The small group of boys heard the sound of the vehicle long before they saw it. The deep, throaty, burble of the V-8 motor reverberated around the township, the sound bouncing off any solid surface, even before it had come around that last bend in the road before the shopping centre.
'Probably another tourist,' Danny remarked to Nate as they looked up from where they were sitting.
'Yeah, probably some rich dick with two girlfriends and a bunch of surfboards strapped to the roof, thinking he's oh-so-cool,' Nate replied, emphasizing the last few words, while sticking out his chest and theatrically brushing back his shoulder-length, sun-bleached hair as he did so.
'Yeah. The lucky bastard!' giggled Danny, as did the other two boys with them, Pat and Thomas.
It was December, nineteen seventy-five, and while Australia might have been in turmoil, following the sacking of the Prime Minister in the previous month, life in Thompsonville was sweet for this small group of friends. They were all either fifteen or sixteen and enjoying their summer break from school, doing the usual stuff . . . hanging out at the beach, checking out chicks, buying burgers or milkshakes or Streets ice-cream from the corner store, and hanging out at the beach some more.
Yeah. Life really was pretty sweet.
The four boys had been friends for years, having all grown up in Thompsonville. Nate was the cool one of the gang, and with his surfer looks he was quite good looking, and likeable, even if he was most often the ringleader when they all found themselves in trouble.
Danny was also a good looking boy, with his darker skin and brown hair, the tips of which tended to bleach when he spent too much time in the sun. He was also the studious one, the one who did best in school, the one who was always looking to the future and trying to figure things out. ‘We’ve got to have a plan,’ he would often say to his friends, and more often than not he would come up with one.
Danny idolized Nate, and was usually quite patient with Pat (the skinny kid with big ears) and Thomas (the obligatory chubby kid), who were the stragglers; not that bright, ready to be led wherever their friends wanted to lead them, but good and loyal friends nonetheless.
As the oldest and the wisest, Danny almost always had all the answers. But lately something was bothering him, and it wasn’t something he felt he could talk to his friends about.
Suddenly the source of the noise roared around the bend in the road in front of where they were sitting, which was just by the car park near the lake, and just opposite the path which led down through the sparse scrub to the beach, on the other side of the road.
The boys watched in amazement as the shiny Holden panel van, with its burnt orange paint job, flames painted up the sides, and chrome wheels cruised into town. It looked brand spanking new, as if it had just been driven out of the showroom, and they all thought it was just ace.
The boys didn’t even care that there were two surf boards strapped to the racks on the roof.
This was one sweet ride!
‘It’s a Sin Bin!’ exclaimed Thomas as the monster throttled back and slowed.
‘Nah, they call ‘em Shaggin’ Wagons,’ offered Pat as it turned into the gravel car park, just in front of where they sat.
‘My brother reckons they’re called Fuck Trucks,’ Nate solemnly declared.
‘I don’t care what they’re called,’ said Danny. ‘When I’m old enough to get my driver’s license I want one!’
‘What’s the good of you having one? You won’t be able to get anyone to fuck in it!’ teased Nate, his very best friend, thumping him in the shoulder as he did so.
‘Who?’ Thomas wanted to know.
‘Rebecca Harrison . . .’ Danny blurted out, but no sooner than having said it he was cut short by the raucous laughter of his three companions.
‘Rebecca Harrison? Why would she want to fuck around with you? They tell me she’s already dating some eighteen year old who has a car of his own . . . so there’s just NO WAY she’d be interested in that little pecker of yours!’ Nate chided his friend.
‘Who says it’s little any more?’ Danny quietly replied.
Nate raised his eyebrows in his friend’s direction and smiled. ‘Must be all that working out, huh?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ answered Danny.
‘Wait . . . you’ve seen his pecker? When?’ Pat demanded to know, while being urged on by Thomas.
‘And I’ve seen yours too, dick brain! Remember? That time we all went skinny dipping on the other side of the lake! Geez, sometimes you guys can be such morons!’
‘Well, just so you guys know . . . I’m gonna fuck in one of those things one day,’ Danny promised. ‘And when I do, you’ll all hear about it!’
‘You just keep dreamin’,’ laughed Pat. Thomas laughed with him, but Nate just nodded and smiled. He knew that if his best friend had his mind set on something, he most likely did it, or got it. That was just how he was.
Turning their attention back to the new arrival they watched as it cruised past them after turning into the car park. The driver looked young, though it was a bit difficult to tell just how young he might be as all they could see was his head and bare shoulders. He had shoulder length, sun-bleached hair and was wearing dark sun glasses. He gave them a wave as he cruised on by. They waved back. They all thought he looked pretty cool.
When the van pulled into a parking space just opposite them that was when they noticed the sign across the back of it. Sandman it spelled out.
‘What’s that mean?’ Thomas asked.
‘It’s like, the model or something,’ answered Nate. ‘They all have it on them.’
‘Yeah, and it’s something to do with living on the beach, or something like that,’ Danny added. ‘It’s all about that whole surfer lifestyle thing. I was reading about it in the paper.’
‘Man, wouldn’t that be the life?’ said Pat. ‘Cruising up and down the coast, just surfing, picking up chicks and doing whatever.’
‘And where would you get your money from?’ asked Nate, as they watched the driver climb out of his car.
‘I dunno . . . I guess I’d think of something . . .’
‘I know!’ Thomas exclaimed. ‘Pat, you could be a gigolo, and sexy women would pay you bucket-loads to have sex every day!’
‘Fuck, Thomas, have you even looked at Pat lately?’ Nate asked, while Danny chuckled beside him and Pat simply appeared to be pouting.
‘C’mon you guys . . .’ Pat cried. ‘Knock it off! Just coz I don’t look like you . . .’
‘Hey, I know . . .’ Danny said. ‘Nate could be the gigolo and supply the money for all of us to live off! I’m sure there’ll be some rich chick out there who would love a surfer toy-boy! Sounds like a plan to me!’
‘Hey! There’s no way you’re getting’ any of my money!’ Nate laughed. ‘If I earn it, I’m gonna spend it!’
‘Oh well, it looks like we’ll just have to do the best we can with Pat as the breadwinner . . . though I suspect that we’ll probably all starve to death,’ Danny sighed.
As the boys continued to bicker amongst themselves they failed to notice the stranger approach, until he was almost upon them. It was Nate who brought Danny to his senses with an elbow in the ribs. The four boys all looked up at the same time.
‘Hi, boys,’ the stranger said.
‘Hey,’ Nate replied, trying his coolest James Dean impersonation as he leaned back against the back of the seat, both elbows up on the top of the backrest.
The stranger smiled at him. ‘Do you guys know any good places to camp around here?’ he asked.
Danny was looking the stranger up and down, and for reasons he couldn’t quite understand, he was mesmerized by the sight that was before him.
The stranger wasn’t much older than what he and his friends were, maybe eighteen or nineteen, he thought, but everything about him spelt surfer cool. With his beautifully tanned skin and sun-bleached hair, sun glasses now pushed up onto the top of his head to reveal the most gorgeous pair of blue eyes he had ever seen, it was almost as if he were a slightly older version of Nate. But what really caused Danny’s mouth to go dry was the fact this stranger was shirtless, and showing off a smooth, almost hairless body, while also wearing only a pair of cut-off denim shorts with frayed hems, that were tight . . . I mean really tight . . . and showing off a suspicious bulge.
The feelings that were whirring around inside Danny’s head now were the same ones that he had been experiencing recently while he was around Nate. They were feelings that caused his mouth to go dry and something to stir deep down inside him, and they were feelings that he dare not share with anyone, especially Nate. He had his suspicions as to just what those feelings meant . . . he just found it difficult to accept them; at least for now, anyhow.
An elbow in the ribs brought Danny back to the present, and when he glanced at Nate he could see an expression on his face that he couldn’t quite fathom.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘I said he should go and try the caravan park that Scott’s parents own,’ Nate said.
‘Yeah, of course. Best place around here to stay,’ Danny replied.
‘Errr . . . how about free camp sites?’ the stranger asked.
‘You could try Hidden Beach,’ Pat suggested.
‘Yeah, it’s on the other side of the lighthouse,’ Thomas offered, while pointing to the big white tower on the headland to the north of the town.
The stranger looked in that direction and nodded, before turning back to face the boys. ‘Is it easy to get to?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, just head back out of town, then take Beachside Lane, it’s the first to your right after you leave town. A couple of miles along there you’ll find a picnic area that fronts the beach. You can’t miss it,’ Danny said, suddenly emboldened by the fact that they were actually talking to this young god-like creature.
‘Sounds cool,’ the stranger said. ‘Anyhow, my name’s Jake. I’m going to hang around and check the place out for a few days. Maybe I’ll see you guys around?’
‘Yeah, maybe,’ Nate answered for all of them.
With a nod, and then one last glance at Danny, Jake turned and walked back to his van.
The boys watched as he climbed in and started it up, before backing out of the parking space. With a wave for the boys he dropped the clutch and spun the wheels, sending a spray of gravel flying, then headed back out the way he came.
They watched as he headed out of town, at least until he disappeared around the bend in the road, then they listened as they tracked the deep throbbing sound of the engine as it sped along the road, before slowing, then the change of gear, a squeal of rubber on bitumen, then the distant sound of gravel flying.
‘Man, that dude is pretty wild!’ Nate laughed.
‘Yeah. I wonder what he’s here for?’ Danny wondered out loud.
‘The sun and the surf,’ Pat said.
‘And the sex,’ added Thomas. ‘I bet he’s going to root every chick in town.’
‘I bet he’s doing the whole Sandman thing,’ Nate said.
‘Huh?’ said Pat and Thomas.
‘It’s like Danny said . . . it’s all about that Sandman sign on the back of the van . . . livin’ free, surfin’ the waves, picking up chicks, camping on the beach, smokin’ a bit of weed . . . fuck, the dude has it made!’
‘Yeah,’ Danny said. ‘I just reckon he might.’
* * * * *
In the days that followed, the boys saw Jake around town often, and he always made a point of giving them a wave, or stopping and saying hello to them and having a chat. There was a certain mystery about the guy that drew them to him, especially Danny, and when they did stop and chat it seemed to be Danny that Jake focused on, not that he thought any of the others seemed to have picked up on that, thankfully.
Judging by the expressions of some of the older folks in town they boys could see that they didn’t exactly approve of this young stranger, as they looked him up and down or turned their noses up at him altogether. This only piqued the boys’ own interest in Jake, knowing that there was something about him that everyone else disliked, or was at least wary of.
This was really brought home to Danny one night at dinner when his own mother made mention of ‘that new stranger in town with the fancy car looking like trouble’.
‘What do you mean?’ Danny asked her. ‘He seems okay. He talks to me and the other guys.’
‘Yes, so I’ve heard,’ his mother replied, in a tone that in itself reeked of disapproval. ‘But, all the same, I think you should stay away from him.’
‘I don’t understand. Why? Just because some of the old fuddy-duddys in town look down at him . . .’
‘But he’s one of those, Danny!’ she almost whispered, while leaning over closer to him, as if she was afraid to say it too loud, lest Danny’s younger brother and sister might hear.
‘One of what?’
‘A homosexual, dear. You do know what that means, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do, mum. Geez, I’m sixteen. But why would you think that? Have you even met him, or talked to him?’
‘Oh, no dear . . . I’m just going on what people are saying in town.’
‘Then how could you know? How could they know?’ he spat back, suddenly feeling a rage building up inside him that he had never felt before.
‘I beg your pardon, young man!’
‘His name is Jake, mum. And he seems nice. He talks to us all the time and never once has he said anything or done anything that would make us think that about him! And even if he was like that, what does it matter?’
‘Well . . . it’s . . . just not right! And I don’t think you . . .’
‘You don’t think I should what? Talk to him?’ he almost yelled at her.‘Why? He’s done nothing to us . . . it’s just all those old gossips in town who have nothing better to talk about, just stirring up trouble for someone they don’t even know!’
‘Daniel James Anderson! I won’t have you talking to me like that at this table!’ his mother snapped.
‘Good then . . . I’m going to my room,’ he shot back as he pushed away from the table and got to his feet, leaving his much younger siblings cowering in their seats as he stormed out of the room. He was just grateful that his father was away working at the moment, otherwise things would have almost certainly been a whole lot worse. He had no doubt, however, that he would be paying for his little tantrum at a later time.
Later that night there was a knock at his bedroom door.
‘Go away,’ he said, but that didn’t stop the door from being opened and his mother entering his room, looking around her at the clothes and belongings strewn everywhere and grimacing slightly at the sight and smell of her teenage sons den. Danny looked at her, then rolled over onto his side, facing the wall.
‘So, do you want to tell me what that was all about?’ his mother asked quietly, as she perched herself on the edge of his bed.
‘No,’ Danny replied, because he didn’t even know himself why he reacted that way.
‘I’m only trying to look out for you,’ she softly said. ‘That’s what mothers are supposed to do, you know.’
For what seemed like a long time nothing was said.
‘It’s just . . . it’s just that I worry about you,’ his mother said. ‘Your father and I don’t want to see you get hurt, or get in trouble, and . . . well . . . when a stranger comes into town and starts talking to our kids, it’s only proper that their parents should look out for them.’
Danny rolled over and looked at his mother.
‘But how can you even know what he’s like?’ he asked. ‘He’s been nothing but friendly to me and Nate and the guys . . .’
‘But that’s just it . . . sometimes that’s enough of a warning sign in itself, isn’t it?’
‘We all like him. And he’s done nothing wrong . . . so people shouldn’t judge him. All the old farts in this town are just the same, jumping to conclusions when they haven’t even taken the time to talk to him, so what right do they have to do that? You can’t just go around believing everything that they say.’
‘All right then. I guess that’s fair enough. So, what if we give this . . .’
‘Jake, mum. His name is Jake.’
‘Okay, Jake then. You think we should give him the benefit of the doubt?’
‘Yes. I mean, I’m old enough to be able to make up my own mind about things now, aren’t I?’
‘Well, yes, I guess you are. But what if he does . . . something? What then?’
‘Well . . . I suppose then he should get in trouble . . . and I’m sure old Sarge Bailey will enjoy slapping the cuffs on him if he does, but people just can’t go around saying things about him when he hasn’t done anything wrong. That’s just not . . .’
‘Yes, Dan, I get your point. It’s just not right, is it?’
‘No. It isn’t.’
‘Okay then. I promise I won’t say anything bad about Jake to anyone . . . unless he deserves it. But I want you to promise me that you and your friends will be careful, okay? I don’t think I could stop you from talking to him even if I did want to, because I know that you would just do it anyway,’ she said, with just a hint of a smile. ‘So just be careful, and if anything, errrrr. . . strange happens . . . or if he does anything that makes you feel , I don’t know, uncomfortable . . . just promise me you’ll tell your dad and me about it, okay?’
‘Okay then, I guess that’s all I can ask for,’ she replied, before leaning forward and kissing him on the forehead. ‘Now, there’s still some cheesecake left if you want some, but you better be quick, otherwise your brother might get to it!’
‘Thanks mum,’ Danny replied.
With a nod, apparently satisfied that things were as they should be, Danny’s mother left the room. He thought about the offer of the cheesecake, but didn’t think that he wanted to endure the stares, or the scrutiny, from his brother and sister, so decided he would rather stay just where he was. Besides, he had stuff he needed to think about.
For a while he just stretched out on his bed, his hands folded behind his head as he stared at the blank ceiling, turning things over in his mind. For a while now he’d been having feelings that he was finding difficult to understand. Thoughts had been racing through his head lately about things he had always been taught were wicked, and dirty, and were sins, yet, with his best friend being the object of his attraction each time he found it more and more difficult to reconcile any feelings of guilt with the friendship he shared with Nate.
But now, with a head filled with fresh images and desires, and with someone else being front and centre in his mind, he was feeling differently. He had finally recognised that having an attraction to someone of the same sex couldn’t possibly be so wrong if it happened so often, and to so many people. In his mind the old argument about loving someone like Nate, or even Jake -- if anything as far-fetched as that were to ever eventuate -- being wrong in the eyes of God just didn’t hold water, especially when God was supposed to have made us in his own image anyhow!
So, if He made us like this, Danny reasoned, then He must have known what he was doing!
The more he thought about this, the more convinced he became that what he was feeling wasn’t some sick perversion, like society had tried to brainwash us all with from an early age. He knew now just what it was that he wanted out of life, and was determined, one way or another, to explore, experiment, and eventually reach that goal.
With a new sense of purpose, and a smile on his face, Danny reached for the table beside his bed and picked up one of his sketch pads and a pencil.
Drawing, painting and photography were some of his passions, and he was quite good at each of them, so he indulged in these pastimes at every opportunity. Without even giving it much thought Danny started to draw, trying to remember the exact shape of what it was he wanted the finished product to be.
Within a few minutes he had the outline complete. It was the outline of a Holden Sandman panel van, beside which could be seen a young man holding a surfboard.
Yes, the shape was pretty good, he thought. Now for some detail.
* * * * *
It was a couple of days after his little set-to with his mother before Danny saw Jake again.
Danny had been sitting on the dunes near the beach with sketch pad in hand, working on a drawing of some seagulls, when his three friends had joined him. The four friends often spent time together just hanging around the dunes and shooting the breeze; and recently they had a new topic. They had been comparing notes about what their parents had all told them about the new stranger in town -- which was basically for them to steer clear of Jake -- when they heard the now familiar sound of the panel van cruise down Main Street. It was unmistakable. Nobody else around here had anything quite like it.
They looked up and saw the sleek machine pull into a parking space in the car park across the road, with Jake climbing out a few moments later.
Today, Danny noted, he was wearing white shorts and a loose fitting singlet, tie-died pale yellow and green. And he looked hot, he thought; not that he could ever let any of his friends hear him say that.
‘I wonder what he’s up to?’ Thomas said as they watched Jake walk toward a nearby shop. It was just then Jake looked up and noticed the boys and gave them a wave. Nate and Danny waved back, before Jake then changed direction and started across the road toward where they were sitting.
‘All right, we better go,’ Pat said.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Thomas, as he got to his feet and brushed sand off his board shorts. ‘I don’t want to cop another earful from the old man. We’ll see you guys later, okay?’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ replied Nate, who was quietly pissed that his friends were being so gutless. He glanced at Danny and could see that he too wasn’t all that happy about it either. ‘Weak bastards,’ Nate whispered as Pat and Thomas walked away, ignoring the approaching Jake all together.
‘Yeah . . . well . . . I guess I can’t blame them for not wanting to get into trouble,’ Danny quietly replied.
‘Hmmppff . . .’
The boys noticed Jake looking at Pat and Thomas as they walked away. They also noticed the look on his face. It was one of disappointment, but there was something else there, Danny thought. Something like sadness.
‘Hey guys,’ Jake said as he reached them.
‘Hi, Jake,’ Danny said, while Nate gave him a nod.
‘It looks like I must be persona non grata, not good enough to been seen hanging around with, eh?’ Jake asked, while cocking a thumb towards Pat and Thomas, who were by now on the other side of the road and heading for the corner store.
‘What does that mean?’ asked Nate.
‘It’s latin for ‘an unwelcome person’.’
‘Latin?’ Nate said, sounding quite surprised. ‘Where did you go to school at?’
‘A private boys school in Newcastle . . . that’s where I’m from.’
‘I wouldn’t worry about the other guys,’ Danny added. ‘They’ve just been told to steer clear of that new stranger in town . . . just like we all have,’ he added with a smile.
‘Well, I’m glad that not everyone listens to what they are told.’
‘Only sometimes,’ Nate replied, with a cheeky grin.
‘So, what have you been told about me? I bet all the old fogies think I’m an axe murderer, or a drug dealer, or something worse.’
‘Oh, no, nothing quite that bad,’ Danny answered.
‘Well, that’s a relief. But they’ve obviously got me pegged as something, though. So, what then?’
Danny and Nate glanced at each other. Should they tell him, they both wondered?
Eventually it was Nate who decided to be brave enough.
‘They saying you’re a . . .’
‘A dope smoking homo,’ Nate blurted out quickly, suddenly embarrassed by having to say it, yet relieved that it was finally out there and that Jake now knew what it was that people were saying about him.
For the few seconds that Jake stared at them, apparently shocked by what he had just been told, the boys thought they were going to be in trouble, but then Jake smiled and started chuckling to himself.
Once more Nate and Danny glanced at each other, not quite sure of what was going to happen next, but as Jake’s mirth grew louder, so too did their relief, until finally they also joined in and were laughing along with him.
A short while later, once they had all recovered, a more somber note returned. The boys were curious to know if there was any truth to the rumours, but weren’t quite sure if they should ask or not.
Jake looked at them and smiled. ‘So, I guess you want to know if any of it is true or not, huh?’
‘I . . . errr . . .’ Danny stammered.
‘It’s okay, guys. I’m quite happy to level with you. You’ve been good to me so far, so you deserve to know.’
Another glance passed between the two boys.
‘So, what is it?’ enquired Nate. ‘Were the old farts right?’
‘Pretty much,’ Jake answered.
‘About which bit?’ urged Danny.
‘Well, I don’t think you guys will try and bash me in a back alley or anything, so I don’t mind telling you. The answer is all of it. Yes, I’m gay. And yes, I don’t mind smoking a bit of weed every now and then . . . but that’s it, nothing else.’
‘Holy shit!’ Nate exclaimed. ‘For real?’
‘Yeah, mate. Scout’s honour!’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a gay guy before,’ Nate whispered.
‘Well, you probably have, actually. Gay guys are everywhere, even in little places like Thompsonville.’
‘Especially in little places like Thompsonville,’ Danny added, to which Nate raised his eyebrows at his friend. ‘You’ve heard all those stories about some of those Thompson guys down through the years, haven’t you? Apparently there have been heaps of them around here who liked fooling around with other guys! Like those two old guys who lived out at the dairy on Junction Road . . . one of them was a Thompson. He went away to the first world war, leaving his boyfriend here, then when he came back he found his boyfriend had almost gone mental with worry . . . although they did eventually get to live happily ever after.’
‘Well, there you go,’ Jake said. ‘It seems I’m not so different from some of the locals after all. Does that worry you?’
Nate shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Not really. To each his own, I guess.’
‘And what about you, Danny?’
‘Nah, it doesn’t worry me,’ he said with a grin.
Jake smiled back at him and for just a few moments they held each other’s gaze. Nothing was said, but something definitely passed between them; an understanding, a feeling, the likes of which Danny had never experienced before. They could relate to each other.
Thankfully, for Danny at least, it didn’t appear to have been noticed by Nate.
‘So, how come you’re here in T’ville?’ Nate asked their new friend. ‘Don’t you have a job or something?’
‘Well, that’s kind of a long story . . .’
‘We’ve got all day,’ Nate cheekily replied.
It was about then that Jake noticed the sketch pad sitting in the sand beside Danny. ‘You like to draw?’ he asked. ‘So do I. Mind if I have a look?’
‘Sure,’ said Danny, as he picked up the pad and passed it over.
Jake looked at the seagulls that Danny had been working on that morning, raising his eyebrows slightly as he did so.
‘I draw and paint as well, and I think that’s actually pretty good,’ Jake said to him.
Jake then flipped through some of the other drawings in the pad, pausing every now and then, smiling and nodding, before moving on to the next one. When he stopped and appeared to be staring at one drawing in particular Danny was a little worried. He thought he knew which one it was.
‘I really like this one,’ Jake said, as he turned the pad around to show the boys.
‘Yeah, you would!’ teased Nate.
It was a sketch of two very young boys on the beach, which Danny had drawn a few days earlier. The boys couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. One was wearing just a pair of underpants and was digging up some sand with a small plastic spade and bucket. The other was wearing nothing at all and sitting down, his legs stretched out in front of him, while he played with a pile of sand in front of him.
‘It’s my favourite too,’ Danny replied, silently thankful that he hadn’t reached last night’s drawing of the Sandman panel van and the surfer. Maybe he would show it to him later?
‘Oh geez, don’t tell me you’re a bloody homo too?’ Nate laughed, while punching his friend in the shoulder.
Danny’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t say anything. How could he answer that and possibly lose his best friend forever?
Sensing the awkward moment and how it might affect Danny, Jake stepped in and said, ‘How about I buy you guys some fish and chips for lunch, that’s if you’re game enough to be seen with me, and I’ll tell you all about how I ended up here in T’ville, as you call it.’
‘That works for me,’ Nate replied.
‘Yeah, that would be good. Thanks,’ added Danny.
‘Great. I saw some picnic tables over the road at the park around the lake, where we can find some shade.’
* * * * *
While Danny and Nate found a spot at a picnic table beneath the shade of an old Moreton Bay Fig tree, Jake strolled down to the boardwalk and ordered their feast, coming back a short while later carrying a large parcel wrapped in newspaper, along with some bottles of soft drink.
He had ordered up, as he figured they would be there for a while as he told his story, and besides, he was beginning to really like these boys and wanted to get to know them better. Having someone friendly to talk to in town was also so much more appealing than having everyone turn their noses up at him, or him spending all his time alone, with just a sketchbook and painting supplies to keep him company.
There was also another reason why he wanted to get to know them. He was beginning to see quite a lot of himself in Danny, so this was a friendship he wanted to cultivate; not necessarily for any purposes that could find himself in strife with the locals, but simply because he liked the kid. He had also seen Danny’s reaction when he had told them that he was gay, and something told him that they had more in common than just drawing, so even if nothing developed between them in that respect, he figured Danny could still do with a friend who might understand what he was going through.
‘So, how old are you?’ Nate asked, as he reached for a handful of hot chips.
‘How old do you think I am?’
Nate cocked his head sideways and looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up. ‘Oh, I dunno, maybe about twenty, I reckon.’
‘And what do you reckon, Danny?’
‘Nah, not twenty. Maybe eighteen or nineteen.’
Jake grinned. ‘I’m nineteen,’ he replied.
‘So, what about the Fuck Truck? How can you afford that?’
‘The what?’ Jake laughed.
‘The Sandman panel van . . . that’s one of the things they call them,’ Nate cheerfully replied. ‘You fucked anyone in it yet?’
‘Oh, Jesus! You’re not backwards in coming forward, are you?’ Jake said with a laugh.
‘Don’t worry about him, he’s like that all the time,’ added Danny. ‘You kind of get used to him after a while.’
‘Quite a long while, I’d say!’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ said Nate. ‘But you still haven’t answered my question.’
‘Which one . . . there were two, if I’m not mistaken?’
‘Well, the answer to your second question is no . . . not yet.’
‘And the first one?’
‘Well, that’s the long story.’
‘Go on,’ urged Nate.
‘I’m what you call the Black Sheep of the family. Have you heard that expression before?’
Danny nodded, but Nate simply shrugged his shoulders.
‘It means I’m the odd one out in my family . . . something of an outcast . . .’
‘Because you’re gay?’ Danny asked.
‘Partly. It’s also because everyone in my family is, like, high achievers. Dad is a doctor. Mum is a solicitor. My older brother is studying law, and my sister wants to be a doctor, like dad.’
‘So, what do you want to be?’ Nate enquired.
‘An artist. A surfer. A traveler. They can’t understand that, so I’m something of an embarrassment to them.’
‘That sucks,’ offered Danny.
‘It certainly does, mate.’
‘So, what about the car?’ Nate urged.
‘Well, because they don’t really want me around . . .’
‘What? They kicked you out?’ asked Danny.
‘No, not quite . . . it’s more like they encouraged me to go and do what I wanted to do . . . in their own way of course. They bought me the van and they give me some money every month, which is way more than I really need, just so I don’t hang around and embarrass them. If I turn out to be a total failure at everything I do, then I won’t be around for everyone to see it . . . and if I do become a successful artist, like I hope to do, then I’m sure they’ll step in and take the credit and tell everyone how they nurtured me and supported me and encouraged me to chase my dreams.’
‘Christ, talk about having two-bob each way,’ Nate spat.
‘Yeah, it’s a bit like that.’
‘And you don’t mind that?’ asked Danny, sounding quite incredulous.
‘Actually, no, I don’t,’ Jake laughed. ‘Not now, anyhow. I mean, at first it felt like I was being kicked out, and that really upset me at the time, but when I sat and thought about it I realised that they were actually doing me a huge favour. I get to do whatever I want to do, and go wherever I want to go. I get to see some great places. I get to surf some great beaches. Then I paint them, or photograph them, and I get to meet some really interesting people . . .’
‘And some arseholes too, I bet?’ Nate suggested.
‘Yeah, well there is that, but everything else kind of makes up for it I reckon.’
‘So, what about your paintings?’ asked Danny. ‘Will you show us some?’
‘Sure. They are all stashed in the back of the van . . . but why don’t you guys come out to the beach tomorrow where I’ve been camping? I’ll show some of them to you then.’
The two boys looked at each other. They were both wondering exactly the same thing . . . could they trust their new friend? And what would everyone else think, or say, if they knew they were going out to meet him there?
This time it was Danny who made the first move. ‘I’d love to,’ he replied.
Nate nodded and shot him a smile.
‘That’s great boys. I think we’re all going to be really good friends.’
‘I hope so,’ Danny replied, although he did miss the curious expression that Nate shot him as he said it.
The boys got to their feet and thanked Jake for buying lunch.
‘Anytime, guys. It’s been a pleasure.’
‘What time should we go out tomorrow?’ Danny asked.
‘Oh, just whenever . . . just provided it’s not too early.’
‘Okay, we’ll see you then,’ before giving him a wave and setting off back toward the shops.
‘Oh, and Danny, if I show you mine, you’ve got to show me yours,’ Jake added, before they had gone too far, and with just a hint of a lascivious smile. It was his first attempt at trying to flirt with Danny, but it seemed to be lost on the kid.
‘It means he wants to see some of your paintings, too,’ Nate replied, grinning. ‘Or at least I hope that’s all he meant.’
* * * * *
They found Pat and Thomas down by the beach later that afternoon and suddenly they wanted to know everything they could find out about Jake, despite the fact that they had scurried away at the first sighting of him earlier in the day.
Nate and Danny were ready for them, however, as they knew that their families would be trying to extract as much information as they could. It was Danny who came up with a plan to throw them off the scent, with a suggestion that they tell their friends that Jake was actually a journalist from some high-powered city newspaper who had been sent off by his bosses to drive around Australia and find hidden holiday spots which could be used in a special feature they were going to run. Jake was to write the stories and send them in, along with some good photos.
The boys figured that by telling Pat and Thomas, for starters, it would get back to their parents that very night, then it would only be a matter of time before it was all around the town. Maybe then all the old foggies might just think a bit differently of Jake? Or would they?
By the time the boys had told Pat and Thomas all they could think of to tell, it was growing late, so it was time to head home. After farewelling his friends at the edge of town Danny trudged the short distance to his home. When he arrived at his house he found himself in for several surprises, the first of which was his father’s Kenworth prime mover parked in their driveway.
‘Oh, shit,’ he thought, as he trudged up toward their tired old house, feeling every bit as tired himself. That wasn’t a good sign.
When he went inside he found his younger brother and sister watching some cartons on the family’s black and white television, but his parents were nowhere to be found. He knew where they would be, of course, which was quickly confirmed when he went to go into his room and found that the door to his parents’ room was closed, and muffled sounds were coming from behind it.
He knew what that meant and smiled to himself. After more than a week on the road there were certain things that his father would have missed, and it was almost always the first order of business when he arrived home after these long trips. It also meant that with his father now satisfied, he might be tired, but he would be in a better mood than he otherwise might have been, so maybe the shit pile that Danny thought he would find himself in for the way he spoke to his mother the other night, might not be quite as deep as he had first thought it could be.
Still smiling to himself he crept into his room and dropped his belongings onto his bed, then crept back out again, trying not to imagine what was going on next door, but at the same time not being able to do anything but imagine just that when he heard the squeaking of bedsprings and the girlish giggle of his mother.
Thinking it best not to tempt fate, he decided to head back outside, where he felt sure he could find something to do that would help take his mind off what was happening inside the house.
He went down to the shed, where he knew there were some things he needed to pack away, after he had been rummaging around in there a few days earlier. He figured that would help him take his find off things of a more carnal nature, but it was no use. The sounds that had been coming from his parents’ bedroom, coupled with the thoughts that he had been thinking all day while in the presence of both Nate and Jake, were simply too strong to keep things at bay, and pretty soon he found himself with a hand inside his shorts, giving the beast within a workout, as Nate had so eloquently put it.
It wasn’t long before he found himself focusing on one sight that had been burned into his memory today . . . that of Jake climbing out of his van and shortly afterwards walking towards their little group.
He was seeing it now in slow motion. Jake was simply gorgeous. And that look he gave Danny when they had been talking about Jake being gay, and Danny saying it didn’t bother him . . . that was a real moment . . . like Jake could almost see right through him . . . and that remark about ‘if I show you mine, you show me yours?’ Just what was that about?
The more Danny thought about it, the more sense it was all making. Jake knew that he was gay too, and that both scared and excited Danny, excited him to the point that he had to quickly pull down the front of his shorts and with a loud grunt he soon sprayed his pent up seed up against the side of the cupboard where the spare tins of house paint were stored, adding a fresh splash of a pale colour that you probably wouldn’t ever find on a colour chart at the local hardware store.
That felt so much better, but it was only moments later when he was plunged into the depths of despair.
‘Feel better now, son?’ a voice from behind him said.
Danny froze; with fear, with embarrassment, with humiliation. He was unable to move. One hand was still holding down the top of his shorts, while the other was still holding onto his rapidly softening penis. He could even feel his juices on his hand as it continued to leak.
Fuck! How could he ever face his father again?
And just when he didn’t think it could get any worse, it did, when he felt his father’s hand come to rest on his shoulder.
‘It’s okay, Dan,’ the man said. ‘We all have to do it. It’s even good to do it.’
Danny was shaking like a leaf. He wanted to run. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. But all he could do was stand there with his eyes closed, afraid to even look at his father.
‘Just clean yourself up, mate, then come up to the back verandah. I think it’s time I bought you your first beer. I also think there’s a few things we need to talk about.’
Then he was gone.
He could hear his fathers’ retreating footsteps . . . and was that? Was he chuckling to himself? What the fuck was with that?
After a short while he finally managed to recover some of his senses. There was a rag on one of the benches, which he used to wipe down his manhood and his still trembling hand then he pulled up his shorts, leaving his t-shirt hanging out, so that it might cover up any tell-tale leakage.
The last thing he wanted to do was face his father, but he knew it would be futile trying to avoid him. It was going to be awkward . . . it was going to be beyond awkward . . . but there was no getting around that, he knew, so after wiping the tears from his eyes, using the sleeves of his t-shirt, he took a chance and looked out the shed door, while making sure he kept himself out of sight.
His father was sitting on the verandah at the back of the house, sipping on a can of beer. There was another can sitting on a small table between the seat upon which his father was sitting and the other seat on the verandah.
His dad wanted a chat, and he suspected that he knew what it would be about.
For a few moments more Danny took some deep breaths, hoping that would steady his nerves, but when he held a hand up in front of his face he could still see it trembling.
‘Fuck it!’ he quietly, but forcefully, said. Then, after taking a deep breath he took the plunge and walked out of the shed and headed for the house, all the while keeping his head down, unable to bring himself to look at his father.
‘Danny, my man!’ his father said, while holding out the can of beer, as his son climbed the steps and crossed the verandah. ‘Damn, it looks like you’re just about all grown up now.’
Danny certainly didn’t feel grown up. And if the old man thought that giving him a can of beer was going to make a difference he was going to be sadly disappointed.
‘Thanks, dad,’ Danny mumbled, as he took the beer and sat down, still without even having looked at his father.
‘You don’t have to be embarrassed, mate. That’s all just a part of growing up. Every guy that was ever born does it . . .’
‘But . . .’ Danny somehow managed to say, before cutting himself short.
‘But what? You think that you’re the first person to ever get caught doing it by one of his parents?’ his father laughed. ‘Shit mate, you’ve still got a bit to learn. Go on, open your beer and have a drink with your old man . . . you deserve it.’
Reluctantly Danny obeyed, first pulling the tab from the top of the can, then raising the can to his lips and tasting a small mouthful of the cold liquid it contained.
It wasn’t the first time he had ever tasted beer, but it was the first time that his father had ever offered him a can. He had decided long ago that he hated the taste of it and he would never be a beer drinker, which he knew would be yet another thing that his father would eventually be disappointed in him about, but for the sake of trying to keep his father happy right now he felt he didn’t have a choice to do anything but swallow it.
As the cold liquid slid down his throat he couldn’t help but grimace.
‘There you go,’ he heard his father say. ‘That’ll put some hair on your chest!’
Danny certainly hoped not . . . he liked his chest just the way it was.
The two of them sat there in silence for a few moments more, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts, but eventually it was his father who broke the deadlock.
‘You know, son, I don’t think we ever had that birds and bees talk that most parents have with their kids.’
‘Do you think we need to? I mean, you’ve obviously figured out what that thing is for . . .’ he chuckled.
‘No, sir. I think I’m all good,’ Danny hurriedly answered, hoping to God that this conversation didn’t go any further. Nervously he swallowed another mouthful of beer. This one didn’t taste any better than the first.
‘That’s good,’ his father said. ‘It’s a bit of a relief actually . . . talking about this kind of stuff was never something I thought I’d be good at . . . that’s probably why I haven’t said anything before today.’
‘And as for what I saw out there in the shed . . .’
Oh, God, Danny thought!
‘You probably don’t want to hear about the time I caught your Uncle Mike doing that either, do you?’
‘No. Not really,’ Danny answered.
‘Nah, I didn’t think so,’ his father chuckled, before taking another swallow from the can of beer he was holding.
Danny did the same, although it was more of a sip than a swallow. This stuff was tasting worse with every drop.
‘Anyhow, that’s not really what I wanted to talk to you about,’ his father continued.
Danny glanced across at him, finding his dad studying him carefully.
‘W-w-what do you mean?’
‘You’re mother was telling me about this new guy that was hanging around in town, that you and your friends have been seen talking to.’
Danny said nothing. He swallowed hard. He just knew that something was coming, so he waited for his father to continue.
‘Apparently you got a bit worked up the other night . . . do you want to tell me what that was all about? There’s probably not much I can do about it now . . . and even if I thought you deserved the old strap or something as punishment you’re just about big enough to be able to knock me down now anyhow, so what would be the point.’
Danny could only look away as he tried to give himself a few moments to gather his thoughts, before then looking down at the can he was holding in his hands.
‘I . . . I . . . I’m sorry I yelled at mum, b-b-but I didn’t think it was right . . . what everyone was saying about Jake,’ Danny said.
‘Yeah, mum and all her friends . . . she tried telling me they all thought he was a homo and on drugs . . . and they hadn’t even met him . . .’
‘So, you were defending him?’
‘Well . . . somebody had to . . . it just wasn’t right.’
‘But were they right? I mean, you’ve met him, and you even know his name, so do you think he’s like that?’
‘N-no,’ Danny replied, while hoping like hell that his father didn’t pick up on his hesitation.
‘I see. So what is he like then?’
‘He’s okay. He seems nice, but we’ve really only talked to him a few times. He likes painting and drawing too, he was telling me about it when he saw my sketchbook today when he said hello to us. I let him have a look through it and he liked my drawings.’
For a few moments they remained silent, each taking another sip of beer as they thought things over. Danny was still trying to figure out the change that had come over his father, because on any other day the punishment for what he had done would usually be the leather strap he kept in the bedroom, or something worse. Maye he was waiting for later, Danny thought.
It was right at this moment when Danny received the final surprise of the afternoon.
While Danny and his father were still on the back verandah, talking, they had heard the phone ring inside. They heard their wife and mother answer it, and then spend some time chatting away to whomever it was, before finally she hung up.
Moments later she pushed open the squeaky screen door and appeared on the verandah.
‘Oh, there you both are!’ she said. ‘Dan, you didn’t tell me that your friend Jake worked for a newspaper!’ she added.
‘Nate and me only found that out today,’ he answered, somewhat defensively. At the same time he was quite chuffed that their piece of deliberate misinformation had made it back to them so quickly. Maybe their little plan just might work after all. ‘He’s on some assignment apparently, writing travel articles and taking photos, so that’s why he’s camping out and laying low . . . so he could be just like a normal person, instead of having people all try and impress him with stuff so the stories would sound better.’
It had taken him and Nate a while to perfect their story, and the more he heard it the more convinced he was beginning to feel that it would work. He reckoned they had better fill Jake in on it tomorrow, just in case someone asked him about it on one of his trips into town.
‘Well, I have to admit that sounds quite important. Maybe everyone was wrong about him after all?’
‘See, that’s what I was trying to tell you, mum,’ Danny said, and as he and his father exchanged glances, which was followed by a wink from his old man.
* * * * *
Danny couldn’t get out of the house quick enough the next morning, just in case his father changed his mind about any punishment for his words of the other day. He needed to talk to Nate as soon as he could and tell him about his father arriving home and about what his mother had said after the phone call the previous evening. Everything else that had happened, however, he would definitely keep to himself.
After throwing a couple of his sketch pads into a backpack, along with some snacks and a towel -- because who wouldn’t go to the beach and at least take a swim -- he headed out to the shed to find his bike. The tyres needed some air, so he quickly pumped them up, then jumped on and rode out of the yard, listening to his father still snoring as he rode past his parents’ bedroom window, while smiling to himself.
He had never in all his life been as embarrassed as he had been yesterday afternoon, after having his father catch him in the shed in the act of jerking off, but at least nothing more had been said about that, so he figured things would die down. He was still a little concerned about the story he and Nate had concocted surrounding Jake, however, and so he was quite keen to get out to the camp site so that they could give Jake a heads-up, just in case.
As Thompsonville was a relatively small place the boys usually tended to walk quite a bit, rather than bike. That was also, at least in part, because neither Pat nor Thomas owned a bike, but today they wouldn’t be seeing those friends, and so their bikes would definitely be needed to ride the few miles out of town to Hidden Beach.
When he arrived at Nate’s he found him still having breakfast, but it didn’t take long for him to scoff that down then, after checking the tyres on Nate’s bike as well, they set off, following the road out of town on a beautiful clear morning.
‘So, what sort of mood was your old man in when he arrived home?’ Nate asked him as they passed the sign at the edge of town.
‘Okay, I guess. We ended up sitting on the back verandah talking, and he even gave me a beer.’
‘For real? I wish my old man would let me have a beer every now and then.’
‘What for? It tastes like crap!’ Danny laughed.
‘Yeah, well, the old man says it’s an acquired taste . . . so maybe you’ve already acquired it?’
‘Maybe,’ Nate agreed. ‘Was anything said about Jake?’
‘Yeah, he wanted to know what happened when me and mum had words the other night. I expected to get a strap across my bum, but he said I was probably big enough to be able to knock him down these days anyhow. Instead he asked what happened and why I got uppity, and when I explained my side of the story he seemed to understand.’
Danny had told his best friend about what was said between him and his mother, so Nate already knew what that was about. What he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fill him in on was everything else that had happened last night.
They turned onto Beachside Lane and Danny stood up on his pedals and started pedaling faster, fishtailing through the loose gravel on the edge of the road and calling out to Nate to catch up, which he quickly did. With the sun on their faces and the wind blowing their hair back, they felt like free men, setting off on an adventure, where they would be able to do whatever they pleased and answer to no one. They were both laughing as they rode along, trying to swerve in front of each other, or shower the other with gravel. They both felt that this was going to be an awesome day.
The picnic area for Hidden Beach was almost at the end of Beachside Lane, with a short road turning off and leading through some scrub, opening out onto a large car park which looked down over the beach. There were a number of covered picnic tables, as well as a barbeque area, toilets, and a basic set of outdoor showers not far away, where beachgoers could wash away the salt water after swimming in the bay.
Almost all of the local kids had come out here from time to time, whether for the swimming or for family outings, or for any number of other activities . . . although those were mostly after dark.
When the boys rode into the car park this morning it was almost empty. The only sign off life they could see was Jake’s campsite set up as far away from the entrance as possible, with his panel van parked amongst some spindly looking trees, with two surf boards leaning against it. They could also see a tarpaulin hanging over a rope that was strung between two trees, which they thought would give Nate at least a bit of shelter, but apart from that it was a fairly primitive set up.
They rode across the car park, expecting Jake to hear them and come out and greet them, but when they reached the camp site and came to a stop, there was still no sign of him.
‘Are you there, Jake? It’s Danny and Nate,’ Danny called out.
There was no answer, but they figured Jake wouldn’t be too far away, seeing as his car and all his stuff was still here. Nate dropped his bike and began looking around, while Danny ventured a peek beneath the tarpaulin at where Jake was obviously camping.
Moments later Nate said, ‘There he is.’
Danny joined him as Nate pointed toward the beach, and they watched as Jake walked up between the low dunes, with a towel slung over his shoulder. When he looked up and saw them there he waved, which they returned, however it wasn’t until he was much closer that they realised that the towel was the only thing he was wearing.
‘Fuckin’ hell . . . he’s got nothing on!’ Nate squawked.
Danny couldn’t say anything, as suddenly his mouth had gone dry and his guts were squirming. He also couldn’t take his eyes off Jake as he continued coming toward them. He had never seen a sight that was so breathtaking.
When Jake joined them a few minutes later Nate was looking everywhere but at him, while Danny was studying Jake, and his uncircumcised manhood which was hanging loosely between his thighs and swinging from side to side with each step he took, more closely than ever.
‘Hey boys. I’m glad you could make it,’ Jake said. ‘Sorry if my appearance is a shock to you. Just give me a sec and I’ll pull on some shorts.’
‘That’d be good,’ suggested Nate as the older boy passed between them, heading for his shelter.
Danny wanted to say things looked just fine as they were, but he knew that just wouldn’t do. Instead he continued to watch Jake as he walked past them, while trying not to be too obvious as his eyes now settled on the firm, tanned globes of Jake’s bum before he disappeared beneath his canvas shelter.
Even Nate was having a good look, he noticed, which at least made Danny feel like he was a little less of a freak, but still, he knew that he would need to be careful.
With Jake out of sight the two boys looked at each other. Nate raised his eyebrows, then pulled a face at Danny, before silently mouthing the words, ‘What the hell!’
Danny just shrugged. He didn’t say anything . . . he knew he couldn’t, lest he might give away the feelings of excitement which were now coursing through him. He was just thankful that his t-shirt was hanging loose in front of his own groin, hopefully covering up any evidence of what he knew would be a dead giveaway as to just how he was feeling right now.
* * * * *
When Jake emerged a few moments later, he was wearing the same denim shorts he’d been wearing on the day when they had first met, which seemed like a lifetime ago now.
Danny glanced down and could see the shape of Jake’s penis outlined beneath the taut fabric. He wondered if Jake did this deliberately, showing off his assets like this, or if he just didn’t care. A quick glance at Nate and Danny could see that he had noticed also, but he was finding it difficult to read his best friends reaction.
‘So, I hope you lads didn’t cop any flack over being seen with me yesterday?’ Jake asked them.
‘No,’ Nate answered.
‘No, everything was fine,’ Danny added. ‘But . . .’
Jake looked directly at him. ‘But what?’
‘Well, we kind of told a little white lie about you,’ Nate answered.
‘About me?’ Jake asked, a frown creasing his forehead.
‘Yeah . . . everyone was still talking about you like you’re a . . . I don’t know . . . some kind of monster or something,’ Danny added. ‘So we decided they should know you’re an okay guy and that you’re not some hobo or pervert just passing through.’
Jake was looking a little worried.
‘Okay boys, we better sit down . . . I’m not sure if making up stories about me is such a good idea.’
Without saying another word Jake headed for his canvas home and sat down on the bedroll in which he slept. It was a mattress and some blankets, along with a pillow, sitting on a piece of canvas that was a couple of feet bigger all round than the mattress. The boys had seen these often. When it was time to move on it was simply a matter of folding the sides and ends in, rolling it up and tying a couple of ropes around it, then you were ready to go.
Danny and Nate simply sat on the ground, cross legged, with Danny dropping his backpack beside him.
‘We kind of told our friends, you know, Pat and Thomas, that you were working for a newspaper,’ Nate began.
‘Yeah, and you were writing travel articles about great places to stay up and down the coast that were cheap and welcomed campers and stuff,’ Danny added. ‘And you were taking photos of the places to go in the articles and wanting to meet the locals and stuff, but you didn’t really want people to know . . .’
‘Yeah, so that you wouldn’t be treated special, or different, and you could write about the places just as you saw them,’ continued Nate.
As the boys added their embellishments, and their laying of the trap with their two friends, clearly excited by their invention, Jake’s frown began to change to a smile, and when they eventually finished he was chuckling quietly to himself.
‘So, do you think it worked?’ he asked them.
‘Hell, that’s the best part. When me and dad were having a beer on the back verandah last night . . .’
‘Wait, your dad lets you drink beer with him?’ Jake enquired.
‘It was the first time . . . he said he thought I was getting grown up enough now . . . anyhow, there was a phone call while we were talking . . . it was one of mum’s friends, who was telling her what she had heard about you, which would have had to come from Pat and Thomas. Now even my mum thinks you must be an okay guy!’ Danny boasted.
As Jake shook his head in amazement the two boys grinned at him.
‘Well boys, what can I say? I’m almost speechless.’
‘You just wait ‘til the next time you go into town . . . I bet a whole heap of people will treat you different,’ Nate suggested.
‘Maybe I should take my camera and a notepad and at least pretend I’m writing something?’ Jake wondered aloud.
‘Well, it sure wouldn’t hurt,’ mused Danny.
‘No, mate. I guess it wouldn’t.’
‘Hey, maybe you could really write something and send it and some photos to some magazine or something . . . don’t they pay for stories?’
‘Let’s just not get too carried away with this whole grand plan of yours,’ Jake replied, but even as he said that he was thinking that it actually wasn’t such a bad idea.
As they sat in the shade of the canvas the boys looked around them at what Jake had with him. There was a fold up table, on which there sat a wash basin. There was also a fold up chair, an ice cooler and a metal trunk, currently closed. On the ground there was another piece of canvas being used as a ground sheet.
‘So this is all you travel about with?’ Nate asked, quite curious about the life of a well-to-do vagabond.
‘Pretty much,’ Jake replied. ‘I keep all my other gear locked in the car . . . my cameras and my paints and paintings and supplies. When I’m ready to move on I just pack it all up and away I go.’
‘And what happens if there are storms and stuff and it’s really wet?’ Danny enquired.
‘Sometimes then I cheat and find a caravan park, or even stay in a cheap hotel . . . there’s plenty of both of them all along the coast . . . or sometimes I even stay with friends I meet.’
‘What kind of friends?’ asked Nate.
‘Just friends,’ Jake replied. He didn’t want to tell the boys that they were people he sometimes met who were willing to share their bed for a night or two. They might be okay with him being gay, but these two guys were still only young and no matter how accepting they might be, learning the intimate details of guys meeting and having sex with strangers might be a bit much for them to handle just yet, he thought.
He studied Nate as he had answered him and had a feeling, from his expression, that the boy had a pretty fair idea, anyhow, of what he meant. About Danny, he wasn’t quite sure just yet. He didn’t think that Danny was quite as worldly as his friend, but he also thought that of the two of them it was Danny who was the more curious and the one who would be most likely to understand and even accept his way of life.
‘So, can we see your van?’ Nate asked next, deftly changing the subject.
‘Sure,’ replied Jake. ‘I promised you guys I’d show you some paintings.’
‘He’s the one interested in all the arty-farty stuff,’ Nate scoffed, while cocking a thumb toward Danny. ‘I just want to check out the motor . . . it just sounds so hot when you’re cruising up man street . . .’
‘So, you’re a petrol-head, huh?’
‘Maybe. I do like playing around with motors and stuff . . . . maybe I’ll be a mechanic after I finish school.’
‘That’s a good trade to have . . . people will always need mechanics. What about you Danny? What do you want to do when you leave school?’ Jake asked as he got to his feet.
‘I . . . I haven’t really thought about it much yet,’ Danny replied.
‘Well, I guess you have a little while yet before you really need to think about that too seriously . . .’
‘Yeah, I suppose so.’
‘All right then boys, how about we check out the van, and if you behave yourselves I might even give you a beer.’
‘Beer? Errr . . . no thanks, I’ll be fine,’ replied Danny.
‘What? I thought you said your dad let you drink it?’
‘He gave me one, sure . . . but I didn’t say I liked it, did I?’
‘I’ll have one, though,’ Nate eagerly added.
Jake smiled at him. ‘Of course you will. It’s on one condition, though.’
‘You name it.’
‘You don’t ever tell anyone I gave it to you . . . the last thing I would want is to get in trouble for corrupting a minor.’
‘I think you’ll be safe,’ Danny interjected. ‘He’s already about as corrupt as they come!’
‘And what are you? Mr Goody Two Shoes?’ spat Nate.
‘Oh, I’ll bet young Danny here has all sorts of secrets that you don’t know about yet, Nate. It’s always the quiet ones you have to worry about,’ Jake chuckled.
‘Never mind his secrets,’ Nate replied. ‘I could tell you enough stories about my mate Danny here that would fill a book.’
‘Well, I hope that one day I’ll get to read that one!’
Suddenly Danny felt his cheeks flush as his two companions looked at him. He would get Nate back later; the last thing he would want would be for Jake to find out just what he was like. He really wanted to impress Jake, not have him think that he was some twelve year old school kid!
* * * * *
The boys really enjoyed their morning with Jake, who produced the promised beers, which he and Nate enjoyed, while Danny selected a Coca Cola.
They were given a good look at the car, got to stick their head under the bonnet and inspect the 253 v-8 motor and all its chromed bits and bobs, sit behind the wheel in the soft bucket seats with the motor purring, then put their foot down hard on the accelerator, which deafened them, while also sending plumes of dust billowing out from behind the van, obviously churned up by the twin chrome exhausts which were curved downwards.
Jake was certainly proud of his wheels, keeping it in immaculate order, but he was also happy seeing someone else get some enjoyment from it as well. They were built to serve a purpose, but they were also made to be enjoyed, and judging by the looks on his new friends’ faces, he could see that they were certainly enjoying it.
When Jake opened the door at the rear of the van, with half folding up and half folding down, Danny was gobsmacked by just what the vehicle contained.
They hadn’t been able to see what was in the back when they were sitting in the front, as there was a heavy purple curtain hanging behind the front seats, but when the doors opened they couldn’t believe how much the van contained. There were racks containing Jake’s paintings, along with cupboards containing all his supplies, several metal trunks, a suitcase filled with clothes, and still enough room to stack Jake’s bedroll and the gear he had under the canvas cover which kept him dry.
‘I can squeeze a fair bit in here, but if I want to cart anything else around with me it looks like I’ll have to get a trailer of some sort . . . but that just wouldn’t look cool behind the beast, or at least I don’t think it would.’
‘No, definitely not,’ Nate agreed, as Jake unclipped a lock and pulled out one compartment of the racks which contained Jake’s artworks.
Immediately the boys were taken aback by the splashes of colour they could see on the first canvas to come into view.
‘I promised you I would show them to you,’ Jake said. ‘What do you think of this one?’
It was a vibrant beach scene, done in a style all of its own. There were blues and reds and greens, interspersed with splashes of bright yellow. The palm trees and the people, the waves and the beach and the ocean, they all seemed to jump out from the canvas.
Jake put that canvas aside and pulled out another one, which was equally vibrant and exciting, and then another.
‘Oh, wow!’ was all Danny could say. ‘These are fantastic.’
‘Thank you, my young friend. I’m actually quite proud of some of these . . . but there are still a few in there that I think I need to burn.’
The next painting to be produced was a nude portrait of a young man lounging on a beach, spread out and propped up on one elbow, his flaccid penis hanging loose across the top of one thigh, while he was shading his eyes from the sun with one hand.
The style was totally different to the other paintings, and while Nate could only giggle at the sight of it, Danny felt his throat go dry and the blood rush to his cheeks . . . and other extremities. He thought the painting was simply stunning.
‘What do you think of that one?’ Jake asked the boys.
‘I sure hope he had some sunscreen on,’ Nate giggled.
‘I painted it from a photo I took. His name is Phillip.’
‘One of your boyfriends?’ Nat enquired.
‘Just a friend.’
‘You seem to have a lot of those,’ smirked Nate.
Jake ignored the little dig, instead he turned his attention back toward Danny. ‘So, what do you think of it?’
‘I . . . I don’t really know what to say,’ Danny answered. ‘I’ve n-never seen anything like it before.’
‘But do you like it?’ Jake insisted.
‘Yeah, I do,’ Danny replied. ‘It’s just so . . . so real.’
‘If you take photos of naked guys, where do you get them done?’ Nate enquired. ‘Isn’t it embarrassing, or even against the law or something, going into a photo shop with them?’
‘There are places where you can get them done easily enough,’ Jake replied.
‘I just bet there is.’
‘What’s wrong? Do you have something against naked people? You were born that way, remember?’
‘Yeah, but we get covered over for a reason, don’t we?’
‘But why? The human body is something that can be just so beautiful . . . especially while we’re in our younger years . . . so why should we hide it all the time?’
‘Well, you’re obviously not afraid to let it all hang out,’ Nate shot back.
‘And nor should you be! I don’t want you to think I’m a dirty old perv or anything, and I’m certainly not going to hit on you . . . a guy could get in trouble for that . . . but you’re a good looking guy, Nate; you shouldn’t be afraid to be seen in your birthday suit . . . you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’
‘No, he hasn’t!’ Danny butted in, chuckling as he said it. ‘We’ve all been skinny dipping together,’ he added, earning himself a reproachful glare from Nate.
‘Well, there you go. Maybe it’s just around strangers that you’re bashful?’
‘It’s okay . . . I think I’ll just keep my shorts on,’ Nate grinned at him.
‘Well, suite yourself . . . I guess it’s not for everyone. Maybe you just need some more practice?’
‘We’ll see,’ said Nate.
‘So, guys, what do you think of the idea of me trying to sell some of these paintings around here? Like setting up a stall at some markets or something . . . you do have those around here, don’t you?’ Jake asked.
‘That sounds like a good idea,’ said Danny.
‘Yeah, they have a market for crafts and vegetables and stuff every month,’ added Nate. ‘I think the next one might even be next weekend, before Christmas, so maybe you could try it.’
‘That’s great to know. I’ll have to try and find out about it then . . . it has worked for me in some other places and I usually put all the money from what I sell into a special bank account so I have some for later. It’s not much, but it’ll all add up.’
‘That’s smart thinking,’ Danny replied.
‘It might even give me some present money for when I go home to the folks over Christmas,’ Jake added. ‘Now, Danny, did you bring some of your other works out to show me?’
‘Yeah, I grabbed a couple of my sketch books,’ Danny said. ‘They’re in my backpack.’
‘Well, then, lead on my man. Let us see what delights you have created.’
Danny and Nate both chuckled. There was something about the way that Jake sometimes spoke which was different to what they were accustomed to out here in the sticks. They liked it, even if they didn’t quite understand it. They figured it was probably something to do with the way he was brought up and the fact he went to a toff school.
The three of them headed once more for the canvas shelter, but not before Jake returned his paintings to the safety of the van, then pulled out a large portfolio with a zipper which ran around three edges. When they settled back down Danny opened his backpack and pulled two sketch pads from it, then handed them to Jake.
‘They’re not very good,’ Danny said, rather modestly, as Jake flipped the top pad open.
‘Says who?’ Jake remarked.
‘He’s always saying things like that,’ Nate interjected. ‘Even our art teacher tells him he’s better than everyone else in our class, so you’d think that would count for something.’
‘Well, your art teacher is right. You should consider making art your career,’ Jake enthused. ‘There are lots of commercial options for talented artists that you could possibly consider.’
Danny felt himself blushing once more. Being praised wasn’t exactly something he was used to . . . and if he was being perfectly honest, it was actually something which embarrassed him, even if he was beginning to like the sound of it.
‘How about painting?’ Danny heard Jake ask. ‘Do you do much of that?’
‘A little,’ Danny replied. ‘I like using acrylics, but there are some water colours in the back of the other pad . . . I was just experimenting with adding some washes to the drawings.’
Quickly Jake closed the first pad and started shuffling through the second one, pausing every now and then to study one or another, to look at Danny and raise an eyebrow, before flipping on to the next.
‘See . . . I told you he would like these too,’ Nate whispered.
‘Yeah, I like them very much,’ Jake said. ‘Some could do with a few little finishing touches . . . but overall they are really good.’
‘Thank you,’ Danny mumbled. ‘What sort of finishing touches do you think they need?’
‘Only minor things really. How about I give you a hand fixing a few up?’ Jake suggested.
‘Yeah, of course. It’d be my pleasure,’ Jake replied.
‘Okay then, if you two are going to get all arty-farty in here, I’m going for a swim,’ Nate declared, as he stood up and stripped off his t-shirt, revealing a body that was nicely tanned and toned, which certainly didn’t go un-noticed.
Danny looked up at him and grinned. ‘Why don’t you leave your shorts behind too?’ he cheekily suggested.
‘Fuck you!’ Nate spat, but the grin that followed quickly put paid to any suggestion of there being tension in the air.
The others watched, grinning, as Nate headed outside, before turning their attention back to Danny’s sketch book.
‘How about I grab my water colours and we have a bit of a play with one or two of these?’ Jake suggested.
‘Ummm . . . okay.’
‘Just give me a minute then and I’ll grab my gear.’
When Jake left him and went outside Danny looked once more at some of his water colours, trying to figure out what it was that Jake had been referring to, but despite looking over each of them several times he still couldn’t figure out what he had meant.
A few moments later Jake returned, sporting a grin as wide as could be and carrying out in front of him a pair of blue shorts.
‘These aren’t yours, I take it?’
Danny looked up and smiled. ‘That sly dog! Where were they?’
‘Lying across the bonnet of the van.’
‘He’ll be pissed when he gets back and they aren’t there.’
‘Quite possibly,’ Jake said, chuckling as he did so. ‘Now, I have my paints, so how about we get to work?’
For the next hour or so they went through Danny’s sketch book and took a good look at each of the sketches that he had coloured. Jake pointed out the little things that he thought could have been touched up, which were almost exclusively things like shadows and shading, which would give the finished paintings much more depth. Together they worked on some of the existing ones and touched these up, sitting side by side, their knees and shoulders rubbing together, with neither wanting to move away.
Every now and then they would glance up at each other and smile.
For Danny this was a first . . . he had never worked so closely with someone, while feeling such a connection with them, as the butterflies in his stomach seemed to be multiplying and his palms were growing damp. And for Jake it was almost the same. He was seeing Danny not as a boy, but an attractive and talented young man, and one that he too was feeling a connection with.
He was also fully aware that Danny was young and impressionable, and so he knew he had to tread carefully, lest it might be seen as something other than a genuine attraction.
As they began working on another sketch, with Danny beginning to colour the sand of the beach, Jake reached forward and closed his hand over that of Danny’s, the one which at this moment held a paint brush.
‘You don’t have to be so gentle,’ Jake instructed, as he gently shook Danny’s hand, making the brush jump around on the paper. ‘Make it a bit rough if you like . . . it adds a little depth and character to the scene . . . see!’
Danny glanced up at Jake’s face, but all he could see was Jake studying what he was doing, with his hand still holding that of Danny’s. When Danny looked back at the painting he could see exactly what Jake had meant, but he wasn’t thinking about that though, he was thinking about the hand that was holding his . . . the hand he didn’t want to pull away from, the hand he didn’t want to let go of him. He liked the feel of it and the feelings it gave him.
‘So, does he know about you?’ Jake asked quietly.
‘About your liking guys . . .’
Danny looked up suddenly at his new mentor. Ordinarily he would have been petrified of someone knowing this, or of ever admitting it to anyone, but with Jake things felt different.
‘H-h-how did you know?’ was all that Danny could think of saying.
‘Guess it takes one to know one,’ Jake replied with a smile.
Danny smiled back. For some reason it felt good, now that someone else knew, that he had been able to share his secret, almost as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
‘I . . . I had a feeling that you would know,’ Danny eventually said. ‘I thought that if ever anyone found out I would just . . .’
‘Just what? Want to curl up and die?’
‘Yeah, something like that.’
‘Yeah, I’ve been there,’ Jake replied. ‘But it’s so much easier when you know that there are others like you . . . not to mention what it is like being able to share the feelings that come with keeping it a secret for so long, of having to hold that inside with a fear of anyone ever finding it out.’
Suddenly Danny looked down at his hand, which was still being held by Jake’s.
‘Yeah,’ Danny said, as he studied the soft hands of Jake, which had splashes of paint here and there, while wondering what it might feel like to have those hands touch him in other places.
He moved his thumb and let it brush over Jake’s thumb, just a gentle touch, but one that he hoped would be a signal to Jake that he felt comfortable with what was happening . . . even if his heart was suddenly pumping at a rate never before attained.
‘I thought I would be petrified of telling anyone, or of anyone ever finding out . . . especially someone like Nate, or the other guys . . . but with you it’s different.’
Jake let his thumb brush over Danny’s also. His own heart skipped a beat when the younger boy smiled up at him. He wanted this kid to like him, just as he was beginning to like Danny. This was something totally different to his usual connections and the people he met with. With those it was purely sexual, but right here and right now, Jake was feeling a connection of a totally different kind. He felt that Danny was someone with whom he could share so much more, if only they could have the chance to get to know each other better, and the more he gazed into the handsome young face that was looking back at him, the more he wanted them both to have that chance.
‘You know, it’s not easy being like we are,’ Jake whispered. ‘Especially when there is no one else to talk to. I’ve been through all that . . . I live through that every day . . .’
‘Maybe if you hang around here for a while it won’t be like that . . .’
‘I think I’d like to do that, but I don’t know if I can, Danny. I have plans. I want to see the country. I want to paint it, and photograph it, and I want to meet all of its people.’
‘So you’ve got it all worked out then?’
‘Not all of it,’ Jake replied. ‘But I do know what I want to do with my life . . . at least for the next couple of years . . . unless something else comes up.’
‘Something like what?’
‘Oh . . . I don’t know . . . maybe something like meeting someone special who I want to spend some time with. Maybe then I could change my plans.’
Danny smiled up at him once more. For the first time in his life he saw in his own mind what it was that he too wanted to do, but more than that, he felt a connection with someone who could possibly be more than just another friend. Those thoughts scared him, yet at the same time they excited him in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to explain had anyone asked.
‘Can I ask you something, Danny?’
‘I . . . I guess . . .’
‘Have you ever been kissed by another guy?’
Ever so slowly, Danny shook his head, while carefully watching Jake.
‘Would you mind if I kissed you?’
‘I . . . I guess . . .’ he replied, his heart now pounding faster than ever before.
Jake smiled then leaned in closer, reaching as he did so and placing a hand on the younger boy’s cheek. Gently he brushed his lips across Danny’s, before doing it again, and then again, with each touch lasting just a little longer than the previous one, before finally their lips met in a lasting kiss, each opening up to the other, inviting the other in, and giving in to a mutual desire that seemed to be building between them.