I always look forward to holidays for Christmas and New Year. Even if the people I love do tend to go over the top at times I still love the festivities, the gathering of family, the exchange of gifts, the whole shebang!
There are also certain traditions that my family has always observed for the Christmas holidays and which I always look forward to. Things like spending some alone time on Christmas Eve with my best friend in the mountains west of town, just watching the lights of town twinkling below us, or going to Midnight Mass in our tiny local church, which the old priest still insists on giving, then there’s the handing out of presents, but only after breakfast on Christmas Day. There we would all gather around the tree, delighting in what we received, then later there would be the ham and turkey for Christmas lunch, followed by the sharing of my grandmother's special Trifle for dessert – always made with her secret ingredient, a generous lashing of scotch whisky instead of the standard splash of sherry. After all that was done with and we slept off the effects of the meal that afternoon, then there would be the obligatory backyard cricket match played every Boxing Day, when family and friends would gather around and try to act like they know how to play the game but really only succeed in making fools of themselves.
Yeah, I have many fond memories of the Christmases spent in my childhood home, and even though it has been a few years now since I left there I still try to make the effort to go home every year to catch up with everyone, enjoy the festivities and partake in the age old traditions.
For this year, though, I've been trying to figure out exactly what I'll be doing for Christmas. This year is going to be hard, especially after my recently having been made redundant from my IT position, along with about eight other staff from the company I worked for.
Just a few weeks out from Christmas we were called into Personnel, one by one, and they say: 'We're very sorry, but after completing a review of the business, Senior Management have decided that we must reduce our expenses. It’s nothing personal, you've all been good workers . . . blah blah blah . . . but here's your redundancy pay. Goodbye.'
Great! Just fucking great!
So then what was I supposed to do? Drink myself into oblivion maybe? Curl up into a little ball and cry myself to sleep? Go home with my tail between my legs, a miserable failure, and wait for my old man to say ‘I told you so’?
I have to admit that for a few days there I just didn't know what to do. I'm pretty sure I did drink a bit. Well, to be perfectly honest, I probably drank a lot. And there were definitely tears. Eventually, however, I came to realise that life still goes on and feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to help.
So, with the Christmas and New Year holidays looming, and with nothing better to do, maybe my old hometown is as good a place to be as any for the first few weeks of my unemployment?
* * * * *
I had been eighteen years old when I left home, straight out of school, somehow landing a job in the Big Smoke and setting off to make my way in the world, leaving behind my family and a best friend, Charlie Holley, who just couldn’t understand why I wanted, or needed, to leave.
Leaving Charlie behind had been the hardest thing to do. We had been friends for a long time. Sometimes we’d even been more than friends, if you know what I mean. But at that stage in my life I was wanting more out of life than to end up stuck in a two-bit job in a two-bit town trying to make a living in a place where a living could barely be made. I wanted to see some of the world. I wanted to experience things that I would never be able to experience by staying in a town with an entire population that could fit inside a basketball stadium . . . and a small one at that!
Charlie, however, simply wanted something else out of life.
For the most part I managed to achieve what I set out to do. I worked hard, earned a decent wage and managed to put a little aside, experienced life in the city and all it had to offer, even got to do some travelling. Throughout all that time, however, I always had a soft spot for home and tried to visit whenever I could. On some of those visits I even managed to catch up with Charlie, but things seemed to be different between us, or at least different to how it was before I moved away. He was somewhat distant . . . not that I could really blame him . . . and even though I still tried to make an effort on each of my visits the old connection no longer seemed to be there, which really saddened me.
I would try again on this holiday visit, of course, but just how I might be received would be anyone’s guess.
The trip home was a tiresome one, especially after spending most of the day on the train out of Sydney to firstly get this far north. The bus out from the city had been loaded with folks heading home, most of whom were noisy teens looking forward to their Christmas break, so you can probably imagine what it was like.
When the bus pulled to a stop and I eventually stepped down onto the carpark near Thompsonville Lake, it felt good to be home. It was a summer’s evening with a cool sea breeze blowing in on from the ocean. The breeze and the smell of the salt air hit me with a blast and immediately I felt like I was sixteen years old again, living life to the full and eager for the next new experience.
Looking about I could see that the nearby shops were all closed, with only the petrol station appearing to be trading at this hour, and of course, the pub down the road would definitely be open. For a moment I wondered if Charlie might be working at the petrol station tonight, but I decided I would leave it until tomorrow before I tried to track him down. For now I figured it was best to head for home, which was just a few blocks away, so I set off along the road which led back out of town, from which I would soon be turning into the street I grew up on. I quickly noticed that lights were beginning to come on in the nearby homes, including a host of Christmas lights and other decorations, which families would have slaved over to get just right. It brought a smile to my dial as I remembered doing the same thing when I was much younger.
Ten minutes later I found myself standing at our front gate, looking at the old house and the same old decorations that we seemed to drag out every year. I guessed my kid brother, Toby, must be the Chief Christmas Decorator these days, because they were rather sad looking. The wreath on the door even seemed to be sitting lopsidedly, not that it really mattered. At least he had made the effort. Maybe we could get a few more tomorrow and fix things up a little, I thought, as I opened the gate and started up the garden path.
Lights were on inside the house and as I drew closer I could hear sounds coming from inside, most likely from the television that was in the front room. My footsteps echoed across the wooden verandah and before I could even knock on the front door it was flung open.
‘Kieran!’ Toby shrieked, before flinging himself forward and crashing into me, his arms wrapping around my body and hugging me tightly.
Toby was sixteen years old, eight years younger than me, and mildly autistic; not that many people knew that, or noticed it when they first met him. Most just thought he was somewhat immature, like he was a twelve-year-old kid in an older kid’s body, but those who knew him well knew how smart and loving and, these days, quite how handsome he was. I loved my kid brother like no one else on this earth, and should anyone try to harm him they would have me to answer to.
‘Hey, Tobes,’ I said, laughing as he clung to me. ‘How the hell are you?’
He was wearing a green, Christmas t-shirt decorated with Santa Claus and a tree. It even had glitter stuck to the places that were supposed to be snow. Totally ridiculous, but it was so Toby!
Looking inside the house I could see my father had appeared in the hallway, having come from the television room to see what the commotion was, while my mother was at the far end of the hall, emerging from the kitchen, and wiping her hands on the blue and white apron she was wearing.
I thought I could smell the aroma of her meatloaf wafting down the tinsel decorated hallway.
‘Hi, Mum. Dad. Thought I would surprise you and come home a few days early,’ I said to them, while standing at the doorway with my brother, our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
My father stepped forward and thrust out his hand for me to shake, which I did.
‘This is a surprise,’ he said. ‘Good to see you, Kieran.’
By this time my mother had joined us, still wearing her apron. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. ‘Why didn’t you tell us you were coming home early, dear? We could have picked you up.’
‘It’s all good, ma. It’s only a short walk. So, how are you both? What’s been happening in the old home town?’
‘We’ve been well,’ dad answered. ‘What about you? How is work going?’
I knew it wouldn’t be long before he asked that. It never took long. He has an obsession about what I do . . . or have been doing . . . for a career. He was always a ‘you’ve got to get a trade’ type of guy. I hoped I would be able to hold off breaking the bad news for as long as I could.
‘Oh, same old same old,’ I replied, trying to evade the subject for now.
‘Hmmppff . . .’
Good old dad. Good to know that some folks just never change.
‘Well, Kieran, you’re just in time for dinner. Lucky I cooked my meatloaf so there’ll be some extra,’ my mother said, ending the awkward silence that had followed.
‘Come on, brother,’ Toby said, taking my bag off me before then starting to drag me through the front doorway. ‘I got a new boat to show you.’
‘What sort?’ I asked, knowing full well I was just about to get an in-depth description of the latest addition to his model collection. Living on the water like we did it wasn’t difficult to see why boats were his one true obsession.
‘You’ll see!’ he answered, grinning.
After running down the hallway and dumping my bag on the bed in my old room Toby quickly returned, meeting me at the door to his bedroom. I knew better than to just walk right in to his room, especially when there was something in there he wanted to surprise me with, so I had waited, not wanting to be the cause of one of his infrequent but infamous meltdowns.
‘Dinner will be ready in five minutes,’ my mother cheerily said as she passed us, on her way back to the kitchen, while Toby was pushing me through the doorway of his room, before pointing to the shelves which housed his precious model collection.
I could see right away that there were some new additions since my last visit, which had actually been last Christmas, now that I thought about it, but there was one which stood out above all the others. In the centre of a shelf at about eye level there was a sailing ship, which looked suspiciously to me like Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, though I didn’t want to let on straight away that I had picked it. Instead I took a long look at them all, standing there scratching my chin for a few moments, before eventually picking up what looked to be a Viking warship. It was one I didn’t think I had seen before.
‘Must be this one,’ I said to him.
‘Nooooo, not that one. That’s a Viking warship.’
After taking a closer look at it I put the model back in its place.
‘Okay then,’ I said, returning my attention to the shelves, before selecting a hovercraft. ‘This one then?’
‘Nope. Wrong again!’ he exclaimed.
‘Well, you’re going to have to show me then!’ I replied, which I knew was exactly what he wanted to do.
With a shit-eating grin on his face he reached forward and picked up the HMS Victory, the identity of which was soon confirmed.
‘This one!’ he triumphantly proclaimed as he showed it to me. When I reached up to take it from him he quickly pulled it back.
Okay then, I thought. This one is a bit too precious to let just anyone touch it, not that I blamed him as the detail was incredible and every piece was perfectly painted, as is the case with every piece in his collection.
‘What’s it called?’ I asked him.
‘It’s the HMS Victory. You heard of it before?’ he replied, before starting to recite the vessel’s history.
‘Yeah, I think so. It looks amazing,’ I responded, while he gently returned the model to the shelf and positioned it in exactly the right spot.
As he was doing so he asked, ‘You see Charlie yet?’
‘No, not yet, mate. I’ll go see him tomorrow.’
‘You gotta go see him. Charlie’s sad. You gotta make him happy again.’
‘What do you mean, Toby? Why is he sad?’
‘Because his mumma died and he’s all alone.’
* * * * *
The news hit me like a punch in the guts. I had known them both since I was a kid, yet nobody had bothered to let me know that my best friend’s mother had passed away! Un-fucking-believable!
Charlie had been an only child, his father having pissed off when he found out that his seventeen-year-old girlfriend was pregnant; at least that was the story according to Charlie. His mum, Claire, had done her best to raise her son on her own, but it was always obvious they were struggling. She was like a second mother to me, yet I always found it strange that even my own parents barely ever spoke to her. Claire was probably not of the right class, if you know what I mean.
Leaving Toby in his room I stepped out into the hallway. I could hear my parents in the kitchen, talking, so I marched down there to confront them. They both turned to look at me as I entered the room.
‘Dinner’s nearly ready, dear,’ my mother said.
‘Suddenly I’m not very hungry,’ I responded. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about Claire?’
‘I’m sure we told you, darling . . .’ mum started to say.
‘No, Toby just told me… and that’s the first I’ve heard of it. I bet Charlie thinks I’m a total asshole now for not even bothering to contact him.’
‘That’ll be enough of that sort of language,’ my father rebuked me.
‘Oh, Jesus dad. Can you just hear yourself? I just find out someone I’ve known almost my entire life has died and my best friend is all alone in the world and all you’re worried about is a swear word! How long ago did it happen?’
‘It was some months ago,’ my mother offered, somewhat meekly. ‘I’m sure we . . .’
‘No mum. Sorry, but you didn’t.’
By this time Toby had joined us and was standing at the doorway looking worried.
‘Did I do something wrong?’ he asked, sounding anxious.
‘No mate. Not you,’ I answered, before glancing back at my parents and saying, ‘Can I borrow the car please? I need to go see him.’
Reaching into his trousers pocket dad pulled out the keys and held them out for me.
‘Thank you,’ I said to him as I took them from his hand and headed for the door.
* * * * *
The first place I tried was Charlie’s home, which was just a couple of blocks from ours. When I pulled up outside his front gate I noticed there were no lights on, but I thought I should try the front door anyhow.
As I walked up the front path I could see that in comparison to the last time I had been here the yard had been let go, with the grass now long and with weeds growing through cracks in the path. It saddened me to think that Charlie no longer cared about such things, as he had always been quite fastidious about doing ‘his part’ for his mother. I know that I had helped him out often enough with looking after the place. Some of my favourite memories were of us working together, shirtless throughout the hot Australian summers, our bodies glistening with sweat and his mother bringing us drinks which we would enjoy in the shade of a large tree in their front yard.
When I reached the front door I knocked a few times, but no one answered, nor was there any sound coming from inside. I tried the front door handle and it opened easily, which was pretty much standard for this small country town, where everyone knew each other and seemed to leave homes and cars unlocked. I can tell you that that sure as hell wasn’t how things worked in the city I had been living in.
‘Anyone home? You there ChaCha?’ I called out, using the nickname I had christened him with when I was about eight years old, just to make sure.
There was only silence.
Closing the door I retreated to the car and tried to think of where next to try, settling on the petrol station for starters, just in case he was actually working tonight, then maybe the pub or the beach or the lighthouse; places where we both used to hang out together quite a bit before I did a runner and left for the big smoke.
On driving through the petrol station I could see that there was a woman behind the counter inside, so I didn’t bother stopping, pulling back out onto the road and heading down Main Street for the pub. Pulling up outside a short time later, parking on the road that followed the canal to the lake, I could see that it was a quiet night as there were very few cars around or anyone milling about on the street. I hoped that I wouldn’t run into anyone else that I knew well and thankfully when I went inside my fears were allayed, with the half-dozen or so people that were propping up the bar mostly being people I didn’t know, while those that I did know simply gave a nod and returned their attention to their beers.
‘Where next?’ I wondered as I headed back out onto the street, before deciding that I should check the path from the lake to the beach, which ran along the canal. From there I could check the beach before coming back to the car.
It was still just light enough to see and looking along the path I couldn’t find any signs of life so I quickly headed for the beach, half hoping but not really expecting anything. True to form I drew a blank there as well, so it was back to the car.
The lighthouse was my next choice so I got in and started up, then pulled out onto the road. As I was already facing the lake I just followed the road, turning right when I reached the next intersection to head back north. As I was about to turn again near the main car park, so that I could get out onto Lighthouse Road my lights flashed over the picnic tables under the trees that ringed the park and I thought I spotted something there. Pulling into the nearest parking space I got out and quickly headed for the tables, hoping that the silhouette I thought I saw wasn’t a mirage.
If it wasn’t Charlie then I’m sure that whoever it was would be in for a surprise at seeing some stranger emerge from the near darkness, but the closer I got the more relieved I became. It was him, chilling out on the seat of a picnic table, gazing out over the dark waters of the lake, a bottle of something in one hand.
He hadn’t seen me yet, so I stopped before I reached him, just taking in the scene for a few moments before eventually he must have sensed someone was close by and he looked directly at me. A strange expression came over his face as he must have finally recognised me, but I couldn’t tell if he was happy to see me, pissed off that I had disturbed his solitude, or if he just couldn’t care less about my return.
‘Hey, mate,’ I offered as he looked away from me. ‘You okay?’
‘Just dandy,’ he replied, the bitterness in his voice sharp, before he put the bottle to his mouth.
‘Forgive me if I find that one a bit difficult to swallow,’ I said. ‘You look like shit!’
As I took the last few steps and sat down beside him he looked at me but remained silent. Reaching out for his bottle I took it from him and put it to my mouth, taking just a small mouthful of straight bourbon. It stung. It has been quite a while since we first shared a bottle – not that it had happened often. I think we were about sixteen years old that first time. It tasted like shit then, and it tastes like shit now.
Handing him the bottle back I said, ‘I just found out about your mum. I’m so sorry, mate.’
I could tell by his expression that he didn’t believe me.
‘I’m serious. No one had ever told me. I would have thought that you might have told me . . . you know I would have been there for you.’
Not far away I could hear waves crashing on the beach. Somewhere there were birds screeching, while in the background there was also some music playing. It could have been a band at the pub, or just someone who liked their music loud, it was hard to tell. This had been the soundtrack of so many of our Friday nights during our teenage years.
‘You’re not bullshitting me?’ he asked after a few moments and another draw on the bottle.
‘No. I’m dead serious. I had no idea at all. Toby told me when I arrived home tonight. I know that we haven’t exactly been that close recently, and I’m sorry for that too, but I want you to know that if there’s anything I can do you just have to say the word.’
I sensed, more that saw, him shrug his shoulders, before eventually he got to his feet.
‘Think I need to get home,’ he said, swaying slightly.
It looked like our reunion had run its course.
‘Can I give you a lift?’ I asked.
He stopped for a few moments, his shoulders slumped and his whole body looking, I don’t know, maybe like it was deflated.
‘Nah, I’m good,’ he said, before heading off into the night.
For as long as I could I watched him as he merged into the shadows. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of his silhouette as he passed near a street light, or he got caught in the headlights of a car, but then he was gone.
‘Yeah, it was good to see you too,’ I said quietly to myself, knowing full well that it wasn’t meant as a put down. I meant it.
* * * * *
Before I headed home I did a couple of laps of the block that Charlie’s house was in, which wasn’t far from mine, just to make sure he made it home. His lights were on, so at least he had got there in one piece and hadn’t fallen in the lake or been hit by a car. I was tempted to call in and see if he was okay . . . I even pulled up on the street outside for a little while as I contemplated this . . . but he had made it pretty clear he wasn’t interested in socialising with me at the moment so I continued on home.
My family were all still up, watching The Last Jedi on TV, when I arrived home. Apparently Episode 9 was about to be released in the cinemas so all of the movies in the franchise so far were getting a run once again. Charlie and I were both fans of the series, even if it had originally begun at a time when our parents were just kids themselves and we hadn’t even been thought of.
‘Your dinner is still in the oven,’ my mother said as I stopped at the doorway. I nodded and mumbled thanks as a battle raged in a galaxy far, far away.
Whatever was happening on screen was nothing compared to the turmoil that was going on inside my head. I know I had hurt Charlie when I left town, and for that I would always feel like an asshole.
‘Did you see Charlie?’ she enquired.
‘Yeah, I found him eventually. He’d been drinking and it didn’t go too well.’
‘He does that a lot,’ Toby remarked. ‘You need to make Charlie happy again.’
I glanced at my father and saw him studying me carefully. The last time Charlie and I had been happy he had voiced his disapproval in no uncertain terms.
‘I’ll talk to him again tomorrow. Right now I just want something to eat and to then go to bed,’ I said to them before heading down the hallway towards the kitchen.
* * * * *
We had been fifteen years old when Charlie and I had first kissed. Not that long ago really . . . less than ten years . . . but it seems like so much longer than that.
I can’t remember what it was that I had been upset about at the time, but Charlie tried to comfort me by giving me a hug and in doing so he kissed me on the cheek. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, but it didn’t upset me as my upbringing told me it should have. It actually felt nice to know that someone cared, so I kissed him back. It was just a peck really. On the cheek, just like he had given me, but one thing led to another and it wasn’t long before we were exploring each other’s mouths and gasping for air as we fumbled our way through the awkward teen ritual of a first kiss.
In the days and weeks that followed nothing was said about what had happened, as we both knew the consequences of anyone finding out, not to mention our own confusion over what had happened, but it was inevitable that we would eventually cross that line once more. And cross it we certainly did; along with every other line we had ever been warned about!
By now we were sixteen years old and carrying on a relationship that we had both been raised to believe would land us in hell, or worse; if that was even possible. As much as I cared for Charlie I lived in fear of us being found out. He didn’t seem to have that same problem, however, because he was in love, or at least that was what he told me.
That in itself was enough to scare the bejesus out of me. At the time it was also enough for me to want to back away from being in any relationship at all, although the joy of sex seemed to override all logic and we continued to see each other as more than just friends. I guess our relationship could be summed up by that old saying about ‘the little head doing all the thinking for the big head.’
That applied more to me than to Charlie, I think. I’m pretty sure Charlie knew exactly what he was doing.
I don’t recall if our parents ever found out about us, as nothing was ever said; officially that is. I do recall, however, that there did seem to be an increase in ranting and raving from my father at about this time in my life, about ungodly and immoral and indecent behaviour. My suspicions were that he knew about us and that was his way of voicing his disapproval. He could certainly be a strange one, my father.
By the time Charlie and I finished high school things were beginning to change. I was looking outward, thinking about the future, while Charlie seemed content with the status quo. It led to us having some major disagreements, to the point that we sometimes wouldn’t talk to each other for days on end, but somehow we always seemed to get over these rough patches. The part where we kissed and made up was always something to look forward to.
Having finished school it would soon be inevitable that our futures would become the main topic of conversation. Charlie had a part time job at the petrol station and seemed content to cruise through life, which my father found incomprehensible and he constantly used him as a bad example in the numerous lectures he gave me.
‘You’ve got to get a trade,’ he always used to say to me. ‘Get your hands dirty and learn something that will never go out of fashion . . . you’ll never want for a job that way!’
Apart from my friendship with Charlie my other passion was computers. I was always fiddling with them, fixing them, building them, learning about them. My father would just shake his head at me when I would try to explain that this was a trade . . . a trade that would never go out of fashion . . . the trade of the future.
No matter how hard I tried to explain this to him he just couldn’t see it.
That was when I got offered a job in the city and left town. I packed my bags and headed south, setting out to make my own way in the world. Leaving my family behind. Leaving Charlie behind.
Charlie pleaded with me to stay. I asked him to come with me. But there was no middle ground. We parted ways and that was the end of us.
I have missed him every day since, but most of all I have missed his feel, and his touch, and his laughter, and his love.
God, I’ve been such a fool. I needed to tell him that.
* * * * *
Sleep was hard to come by as I thought of Charlie being alone in that house. There was an aching feeling inside me that was gnawing away at me, something that I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. I think the last time was when we had first started fooling around and that was with a mix of excitement and dread. This time it was just dread, and the feelings were strong.
Sometime after midnight I heard the sound of my door opening and rolled over to see Toby sneaking into my room, just like he used to do when he was ten years old and was scared about something. Moonlight was flooding through the window and I could see him standing there, looking nervous, wearing only his boxer shorts.
‘Are you awake, Kieran?’ he said softly.
‘Yes, mate. Come on over,’ I replied, throwing back the sheet that was covering me. Quickly he crossed the floor and got into bed beside me, instinctively lying on his side with his back to me. I threw the sheet and one arm over him, pulling him close to me.
‘That feels nice,’ Toby said as we spooned together, just like we had done in the past. He wasn’t ten years old any more, of course, but it still felt natural and good.
‘Yeah,’ I whispered. ‘I’ve missed this.’
Some minutes went by as I laid there listening to his breathing and taking in his freshly showered scent. I figured he must have gone to sleep, but then he asked me a question which surprised me..
‘Did you and Charlie do this sometimes, you know, when you had sleepovers?’
‘That’s a strange question to ask, mate.’
‘I think it might make Charlie happy again, that’s all,’ he replied.
Jesus. Did he know about us? And if so, then how much did he know?
‘I know you kissed him sometimes. I saw you.’
Okay. So now I knew.
‘What were you doing spying on us?’ I gently teased. There was no way I could be mad at him for that.
‘I . . . I . . . I wasn’t spying. Honest!’
‘Shhhh . . . it’s okay, mate. It doesn’t matter.’
‘It’s okay, Tobes. Let’s just go to sleep, eh?’ I said, while lightly ruffling his light brown hair and at the same time thinking I would need to quiz him some more in the morning. Had he ever mentioned this to mum or dad, I wondered?
Eventually, comforted by having somebody next to me, I managed to get to sleep. I slept soundly, dreaming of friends and family and feeling content at having them near.
I woke to the sounds of birds outside my window and noises coming from the kitchen. Toby had already left my bed and I thought I could hear him talking to our mother in the kitchen. So after pulling on some shorts and a t-shirt I wandered out to see what they were up to.
‘Good morning, darling,’ my mother said when she noticed me standing in the doorway.
Glancing at the clock on the wall I noticed it was already past nine o’clock.
‘Your father has already started his holidays, so he has headed for the golf course. Would you like some breakfast, or some juice?’
‘Just some juice, thanks,’ I replied as I ran my hand back through my uncombed hair.
‘Did you sleep well?’ she asked as she handed me a glass.
‘Not really. Someone we know snores.’
We both looked at Toby, who just grinned back at us.
‘So, what are your plans for today?’ my mother asked.
‘Want to go and see Charlie first up. After that will depend on what happens this morning.’
‘Well, we’re heading into Mac. Harbour if you would like to come along.’
‘What, no school for the brat?’
‘Holidays!’ Toby trumpeted, while thrusting his fists into the air.
We all laughed.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I need to try and get through to Charlie. Like Toby said, he needs some cheering up.’
‘Well, good luck with that. Call us if you need anything.’
‘Will do. Right now I need a shower first,’ I said, before downing the last of my juice and then placing the glass in the sink.
Back in my bedroom I picked out some clothes, then grabbed a fresh towel and headed for the bathroom. It felt good to be home, back in the environment that I grew up in, but my own worries were still not far from my conscious thoughts. First off I had to break the news to my parents. Then I needed to come up with some sort of a plan. Do I go back to the city and look for another job, or do what my father would be expecting and come home with my tail between my legs?
Maybe there could be some jobs going in Macquarie Harbour? I made a note to go there and check out the job agencies in the next few days.
By the time I had finished my shower and dressed, mum and Toby had already left, so I set off on foot to walk around to Charlie’s place, which was just a few blocks away, facing the lake.
It was a warm summer’s morning and by the time I got there I had already raised a sweat.
His mother’s old Toyota was still in the driveway and the front door of the house was closed. I jumped up onto the landing outside the front door and knocked three times. There was no answer so I tried the door handle. Just like last night it was unlocked, so I opened the door and went inside.
‘You home Charlie?’ I called out.
I noticed that a couple of lights were still on, so he had either been up early and turned them on, or they had been on all night.
‘Charlie? You home?’
Switching off the hall light I checked the living room, which was empty, then started towards the kitchen, which was the first room on the left as I started down the hall and then opened back out into the living room, where a dining table stood. There was a stale smell in the air and the place would only get worse as the day heated up outside. The house could do with being opened up for a day or three, I thought.
Charlie’s old bedroom was the first on the right when going down the hall and it was the first place I looked. No sign of him there, it looked no different to the last time I had visited, so I continued down the hall toward the bathroom. Just as I did so I heard a muffled sound coming from the direction of the bathroom, so I ran those last few steps to the doorway, only to be shocked by what I saw.
Charlie was sprawled out on the floor, wearing only his boxers, his body and face appearing to be covered with vomit or something.
‘Fuck! Charlie! What the hell have you done?’ I cried as I dropped beside him. Reaching for the side of his neck I felt to see if there was a pulse, which I found, though it seemed quite weak. Quickly I tried rolling him onto his side, while reaching up and grabbing a towel from the rack and then started wiping his face and trying to check his airways. I was worried that if he had vomited already he might do so again and if he wasn’t in a position that would let him spit it out he might choke.
Reaching up toward the basin I wet the towel under the tap before going back to work trying to clean him up. He groaned a couple of times, but his body was basically limp and he offered no resistance to what I was doing.
Satisfied that he was basically stable I then pulled my phone from my pocket and unlocked it, then dialed triple zero, the emergency line.
‘Triple Zero. What is your emergency?’ a woman asked.
‘Uh, hi. I’ve just found my friend passed out on his bathroom floor,’ I frantically said. ‘It looks like he’s vomited.’
‘Is he breathing, honey?’
‘Yes. He has a pulse. He’s groaned a little. I’ve turned him on his side and checked his airways.’
‘Okay. That’s good. What’s your address please? I’ll get an ambulance on the way as soon as I can.’
I gave her the address and she repeated it back to me, before telling me again that an ambulance would be on the way soon.
‘Now, honey, has he fallen and hit his head, or has he been drinking, or has he taken anything that you know of?’
‘He . . . errr . . . was drinking last night,’ I said. While I was saying this I looked around the bathroom. It was then that I noticed a pill bottle on the floor beside the toilet bowl. Picking it up I read the label. It said Diazepam. ‘Oh, shit.’
‘What’s wrong?’ the lady asked.
‘I found a pill bottle . . . and some pills on the floor. It says Diazepam. The label on the bottle says it was made out for his mum.’
‘Is it full or empty?’
‘Empty . . . apart from the few on the floor.’
‘Okay then, I’ll let the paramedics know that. They are on their way.’
‘Please tell them to hurry,’ I pleaded with her.
One of the many things you forget about when you live in small backwater towns is that there just aren’t the facilities and services available here that there are in the city, so we didn’t end up with the paramedics after all. There was an ambulance in the town, which was based at the hospital, it arrived about fifteen minutes later with one ambulance officer and a nurse from the hospital.
They found me wild-eyed and fearful, cradling Charlie’s head in my lap on the bathroom floor and quickly kicked into emergency mode, gently extricating him from my hold before going about their business, taking vital signs, sticking needles into him and pumping him with God only knows what. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched.
The nurse looked at the bottle I handed her. She said it was an old prescription, so chances are the bottle may have been half empty already, and being that old the medicine could have possibly lost some of its effectiveness as it was. To be on the safe side they said they would take him to the local hospital for examination by a doctor and overnight observation anyhow.
‘He’ll be okay,’ the ambulance guy said when he saw me about to say something. ‘We’ll have your boyfriend back to you in no time at all.’
For a moment what he said didn’t register, but then it eventually dawned on me. Boyfriend? Is that what they thought Charlie was to me?
At any other time in my life I probably would have denied it, made a song and dance about not being gay, but right now I just didn’t care about any of that shit. We are all who we are meant to be, and if people didn’t like that then they could go to hell as far as I was concerned.
They loaded Charlie into the ambulance and sped off toward the hospital, leaving me standing at the front door of his house. For a few moments I stood there, struck dumb by the speed of what was happening, but then my brain seemed to click into gear. No matter what happens, I figured, I needed to be with Charlie. I needed to be the first person he saw when he woke up.
Running back inside I went in search of the keys to his mother’s car . . . his car now, I guess. They were sitting on the sideboard in the main bedroom, along with his wallet, some loose coins and some folded pieces of paper. Grabbing the keys and his wallet, which for some reason I figured he might need, I headed for the car, all the while dialling my mother’s phone number as I went.
She didn’t pick up and the call went to voice mail.
‘Mum, it’s me. Charlie has just been taken to hospital in an ambulance. I’ll explain later. I’m going there now. Please call me! I . . . I don’t know what to do!’
The car started straight away and I quickly backed out and zoomed off in search of the hospital, which was located just on the other side of the canal in the middle of town, perched on Hospital Point and looking out over the lake and the town. It had originally been the location of the first house that had been built by the towns founders, who themselves were buried in the grounds.
Heads turned as I sped through town. I fully expected some flashing red and blue lights to come after me, but I managed to make it to the hospital entrance without mishap. When I pulled up outside I could see the ambulance backed into the emergency entrance so I found a parking space and entered the building.
In comparison to most others, ours was only a small hospital, with only the basic facilities needed in order to service a town such as ours. There was a small emergency department, a ward with a handful of rooms for those who required hospitalization, plus another wing which was essentially a nursing home housing the elderly or those needed long-term care. The one thing which made our hospital different from most others were the magnificent grounds in which it was housed and the old buildings that had once been the home of the most wealthy residents in the district.
The last time I had been here was when I was sixteen years old and had broken my arm playing sport.
As I entered the emergency department I found the reception counter which was being manned by one of the nurses.
‘I’m looking for Charlie Holley . . . he was just brought in,’ I said to her.
‘Oh, right. Is that his name? He’s still being assessed,’ she answered. ‘Are you family?’
‘No, he’s . . . a friend. I . . . I found him this morning and called triple zero. Is he okay?’
I felt anxious and worried out of my brain. I guess it showed.
‘Okay then, honey. How about you take a seat in the waiting room and I’ll see what I can find out for you,’ she said, while pointing to an alcove off to the side with padded seats and a low wooden table covered with old magazines.
Somewhat reluctantly I went and sat down. I was too tense to be able to do anything. I fiddled with my phone. I flicked through a magazine, before throwing it back on the table. I got up and walked around the small room, then sat down again. Thankfully my phone rang a few moments later. It was my mother.
‘What’s happened? Where are you?’ she asked.
‘I’m at the hospital. When I went around to Charlie’s this morning I found him passed out on the bathroom floor.’
‘Oh, no. Is he okay?’
‘I don’t know. He’s still being assessed. They haven’t told me anything yet.’
‘Mum . . . there’s something else. I found an empty bottle of pills next to him.’
‘I’m on my way.’
* * * * *
A doctor came out a short while later and spoke to the nurse behind the counter. She pointed in my direction and the doctor looked my way. He seemed rather young, but he looked like he cared. How I came to that conclusion I have no idea.
He came over to me.
‘I’m Doctor Grant,’ he said, as he offered me his hand, before sitting beside me. ‘They tell me you found our young patient this morning?’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘I would say he’s going to be okay. He’s stable at the moment and there’s no sign of any damage, though we will keep him in overnight for observation, just to be sure.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘The nurse and the paramedic said that you told them he’d been drinking last night, and when you found him this morning there was an empty bottle of pills nearby.’
I reached into my pocket and brought out the empty bottle, which for some reason I had picked up when I left the bathroom earlier.
Doctor Grant took it and examined it.
‘Diazepam. This can have dangerous side effects when mixed with alcohol. Fortunately I don’t think your friend took too many of these, though. Who is CLAIRE HOLLEY?’
‘Do you know where she is? Can we get hold of her?’
‘Errr . . . no. She passed away several months ago. He’s alone.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’
An awkward silence passed between us.
‘Can I see him?’ I asked.
‘In a little while, perhaps. In the meantime, would you be able to help our nurses with some details about our patient?’
‘I’m sure you would have everything on file already,’ I replied.
‘That may be so, but we always need to update our records, so if you can tell them what you know that would be a help to us.’
‘Okay. I guess.’
‘Thank you. I’ll ask her to come and talk to you, then.’
Without another word he got up and walked back to the nurse’s desk, just as my mother and Toby came hurrying in. They spotted me straight away and came over, both looking concerned.
I stood and hugged my mother, then Toby.
‘Okay, so what happened?’ mum demanded.
‘It’s like I told you on the phone. I found him passed out on the floor, with this beside him,’ I replied, while holding up the pill bottle. ‘The doctor just told me that he should be okay, but they are going to keep him overnight for observation.’
‘And what about you? How are you doing?’
‘Honey, I know about your . . . let’s just call it your history, okay?’
Instantly I felt the blood drain from my face and my head start to spin.
‘What? I mean . . . how?’ I stammered before collapsing back onto a chair.
‘Sometimes we mothers just know things, honey. And I’m fine with it,’ she replied, sitting down on one side of me, while Toby sat on the other side. ‘You don’t have to worry about anything . . . at least not from me.’
‘Did you say something?’ I said to Toby.
‘No. Honest, I didn’t,’ he squeaked.
Putting my head in my hands I started rocking back and forth, not knowing what to think. I had just been outed by my own mother. That wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Was it?
‘It wasn’t Toby,’ my mother stated firmly. As she did so she started rubbing my back. ‘I’ve known for a long time that the two of you were more than just close, but then you seemed to drift apart a little, and I’m not sure why that was. I was sure that you would work your way through it though.’
‘Yeah, a great job I managed of doing that.’
‘Was it something to do with you leaving for the city?’
I could only nod.
‘Okay, so now, before you go back, you try to fix things,’ she reasoned.
Fuck. And now for bombshell number two.
‘I . . . don’t think I’ll be going back,’ I said.
Her raised eyebrows invited me to continue.
‘I’ve been made redundant. Actually, there were nine of us all together, all at the same time.’
‘So that’s why you came home a bit early?’
‘Well then. Looks like you’ll have plenty of time to work on Charlie over Christmas and New Year!’
I could only shake my head.
‘I don’t think he’s interested. When I found him last night down by the lake he was hitting the bottle pretty hard. We talked briefly. He didn’t believe that I didn’t know anything about Claire having passed away. He didn’t want anything to do with me really. I watched him stagger off into the night.’
‘I drove past his house afterwards. He got home okay as the lights were on inside. I thought about trying again to talk to him then, but in the end I thought it would be best if I let him sleep it off. Maybe that wasn’t such a smart idea though . . .’
‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, Kieran. We can’t control what goes through other people’s minds.’
‘I guess not.’
Just at that moment the nurse came over to us, carrying a clip board and a pen.’
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, but I need to get some details for our admission records please.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I replied.
* * * * *
It was about three hours later when I was finally allowed to see Charlie. Three very long hours of waiting and worrying and trying to think of what I should say to him.
Mum and Toby left not long after we helped the nurse with the admission forms, telling me they would be back later on.
We had managed to talk some more and for once it felt good that I could talk about something that had long been considered taboo in our family. Trying to talk to my father about this would be something else entirely, however. We both knew that.
I told her about my relationship with Charlie and about how and why it had ended the way it did.
‘I was a fool to leave here,’ I said to her.
‘No you weren’t,’ she replied. ‘You needed to do that so you could eventually see where you really needed to be. You needed to get away for a while in order to open your eyes as to what you really wanted out of life.’
‘Mum, I’ve lost my job . . . how am I going to get anything out of life without a job?’
‘That doesn’t matter. Something will turn up. First you’ve got to help Charlie and sort yourselves out. We’ll worry about everything else in the New Year, after things have settled down a bit.’
She stood up, getting ready to leave and I did the same. We hugged. It was the first time in a long time that I had hugged anyone like that. It felt good.
‘And don’t worry about your father, dear. I’ll talk to him first. You know him, he’ll probably blow a gasket, but by the time you get home I’m sure he’ll have settled back down and you two will be able to have an honest chat about things.’
I wasn’t too sure if that would really happen, but by the time mum and Toby left me I was seeing my mother in a whole new light.
They let me in to see Charlie later in the afternoon. I sat down in a chair next to his bed. The room was dark as the curtains were drawn and I couldn’t tell if he was awake or not. Thankfully the second bed in the room was empty.
I sat there not knowing what I should do, or if I should say something, but eventually he rolled his head in my direction and in a croaky voice he said, ‘Hey.’
‘Hey, yourself,’ I replied, while sitting up and leaning closer. ‘You gave us quite a scare, mate.’
‘Yeah, right. I thought you might have at least shown just a little gratitude.’
‘For what. Everyone automatically thinks the worst. Maybe they should have just left me there.’
‘Jesus, Charlie. What sort of an attitude is that? Don’t you care about anything any more?’
‘You done? I want some sleep,’ he spat back at me, before rolling over and turning away from me, leaving just his bare shoulders showing.
If I didn’t care about him so much and if I wasn’t feeling so guilty about having left him alone last night I would have got up and left him then, but I couldn’t do that. He was my best friend for fuck’s sake. And beside that . . . I loved the guy, as hard as that has been to accept.
I wasn’t going to give in to him, but I wasn’t going to give up on him either.
I sat there until it was beginning to grow dark outside, just listening to him breathe and watching the rise and fall of his body. Apart from that he hadn’t moved all afternoon. Either he really was asleep or he was awaiting a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar.
When it sounded like he really was beginning to snore I decided it was time to go. There wasn’t anything more that I could do today.
Getting to my feet I headed for the door, before stopping and looking back at him.
‘I’ve been a fool, Charlie,’ I said to him, almost certain that he wouldn’t hear what I had to say. ‘I should never have left here. I should have never left you. We all make mistakes and that was my biggest. I’ve missed you every damn day!’
There was no response from the bed, but now that I had started I felt I needed to continue.
‘I didn’t think I’d ever be able to tell you this, but I was more scared of what other people would think than I was about what you would think, or how you would feel. And that was so wrong. You were right back then when you called me an asshole, and if you were awake now I’m sure you’d be right again if you called me that now. I deserved it.’
I stopped for a moment while I thought of what else to say.
‘I’m sorry about everything I’ve ever done to upset you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t here for you when your mum passed away. I love you, man. Always have and always will. I’m not going back to Sydney, I’m going to hang around here for a while, so I just hope you’ll give me the chance to prove it to you once more.’
That was enough, I figured, so I left him then and walked down the corridor, passing a nurse who was standing at the doorway to another room and must have heard everything, and then out into the evening. I had gotten all that off my chest and felt better for it. Now I would just have to say it again when he was awake.
What I couldn’t know right at that moment was that Charlie had been awake and had been listening to me the whole time, with tears rolling down his cheeks and dampening his pillow. It would only be later that he would tell me this.
He finally knew that someone really did care about him.
* * * * *
After leaving the hospital I stopped in town, firstly at the petrol station where Charlie worked, just in case he was supposed to be on tonight, then I grabbed something from one of the shops on the boardwalk, as I hadn’t eaten all day. I found a table and spent some time just staring out at the lake and thinking about what had happened today. I needed some time alone, just wanting to try and figure out where we went from here. Somehow I needed to get the message through to Charlie that I still cared about him and hated seeing him like this. We had shared so much together over the years and I was hoping that there would be much more that we could share in the future. For some reason our old tradition of spending some time together on Christmas Eve came to mind.
I knew it was only wishful thinking, especially with Christmas just days away now, but it would certainly be a nice Christmas present if we could get our relationship back on track and pick up where we left off.
While I was sitting there and gazing out at the lights on the far side of the lake, watching their reflections bounce on the water, and juggling my thoughts and squatting mosquitoes, my phone rang several times. I glanced at the number – it was home – but I never answered the calls.
When I made it home some time later and walked in the front door I was met by three faces turning my way; two showing great concern, one much more difficult to read. My mother was the first to say anything, coming to me and hugging me and asking how Charlie was.
‘Not very talkative,’ I replied. ‘I’ll try again in the morning.’
We both looked at my father, waiting for some kind of reaction from him, but there was nothing. The expression on his face gave nothing away as to what he was thinking or how he was feeling. I’m pretty sure mum must have filled him in on what had transpired and read him the riot act. It’s not the first time she’s had to do that.
‘Have you eaten?’ mum asked.
‘Yeah, thanks. I got something down at the boardwalk. I think I’m just going to hit the sack. It’s been a long day.’
Leaving them in the television room I went down the hall to the bathroom where I had a wash, before making my way to the kitchen and pouring myself a cold drink.
Fuck! It really had been a long day. A long and quite stressful day, set to be followed by more of the same tomorrow.
I needed sleep, but doubted it would be possible. I went to my bedroom, stripped down to my boxers and lay on top of my bed, my hands behind my head as I watched shadows and patterns created by the street lights outside dance across the walls and ceiling.
A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and it opened. It was my father. He came in and crossed the floor, before sitting down on the edge of my bed.
‘I don’t want an argument with you, Dad,’ I said, wanting to get in first.
‘You’re not going to get one, son. Your mum,’ he began. ‘She has explained some things to me.’
I said nothing.
‘I know you’ve always been something of a free spirit . . . and I’ll be honest, I’ve never quite known how to handle that, or sometimes even just how to understand you. You were always a good kid, but there was a side to you that always seemed to want to do its own thing.’
‘I’m just me, dad. I think you always wanted me to be someone else though. Sorry if I didn’t measure up, or conform, but I just couldn’t do that.’
‘Yeah, maybe you’re right.’
‘What did mum tell you?’
‘Bloody hell, where do I start?’ he said with a soft chuckle.
‘This thing with you and Charlie. It’s been going on for a while then? I always suspected it, but, I don’t know, I could never talk openly about it. Maybe I hoped it would just be a phase you were going through, or something.’
‘You certainly dropped enough hints. I got the message you didn’t approve.’
‘Didn’t make much difference though, did it?’
‘So what are you going to do now?’
‘Fucked if I know. I guess it’s up to Charlie.’
I could see him tense up when I used the ‘F’ word . . . he had never approved of profanities . . . but he said nothing.
Then I could see him nodding.
‘You’re not going to stand in our way if we get back together?’
‘Would it make any difference?’
‘It’s going to take some getting used to, but I guess it’s your life.’
‘Thank you,’ I replied.
‘So what’s this about your job, then?’
‘Not much to say really . . . it no longer exists. Can we talk about that later? I’ve kind of got other things on my mind right now, like why my best friend drank a bottle of booze and then swallowed a bottle of pills.’
‘Yeah, I guess so.’
As he was about to get up to leave I reached up and put a hand on his shoulder, then I sat up. He turned to face me and I reached out for him. For the first time that I could remember I hugged my father. As I did so I sensed some movement at the open doorway and glancing in that direction I spotted my mother standing there, smiling.
* * * * *
When I arrived at the hospital the following morning, at least partially refreshed by a few hours of sleep, I found Charlie sitting up in bed and eating some breakfast.
He looked up at me in the doorway and our eyes locked. He put the cup of juice he was holding back down on the tray.
‘You weren’t bullshitting me when you said you didn’t know about mum?’
‘No, mate. Honestly I didn’t. If I had known about it then I would have been here, I promise you,’ I replied as I crossed the floor and perched myself on the edge of his bed.
‘I believe you.’
‘Can we talk?’ I asked him. ‘You know, really talk . . . and I don’t mean just about the weather and shit. I want to talk about you and about what happened. I want to talk about us, about what happened between us in the past, and . . .’
‘And what? What might happen in the future?’
‘I didn’t want to go there . . . at least not yet.’
He offered a wan smile then placed one hand over mine.
‘It’s cool,’ he answered.
We both sat there with goofy smiles on our faces, knowing that our relationship was on the mend. I rolled my hand over, allowing our fingers to intertwine. It had been a long time since we had done that.
‘What did you mean when you said you weren’t going back to Sydney?’ he eventually asked me.
For a moment I was surprised, then I remembered everything I had said the previous evening.
‘You heard all that?’
‘Yeah. Every last word,’ he replied. ‘There were a few tears I have to admit, but when I turned over to face you again you had already gone. It was nice to know that someone still cares.’
Just at that moment we were interrupted by someone going ‘Ahem’ in the doorway and turning to look in that direction we found a nurse standing there.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt, guys, but the doctor will be around shortly to talk to you, Charlie. Remember we discussed this yesterday?’
I looked at him and he offered a sheepish smile.
‘I think she’s talking about the shrink,’ he said to me. ‘They want to make sure I’m not going to try to top myself or something.’
‘Charlie!’ the nurse scolded.
‘Well, I already said that I only took some tablets to try and calm down to get some sleep, just like mum used to do . . . how was I to know that they wouldn’t mix with the bottle of bourbon I had already swallowed?’
I had been wondering how I was going to get that information out of him, so I was glad that they saved me the trouble.
‘Well, you’ll just have to tell that to him again,’ the nurse said, before turning on her heels and heading back down the hallway.
‘So that’s what happened?’ I said to him once the sound of her retreating footsteps had fallen silent.
‘Yeah. That was it. Call me an idiot if you want.’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
‘No, you mightn’t, but there’s plenty of others who would,’ he said with a chuckle.
‘So I guess I’m going to get kicked out of here while you get the third degree?’ I asked.
‘I’d say so. You’ll come back after though, right?’
‘Of course. I’ll go and fill the olds in on what’s happening and do a few jobs. Maybe when I come back you’ll know when you’re going to get out of here?’
‘I hope so.’
‘And what happens after that?’ I enquired.
‘Well, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, isn’t it? I seem to recall there’s a certain tradition that we usually observe on that day!’
‘Ha! You really are feeling better then!’ I said, as I stood up to get ready to leave.
‘I hope you’re going to give me a kiss goodbye at least?’ he pouted.
‘Of course,’ I replied, while leaning over him. Cupping his cheek in one hand I pulled him closer toward me and when our lips met everything in the past seemed to be swept away.
* * * * *
Charlie was discharged from the hospital that same afternoon. When I returned to see him a couple of hours later he was itching to get out of the place, so much so in fact that he walked out wearing only what he had been taken there wearing; his Star Wars boxer shorts, although he was at least partially covered by a paper thin blue hospital gown.
I had offered to go and get him some clothes from his place, but he would have none of that. One way or another he was going home right then and there.
Reconnecting with each other would prove to be just the first step for us, but it was an important one. In some respects it felt like we had picked up where we left off, but we both knew that it wouldn’t be quite that simple . . . there were things that we still needed to work through first. We both knew that.
‘So, where to first?’ I said to him, once we had settled into our seats in his mother’s car.
‘Well, dressed like this I think I’d better go home first, don’t you?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I thought we might go get some lunch at the boardwalk or something.’
Smiling to myself, happy that the real Charlie seemed to have returned, I started the car and pulled out of the car park, then headed back through town.
Seeing the Christmas decorations throughout the town, which I hadn’t really taken a lot of notice of to that point, reminded me again that tomorrow would be Christmas Eve. I was torn between things I wanted to do with Charlie and also helping out at home. I figured I would talk to mum about it later and see if there was anything that she needed me to do, as there was bound to be family arriving for lunch, at the very least.
‘I thought, provided of course you felt up to it, we might go to the movies this afternoon,’ I suggested.
‘The Rise of Skywalker?’
‘Count me in!’
‘I thought you might say that.’
A few minutes later we pulled up outside his front door. He nervously looked around to see if there was anyone on the street, not wanting to be embarrassed by being spotted in his hospital attire, but when he was satisfied that the coast was clear he made a break for it and ran inside. I wanted to laugh, but thought better of it.
I had already checked the session times at our small local cinema and we had plenty of time up our sleeve, so while Charlie had a shower I phoned mum to bring her up to speed. I had spoken with her earlier to let her know what had actually happened to land Charlie in hospital, which she was relieved to hear.
We were still talking fifteen minutes later when Charlie came out, showered and dressed and looking like a brand new man. I told mum I had to go, but would see her tomorrow, then disconnected.
‘Geez mate, you scrub up alright,’ I said to him as I looked him up and down. He was wearing blue jeans with a nice button-down shirt with pale grey and pink and white checkers, his short, light brown hair was spiked with some sort of product, and gone was the scruffy stubble that had adorned his face.
‘I guess I have a reason to clean up my act now,’ he said softly while coming over to stand directly in front of me. I was slightly taller than him and as he looked up into my eyes I felt his hands go to my hips, pulling us closer together until our bodies touched. ‘So, now that you’ve caught me, what are your plans, big guy?’
‘Well, I thought a movie and then dinner for starters . . .’
‘Sounds good so far.’
‘Followed by a romantic night in. Then tomorrow, before we have to go to my folks place for Christmas and get dragged into doing all the things mum insists have to be done, including Midnight Mass, I thought we should head up into the mountains to that special place of ours and do that thing we always used to do on Christmas Eve . . .’
‘I like our Christmas traditions,’ he whispered.
‘And let’s make this year one that we’ll never forget.’
‘I think we’ve already done that,’ he said, before placing a hand behind my neck and pulling my face closer to his.
For the second time today our lips met and those same feelings as before flooded through me, only multiplied.
It was like we were sixteen years old again, that feeling of excitement, and of the unknown, of a future that held so many possibilities, it was back, and so were we; only this time there was nothing to stand in our way!