The Seventeenth Summer (Ch 2)
A time for sun, surf and self-discovery . . .
It wouldn’t be until a few days after his set-to with his mother before Danny would speak with Jake again. He had seen him from a distance a few times on previous days as Jake surfed the breaks off the main beach and he had marveled at Jake’s skill as he ducked and dived and danced across the breaking waves. He had marveled, too, at the beauty of the young man, as if he were now noticing the beauty of the male body for the very first time.
On this day Danny had been sitting on the dunes between the beach and the main street of their small town, with sketch pad in hand and working on a drawing of some seagulls, when his three friends had joined him to hang out and shooting the breeze. Recently they had a new topic, having been comparing notes about what their parents had all told them about the new stranger in town, which was basically for them to steer clear of Jake!
As they laughed and joked amongst themselves it wasn’t long before they heard the now familiar sound of the panel van cruise down Main Street. It was unmistakable. Nobody else around here had anything quite like it.
They looked up and saw the sleek machine pull into a parking space in the car park across the road, with Jake climbing out a few moments later.
Danny noted that today he was wearing white shorts and a loose-fitting singlet, tie-died pale yellow and green, and he felt something stir within him at the sight. Jake looked hot, he thought; not that he could ever let any of his friends hear him say that.
‘I wonder what he’s up to?’ Thomas said as they watched him walk toward a nearby shop, before moments later noticing the boys and giving them a wave. Nate and Danny waved back, and Jake then changed direction and started across the road toward where they were sitting.
‘All right, we better go,’ Pat said.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Thomas, as he got to his feet and brushed sand off his board shorts. ‘I don’t want to cop another earful from the old man. We’ll see you guys later, okay?’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ replied Nate, who was quietly pissed that his friends were being so gutless. He glanced at Danny and could see that he too wasn’t all that happy about it either. ‘Weak bastards,’ Nate whispered as Pat and Thomas walked away, ignoring the approaching Jake all together.
‘Yeah . . . well . . . I guess I can’t blame them for not wanting to get into trouble,’ Danny quietly replied.
‘Hmmppff . . .’
The boys noticed Jake looking at Pat and Thomas as they walked away. They also noticed the look on his face. It was one of disappointment, but there was something else there, Danny thought. Something like sadness.
‘Hey guys,’ Jake said as he reached them.
‘Hi, Jake,’ Danny said, while Nate gave him a nod.
‘It looks like I must be persona non grata, not good enough to been seen hanging around with, eh?’ Jake asked, while cocking a thumb towards Pat and Thomas, who were by now on the other side of the road and heading for the corner store.
‘What does that mean?’ asked Nate.
‘It’s latin for an unwelcome person.’
‘Latin?’ Nate said, sounding quite surprised. ‘Where did you go to school?’
‘A private boys school in Newcastle . . . that’s where I’m from.’
‘I wouldn’t worry about the other guys,’ Danny added. ‘They’ve just been told to steer clear of that new stranger in town . . . just like we all have,’ he added with a smile.
‘Well, I’m glad that not everyone listens to what they are told.’
‘Only sometimes,’ Nate replied, with a cheeky grin.
‘So, what have you been told about me? I bet all the old fogies think I’m an axe murderer, or a drug dealer, or something worse.’
‘Oh, no, nothing quite that bad,’ Danny answered.
‘Well, that’s a relief. But they’ve obviously got me pegged as something, though. So, what then?’
Danny and Nate glanced at each other. Should they tell him, they both wondered?
Eventually it was Nate who decided to be brave enough.
‘They're saying you’re a . . .’
‘A dope smoking homo,’ Nate blurted out quickly, suddenly embarrassed by having to say it, yet relieved that it was finally out there, and that Jake now knew what it was that people were saying about him.
For the few seconds that Jake stared at them, apparently shocked by what he had just been told, the boys thought they were going to be in trouble, but then Jake smiled and started chuckling to himself.
Once more Nate and Danny glanced at each other, not quite sure of what was going to happen next, but as Jake’s mirth grew louder, so too did their relief, until finally they also joined in and were laughing along with him.
A short while later, once they had all recovered, a more somber note returned. The boys were curious to know if there was any truth to the rumours but weren’t quite sure if they should ask or not.
Jake looked at them and smiled. ‘So, I guess you want to know if any of it is true or not, huh?’
‘I . . . errr . . .’ Danny stammered.
‘It’s okay, guys. I’m quite happy to level with you. You’ve been good to me so far, so you deserve to know.’
Another glance passed between the two boys.
‘So, what is it?’ enquired Nate. ‘Were the old farts right?’
‘Pretty much,’ Jake answered.
‘About which bit?’ urged Danny.
‘Well, I don’t think you guys will try and bash me in a back alley or anything, so I don’t mind telling you. The answer is all of it. Yes, I’m queer, although I prefer the term gay, which is what seems to get used more these days. And yes, I don’t mind smoking a bit of weed every now and then . . . but that’s it, nothing else.’
‘Holy shit!’ Nate exclaimed. ‘For real?’
‘Yeah, mate. Scout’s honour!’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a queer guy before,’ Nate whispered.
‘Well, actually, you probably have. Guys like me are everywhere, even in little places like Thompsonville.’
‘Especially in little places like Thompsonville,’ Danny added, to which Nate raised his eyebrows at his friend. ‘What? You’ve heard all those stories about some of those Thompson guys down through the years, haven’t you? Apparently there have been heaps of them around here who liked fooling around with other guys! Like those two old guys who lived out at the dairy on Junction Road . . . one of them was a Thompson. He went away to the first world war, leaving his boyfriend here, then when he came back, he found his boyfriend had almost gone mental with worry . . . although they did eventually get to live happily ever after.’
‘Well, there you go,’ Jake said. ‘It seems I’m not so different from some of the locals after all. Does that worry you guys?’
Nate shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Not really. To each his own, I guess.’
‘And what about you, Danny?’
‘Nah, it doesn’t worry me,’ he said with a grin.
Jake smiled back at him and for just a few moments they held each other’s gaze. Nothing was said, but something definitely passed between them; an understanding, a feeling, the likes of which Danny had never experienced before. They could relate to each other.
Thankfully, for Danny at least, it didn’t appear to have been noticed by Nate.
‘So, how come you’re here in T’ville?’ Nate asked their new friend. ‘Don’t you have a job or something?’
‘Well, that’s kind of a long story.’
‘We’ve got all day,’ Nate cheekily replied.
It was about then that Jake noticed the sketch pad sitting in the sand beside Danny. ‘You like to draw?’ he asked. ‘So do I. Mind if I have a look?’
‘Sure,’ said Danny, as he picked up the pad and passed it over.
Jake looked at the seagulls that Danny had been working on that morning, raising his eyebrows slightly as he did so.
‘I draw and paint as well, and I think that’s actually pretty good,’ Jake said to him.
Jake then flipped through some of the other drawings in the pad, pausing every now and then, smiling and nodding, before moving on to the next one. When he stopped and appeared to be staring at one drawing in particular Danny was a little worried. He thought he knew which one it was.
‘I really like this one,’ Jake said, as he turned the pad around to show the boys.
‘Yeah, you would!’ teased Nate.
It was a sketch of two very young boys on the beach, which Danny had drawn a few days earlier. The boys couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. One was wearing just a pair of underpants and was digging up some sand with a small plastic spade and bucket. The other was wearing nothing at all and sitting down, his legs stretched out in front of him, while he played with a pile of sand in front of him.
‘It’s my favourite too,’ Danny replied, silently thankful that he hadn’t reached last night’s drawing of the Sandman panel van and the surfer. Maybe he would show it to him later?
‘Oh geez, don’t tell me you’re a bloody homo too?’ Nate laughed, while punching his friend in the shoulder.
Danny’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t say anything. How could he answer that and possibly lose his best friend forever?
Sensing the awkward moment and how it might affect Danny, Jake stepped in and said, ‘How about I buy you guys some fish and chips for lunch, that’s if you’re game enough to be seen with me, and I’ll tell you all about how I ended up here in T’ville, as you call it.’
‘That works for me,’ Nate replied.
‘Yeah, that would be good. Thanks,’ added Danny.
‘Great. I saw some picnic tables over the road at the park around the lake, where we can find some shade.’
While Danny and Nate found a spot at a picnic table beneath the shade of an old Moreton Bay Fig tree, Jake strolled down to the boardwalk and ordered their feast, coming back a short while later carrying a large parcel wrapped in newspaper, along with some bottles of soft drink.
He had ordered up, as he figured they would be there for a while as he told his story, and besides, he was beginning to really like these boys and wanted to get to know them better. Having someone friendly to talk to in town was also so much more appealing than having everyone turn their noses up at him, or him spending all his time alone, with just a sketchbook and painting supplies to keep him company.
There was also another reason why he wanted to get to know them. He was beginning to see quite a lot of himself in Danny, so this was a friendship he wanted to cultivate; not necessarily for any purposes that could find himself in strife with the locals, but simply because he liked the kid. He had also seen Danny’s reaction when he had told them that he was gay, and something told him that they had more in common than just drawing, so even if nothing developed between them in that respect, he figured Danny could still do with a friend who might understand what he was going through.
‘So, how old are you?’ Nate asked, as he reached for a handful of hot chips.
‘How old do you think I am?’
Nate cocked his head sideways and looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up. ‘Oh, I dunno, maybe about twenty-two, or so, I reckon.’
‘And what do you reckon, Danny?’
‘Nah, not twenty. Maybe eighteen or nineteen.’
Jake grinned. ‘I’m twenty,’ he replied.
‘So, what about the Fuck Truck? How can you afford that?’
Jake laughed and asked, ‘The what?’
‘The panel van . . . that’s one of the things they call them,’ Nate cheerfully replied. ‘Or Sin Bin or Shaggin’ Wagon. You fucked anyone in it yet?’
‘Oh, Jesus! You’re not backwards in coming forward, are you?’ Jake said with a laugh.
‘Don’t worry about him, he’s like that all the time,’ added Danny. ‘You kind of get used to him after a while.’
‘Quite a long while, I’d say!’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ said Nate. ‘But you still haven’t answered my question.’
‘Which one . . . there were two, if I’m not mistaken?’
‘Well, the answer to your second question is no . . . not yet.’
‘And the first one?’
‘Well, that’s the long story.’
‘Go on,’ urged Nate.
‘I’m what you call the Black Sheep of the family. Have you heard that expression before?’
Danny nodded, but Nate simply shrugged his shoulders.
‘It means I’m the odd one out in my family . . . something of an outcast.’
‘Because you’re gay?’ Danny asked.
‘Partly. It’s also because everyone in my family is like, high achievers. Dad is a doctor. Mum is a solicitor. My older brother is studying law, and my sister wants to be a doctor, like dad.’
‘So, what do you want to be?’ Nate enquired.
‘An artist. A surfer. A traveler. They can’t understand that, so I’m something of an embarrassment to them.’
‘That sucks,’ offered Danny.
‘It certainly does, mate.’
‘So, what about the car?’ Nate urged.
‘Well, because they don’t really want me around . . .’
‘What? They kicked you out?’ asked Danny.
‘No, not quite . . . it’s more like they encouraged me to go and do what I wanted to do . . . in their own way of course. They bought me the van and they give me some money every month, which is way more than I really need, just so I don’t hang around and embarrass them. If I turn out to be a total failure at everything I do, then I won’t be around for everyone to see it . . . and if I do become a successful artist, like I hope to do, then I’m sure they’ll step in and take the credit and tell everyone how they nurtured me and supported me and encouraged me to chase my dreams.’
‘Christ, talk about having two-bob each way,’ Nate spat.
‘Yeah, it’s a bit like that.’
‘And you don’t mind that?’ asked Danny, sounding quite incredulous.
‘Actually, no, I don’t,’ Jake laughed. ‘Not now, anyhow. I mean, at first it felt like I was being kicked out, and that really upset me at the time, but when I sat and thought about it, I realised that they were actually doing me a huge favour. I get to do whatever I want to do and go wherever I want to go. I get to see some great places. I get to surf some great beaches. Then I paint them, or photograph them, and I get to meet some really interesting people.’
‘And some arseholes too, I bet?’ Nate suggested.
‘Yeah, well there is that, but everything else kind of makes up for it I reckon.’
‘So, what about your paintings?’ asked Danny. ‘Will you show us some?’
‘Sure. They are all stashed in the back of the van . . . but why don’t you guys come out to the beach tomorrow where I’ve been camping and I’ll show some of them to you then?’
The two boys looked at each other. They were both wondering exactly the same thing . . . could they trust their new friend? And what would everyone else think, or say, if they knew they were going out to meet him there?
This time it was Danny who made the first move. ‘I’d love to,’ he replied.
Nate nodded and shot him a smile.
‘That’s great. I think we’re all going to be really good friends.’
‘I hope so,’ Danny replied, although he did miss the curious expression that Nate shot him as he said it.
The boys got to their feet and thanked Jake for buying lunch.
‘Anytime, guys. It’s been a pleasure.’
‘What time should we go out tomorrow?’ Danny asked.
‘Oh, just whenever . . . just provided it’s not too early.’
‘Okay, we’ll see you then,’ before giving him a wave and setting off back toward the shops.
‘Oh, and Danny, if I show you mine, you’ve got to show me yours,’ Jake added, before they had gone too far, and with just a hint of a lascivious smile. It was his first attempt at trying to flirt with Danny, but it seemed to be lost on the kid.
‘It means he wants to see some of your paintings, too,’ Nate replied, grinning. ‘Or at least I hope that’s all he meant.’
This story will be updated with a new chapter each week, but if you don't want to wait that long you can always purchase the completed novel as an e-book, here . . . https://books2read.com/u/mg1dyv
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About the Creator
Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters
Aussie, Queer & Country
LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.
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