Danny was dreading the thought of having to go home and face his mother who knew that he must have stayed out all night, so he stayed away from his home for as long as he could. He also knew there would be hell to pay, but strangely, now that he had shared his biggest secret and his greatest fears with his best friend, while also having made the big decision to join Jake in that adventure they called life, he felt surprisingly calm.
As for how long that feeling might last, however, might be a different story, as firstly there was bound to be a barrage of questions, and then there was the fact that his stepfather would be returning home today. Whether Danny liked it or not, his afternoon was shaping up as a doozy, as his mother would sometimes say; not that he was particularly worried by it.
‘You want me to come with you?’ Nate had asked when they made it to the caravan park at the edge of town. It was just before lunch time. ‘You know . . . safety in numbers, and all that?’
‘Thanks, but nah, I’ll be okay . . .’
‘You hope!’ Nate added, while giving his friend a cheeky grin, trying to lighten the mood just a little. ‘So, what are you going to tell them?’
‘I . . . I don’t really know . . .’ Danny answered, truthfully. ‘I know that I can’t tell them what I told you . . . and I sure as hell can’t tell them that I’m going to clear out and run away with a poof from the big city who drives a fancy car . . .’
‘No, doofus! I meant about last night, and where you were?’
‘Something will come to me,’ Danny replied. ‘Please just promise me that you won’t say anything to anyone about what I’ve said, okay?’
‘What do you take me for? Of course I’ll keep quiet . . . even if they try and torture me . . .’
At that, Danny giggled. ‘Just so long as they don’t tickle you, then, eh?’
‘Oh, fuck, they wouldn’t, would they?’ Nate said with a chuckle.
‘I fuckin’ hope not!’
They bumped fists and said farewell a few minutes later, with Nate heading uptown, while Danny rode the last few blocks home, turning things over in his mind as he pedaled away, still not sure what he was going to say when faced with the inquisition that he knew he would be bound to face. All he was sure of was that he couldn’t turn back now. His future was beginning to take shape in his own mind, and while it was largely unknown and even a bit scary, it was going to be a whole lot better than the one he would be faced with if he stayed in Thompsonville.
When he reached his home he was relieved to see that there was no sign of Brad’s Kenworth, but even more relieved to see that there was no sign of his mother’s car either. That gave him a little breathing space, but it also meant that it was only stalling what was inevitable.
Entering the garage with his bike he noticed that the remnants of his tinkering from last night were still lying around, so after propping his bike against the wall where it usually stood he set about packing away the few tools he had used and hanging the bike tyres and inner tubes back where they had been twenty-four hours earlier.
After that, Danny decided that he was hungry and so he headed inside in search of something to eat, and to then await the impending storm, so he could get that out of the way and suffer whatever fate awaited him. Then maybe, he figured, he would be able to move on with his life.
It didn’t take him long to find the makings of a sandwich, along with a can of soft drink from the refrigerator, and once he had fixed himself some lunch he sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat.
As he chewed in silence he looked around the old house, taking in the outdated kitchen, the comfy living room, and the view down the hallway, and idly wondered if he would miss it. The house had been the only home he had ever lived in, and in some respects he was fond of it, but lately his vision of life here had begun to sour.
What would he think of it in another five, or ten, or twenty years, he wondered? Would he look back at it with that same fondness, or would those memories be poisoned by recent events?
It was while he pondered this question that he heard the sound of a car coming down the driveway beside the house. His heart skipped a beat, as he paused in mid-bite.
Show time was about to arrive.
As he heard the car doors open and close he continued eating, while he tried to not get too worked up about what the next few minutes might bring.
Somewhat nervously he watched the back door, as he listened for the telltale sound of footsteps.
It was those of his brother and sister he heard first, as they ran up the path and jumped up onto the landing, before stomping across the boards and yanking open the door.
For a few seconds they were startled when they saw him sitting at the table, before glancing at each other with worried expressions.
‘Yup, they know I’m in deep shit,’ Danny thought to himself.
‘Errr . . . Hi,’ Pete said to him.
‘Hi, Pete. Have you been downtown?’
His brother nodded, but then they all heard the sound of their mother’s footsteps and the two kids took off down the hall toward their rooms, but not before Pete whispered, ‘Good luck!’
Turning his attention back toward the door, Danny tried to steel himself for what was about to come.
He heard his mother crossing the landing and then saw her as she appeared at the doorway and pulled open the screen door, while juggling two large brown paper bags of shopping from the local supermarket.
When she spotted him sitting at the table she stopped and stared at Danny for a few moments, before continuing across the floor and setting the bags down on the counter near the sink. Danny turned his head and watched as she leaned back against the counter and folded her arms in front of her, while looking down at him.
She didn’t look angry or upset, which unnerved Danny slightly. He had expected an explosion, but what he saw etched across her face instead was more like concern, or worry. Suddenly Danny was feeling a bit guilty about what he had been thinking earlier, and about not coming home last night.
‘Are you okay?’ his mother eventually asked.
‘Yes,’ Danny replied.
‘So, do you want to tell me where you were last night? I was up half the night worried sick about you.’
For a few moments Danny wasn’t sure what to say. This wasn’t what he expected at all.
‘I . . . I’m not a little kid any more, mum. I . . . I just needed some time to think,’ Danny replied. ‘I was up at the lighthouse . . . I ended up watching the sun come up.’
‘Are you in some sort of trouble?’
‘Nooooo . . . why would you ask that?’
‘Well, what is it, then? Has somebody done something to you?’
‘No, mum, it’s nothing like that. And it’s got nothing to do with Brad . . . and I’m not into drugs, or anything like that . . . it’s just . . . I’m just . . . I dunno . . . I’m confused about something and I just needed some time to think, that’s all! End of story!’
‘And I take it that you don’t want to talk about it?’
‘No, mum. I just want to work it out for myself, okay?’
For what seemed like an eternity the woman looked down at her son, trying to hold back the emotions that were bubbling up inside her. She knew, of course, that he wasn’t a little boy any more – he had reminded her often enough about that of late – but it certainly didn’t make it any easier for her each time she was reminded of it. In the end she turned away from Danny and looked out the window above the kitchen sink, steadying herself by placing her hands on the counter, while trying to focus instead on some distant point in the back garden.
Danny stayed where he was, watching her back, unsure if he should stay or go, or perhaps even go to her.
‘Okay, then,’ his mother eventually replied, after she had managed to compose herself. ‘Maybe I’m just being a bit over-protective?’ she added, as she turned around to face him once more.
‘Thanks, mum,’ Danny replied, as he pushed away from the table, the feet of the chair scraping across the linoleum floor and making a noise which made him wince. Crossing the floor to where his mother stood he stopped in front of her, looking down at her.
‘You’re growing up so fast,’ his mother said as she looked up at him and then rested her hands against his chest. ‘Way too fast.’
‘I can’t help that,’ Danny replied.
‘No, I guess not,’ his mother replied, before reaching out and hugging him. ‘I can’t stop you from doing whatever it is that you want to do in life . . . but I do hope you’ll be careful with whatever you do, and that you end up happy. And no matter what you do, or where might you go, or whomever you are with . . . I just want you to just remember that you have a family and this house will always be your home.’
‘Thank you, mum,’ Danny replied, as he returned the hug, while at the same time wondering to himself if she might not already have some idea of what he was planning.
So now it was Saturday. His birthday was just two days away and Christmas was five days away. Danny didn’t know how many days he might have left in this town after Christmas, but he knew he would enjoy ticking those days off, even if he couldn’t share that with anyone other than Nate.
After spending the night cold and alone on Lighthouse Point he had no such plans for a repeat performance tonight, and with Brad coming home chances were the family would all be heading out to either the local Chinese restaurant or the pub or the bowling club for a meal, which was about the only time they would usually go out, apart from birthdays or other special occasions.
After his chat with his mother, Danny helped pack away the groceries, before retreating to his room, where he tried to take a nap and catch up on some of what he had missed out on last night. That proved almost impossible, however, with both his brother and sister in the house, stomping up and down the hallway or arguing over which channel they wanted to watch on the television.
In the end he decided to call Nate, to let him know how things went with his mother and also to see what he might be up to. An idea was forming in Danny’s mind that maybe they should go fishing out on the lake, or even upriver for a change, and when he eventually got through to Nate his friend jumped at the idea of going out on the water. It wasn’t long after that the two of them pushed an aluminium tinnie into the water just around the corner from Nate’s place, before starting the small outboard motor and pointing her nose toward the wide stretch of water where the Thompson River flowed into the lake.
‘I know you mightn’t be here for much longer, but this can’t be the last time we do this,’ Nate yelled to his friend, trying to be heard above the straining motor, on which he had opened the throttle out wide.
‘No,’ Danny replied from his spot at the bow of the boat, where he could see the water rushing beneath them. ‘How about we go camping after Christmas? Maybe Pat and Thomas will be able to come too?’
‘That sounds good to me,’ was the reply as the pair of them grinned at each other.
With the water relatively calm the boys made good time. It was a gorgeous afternoon, with the sun reflecting off the wide blue river. They were heading to a sandy beach they knew that was near a bend in the river, quite a way upstream from where the river emptied into the lake. Here the water ran slow and deep, and the well shaded river bank was the perfect spot to get away from it all for a few hours, or even a few days if the need arose. It had been ages since the boys had ventured this far upriver, and as Nate cut the motor and they let the boat beach itself on the sandy riverbank, both jumped out, one on either side, to help pull it far enough out of the water so that it wouldn’t float away, back out into the river.
By the time they tied a rope from the bow to a nearby log, a surge of excitement went through them.
‘Hey, is that the path that leads through the scrub to that old timber workers’ cottage?’ Nate asked, while pointing to a gap in the bushes and a narrow trail leading between some trees.
‘I don’t care if it is . . . I ain’t going up there,’ Danny replied. ‘You’re not getting me anywhere near a haunted house!’
‘What? That’s just an old wives tale . . . isn’t it?’
‘Maybe . . . maybe not . . . but I have no desire to find out. Let some other silly bugger be the guinea pig . . . and then you can send me a fucking postcard when you find out!’
‘And staying that way!’ Danny laughed.
They both knew the story about the old cottage, which dated back to when the town was originally founded more than one hundred years ago now. Two timber cutters, supposedly brothers, but no one ever knew that for sure, were apparently murdered by the local natives, with their ghosts said to haunt the place to this very day.
There were also rumours they were queer, and other rumours that they had been murdered by the Thompson brothers, who founded Thompsonville so that they could get their hands on the timber mill, but that was all they were - rumours. Very few people ever went near the place, and it certainly wasn’t going to be receiving any new visitors today.
‘C’mon then, what do you want to do? Throw a line in, or go for a swim?’ Nate asked.
Without replying Danny pulled off his t-shirt and threw it into the boat, before kicking off his sneakers and then dropping his shorts, right in front of his friend.
‘Jesus, that Jake has turned you into a right proper queer, hasn’t he?’ Nate teased.
‘Nothing queer about going skinny dipping with a mate, mate. We’ve done it often enough before.’
‘Yeah, but I didn’t know then that you might be perving on me, did I?’ Nate chuckled.
‘Get over yourself!’ Danny teased as he tossed his shorts directly at Nate, before wading out into the cool water. ‘Now just get your gear off and come on in. The water’s fine.’
So, without a second thought, Nate did just that.
The family did indeed have a meal at the local pub that night, although little was said between Brad and Danny, which suited Danny just fine. A few days later Danny’s birthday came around and the celebrations were rather low key. The one present he had received early was his most treasured, as was the time he was able to spend with Nate that day. He was now seventeen. Old enough to get his driver’s license, but not old enough to get a beer . . . not that he really wanted one.
As the days ticked down to Christmas the boys spent every day possible together, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before they would be parted; and who knew just when they might see each other again after that happened. On a couple of occasions they even let Pete come along with them, although Danny made sure that Nate was careful about not saying anything that might give the game away.
They saw little of Pat or Thomas, and Danny’s father was away on the road once more, so the days were pretty much theirs to do with as they pleased, apart from having to do their own Christmas shopping for their family members as well as carry out their usual chores for their parents.
During this time Danny hadn’t heard a thing from Jake, although he thought of him every day. Despite the odd little twinge of doubt, he knew that Jake would come back for him.
Then, before they all knew it Christmas was upon them and Danny found himself being woken that morning by the sounds of his brother and sister running up the hall toward the living room, where a real pine tree complete with all its baubles and tinsel, stood in one corner of the room dropping real pine needles all over the gifts and the carpet beneath it, much to the disgust of Danny’s mother.
When the door of Danny’s bedroom burst open and Pete came running in, yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ while jumping onto his bed, Danny knew it would be futile to try and stay there. Instead, he grabbed hold of Pete and dragged him down beside him, while tickling the younger boy as he did so, which only resulted in excited shrieks and laughter. That was followed shortly afterward by the sound of a fist banging on the wall, coupled with a command to, ‘Keep that bloody racket down!’
Apparently Brad had made it home in time.
The two of them giggled, before Danny hugged his brother to him and whispered, ‘Merry Christmas, kiddo,’ then quickly kissed Pete on the cheek.
‘Ewww . . .’ Pete initially responded as he rubbed his cheek vigourously, but after a moment or two he looked up into his brother’s face, then kissed him in return. The two boys smiled at each other in a way they hadn’t done in years. Suddenly Danny realised that he was going to miss the little twerp.
‘Hey, do you think you’ve got any presents waiting for you out there under the tree?’ Danny asked.
‘Reckon so,’ Pete replied.
‘And how about me?’
‘Nope! None for you! I’m getting them all!’
‘You wish!’ Danny protested, before then proceeding to tickle his brother once more, which was followed by more laughter, until Danny managed to place a hand over his brother’s mouth, before the inevitable shrieks began.
‘Hey!’ Pete tried to protest, but Danny held firm, while at the same time saying, ‘Sssshhhh . . . you’ll get the old man all stirred up again!’
At this Pete finally quieted down and as Danny felt him relax he took his hand away from his brother’s mouth.
‘When do you think we’re going to open the presents?’ Pete asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
Danny smiled. He could remember what it was like being eleven years old.
‘Well, I’m not too sure, mate. Dad was late getting home last night, so he might want to stay in bed for a while,’ Danny replied. He was just about to say he would go and ask his parents when their mother arrived at his bedroom door.
‘Just what’s going on in here, you pair?’ she asked, looking quite surprised that her two sons were in bed together. It was something she didn’t ever think she had seen before, and as far as she was concerned it was a sight which filled her heart with happiness.
‘Somebody wants his presents,’ Danny replied, while grinning up at his mother and jerking his head toward Pete.
‘Is that so? Well, your father was on the road until late last night, so how about we leave him in bed for a bit longer while we get started on some breakfast, then we’ll open our presents afterwards.’
‘Can’t we open the presents first?’ Pete whined.
‘No, young man. I want you to go have a shower . . . and make it a quick one . . . then you can come and help me in the kitchen . . .’
‘Awww, mum . . .’ Pete groaned.
‘Come on. Move it! And I mean both of you!’ their mother ordered, even if the expression on her face told them they wouldn’t be in that much trouble if they ignored her, at least for a few minutes more.
After their mother had left them the two boys continued to lie in Danny’s bed, both on their sides and with Danny’s arm draped over his brother, snuggling him in against his chest. For Danny it was a closeness that he couldn’t recall their ever really having before . . . his kid brother had always been a pest, at least in his eyes . . . but now that things were changing he was feeling a little guilty that he hadn’t made more of an effort.
When the kid pushed back against him Danny became painfully aware of his morning wood and tried to move away from Pete.
‘I know what that is,’ Pete whispered, before giggling.
‘And how would you know that?’ Danny asked.
‘Because it happens to me, too. And my friend Max said it happens to him as well . . . we even . . .’
‘You even, what?’
‘We even touched each . . .’ Pete said quietly, before cutting himself short, as if he had just realised he had said too much already.
His voice sounded as if it was filled with confusion, or fear, so Danny hugged him closer before waiting for Pete to continue.
‘Do you think . . . I mean . . . is it bad to do that?’ Pete eventually asked.
For a moment Danny wondered how he was going to be able to answer that. The last thing he wanted was to start an in-depth discussion about the birds and the bees with an eleven year old while they were both lying in bed, wearing nothing but their boxer shorts. At the same time, however, Danny knew it would be the perfect opportunity to raise the sceptre of what Pete should do if someone made unwanted advances, or more specifically, if their father made a move on the boy.
‘I think,’ Danny began. ‘I think it’s okay if friends want to do that sometimes . . . but they shouldn’t really go and tell other people about it . . . it’s something private . . . you know what I mean?’
‘I . . . I think so.’
‘And sometimes people might want to do it when you don’t want them to . . . or a grown-up or a stranger might want to do it with you. If that ever happens you’ve got to say no, okay! Especially if it’s a grown-up! They’re just not allowed to.’
‘Does that mean all grown-ups?’ Pete whispered.
‘Well, yeah, everyone . . . unless maybe they are a doctor or something. And if someone tries to do that and you don’t want them to, then you should tell them to stop, and you should tell someone about it, okay?’
‘Ummm . . . okay, I guess.’
‘Good. Now I want you to make sure you remember that.’
‘I will,’ Pete promised.
For a few moments more they continued to lie there, seemingly content in each other’s company, but for both of them their minds were racing.
‘Ummm . . . Danny . . . have you . . .’ Pete whispered.
‘Yeah, mate?’ Danny replied, but before Pete could say anything more their mother called.
‘Boys! Showers! Now!’ her voice echoed down the hall.
‘Aarrgghh . . .’ Pete growled.
‘What were you going to ask me?’ Danny urged.
‘Oh . . . it doesn’t matter . . . I . . . I better go . . .’ Pete answered, before pulling away from his brother and getting up off the bed.
For a moment he looked down at Danny, letting his eyes run up and down his brother’s body, before settling on Danny’s boxer shorts.
‘Geez . . . what else have you got in there?’ Pete teased, before reaching out as if to grab hold of Danny’s package, only to have his hand batted away.
‘What the hell!’ Danny complained.
‘Just checking if it was real!’ Pete replied, before bolting for the door.
‘Bloody little punk!’ Danny laughed as Pete disappeared.
To be continued...
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