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 38: Swannies

Pre-season training at a Pennant club was one thing my seven seasons at our local club had not really prepared me for, but cricket was more than important enough for me to clock up a 100% attendance record. made easier in no small part by having Hayden almost always available for transport. Being already recognised as the club’s best bat, his willingness to talk to me about his clubmates, and to them about me, made my entry a lot easier than his had been a couple of years earlier. However with “my” Sydney Swans heading for a preliminary final rematch against the Essendon Bombers, for the first time in my cricket career I found myself wondering whether I should actually give a game a miss. It was not that I could not squeeze both in, but more that I did not want to divide my attention, so before the start of training on the Tuesday before the Sydney footy final I decided I had better have a chat with the coach. He very quickly put me at ease, even suggesting that he would immediately cross me off for the next week too if the Swans won because I would presumably want to spend that Saturday afternoon in front of a TV. He said I shouldn’t be worried if they felt obliged to pick me a grade lower than otherwise for my first game as he had no doubt I would quickly earn my way back up. As Hayden’s Pennant career had started with four games in the thirds, I took that to mean I would probably start in the fourths.

I told Davo of my decision that night and he was quick to remind me that, as I would have a bit of spare time at the weekend, I might take the chance to spend some of it at our old club where he expected to be taking over the mantle as number one bowler. I had been squeezing in an extra nights training with the juniors on Wednesday, more often helping out the Under 14s than getting in the way of the Under 16s where Sean had made it amply clear that he was running things, while making sure I knew I would be welcome to play morning games whenever my pennant commitments allowed. At Thursday’s training I was pleased to find that the senior club had done some serious thinking about Under 16s continuing with their junior clubs since Hayden’s day and it was made perfectly clear that they would have no problem with me having a hit with the kids, or even with the seniors if they would let me. I had already made my mind up what I would be doing on the Saturday afternoon, but when Davo mentioned that the club had a “friendly” game on Sunday afternoon, I agreed to turn up late enough to only have an option of filling in if numbers were short ... and joked that I wanted to open the batting for the other team so I could get to face him.

With the bandwagon rolling, I by then had identified a handful of kids from school who had become regular Swans followers, although we were only nodding acquaintances both at the footy and at school. But with the excitement of the lead up, such acquaintances were suddenly good mates and early in the week a pact started to develop that we would all wear something in the Swans’ red and white colours to school of Friday. I got my biggest surprise when we intercepted Chalk and Cheese on the walk to school on Friday to find them both wearing discrete Swans badges, in distinct contrast to my decision to go completely overboard. I demanded to know why I hadn’t known they were Swans supporters and they conceded that they weren’t “real” supporters but had taken up going to matches of late in pursuit of empath highs from the emotional overload. They also wanted to wear them to stir up one particularly tyrannical teacher who was unreconstructed rugby league freak with looks to match. The particular teacher had started at the school the same year as Chalk and Cheese which was one after me, so all the kids at my level and older regarded him as a standing joke, while he managed to keep the younger forms thoroughly terrorised.

I figured it might be fun to make myself conspicuous outside their room when he had them for the final class of the day, and was hardly surprised when he ordered me into the front of their room. I even played along as he managed to draw the fine line of putting his hands on my decorations but not really on me: “What do you think you are Dawson? ... Warwick Capper’s love child?” Chalk and Cheese and a girl in their class all took the cue to let their Swan’s badges show as I retorted: “At least he was capable of having a love child, unlike you rugby lot who are going rapidly extinct. And don’t even think about threatening me ... you blew all your privileges when you first opened your mouth.” I turned to the class as I dawdled back towards the door. “Don’t worry about his ranting boys and girls. His kind have no part in the future. Carna Swannies.” While I had earnt a reputation for being prepared to question authority, I certainly wasn’t known for blatant insubordination, so while word had got around in the short time between then and our leisurely departure for home, I was sure it would all be forgotten by Monday.

I have generally had an understanding with Chalk and Cheese that I was off limits for their empath games ... in fact the whole of our, to my mind fourth, test team were largely immune to their powers, at least on a day to day basis, although I could argue a case that they had an even more powerful long term effect on all of us, more so in the year since Natalie had gone on to university. However, while I had not left myself open to retaliation from the teacher, my two enigmatic but by then very good friends took the excuse to parody being empathic to this “other Blake” they had just discovered, until it was time to split. Like almost every school Friday in four years, Hayden and I again dropped into Warren’s for the two of them to practice their pretensions of coolness, while I decided it was time to teach Buster and Mr Harris’s now fully grown pup how to play Aussie Rules.

Rather than second guess who I might be playing with in the following weeks, I had decided to take the rare opportunity to see Hayden play and so went to the firsts for the early session where they were invited to bowl, so after making sure I had spoken to all the handful of supporters and officials at the game, I headed even earlier than I had planned to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the footy final.

Having been there through the lean years, I had gotten to know enough of the ground staff to have no trouble convincing one of them to let me visit the Bomber Cheer Squad area long before the big game was due to start. I was looking for one familiar face, but was quickly recognised by others: “Well, if it isn’t the Bombers’ favourite cygnet?” “Nah, it’s just Warwick Capper’s love child.” This time those words really echoed in my head, but not for long as I came no notice that I was being photographed by a well dressed gentleman with some very expensive camera gear who was still clearly one of the Essendon supporters. Noticing me notice him he paused, pulled an envelope from his jacket and offered it to me while introducing himself: “Hello, Blake, I’m Craig Garden, I was asked to deliver this to you. ... I hope you don’t consider my photography an intrusion.” The letter I immediately recognised as being from my companion of the night after the draw, apologising that his mother had been taken seriously ill, preventing him from making the trip, and suggesting that I might like to make a similar bet with Craig. I figured the two of us were by then the subject of a fair bit of attention and speculation, so I decided to make it clear who had the most front: “In view of the late finish, why don’t we just agree to get back to your hotel as quickly as the transport around here will let us?” “You mean no bet?” He sounded genuinely disappointed. “Ok, you shout dinner because your going to lose properly this time.” “And you will if you’re wrong about that?” “I’m not going to be wrong, but if the impossible happened I would.” He warned me that he was at a different hotel—one I knew even better. And I’ve since learnt that there were as many parting shots from his camera as there were audible ones, as I became curious about the traditions that allowed the apparently safe and open discussion that clearly implied our intent to do something which was not just illegal but widely vilified.

For the second time between these two teams at the same ground in the same year, the final siren sounded with the scores dead level. But this time the Swans larger than life full forward Tony Lockett, popularly known as “Plugger”, had taken a mark just before the siren which entitled him to have a kick at goal. Plugger’s kick snuck through for the point needed to break the tie and win the Swans a trip to Melbourne to play in the grand final the following Saturday.

I decided the quickest way to Craig’s hotel would be to jog it, yet I wasn’t really all that surprised to be confronted on arrival by a photo flash. Quickly pausing, Craig greeted me warmly and conspiratorially suggested that the result was fated to the point he was so comfortable with it that he wasn’t looking forward to the return of his more one-eyed travelling companions: “Would you object if we split to somewhere they won’t find us?” “It’s your money. ... Um ... I didn’t mean it quite like that but you did lose the bet.” He confirmed an alternate reservation he had made then spoke to the reception clerk, who knew that I knew that she knew me from other visits in other guises, to say that if his roommate turned up with a companion then it would be ok, but that if he turned up with a party she should ring on his mobile before letting them into the suite.

His rental car had been brought to the door and we were soon crossing the Bridge, then turning off the Expressway towards French’s Forest. Having talked out the football I decided it was time to ask about his photography. He obviously took it seriously and had decided that he wanted to photograph a day in my life, which might make a nice album. I asked whether he wanted to include anything intimate as I had come to regard such photos as too dangerous to touch, even if he could have argued that he believed I was sixteen. He didn’t, but he was ever hopeful that something might be worth publishing or exhibiting which sent the same kind of shivers down my spine, but I let it slide when I found myself reminded of a long forgotten video and borrowed his mobile to try Gary Marshall’s number.

“Your not skipping on another date I hope.” Brendan said he wasn’t but had just called in from the same place I had been to freshen up before going out to paint the town red and white. “I just wanted to check that that video we once made with the girls has been safely recorded over. ... So who gets to look at it? ... Just you and sometimes Adam you say, well I’ll take it as a compliment, but will not believe that a certain other young friend of ours might not have also had a peek. ... Who am I going to tell? ... Now get on with your night out ... and thanks ... I promise I will call in once I get through these next couple of mad weeks because I really want to talk to your son about why he has put off making a move to a pennant club.” By the time I was through, we had come down to the coast at Dee Why and turned north onto what I judged might be the most relaxed part of our route. “Sorry to be so rude ... and now I need to be even ruder. I have got this strange impression that having sex with me is not your highest priority.” He agreed. “Well I think we have a problem because that phone call has reminded me of a few things which are already getting me excited.” He conceded that I might be able to twist his arm, but that he was pleased I recognised that it wasn’t the only thing he was interested in. He also reluctantly agreed that I really did not want my image published, exhibited or posted to the Net, although I was happy for him to take what he wanted for his private collection.

We finally neared the end of a road I had only been to the end of once before. “Oh, wow! It looks likes there is still a crowd in at Barrenjoey House, so they might be prepared to scrape together supper for us.” Craig obviously knew this extremity of Sydney much better than I—and knew the Barrenjoey staff well enough that they scratched together some pasta then followed with fancy deserts, the main purpose of which appeared to be to act as props in photo shots.

In the middle of all that his phone rang. It was the hotel in town where his nominal roommate had turned up with two young men in tow—hardly a party but more than one. Craig repeated a couple of familiar names and I suggested I had better talk to one of them: “Chalk. What the fuck are you doing?” When he got over his surprise about who was on the other end of the line, he explained that after the game they had just hung about with the crowds to soak up the emotions and had eventually stumbled across this distraught Essendon supporter who could clearly use their special powers. They already had their cover organised for the night and felt that they should get him back to his hotel to continue their “treatment”. I quizzed him more intrusively than I might have, had I had more time to think, and had to accept his denial that they made a habit of picking up people off the street, then suggested they might apply their powers to the hotel staff, before asking them to pass me on to the grieving fan: “G’day I’m Blake and I’m with Craig, and I also, by complete coincidence have walked to and from school every day for the past three years with your companions. Now I hope there is no expectation of money changing hands ... well I trust there isn’t ... you can be assured I will work things out with them in the cold light of day if they feel they are owed anything.” One side of me was hating myself for meddling, but the other would have hated me more if anything I did lead any of my friends down even the totally controlled path I had taken to a bit of casual prostitution, which my idealist side still kept trying to deny the reality of. So I figured I should at least do what I could to make sure they could do what they obviously wanted to do and spoke briefly to the reception clerk before passing her back to Craig to make the ok official.

The Palm Beach motel had left our room unlocked and I soon had enough of my clothes off that the camera was reluctantly put away and I attacked. When I got around to thinking about it, I was relieved that Craig had let himself enjoy everything I wanted to do, but it was the Swans and flashes of a few special others which kept me powered, not anything Craig initiated.

We must have dozed for a while, and I woke all over him again with just a hint of dawn light over the Pacific. My lust again temporarily satisfied, Craig took his cue: “Can I ask you one big favour. I would really like to take some dawn shots up at Barrenjoey Head, and promise you can do whatever you have to when we get back here.” It didn’t take me more than two seconds to realise that I had been getting a pretty good deal, and that I was still high enough that I would not mind letting off some steam: “I won’t pose, and might even go mad so you’ll have to shoot me.” “That’s exactly what I was hoping for.” We made it across the isthmus to the rocky headland with a few minutes to spare before the first rays of the sun would cut the sky, and with no sign of another human even on the isthmus, I demanded another head job so I wouldn’t look half aroused through the photos, seeing as I was going to be running, jumping and splashing in the skimpy shorts and ragged singlet that he had brought with him for that purpose.

After a bit more sleep and finally convincing him to screw me, we drove the full length of the northern beaches before agreeing to another photo session at Manly’s Shelly Beach. After a late breakfast on the Corso, we were bemoaning the downside of the rental car being that we could not grab the Jet Cat back to Circular Quay when I spotted, of all people, the teacher I had confronted on Friday. Convinced that attack was still better than defence with his kind, I immediately fronted him with how important the Swans’ win was to the whole city and demanded to know how he managed to sneak into “silvertail” territory. He tried being conciliatory, so I grabbed my opening: “Look I might be prepared to forget about your actions Friday, but you will have to do me a favour first. You see we want to take the Jet Cat back into town, but we have this car with us, so I need you to drive the car in and meet us at Circular Quay then you can catch the Jet Cat back here if you haven’t lost your passport.” By then he was prepared to do almost anything to get me out of his life, so we had a deal and Craig restocked on film before we headed for the wharf.

Chalk, Cheese and friend were ready to check out when we arrived and looking more than pleased with themselves, although the two Bomber fans momentarily tried to recapture their disappointment of a day now gone by to save face. I had told Davo to take my cricket bag and we arrived at the “friendly” half an hour after the start. Our team were batting and Davo quickly let me know that we had a full team but our visitors were one short so he had offered them my services. I suddenly twigged that Rosco was subbing and he looked particularly pleased that I had turned up to relieve him after having to chase three balls in a row around the boundary. Craig who was never backward in coming forward, got Davo to shoot off a few group shots with him in them before I changed into my whites, deliberately in the open for the benefit of the camera which Craig was at least a bit discreet about being seen to be taking, then he and his friend insisted on sticking around until they had to go to the airport so he could get even more shots of me in action as a cricketer.

After the change of innings, I took strike facing Davo and pushed his innocuous first ball through covers for a couple. Running the first: “That was shit. ... You could at least make me earn my runs,” strolling past to complete the second. Having fired him up, the next ball was a brute on the exact length I had always had problems with, but just leaving me enough that I could pull out of the shot. On the next he got the line right too, but the ten centimetres I had shot up during the winter coupled with the more intense practice at my Pennant club had me squeezing it safely into the ground towards point. I squeezed a single of the fifth ball and “That’s more like it” allowed an exchange of friendly grins, but he didn’t let up through his opening spell so I had to content myself with milking a few runs at the other end. I was starting to make some mental notes to tell Davo what he had to do to actually get good batsmen out, when he had his revenge with a throw from the fine leg boundary that caught me short trying for an ambitious third run. Their skipper expressed disappointment that I didn’t get to build on my start but I assured them I was more than happy to take the shine off the new ball and let their players have a decent bat.

Craig gave me a final wave as I was walking off the field, so I headed into the rooms for a quick shower and to change back into civvies, only to discover that mum had arrived to help prepare the after match catering. I thought it was now or never so I asked bluntly: “Am I Warwick Capper’s love child?” She repeated what she had often told me: “I really and truly do not know who your father is and do not think it would be fair to anybody to try to find out,” but went on “so I can’t say definitely that he isn’t, but I can say that I think it is extremely unlikely. Why do you ask?” “Well in the past couple of days, two completely unconnected people said that I was. ... Now both were said in the context of belittling me as a Swans supporter ... fat lot of good that did either of them ... and it just felt like a bit more than a coincidence ... but don’t worry ... I don’t think I’d really want to know if he was.” I was rummaging around in the bottom of my bag and felt something unfamiliar and pulled out a small brown paper parcel with my name on it. I really didn’t have to look to know what it was, but was hoping against hope that I was wrong, so I ripped it open: “Fucking arsehole.” “Blake!” I was instantly glad that there was only mum within earshot, so I explained: “I’ve had this absolutely fabulous night and morning with Craig, and I have learnt to accept it graciously if somebody insists on giving me a hundred or two after a good night, but take a look at this.” I threw it down on the table in front of her: “Five thousand bloody dollars. Now just what am I supposed to do with that. Like it’s twenty-five trips to the bank to drop in a couple of hundred at a time.” “Look I’m not going to ever say anything unless you ask me to about how or why you got it, but I do not think it would be unreasonable for me to suggest you might actually learn to spend it on yourself.” “Hey, I pay my way on everything I can think of.” “That was not what I was talking about. I even wish you would let me pick up a few more of your running costs the way other parents do. I just think you could maybe indulge yourself a little, like maybe going to Melbourne for the grand final.” I could see it was time to restart my brain. That was a better idea than I’d had in ages and I admitted it, then wondered out loud whether I would be able to get a ticket. “Well actually a young man who said he knows you from the footy rang this morning to ask if you wanted to get a ticket and I said I was sure you would so he has your name down with him in the queue and he says you are sure to get them, but you will need to turn up with your membership ticket before the afternoon is out to hold your spot.” “Ok, I’m out of here.” “If it suits you, there is no need to book a flight. I’ve got a few Melbourne calls I could beneficially make and wouldn’t mind going via Bermagui to check what needs to be done at the house before summer.”

It seemed I half knew a good portion of the Swans fans in the queue for tickets, their excitement continuing unabated, and by the time the tickets actually went on sale I knew more than a few a lot better, but that has nothing to do with the rest of this story so I will skip it. I also figured school would be a lot better off without me on Monday, so I skipped that to, which was more than enough to bring all three Spencer kids round to find out what was going on. Well of course Annie is on intimate terms with Chalk and Cheese, so by the time we intercepted them on Tuesday morning they had my world arranged for me. The year nines had some special activities on that were boring them shitless, so Chalk and Cheese and Annie were going to cut the rest of the week and head down the coast with mum and me, so we could drop Annie at her old boyfriend’s and so that Cheese, who had become a proficient electrician helping out in his family business, and Chalk, who could do anything Cheese could do, would wire up our house with the remotely actuated controls that Two and I had been planning. And yes, Two would be coming too. I’m not quite sure at what stage all the various interested parties actually got consulted about this grand plan, but I certainly was not about to object—even on those grounds. I made myself busy around school making sure that I had all the work I would need to do for the rest of the week and during the fortnight’s break that was to follow, and only wore one discrete Swans badge which still evoked plenty of nods and smiles.

First priority at cricket training was to inform the coach that not only was I going to the grand final, but that I would miss training for the first time on Thursday, about which I promised to gate crash the local club at Bermagui, even though I realised training there might not be quite so intense, and I bemoaned not knowing where I might get to have a hit in Melbourne over the weekend. Dean Rogers, who I knew as one of Hayden’s closest mates at the club, caught the last bit of our conversation and offered to help. He had moved from Melbourne to Sydney to attend UNSW late in the season that Hayden started, and, I soon realised also knew Davo at uni, so thought of me as “part of the family” even before we had ever met. He borrowed the coach’s mobile and called the senior club he had started with in Melbourne: “Hi, it’s Dean Rogers ... I’m pleased you remember ... No. I’ve got no plans yet to come back south, but if I do you know the first place I will be turning up. ... I just wanted to ask a little favour. A young bloke from my club up here has got a ticket for the grand final and was looking for somewhere to have a hit on Sunday morning, and I presumed you would be training as normal. ... His name’s Blake Dawson and he can bat a bit. I’ll give him directions and get him to ask for you. ... I’ll be down at Christmas to see the folks and will make a point of dropping in.” Dean was as pleased with the warmth at the other end of the line as he was that his little idea had worked out. With so many things going round my head I was almost relieved that I only had to face hack bowlers in the the third net that night, but I did notice, and gently chipped the coach as I was leaving: “I trust you’ll keep a few real bowlers for me next Tuesday.”

Mum had even swapped her car with Maureen Spencer’s seven seater to give us a bit more space for the trip down. It was only really necessary till we dropped Annie off at the boyfriend’s but I quickly came to appreciate the better view, and the pile of tools, cables, fittings and electronic junk that Cheese and Two were bringing had also made quite a dint in the luggage space. Chalk offered to share my double bed the first night on the pretext that that would give everybody else their own bed, and we both appeared comfortable with just a bit of playful affection and nothing overtly sexual until Two turned up starkers just as we were starting to drop off and demanded in his strange non-verbal way that he be allowed to take the place of our pillows. But it was not until the next night that the implications started to dawn on me as Cheese swapped places with Chalk and Two again turned up to play the same games.

All three boys also showed how capable they were of sustained hard work when they had something to do and mum found plenty of things that she had never got around to putting the way she wanted them, to the point that I found myself flat out between on-site detailing of our concepts, cranking up bits of software and jumping when anybody needed a spare hand. By lunchtime on Thursday we had a phone line connected and had been able to dial into our server at home, and it really was time for a clean up and a bit of a break, so we sent mum and Two shopping and the three of us went straight from the shower to the spa. “Hey guys, if this is the way you repay me for meddling in your big Saturday night, you might have me meddling more often.” “Has that really been eating you?” “Shit we were deep in uncharted waters.” “Just following our empath noses.” It was the first time I had heard either of them use the potent “e” word about themselves, even though those of us closest to them used it freely behind their backs. “But that had got us to a place here we needed your on-ground knowledge.” “And planning.” “And care.” “But I really hated intruding, especially when I was being so bloody hypocritical.” “Look we are a team.” “We have been since we met in hospital on day one.” “And you’re a cricketer.” “So you know all about team play.” “We are on the same team!” The last bit was in chorus. “Ok, so what are you owed?” “Owed?” “Owed?” There seemed to be an echo. “Look, I go with Craig for a 24 hour photo shoot. He even accepts my ban on publishing or exhibiting any of it. And I fit in a heavy night of sex because I wanted it, not because he asked. And what do I get?” I paused for effect, not believing that they could know the answer. “Five thousand bloody dollars!” they chorused. “And I had told his and your friend not to give you a cent. So what do I owe you?” Chalk stared straight into my eyes and answered very slowly and deliberately: “You ... owe ... us ... a ... big ... fat ... zero.” “Nah. ... I can do better than that,” Cheese stood up and beckoned me to do likewise. Our noses met, then our lips. Four arms crushed our chests together, without even a hint of sexual arousal. “Hey, it’s my turn,” and I went through an exact repeat with Chalk, before it was time to get out of the spa and ready for lunch which would soon be arriving. “You two are crazy. We are all crazy. Shit, I love you guys.” “Debt ... paid ... in ... full ... with ... thanks,” they intoned in unison, but my retort was cut short by the return of Two with a fresh heap of junk followed by mum with lunch for all of us.

By evening, everything was tested and running using power from leads running all over the place. Cheese and Chalk had also put in all the permanent wiring needed and tested it, but, showed Cheese’s thorough training by being unwilling to cut it over to mains power without an official sign off, and he did not think it would be fair to ask a local sparky to just do a quick test and the paperwork. It was mum’s turn to think laterally: “How busy are your parents with the business?” “Less than they might like to be, right at the moment, although there are some big jobs in the pipeline.” “Why don’t you ring them and ask them if they would like to come down for a weekend here. It would even save you taking the bus back home.” “We were actually looking forward to that bit, but they just might.” Cheese rang. They did. “Now what about Two and Annie? ... I’ll see if anybody is on-line at the Spencers.” Rosco was, and I made the mistake of explaining the plan to him, which he insisted on complicating by wanting to come down as well, and pick up a mate in Wollongong on the way. “We have to take your seven-seater to Melbourne in the morning and you know the kind of car Cheese’s family drive,” I typed my objection, but Chalk grabbed the keyboard and appended: “Don’t worry. That’s the excuse we need to get the two of us back on the bus. Just do it!” It had got to the point where I really did not want to know, so I shifted my thoughts towards Melbourne. In the finish, the biggest of all the thank yous we got from that weekend was from Barry and Maureen Spencer who finished up with five nights free from having to worry about any of their kids and rediscovered each other in the process.

Mum and I had stopped at Lakes Entrance for long enough to turn it into an early evening meal, then found ourselves driving on without seeing much of the scenery. By the time she spotted a motel with its “Vacancy” sign lit in yet another Latrobe Valley town, we agreed it made sense to leave the last leg in for Saturday morning. Mum caught me completely off guard by asking for two singles, each of which turned out to be easily big enough to have shared, but I did not take issue in public. When I got a chance to make the point, she was well prepared to counter my unwillingness to give away my skinflint tendencies: “Well we certainly ... can ... afford it. And when was the last time you and I actually shared a room? I just thought it natural that we each had our own space.” “Well, I’ve never had a motel or hotel room to myself before.” “Well, it won’t be the last time, so you’re just going to have to get used to it.”

Alone in my unit, I quickly realised it was going to take some getting used to. Far too many things were spinning around in my head for me to think about sleep, but I was reluctant to pick up the phone and intrude on what my friends so far away might be doing. I also had to concede that mum and I sharing a room in San Diego was a long time ago, but still thought that maybe we should at least once before this trip was out. I did not mind that we had our own lives, but I did not think they should become barriers. However I soon tracked at least part of my empty feeling to my stomach and wondered if my memory was playing tricks by suggesting that we had passed a pizza shop in the last kilometre before the motel. I figured my legs could do with some exercise after being cramped in the car for much of the day, so set out to see if my memory was right.

Less that ten minutes proved it was and presented me with not just the chance to sate my hunger but also four local youths around my age who clearly had nowhere better to hang out on a Friday night: “You got a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see Nigel?” the tallest and most offensive sniggered. Nigel was obviously the younger “built” kid with the dirty blonde curly hair. I suddenly hoped I hadn’t focussed on him too obviously when doing my round of nods that I felt necessary when walking into such a group, and again decided attack was the best form of defence: “Actually it’s a cricket ball. I like to have something hard to fidget with when I find my hands idle.” “Well round here we have a little contest for people who think they can handle a cricket ball.” I ordered more than one person could be reasonably expected to eat. “So tell me about your contest, or maybe you’d just like to show me.” I tossed him the almost new ball. “Ok, while they’re rounding up the chook to lay the egg for your pizza, we need more space than they have in here.” Nigel positioned the tall boy and me back to back and counted off 17 paces: “Now turn and fire.” The big boy pinged my ball straight at me and I swallowed it without thought. “Now you each take a step forward, and it’s your turn to fire.” The big boy slightly fumbled my third throw and changed his tack, tossing the ball high into the night sky, but so accurately it would have grazed my dick if I hadn’t plucked it from the air. I decided to respond in kind, but wasn’t surprised when, eight paces closer that his previous shot, he decided to have one more ping straight at me. I just managed to hang onto it, and clearly could have taken the easy way out, but opted for another high ball but this time really putting something into it. Again I wasn’t surprised that he managed to hang on to it, and before he could think about his next throw I had crossed the narrow gap remaining between us and extended a stinging hand to shake what I knew must be an equally stinging hand: “Well done.” Neither of us flinched: “Peace.” My order was ready, which I chose to pay for with a fifty from my wallet, and left with another nod all round and my hands more than full.

Turning into the motel driveway, a bicycle screeched to a halt in the gravel blocking my path: “You forgot this.” It was Nigel and my cricket ball. “Hey, he won it fair and square. ... And my hands are full anyway.” I let my shoulder just brush his chest as I stepped past him. “He thought you were a good sport, and I was heading this way on my way home.” “It’s ok. And isn’t it a bit early to be going home on a Friday?” I rested the pizza boxes on the roof of the Spencer-mobile. “Are you from Sydney?” He gestured towards the NSW plates, but he must have spotted my Swans badge while at the pizza shop, so there was some equity in that question. “The eastern beaches ... have you been there?” I had opened the room and was taking the pizza in. “No, I haven’t. You get your licence there at 17 don’t you?” “Yeah, but I haven’t got mine, I’m just 15. This is actually our neighbours’ van and my mother is driving, but having a bit of spare cash has gone to her head so she got us separate rooms,” time to show some vulnerability, “It’s the first time I’ve ever had a motel room to myself.” “Hey. I’m 15 in November, so we aren’t far apart. I’d never have believed.” “Six months give or take the odd days, and I would have believed,” giving him a very thorough and conspicuous look up and down.

“What’s the Mardi Gras like?” There was more than equity in that. “You’ll help me eat this pizza won’t you? I think I rather over-ordered.” He walked his bike in and parked it against the window, then perched on the corner of the bed still obviously looking for a more direct response. “Well I finally got around to going to it this year for the first time ... you know what it’s like when something is just around the corner you tend not to notice how important it is to other people.” “Nothing, but nothing, is just around the corner from here.” I was tempted to flick the lights off to show my reflex disagreement, but decided it was better to continue: “I have this bad habit of not doing anything by halves, so after all the expectation and preparation, the parade itself just came and went, and my memories of it got thoroughly swamped by the party afterwards that Lukie had got us into because his band was playing there.” It was my turn to be floored: “Let me guess. Your ‘Lukie’ is Lucas Coulter. About the only good thing in my life was going to one of their concerts.” I told him to start eating the pizza and ducked out to the car to grab a teeshirt and private run CD from the box of promotional gear that is inseparable from mum whenever she hits the road. I casually tossed them to him: “Come on you’re not eating enough.” I looked at him and saw he was shaking like a jelly. “Look, will anyone notice or care if you get home at one o’clock?” “Probably not.” “Ok, so lets use the couple of hours to work through everything we need to ... and stop panicking.” He looked at the teeshirt and CD, and was choking back tears. “Hey, my mother does the band’s promotional work. They’re for you ... to keep. ... Look we’ve got to eat this before it goes completely cold.” We finally started to make some inroads on the food, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, and I found the perfect excuse: “Hey we’d better make sure that teeshirt fits you.” I helped him strip to the waste and my eyes boggled. He reached for the teeshirt to try it on, but I blocked his hand: “Hang on a minute. Give me time for a decent look. ... How much work have you put into those muscles?” He wasn’t over muscled—that is just about impossible at fourteen—but I could clearly see every muscle on his torso. “Well there’s nothing else worth spending time on around here.” I let him try the teeshirt and used it as an excuse to run my hands all over to verify its perfect fit and again felt his emotions start to boil over into shaking. I knew it wasn’t nervousness about anything we might do but fear that this moment of validation might evaporate, so had no hesitation in just grabbing him and holding him until we could again look into each other’s eyes without too much glazing.

The temptation to pick up the phone was too great, but I was brought back to reality when Warren answered Lukie’s mobile and was almost unrecognisable against the din of the band. Fortunately he had enough sense to take the phone outside to where we could both make each other heard. I explained to Warren that I had landed myself with yet another fan, but had forgotten that they would be in the middle of a gig, as I wanted to give my new friend something to remember. He said not to worry and to give Nigel the phone and tell him just to listen. For a while Nigel appeared just mystified, then a huge smile crossed his face, but he clearly did not want to be disturbed. I could tell what was playing from the drumming of his fingers and the way he was stifling actions in response to all too obvious cues, but I used the break to go about cleaning up the remains of the meal which we had finally done justice to. Finally it was clear that the show on the other end of the line had ended and he hung the receiver up still grinning from ear to ear, and blurting out what had been Lukie’s introduction: “We usually close the show with the next number and we always play it for Blake, but tonight, by special request we are playing it early, and dedicating it from Blake to Nigel.” He walked over to me and put his arms around me and gave me a big sloppy kiss. “Thanks for coming past.” “Which version did they play?” “Uh?” “Were they ‘fielding’ or ‘feeling’?” He slipped his hand under the covers of the bed we were sitting on to make sure I understood that he understood. “Good, that’s the one on the CD. ... And maybe that’s where we should be.” “Hey, how come they dedicate ... that ... song to you?” “Well since I was very young, I’ve made a bad habit of captaining cricket sides. ... Speaking of cricket, does that mate of yours bowl half as quick as he throws?” “Yeah, he’s actually pretty good.” “I might as well ask the impossible ... would there be any way I could organise a hit against him in the morning before we have to leave for the footy?” “I can ring him any time after seven, and I reckon he might be in it.” “I’ll leave the door unlocked. If you can organise it, just turn up in time to drag me out of bed.” By then we were undressed and under the covers. His legs showed every bit as much work as his torso. And soon his hands were exploring as eagerly as mine. Still he went through one more bout of jelly wobbles before we made explicitly sexual contact. Just a few tugs were enough to get him there the first time, and I was more than pleased that he took it on himself to finish me orally, by which time he was more than ready for me to reciprocate. We dropped back to casual affection and chit chat in which he revealed nothing of himself beyond the obvious that he was doing everything he could to hide the homosexuality that he accepted was his life’s fate, at least until he could make out on his own. However, his curiosity about my lifestyle knew no bounds, which at least gave me opportunity to warn of the dangers of using me as a role model. Arousal was never far away and we agreed to squeeze in a sixty-nine before it really was time for him to show at home—in the innocence of the Valley he was sure three hours chatting to a visiting 15 year old about sport and bands would be a more than acceptable excuse.

I was anything but surprised to be alerted by the click of the door around five in the morning and made room in the bed beside me. “I couldn’t get close to sleep, so left a note for cover, so we can share a couple more hours before I have to make that phone call for you. I hope you don’t mind.” I didn’t, but had had some good sleep so had an unfair advantage. He had yet another attack of jelly wobbles until I dragged him almost on top of me and started kneading his buttocks while he crushed our chests and faces together. As soon as his hips started reflex thrusting, I quieted him and grabbed a condom which I put on him, then some KY which I applied to the condom, then, rolling over to my own arsehole. I knew he would have doubts: “I really want you to.” I pulled a pillow under my torso and spread my legs wide. He had the general idea: “Just take it as easy as you want.” From the moment of penetration it only took a few thrusts. I encouraged him to delay withdrawal but he eventually persuaded me to reciprocate which I would only contemplate in the much gentler orientation lying on our sides. He was clearly awake when I climaxed but deep asleep in my arms within seconds, so I was careful not to withdraw suddenly but rather to let mine gradually go flaccid and eventually fall out. I remember admiring this beautiful sleeping body in my arms and being rudely awakened by the alarm I had set for seven.

The phone call made, a practice hit was on, but we had more time than we needed to clean up, get up and get around there, but not enough to risk a return to sleep, so I suggested to Nigel that there was one thing I really wanted was to watch his muscles while he screwed me. He though this would be impossible, even with motel mirrors, however I had worked out a position with the back of my neck and his shins on the bed, and the soles of my feet supporting the front of his shoulders, from which I could watch all the muscles of his torso. The unexpected position and tiredness kept Nigel from the edge until my view of the writhings of his muscles and the stimulus to my prostrate had my semen spurting down the groove of my chest and the contractions of my sphincter pushed him over the edge. As he withdrew, I snatched off his condom and poured its contents into the pool on my chest, mixed them with my little finger then dragged him down on top of me and we cuddled until it really felt like we would stick together and it was clearly time for a shower.

I was just about padded up when the bowler arrived and I reached into my bag and tossed him a brand new ball: “Use this.” “What the fuck?” “I only bowl shit, so it’s more value to me if you use the shine on it than if I do. ... And don’t hold back—I’m insured.” Despite his tiredness, Nigel managed to keep the ball up to me, but that only served to lull me into a false sense of security against the other guy who really was sharp. He liked directing balls into my ribcage, particularly straight after I played any half reasonable shot. Six months earlier that alone would have had me in a lot of trouble, but it was starting to look like I had that gremlin out of my system. A couple more locals turned up and joined in, so I asked who wanted to bat next. Nigel passed his option to one of the others, which I still regret, and I gave myself last six, during which the quick got one that he pitched up to go the other way and I got a nick that any keeper would have gobbled up. I rolled my arm over for a few innocuous practice balls, but had to go, not the least to get Nigel out of there before he fell asleep. My final handshake with the bowler conveyed plenty of mutual respect.

Nigel made some excuse to ride back with me, by which time mum was starting to load up: “I’ve just had a quick hit with the locals. One of them can bowl a bit. Mum this is my friend Nigel. Nigel this is Elaine Dawson who does promotional work for the band. He cost us a teeshirt and a CD and a longish phonecall to Lukie’s mobile if you haven’t seen the motel bill yet ... but he’s worth it. Excuse us a minute ... we just need to say our goodbyes.” I had loaded everything and went back into my room for one last check, closing the door to give us a bit of privacy for a few hugs and more than a few tears before we were finally ready to split, each knowing it was ok.

Mum wanted to know the whole story and there was enough time on the last leg to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to tell her much of it, the essence of which was simply: “Nigel is gay, and he is stuck in that hick town.” “You could give him an out.” “I just did. He knows he has to do the rest himself. But he will make it.” Our route into Melbourne led us straight to the M.C.G., so mum was able to drop me close by without needing to look for a parking spot. Because of the grand final she had pre-booked a motel and gave me the address. I told her I hoped she hadn’t done the two room trick as I did not expect to get there except to pick up my gear before cricket practice the next morning.

In the final analysis, I did not count my grand final ticket as an extravagance as I would have found a way to pay for it out of my normal budget the moment I recognised the possibility. So the first real expenditure from the $5000 was a pair of high powered binoculars for which I had only a single purpose in mind: “bloke watching” I had teased mum. I quickly found my seat and realised it was with most of the same people I’d seen in the tickets queue. In fact the guy who had rung mum about getting tickets was sitting right next to me. It dawned on me that this might make my task of finding three people in a hundred thousand a good deal simpler—I only had to find the block they might be in and go from there. By a process of elimination I located a block containing the Essendon cheer squad and other regular supporters, the binoculars quickly revealing the difference between one set of colours with red in it and the next. While I was scanning, I half tuned into the conversation going on around me about what pub the Swans supporters were going to meet at after the match so that they could get pissed. Now I realised that many of them had travelled down in groups which had bonded a bit, but it was not my idea of how to spend my first night in Melbourne. I spotted a few vaguely recognisable faces in the Essendon group, then the three I was looking for in a row—one with his own binoculars trained right back at me, another with a big telephoto lens aimed in exactly the same direction, and the third madly waving his arms as if to gain my attention, which of course was exactly what he was doing. “So, Blake, are you going to come to the pub with us?” “Nah. It doesn’t sound like my scene. I think I’d rather get my arse fucked by three middle aged Bomber supporters.” “What?” The kid on the other side of me grabbed my binoculars, giving me a chance to wave back, and soon spotted who I was talking about: “I see what you mean.” He passed back the binoculars, jumped up on his seat, turned directly away from the Essendon group and flashed a brown eye, all of which I only took in after I swear I saw the shutter on Craig’s telephoto lens go into motor drive. I talked to a few of the people around me about catching up back in Sydney rather than wasting the night and they seemed to accept where I was coming from. “You’re kidding about doing anything with them, aren’t you?” the flasher was suddenly unsure of himself. “Don’t tell me you we were actually taking me seriously? We might look at a few pictures.” And with a bit of sign language and finally writing a couple of large signs, I arranged to meet my Bomber friends at the foot of light tower number one fifteen minutes after the end of the post-match presentations. By then the pre-match entertainment was starting and our minds were settling into barracking mode, something that wasn’t really my style, but on that day I was willing to surrender a couple of hours to the herd mentality. It had been a big week. Nobody was all that surprised to see the Swans play like they too had been celebrating all week and we were spared any risk of another heart stopper.

Our foursome enjoyed a really civilised evening out. They were as keen to catch up with what I had been doing, especially the added involvement with Chalk and Cheese, as I was to learnt a bit more of what they called their “ordinary lives” in Melbourne. We enjoyed a long dinner, then found somewhere else for sweets and yet another place for coffee, interrupted only by a chance encounter with the last standing remnants of the Swans supporters, including the two boys I had been sitting between. The one who had flashed the brown eye was almost incoherent, but tried a line about “bummers” which provoked Craig into mentioning that he had some compromising photos of the young man’s rear end that he was sure the papers would like, which snapped him back for long enough to agree that Craig should send a print to him first. The other guy who was directly responsible for me being in Melbourne tried to apologise, but was nearly as far gone, although he did explain that they were sharing a room so he felt duty bound to look after his friend, and they both exchanged a happy enough “good night and see you in Sydney” with me, even as the one staggered off again audibly muttering about “bummers”.

Craig gave me an album he had made up from the “day in the life” photos he had taken the week before, then invited me to browse through the hundreds he hadn’t chosen which included a lot more good photos mixed with some which had not worked out. But I could not fault his selection and he added a couple of extra copies of a group which included Chalk and Cheese being, well, Chalk and Cheese, all of which I was happy to drop in to mum when I called at her motel for a change of clothes and to pick up my cricket bag. She mentioned that she was going to catch up with everybody she wanted by the end of the day, so we could make it to Albury before looking for a bed.

I found myself chatting to one of the younger players as we were both unpadding after our net session. When he found I did not have anything definite on for the afternoon, he mentioned that his old club which played in a second tier competition, had a friendly match on but were short because a few of their players supported the team that had beaten the Swans the day before, so they had roped him in, and, if I wanted to tag along I might well get a game too. I did and I did. In fact they were so short that they asked me to bat an number four, and I found myself at the crease in the sixth over with only a dozen on the scoreboard and a couple of quicks with their tails up. I’ve always had the patience in a bat for survival situation, but I lost another couple of partners before we showed any sign of us getting into the match. With drinks at the half way mark, I got a message that they were perfectly happy for me to just stick around to make sure we got through our overs and picked up whatever runs came along, but that wasn’t exactly my way of going about things. So when the couple of overs after drinks proved as innocuous as I had expected, I decided it was time to step up a notch. I lost one more partner before I got into the thirties but was assured by the new batter that we now definitely had a full eleven. Although overs and run rate were against us, the bowling side finally noticed that their grip had loosened just a bit, so they brought back their strike bowlers to try to grab a couple of wickets. This played right into my hands as I had seen them off earlier and neither came back as sharp, while I was settling in and suddenly hungry for runs, so I led a charge which added fifty in six overs before I again ran myself out backing myself against a throw from the outfield, leaving the tail with a few overs from the second string bowlers that they could have a whack at. The visitors finished up losing their way in the middle and never having a real crack at the target and they insisted I accept a “man of the match” trophy that was the last thing I was looking for. I rang mum’s mobile from the clubrooms and she was happy to pick me up before seven when the bar would be closing, with the few quiet drinkers there in stark contrast to the night before’s revellers.

Just catching up on what each other had been up to in the previous 30 hours might have taken all the way to Albury, if mum’s mobile hadn’t rung. I answered it and endeavoured to relay the conversation: “It’s Cheese. They will be able to get a sign off from all authorities if they stay through until Tuesday morning, and they all claim they can live with a couple more days holiday if we don’t mind.” “Have they cleared in with the Spencer’s?” “Already, by Internet chat. Maureen and Barry would apparently be quite happy if they took even longer.” “Ask them to make sure they call us again before they leave so we can work out what to do with the key.” I had to tell Cheese about the night before’s dinner, which he relayed to Chalk, and completely forgot what I wanted to ask mum about the key, particularly as the conversation with Cheese had reminded me that I needed to sort out our two room farce.

“Mum, as much as I would not have missed my night with Nigel for anything, it’s not something I have any plans to repeat in Albury, so I trust you have no plans to burn money on separate rooms.” “Well the money hardly matters, and we haven’t shared a room since ...” “I know, San Diego,” I cut her off, “but that isn’t your reason either ... there is something you are suddenly uncomfortable with, and I can’t think of a better time to sort it out.” “Well, if you really want to know, you might have been just talking to half of the problem.” “Look, the last thing you can get away with is blaming Chalk and Cheese. They have quite incredible empath powers which guarantee that they only act the way the person they are with needs them to. So if something they did has confronted you then I know for certain that you needed to be confronted.” “Alright, alright, I suppose this has been coming for a while now ... and, you’re right, there probably isn’t going to be a better time to try to work it out.” “Well, I’m usually able to be your sounding board and I won’t stick my bit in unless invited ... so out with it.”

“I know, I know. ... Ok. ... Just give me a minute. ... I don’t really know where to start. ... Look, ... I don’t have any problem with my involvement with Lukie, ... nor yours for that matter.” Well we agreed thus far, so I didn’t even want to add anything. “Then Davo just walked in and there were a few times when we both just needed it, but it wasn’t the kind of thing either of us was going to go public about.” I had long had a fair idea, but definitely had not been, nor felt, confronted by it. “But it was more those of your mates who are a bit closer to your age, who started to effect me. They confronted me with how the life I thought I had left behind me had started out. While I’ve never really felt ashamed of it, it was just something I thought I had put away safely with my past. ... I suppose the one real positive is that it certainly stopped me judging you. ... When I was your age I was having at least as many boys as you are.” “Yesterday’s Annie?” I couldn’t help trying to hint that the last thing I was going to do was judge her either. “No ... way beyond her ... I would often have up to ten pretty fourteen to sixteens lined up to take their turn.” Now I was just jealous and happy to shut up. “The one thing that might help you understand is why, when I got pregnant seven years further down that track, I could not contemplate tackling your paternity question.”

“That makes sense, but it hardly something you can blame Chalk and Cheese for.” “Hang on. ... I’m getting back to that. ... Your friends ... and you ... kept providing me with these daily reminders of a past that I could not bring myself to regret. ... So I let them into my fantasies, while remaining totally confident in my self control when faced with any real boy. ... Well that lasted until a certain friend of yours came looking for you on the Saturday night between your fifteenth birthdays, to find that this year you had totally forgotten him.” I had to laugh: “Sorry. ... None of you bastards told me about that one. ... I can just imagine. ... If it makes you feel any better I have slept with his father more than any other male older than Lukie. ... And I can just see Gary, finding you home by yourself for the night. ... He would take it as his duty.” Mum’s voice had at least regained some humour: “He was the perfect gentleman. ... And I knew his self-made reputation. ... So I could live with that. But within a few weeks ... those couple of nights with Bruce at Bermagui ... and it was Sean ... who I felt I had known since he was a baby.” “He was never a baby.” “I know that too ... and he was absolutely wonderful ... a sixty year old on the make could not have treated me better.” “So what are you complaining about?” “I’m complaining about me. ... Now that you have made me think about it, I’m not complaining about Chalk and Cheese. ... They did know exactly what I need to do ... to face that I could still like being a teenage slut ... and that I really couldn’t trust myself to sleep in the same room as my own beautiful son.” A large green sign flashed past, and stirred my tongue: “Well it looks like you have thirty kilometres to put that ghost to rest.” “Bugger you Blake, I do not know that I can just pluck my self control off a passing tree.” “Well, if you really want to screw me, I imagine I will respond as mechanically as I have to the numerous other females who I have let persuade me from time to time ... but not tonight because I’m still enjoying my images of Nigel ... and if you have doubts about whether you want to screw me, you can be sure I will never do anything to try to change your mind.”

Mum didn’t respond before I had a sudden memory: “And I do know one other young man you left out who was definitely my fault.” “Damn, I keep forgetting ... There is a letter to you and me in the glove box which was in the letter box when we arrived at Bermagui.” Two and two were making four before I had time to open it and find enough light to read by: “So their names are Jason and Shirley. Wow, I never knew.” “Well I did, and I do have enough calls to justify tomorrow night in Canberra.” “As long as I am back in time for cricket practice Tuesday afternoon, I couldn’t think of anything better. ... And, anyway you won’t have any need to think about me tonight while your fantasising about him.” “Arsehole!” “Well if you insist, I might tell you how Nigel did mine while you’re getting yourself off.” “You fucking little arsehole!” “Not me, Nigel, well maybe me too ... but that wasn’t so spectacular.” The end of three hundred kilometres of freeway loomed ahead. “Allright, you win, as long as you give me a full blow by blow description. You can share my room ... and I’m sure I can manage to leave your body alone.”

We found an understated house in a leafy Canberra suburb and I skipped to the door which opened promptly to reveal a still youthful looking frame that appeared to fill the doorway for the moment before he engulfed me, then just as I was starting to enjoy it, released me so he could do the same for my mother. “Still a home boy I see,” I teased as he finally put her back down. “Not as much, but I’ve got a break from classes this week and this isn’t a bad place to do a bit of study. But now you’re here I’ve remembered how unimportant what I was doing really is.” We explained that mum had a few calls that would keep her occupied for the afternoon and next morning. Urging us inside, he pressed an autodial number on his phone: “We have visitors from Bermagui ... Why don’t you meet Elaine at the club at six,” he looked for and got a nod from mum, then looking back and forwards between us: “You’ll recognise her instantly, and I’ll show her your photo. ... Blake and I will have dinner ready for you to get home at seven thirty,” which was my prompt to nod, “Of course they’ll stay with us, they haven’t booked anywhere yet,” he looked at us for confirmation which we had to give while conveying a silent message that we did not want to impose.

A relaxed hour after mum had gone, Jason suggested we had better go shopping for a few extra bits we might need to do dinner for four properly. He ushered me out the back door to a lovingly restored Volkswagen “beetle” pulled off the side of their drive and amazed me by somehow pouring himself into the driver’s seat and shutting the door. We did a seeming tour of back street shopping strips, picking up ingredients from a succession of outlets you could not have known existed if you had not lived in Canberra all your life. I had long learnt to do a passable job making a hot meal from whatever I could find in the fridge and pantry, but I found myself comfortably slipping into assistant mode as his plans for what was clearly going to be a more than passable dinner revealed themselves. With all the little tasks to attend and plenty of banter which rapidly swamped our previously limited knowledge of each other’s lives, I hardly noticed that we were not leaving ourselves any chance for the bit of intimacy I had assumed but felt no pressing need for.

It was nearly seven, and everything that did not have to be produced at the last minute was clearly in place, when he ushered me into what I quickly realised was his mother’s room, where I saw he had dumped my bags, after having hung out to air the “best” clothes I had carted around the country without ever finding an excuse to put on. The shower in the en suite felt luxurious, and I had just stepped out when Jason reappeared just in jocks carrying a load of spray cans, bottles and implements, including a safety razor—a device I was quite unfamiliar with as I had managed to ignore the light fuzz of hair on my lips and cheeks finally starting to lengthen and thicken. After my shaving lesson, this gentlest giantest blow waved my hair and applied various sprays and powders to various parts of my anatomy before he would let me put my clothes on while he made the en suite and bedroom tidy. Then he dressed while directing me to adjust a few things in the kitchen. He dimmed the house lights and, as if on cue, car headlights flashed through the front window signalling our mothers’ return. With both of us looking a million dollars, we opened the door and stepped out to usher them in and to the bedrooms so they could freshen up.

By the time they emerged, the setting was complete—nibbles, drinks and candles lit on the dining table, soft music playing and the fresh soup and damper we had made that afternoon ready to be served. One of my overriding memories of that night was of jackets and aprons on and off and on and off as Jason and I rotated between kitchen tasks, serving and partnering. Miraculously, we got through without incident, for while he admitted that they did a little bit of entertainment, Jason claimed the whole idea for the night really only entered his head after we had arrived unannounced.

After the main course, mum remembered their letter and asked whether they would like to use Bermagui for the rest of the week, which prompted a realisation that we had not heard anything further from Chalk and Cheese. I tried the phone which was engaged, after the second time muttering that they were probably on the Internet. Jason offered that he had a connection in their study which he needed for university, so we took a time out from dinner to try to get through that way. The last thing I could have gotten my mind around at that point was using my little non-verbal namesake to relay messages, so fortunately he quickly conceded to hand over the connection to Chalk. They needed to reluctantly leave as soon as the last bit of paperwork was processed and we figured they could rendezvous with Shirley and Jason at Batemans Bay mid-afternoon to hand over the keys. The issue became where to meet and how they would recognise each other. They finally settled that one landmark they all knew was a public toilet block, and I figured Two, and that meant Rosco too, had worked out who Jason was when he sent me a picture of the Lake Burley Griffin fountain. I searched for “haberdashery and clipart” and sent him a picture of a tape measure superimposed with a red circle and diagonal stripe, and was bemused when he sent me the image of an army hat with the same imposition. But it was more than time to get back to dinner, so I planted a reminder of the need to warn Jason about Two before we left.

After the fruity desert, which had largely been my idea, and serving coffee, Jason changed the music tempo and invited my mother to dance. While I once bothered to teach myself enough to survive, dancing is something I have to be dragged into, but this was different, and I didn’t hesitate to take the cue and partner Shirley. While we did manage to clear enough away during the odd break that it would be possible to have breakfast in the morning, the mood had captured me, and once the music went mushy I made a point of taking the initiative to conspicuously steer Shirley to our bedroom for the night, during which I twice exceeded my stamina of our first meeting. After our mothers and now twice lovers had departed for their respective mornings of cleaning up Canberran loose ends, Jason and I finished cleaning up from the night before and finally had a couple of hours to rediscover each other.

My arse was on fire at cricket training as I relished my chance in the second net and only just noticed when one and then a second firsts bowler were switched across. I handled the best they could throw at me and committed to demolishing anything loose almost from the start. “What did you get up to in Melbourne?” the coach’s voice came from behind my line of sight as I was unpadding. “Just enough that I am now hungry to get started.” “I can see that ... you make it tough.” “Hey, coach, do you want me to ring Melbourne and check his form?” It was Dean Rogers. “Hey, thanks mate. A whole lot of people wanted me to pass on their regards ... they seem to love you as much there as we do here.” “And that is why I could not let you do any more than you already have.” “Bullshit!” Dean grabbed the coach’s phone, exchanged a few pleasantries: “Would you mind repeating that to our coach first hand?” and handed the phone back to the coach, who was content to mainly listen with an increasingly bemused expression.

“Look Dean, if I didn’t think I knew you better I’d say you were trying to avoid your best chance for promotion.” “I’m not, but I don’t want to be promoted ahead of somebody who would clearly be a better choice. I know you have to make some changes and my form is as good as anybody’s, and I certainly want to play at the highest level I can.” It was finally dawning on me that they were talking about seconds and thirds, without any thought about fourths, so I listened even more intently. “But I know as well as you who you should pick, and I’ll be more than happy if my form justifies me playing in the same side as him before he makes the next step.” “Seeing as this is just between the three of us, I will tell you unofficially that we think it will be best for the long term if you spend the season in the Twos Blake. I don’t think you knew that the president of the club you trained with stuck his nose into that afternoon game while you were batting. Dean has given me enough ammunition to convince the other selectors, so now I just have to make sure nobody has any cause to question his own ambition.” I felt it was time I stopped standing around like a dummy: “Hey, I just lucked into that game on Sunday with nothing to lose. And I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking for Dean, but I think I know where he is coming from. I’ve always known that the most important thing about cricket is the friendships. How well you play comes a distant second.” “You know the job of a coach is supposed to transcend friendships, but I would be happy to have you two as my friends for a bloody long time.” I hadn’t given Dean even a glance through all of that, but I knew I had to look him in the eye and thank him without breaking down. It didn’t make it any easier that he was as glazed as I was, but we managed to clasp hands at neck height and mutter thanks and apologia before splitting and leaving me wondering why I wasn’t wondering.