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 34: Firsts

Of all people, Joey Mantari had been given the job of telling me that the often head strong group who would be playing in our Under 16 team for 1995-96 really did want me to have one more shot at captaincy, and that, as they knew that I could well follow Hayden to a higher level before my junior days were over, that it should be in my first year up, as the youngest member of their team. I had taken on getting practice started and was generally around the club a fair bit, so it was no real surprise that I was asked to fill a spot in our second senior team for the first game with a few of their expected players yet to show. I rewarded the kids with a first round failure from which my team didn’t recover, but which at least got me focused well enough to knuckle down in the afternoon and eek out a fifty, which immediately made my spot in the twos look a lot less temporary. From there my form with the bat, both morning and afternoon, only got better.

Many Sunday afternoons provided the time for a really long session with Buster, the pup and Mr Harris on the back tracks, with the humans invariably first to call quits. On a late October Sunday, we had had enough but it was a nice enough day to just sit around in the bit of park out the back of Harris’s and keep an eye on our two canine companions finding ways to entertain themselves safely without demanding too much intervention from us. Totally relaxed, Mr Harris and I slipped deeper into conversation, finally bringing to the surface the foundations for the bond we had established over the years, and going beyond to expose the personal background that made it all so easy.

I soon got on to the one strange aspect of it all: “I’m sure I’ve known how you love boys since I first started hanging out at your shop in third grade, and you must have just as surely seen through me and heard my reputation soon enough. Yet I doubt that either of us has ever considered being involved in any way more than we have.” He didn’t answer directly, but instead used the opening to tell me the other side of his life story. He had fooled around a bit with more than one of his mates when they were quite young, and presuming it had just been a stage, progressed to fulfilling the expected role of a husband and father. He had never lost his eye for young teens but it did not influence his life until his sons reached that age and he found himself swept up in their activities and in contact with many of their mates. Eventually one of his younger son’s mates who was having real difficulty at home had become almost an extra son in the Harris household and gradually made his relationship with Mr Harris more and more intimate. If the youngster had not been so sure of himself, his older partner would have willingly adhered to social convention and kept a tight lid on it, but he soon became very glad he had not, as it seemed to open a new dimension in his soul that he had never seen through marriage. With the inevitable adjustments as the by then confident and together youngster expanded his horizons, Mrs Harris found through an affair that there were a few more possibilities in her life. They separated as amicably as anyone could, then divorced and she remarried. The second husband had died relatively young, and Mr Harris and his ex-wife resumed the genuine friendship that was the real basis of their marriage, without either suggesting living together again. He took a package and opened the sports store while finalising the divorce settlement, and the shop proved to be an unplanned magnet for boys seeking support. The second and most persistent of his boys finished up marrying his daughter who has turned out to play an almost maternal role for her own father, seeing him most days and providing a bit of unpaid care for both his home and the shop, as well as a granddaughter and grandson who he expected to start in the tackers the following season. Three more teenage boys found him through the store in reasonably rapid succession. He found part time work for them there and indulged them with the odd trip to his hideaway at Jindabyne, and I remembered the last of those boys from my early years of visiting the store. He maintained similar levels of incidental contact with all of his boyfriends and with his late marrying sons, but felt that his entirely platonic relationship with me over the past six years had played a more important role in his life, behind only his daughter and Walshie, with whom he shared a bond of accepted loneliness as much as of common interests.

By the time he finally paused, we were both lying flat on our backs on the soft grass, me using the hollow, where most men his age would have a beer pot, as a pillow for my head. I almost started on my own story, but he suggested that he would be just as happy to read it: “after you write the book,” at which point Buster and son decided they had better check what we were doing. “Hey, pup,” I called, “Come here and listen. You be good to your old man.” The pup muzzled up to Buster and I had to laugh at my ambiguity: “Not that old man, you duffer, this other old man that feeds you and gives you a home.” The pup was sitting attentively by my side and reached down and licked my dear old friend’s palm. Just managing to control my voice: “You look after him pup, he’s a good bloke.” After a long pause, I spoke to the other dog: “C’mon, Buster. It’s time I got you home,” and climbed to my feet without turning and headed back along the track. Getting to the last spot from where you could see Harris’s back gate, I finally turned to see Mr Harris and the pup still standing at the gate watching us. I waved and he waved back, the two dogs barked a short farewell and Buster and I headed for home.

I let myself in at Warren’s, took off my sweaty and tearstained shirt, and parked myself on a chair at the glass topped snacking table in his rumpus room, with Buster lying somewhat busted by my feet. I just propped my head over the table and watched my tears and runny snot form a pool on the glass which every so often overran the edge of the table and dripped onto my lap. It must have been nearly half an hour before Warren finally returned from Natalie’s and broke my trance: “What the hell is the matter with you?” “Hey man, you know me better than that. They are happy tears not sad. Right now I’m the second happiest person in all the world.” “I’d hate to see the happiest.” “I just left him half an hour ago, and I made him that way. Anyway, man, I really should clean myself up a bit. Wanna share a shower?” He didn’t refuse and in the shower I told him how I was going to need his help writing and editing this book, which would give me reason to tell him any of my life’s stories that he had missed and go back over the others a few more times. We both looked forward to how much that little exercise would turn him on.

While I had been hanging around and sometimes joining in a bit at senior practice, that Tuesday I took it on myself to get fair dinkum—running laps at the start and making sure I was always busy doing all the fielding drills and even bowling some of my innocuous practice deliveries when invited. Being there before the start, I got my turn to bat early in the seconds net and felt pretty comfortable. On the Thursday, I was directed into the senior net just as our best bowlers were hitting their straps. I may have looked relaxed about it when I ran the mandatory three with the outgoing batsmen, but inside I was churning. I got through fifteen torrid minutes with only a possible LBW and a brute of a ball which I could only fend away to where somebody of David Boon’s calibre might have snaffled it, and by the end had also played a few forcing shorts. Without thinking about it, I just hung around at the club for the hour after practice until the next week’s teams were announced, but was still totally unprepared when I was named in the ones.

Our Under 16s had been on top all morning, but unable to bowl our opponents out. Getting through our overs, we finished right on time and were back to our ground before the Under 12s were finished their long anticipated clash with Colin Barker’s team. I was anything but surprised that he was a dominant player and that they had creamed our rather patchy team in which my very liberated, or maybe just boy-mad, Cherie was more than holding her own. Colin and Cherie had had little chance to more than acknowledge each other’s existence during the course of the morning, but he came over to the two of us just as the rest of his team was getting ready to go and announced that he was hoping to spend the afternoon with us. Cherie immediately insisted, so he waved his potential ride to leave, before I got to tell him that I was going to be playing at his club’s ground during the afternoon. Seeing as I hadn’t rung to boast of my promotion, Gary had told Colin that I would be playing at home. But, when I finally got to the bottom of Colin’s giggles, I found he should have known seeing as how he too had been picked for his first game in their ones and hadn’t rang to tell me either. All this suited Cherie perfectly, and her fantasies about getting creamed by Colin a few more times before the afternoon was over, especially as her happily haunted brother had taken to cricket so keenly that he had become a regular fill-in for our fourths.

We got a couple of early wickets and another half an hour before tea, but it took until they were starting to really go for it near the end that we got the two more needed for Gary to finally get his chance at the crease, coming in at number seven with twelve balls to play and on a hiding to nothing. He thumped his first ball through covers showing strength I didn’t know he had, and the field scattered. But that was nothing compared to the whack on the next which I was certain was flying way over my head on the mid-wicket boundary, until I slowly realised he had got under it just a little bit and it was swirling down in my direction. I was hoping it might still carry or even that my skills would let me down, but finally had to dive forward and it somehow hit my hands and stuck. By the time I dared to look towards the wicket, all I saw of Gary was him giving a slap of encouragement to the bum of the incoming batsman and I realised that he had held no hope of me dropping it from the moment it left his bat.

Finding myself torn between the two upstairs-downstairs neighbours, it was Gary who insisted I get back to my club for Colin as Gary and I still had the next Saturday to get together. Colin and Cherie had long changed out of their whites and were waiting with Robbie when I got back to make sure Colin had his arrangements under control, which meant, I quickly learnt, that he was planning to stay the night at my place seeing as he thought he owed me more than one. A whole day in the field had drained me of any bigger ideas, so the Vanders managed to get away before the weekly awards started. I was only half listening when it got to the ones and the skipper bemoaned a day chasing leather in which no bowler got more than one wicket, then talked about my effort in the field first game up, including a catch I hadn’t wanted, presenting me with the standard $30 drink voucher from a local night club. I had recovered enough of my humour to offer to auction it and, just when the bidding had stalled at $20, I heard a late offer of “a head job” from somebody I couldn’t quite pick out. “Sold, to the man with the head job,” I played along, discovering it was the opening bowler in the seconds when he came to collect which I put off: “You get it when I get it, but it’s not tonight as I already have company,” nodding in Colin’s direction, and we were soon out of there.

Somewhere along our playful twilight stroll back to my place, the chemistry between us underwent a subtle change. We had the house to ourselves for the few hours before mum and Davo would get back from their commitments at Lukie’s band’s gig, but we had no expectations of being awake, let alone still up to greet them. But instead of heading straight down the back to my room, I had to prepare a good if simple meal for both of us with Colin pitching in comfortably to set the table for two and afterwards to wash the dishes. All the while, whenever we passed within range, which we did with less than half an excuse, we would exchange some gentle touch of hands or lips or cheeks or hair. Even under our dinner table our feet played their own games. Then with the meal done, we chose to sit close together in our traditionally styled formal lounge, just soaking up the atmosphere for several minutes, then in the same moment turning to face each other and starting to speak about that wonderful transformation of our relationship.

We both wanted to regret having started with the ultimate sex act only hours after we had met, but found we could come to terms with his need to know, and my willingness to serve that need, both in the expectation that our chance meeting had looked most unlikely to provide a foundation for building a relationship. Yet something had certainly been building over the intervening six months and the several occasions we had found ourselves together, to the point where we had each come to occupy a unique place in the other’s heart. Sharing some real work right from the moment we met had given us a sound starting point, and we were soon happy to admit that that first sexual act had at least been in completely honest self-interest and mutual trust. Then there had been all the emotion of the reunion with Charlie and the revelation about Jacky. And neither of us had any wish to deny the many other people who had special places in our lives, but I knew that for the first time in almost three years since my summer long orgy at Bermagui that I was head over heels in love and that he was equally so. Yet somehow we both also felt the need to keep the frequency of our get togethers under control, so each would be somehow special and the magic between us would never grow stale. Our talking done, it was finally time to head down the back, firstly to set him up with a personal e-mail account, and then to get to bed before sleep could beat us to it.

I stirred in the dawn light and took in the satisfied sleeping smile on the pillow next to me, never shifting my appreciative gaze as he went through an obviously cheerful ten minutes of REM sleep and again quieted at which point my finger tips and eventually my lips could no longer resist playing with the lines of his face. This eventually stirred him enough for his eyes to open and half focus, at which I whispered to him: “We’ve both had a pretty good teacher,” and we did it all over again. Finally the need for a piss and hunger took over, so I fixed breakfast as anybody who wanted to eat early Sunday was obliged to do at our place, and we went back to bed for some more, after which we unsurprisingly returned for a while to the land of nod, before it was Colin’s turn to wake me for a fourth round. That all done, it really was time to drop him back to his place comfortably before the time for the start of his official twelfth birthday party.

Robbie Vander’s unbeaten 27 which got us home with overs to spare deservedly got more recognition than my breezy eighty, an innings which was the worst possible preparation for the challenges I faced in the afternoon. One thing I had going over Gary was that I was being given a chance at five, so was certain to have time to try to settle in. We never really got into the game. I was in an hour before tea, losing my first partner before the break and my second not long after, then just felt I was starting to settle in on 34 when their key bowler overpitched a straight one that came off my bat sweetly straight back past him to the boundary. But that only made me feel a little too comfortable and him a little more determined and his next ball did enough to get a thick edge through to the keeper, and I had been given my first lesson about cricket at that level.

The innings finally over, I mentioned to our skipper that I would be staying over at Gary’s. He said he would have liked me to be at the club to receive some recognition for my performance and I told him not to be so stupid and to give the weekly award to himself seeing as his bright sixty had at least given us a faint glimmer going into the last hour. Noticing something still in my pocket from the week before: “You had better take this back and give it to ‘Head Job’. Just tell him I got a better offer.” The skipper looked quizzically towards Gary, at which I laughed and shook my head: “No, no, no. He’ll just drag me out some place where he’ll pull a couple of honeys, and I’ll have to service one of them.” I explained that if it wasn’t for both of us having a bit of luck with cricket that we would never have known each other, yet we had become real friends over the couple of years since we met, and the skipper suggested that I had already learnt a more important lesson about the game than the one their old bowler had given me that afternoon. Skipper then asked Gary what he thought of me catching him the week before: “If he hadn’t caught it I would have been ashamed of him. I was trying to do what the team needed and didn’t quite middle it. And we like pushing each other. But we play fair, so I certainly wouldn’t tell our guys that Blake sometimes has trouble keeping down a ball rising into his ribcage.”

The last of the twilight had faded by the time we found ourselves at The Rocks with its usual throng of Saturday night revellers. Always on the lookout, we spotted a knot of people gathered around a couple of fondly remembered Asian girls trying to shoot some video. I ducked into a souvenir shop and paid a wildly excessive price for a length of ribbon with a bow on it, then snuck around behind them while Gary managed to keep out of their sight until he was almost level with the lens. In a coordinated movement, I wrapped the ribbon around Joy’s torso and arms while Gary threw himself in front of the camera still being wielded by Sue, his partner for the weekend of Jacky’s wake, and planted a sloppy kiss on the lens. After their intended moment of panic, the four of us collapsed into uproarious laughter. We hung around while they finished their planned shoot, found a corner of a crowded cafe where we grabbed a bite, and they were more than happy for us all to crash at Gary’s.

We sat around and talked ourselves almost to sleep. I learnt enough about Fong to see that the band’s success was due to a lot more than just my Lukie’s talents and mum’s marketing, and we gained some serious education in the language that had seemed such an obstacle three months earlier. Finally Gary thought we were all too ready for bed, so he dug out a blank tape and insisted that we should put their fancy video gear to some very private use, and we finished up performing for the camera in every pairing except those we would finally spend the night with.

I was just grabbing the last pieces of toast for the table when Colin emerged bleary-eyed from Brendan’s room clad only in a give away pair of pyjama bottoms that were a couple of sizes too small for him but had obviously rarely been worn and still neatly pressed. He slowly focused on who was sitting around the table, then walked straight to me and threw his arms around me and gave me the biggest sloppiest lovingest kiss which must have lasted two minutes before he resumed his intended trip to the bathroom. I found some more bread for the toaster, threw a mug of milk in the microwave, and dragged an extra chair to the table, before he was back with us looking rapidly refreshed and explained without prompting: “That was my thanks for my birthday present, which was better than anything, especially when I didn’t even invite him to stay for the party after he got his mother to drop me home last Sunday.” “Hey, I think we had already had our party and I knew it was going to be tight fitting your whole cricket team in your place.” “Plus Charlie and his synthesiser which I didn’t want to mention but which made what you sent me even better.” “You don’t know what you put me through last Saturday night in keeping my mouth shut about Lukie’s old guitar, even hiding it at the back of Davo’s top shelf so you wouldn’t see it by accident. Then when we got back from dropping you off, I realised that despite all the memories, you would get a lot more from it than me, so I rang Lukie to see if it was ok to pass it on.” “It obviously was more than ok. Here we are with Charlie playing Fong’s synthesiser and me playing air guitar, and I didn’t notice mum open the door, and all of a sudden there is this real guitar sound behind me, and all my mates are goggle-eyed, and I turn around, and Lucas just hands me this guitar: ‘Blake and I thought you might have a use for this.’ After some measure of calm was finally restored, I persuade him to go and get his own guitar out of his car, mainly to cover for my fumbling, and we do this 25 minute improvisation of ‘Cap’n Sez’ which bonds our team like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t even give myself a bat or a bowl yesterday and we still creamed the second team.”

By that stage, Brendan was fixing his own breakfast and there was a knock on the door which opened itself and—I at first suspected a team mate of Gary’s—a fresh face I knew I knew but could not at first place walked in, then seeing the crowd, excused himself. “Don’t worry, its no worse than Pitt Street, get back in here and meet my friends,” Gary demanded. “Finally, I can’t believe but I know you two have not actually met. Blake, Adam, Adam, Blake,” he started, and I was for once left dumbfounded, suddenly understanding and not knowing at first what I could say that would not cause offence. The photos of him I had seen at his mother’s after we had moved Colin in downstairs must have been four years more recent than I had taken them to be. Fortunately for me, Gary went straight on with the introduction of Sue and Joy, and I started to see that Adam had found his own ways to survive being nearly 19 and still looking 14 and so would not have taken offence at anything less than the kind of things which sometimes still flow from my tongue before my brain regains control. “So you’ve managed to put your American dreams behind you for a while,” I inquired politely, “without too much cost to your entry score for next year?” I knew the girls had high aspirations with regard to the courses they intended to get into, which gave them the opening to get right into the conversation. Heading for the door, Brendan asked rhetorically how Gary and I cope with such people off in another world. “I’m getting ready for a year of it from Hayden,” I answered down the hall, “and have always been much more comfortable with older company.” Colin feigned offence and headed for the door. “And Colin,” I announced defensively and grabbed him by the shoulder, at which he grabbed my fingers and started to tow me towards the exit. I stopped him for a moment at the doorway and turned to Gary and risked: “I think you might just have the makings there of a steady foursome which might not hurt any of you,” to which he made it quite clear that Colin and I should go play with Lukie’s old guitar or whatever.