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 37: Neighbours

Making less and less use of their pool as winter drew closer, my three new neighbours became more and more frequent visitors, either singly or in pairs, preferring the extra resources on our still growing home network, to the single and now ageing PC they had at home. Two was quickly into everything, exploring it all, especially the Internet where he seemed to be able to get what he was looking for out of a page of text much faster than I could have read it. He became a fan of a young self-styled Australian Macintosh advocate who went under the nick Tygyr and followed him to some other forums where his eloquent words added a dimension to my comfort with my lifestyle. Two also got into some simple programming and exploring all my files, especially early drafts of this book, which he must have found a chance to run past his siblings.

I was even less interested in doing anything to recognise my fifteenth birthday and was quite happy when Annie and Rosco turned up to take it even further from my mind. We had come to hear lots of snippets of each other’s past through their visits, especially Annie’s story of the boyfriend she was getting really close to when the news of their impending shift finally broke, and how she had immediately decided that she wanted to fuck him at every opportunity while they were still together. She did not break the news to him at first and may never have told him that she knew before their first, but before he headed off with his family for the holidays they made a deal that they would get back together every holidays and that whoever they got involved with would just have to accept that as a condition. It certainly didn’t worry Chalk ’n’ Cheese when he turned up at Easter—they even suggested trying a foursome but that didn’t work out that time.

But on what I had not thought they knew was my birthday, they were bursting to tell me their two stories of the last Saturday before Christmas. To try to appease Rosco’s anger over cricket, his parents had offered to host an end of year slumber party for his sixth grade where almost all his teammates also attended, and to have some extra space, Annie was allowed to stay at her boy friend’s where his parents did not object to them sharing his bed. Most of the sixth grade boys and a few of the girls finished up being allowed to stay the night, and they were meant to sleep in the spacious rumpus room, but, after their parents had retired, a game of strip poker had been more than enough for a couple of pairings, including Rosco and his girl for the night, to finish up retreating to bedrooms for privacy.

I ignored their expectation that it was my turn to be storyteller, so Rosco pulled up the draft of my five week orgy at Bermagui at the end of sixth grade and started reading the straight bits out loud from the computer in my bedroom. There was little choice but for Annie and I to sit on the edge of my bed so we could look over his shoulder, and she used every titillating bit as an excuse for a physical move, switching back and forth between teasing digs and moving closer, but without anything explicit. I played along a bit interjecting some of the gay bits and using them as an excuse to make some more distant physical contact with her brother. After the spa scene, he jumped to my education of Natalie, and Annie finally asked straight out if I would also give her “at least a clinical.” After a weak protest that she didn’t seem to need any educating, I settled on offering not to resist that one time, provided she did all the work. She proceeded to set about her task and Rosco continued to find bits of my stories to read to us without ever looking over his shoulder, until the natural responses of my 15 year old body were completed. I was satisfied that we had managed to draw a line between affection and romance, and felt I should walk Annie the whole two doors to their home where I was happy to exchange a hug and a peck on the cheek and insist that we should expect to still be friends for at least as long as we remained neighbours.

Returning to my bedroom, I was intrigued to find it only lit by my computer screen which was showing a document that I immediately recognised as nothing I had seen before: “Rosco’s To Dos.”

May 1997: Fix my Blake problem.

As soon as he fucks Annie, he can fuck me too.

He had moved the condoms and Ky to where I couldn’t miss seeing them by the light from the screen as I turned to take in his naked glistening body astride my pillow with his fingers and toes stretching towards the corners of my bed. I asked myself what I wanted and could not easily find an answer. So seeing that he had made it pretty bloody obvious what he wanted, the simplest thing was that he got it. That done, my feelings about there needing to be something more to it reestablished their dominance and he was willing to lie with me while I tried to find the right words. I rummaged through all the stuff about boys naturally sharing relationships and we compared notes on all the males I at that moment openly and honestly loved, finally getting to the point of saying I did not know whether he was on that list because I did not know whether what we had done had fixed or worsened his “Blake problem.” He didn’t find any words, but his finger tips and lips and increasing closeness soon answered me fully, until it was way past time to also walk him home and give him a very different but equally brief hug and peck to that I had shared with his sister a while earlier. Then as we separated he floored me again with just seven words: “I hope you had a Happy Birthday.”

The Sydney Swans bandwagon was really rolling, though I was not sure I connected as well now that the crowds were flooding the SCG as I had when the Swans were unloved losers. But having been to most of the their homes games through the rise from rags to riches, I was not about to let a bit of success push me overboard. Over those years I had linked up with a few other boys who were equally loyal, but with whom I had no connection in the rest of my life, and they allowed me to escape some of my usual reserve and join with them in sitting close to the obsessed group of visiting supporters who used a Swans game as an excuse for a too short Sydney visit. We chose those seats so that we could taunt the opposition fans, which always meant wearing a bit of taunting ourselves.

Our clash with the powerful Essendon Bombers loomed as a real measuring stick for the Swans’ revival and they always brought a particularly large group of followers for our verbal battles. We were of course well used to southern taunts about us being “typical Sydney gay boys who worked The Wall” and I got some twisted satisfaction playing along with things so close to home, without my footy mates picking up the slightest hint about the real Blake Dawson. However, I was more than intrigued when some quite old members of the Bomber Cheer Squad included enough precise, if slightly dated, information amongst their taunts that they just had to know something of what they were saying. I soon managed to isolate my banter with one who I found sufficiently presentable for at least the two of us to know that we wanted to leave a door open.

The opportunity came when we got back to the more standard arguments as to which of our teams was going to win: “Wanna bet?” “You bet I do.” “We win you buy me dinner at the Bourbon and Beefsteak.” “You’re too young to get in.” “You can say you’re my father.” “I’ll bet you say that to every bloke.” “One bet at a time.” “Anyway you’re not going to win ... and you couldn’t afford to buy me dinner.” “You lose that bet too ... and don’t make anything of it ... so just to satisfy my curiosity, where would you want me to shout you if the impossible happened.” “Chinatown.” “Ok. We have a bet. We win, we meet at the Fountain at seven and eat at Bourbon and Beefsteak and you pay. You win, we meet on the Town Hall steps and I pay for your choice in Chinatown.” “What if it’s a draw?” “That’s about as likely as your lot winning.” “But we still need to decide if we are serious about this bet.” “Ok. If it’s a draw we meet at number two ferry wharf at Circular Quay and pay for each others’ meals wherever we decide to go.” We shook hands in a way that we both knew it was on, although my footy mates and all but a couple of his knowing friends were happily convinced it was all just part of the pre-match charades.

Australian Rules Football scores are typically around 100 points and draws are correspondingly rare, but at seven that night we both turned up at Circular Quay and opted for a ferry ride to Darling Harbour and a brisk walk to Glebe Point Road to find somewhere attractively different to eat. He was supposed to be sharing a room with another old Cheer Squad member at their group hotel, which he finally got back to in time to change his clothes and check out next morning. We exchanged a couple of letters as the Swans and Bombers consolidated their positions on the premiership ladder to the point of being confident we would catch up again next time the Bombers drew him to Sydney.

My little namesake and neighbour had settled into my old primary school a lot more comfortably than he ever had at his previous school, thanks in no small part to Mrs Freeth, the teacher I had had six years earlier and who I was sure must have by then passed retirement age. She was one of the very few teachers I have kept any real memory of, for a long time attributing that fact to it having been in many ways the most uncomplicatedly positive year of my life, but Two’s unexpected progress at the same level has opened my mind to the possibility that she may have also contributed a lot to my happiness. For almost everybody else, with the arguable exceptions of Annie and Rosco, Two’s outright refusal to use language normally was incredibly frustrating, but Mrs Freeth was happy to turn the tables by giving the rest of her class the challenge of finding ways to communicate effectively with him. As the year progressed it became more and more obvious to those of us who were close to him, that he actually knew an enormous amount about language and was simply refusing to use it the way the rest of us do for some reason of his own making. He even looked at more pages of printed and displayed text that anybody could possibly read, but he rarely wrote or spoke more than isolated words and he appeared to be able to almost totally block the content of normal conversation. If really pressured by the likes of educational authorities, he would very clearly demonstrate that yes he could write, speak, hear and comprehend the language, but would get into such a rage that most learnt quickly not to press it. But there was another side of him which made fun of the whole issue, for me exemplified by the old battered sign he had obviously made with his own hands and displayed only to those privileged with an invitation into his cubby house. It was clearly intended to read: “The mat shat on the cat,” but he had substituted a piece of a coir door mat and a tiny plastic model animal for the nouns and a stained and lacquered piece torn from an old pair of jocks for the verb. But it was the articles and preposition that led into his mind, as they had been elegantly rendered in classical lettering and embellished with many tiny diagrams that seemed to explore the complex meanings of those simple words. He also won points in the classroom by keeping well ahead in arithmetic and art, and while he baulked at singing, the combination of the Internet, the range of metropolitan radio stations, and his new school, rapidly awakened an interest in music which was completely foreign to his family.

With the increasing amount of time all three Spencer kids were spending on our computers, I decided to set each of them up with personal accounts, which enabled them to send and receive their own e-mail. Two took no time to adapt a program he had been playing with to generate e-mail messages without him having to actually type in what he wanted to say. Of course they never came out as properly parsable prose, but his meaning shone through regardless. His brother and sister had obviously been prepared a bit by the secret communications they shared at home, and they were soon sending replies to him that his e-mail parsing program was able to convert almost completely into the same, to me, confusing mixture of pictographs and animations that he manipulated to create his original messages. For me it took a lot more effort, but one I gained immense satisfaction from. He did not hide his mysterious representation of our electronic conversations, but he discouraged me from trying to comprehend it and how it related to the jumble of words at my end, I think primarily because it was a work in progress and much less than what he eventually wanted it to be. It did not take too long for us to reach a point where simple messages about immediate happenings could be exchanged with confidence, but I was still taken a bit by surprise to get home even later than usual from Warren’s one Friday to find a somewhat longer message in my in box:

Slumber Rosco

Normals many to one nerd boy bring every old games full bag fit Two pieces museum some into sit bed Two turning games each or versus Two too cartridges boy too players likes boy cartridges sex play excited boy games by Two also bed into play for real arse my fuck for One ready

you love Two

Rosco confirmed that one of his party guests who they had not expected to come had seemed to hit it off with Two and probably finished up sleeping in Two’s room but that he had been too busy with his own adventures to know for sure. But he considered it implausible that the two of them would have experimented with sex because “only beautiful people do that.” I gave him two grounds for disagreement but stopped short of telling him that I knew he was wrong.

Two had also been further developing his ability to collect all kinds of handy electronic junk, clearly building on what he had learnt in building a veritable museum collection of old electronic games machines and software. I was to find out later that one priority, once he had his own e-mail, was to track down the technical data for long forgotten systems which he taught himself to repair by “reading” schematics and cannibalising parts from an ever increasing junk pile. Just before they were to head off to spend the winter school holidays back at their old home, he installed a fibreoptic bridge between our network and the network of two computers plus assorted strange devices he was building at home, that link running quite illegally along the underside of our mutual neighbours’ back fence rail that also served as Two’s regular short cut between our homes. That link provided the basis for what would become a mutual security monitoring system, and was initially set up just to alert me when Barry returned home for a week’s work after his weekend of settling in Maureen and the kids at their old place which had recently been vacated by their initial batch of short term tenants.

I felt sufficiently pressed to have a serious talk to Barry about his youngest son that I was worse than insensitive to his need to work through the question of whether they should persist with renting or simply dump their old place in view of the state they had found it in and the still depressed state of the property market in the area, coupled with his need to prepare submissions to budget meetings at the shopping complex operator who demanded performance in keeping with the high salary they paid him. In the six months we had been neighbours, the kids had become an inadvertent barrier to me really getting to know their parents, and my sudden arrival only compounded Barry’s problem of where to focus his immediate priority as the weekend’s cleaning up had left him physically tired. However, it did not take too long for him to see my presence might provide some necessary therapy of getting his mind off all of it, so he agreed to let me make and clean up a meal from the more than ample supplies his wife had left in the fridge, while he made sure the pool and spa were fit for use after we were done.

After unwinding with a bit of horseplay we started to relax in the spa and I was able to make a start on the subject which inspired the urgency of my visit. They had certainly noticed his ever increasing zest for life and recognised that it was due in no small part to the confidence he was gaining through both me and our teacher Mrs Freeth accepting him on his own terms, which nobody outside his immediate family had ever done before, but Barry was still frustrated by the way this only seemed to validate Two’s language block and his penchant for living what they had come to think of as a life of asocial and infantile fantasy. I offered that his unusual hobbies and rapid attention shifts had become as much a public disguise as they had remained an essential validation of the very serious choices he made much earlier about his very essence. But when I got around to starting to talk about Two’s experiments with language on our e-mail system, I ran smack into the barrier of this highly regarded executive’s total lack of appreciation of anything even remotely connected to computers. After a few easy laps and a bit more mucking around in the spa which we both allowed to show some hints of affection, I dragged him inside to give him his first lesson in the personal use of computers, using my administrator login to pull out some almost comprehensible and largely impersonal messages to me from my little namesake from the previous few days. Barry allowed that a big obstacle to his efforts at work was the interest being expressed at the highest levels of a proposal that had emerged from their data processing department that they should seriously investigate the potential of online shopping. He had been recruited out of operational management to head their research arm because of his well recognised ability to innovate successfully “on the ground”, but his idea of making a submission to the board was to scribble some pointers and diagrams on paper, then dictate some text to his personal assistant and have her turn them into presentable documents, which she of course did quite expertly. As far as he was concerned data processing was there to do just that and ultimately produce some figures which helped the retailing specialists like himself to make some decisions, and that it was definitely not their job to have any ideas about retail operations. I was allowed the liberty of taking him on a quick surf of retailing developments on the World Wide Web which threatened to completely blow his even more befuddled mind in under an hour, so I wound up with a quick look at some of our projects for our clients.

His mind was so far gone, that he did not resist me guiding him to his own bedroom where I would have joined him had he not been deep in sleep by the time I returned from a piss. Instead I risked the top rail home without breaking my neck, the fence or, more importantly, the network connection. And I was not all that surprised to be roused at first light by a message on my screen that Barry wanted to talk to me some more. I had never had any reason to doubt that he would be a quick learner.

By the time I was in his front door, he had a huge breakfast for two ready which we were both hungry enough to demolish while exploring what mum’s growing but still small business might be able to offer which would enable him to establish his department’s credentials with respect to Internet developments. I found Malcolm Forsyth on his mobile heading for the office and he was happy for me to show off their projects in confidence, but I soon became sufficiently aware that our service mix retained its heavy publishing-publicity bias that did not quite map onto operational retailing, until I remember the lesson I had once forced on mum and activated another much used number from my mobile’s memory bank: “Don’t tell me you’re entertaining the Douglas sisters again.” He wasn’t, but another young friend of mine had had the audacity to drag him out of bed early to resume guitar lessons. “Well I need you here, two doors up from my place and within twenty minutes.” Colin demanded to come with him and I remembered the pool and spa and agreed, but omitted any mention of swimming gear.

We had managed to place the band’s CDs with several online retailers and were now working on the integration of those retail presences with the band’s own still very much “under construction” site. Lukie brought the advantage of being little more into computers than Barry had been ten hours earlier but was quick to show an intellectual interest I had never thought him capable of in the variability of the roles of competition and collaboration across industries, noting that the Internet had become very much like the music industry in forming whatever alliances were needed to get a job done, while the retail industry was so overwhelmed by a competitive ethic that it never consciously recognised the essentially collaborative underpinnings of all types of retail centres. He also put the state of progress with the Internet into what I had to grudgingly admit was a fair and reasonable perspective, by suspecting that the push from their data processing area was probably being driven by one individual who had become captive to the cyberspace dream. We were so engrossed in Lukie’s deep insights that we didn’t notice the naked, dripping wet and still rapidly growing Colin finally taking up an earlier offer to raid the fridge, but he had tuned in to our conversation sufficiently to offer that his mother’s girlfriend worked on the front desk of the retail groups’s data processing operation and so would be able to tell us exactly who was pushing what within her department: “You know how good lesbian secretaries make everything their business.” That reminded Barry that he should prepare his assistant for the fact that she would be playing a slightly different to normal role in putting together his submission seeing as a lot of the input would be being generated by his proposed technology partners.

Colin and his mother were not exactly in the habit of doing business lunches, but that did not stop us getting down to the subject at hand, and her friend was both a bit of a Web surfer and aware that the guy who was heading the data processing push was a big fan of the band, so she was more than happy to feed him a couple of URLs when she got back to the office as a prelude to inviting him to join her in gatecrashing Colin’s continuing guitar lesson’s after work. She surprised Barry with an admission that his assistant was also part of the sisterhood so he could expect every cooperation in the development of a joint submission and she felt it was time that she looked at a career move into something more challenging for herself. My job for the afternoon was to present mum and Walshie with a done deal that more than guaranteed our systems would be maintained at the cutting edge for the foreseeable future, while the Spencer kids would be able to do their computing from their place. But we never did find any need to upgrade the old fibre link Two had rolled out under the fence rail. And, before the week was done, I found myself working late enough with Barry to finish up staying over and sharing his bed more than once.

I was just finishing help Mum clean up after a long and relaxed Sunday evening dinner and catch up and was looking forward to a relaxed evening preparing myself for what I intended to be a productive second week of the holidays, making sure we were up and running with our side of the deal before the Spencers got back from their break, when the phone rang unexpectedly and I was closer: “Dawsons ... You’re speaking to him ... I did? ... They haven’t? ... It had completely slipped my mind, but I’m sure they will ... Can you ring me when they do to put my mind at ease? ... Otherwise I might have to use it myself ...” “Hey, Mum. My memory must be starting to fade with old age. I had completely forgotten an arrangement I had for tonight. If somebody rings with a message, I’m going via Gary’s.” I did not have long to catch an infrequent Sunday night bus service so grabbed the minimum essentials and was out the door thanking Mum for dinner and still cursing my failing memory.

I was not the least surprised to be greeted at Gary’s door with the kind of kiss from Colin that made it clear he knew I was coming, which confirmed my expectation that Uncle Bruce and his young companion had arrived and checked in at the hotel I had booked them into after Bruce had rung me a month earlier for advice on a suitable place for them for a week in Sydney. With his son Gary and their long time lover Adam again out west for the evening, Brendan Marshall was happy to be “baby sitting” Colin while his mother had an evening off to recharge herself ready for what promised to be a busy week running around after Colin’s representative rugby carnival. I apologised for intruding and was told bluntly that I was never an intrusion, then established that the call had only come through five minutes before I arrived, so I still had time for the bit of mischief I had been hatching on the bus ride. I rang an order through to my regular late night pizza supplier a block down from Bruce’s hotel, and Colin insisted on keeping me company, seeing as his game the next day was not until mid-afternoon.

I actually left Colin at reception minding the pizzas while I rapped sharply on the door of their room, then responded to muffled protests in my deepest voice: “Come on. Open Up. We know you are in there.” By the time Bruce actually opened the door, he had a guest robe on over his pyjamas, and as the colour started to return to his face, I shushed him and raced past to the still too neat single bed where his young friend was pretending to sleep, reaching my hand under the blankets from behind him: “Just as I thought. Still cold,” then reaching around him and slipping my hand into the front of his still pressed pyjamas: “and still damp.” My hand also told me that I had taken the joke about far enough, so I turned him around so he could see that I was still too young to be there on official business. “Zach, this is Blake. Blake, Zach.” Bruce attempted an introduction as I restrained myself to keep from breaking my rule about laughing at my own jokes, but Zach was clearly not ready to see the funny side, so I backed off and dialled reception and asked them to give my partner the all clear. They both still jumped at the next rap on the door, so I had to let my apprentice pizza boy in myself.

Nothing much was said as we all ate more hungrily than any of us were entitled to, until I finally remembered about completely forgetting and started to tell that story, then realised that I had not even thought about entertaining Zach while Bruce made his work calls. Colin immediately offered to show him around on the Tuesday and Thursday which were rest days for his carnival team. “Provided you’re not in hospital,” I let my contempt for his recently troubled football code slip out. “I just want to find out if you will all still want me after my face has been rearranged,” he retorted. Even I wasn’t prepared to answer that one, in fact I didn’t even want to think about it, so I decided it was time to do something about the rest of the week.

I expected it might take a while for anybody to answer, so I dialled a half remembered number on hands free: “I win.” “By one bloody minute.” Two familiar voices answered at once. “Well if it isn’t my favourite prick visiting my favourite arsehole. You guys must have nothing on, so I presume I can borrow your time tomorrow and Wednesday,” thinking ahead “and Friday and Saturday and Sunday.” “Hey what are we meant to do with Tuesday and Thursday.” “We had kept the week free as you had requested.” “I’m also still pissed that you rang at 11:27 and not 11:28.” “And I won because I said he would forget to invite us to the welcoming party and would ring at eleven.” “And I lost because I said he would ring at five to twelve, and I’m still pissed that I wasn’t even invited to welcome back my 24 hour lover.” I was starting to really worry about early onset Alzheimer’s, and could only just recall having mentioned in passing that they should keep the second week of the holidays free, so it was left to Bruce to get the conversation back to our end of the phone line: “Hey, Nicky, I’m sure Zach will like you enough that he will let us add a few more hours.” Zach had recovered enough to put on a sad face which provoked Colin to tickle him. “Can’t you lot even wait until we have finished making arrangements before you’re into it?” “Hey, it’s not me,” Bruce and I chorused. “I think Sean knows what has happened to Tuesday and Thursday.” “Colin?” “You called?” “We must get together and compare notes some time.” My mind cleared quickly: “I was hoping we would all be able to go to the Woolshed tomorrow night,” I flashed an implied question about business commitments to Bruce, to which he assented silently, “then you can talk about me as much as you like.” “And we should all go to the concert Wednesday night,” Colin clearly had his priorities. After a lot more toing and froing, it was settled that Sean and Nicholas would pick up Zach at the hotel mid-morning to start his induction into Sydney and they might even manage to call in at Colin’s game.

While we wrapped up the phone call, Zach had been flicking through one of the hotel’s giveaway event guides and had found the listing for band’s concert on Wednesday. “That concert?” he asked Colin in a tone of excited anticipation. “What else?” “I’m their biggest fan ... Lucas is just ...” I almost choked on a mixture of a sigh and laughter and collapsed onto Zach’s pretend bed, but was suddenly relieved to realise that Colin was happy to relieve me of the burden of going through the explanation one more time: “Lukie is also my guitar teacher. He even gave me his old guitar for my birthday last November,” hearing my muffled cough “well, actually, Blake got him to pass it on to me, seeing as he had originally given it to Blake years earlier. And Blake’s mother does some work for the band which I’m sure you will learn more about during the week.” I finally figured that Sean or Nicholas must have confirmed with Mum during the week that Bruce was still coming, which reminded me to check that my once suggested plan that we should all go down to Bermagui on Friday was still on. Bruce had not been able to duck one appointment early Friday but had allowed for two nights and one full day there, and he was happy to break the trip home if he felt it necessary and get them back during the day the following Monday.

We still had plenty to talk about when tiredness started to set in, so Colin rang Adam’s mobile and found that we just had time to order another pizza for them, so they could pick it and us up and we could get back to their block for the night. Zach gave Colin a big kiss goodnight “before they rearrange your face” and was looking forward to spending the day with him on Tuesday, “even if it has to be in hospital.” I was pleased he had at least recovered his sense of humour and presumed he and Bruce might be ready to enjoy us getting out of their hair. Adam was the only one of the troika from the block whose parent would not be home for the night, so I finished up finally sharing some time with him and eventually his bed.

With nobody home on the other end of Two’s cable along the back fence, by Thursday our e-mail server was starting to choke, so I shot off an e-mail to Barry’s assistant to get the address of their old house south of Wollongong where they were spending the holidays. When nobody objected to breaking our Bermagui trip there, last thing before we drove out I backed the Spencers’ backlogged e-mail onto our old guest computer and tossed it into the rear compartment of Bruce’s wagon. Seeing as we were going to have to cram four into mum’s car for the trip back, Nicholas and I opted to ride down with Bruce and Zach, and neither Sean nor mum objected to only having each other for company.

We had breakfast late and planned to arrive at the Spencers’ too late for there to be any suggestion we were looking for lunch, and were happy to find all of them home, plus Annie’s home boy, who I had got to know a bit during his Easter visit and who treated me as a long lost brother until it was time for him to leave for his part time job. I had warned Zach about Two on the way down and he must have read it right as the two of them disappeared within minutes of our arrival, while mum and Maureen quickly settled in for a natter about the merits of holiday homes and short term tenants. When the home boy mentioned needing to get to work, Bruce said he would not mind ducking back into town to the shopping centre to pick up a few things for their long trip home. Barry decided that that he should use the excuse to make a polite call at his previous headquarters at a time of day that would make it obvious he wasn’t there to stick his nose in. And Nicholas and Rosco opted to tag along to the mall for something to do, so it looked like we were settling in for a while.

I set up the computer and let Annie clear her e-mail. As if on cue, as soon as she finished, Two and Zach returned and Two was immediately into his rather impressive pile. I found myself talking to Zach one out for the first time and didn’t notice that Sean and Annie had done an equally thorough job of disappearing. I had figured before we came down, that I shouldn’t leave Maureen out of the e-mail cycle and made sure there were a couple of messages there for her to read, and these had already been added to by Annie and Two after they saw my message announcing her account. Mum was more than happy to show Maureen the ropes, and it was agreed as I had planned that the computer should stay with the Spencers who would get it home about the same time we would. And by the time I noticed that I was rapidly turning into the odd one out, the shoppers were arriving back from the mall more animated than I might have expected them to be, with one of Rosco’s old cricket teammates having replaced Annie’s home boy ... a change that left me with even less idea as to who I might talk to.

Nobody was surprised by Barry’s announcement that seeing as we were going to be late getting to Bermagui no matter when we left, we might as well stay long enough for an early barbecue tea, which he and Bruce got stuck into cooking. They had clearly fitted some serious shopping into their expedition, though just how much I was not to learn until a lot later that night. Annie wandered past smirking that at least one of my friends knew what bi meant. “He’s not bi, he’s omni,” I retorted and weaved out of the way of a flailing arm, before that very temporary couple were off to turn the yard into somewhere we might be comfortable eating. Nicholas had taken charge of unpacking the shopping while mum and Maureen got stuck into salads, and as soon as Rosco had checked his e-mail, he and his mate took charge of drink service. The ease with which the suddenly rediscovered mates took to doing something useful to others, should I call it ‘work’?, threw my mind back to how I met Colin. Soon after I observed that all the comings and goings and natural dynamics of this thrown together gathering was turning me into an observer rather than a participant, and I was positively looking forward to Bruce’s and Nicholas’s and Zach’s accounts of their separate tracks through that afternoon which would keep us alert through the long drive still ahead of us.

Barry and Bruce had instantly discovered that they had interestingly complementary perspectives on why information technology fitted so poorly into conventional retail business models, and there had been enough for them to explore in that and in the contrast between franchisable and non-franchisable small businesses that the only other conversation they had had was to coordinate their efforts on the barbecue.

While Nicholas has been happy to be entrusted with responsibility for most of the shopping as the “representative kid”, Rosco had managed to run into four of his old cricket teammates and was eager to show off his “next seasons’ captain” to them as soon as they had the shopping under control, as well as boasting that he would be the season after that’s and of having the previous season’s Under 14 and Under 16 captains also visiting his house while they spoke. For a few minutes, the six boys had even engaged in a tag wrestle, with the wimpiest of the Wollongong kids being branded a traitor for joining the side of the “city boys” to even up the numbers. Nicholas was not quite sure how he had resisted the temptation at the time to plant a big kiss on the one of their opponents who finished up getting an ok from his mother to spend the night, seeing as he had been away and was the only one who Rosco had not spent time with earlier in the holidays, but Nicholas’s resistance ran out when the two of them got some privacy while unpacking and the younger boy made it very clear he wanted it even more. He knew exactly what the boy and Rosco would be into long before we reached Bermagui and was equally certain it would not be their first time.

It had only taken Zach a couple of minutes to stop noticing that there was no spoken conversation between him and my little namesake, and he was immediately gratified that his own take on my warning about Two was that the easiest thing would be to just say nothing. “Not that that would have been enough for him to accept me after a couple of weeks in his old town had turned him back into a loner, but the implication in your introduction that we should try to get along was more than enough. He loves you to a degree I could not have dreamt of before this trip. I thought the love between me and Bruce was special but it is just between the two of us. Blake number two loves Blake number one so much that he even loves you loving other people and them loving you. So he started off giving me a peek of his mysterious world just on the strength of it being what you wanted, but my keen yet silent interest enabled me to sneak through that crack, so that he quickly opened up completely.” Zach was sure that Two would now be his normal Sydney self the moment he got back, as our unannounced visit appeared to have finally laid to rest his Wollongong ghosts.

Zach went on with some comments about how I affected other people that I really did not want to hear. In the four days I had hardly seen him, he had managed to find his way into a few of my circles and now felt he knew me well enough to offer me advice, which I managed to cut short by suggesting that seeing as he knew so much about me, it would be nice if I knew a bit more about him and Bruce. I already knew that he was the son of the ex-cop who had befriended Bruce through his period of unjustified allegations, which had thankfully quietened. What I soon learnt was that he was the one who had forced his father’s hand. For as long as he could remember he had taken a genuine interest in his father’s stories from work with regard to allegations of child abuse and had had more influence than he realised in his father placing the highest priority on the kids’ unprompted testimonies. He had used them to get convictions of men he was convinced were predators, but he was equally happy to recommend that there was nothing in their testimony on which a prosecution should be based in cases where the kids knew perfectly well what they were getting into. “Those kids were in mainly their mid or early teens, yet by the time I was nine he was starting to see things in me that reminded him of some of them. At first he wanted to blame himself for having let me see that part of life ‘too young’. But he also knew that I was a caring and fun-loving and responsible kid that he needed to be able to trust. So one day he just asked me if he should get out, and I had no hesitation in answering with an unqualified ‘yes’.” While Zach and Bruce had known who each other was for quite a while before his father’s resignation, it was not until a private party to celebrate his move out of the force and the launch of the business partnership with Bruce, that the boy and the boy lover actually contacted. I figured they both might need some advise from me more than I needed any from him and did what I could to impress upon them that the comfort they had found in our little circles in the eastern suburbs of Sydney was not what they could expect to find in other places, and that it would by that Monday be vital that they return to being extremely discrete.

The boys in the back insisted we stop at the last convenience store before we reached our place, so by the time we got there mum and Sean were taking in the last things out of their car, at the sight of which Nicholas announced that the four “oldies” were not to raise a hand for the rest of the evening because he and Zach were going to wait on us hand and foot for what was left of the night. I thought it was a ploy so we would wait on them for the rest of the trip, but played along, making sure Nicholas gave his absolute first priority to turning on the spa heater ... and the space heater. After they unpacked Bruce’s wagon, and in the process made it clear that Nicholas and I would be sharing the one room with twin beds, they spent an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen making a great racket and refusing to tolerate any of us even approaching. Then just as the place was starting to feel a bit more comfortable, enticing food odours started to waft our way and it dawned how long ago the barbecue had finished. By then, mum, Bruce, Sean and I had relaxed too much to think of acting on our curiosity. The boys had even managed to organise our seating positions so we were looking the other way until suddenly confronted with the two of them wearing only matching translucent jocks, with Nicholas carrying a tray of drinks and Zach a platter of food. “How the fuck?” Sean and I chorused as we saw that the over tall glasses contained the same array of fruit colours and cream, and the blocks of warm grain bread sported the same rich baked cheesy savoury topping as we had had served to us in the very same spot three and a half years earlier. And they were as delicious, and as welcome. We were left guessing until we had done justice to a couple of rounds and it had been cleared away and we finally all conceded to the enticement of the spa. Nicholas allowed me to give him a proper thank you kiss before reviving out his three year old line: “You still don’t know do you?” And it dawned on me that Rosco had read my early drafts of the story of our first night in that spa and that he had been shopping with Nicholas during the afternoon: “Your protégé has an excellent memory for detail, and obviously one or both of you two know a bit about food preparation, but I still don’t have the foggiest why you would go to so much trouble.” “Blake, that’s the easy bit. They’ve just learnt from your example, but you’d better explain to me at least what the hell a ‘protégé’ is.” “Hey, that’s easy: I’m Hayden’s, you’re mine, Nicholas is yours, Rosco is Nicholas’s, and it about runs out there for now. And Rosco has spent more time than is good for him pouring over early drafts of my autobiography.” “Autopornography more likely. I hope your business is going well enough that you will be worth suing.” Three years on, Nicholas forfeited his second kissing to Sean, and it may have been a drowning if Mum and Bruce had not become a little concerned about how long the two of us had our heads underwater in the spa.

By early Sunday morning I had unwound so far that I was lying there neither awake nor asleep until the mention of a sensitive name from the adjacent bed suddenly locked a half awareness of the preceding minutes into my long term memory. Zach had been erotically thanking Nicholas for showing him around Sydney and for his role in undoing Bruce’s blockages during their 24 hour affair: “and you have to pass on to Cherie my thanks for broadening my education.” My bloody Cherie, and Nicholas didn’t just get to be her lover but to pass on the intimate thanks of somebody who would not have heard of her without my connections, and here he was getting off with my ‘Uncle’ Bruce’s ‘boy’ for good measure. But I was about to get mine. Zach seemed pleased to notice that I had finally noticed and quickly hopped beds, claiming he had “kept the best for last”. While his hands and lips made conventional moves the thighs that engulfed my morning erection had a mind of their own as he revealed that he had already got through similarly thanking Sean and my mother, the latter defying even my imagination, and claiming to have been particularly influenced by Sean’s comment on the Friday night about how I influenced my friends without overt recognition. Zach’s idea of how to make up for that was so conscious that his thighs could only just sustain my arousal until he moved on to also wanting me to pass on some personal thanks ... to Colin. I had not yet started to consciously recognise the effect that Colin was having on me, but Zach’s prompting of my images of Colin was enough to help Zach’s thighs quickly achieve their goal. For a couple of minutes I crushed the imp to me until it dawned that he and Bruce really did need to make an early start to their long drive home. We made ourselves decent enough to grab the last of breakfast and finally bid our visitors safe journey, before Nicholas readily convinced me that a now vacated double bed would be the best place for an extended lie in.