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 35: Joel

We managed to do a complete swap deal of our old caravan and annexe for a very large tent and everything to furnish it, which even came with a trailer for transport, that had all belonged to an older couple, the last of whose children had finally organised their own summer accommodations. So my immediate challenge should have been to shake out enough of my friends to join Sean and me to share the pleasures of another summer at Bermagui. With the wisdom of hindsight, I was guilty of just assuming that they would instantly understand the attractions and grab the chance. In the finish, I was only shaken into action by Sean telling me of trying to catch his friend Mick from the camp by phone and, not getting any answer through the second half of November, he had finally remembered Mick’s mate Tony’s second name and found his phone number and found that Mick’s whole family had gone back to visit Ireland, Britain and Europe during Mick’s father’s three month long service leave, and that Tony was really at a loose end for the holidays and would be thrilled if we could spare half a bed for him. Of all the people I could have considered asking only Hayden and Gary Marshall conceded that they might be able to squeeze a couple of days in between their family and representative cricket commitments, but even they were uncertain, and all the rest already had their arrangements for the summer completely settled.

I figured that with the Vanders staying even further down the coast that Robbie should have been the easiest to shake out for at least a few days and so tried that one more phone call which was answered, as usual, by Cherie. Before I could even get a chance to ask to speak to her brother, her conversation made it clear that she was out of ear shot and that their parents were not expected back from Christmas visiting until quite late as she insisted I should have been visiting them rather than phoning. “You’ll just have to imagine I’m visiting,” I didn’t dream what I was letting myself in for, but had to concede: “Well I can feel you here too if I really let my imagination loose.” For the next half hour we did and we did, and getting there was a lot more real than with most of the Bermagui dolly birds. I was even happy enough that this was not really breaking the boundaries I was so unilaterally adamant in maintaining, and, finally calming, remembered: “I had actually called to ask your brother something.” He was on the Internet on their other line, so I gave her a chat room name for him to open and said I would meet him there.

Robbie and I were not getting anywhere with the Bermagui question when we were rudely interrupted by:

OffRoad has changed his nick to Resume

I could just imagine the offline goings on at their end, and that my “C.V.” could not be satisfied by only doing it via one electronic medium on the one night, so I again played along, and surprised myself to find that somebody who I really knew and really loved typing explicit words on my screen really could be quite stimulating. When my dear friend “R.V.” finally regained control of his keyboard, he commented about how bad my typing had become for a while, and I conceded that I had never had to type one handed before. Despite our unshakeable bond, he wasn’t even going to ask if he could stay with us “this year” but did promise he would convince his parents to call in for a visit on their way through. I knew somebody else would be making doubly sure of that, but was more intrigued by my new realisation that many or all of the cybersex sessions I had chatted my way through might actually have involved somebody at the other end, who could type one handed convincingly, assuming I was actually sharing what they were feeling. So I reminded myself again of dolly bird nights, but it had already made me more than reluctant to let myself get into any more such cyberchats with people I had no feeling for.

Despite my abject failure to organise the kind of group I had anticipated to make use of my site during the first week of our booking, Sean and Tony and I had become more than comfortable with our arrangements, which were only interrupted by the Vanders passing through to check us out “for next year” on their way further south and finding themselves staying a couple of hours more than they had planned. While their parents chatted to Mum at the house, Robbie and Cherie joined Sean and me for a swim at the cove on the ocean side which I was worried provided a real risk of some spill over from our recent phone and cybersex session. But as I learned later, she was still feeling the “good talking to” she had received in their car on the way down and had decided to play hard to get, assuming I would take some initiative, and in doing so played into and thus out of my hands until it was clearly too late for a change of mind to get anywhere.

We hadn’t seen mum except in passing, but one week on her own must have been enough and she invited us up for lunch which Tony found a pretext to duck, but that didn’t get Sean and me off the hook. We even enjoyed letting the afternoon drag on, especially in the comfort of the spa, until I was brought back into the world by Buster licking spa water off my cheek and soon saw that he had been followed in by Warren and ... Hades, who were quickly convinced to join us and explain that Warren was making a short working holiday of the band’s tour to Melbourne via the coast, while Hayden had had his fill of his “same old boring” extended family Christmas and had opted for anything that was different in the few days before he too had to get to Melbourne, but for a cricket carnival. A spa filled with boy talk again had us oblivious of anything further afield than the continual need to discourage Buster from jumping in with us, and he even failed to alert us to the arrival of more visitors until we were confronted by a sharp strum of a guitar cord which continued to play accompanied by all manner of banging and thumping of pots and pans with kitchen utensils and obviously anything else that could be improvised. Yet it almost sounded musical and I was not at all surprised to look around to see Lukie and Fong ... and just a little more surprised to see Sue and Joy with them.

Mum was even more surprised when Sean and I opted to drag ourselves out of the spa, naked as always, and dry off in full view of all present, soon to be followed by Warren and Hades. “Have you no shame?” she demanded and got what she asked for: “Well you, Fong and Buster are the only ones here I am not on intimate terms with and I’m sure Fong and Buster aren’t offended ... and you are my mother.” That was hardly an excuse for the others, except maybe Sean, but it sufficed while we made a drawn out show of getting back into some clothes, and the new arrivals declined “for now” our invitation to take over the vacated spa. The girls had clearly seen more of mum than me at the band’s gigs following our meeting at our wake for Jacky Ng, but that didn’t stop Sean suffering a convulsive attack and me laughing myself to tears when Lukie strummed a few bars of Mrs Robinson as the girls gave mum a hand to bring out some drinks and nibbles. And we had just recovered enough to be starting that story when Buster, who had finished his explorings and flopped at our feet, suddenly alerted and stood, tail wagging, then let out an understated sequence of short barks which were answered more loudly from outside almost in harmony with a loud rap on the door, which Lukie opened to let in Walshie and Mr Harris and his nearly grown pup, in reverse order. They were quickly apologising for their choice of days on which to take up mum’s open invitation to drop across from Jindabyne, and, while teasingly complaining about it being: “symptomatic of mum’s disorganising skills,” I insisted that “I can still cover for her and bed you all between her house and my tent.” At least Buster and his son were convinced that things could not have been better planned. So after my apparently fruitless efforts, finally some people had turned up to make use of our accommodations, even if all at once, and I stayed a little nervous through the late afternoon lest there be another knock on the door, until I was finally able to convince Hayden and the girls to walk down to the camping ground with Sean and me in time to join in the ritual early evening cricket match.

Habits can be hard to break, and Sean and I had finished up regular captains of the two sides for the camping ground match and it was my turn for first pick which meant he got second and third. The camping ground regulars had already heard enough about Hayden before we walked in that nobody was offended when he was my first pick. Tony had a word in Sean’s ear, which he wasn’t supposed to but which I would always turn a blind eye too seeing as we started off a bit uneven as Sean could not be called more than a handy player, and they pulled their first surprise with their second choice who was a kid I had never seen before but who looked every bit your “boy from the bush.” I was tempted to throw a spanner in the works by picking Tony in my second round, and made the mistake of not opting for the next best two bowlers.

Having three top bats doesn’t help much in the camping ground until one of them goes out, and faced with some sustained pressure from two more than handy bowlers, plus Tony more inspired than I have ever seen him, and a couple of handy back ups, we could not really get the scoreboard ticking. I got a chance to ask Tony what he was so high about but was not really expecting: “I’m in love.” I still did not think they had any batting to worry about, but a few of them managed to hang around against our less than ordinary bowling, while the boy from the bush just creamed. At one point, Hades and I were no more than ten meters apart in covers and he bisected us with three shots in the one over, after which Hades acknowledge that he thought the boy could bat a bit and asked who he was. At that stage I didn’t know but as soon as they cruised past us and we went through the ritual of giving all and sundry tackers, girls and oldies an over to bowl or a few balls to face, Tony, having put on his best straight face, introduced us to Joel. His family had opted out of their normal annual holidays in Queensland and settled for a week “closer to home” at Bermagui, because he had to be in Sydney for a cricket carnival the following week. Joel recognised Hayden’s name from the papers and his and my teams were scheduled to meet during the second week. We sat around with Sean and Joy and Sue until all light had left the sky and we heard a call of “Joel. Tea’s ready.” He didn’t rush his goodbyes and left till last what was almost an embrace and a “See you in the morning” for Tony.

Before we could half finish our obvious questions, Tony quieted us with just enough of the story: “It really was ‘at first site’. He had admitted within minutes that he knew he was gay, but that I was the first person he had even hinted to. And we had a fabulous day, but he wants at least a couple of days ‘to think about it’ before risking getting in any deeper.” We hadn’t really introduced the girls and I was more than intrigued when, in response to their introduction, they dropped their normally flawless Strine and chose to speak with stereotypically strong Asian accents, as well as to drop into their own language to compare notes from which even Sean and I struggled to pick up more than smatterings. As we reached my tent, a familiar red sports car turned up and Lukie announced that he had been instructed to trade Fong for Hayden. I asked if he could run me down town so I could restock, but he countered by asking us to make do with some stuff he had picked up for mum, which he could replace on the way back and assuring us that he would bring us some more stuff back later.

Even the girls were happy to admit being past trying to prepare a meal from the odd bits we had on hand, so we snacked and guzzled while sitting around the long table that divided the tent and talked endless drivel. But Tony’s high was still infectious enough to keep us firing until we heard the sports car pull up and Lukie and Walshie unloaded a bucketload of food and more than replacements for the drinks already consumed: “Oliver was heading for bed when he discovered those two hulking animals had acquired the twin beds, so I talked him into giving me a hand getting this stuff back to you guys.” They had brought more than enough to cover themselves as well, so the inanities resumed, until Fong confronted Sean: “Now listen here. This so called friend of yours thinks that just because he has to sing them he can make me write more songs about your anatomy. Now before I can do that, I’m really going to have to do some research.” On cue the barechested Sean stood up and sucked in his stomach muscles leaving a conspicuous gap between his abdomen and the front of his jeans. In pursuit of his research, Fong plunged his hand into the gap and withdrew it just as quickly with several muttered expletives: “Argh! It bit me. Oh my god!” and he showed off two puncture marks on the side of his hand which were oozing blood. He sucked on them while Sean assured him it really wasn’t poisonous, then, having applied a Band Aid, Fong insisted on trying again, with the same result, except on the knuckle of his first finger. By then I was starting to realise that these two minor wounds had been carefully positioned so as to avoid interfering with his handling of the synthesiser at the following night’s gig, while Fong was insisting that this really demanded a full private examination and he and Sean adjourned behind a cloth wall to one of the double beds.

The surviving sixsome were making enough noise for Sean and Fong to go unmissed and unnoticed, at least until Tony’s high started to take its toll. On cue, Joy offered some very Asian concern that the poor boy had obviously been stimulated for too long and needed some real relief and he really was so far gone that she was able to escort him to the next of the beds and commence audibly applying that relief. That prompted Walshie to start muttering to Lucas about getting back, at which Sue took aggressive offence and insisted that she had specially prepared his room for him and then, from in the “room”, that he obviously could do with some treatment for his tired muscles. Lukie beat me to the light and we were almost ripping each other’s pants down as we dived for the fourth bed where he screwed me even more aggressively than our first time and I returned the same before we finally shed the rest of our clothes and settled into some quieter love making.

A pressing need for a piss woke me with just the faintest hint of morning light in the sky, and took my mind back six years to the morning I had gone to see the sunrise and failed to get past Lukie’s tent. He sleepily agreed that if we were ever going to see the sunrise that it might as well be then and we made it to the cove on the ocean side with still a few minutes to spare. By the half light of the eastern horizon the low swells rolling out of a glassy sea were hypnotic, and we agreed without words to watch the sunrise from where we would be up to our necks in the ocean, which demanded discarding our shorts and sneakers so they would be dry to wear back. The gentle sets which lifted and dropped our entwined bodies also made the first rays come and go and the great orange ball rise and sink back until finally it was indisputably clear of the horizon and our numbness provoked us towards shore. At the beach we were confronted with no obvious way to get dry short of running with the breeze, which we did until we got a bit close to the rocks at one end: “Hey, you guys will get booked for indecent exposure if you do that much more.” “Sorry,” we chorused and the last sprint back to our clothes left us dry enough to get away with putting them on, when Lukie’s mind twisted and he insisted that we carry our clothes back down to those same rocks, to see if the guy really would put in a complaint about indecent exposure: “Rock star booked for naked dawn run at hidden beach,” he claimed would be great publicity. I was still not awake enough to remind him that such decisions were for my mother to make, but the dawn fisherman suddenly twigged who Lucas was and made a joke of the whole thing which at least let us finally get our shorts back on to our by then totally dry bodies: “Are you going to the gig tonight?” Lukie remembered his manners, and while the fisherman made excuses, I suddenly realised that four other eyes had been watching all this but had only just decided it was safe to make themselves visible. “Look, I am really sorry if we gave your boys the wrong impression, but if all that is stopping you going tonight is tickets, we can certainly do something about that.” “Can we?” “Please Dad?” “Are you guys going to be fishing here a bit longer?” “As long as their patience lasts.” “Well if you can trust us to duck back to the camp, we will get some tickets back to you before you leave.” “You can bat a bit,” the slightly older boy let me know with minimal words that they too were newbies at the camp, “But that other kid was awesome. He’s not with you guys is he?” “The site next door, but we hadn’t met them before yesterday.”

We got back to the camp still too early for anybody to have stirred, except of course for the younger Douglas kids who intercepted us at our tent and prompted some lateral thinking: “Hey you guys want to do us and yourselves a favour?” The two elder girls were happy to deliver four tickets to the fisherman at the cove, especially when they noticed that the seats were right next to their own. Neither Lukie nor I dropped the slightest hint that might spoil their surprise. I was last to wake the second time as the temperature in the tent became overpowering, but within moments of escaping into the fresh air, the Douglas girls were back with their story of still having one ticket left because the boys did not have a mother. I was wondering who to give it too, when an elbow in the thigh drew my attention to the little brother, whose arrival had provoked Sean into shifting in with me three summers earlier, chatting up a girl who I guessed would be going into second grade. But before I could treat that possibility seriously, Henry the camp ranger stormed up to the tent to confront me about having a car on my site which I hadn’t registered with him.

Before I could remind him that he knew perfectly well whose car it was, Lukie appeared from around the back and did his practised job of calming Henry down, slipping the orphan ticket out of my hand and presenting it to him with an offer to be his personal chauffeur both ways. He clearly wanted to accept: “But I can’t leave this place unsupervised.” I pulled out a fifty and gave it to him: “That’s to cover the extras who turned up last night, and those who will finish up back here tonight, and for Lukie to park his wheels here, and I’ll take an icecream for my change later on.” “Henry, Henry, Henry, nearly everybody in the camp is going down to Merrimbula for the gig, so why don’t you appoint Blake acting ranger for the night.” As if on cue, the Harris Sports Store wagon pulled in with Warren, Hayden, mum, Buster and the pup as passengers. “Hey, I could even bring in a couple of guard dogs to really make sure we have no trouble in your absence.” “Anyway, why aren’t you going with the rest of them?” “I’m on holidays, and while mum might be happy to break into her holidays to do another night’s work for the band, I’m not.” By then there were conversations going all directions and Tony and Joel wandered past and gave the dogs a big pat while I established that at least they weren’t going either so I would have some company. Sensing we were getting nowhere, Lukie took Henry under his arm: “Listen, why don’t we go and ask the regulars? Their drinking circle will be just getting underway, and if you have their support then there really is no reason left for you not to accept my invitation.” They really liked the idea, and, still feigning reluctance, Henry finally conceded.

Mr Harris and Walshie were talked into staying over one more night, but not into going to the gig, so they finished up at the camping ground to have a look at our twilight match then just sitting around swapping cricket stories with Joel, Tony and me as my official duties demanded little more. Seeming as though they knew the place would be almost deserted, a car obviously loaded with young hoons drove straight past the sign that vainly proclaimed “No Visitors Cars Beyond This Point” and proceeded to drive around more and more aggressively. But it took only seconds for the mood at our table to tighten. Joel insisted on being given the pup’s lead and that I take Buster, while Tony grabbed a large lump of wood and hoisted it over his shoulder. Just as the hoons spun back our direction, Mr Harris blew very sharply on an umpiring whistle I hadn’t seen while shining his very powerful torch straight into their windscreen. They stopped just long enough to spot the dogs trying to pull our arms out of our shoulders and closing fast, with a very big guy carrying a very big stick close behind. And it only took one look before they were out the entrance and gone. Only Walshie hadn’t moved but as we returned to him we saw he was busy talking hard into my mobile phone. A few of the remaining campers had caught the end of the affair and quickly surrounded us with words of thanks and encouragement, and almost as quickly melted back to their obviously interrupted slumber. Mr Harris mentioned that the whistle and the torch were the next most important things to always carry with you, after your cricket gear, if you were ever to take on such responsibilities. I figured a large German Shepherd on a tight lead might also rank, along with a large bloke carrying a lump of four by two.

Just as we were getting back onto other conversations, the same car reappeared, but driving very cautiously with a police divvy van with its light flashing sitting right up its arse and they both pulled in to a stop at the appropriate sign. Obviously we were required, but I was not sorry that a couple of campers right near the entrance were already giving them most of the story before we got there. And Walshie was more than happy to continue on from where he had left off on the phone, so the rest of us were able to stay in the background, Joel and Mr Harris keeping the dogs calmed. I had to confirm that in my fifteenth summer at the camp I had been left in nominal charge while the camp ranger went to the gig at Merrimbula, although I obviously had plenty of back up. They had to ask me if I wanted to lay charges, at which I suggested that they had better get the kids out of their car so I could see who I was deciding about. And I had to suppress a laugh when the oldest three turned out to look a bit younger in turn that Tony, Joel and me, while the fourth was young enough to be me out cruising with Garth and the boys in fifth grade. I turned the question back on the cop who was doing all the talking” “Well what would you like to do with them?” “I wish I could put them over my knee and spank them,” That thought was almost appealing to me so I bit my lip. “But seeing this bloke is old enough to drive then he is old enough to face an adult court and blow his licence for a long time.” I also noticed that the second oldest appeared to be scared shitless and exchanged just enough eye contact to know he felt he was staring down the barrel of a beating. I needed inspiration and it came with a plastic bag blowing across the drive from out of an improperly closed bin: “What say we give them the option of doing their penance right here and right now. We could use a hand for an hour getting this place into a bit better shape before the mob get back from Merimbula,” getting inspired: “You could take their keys and come back in an hour to escort them home and let their folks know just what they have been up to.” Just then a call came through in the police car and it sounded a bit more urgent than our little affair had become, so my offer was accepted, I am sure reluctantly.

We three home boys actually pitched in with them a bit, in the guise of supervising, and tidied the place up more than it had been in a long time without a single complaint from the campers about the bit of noise. Mr Harris and Walshie were prepared to look after the dogs and provide us with a bit of illumination when needed. I eventually gave the second oldest a chance to get it out of his system: “Hey man I owe you big heaps. There has got to be something I can do to repay you.” “Listen, I’m no goody goody and I hate cops more than you could ever understand, but I’m also smart enough to stay well clear of trouble. So you don’t owe it to me. There really isn’t anything you could do for me. But you do owe it to yourself, and maybe even to some people who might care about you, to just stop doing shit that isn’t worth it. What you did tonight was really shit. And it wasn’t smart. Look, I was out cruising when I was the same age as your little mate, but we didn’t do anything stupid enough even to get pulled over. So if you can’t clean up your own act, at least make sure the others don’t get dragged down with you.” “Look. I’m really not that bad. I’ve just been unlucky and probably a bit careless. You can be absolutely certain I will do exactly what you said and more. I’ve seen more than enough shit and I don’t like it. But I still really want to say thanks in some way that means something.” I knew by then he meant something physical and I needed it as much as he did, but I was prepared to be tough on both of us: “Look, I don’t need or want anything from you, but I imagine we might see each other around, and we should at least be civil.” We did, we were, and so did Joel—at our rep cricket carnival.

That little interlude finally over, with the cops not having enough time left to do much damage to the kids before the influx from Merimbula would descend, I grabbed both the dogs’ leads because I wanted to thank them for their bit and Joel joined me to pet them too. He obviously knew a few things about dog handling that he was going to have to share with us, but right then his priority was on us being out of earshot: “I haven’t told Tony, but I really don’t need even a second night to think about what I want to do, so I was hoping I’d be welcome to sneak in for a while at your place.” I’m sure it wasn’t that I was enjoying playing the hard guy, but I had a gut feeling that them waiting a little bit longer might make it turn out even better: “I will not have any changing of minds on my shift. So don’t even think about it. Put it right out of your head.” He was so surprised that he was clearly not convinced I was trying to be serious, so I gave him an out: “But it looks like I might be going up to Mr Harris’s shack at Jindabyne for the next couple of nights, which will leave Sean in charge, so you can always ask him. Anyway, your two nights will be up by then, and only I will know that you did not want to keep your word.” He was obviously searching for a come back, so I stirred Buster who put on his best threatening growl on cue. But it had obviously been a big night for the pup which immediately escalated the threat, and if it had been anybody other than the expert dog handler that Joel clearly was, the pup might have done some real damage. “And they’re staying in the tent.” “Well you might value me being there, but alright, I’ll take the hint. ... It’s just I thought you were becoming a real friend.” “I am. Better than you know. And don’t take any of this as being against Tony. I owe him. And if I thought having you tonight would repay him I would, but it wouldn’t. Just trust me.”

By the time our mob from the gig started to roll in, the dogs had already chosen their beds for the night, so mum swapped Sean for Walshie and Warren and Hayden decided it was their turn for a night under canvas, leaving a potentially hetero sixsome to fill the beds at the house. And the two dog owners did not take long to move in with their respective four-legged friends. Without suspecting my earlier conversation, Tony was still disappointed at having to wait another night for Joel to “make up his mind”, but Sean immediately read what had been worrying me and dragged Tony off to bed with a promise to get Tony’s overexcitement down to manageable levels. And that left only two at our table over last drinks, so I walked round to his side: “Looks like it’s just you and me Hades.” Helping him out of his chair: “Finally, I can say,” hugging him tight: “Welcome to Bermagui.” “We might have to score a few boundaries,” he started with a big four. “And we might have to break a few boundaries.” And, for a change, we did.

It was that time of early light when only the younger Douglas kids and stray fishing families might have been stirring, if they had not all had such a big night out, but I was somehow not even surprised to be stirred by the pup’s angry growl, nor to be met in our tiny common area by Sean already decent enough for another hot one. I had the pup’s lead on and the flap half unroped before I was dragged through in just jocks to join Joel again settling the pup: “Well, my two nights are up, and I have made up my mind.” Sean joined us and gave me an imperceptible ok, so I ducked in and grabbed Speedos, shorts, sneakers, Buster, his lead and, this time, a tower of towels, and told Joel: “Well four of us are going for a cool down before it’s too hot ... but if you’re already still too hot.” “He’s still sleeping in the first bed on the left,” Sean got straight to the basics, before we let the dogs drag us off to their first lessons on swimming in the surf.

Mr Harris and Warren and I were packed and ready to leave with the dogs, and were lingering over Sean and Hayden’s efforts with breakfast when the two new lovers finally surfaced barely decent, wolfed what was left of the food and clearly needed to get into some clear water. Joel had to go once more through calming the enraged pup, which really had developed this thing about him, and was telling Mr Harris that they really ought to spend the time to get the pup over it. Henry the camp ranger, back on duty, wandered down, obviously conceding while not conceding, which we took it as the only kind of thanks he could muster, then wandered off as most of us also needed to do: “You’re obviously going somewhere right now, and we really will have to go before you will get back to beat the heat. So Sean is responsible here, and Hades is staying?” I looked for and got a nod. We started handshakes cum handclasps all round: “and presumably Tony?” “I’m definitely not going anywhere.” “Well, I’m going all the way.” “Hey take your time. You only get one first time. And I’ll be back in a couple of days.” They really had to go, and we had to go, via the house to pick up Walshie, update mum and find that the rest of band plus entourage would be staying two more nights in Bermagui and would meet Warren at their Gippsland gig.

Warren and I were more than happy to share the double bed at the “shack” while the two “old men”—their words—were allowed some space of their own in the twins. Our one full day that separated a lot of slow driving was filled with two recharged dogs discovering the mountain country, and the nights were filled with expanding our until then rather sketchy plans to do this book. I gave Warren and I twelve months to get it done and we agreed that we would include the events of the new year, but definitely bring it to a conclusion by year’s end. That just provided an excuse to work our way right back to Mr Harris’s vivid memories of my early visits to his shop, the scorebook and tackers, all of which contrasted a bit with Walshie’s failure to really notice me until I forced myself into his world. It also got us on to the various “test teams” that shared the walk to and from school, to Hayden from many perspectives, and to dog breeding, the band, and what had finally been their all too brief introductions to my Bermagui.

I made it back to camp in time for the evening cricket match to find Hayden and Joel had taken over captaincy responsibilities, and each had gained quite a following. For all his rapid socialisation, Joel had no idea how to even suggest to his family that he would sleep over anywhere other than their camp, but he had worked out that he and Tony could get a decent slab of the early dark alone together at what for everybody else was still dolly bird time—a ritual Sean and Hayden were right into and determined to drag me back into—which I even allowed to make sure that vital period of privacy at our tent was maintained. But it was the early morning light that added yet another new twist, as I realised staggering out for an urgent piss in the unfortunately not still dark and spotted three fishing rods lying on our long table, and was met be Sean outside trying to give the impression that he was comfortable with family responsibilities. It had turned out that it wasn’t the father that was into early morning fishing, but the boy from the bush and the camp next door was more than happy to take over that role with the sons. I had made it back to bed with my Hades and Sean had made himself scarce with the fishing rods still on the table, as the two eldest of his young sisters and the two fisherboys invisibly consummated a new generation of Bermagui tradition while giving Joel and Tony an interval in which to maintain twice daily liaisons. And the cover was perfect as there seemed no limit to Joel’s talents as each day the three young fishermen returned with enough fresh fish to feed their families, the crew at our tent, and the Douglases. Tony had clearly worked out how to make full use of the cooking gear I had scored as part of my camping setup exchange and, although I’m not much of a fish eater, his freshly made fettucini piscatori for brunch on my first day back ranks right at the top of my list of memorable meals. A couple of other things got arranged without involvement from me, including Joel staying on and going to the rep carnival with us while his family ducked home for a couple of days. He didn’t need Mr Harris’s lesson on always having your cricket gear with you and three budding cricketers were made more than welcome, not just to raise the standard of Thursday night training at the local club, but also to fill in for them in their one dayer on the Saturday as was allowed in their rules to cover those locals who had to work extra hours to cater for the tourist season.

Mum was happy for Hayden to drive us back as far as the airport on his L plates where he had to catch a late plane to Melbourne to play in a national carnival. He had brought everything he needed with him because he and Warren had half planned to drive through to Melbourne between gigs, until the Jindabyne option came up. That got Joel and me to my place with enough time for a half decent sleep, if such had been on our mind, before the start of our rep carnival the next day, which mum had planned would give her three days of catching up with some work. Before the start of the first day’s play, Gary confirmed that he was clear to come back down with us for the few days we would be able to squeeze in between cricket commitments, but that Adam and Colin would still be in the land of the missing.

With Joel having moved into his team’s accommodations, leaving only mum and I around, we agreed on an early meal and she mentioned that it looked as though the new occupants of the house next door but one had moved in while we had been down the coast and, seeing as it was a pleasant evening, that we should go over and introduce ourselves and make them welcome. Their front door was opened by a very pretty 14 year old girl. “Hi, I’m Elaine Dawson and this is my son Blake. We live next door but one, but we’ve been down the coast while you moved in so we wanted to belatedly make you welcome,” mum did not show that she had noticed that the girl’s attention had been on me, at least until my name sunk in at which point she almost lost herself in silent giggles. I assumed she had already heard about me, but she regained some control: “I’m Annie. I’m pleased to meet you. You should come in and meet the family. I’ve got two younger brothers, the first is Rosco and the second is Blake too,” at which she allowed herself an audible giggle, then showed us in. Anne introduced mum and me to Barry and Maureen Spencer and to Ross, who I immediately guessed was a cricketer and, after his almost angry reaction to the mention of cricket, as one who was still upset at not being able to finish his final Under 12 season at his old club. I immediately promised that the Under 16 captain would personally take him to our club’s junior practice the following Wednesday and assured him that they would have a spot for him in our team. He would obviously accept the invitation but it was still going to take some time to calm his anger. When “Two”, as I already knew I would have to call him, still hadn’t showed, Annie suggested that she should try to find him and I took the opportunity to follow her out the back door.

We eventually found a dirty and untidy urchin trying to make a long disused playhouse even more unliveable for anybody other than himself. Annie told him to come out and meet our new neighbours. He gave me and his sister a once over and was soon grinning maliciously. “Blake, meet Blake,” she addressed both of us and again choked her giggles. I offered a hand, which produced no response, then a high five which at least broke that first barrier, though I had started to notice that he had not spoken a word. His big sister suggested he should go and introduce himself to Mrs Dawson, but it was rapidly becoming apparent that she was even less in control than her brothers. I took the opportunity to prop on a seat next to their pool and she happily sat next to me and explained: “He really is our biological brother, and all the experts tell us that there is nothing wrong with him, but boy is he different.” That could wait. What really worried me was that I might already be too late with something that could cause a lot more hurt: “Annie. You will not want to hear this, but there is something I have to tell you. I hope it will be better if I hurt you a little bit now rather than leave you to your dreams and finish up hurting you a lot more later. ... Please don’t fall in love with me. ... I know you need a reason and the only reason I can give you is the truth. ... I’m gay.” Unlike me, she did not start speaking until she was sure what she wanted to say, so she sat there as silent as Two, until I thought it was time we should be getting back inside: “We will be back from the coast for keeps at the end of next week, and I’ll be more than happy to tell you a lot more then. Look, we’re probably going to be neighbours for quite a few years and I think we should try to be very good friends, but we cannot be lovers, so please please please don’t get lost in dreams that you can change things.”

Two had obviously been told to clean himself up a bit and was now parked at the opposite end of a long couch to his father. His mother and mine were nattering on two lounge chairs and Rosco was perched on the end one of three bar stools. Mum was filling them in on local amenities, so I sensed we might be settling in for a while and planted myself between Two and Barry. Schools soon came up and I learnt that Annie was a few months younger than me and so was going into year nine. As I had imagined, Rosco was about to start secondary which should have made the shift easiest for him if it hadn’t been for his beloved old cricket team. And Two had only just done well enough at his old school in 1995 that a new school could be expected to accept him for grade four. While the family could afford to send them all to any of the expensive private schools on our side of town, they had put off making a decision until they got here to get some local intelligence on middle ranked schools. Mum immediately suggested that they would get as good an education at our local state schools as at any private schools within a realistic travelling distance and proceeded to produce some statistics on the academic performance of my school which made me realise that she still took a real interest in ensuring I had the best opportunities. Even though I had become personally frustrated with both my schools, when I thought about it, they clearly did very well for all my friends who managed to live within the system, so I was able to objectively add to mum’s endorsement. In parallel with that conversation, their three kids held their own silent conversation through movement, gesture and facial expression which gradually changed them all from being pissed off with things in general to being more pissed off by a few details they could not work out how to communicate without words. Rosco must have realised that if he was so thirsty that others might be too and precipitated a stampede to the kitchen for the kids to fix drinks and nibbles for their guests and their parents. By the time they returned from whispering and giggling they were at least communicating a degree of acceptance in not exactly approval.

On the second day of the second week of our representative games we were playing Joel’s team. I was left not out in the sixties when our overs ran out and as I started to walk off spotted Mr Harris and his just twelve months old pup walking onto the ground to meet me as he perfectly timed a break from being out on delivery rounds. As soon as we made eye contact he let the pup loose and it covered the sixty meters to me in better that even time, but after a moment’s warm greeting its mood changed to bared teeth, laid back ears and raised shackles, and just as quickly it was off at full pace for the far side of the field heading directly towards the fielder straggling from deep mid-wicket who I instantly recognised was Joel. In the seconds it took for the almost grown pup to cross the field, he certainly gained the attention of all of the fifty or so pairs of eyes at the ground, and his leap straight at Joel’s throat froze almost everybody speechless. However the nearest of those eyes were fifty meters away, and only one person’s actions could make any difference, and he alone knew exactly what he had to do. He caught the pup’s lower jaw with his hand mainly inside the mouth with the same precision he caught cricket balls travelling a lot faster, stared right through its brown eyes, half grabbed its body to him with his free hand as he absorbed its momentum in a backward roll fall and, he told us later, whispered quietly: “Hey boy, easy, it’s only me, Joel, easy, it’s ok, good fella.” The pup calmed as quickly as it had flared, but to many of the distant frozen eyes it must have seemed that it was still attacking when it was actually standing over him licking his face. Mr Harris and I, and presumably a few other dog lovers, could tell by the wagging tail and flopping ears that all was ok, and knew exactly what Joel was doing as he seemed to struggle to his hands and knees and play fight the pup, but it was not until he finally sprung to his feet without even the slightest sign of red on his face or whites that a few relieved sighs were released.

The crowd dispersed as he and the pup finished their strange dance back to where Mr Harris and I alone were still waiting. “It’s my dog,” he offered an explanation, pushing the top of his shoe against the pup’s nose at which the pup again savaged but was immediately calmed again by this boy we had all only known a few days. “You really should come past our place on your next trip to Jindabyne and let him meet my dog and get the jealousy out of his system before going savage gets locked in his subconscious.” We three humans ate our lunch away from either of our teams and shared some of it with the pup, until it was time for us to start getting ready for their innings, before which Mr Harris made sure he had written down the directions to Joel’s place.

“Fucking faggot,” I heard stage whispered at a level which would not identify the speaker, but which would be sure to catch the ear of the target, which for once in my life I was sure wasn’t me. However one thing I had thoroughly trained myself in was to give absolutely no indication that I had heard the bait, so I had to be patient if I was to verify just what it was all about. And I was just a little disappointed, though not surprised that it was one of Joel’s teammates targeting him for having the audacity to even know anybody from the eastern suburbs. I was more surprised that Joel handled it as coolly as he had handled the pup, and proceeded to show in no uncertain terms who was top dog with a majestic hundred and thirty, after which he had the cheek to blame my cover fielding for stopping him getting a ton and a half. He told me privately that he really had more friends than enemies in the team and we both knew that we would at least keep in touch.

I managed to organise to get away from the final day of rep cricket in time to keep my promise to my new young neighbour Rosco and he seemed to already be a lot happier with the prospect of getting back into cricket, even if at a new club. On our walk around to practice he put a lot of effort into establishing his status with me as a person with a mind of his own and an ability to give and take. And while he was even younger than my youngest male friends, Rosco made sure I noticed that he was at least as physically attractive as his sister. As we approached the top of a rise along the way, he ran ahead a few metres and planted himself on a park bench where I was happy to join him for a moment even if I did not think we really needed a rest. “Blake. You will not want to hear this, but there is something I have to tell you. I hope it will be better if I hurt you a little bit now rather than leave you to your dreams and finish up hurting you a lot more later. ... Please don’t fall in love with me. ... I know you need a reason and the only reason I can give you is the truth. ... I’m straight.” Unlike his sister, I rarely get my mouth to wait until my brain has done its work, and somehow this did not even take me by surprise: “You know Rosco, there was one thing that really pissed me off when I had to give that speech to your sister and which equally pisses me off now. That night I really wanted to give her a big hug and tell her I knew exactly how she must have been feeling, but if I had done that it would have totally screwed the message I was trying to give her. And right now I feel like giving you an equally big hug as my way of saying I understand you, but you would then believe that I was totally ignoring your wishes, and, anyway, its not the kind of thing I usually do in full public view, even in the eastern suburbs, so you can just consider yourself hugged if you like.” He showed his sister’s caution in replying to some words he had not exactly planned for, so I resumed: “Anyway, you don’t have to worry about me. I love anybody who knows their own mind, and the last thing I want to do is bend you in my direction, ... but you might need to be careful of the Under 14 captain,” which was as good a point as any to head on towards practice where I made a point of introducing Rosco firstly to Sean and then to the Under 12 captain who I only half knew but who was happy to welcome any new player with open arms: “especially if he knows where cover point is.”

I had two sets of plans running in parallel when Sean gave me a nudge to indicate that a familiar, if not quite so new anymore, red sport car had pulled in to pick the two of us up for another fifth Thursday in Bermagui. I headed for the car with sudden thoughts of how us now owning the house with the spa would actually fit with the next night’s ritual, when a corner of my mind noticed that Rosco had joined us and suddenly recognised our chauffeur: “Fuck me! That is Lucas Coulter isn’t it? Do you guys actually know him? Annie will be totally pissed!” I indicated it must have been Sean’s turn to explain the connection while I was jerked back to what else I was meant to be doing, and my brain was still functioning enough to find a way out. Chalk and Cheese had also converged on the car to greet Lukie, so I took the chance to introduce them to Rosco and tell them that he and Annie were going to be joining our team for the walk to and from school, then asked if they could make sure he found his way home, with an unspoken implication that they take the opportunity to introduce themselves to the Spencers.