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After We Danced

by Mark Peters

Chapter 3

The sun. The sand. The company. The parties. The freedom. For the few days that we stayed on the Gold Coast, it was all just fabulous. But it was also all too brief.

Matt and I had made our plans, and they were to spend a couple of days with our classmates, then hit the road. In fact, we ended up spending three full days cramped into that small unit with DJ and Hoss, which in itself was fine, except that it ended up being more like a halfway house for wayward ex–school students who were seemingly incapable of stepping out and living their own lives; and that was severely cramping our style.

Don't get me wrong; we had a blast as we went to one party or bar after another – even though I was still underage – but we were just so relieved whenever we got the chance to get out by ourselves. It didn't matter if it was going shopping – which unfortunately seemed to be a lot of looking in auto stores with Matt for things for his car – or taking a walk on the beach, or even just sitting by the pool that belonged to the apartments where we were staying. If we were together, and not a part of a larger crowd, we were happiest.

One place we did find where we could go, however, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't meet up with any of our classmates, and where we could just be ourselves, was a nudist beach about fifteen minutes down the road from our apartment. Neither of us had ever been anywhere near such a place in our lives, but we thought that seeing as this was an adventure, why not be adventurous?

That first afternoon spent on the beach was what you would call a real eye opener. There were people of all ages and shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life, just being themselves. No inhibitions. No hang–ups. It was simply amazing.

At first the whole scene felt rather intimidating for us country boys, and we were reluctant to shed all our gear. The sign did say 'Clothing Optional', so we preferred instead to at least leave our swimmers on. The odd expressions and occasional scowls we received from the beach patrons, however, were enough to eventually force us to lose our inhibitions. As we saw it, we had to get our gear off, or get lost, so we chose the former. I mean, faced with the alternative, which was continuing to hang out with a room full of annoying former school students, there was no choice to make really. But even then, we spent most of that first afternoon on the beach just sitting around watching an endless parade of skin with our knees pulled up to our chests to hide our obvious embarrassment.

Once again, however, we were kidded into getting involved, and we even ended up joining in and playing a few games of naked beach volleyball.


Needless to say, we made more than one trek to that beach in the short time we were on the Gold Coast, and I can honestly say that the more time we spent there the more we felt we had finally found a place where we belonged. It was a place where we felt no shame or embarrassment, a place where no one cared. A place where no one judged us, laughed at us or pointed their fingers at us.

In fact, by our last day on that beach we even managed to follow the lead set by some of the other same sex couples that were there, and believe me there were a few, and managed to take at least one stroll the full length of the beach, holding hands. And what is more, the people around us didn't care. Some people smiled, while some people just nodded at us. But do you know what? No one laughed. Can you imagine how liberating that feeling is for a couple of closeted country lads? I couldn't imagine us doing that anywhere else though – even with our clothes on.

I kept my eyes peeled too, just in case we did happen to come across anyone we knew, and even though there were quite a few young people there around our age, I was pretty sure that we were safe.

For the first time in our lives, we could be just us. And we both remarked that it felt like this huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders.

We also met up with and chatted to a couple of guys our age who were just like us, obviously in love and as it turned out were also from a small country town like ours. It was a great feeling to know that we were not alone.

They came over and introduced themselves just as we finished a walk along the beach, and we found out that their names were Tim and Guy. They were here for the Schoolies week as well and, like us, they had also come to this beach to try and get away from some of their friends for a little while, to have a little time to themselves.

As it turned out they were actually staying in a block of units not far from ours, so we invited them down to our unit to hang out if they wanted, and although they were a little non–committal about accepting our invitation, they did seem interested. We didn't want to push the issue though, so we basically just left it at that.

That night they did come wandering down, and I was pleased that they did. We introduced them to our friends, but not before we had quietly set the ground rules; being that no one was allowed to know anything about any of us being gay. They were as relieved as we were that we all agreed to do that.

All too soon, however, the parties were over, and it was time to leave our paradise. We could have stayed longer of course, but Matt and I really wanted to get away and spend some time together by ourselves and without the shadow of our friends from home hanging over us.

DJ and Hoss wanted us to stay, in fact they pleaded with us to stay, but we told them a little white lie about calling in on some relative of Matt's and then having to get home. We knew that they would be here for at least another week, so we figured there was no harm in that.

Anyhow, we said our goodbyes on the Thursday morning and left our friends behind, looking forward to some quiet times together. As we were driving along Pacific Boulevard, we noticed Tim and Guy just coming out of the entrance to their apartment building, so we pulled over onto the side of the road and gave them a blast of the car horn.

They spotted us and crossed the busy road to say hello.

'Are you guys headin' off now?' Tim asked us.

'Yeah,' Matt answered. 'We're going to see if we can find some place quiet to camp for a few days before we head home.'

'Sounds cool,' Guy said, then turning to Tim he said, 'Maybe that's what we should do?'

'You can join us if you like,' Matt said to them, while looking at me with eyebrows raised questioningly. I nodded my agreement.

'Well, we're booked in here until Sunday, but after that we're free. Do you know where you are going yet?' Guy asked.

'No, we just thought we'd wing it,' I answered, leaning over towards Matt's window.

'Fair enough,' said Tim.

'Have you got a mobile phone?' Matt asked them.

'Yeah,' Tim replied, reaching for his pocket and pulling out a small Nokia.

'How about we call you when we find a spot? If you want to call in and spend some time with us, you're more than welcome.'

'That sounds cool,' they chorused.

We exchanged telephone numbers and said our goodbyes, then pulled out into the traffic, heading south on the first part of our trip home.

There was quite a bit of traffic on the road, seeing as it was always holiday time on the Gold Coast, and so the trip south was fairly steady.

We stayed on the main highway for a while and soon crossed the border back into New South Wales. We had decided to try and follow the coastline as much as possible, rather than just stick to the Pacific Highway. That way we would get to check out and experience some of the smaller towns along the coast, so after checking our map we turned off onto a road that promised a tour of the coastline and a parade of small towns, then just drove.

Once we got off the main drag and away from the main population areas, we found ourselves soon getting lost in the spectacular scenery; wide rivers and dense forests, the rugged coast line, sandy beaches, and lots of small towns and seaside villages.

We stopped a few times and looked around for somewhere to pitch the tent, and thanks to our not being able to find somewhere we thought of as being really suitable we eventually pulled into a caravan park we found on the outskirts of one town, then after finding something to eat we settled in for the night.

The next day we continued our leisurely journey south, but soon found ourselves back out on the Pacific Highway, as that was where the road led us. We could see we were getting close to a town called Macquarie Harbour, and which we knew to be quite a large town at that. It was still more than half an hour away, but just a few miles further south we found a signpost that read Thompsonville Road.

'Want to give that one a try?' I asked Matt. Without saying anything he slowed the car and turned off the highway. I checked on our map and the road led to a town called Thompsonville, which seemed to be close to the ocean, while there also looked to be a lake.

For a while we followed a creek as it meandered its way through the hills, bubbling over rocks, and with green grass growing right to the edge in many places. It wasn't that spectacular, yet in its own way it was still quite beautiful. After a while, however, we left that creek and began to climb through some hills before eventually reaching the summit. We were travelling south, parallel with a distant beach. We hadn't yet begun the descent down Thompson Range, and as I looked out to the east I could see the Pacific Ocean stretching away to the horizon, while in front of us and on the western side I could see the steep and heavily timbered Thompson Range rising up to meet the sky. With the car windows down we could smell the freshness of the forests and listen to the distinctive sound of the lyrebirds that obviously called it home.

Suddenly we came to a sharp bend, causing Matt to brake hard, and as we rounded the corner we knew we were on our way down the side of the range, twisting down the side of the mountain until eventually coming out into rolling hills and open farmland.

'Nice,' I heard Matt say.

'Yeah, it is, isn't it?'

The road took us through some beautiful country, dotted with yet more grazing farm animals, before we came to what the map labeled as Thompson River and began to follow it. As rivers go it wasn't that impressive; it was more of a wide creek really, but it was still picture postcard perfect. After a short distance the road veered away from the river and continued through the lush green farmland.

'It sure is pretty around here,' Matt remarked as we rounded a bend and found a long straight road in front of us.

'We've obviously been hiding for too long up there in the bush. I had no idea there were places as nice as this just a few hours from home.'

'No, me neither,' he replied.

'There you go, just five clicks to the town,' Matt said, as he pointed out a mileage sign on the side of the road. 'Let's see what this one has to offer, eh? I hope there's a nice beach there.'

Looking ahead I could see a single signpost standing at the end of the long straight and I watched it as we drew closer and closer. Before long I was able to read the name that it carried, Beachside Lane.

'That has a nice ring to it,' I said, for which I received a smile from Matt.

Just past the sign the road started to take a turn, with a long sweeping bend to the right. Along either side of the road there started to appear old weatherboard farmhouses, spaced quite a distance apart and surrounded by rusting iron sheds and spacious paddocks, then soon afterwards we came to a sign at the edge of town.

Welcome to Thompsonville, it read. Population 5730.

'Looks like we made it,' Matt said.

'Yeah, but what year are we in?' I joked.

'I guess we'll find out soon enough.'

As the houses started to become slightly more dense, I noticed a couple of roads branch off to either side, along which I could see more homes. Unlike the road we were on, however, these were gravel and not paved with bitumen, which only added to my sense of being lost in time.

We went around another bend in the road, at which point I noticed another road turn off to the left, which was signposted as Lighthouse Road and beneath that was another sign saying Caravan Park.

I pointed it out to Matt, who smiled and nodded and said, 'We better check it out, but first how about we get some fuel and some food?'

'I'm fine with whatever you want to do, babe.'

As we straightened back up, we could see that the road was now leading directly into the centre of the town. It was lined with large trees with deep green foliage and purple flowers, and looked spectacular. There were a few cars on the road and parked along the sides, though mostly older models which had seen better days. Overall, though, with its older style homes and buildings, which mostly appeared in need of a little maintenance or perhaps a coat of paint, the place had an old–world charm about it, which I found quite endearing.

'Ever get the feeling we've gone through a time warp or something?' Matt asked.

'I've been thinking the exact same thing, but in a way it's actually pretty cool.'

'Yeah. I kind of like it.'

Slowing the car down, we came to an intersection on one corner of which there stood a service station, so Matt put on an indicator and pulled in to the petrol bowsers, before stopping the car. It was around lunch time on the day after we had left the Gold Coast, and while Matt filled the Commodore, I headed inside to use the restroom. By the time I had finished and left the restroom I found him waiting at the counter, having already paid for the fuel.

'I've got a local map. Look at this, they've even got a lake in the middle of town,' he said to me as I joined him, while holding the map up for me to see it. 'The lady behind the counter said the caravan park just back up along the road is a pretty good place to stay apparently. And it's right on the beach. There's a boardwalk down along the lake where we'll be able to get something to eat for lunch, or if we don't like that there's the Bowling Club over the road, or the pub on the next corner, or a corner store just a bit further down. How about we check the place out?'

'Sounds good to me,' I replied. I picked up a few snacks from the counter anyhow, along with a couple of bottles of drink from the refrigerator, and paid for them, then we headed back out to the car.

'This place actually looks pretty cool, don't you think?' Matt asked. 'She said there's a big car park down by the lake, we just take the next right. I've got a good feeling about this place, Luke.'

'Me too, babe. Me too.'

Climbing back into the car, Matt started it up and we pulled back out onto the road. At the next intersection we turned right and after a block we came to a large car park on the edge of a sparkling lake.

'Wow,' Matt exclaimed as we pulled into a car space. 'So, this is where everyone hangs out, eh?'

Looking around us we could see quite a few people out on the lake, either on small sailing boats, sailboards and surf skis, or those floating bike type things with inflated wheels and that you had to pedal to get around. There were also a few people sitting around the water's edge, picnicking or lying out on the grass, while some kids also played with frisbees, or their dogs, although by no means was the place overly crowded.

From where we sat, we had a great view of the entire lake and could also see houses dotted all the way around the shoreline, spaced out quite evenly and not built too close together.

'That must be where she said to try for some lunch,' I said to Matt, as I pointed toward what I took to be the boardwalk, running along the edge of the lake to our left. 'Come on, let's check it out.'

We stepped out of the car and started toward the jetty, but when we reached the edge of the car park we came to a signpost, with fingerboards pointing this way and that. The signs pointed to various locations around the area, which were all in relatively close proximity, including the boardwalk, the lighthouse, the beach, the shopping centre and the hospital.

'The boardwalk sounds like the place to be,' Matt said.

'Then what are we waiting for? I'm starving!' I replied, as we headed off in the direction of the boardwalk, which we could was a timber, jetty-like structure following the edge of the lake, and upon which there appeared to be several buildings, which we hoped would be food outlets judging by the tables and chairs set up around the front of them.

After ordering at the first shop we came to, we picked a table close to the edge of the water and sat down to wait for our Fisherman's Baskets. From his hip pocket Matt pulled the map he had picked up at the service station and spread it out on the table between us.

The town wasn't what could be called large by any stretch of the imagination, and it was easy to find where we were sitting on the map, as well as look around us and see all the other landmarks that were shown.

'This is pretty neat,' Matt said to me. 'Everything is all so close together that you can walk everywhere, but it still looks like a sprawling country town.'

Looking at the map it was easy to see the layout of the town and surrounding areas, with the town mostly being built on a spit of land that was just a few hundred metres wide, between the eastern edge of Thompson Lake and the Pacific Ocean.

With the main road into town coming from the north–western side, coming from the mountains that ran parallel with the coastline, it passed through the centre of that land area, with houses built on both sides of the road. These eventually gave way to a shopping centre on the right-hand side of the road, with streets running off in that direction toward the lake. On the left side of the road as you came into town there was a large, older-style barn-type building, which we had noticed housed a mechanic's workshop, then there was a bowling club, complete with well-manicured bowling greens, then an old, country-style pub. The road continued on over a bridge and into South Thompsonville, which was where we could see the hospital was located, along with a fishing co–op and marina set on a small harbour, all protected by a solid, stone breakwall, before continuing south to eventually take you to Macquarie Harbour.

The lake was, of course, the central focal point of the area, with the town spread around its shoreline, although much of that shoreline appeared to have been reserved as parkland, at least until you got around the far side of it where there were numerous houses scattered along the water's edge. The lake itself was fed by the Thompson River that we had followed for some distance as we drove into town, which then emptied out into the ocean at the southern end through what could only be described as a creek, although there was also a weir between the lake and the harbour, over which the road travelled.

The caravan park that had been mentioned earlier was on a road that headed out to the north of town, toward what was called Lighthouse Point, which appeared to be so named for the very obvious reason that upon it there stood a large, white lighthouse, which we could actually see from where we were sitting.

'It looks like there'll be plenty of places for us to explore while we're here,' I said to Matt as we scoured the map. 'There's even a National Park we can check out,' I added, when noticing the area on the map beyond the western edge of the lake and leading up into the mountain range which rose like a sentinel behind the town.

Moments later our lunch was brought out to us and so the map was put aside for the time being, although over lunch we did discuss some of the things we might like to do or explore while we were here, as we both felt that it would be a great place to stop for at least a few days.

While we were eating we watched the activity out on the lake and in the surrounding parkland, enjoying the sound of children laughing as they played, and when we were finished we decided to take a stroll around the little town. Following the path that led along the edge of the creek that flowed out of Thompson Lake and toward the ocean, we walked back to the main road through town, then instead of turning back onto it we decided to cross the road and head down along the beach side of town.

The stroll down to the beach was only a short one, along a bitumen path at first, but that soon gave way to sand as we found ourselves walking a well-trodden path through the dunes. At the end of the path the dunes disappeared, and we came out onto a stretch of sandy beach, which seemed to stretch off for miles into the distance, finishing only at the base of the distant headland upon which we could see the stark, white lighthouse.

'Holy shit!' Matt cooed when we stopped to take in the view.

'Nice, huh?' I said, as I watched row after row of white-capped waves roll in onto the beach beneath the cloudless sky. 'How come we've never heard of this place before?'

'I have no idea,' he replied. 'But I have a feeling we're going to really get to know this place after this first visit, don't you?'

'Hell yeah!'

We started along the beach, watching some kids playing in the sand while a few young surfers, their bodies tanned and glistening from the seaspray, also braved the waves. Some seagulls squawked and fluttered away from us as we invaded their territory, before settling back in their original spots while noisily berating us as they did so.

Before long we came to another path that led off the sand and back through the dunes towards town. Matt led the way as I followed and we soon found ourselves coming out onto the main street once more, emerging between the bowling club and the mechanic's workshop we had seen earlier on the way into town.

We crossed the road and started to make our way back along it, passing the petrol station we had visited earlier followed by an assortment of other shops, including a couple of coffee shops, a newsagent, as well as several shops selling souvenirs and local arts and crafts.

On the last corner, where we were almost back at the path we had started along earlier, there was a small corner store, not unlike many that could be found in just about every small country town, where they sold takeaway food as well as basic grocery items. We looked in through the large, plate-glass window and noticed a lady serving behind the counter. She noticed us and smiled, before turning back to her work.

Ducking down the side street we found a bakery and, much to my delight, a quaint-looking, little Chinese restaurant on the next corner, with a front window that looked out over the lake.

'We're definitely coming here later,' I said to Matt, who readily agreed.

Once we made it back to Matt's car, we set off in search of the caravan park and a short while later we pulled up outside the office. When we went inside, we were greeted by a guy who appeared to be a few years older than us, and who quickly organised our booking and pointed us in the right direction. We paid for a campsite for three nights, for starters, but I think that both Matt and I had already figured we would be here longer than that.

The park was nice, tucked in between Lighthouse Road and the sand dunes, but still right on the beach. It was green and lush and well looked after, and had quite a few trees around lining the boundaries and a few of the internal roadways, which gave lots of shade. There was even a swimming pool and barbeque area, as well as a kid's play area, so just about everyone seemed to be catered for.

The sun was beginning to set by the time we decided to walk the short distance back to the main street of the town to find some place to get a meal and see what sort of a night life the place had to offer, yet it still seemed quite early. It was then we realised that with the mountains to the west of town blocking out that late afternoon sun, it would probably be like this every day.

As we headed up the road toward town, we took note of how everything seemed so green and tropical looking, which was only to be expected I suppose given we were at the height of summer. On the warm, summer air there was always the fresh and invigorating aroma of the sea and as we walked along the road, we could hear the waves crashing on the beach just over the dunes to our left, coupled with the constant, chaotic sounds of squabbling sea birds.

Given that it was now almost dark, Matt reached over and took my hand. Almost instinctively I pulled back from him, but he gripped tighter and wouldn't let me go. Out here, in public, even allowing for the darkness, I just couldn't bring myself to let go of my fears.

'There's no one about,' he said softly.

'I know, it's just that it feels so strange. Back on that other beach at Surfer's where others were doing it as well, it didn't seem out of place. But here, right at the edge of this town, out in the open, that's something that is altogether different.'

I pulled my hand back again, and this time he let go, stopping as he did so. I had walked on for a few more steps, but when I realised he had stopped I turned and walked back to him.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I just thought you might be ready.'

Shaking my head I said, 'Soon, I promise.' I placed my forefinger on my lips and kissed it, then placed it on his.

'Okay, I'm going to hold you to that.'

When we reached the main street a few minutes later, we sought out the little Chinese restaurant we had found earlier and went inside. We were shown to a table just inside the front door, which gave a wonderful view of all the lights reflecting off the waters of the lake out that huge front window. For the next couple of hours we had a great meal, enjoying each other's company in a quiet atmosphere, while secretly rubbing our toes together under the table.

I know it wasn't much, but it was all I could bring myself to give him in public at this point. I hope he understood.

The next day, Friday, we telephoned Tim and Guy to let them know about the little beachside haven we had found, and they promised they would join us here over the weekend.

Matt and I spoke to them both and we all seemed pleased that our newfound friendship seemed to be one that was developing nicely. I secretly hoped that it would prove to be more than just a passing holiday thing, as we were all so alike it was almost scary given our similar backgrounds, and of course our relationship status. I really hoped that it would be a friendship that would last.

We spent the morning relaxing on the beach, then after enjoying some fish and chips for lunch from a place on the boardwalk we spent the next few hours wandering through the town, inhaling the sweet sea air and further checking the place out. I picked up a newspaper and a couple of magazines from the newsagent, then afterwards dragged Matt back into one of those quaint little souvenir and gift stores we had seen on the main street.

'I'll have to take something home for mum or she'll want to shoot me,' I said to Matt as we wandered through the shop.

'Yeah, me too,' he replied.

Eventually I settled on a printed tea towel as a present for mum, and a stuffed toy for Katie. I know it's not much, but at least I got them something. Dad, well I could never really buy for him, always much too hard, but in the end I settled on a t–shirt, as boring as that may sound.

I laughed at him when Matt brought exactly the same items to the counter as presents for his parents.

After our shopping expedition we were rather thirsty, so we went and found some refreshments and then went and sat on a park bench, looking out over the lake while sitting in the shade of this massive old Moreton Bay Fig tree. We soon noticed that we were sitting upon a low rise, and while it gave a commanding view of the lake on one side we could also see out onto the ocean on the other side. With the cool breeze that was blowing in from the sea it was the perfect spot to enjoy a perfect day.

We sat there for a few hours just watching the world go by, catching up on the news and reading while watching gigantic ships and other smaller boats out on the ocean, along with the usual procession of holiday makers along the beach and around the lake.

All this walking about and lying about and doing touristy things was starting to wear me out, however, so by late in the afternoon I felt like a nap. I told Matt I wanted to head back to the camp for a lie down and asked him if he was coming.

'No, I think I'll just stay here for a bit. I want to phone home and check in anyway. You go ahead and I'll be down soon.'

'Suit yourself,' I said to him and set off down the hill, along the narrow dirt path which wound its way through low bush and back toward the shops. I glanced back up at him a couple of times and noticed he was on the phone. He even waved to me once, and I waved back.

I had this strange feeling that he was up to something, but what it was, I had no idea.

Luckily, by the time I got back to our tent it was safely covered by the shade of one of the trees, so I was grateful that it wouldn't be too hot inside as often tents can be so damned hot that you feel as if you are quite literally cooking in them in the afternoon sun.

I went inside and took off my t-shirt and joggers, then lay down on the mattress. Thankfully it didn't take long before I was drifting off, rocked to sleep listening to the constant and gentle sound of waves crashing on the beach just over the hill from where we were camped.

When I awoke, only about an hour later, I could hear Matt breathing gently beside me and felt his arm draped over my body.

Smiling to myself I rolled over and looked at him. I don't know why, but it always seemed so comforting and secure knowing that he was there holding me. I also enjoyed just watching him sleep, methodically breathing in and out while I studied his classical features, the turned-up mouth, the quivering eyelids. God, he was so beautiful.

A few moments later he opened his eyes to see me staring back at him, smiling.

'Hi, handsome,' he whispered to me.

'Hi, yourself. Have a nice sleep?'

'Magic,' he answered. 'You?'

'Yeah… perfect.'

We lay there like that for ages just smiling back at each other, neither of us wanting to move anywhere.

Outside our tent, our own little universe, it was very late in the afternoon. The sun was rapidly lowering in the sky, readying itself to yet again slip down behind the mountains to the west of us. Eventually we decided that we needed to move, however, and so we ventured outside.

Matt wandered over to his car and opened the boot, retrieving some cold drinks from the icebox he kept there, then returning to where I had sat down at the closest picnic table.

As school was yet to officially break up – as it was only year twelve who finished early – we basically had the caravan park to ourselves. There were only a handful of caravans with anyone staying in them and we were the only campers, so it was nice and peaceful.

'It's so nice here, isn't it?' Matt asked as he sipped on his drink.

'View's fine from here,' I answered, smiling at him.

'I meant the town, dickhead.'

'I know, I know.'

'Feel like a walk on the beach?' he asked.


We got up, and after dumping our empty drink cans in a nearby trash can we headed for the narrow path through the dunes that led to the beach, where we soon found the ocean was quite calm. As we strolled along the beach with darkness falling we looked back towards the mountains and watched the setting sun, which was turning the early evening sky into a fiery spectacle of red and gold and crimson.

Matt slipped his hand into mine, and once again, instinctively, I pulled away from him, looking about nervously to see if we had been spotted by the morality police.

'Just relax,' he said to me as he took hold of my hand again. 'Look, there's no one about.'

Reluctantly I let him hold on to me this time and we walked the few hundred yards to the end of the beach and back again.

I don't know what it was, but the thought of being spotted holding hands in public, even now, was enough to send shudders down my spine. No matter how hard I tried I just found it an extremely difficult thing to do out in the open, yet, for some reason when we were amongst our own kind I had no problem.

It was just something that was screwed up in my head. I knew it, but why exactly I just didn't know.

That night, after a meal at the bowling club we found the small picture theatre, which we hadn't seen on any of our earlier walk–arounds. We had seen posters up around town, however, so decided to go in search of it. When we found it we entered, bought our tickets and sat down to watch a movie, some new teen comedy that really wasn't all that funny at all.

At least it helped us pass the time without us having to think too hard, and thanks to the company I had it was still an enjoyable night. Afterwards we strolled casually back to our campsite and retired for the night.

With all the activity of the past week I had almost forgotten about it, but the next day, Saturday, was my eighteenth birthday, and when I awoke that morning I got the surprise of my life.

Thanks to our exertions throughout the night I didn't stir very early the next morning, nor apparently did I hear Matt get up and move about.

When I did wake up however, with the sun streaming down upon our little world and shining in through the half open entrance of the tent, I found Matt sitting upright on his side of our double mattress.

Just for the record, we had planned ahead for our trip and had packed both a single blow-up mattress each – which we had used when we were staying in the unit on the Gold Coast with DJ and Hoss – as well as the double blow-up mattress that we were using here.

Of course, seeing him sitting there shouldn't have been all that startling in itself; however, the fact that he was sitting in a tent decked out with balloons and party streamers, butt naked and wearing only a bright red bow around his neck, well that was just too good a sight to behold.

'Happy birthday, gorgeous,' he said to me as I struggled to get my eyes open.

I sat up on the mattress and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands, as if trying to clear the mirage that I thought must have been floating in front of me.

I honestly thought that I was dreaming, but when I smelt the fresh sea air waft in through the front of the tent and heard the raucous sea gulls on the nearby beach, I was instantly awake with all my senses working overtime.

I just smiled at him. I couldn't believe the trouble that he had gone to.

'Aren't you going to say anything?' he asked me.

'I'm… I'm just speechless,' I eventually answered.

With that he leaned over and kissed me passionately on the lips.

'Were you surprised' he asked me when we parted.

'That's one way of putting it. I have to say though, you're the best birthday present I've ever had,' I answered. 'And the tastiest too.'

'It ain't over yet,' he responded, while reaching under his side of the mattress.

He brought out a small parcel, about three inches square, wrapped in bright, blue-and-silver striped paper and with a silver bow on the top of it.

'What's this?' I asked him.

'Just a little something to mark this auspicious occasion.'

Eagerly, I ripped off the paper, which revealed a small jewelry case. I opened it slowly and found a gold chain wrist bracelet, complete with a hand engraved plaque which simply read, 'For Luke. Always and forever. Matt.'

Slowly I turned it over in my hand, deliberately leaving my head down, trying not to look up at Matt just in case he saw the tears that were desperately trying to escape from behind my eyelids.

'What's wrong. Don't you like it?' he asked, sounding almost hurt.

I shook my head slightly, managing only to mumble something about it being, 'Oh, so, beautiful,' in between my sobs.

'You fool,' he scolded. 'Come here.'

He reached out and took the bracelet from me, undoing the clasp and placing it around the wrist of my right arm.

I reached for him and he took me in his arms, kissing me passionately once more, and that was where we stayed for the next hour or so, rocking each other backwards and forwards like a couple of old, geriatric sweethearts.

The rest of day just flew by, and I felt like I was on cloud nine for the whole time.

That morning we didn't do anything else that was special, besides hang out on the beach and go for a long walk almost to the base of the headland upon which the lighthouse sat. At lunch time I found that Matt had organised a picnic hamper for us, which we collected from the little corner store, then ate while sitting on the beach. That was when Mum rang me to wish me a happy birthday and to see how we were getting on.

She asked me if I had received any presents from all my friends and I said, 'No, not really,' as I fiddled with the bracelet on my wrist, obviously not wanting to give anything away by saying that Matt had given me a bracelet.

After we disconnected, Matt asked what she had said.

'Oh, nothing much,' I answered. 'She did want to know if all my friends gave me any presents though.' I looked around me and then waved my arms, saying, 'Come on guys, where are all my presents.'

Matt just laughed.

After the hectic pace and upsets of the past month or six weeks, it was great to spend this time together, just kicking back and relaxing. Undoubtedly our parents would be looking upon this as a frivolous and expensive waste of time… oh no, they didn't do Schoolies trips back in their day… but we were enjoying ourselves and that was all we were worried about.

During the afternoon we decided to go for a short drive across the bridge into South Thompsonville, where we spent a bit of time wandering around the small, breakwall protected harbour, having a look at some of the houseboats and yachts moored in the marina there and talking to some of their owners. We also spent a relaxing hour or so throwing some stale bread we had bought cheaply at the bakery into the water for the sea birds, watching them squabble and fight over every crumb. This was something that we could never do at home.

At about six o'clock, when there was still at least some daylight left, Matt said that it was time we headed back to the camp.

'What for?' I asked him.

'I want to have a shower before we head into town for dinner.'

'Dinner?' I asked.

'Your birthday dinner, you fool. I'm taking you out to dinner at that little Chinese place we found the other night. We've gotta celebrate you know. You're all legal now.'

'Just us?'

'Why not,' he added.

So we left the marina and drove back to our camp, taking the tourist route by driving the long way around the lake, and just enjoying the late afternoon.

It was a nice feeling to have someone caring about you, pampering you, and I thought that I could get used to this really easily. Would it last, though? And would Matt give me the space I needed, at least until such times as I was ready to come to terms with this whole deal? They were the things that kept playing on my paranoid mind as we headed back to the caravan park.

When we got there we retrieved some clean clothes from our bags and headed for the shower block, which we found to be empty. I was just about to head into one of the shower stalls to wash the days sweat off me when Matt grabbed my arm.

'In here,' he whispered.

I hesitated for only a second, with the 'What if we get caught,' thought flashing through my mind, but then followed him into the stall he was entering, going in with just a mild case of the butterflies. There was no one about so I saw no harm, and besides, if someone did come in one of us would be able to sit on the small shelf that was there to get our feet up out of view.

We had a shower – and that was all – and it was fun too, but we knew we couldn't get up to too much mischief just in case someone did actually come into the building. Even then we did hear someone come inside and use the toilets, but they were down the other end so they wouldn't have been able to see us anyway. We just had our showers and then went back to our tent where we finished getting ready to go out.

Sometime between half past seven and eight o'clock we started walking up the road towards the town, arriving at the restaurant just on eight o'clock as the last rays of daylight ebbed away.

We found a table without any trouble, being the same large table near the front window, and settled in looking out towards the lake.

After ordering ourselves some drinks, I got a scotch whisky – which I had occasionally enjoyed at home – while Matt ordered a beer, then we started talking about what we would plan for the next few days before we headed home.

Matt wanted to have a look around and visit the local National Park that we had found was located in the mountains behind the town, while I wanted to do some exploring along the coast, using our camp at the caravan park as a base that we could return to each night. We compromised and decided to do both, spending a few days doing each.

We hadn't been sitting there for more than a ten or fifteen minutes when we heard the little bell above the door ring, signaling the entrance of some more patrons for the restaurant. Matt and I both turned and looked at the same time and I was quite surprised, well shocked actually, to see Tim and Guy come through the door, followed closely by DJ and Hoss.

'What the bloody hell is going on here?' I asked Matt, who was sitting back in his chair grinning at me.

'Not much,' he answered, waving to the boys and telling them to drag their sorry asses over here.

'Happy birthday, bro,' Hoss said, jabbing me sharply in the shoulder with a punch.

It hurt, but I quickly jabbed him back, much to the displeasure of the little Chinese guy behind the counter.

DJ came over and shook my hand in a much more dignified and traditional greeting, while Tim and Guy did pretty much the same.

I was really pleased to see them all, but the shock left me basically speechless.

As they all sat down around the table, Matt leaned over and whispered softly into my ear, so that no one could hear him, 'Happy birthday, lover.'

I wanted to kiss him, but… well, you know.

I settled for giving him a pat on his leg, under the apricot-coloured cloth that was draped over the table. I would thank him properly later on, I thought.

We had a blast that night, and I have to admit that we all drank a little too much. Well, doesn't everyone on the occasion of their coming of age?

By about ten thirty, however, we were starting to get impatient looks from the little Chinese guy so we decided to settle our bill for the evening and head off back to the caravan park.

Over the course of the evening I had managed to find out that it was Matt, naturally enough, who had orchestrated this whole thing from start to finish, even down to getting DJ and Hoss to drive down from the Gold Coast just for the night. They would be heading back up there tomorrow, however, as they still had their unit booked for another week, but they said that coming down for my birthday was the least that they could do for their best pal. I got my hair ruffled as they said that. You could probably imagine just what they are like.

They all brought presents, which in some respects would have pleased my mother, but they really only served to embarrass me. They included a bright red G–string, from Hoss of course, a packet of condoms with a rather roughly drawn sketch on how they should be used, that was a shocker and just had to be from DJ, and a bottle of Scotch, from Tim and Guy.

The only dampener on the night was Matt having to explain away to DJ and Hoss how come Tim and Guy were invited. It wasn't obvious or blatant, just a quiet question when the opportunity arose, but they still gave our new friends a few funny looks throughout the evening. Still, we all had fun, getting on the booze, telling tall tales about each other and also the odd dirty joke.

It was just a great boy's night out. Too bad it had to end.

We got back to the caravan park at around midnight, with everyone deciding to leave their cars parked near the restaurant and walk back, instead of driving them the short distance back while under the influence and running the risk of being picked up by the local constable. They would retrieve them in the morning, they said, and so we all walked home on a warm summer night under a cloudless sky illuminated by a brilliant full moon, the shrill sound of our laughter filling the night air as we stumbled along.

Seeing as there wasn't nearly enough room in our tent for everyone, Matt had even gone so far as to book caravans for them all. He had the keys to them in his pocket and it didn't take long to locate them once we reached the park, after which we then spent another hour or so sitting in DJ and Hoss's van chatting amongst ourselves. It wasn't long before we all realised that we were fighting a losing battle, with Tim and Guy being the first to call it a night, wandering off to their caravan at about one o'clock in the morning, while we hung around with DJ and Hoss for just a little while longer.

'Funny pair of guys those two,' Hoss said after they had been gone for a few minutes.

'Oh, they're all right,' I said. 'We seem to get on good together.'

DJ nodded, then asked, 'Yeah, I guess. Do you think they're gay?'

Everybody's head just snapped in his direction.

'Christ,' Matt said, glancing just briefly at me as he did so. 'What makes you think that?'

'Dunno, just a hunch. Don't get me wrong, it wouldn't bother me if they were, I don't care about that sort of shit anymore, not after seeing what you went through. We are who we are. But it's just this feeling I get.'

Matt laughed, 'Thanks for bringing that up again, asshole. Yeah, I get that feeling too, it's called being too-fucking-tired-to-give-a-fuck because I'm about to fall down asleep. I don't know about you fellas but I'm stuffed. It's time I hit the sack.'

That was all the prompting I needed as well and said that bed was where I was heading also. DJ and Hoss said their goodnights, then we wandered off towards our campsite.

'That was close,' I said to Matt in a whisper as we started to undress.

'Shit yeah,' he answered. 'It was interesting what DJ said though wasn't it?'

'What, about not caring about that sort of shit anymore?'


'What are you thinking?'

'Not sure really. I'll sleep on it.'

'I was hoping you would sleep on me,' I responded.

He looked up at me and smiled, then reached over and turned out the light.

'Let's just see what we can do about that,' he said softly, as he pulled me into his arms.

We all slept late the next morning, waking up with giant headaches from our somewhat amateurish efforts to play grown-ups from the night before. None of us had had much practice at this whole hitting the booze once you turned eighteen thing, so we were all naturally enough a little the worse for wear.

I awoke to the sound of someone calling our names, and it took a little while for it to register in my brain, just a little while too long in fact. Just as I sat up and tried to rub the sleep from my eyes the front of our tent opened and in popped DJ's head.

I wondered who got the biggest shock, him or me?

I was sitting up on the mattress, with half of my sleeping bag covering my lower half, while the other half of it was half covering Matt who was still sound asleep. Underneath the sleeping bag we were both butt naked.

DJ Looked at me, then at Matt, then back at me again. I could only begin to imagine the fear that he must have seen in my eyes.

I thought I caught the beginnings of a smile on his face, but then, in an instant he was gone.

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