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Beyond Salvation

by Mark Peters

Chapter 4

We had been told by Spills and Birdie to have our gear packed away and be back at the mess hall within the hour, so that we could be briefed before starting the first part of our lessons for the two days we would be here.

Today we would be looking at the history of the place, while tomorrow the plans were to visit one of the few old mines that were still in good enough order for us to be able to enter and explore.

Pete and I met up with Merry and her roomie, a girl named Kaitlyn, at the appointed time, but we then had to sit and wait for the teachers and the rest of the students to arrive.

'How's your room?' I asked Merry while we were waiting. She just rolled her eyes at me.

'They sure are cosy,' Kaitlyn said in reply to my question. 'Really small and it has double bunks with really thin mattresses.'

'Same as ours then,' Pete said.

Just then Mrs Bird and Mr Spillsbury came inside, followed by about half of the students. There was no sign as yet, of either Hollywood or Miss Petrie, the other teacher who had accompanied us on the trip, but I figured they wouldn't be too far away.

'All right then, children,' Mrs Bird said in her familiar shrill voice. 'As we have already outlined in the study notes we have supplied you with, today we will be taking a look at the history of the township and the area around Salvation. We will be walking down to the museum in the old township and will be meeting the National Parks people there for a tour, after which we will have lunch, before breaking into your study groups to work on your reports and projects.'

'Bor-ring,' I heard Pete mutter under his breath, which only earned him a thump in his arm from Merry.

Kaitlyn raised her eyebrows at the two of them. It wasn't difficult to pick up on the chemistry that was developing between Merry and Pete, and I figured she had just spotted it for the first time, but that chemistry was only serving to make me more and more confused about the guy.

'Okay, it's time we set off. Everyone please follow Mr Spillsbury and me down to the museum and we will get started.'

'Errr… Mrs Bird,' I heard one girl ask. 'Just whereabouts is the museum? All we saw coming in was a bunch of old, half-fallen-down buildings. We're not going into those, are we?'

'All will be revealed, Amanda,' she answered. 'Now come along, let's not waste any more of the day.'

We followed her and Spills out the door and down the hill, all talking amongst ourselves and behaving like the school kids we were. Hollywood and Miss Petrie were with us as well, bringing up the rear. Just in front of them were Dallas, Timmy and their friends, all being watched closely by Hollywood.

I felt reassured by the fact that he was with us. At least if anything did happen while we were here I had someone I could go to whom I could trust, as just the thought of being here with guys like Timmy still had me on edge. But could Dallas or Hollywood really do anything if Timmy and company decided to do get up to no good? I could only hope so.

Trying as best I could to dismiss these thoughts from my mind, I turned my attention back to the matter at hand… our history project.

'So,' Kaitlyn asked me as we were walking along. 'Was it all true what they were all saying about you?'

'W-what?' I spluttered.

'You know, about you being gay.'

I wasn't sure what I should say to that. Here I was doing my best not to bring any attention to myself or invite any comments on my personal life, which was exactly what she seemed to be fishing for.

When I didn't answer immediately she added, 'It's okay. Really it is. I don't care myself. My older brother, Jason, is gay. Hey, he doesn't have a boyfriend or anything… if you want, I could introduce you!'

'Errrrr… no thanks,' I replied, before excusing myself and saying I needed to talk to Mr Harris about something.

I stopped by the side of the road and waited for Hollywood and Miss Petrie to catch up, receiving some odd looks from Timmy and his mates as they passed me, along with a curt nod from Dallas.

The road was the one on which we had driven up to the cabins when we had arrived and as we trudged along there was a fine white dust being kicked up beneath our feet, while all around us were acres of dry brown summer grasses waving back and forth in the gentle breeze. It was actually quite nice and it was good to get out into some sunshine and away from the bland school environment of bricks and concrete for a change.

'Hi there, JJ,' Hollywood said to me as I fell into step beside them.

'Hi,' I replied.

'How do you like it down here so far?' he asked.

'It's nice. Too bad we're only here for one night.'

'That's true.'

I deliberately started walking slightly slower and he held back a bit to stay with me. Miss Petrie gave me a strange look but I think she got the hint, as she had soon tagged on to Dallas and was walking alongside him.

'What's up?' Hollywood asked, quickly figuring out what was going on.

'Ummm… do you have a boyfriend?' I asked him quietly, once we had fallen a safe distance behind the others.

He shot me a look of horror, but when he saw what must have been a mischievous glint in my eye he laughed and said, 'No.'

'I can fix you up with Kaitlyn's brother if you like. She was just offering to hook me up with him because he doesn't have a boyfriend.'

'I think he already has one. Her brother's name is Jason, I believe, and he's seeing a guy named Liam. They just want to keep it quiet.'

'What?' I exclaimed. 'How the hell could you know that?'

'It pays to know what is going on around town. I saw your profile on Gaydar by the way,' he said in a whisper, which caused me to blush.

'How could you know which one was mine?' I asked. I knew I didn't have a photo on there, so it wasn't possible to actually identify myself. Or at least that's what I thought.

'Let's just say I put two and two together. I didn't think you were eighteen though?'

'I'm not. And I don't think I've seen yours then.'

'Oh, yes you have. You were checking me out one night last week.'

'Damn, I better take another look!' I laughed.

'So, you look like you're doing okay now,' he remarked. 'Are you getting things sorted in your head and all that?'

'Yeah, I think I am, thanks,' I replied. 'I'm still a bit wary about these guys in front though. I don't exactly trust them.'

'And nor should you. I've seen enough of their type over the years. How about Dallas? No issues there?'

'No. We have something of an understanding. He's a hard guy to read, but he sticks to his word.'

'I'm glad,' he remarked.

'Anyhow, I better get back up with my mates. Thanks for being around. It means a lot.'

'Anytime. That's part of the reason why I offered to come on the trip.'

With a nod then I left him, jogging back up to fall in beside my friends once more.

'Where'd you get to?' Pete asked as I joined him.

'Just dropped back to talk with Hollywood for a bit,' I answered.

'All good then?'

'Yeah. All good.'

'I'm glad.'

We were approaching the first of the old buildings and as we got nearer I could hear the sound of sheets of iron on the roof rattling in the breeze, as well as being able to see one of the signs along the front of the building swinging happily.

There was a green four-wheel-drive vehicle parked up ahead of us outside one of the larger buildings and Mrs Bird made a bee-line straight for it.

'Come along, come along,' I heard her say. 'We can't keep them waiting.'

When we reached the building where the vehicle was parked we were met by two people dressed in smart, green National Parks uniforms, a man and a woman, both of whom appeared to be in their twenties. They had been waiting for us on the timber verandah, which fronted the road.

'Welcome to Salvation!' the woman said to us as we started gathering around. A murmur went through the small group of us, not quite sure what to expect.

'Thank you, Ranger Browning, it's lovely to be here,' Mrs Bird said. Then to all of us she added, 'Students, these good people are Rangers Browning and Watson, who will be giving us the guided tour through the Salvation Museum and around the town. I'm sure they will be able to answer any of your questions today.'

The girl who had earlier asked where the museum was once again shot up her hand and asked, 'So where is it exactly?'

Ranger Watson smiled and said, 'Why, it's right here. All around you.' He waved his arm in a general sweep which went from one side of us to the other.

'You may not realise it at first, but this whole town is the museum,' Ranger Browning added. 'Every building here might look derelict on the outside, but inside every one of them has been faithfully restored to original condition and contains a full history of what went on in there.'

'They won't fall down on us, will they? They kind of look pretty dodgy,' someone asked.

'No, they won't fall down,' the ranger assured us. 'Now if you'll follow us inside we will show you through our first building, which is the old newspaper office.'

For the next two hours we were shown through all the buildings along the eastern side of the street, which included the newspaper office, a bank, a chemist shop and a barber, as well as a few that were residences. As promised, every building was fully restored and looked as if it had only been yesterday when it had last been open. Mannequins dressed in period costumes were positioned as if they were carrying out the duties that had been performed there, while picture panels along the walls or on free-standing display boards also told the story.

It was fascinating to think that the township, of which there wouldn't have been more than twenty buildings now left standing, had once been home to more than twenty thousand people involved in mining the precious yellow metal, or providing service to those miners.

When we had left the newspaper office we were supplied with a copy of a newspaper from the time, on the cover of which was a black and white photo of the once bustling main street, filled with people, horses, wagons and an old Cobb and Co. coach. In the background you could see the hills which surrounded the town, completely covered with white canvas tents.

Pete and I walked out into the middle of the main street and I held the newspaper out in front of me, trying to find the spot where the photo had been taken from. It didn't take long to line up the bank in roughly the same position in my field of view as it was in on the photograph.

'Congratulations,' came a voice from over my shoulder. 'You're standing on just about the exact spot where that photograph was taken more than one hundred and fifty years ago.'

We turned to see the male ranger standing there beside me.

'It's all a bit hard to comprehend, really,' I said to him. 'Especially to think that it has all lasted for this long.'

'Yes, it is. That's why it is important to preserve what we have for as long as we possibly can, and to let the newer generations know what happened here and what it was really like.'

'So, what happened in the end? Why is it a ghost town now?' Pete asked him.

'Purely and simply, the gold ran out. Then the country couldn't really sustain cattle or any other industry, so when the gold was gone and the timber was mostly used up, there was nothing left to keep them here. Also it didn't help that the place is a bit out of the way, and not very easy to get to.'

By this time a few of the other kids and Hollywood had wandered over and were also listening in.

'Did anyone stay?' I asked.

'Oh yes, a few diehards hung around until they eventually either passed away or couldn't handle the remoteness on their own anymore. But when they moved on that was it. There was nobody left to look after the place and that's when the rot set in and it started falling down. A couple of bushfires also didn't help very much.'

'So who saved it then?'

'Eventually it was declared a National Park, as it was all government owned land anyhow, and then someone thought the old place should be preserved, so they got a group together to start doing some work on tidying everything up so people could come in and take a look. That was about thirty years ago and it was then that the camp where you are staying was set up, so that folks just like your group can come and learn about what was here and what was almost lost, as well as provide campsites for tourists.'

When the two hours were up we all trudged back up the hill to the camp grounds, weighed down with hand-outs and information from all the places we had visited. A lunch of sandwiches, fruit and assorted drinks was waiting for us in the dining room, then afterwards we were given a brief break to put everything away, before we had to gather again for the next session. This proved to be pretty much a repeat of the first walk through along the eastern side of the street, only this time we worked along the western side. On this side of the street we found two hotels, another bank, some shops of various descriptions and, hidden at the back of one of the hotels, a brothel: which of course created the most interest amongst the majority of the boys in our group.

Naturally there had to be at least one smart arse who came up behind me and whispered, 'I wonder if any of your lot were down here? What do you reckon they did to get their rocks off?'

I spun around to see who it was, but all I saw was a sea grinning faces, all expecting me to react. Not wanting to give them any satisfaction I simply turned away and walked off, which resulted in a few giggles and not much more.

After I had gone a few yards Pete caught up with me, grabbing me by the shoulder.

'Just ignore them,' he said to me.

'I'm trying,' I replied. 'But sometimes I just feel like I want to hit something, or someone. You know?'

'Yeah, mate, I know exactly how you feel.'

We walked on to the next building along the street, which proved to be another barber shop, complete with a red and white striped pole out the front, although the paint was peeling and flaky and it had certainly seen better days.

Inside there was an ornate cast iron barber's chair, the likes of which I had never seen before, and upon which sat a mannequin dressed in old miner's clothes with a scruffy beard and wild hair. The barber himself was caught in a pose of putting a large bib or sheet around the miner's neck.

'A bit different to the local salon at home,' I said to Pete as we took in the scene.

'Yeah, and our hairdresser is a lot prettier too,' he added.

We picked up a couple of the information sheets they had available for us and then headed back outside onto the bare street, where a mini-whirlwind suddenly picked up some dirt and spun it around and around. Signs swung wildly on their hooks and the roofs rattled once more, but then it was gone, just as quickly as it had begun and everything fell eerily silent once more.

'That was freaky,' Pete said to me.

'Definitely,' I replied. 'It seems to happen quite a lot down here.'

I looked around the group to see where Merry and Kaitlyn had gotten to and found them looking in the window of a clothing shop. They seemed to have buddied up a bit seeing as they had to bunk together tonight, which I was glad for, as it was keeping Kaitlyn away from me. I had no desire to have her try and pry into my life again, or offer to hook me up with her brother. That was just plain weird.

When we had finished touring through that side of the street we were once again gathered together outside the old newspaper office by the teachers.

'All right you lot,' Mr Spillsbury began, 'next stop is the river, where they have some of the old mining equipment still set up, then after that you will split into your study groups to complete the assignments you're about to be given.'

We could see him waving around some sheets of paper for us.

'Afterwards, we'll head back up to the camp area where you can relax a little before dinner. If anyone wants to grab their towels and swimming gear, so you can have a swim in the river when we're finished, you can head on up to the camp now with Mr Harris and get your stuff, then we'll meet you down at the river.'

Without waiting he set off down the road, with about half of us following. Pete and I had looked at each other and both shrugged, before following Spills down the road. I was never really one for enjoying swimming, not that I couldn't swim, it's just that if I went swimming I preferred it to be in a more private setting, usually just amongst family and friends, rather than amongst fifty-odd soul destroying class mates.

Looking back I saw Hollywood and the rest of the students heading back off up the hill towards camp. When we were past the last of the buildings, we then turned off down a path and headed toward the row of trees that marked the course of the river.

The path was narrow and at best we could only walk two abreast, so Pete and I followed Merry and Kaitlyn. With some amusement I noted Pete checking out Merry from behind and gave him a gentle elbow in the ribs.

'What?' he asked, then, knowing full well he had been busted he blushed in embarrassment.

'What's wrong with you two?' Merry snapped at us.

'Not a thing,' I replied. 'You just keep walking. Pete likes the way you do it!'

When we reached the river we found we were at the end of quite a large body of water which seemed to spread upstream for about one hundred metres or so. At the end where we were standing it narrowed and ran over some rocks, causing some shallow rapids, and it was just below here that we found the old mining gear set up, with cradles and sluices and various other relics, some wooden and some made of iron.

While we were waiting for the rest of the class to join us we were allowed to wander about, with some choosing to look over the nearby mining equipment, while others, like us, wandered upstream. At this end of the waterhole it appeared to be quite shallow and through the crystal-clear water we could see the gravel river bed. The further upstream you went the deeper the water became. We even found a short timber jetty that led out into the water about five metres. It looked like a great place to swim, but I certainly wasn't going to strip off in front of all these people today and expose either my body or the various pieces of metal that adorned it. I was copping enough crap of late, so the last thing I needed to do was go and add fuel to the fire.

About half an hour later Hollywood showed up with the rest of the class, now with towels draped around their necks and many wearing different clothes. Dallas and Timmy were among these, opting to change into loose fitting board shorts and t-shirts, the top half of which I figured would be discarded when they went for a swim.

Once we had been gathered together, our National Parks guides, who had accompanied us down to the river, proceeded to show us how the mining equipment worked. Looking around at us all the male ranger pulled two boys from the group, saying: 'These burly guys look like they'll be able to handle a shovel.'

He handed a shovel each to Macca and his mate Thommo, neither of whom looked impressed.

'Just shovel some of that dirt into the top of this contraption will you?' he said to them, while pointing firstly at a pile of dirt sitting nearby and then at one of the wooden cradles.

We had been moved downstream to a point that was below the level where the water started flowing over the rocks. I could see that there was a chute of some sort which shot off from the side of the rapids and if a gateway at the top of the chute was opened, then water would be diverted down through the timber chutes towards where he had directed the boys to dump the dirt.

At the ranger's direction Hollywood opened the chute to allow water to flow through it and while this was happening, he directed Macca and Thommo to start shovelling. They did as they were asked and it wasn't long before the water and dirt met, creating a thick sludge.

'Now, what happens here,' the ranger began, 'is that this sludge gets washed through a series of grates, all getting successively smaller and smaller, until eventually the very finest particles are collected in the bottom level.'

I could see how it was working. The larger rocks were staying at the higher level, with the smaller ones passing through one grate, then another and another.

At the ranger's signal Hollywood cut off the water supply and what was in the sluices ran out, eventually just leaving the trays of various size rocks.

'As you can see,' the ranger said, as he scooped some of the material from the bottom tray out into a miner's pan, 'what we have left here are only the finest particles, and if we look closely we might even find some of that precious yellow metal that they were looking for.'

Some of us crowded around the ranger for a closer look as he passed the pan around under our noses.

'There! Is that it?' I heard Merry exclaim, pointing excitedly at something in the pan. I looked and I couldn't see a damn thing at first, but then I noticed a tiny speck of something shining amongst the other dull pebbles.

After taking a closer look the ranger soon broke out into a smile. 'Excellent,' he said, 'You've found gold,' then taking a small plastic vial type container from a pocket he scooped the tiny speck up into it and placed a stopper on the end of it, before then handing it to Merry.

'Oh, wow. Thank you,' she said, taking it from the ranger.

'You're welcome. Now, as you can see it is a relatively simple process to extract alluvial gold from the river beds. It can be done using devices like this one, or you can simply use a miner's pan like this one here to try your luck. If anyone else wants to try their hand you are more than welcome to give it a go. Whatever you find, you keep.'

We all jumped in and had a go using one method or the other, but Merry was still the only one who ended up with any gold at the end of the afternoon, and I suspected that was only because it had been planted there in the first place.

The ranger had told us earlier that the gold had run out, so I figured the chances of finding any this close to the old town, where once there would have been standing room only along the river banks, would have been next to zero. Still, it had been an interesting demonstration and gave us some insight into what life down here was all about.

As we sat around on the river bank afterwards, Mr Spillsbury started handing out the assignments he had threatened us with earlier, asking us to break up into study groups and complete them, then hand them back when finished. We could then go swimming or return to our lodgings once done.

'To those of you who intend going swimming, I would suggest that you use this time wisely,' he added.

There was a collective groan from the class before we started joining up into our study groups and before long we were all deeply involved in completing our tasks. It didn't take long for most of us to finish our work and gradually students began to break off and head back up the hill, or get their gear off and dive into the river.

I watched with interest as I noticed Dallas strip off his t-shirt, exposing his flawless body, before running down the length of the jetty and diving in. While those guys swam and played and carried on, the remainder of us who weren't going swimming in the river started heading off back up the hill to the camp.

'So, you're a successful gold miner now?' I teased Merry as we climbed the hill. She was holding the small vial in her hand, studying it carefully.

'I don't think it would be worth very much,' she replied. 'But still, it's a nice memento.'

When we reached the carriages we were told that we could do whatever we wanted until dinner time, so most of us went our separate ways.

'After wandering around in the sun all afternoon, I think I'll grab a shower before dinner,' I said to them.

'Okay, that sounds like a good idea,' Pete said. 'I think I'll join you.'

'All right then. We'll see you in the hall for dinner then?' Merry asked.

'Sounds good,' I answered.

I didn't want to say anything, but I was secretly glad that Pete had decided to join me for a shower. I knew that Dallas and company were still down by the river, but I still felt happier knowing there was someone else around, and especially someone with a right hook like Pete had, after seeing him in action back at school when he had dropped Jimmy like a stone.

We dumped our notes and study material in our little room and both dug out some clean clothes, along with our towels and toiletries before heading toward the shower block.

'I don't know about you, but after all that walking I'm kind of beat,' Pete said as we walked across the lawns, taking a direct route rather than follow the path around the garden.

'Yeah, I'll be glad to wash some sweat off,' I replied.

As we walked along I glanced across at him and saw him adjust himself slightly as we went. I couldn't be sure, but his jeans looked to be filled out in front a bit better than they had been earlier. Naturally enough that had my mind running off in all directions once more.

There was no one around when we entered the showers, so we both selected shower cubicles that were beside each other and proceeded to lock ourselves inside. I chose the one in a corner, against a side wall, while Pete went in next door to me.

A bench with hooks on the wall above it comprised the front half of the cubicle. There was then a wall between the front and the shower recess, which went about half way across the opening, protecting your clothes and other items from getting wet while you showered.

I quickly stripped off and hung my clothes on the pegs, then stepped into the shower recess. I turned the water on and adjusted it, then moments later I heard Pete do the same next door.

'Ahhh, that feels good,' I heard Pete say.

'Yeah,' I replied.

I soaped my body, before then letting the water rinse the lather away. I then soaped myself up around my groin, getting a good lather worked up, while also working myself up at the same time.

It was then that I looked down at the floor and noticed the reflection on the wet tiles, with light bouncing off them under the divider, which stood about a foot off the floor level. In the reflection I could see the shape of Pete standing there. He was moving and after a moment's concentration I could see what he was doing… he was having a wank in the shower.

Without needing any further encouragement I found myself immediately growing fully hard and as I watched him steadily pulling on himself, I did the same, matching him stroke for stroke. The air seemed to be filled with a familiar squelching sound and it wasn't long before I felt the pressure building up within me, so I backed off for a little while, content to simply watch him at work.

After a short time I heard some slightly heavy breathing coming from next door, so I figured he must be getting close. I reached up and started tweaking one of my nipples, gently playing with the metal ring that was inserted through it. My cock responded straight away, quickly bringing me back to my being very close to ejaculating within a matter of seconds.

I heard a muffled grunt come from Pete's cubicle and as I looked down I saw a splat of cum land almost on my feet. Quickly I gave a few firm strokes and I felt my cock expand in my hand. I aimed it at the globule of cum on the floor just in time, as I exploded hard, splattering my load on the floor as well as against the wall.

I saw Pete's form in the reflection stop moving, and I sensed, rather than saw clearly, him squeeze the last drops from his cock… a cock that I dearly would love to have seen.

'Oh man, that feels better,' I heard him say after he had turned the water off.

I did the same and said, 'You can say that again. I really needed that.'

'Yeah, it looks like it,' he giggled. Obviously he had seen my contribution.

'I see you did okay too,' I added.

We both stepped out of the shower recesses and dried ourselves off and dressed. When we unlocked the cubicles and met outside we were both grinning at each other. Nothing more was said. It was something personal, secret, shared between two friends and that was as far as it would go.

Personally I would have liked it to go further at some point, but the chances of that ever happening, I figured, were minuscule at best.

Out timetables for the trip told us to meet for dinner at seven, so Pete, Merry, Kaitlyn and I all met in the gardens outside the dining area at the time specified. We had all showered and changed, as had most of the other kids.

Hollywood and Spills had the barbeque fired up and the sausages and steaks were already on, while a large table was being loaded up with salads and other goodies.

While the food was being readied most of us sat around in groups, relaxing and talking amongst ourselves. There was little horseplay, as most of us seemed to be tired out from the day spent walking around. Even Dallas and Timmy and company were quieter than their usual selves, which actually suited me just fine.

When the cooking was done and everything was served up, we were told to dig in and help ourselves, which we all did. Our little group hung back while some of the others pushed in, but there was plenty to go around and in the end it proved to be a lovely evening.

Hollywood came over and sat with us for a while and chatted as if he were an old friend, rather than our teacher, then after he left us and joined another table we were graced with the presence of Miss Petrie for a little while, before she too moved on to another table.

At some stage through the evening some of the group decided that they still hadn't had enough swimming and so they went and changed and then returned, jumping into the swimming pool. I noticed that Dallas had ditched his board shorts this time for a pair of Speedos, which certainly didn't go unnoticed.

Eventually it started to get late and so people started to wander off back to their rooms in small groups. While some kids were still chatting, and others were out by the pool, we all decided that enough was enough and left the dining hall.

Pete and I said good night to Merry and Kaitlyn and watched them as they continued along the path to their carriage. After they had disappeared inside Pete and I did the same, skirting the edge of the pool and garden areas, where we could see kids still splashing about or sitting around in groups, laughing, and carrying on.

Outside the circle of carriages darkness had well and truly fallen, but inside around the gardens and pool area the lights were on, bathing the area in a kind of golden, almost ethereal glow. When we reached the steps of our own carriage and climbed them, up onto the small platform outside the door, I looked back toward the pool just as Dallas climbed out of the water, his body dripping wet and bathed in gold. He was wearing only a pair of dark coloured Speedos and I stopped for a moment and watched as he ran his hands back through his hair, then scraped the excess water from his body. The sight of him was spellbinding.

When I stopped at the top of the stairs Pete ran straight into me, then had to grab hold of the railing to stop himself from falling backwards off the platform. When he steadied himself he looked to see what I was staring at.

'Holy fuck,' he whispered. 'He's like a god.'

'Yeah,' I said dryly.

He was right of course. I had never before seen a body like that on anyone our age. The model-like face, chiselled jaw and brooding eyes set him apart from most of the rest of us, but the tanned, well-muscled body, from the broad shoulders to massive chest, small waist and tree-like legs, was a sure-fire attention getter.

As far as I was concerned he was a god. And just as untouchable.

'You were friends once, weren't you?' Pete asked.

'Yeah,' I eventually replied, after a silence that became long and awkward. 'Once upon a time.'

'What happened?'

It was an innocent enough question, but not one I particularly wanted to respond to. At least not in depth.

I simply shook my head and pulled open the door of the carriage and walked inside, then unlocked the door to our room. When I glanced back at Pete he was still looking at Dallas, with an expression on his face that I found difficult to read. After a few moments Pete looked back at me and caught me staring at him, then suddenly his face broke out in a sheepish grin, like the kid who had been caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

'He sure can have that effect on people,' I said to him. 'But trust me. He's not worth it.'

This wasn't the first time that I'd received some mixed messages from Pete. My gaydar seemed to be constantly tingling when he was around, but all the same I still found him difficult to read.

I went into our room and he followed me in, with both of us sitting down on the bottom bunk. I leant back against the wall, mulling over in my mind what he had asked me about Dallas, trying to make up my mind whether I should answer him or not. Sooner or later I would probably end up spilling my guts about it, I figured, so maybe sooner would be better.

'You wanted to know about me and Dallas?' I said to him.

He was sitting beside me and rolled his head sideways and looked at me, his expression one of real surprise.

'You don't have to,' he said to me. 'It's okay, really.'

I smiled at him. 'It's okay. I've never really told anyone about it, not even the shrink my folks made me go and see when I went all gaga – their words, not mine – but I think it would be good to get it off my chest.'

'Well, only if you want to.'

I took a deep breath and began.

'We were best friends… once,' I said. 'All the way through primary school and even through into year seven at high school. But that's when I fucked things up.'

I waited for him to say something, but he stayed silent, staring at me intently, so then I continued.

'We used to sleep over at each other's places all the time. We did absolutely everything together. He was actually a lot of fun.'

'You sure we're talking about the same guy?' he asked.

'Yeah, it was him all right. At least the Dallas I knew back then.'


'So, he stayed over at my place this one time when we were in year seven. We had been out playing like we always did and were covered in mud and shit, and when we came inside mum told us to go and get cleaned before dinner. We went to my room and both stripped off, which had never bothered either of us before…'


'But, this time he was keeping himself all covered up. I started teasing him about it, because he had never worried before, but he started getting shitty with me. When I eventually did get his hands away from his cock I saw he had a stiffie. He was just so embarrassed, he would hardly talk to me for the rest of the night, at least not until we went to bed.'

'What happened then?'

'He told me I shouldn't be trying to look at guys' cocks.'

'Why not? It's only natural isn't it? I mean, to want to see if your own is any different, or how it might stack up? I know that most of the guys in gym do it at one time or another.'

'Yeah, well, not for him apparently.'

'Then what?'

I laughed. 'That's when I got the idea that I needed to get an even better look.'

'And?' he said, his voiced suddenly sounding quite different. Hoarse even.

'And… so I waited until it was really late that night, making sure I didn't go to sleep. He was sleeping in my room, and it was a warm night, so we only had the sheets covering us. When I was sure he was asleep I crept out of my bed and over to his bed, then gently pulled the sheet back.'

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Pete move and when I glanced at him I noticed he was adjusting himself. I found myself having to stifle a chuckle.

'There was light coming into the room from the street light outside, so I could see quite well,' I continued, 'and when I pulled the sheet back, well, there it all was, his cock and his balls sticking straight out of the slit in his boxers.'

'W-what did you do?'

I smiled at him. 'I leant over and got as close a look as I possibly could. It was beautiful and around the base of it he was starting to sprout some dark hair, which was something that I didn't even have at that stage.'

'Oh man.'

'Then, that was when I made the fatal mistake…'

'Which was?'

'I touched it… then he woke up and freaked right out. And that was the end of us as friends.'

'Shit! That's rough,' Pete said after a few moments.

'I tried to fix things, I honestly did, but that only seemed to make things worse. Next time I saw him at school he wouldn't even talk to me. I just felt like I had died inside. The only thing though, he said he hasn't ever told a soul, and I believe him, because nothing has ever got back to me about it… even though for ages everyone was trying to find out exactly what had happened between us. It didn't matter though, the damage was done. Everyone knew that something had happened and I was still treated as scum simply because of that.'

'I'm sorry,' Pete said. 'I don't think you deserved that.'

'Ah, well, what's done is done, and nothing is going to change what has happened in the past.'

'No, probably not.'

'Anyhow, mate, I think I'm going to hit the sack. It sounds like we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.'

'Yeah, that sounds like a plan,' he replied.

'You're not going to freak out on me if I strip down to my shorts for bed, are you?' I asked with a grin.

'No mate, I can handle it. I'll still talk to you tomorrow,' he laughed.

With that I stood up and flicked out the lights in our room and pulled off my shirt. In the pale light I could see him get up and do the same. I finished undressing and climbed into my bunk, then I heard, more than saw, Pete do the same.

'Good night, JJ,' he whispered into the darkness.

'Yeah, Pete. Good night,' I replied. 'Sweet dreams.'

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