cherie’s eyes, but she quickly brushed off her current and her once-and-future lovers as she took it on herself to comfort Charlie. Robbie and I had always kept a little bit of physical distance having long outgrown our tacker-phase mutual experimentation, but there came that moment when our eyes finally met and we just collapsed into each others’ arms and bawled our eyes out. While we were off on our emotional journey the weather took a nasty turn although miraculously the squalls managed to pass either side of us.

When two such experts at getting to know you as Nicholas and Colin found they only had each other left to get to know, they wandered off to look for potential shelter and only returned as the sun broke through a tiny hole in the ashen sky and shone directly on our little patch of long grass. We had all relaxed a bit and the conversation went multiway, but I’m still unsure whether Cherie was trying to make a point about Nicholas and me having recently kept a two year old promise, or whether she really felt he needed it, as she soon had Charlie humping her in full view of all of us as the hardy surfers finally returned, for once avoiding picking up out of respect for the mood of the day, only to find the bereaved little brother being expertly retrained in their habits.

As we gradually got ourselves ready to go, it looked more and more like the elements were being orchestrated. The sky darkened rapidly and things became very quiet save for the roar of a set which even sent shivers down the spines of our intrepid surfers, then a solitary lightning flash fizzed into the sea well beyond the breakers, before the fickle wind swung back to the north and cleared away the darkness to reveal the sun well down its journey to behind the Blue Mountains. We all agreed that we needed to get together again with a bit more preparedness to properly celebrate Jacky’s life and worked out that his parents’ restaurant four weeks to the day would be ideal. Our eight then split back into its fours and our four decided to split again near my place, with Gary taking Colin to meet my mother while Charlie and I made the short detour to see Felicity and Corey French who I had rung to make sure were in, they being the other members of our core tacker gang who were still in the neighbourhood.

I had not told them who I had with me and we went through round three of the same pattern of realisation, but this time it was left to me to stagger through Colin’s lines: “A year ago next week ... The big C.” Felicity has always been a tough cookie, but I think Corey grew up rather suddenly that night, and we didn’t have as much time left as we might have liked, so they also readily agreed to join our gathering four weeks away, to which Felicity suggested Hayden might also like to come, surprise, surprise! On the doorstep, I asked Corey if he wanted to come back over to my place with us and stay while mum drove the other three home. He did, we did, she did, and he and I spent the hour lost in each others’ arms on my bed before our time that time really did run out.

When picking out the fragments of my life to weave into this book I have tried to rely on people and episodes which had more than one point of contact, in part because such are often a lot easier to recall than many isolated episodes which did not connect quite so obviously. But in the midst of what was already a mind opening third term of my third year at secondary school, the first Internet industry events to hit Sydney gave me fresh insights into what have come to be a couple of important aspects of my life.

I had been using mum’s university account for Internet access throughout the 18 months since she had returned to do a masters degree by research at the same time as she was building the business. The combination was only possible at all because she was able to reuse research she was being paid to do as the subject of her thesis, and ultimately a fair bit of her work focused on the uptake of the Net for commercial marketing and publishing. My access mainly divided between developing personal contacts, that largely originated through gaming sites, and using the resources of the Net to learn about things I was interested in, but my school was not. I was anything but a stranger to computer shows, generally getting to at least a couple in Sydney each year from long before we made it to the big show in Boston.

By comparison, the early Internet events were overwhelmingly talkfests with the few display booths only serving as a sidelight. But I knew more about working booths than taking in conference presentations, so I left that side to mum. The slow pace at the booths left me time to talk at length to a vendor of Asian extraction who spoke such perfect Strine that I initially assumed he must have been born and brought up here, then was amazed to learn that not only was he head of a rapidly growing business in his home land, but that the only time he had lived in Australia was while studying at university. Over the course of a couple of days we had enough quiet periods for him to more than counter yet another of those distractions that the media and their “experts” have placed in the way of proper recognition of childhood sexuality.

His earliest memories were of days and years divided between doing odd jobs at the modest resort accommodations operated by his parents and attending his local school. Over those years, he became familiar with quite a number of Australians who returned regularly to the resort for their holidays, and he was quick to try to befriend them so he could practice the English his teacher was only able to introduce them to at school. He was soon so good that he became the translator for his parents whenever a visitor had some need that could not be communicated in their very limited vocabularies. And just like me, he could not remember a specific start to his sex play with his village friends who all found it completely natural. He had soon found it equally natural to be warm and affectionate towards those Australian men who were prepared to invest time in his education and those relationships joyfully included a little sex as he reached the higher grades of his local school. By that time their family business was starting to do a bit better, he much later realised in no small part because of the extra patronage which his special attention was attracting. By the time he had gone as far as he could at his local school, his next brother had followed in his footsteps to provide translation and other special services for their guests. His old teacher made a passionate plea that he should be allowed to continue his education and his parents realised that they could afford to send him to board in a nearby town, although he always returned home to do his share of work at weekends and during the holidays, enabling him to keep some contact with his many Australian friends.

During his second last year of secondary school, one of his regulars invited him to visit Sydney for a holiday which he was able to arrange to do just before he commenced his final year at school. While in Sydney, on what he and those he left at home thought would be the journey of a lifetime, the friend was able to make arrangements so he could return a year later to go to university. He shared exactly my sentiments about the opportunities he had found in life having come to be condemned as “sex tourism” and invited me to join him and his old Australian patron at what was for them a family reunion barbecue on the Saturday after the show ended, where he promised me some more of his story on the condition I would share a bit more of mine.

While my new Asian conversationalist was involved in the more traditional supply of communications gear, I also managed to establish a few connections with those who espoused more holistic views as to what the gigantic phenomenon that the Internet was rapidly becoming was really about. Despite the recognition that was already being given to mum’s research, even before it was finally packaged up into a formal report and her thesis, I was coming to feel that she was only seeing one surface of a many faceted thing and made it my responsibility to identify other perspectives. More than the perspectives themselves, the shows provided a perfect opportunity for me to identify others who were seeing other angles so that I could tap into and assimilate their views as they developed further through webs of conversation, threads of which I will no doubt continue to follow for years to come.

I had pictured my Asian friend’s mentor as a mature businessman, and was more than surprised by the totality of what I walked into on that Saturday afternoon. If it had been ten years earlier I may not have been quiet so wrong, but the “old man” as I am sure everybody then thought of him had managed a decade of indulging his eccentricities while keeping himself in excellent trim through a very active retirement. I was further surprised to be adding myself to a foursome rather than a twosome and to see that the family reunion bit was literally true, as I was introduced in turn to both the old man’s openly gay son and my Asian friend’s own son, now himself well into a doctorate at his father’s alma mater. At least I quickly figured that my decade misjudgement all flowed from the Asian businessman looking ten years younger than he was. It also became obvious that during his own few years studying in Australia he had been encouraged to reciprocate with more than mentoring of the old man’s son, providing support which helped get the then youngster through the double barrel challenge of his own sexual identity and a messy divorce. Then, as the younger Australian reached adulthood he repeated the cycle, although without his father’s need to discover for himself as he was welcomed automatically into a mentoring relationship with the then young boy who had ultimately continued the cycle by coming to study in Sydney himself.

“That’s the problem with all you newly liberated gays,” I offered well into an evening which had long overcome normal constraint, “you were too busy satiating your desires that you forgot all about the need for the cycle to continue, so the best you could do to fulfil our young professor was to have his father pluck me off the street for him after he’s been here nearly five years.” I was not trying to nor could I have succeeded in curbing the humorous atmosphere. The laughter finally subsided enough for me to continue: “I bet I can do better than that with a single phone call. ... I could have guessed, can I speak to your babysitter? ... I should have guessed. Don’t even try to tell me where Gary is this time. I just hope you haven’t wimped out on your Saturday night friends already. ... Good, well don’t. Just drop Colin over to where I’m visiting and I will make sure he doesn’t get into any more trouble than he would staying with you.”

The Australian son was closest to the door when the bell rang, and almost fainted when he saw Brendan Marshall who had not given me the slightest hint that he knew the address very well. I allowed the best part of another hour of frivolity before I felt I really had to remind Brendan that I had invited Colin over to overcome an odd number, not to perpetuate it, and that his other friends would surely be expecting him. I knew he wasn’t feigning his reluctance and reminded myself that I now owed him double, but was happy to close the door behind him so I could use him as a counter example to press home my point about the irresponsibility of the lost generation of liberated gays. With my mouth running well ahead of my brain, Colin’s feigned offence brought me crashing to earth, but he just used it as an excuse to make an early exit to begin the belated education of his young “professor”. I soon took the cue, and found opportunity to give my Asian businessman friend a big hug and kiss while announcing: “As much as it tempts me, I am not about to start promoting incest, so I think it would be best if I used the rest of this wonderful night to establish just which generation can be the most eccentric.” After we had shared in the maddest Sunday breakfast, Colin and I scored a lift to his place on their way to the airport, which only left us enough time to get him ready for his junior rugby with still nobody else having made it home to their block from the night before. Fortunately his mother had gone straight to the ground for canteen duty, so I did not feel pressed to feign interest in the finer points of scrumming.

With the Internet show over, Uncle Bruce’s second visit in quick succession loomed large. He again had a couple of nights at our place between business commitments before the Friday we were scheduled to head for the coast. We again found time for a chat in his bed each night with some hint of a bit more, but we both kept our attention much more on our current situations than on deeper feelings that were still to be given the time they would need. I also mentioned that I felt it would keep up appearances a bit if we also took a couple of my trusted mates along. He was understandably reluctant at first, but eventually persuaded that he should have known by then that he could trust me. With competing winter weekend activities and other considerations, I had been able to line up Sean Douglas and Nicholas O’Donnell, in the latter case because the consummation not long before of a two year old promise had left me hungrier more than satiated.

Given the distance we had to travel, Bruce was able to schedule his appointments to get back to our place and pick us up at four. To save time we avoided the introductions that could be done on the way down and while he was quickly changing and finishing packing we three boys got our bags and our bodies into the car which mum was happy to do without for the weekend. I started the journey in the front passenger seat and the boys in the back were prepared to be unusually quiet for the time it took us to get the trip properly underway along one route I could navigate with my eyes closed. So it was not until we had passed the airport and were heading down the shore of Botany Bay that it started to sink in to Bruce’s skull that Sean had opted for the trip rather than bothering to have a thirteenth birthday party, while Nicholas was a few months younger still. But those simple facts soon had Bruce in such a confusion of nervous panic and deep unfulfilled needs that I was thankful we were on a long straight stretch with no cross traffic. Before I had to finally get back to serious navigation, he had been more than told that they were both more than cool and was managing to calm his fluster.

By the time we hit open road again Bruce had been convinced that it was time to tell what had kept him away for five years and that the three self-proclaimed sex-maniacs he was stuck with for the weekend might all need to know it too. And what a story it was. He started with what I had guessed, after our one night of excitement had gotten the better of him, was the fact that he had long realised that his sexual attractions were narrowly focused on pre-teen boys and that he had made an early resolve never to act on them, but to instead channel his energies into community activities for the boys he had so much empathy with and related to so effectively. He accepted that his sex life would remain one of solitary masturbation and did not ever even feel a need to bother with the “kiddie porn” that could be easily found in newsagents when he was a young adult or on the Internet more recently. And his efforts with boys had made him a pillar of his local society until not long after the visit on which I had tentatively propositioned him five years earlier. He had been quite certain at that time that even if I had walked in his open door back then, or been able to visit him in the ensuing years, that nothing would have happened between us. Although since his recent return, he had come to see how wrong he might have been. Even his acquired knowledge of the Sydney scene was something he had picked up through hearsay and became interested in only through his curiosity about what happened to those once loveable kids who fell out of the system, the late teen boys who rented their bodies along Darlinghurst Road being a long way from the objects of his suppressed desires.

His life changed when out of the blue he was subpoenaed to give “character evidence” relating to a kid he had known long ago and who was being tried on what appeared to be the flimsiest of evidence for fondling a fifteen year old. Bruce smelt a rat and found a well reputed gay lawyer who soon established that he was being called in an attempt by the defence lawyers to shift the blame, seeing as when Bruce himself was sixteen he had finally given into a three year attempt to seduce him by the defendant who was four years his younger and they had enjoyed a few months fumbling around before both moved on. Bruce had been able to quickly confirm that the defendant had stayed fixated on mid-teens and had been clearly active throughout, although never at quite the intensity that he achieved for a while with same age mates, some details of which gave me cause for a wry smile. Despite a fair bit of publicity, the prosecution had been unable to get any of the defendant’s other young friends to testify and the one whose statement they were resting their case upon was claiming that his statement was obtained under inducement and refusing to back it up with sworn evidence, but pressures from the child welfare department forced the trial to press ahead regardless. In the event, the defence wanted to be doubly sure, and Bruce and his lawyer were persuaded that, seeing as there was no risk that he could in his mid-thirties be proceeded against in the chlldren’s court, rather than claim exemption from self-incrimination, that they would instead negotiate a closed court for his evidence which they still hoped would help the accused.

It turned out that the jury contained one woman who believed than any male who even thought about sex should get the death penalty and it was hung eleven-one. Rather than go straight to the expense of a retrial, the prosecution appealed to a higher court about some of the judge’s rulings with regard to admissibility of evidence, which Bruce thought was largely about him being allowed to get away with expressing some strong opinions when he was supposed to be answering questions of fact, without a mistrial being called. But the higher court refused to hear the appeal on the grounds that the prosecution already had the power to order a retrial if that was what it wanted, and there the legal side had stalled for over three years.

What Bruce and his lawyer had not anticipated was that the woman juror who blocked a not guilty verdict would make it her business to let “sympathetic” people in Bruce’s community know about his in-camera evidence, presumably because of her anger about his opinions and maybe a genuine belief that he was a danger to kids. And, to top it off, the vigilante case worker who was driving the prosecution, knowing she could not get a prosecution going over his admissions, did have the power to get his name on a list of suspected pedophiles to be interrogated every time police received an allegation of child sex abuse without an identified perpetrator. Fortunately for Bruce, the police officer usually charged with carrying out that task had a much greater sense of perspective, and they steadily built mutual respect and genuine friendship. But at the same time he had had to accept advice from his community interests that they needed him to confine himself to strictly administrative responsibilities and move out of the coaching roles in which there was a potential for him to build relationships with individual boys. At least the person whose responsibility it was to tell him, knew exactly what it was like to be in the same situation and was able to sympathetically point out that the real danger was a fabricated allegation. More recently a door had opened for Bruce to channel his talents towards developing older boys at an elite level.

Eventually, the case worker’s efforts to break up innocent families based on her own bizarre fantasies and discredited methodologies started to backfire and she moved to another state. Meanwhile, the police officer who had become such a friend had started to have second thoughts about his choice for a career and had found a more than sympathetic supervisor who identified a window of opportunity to take a package, as well as assuring that Bruce’s name would be deleted from the list of potential suspects in the clean up that followed the case worker’s departure. And so his ex-police officer friend came to Bruce with a proposal that would see them go into business together, and finally get most aspects of his life back together.

After the mandatory Batemans Bay pizza stop, Sean grabbed the front seat, opening with “So now it’s my job to make sure you actually get to do all those things you’ve been punished for.” And the three of us proceeded to fill the last leg down with tales of our sexual exploits, going right back to my first time with Cherie, to which Nicholas added some overlap the two of them had previously kept from me. Sean and I recalled gruesome tales of Willy’s willy and magical tales of Lukies’ guitar, perfectly timing our return to the house with the spa. But we were all way beyond a spa that night. I had a pressing need to screw Nicholas at least thrice before morning and he would have been happy for even more, while Sean filled Bruce’s needs as only Sean could.

We dawdled breakfast into brunch with ever deeper inanities about the range of bodily contortions we had each managed during the night. It would take till mid afternoon to free the spa of its winter chill, but long before that things between us had finally dulled down to a level which reflected our mutually inflicted tiredness, in sudden contrast to an intrusion of direct sunlight from a rapidly brightening late winter day. Nicholas was drawn to the view from our back windows, where Sean soon joined him to point out a few sights and, as I soon deduced from their discontinuance of pointing, to compare notes. Bruce also saw a potential opportunity for some more rational dialogue one on one: “I find it very difficult to believe you guys,” which I could verify from the number of obvious pinch marks on his legs. “We really do not go this far every night, but we have all learnt to regard good sex as being just as natural and pleasurable as good eating, and sometimes there are special occasions when you try to squeeze in a bit extra,” flashing back five years, “like my first meal at the Woolshed.” He said he didn’t believe that either, but what had prompted his first remark, was us all sitting around inside when outside it was looking an increasingly pleasant day on the most beautiful chunk of Australian coast he had ever set eyes on. “Hey Sean,” I called across the room, we should give our lovers of last night a tour of the town seeing as we will already be on our way home by this time tomorrow.” “Just what we were thinking,” he yelled back and proceeded to point out a couple of last details to Nicholas before heading towards the front door which the four of us tried to squeeze through in one mass.

Figuring we could all use some more conventional exercise, we left mum’s car at the house and headed down town, then on to our camping ground where I had a chance to remind Henry the camp ranger that I would still be needing my site for the usual couple of weeks and Sean offered likewise for his family. Nicholas had already headed off as though he knew exactly the track to the beach, and Bruce soon followed him while Sean and I were happy to string along our conversation with Henry as an excuse to give them some space. In the distance we two old hands saw Nicholas park himself right at that very familiar spot on the rock wall, at which Sean’s struggles to prevent a convulsive attack gave us an excuse to take leave of Henry and dance slowly across the camping ground. Seeing Bruce soon catch up to and park himself next to Nicholas, us two old timers glided out of their line of sight and high fived which turned into a clasp and then a walk just holding hands along a hidden route which would bring us out just ahead of them. Late in that leg we caught a quick glance of them chattering away like the pair of young lovers that for the ensuing 24 hours they would be, at which, towing Sean deeper into the bushes we shared a brief hug and agreed that it looked like our old firm might be able to enjoy an overdue reunion and that we would even swear off doing anything really gross, at least in front of company.

We didn’t make it back to the house until we were more than ready to light the barbie and get stuck into preparing and consuming a meal and a half, throughout which the old lovers waited hand and foot on the new lovers. We moved on to the spa with little more erotic than unashamed nudity, then on to relatively early night caps before Sean and I diplomatically retired leaving the romance to blossom between my long frustrated “uncle” and his enchanted leprechaun. And their romance overflowed to enable us two old hands to discover how much more doing a lot less could be.

It was even more fun than it was different for the two of us who were all too often too serious—Sean was even serious when showing his bratty side—to perform as obedient servants to the loving couple through breakfast and packing and the first leg back. None of us had noticed the time before we stopped at a shop for lunch at Bateman’s Bay and it dawned on me that we might be struggling to make the airport, let alone via my place, if we did not change gears. Fortunately I soon got a chance to separately tell Nicholas and Bruce that they unfortunately needed to switch off even more quickly than they had switched on. They were allowed to share a quick consoling hug before I reclaimed the front seat to ensure that our navigation was spot on for the final leg.

To his credit, Bruce got his mind on his driving and the two in the back were content to start talking about their upcoming season together in Under 14s. On the free running Wollongong bypass, I felt it was time to remind my “uncle” that he should never build expectations of others based on his experience with us, as we had had many years to build our relationships and come to terms with the regrettable fact that most of the Western world was adamant about denying the possibility of our existence. Nicholas chipped in some heartfelt confirmation and consolation from the back, and we all agreed it was more than ok to still keep the dream alive. I was relieved that Bruce had everything with him so I did not need to call home until we reached the airport, where a shorter than normal delay in departure times gave us precious little respite save for giving Nicholas the chance for a proper final goodbye—at least one as proper as he could risk in full public view. By the time Walshie arrived with mum to pick up her car, we were back outside at the roadway to direct them to where Bruce had been able to park it, and I just managed to stop Walshie getting away until we could switch Sean and Nicholas to his car so he could chat with his next two Under 14 captains on the way to dropping them home, seeing as the new cricket season was looming fast.

The Sunday of our belated wake for Jacky came around quickly. Brendan Marshall had booked a banquet table in a private room at the Ng restaurant on our behalf. Seeing as they were two steps removed, Gary and Sean were required to bring partners who would correct the ethnic imbalance. Two seats were allocated for the Ng parents to join us after Charlie was able to get a couple of off-duty staff to turn up unannounced to relieve them, and in the sixteenth spot we set a high backed stool and moved a late portrait of Jacky from the wall to sit it with us. The hardest part of our preparations had been convincing a few of our parents that we wanted it to be just for the kids, and in the finish we settled for the Vander and French parents and my mother joining us at half past five with the prospect of staying on for dinner.

Our recruiting agents refused to do any preparation before late Friday afternoon on the grounds that the best story they could use was not having enough time to find anybody else. Having seen each of them in action too many times, I could not claim surprise but I still felt very relieved that they were completely successful. Gary and Sean went to great effort to pronounce the girls’ names perfectly as they introduced them, but they were readily anglicised to Sue and Joy which the girls were happy to live with even while their partners persisted showing off their hard won skills. And within minutes of their arrival they proved the value of the idea by explaining our plan for the day to Mr and Mrs Ng in their own language. Not all of the Anglo kids were as familiar with exotic eating as I was, but they quickly adapted and the afternoon became the celebration of a life that we wanted it to be.

Mid-afternoon things became less formal and Joy, who was Sean’s nominal partner, and Felicity grabbed my ear with a potential problem. We had all agreed to bring enough money to pay for our food and drinks at the listed prices, but it was made totally clear that the Ng parents would be insulted by any payment, while Felicity agreed with me that we would not be happy not to have contributed what we had expected to. Colin must have read our perplexity and wandered across and whispered that it was Charlie’s birthday on Tuesday, which gave us an obvious out. With time the essence well into Sunday afternoon, I wanted to know if Charlie had any particular musical interest and Colin flawed me: “Well, we often do our own little Fong and Lucas act.” I almost choked as I looked him up and down, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, so I excused myself and phoned a very familiar number: “You got anything important to occupy your time between now and tonight’s concert? ... Well that could not be more perfect, the two of you now have a chance to do something useful which just might inspire some fresh ideas.” I gave him directions to the Glebe restaurant, and was pleased Lukie thought he and Fong could be with us in forty minutes.

We now had to pool the money and have a couple slip out to pick up a cake, a gift, wrapping and a card, but before we had finalised the details my phone rang: “Yes. A few of us were mates with Jacky when we were tackers.” Fong explained that he had taken it on himself to visit Jacky in hospital whenever he could without bothering the family, then asked if there were a couple of girls with us who we hadn’t known. I passed the phone on to Joy and she chatted animatedly in their own language for a couple of minutes before handing it back to me: “Yes, we’ve gathered some cash together to get a present. ... If you’re serious, that can be covered, and it sounds just perfect. ... Hasn’t lover boy told you I’m not into the finer points, but, yes, if you’ve got that kind of stuff it should be awesome. And tell my Lukie he’d better contribute a full set of your CDs.” I told the girls the present was coming, and that they should see if they could get a couple of parking spots reserved out the front.

Right on four, we managed to get everybody back in the banquet room and I let myself be drafted to say a few words on behalf of those assembled, and when I picked up the audible arrival of the two entertainers at the door, rapidly concluded: “This has all been a little sad for our brave friend Charlie, especially so close to his birthday the day after tomorrow, so we have managed to organise something which might brighten things up a little,” concluding as Fong and Lukie walked through the door with their instruments. Gary’s partner had been videoing bits and pieces during the afternoon with some fancy gear, ostensibly for a project which was the two girls’ official justification for accepting such a strange invitation, and the grab she got of Charlie and Colin as they saw their idols walk in said it all and more.

They warmed up with a couple of their most familiar tunes, adapting them for a singer-guitarist plus synthesiser, then Fong introduced what I had finally remembered as an unusually melancholy track off their second last album, explaining in two languages of his unheralded visits to a dying boy in hospital that inspired the song. I listened with new ears to the words and thrilled to the rearrangement which gave Fong the chance to translate key lines. He then mentioned that they had four more songs for Jacky in the can and they strung them together in a medley arrangement that encompassed the full range of moods from solemn mourning to celebration of a life, again with interspersed translation. Lucas preannounced their final bracket: “But we have not forgotten that we were invited here to help brighten up Charlie’s birthday, so we made up a new song on the way over especially for you.” Which sounded good, seeing as they had brought both their vehicles, but which actually worked and served its purpose of getting Charlie and Colin up on their feet mimicking their idols’ every move before they faded into the traditional Happy Birthday just as a large cake with twelve candles appeared from the direction of the kitchen.

During the moment of darkness while candles were blown out, the girls succeeded in tying a large card to Fong’s old synthesiser using an oversized ribbon. Cherie had jumped the task of handing over the presents and had us all smiling when we could easily have been swept to tears in the emotion-charged atmosphere. She dragged out the presentation of the CD collection one at a time, clearly knowing more about them than I did and even joking about certain references to Sean and me, which mercifully went without translation, then apologising that we could not organise ourselves well enough to get him something brand new, so we had to make do with the old second hand synthesiser that we had just acquired from Fong. If it had been my job, Charlie would certainly have finished up in tears in my arms, but instead he and Cherie shared the most passionate birthday kiss ever seen in public between two eleven year olds.

Gary, Sean and their significantly older partners had decided to go to the concert, while Hayden and Felicity could not make up their minds until my mother arrived and said she had to go to get some promotional stuff organised and so she could make sure they got there and got home ok. This meant mum couldn’t stay quite as long as she might have liked with the other parents, and I opted to go home with Corey and his parents. Still the Vanders and Frenches and Ngs managed to settle in comfortably, with parent talk not requiring as much translation as kid talk, which was a good thing as the only one left who might have been able to help could not be prized away from his new toy. Colin had prearranged to stay the night at the Ng’s and go straight to school from there, but for the rest of the evening he paid more attention to Cherie, leaving it to we four remaining high school boys to do a quick once over of Glebe Point Road to help us make room for yet another round of food.

On the trip home, Corey suggested that he pick up his stuff for school and stay at my place so I had some company and his parents readily agreed that we could probably use some time together to work through our feelings. Even the novelty of him being at my place couldn’t keep us out of bed for long and gave us an hour which will forever remind me of the vagaries of human memory. Jacky and Corey and I, and more than a couple of the others who had shared that intensely emotional day, had from before we could remember experimented with each other, but that was already very faded. And I continue to enjoy so many intense, exciting and romantic sexual adventures. But for that hour, there was no hint of romance—just a timeless bond that must have been lurking below the surface, a bond of trust expressed innocently through a lot of gentle affection and a little mutual masturbation, every moment of which is etched in my brain and cherished at least equally with my most intensive adventures, and in total contrast to the blurred hour of physical comforting we had shared four weeks earlier.

I had nominated 7:30 on our internal e-mail breakfast order form and set the alarm for 7:00 which hit me like a bucket of cold water. Corey had insisted on being first for the bathroom and returned bemused claiming that I would never guess who he had met there. “That’s easy, your sister.” “How the fuck did you know?” “I was double checking what was on for breakfast and saw a note attached to Davo’s order for Mum to make sure she got Lickety’s stuff out of her car if she was leaving early.” The magnitude of what we had achieved the previous day through fully distributed organisation was starting to dawn on me, and it went far beyond anything that any individual could have planned: “Davo and Warren Alexander roadie for the band, so mum would have given them responsibility for getting Hades and Lickety home, without realising that your sister’s stuff was in her car, which gave your sis an excuse to finish up here with Davo while Hades would have been more than happy to crash at Warren’s. And it looks like Lukie will also be joining us for breakfast, which means we should be just about able to work out all of last night’s final resting places.”

We had just sat down for breakfast when Lukie walked in with a huge grin plastered across his face which was particularly notable in view of his unfamiliarity with that hour of the morning, but when he saw who was already seated around our the table he completely lost it and appeared to fall onto his chair more by good luck than good management. We worked out that Fong had finished up chauffeuring Sue and Joy, one of whom we learnt was related to him on his mother’s side and the other on his father’s side, while Lukie had dropped Gary into the welcoming arms of Adam, finally returned during the day from winding up his American relationship, then headed to Sean’s to crash. Knowing he had no hope of surviving the morning chaos at the Douglas’s, he had e-mailed his breakfast order to our place and had no trouble making it after being thoroughly aroused by Sean’s little brother and three sisters invading their bed at first light to give then a detailed account of the activities of Gary, Sue, Joy and Sean the previous night: “And the brats acted like they knew more than they were letting on, as they crawled all over us provocatively and left one opening after another in their accounts. One thing that was obvious was that the girls were very anxious for Gary to visit more often.”

That left only one of our party’s night unaccounted in my eyes, so I rang the Vanders hands free on the kitchen phone. “Morning Cap’n, when is cricket training?” “If you want to play we had better start this Wednesday.” My tongue amazed my brain by not being thrown by his shock-per-word opening and continued: “But I really only rang to make sure you had got through the night ok.” “We were about to follow you out to the car when I realised Jacky’s picture was still perched on that stool, so I went to put it back on the wall and without thinking about it pressed my lips briefly to the glass near his. I was just reaching up to rehang it when his mother put her hand on my shoulder: ‘non, non, non,’ and insisted that I should have it, with Charlie explaining that they had one exactly the same at home and could easily get a replacement printed and framed. By the time we got home, I knew exactly where it had to hang, and nobody demurred at my insistence that Nicholas sleep with Cherie, so I could spend the night alone with Jacky . But I didn’t have the faintest idea that I was going to share my bed and more with a very happy little ghost. I was just staring at him in the half light, half dozing when I swear I saw a smile cross his lips, then a moment later they puckered and I actually felt his kiss brush mine. I turned more on my side and made a hollow space under the doona which immediately filled with an eerie warmth, so I started to whisper just what I would have wanted to tell him if he had been there with me and inside my head his still young voice told me of how, once he had became ill, he had never been able to find a right time to tell us, and that by doing what we had yesterday we had finally lifted the burden so he could take his leave of our world in peace. But before he would go he wanted to leave something of himself with me. In my warm trance, I must have rolled onto my stomach without thinking, and soon was being thrilled by an electric massage across my shoulders and back. Then on my back, my body responded to unseeable stimulation as my arms held open a small tent under the doona. I don’t know when I was sleeping or when I was waking, but after I had sprayed the underside of his tent, I was able to feel his fear and his pain through those two years and the strength he had finally found to deal with them, a strength he then passed to me because he would no longer need it.” “So that’s why you are taking up cricket in your old age.” “He left me one other gift which you will notice as the year progresses, and his picture still smiles to me but nobody else.” “Have to hit the track so I can see the recharged Robbie in the flesh before classes start.” “By the way, your Cherie is becoming as much of a tart as Lickety. Now she wants to know how to find that Colin kid.” “If she’s got enough balls to play cricket, my friends should be able to organise that our twelves play theirs early in the round.”

Apart from gentle farewells to Lukie and Davo and a thank you to mum cleaning up in the kitchen, Felicity and Corey and I were too stunned to talk on the first leg of a trek which was going to unavoidably introduce them to our ‘test team’ as we collected them. Before we got to Hayden’s I felt I had to clear something, so put my arm around Felicity: “You are allowed to be pissed off at what I say or do, but please don’t turn that into being pissed off at me in general, and definitely not at Robbie. Maybe the best thing you could do is prove to him that he was right.” We arrived at Hayden’s just in time for her to avoid responding as she broke to bounce up his drive to drag him out to join us. I mentioned to Corey that we would be picking up a couple of old mates of his very soon and he grinned back: “And new teammates,” and gave me a quick hug in full public view.