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Graeme

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Graeme last won the day on June 15 2016

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About Graeme

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  1. Graeme

    Chapter 8

    Thank you! Thanks for the great post, Timothy, most of which I can't comment on (as usual), but I wanted to clarify this point. The Players' Association is essentially a union representing the players. The president is always an active player, as are most (if not all) of the office holders (I'm not 100% sure if they have to be active players or not). As such, they don't have the power to suspend or fine players, but they certainly have influence with both the clubs and the AFL Commission (who do have the power to fine players, and possibly other sanctions, too). Mason's father is certainly not winning awards for being the best parent, but he's certainly not shy about trying to protect Mason. Now, if he would only talk things over with his son, rather than trying to control everything without consulting...
  2. Graeme

    Chapter 8

    “Would you like to check out another place with me?” Clarissa was in the kitchen of the apartment making herself a late breakfast when Mason had called. Liam and Neil had left for the radio station a couple of hours earlier, and she was at a loose end. “I suppose so. At least until I get a better offer.” She chuckled at how unlikely that was. “Where do you want me to meet you?” “I’ll pick you up. Just be ready in twenty minutes.” “You’ve got a car?” It was Mason’s turn to chuckle. “Nope.” “Taxi?” Clarissa remembered the promise Mason had made for that night and narrowed her eyes. “You haven’t rented a limo, have you?” Mason laughed. “No, to all of the above. You’ll see. Oh, and please don’t tell anyone about the place we’re going to look at. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up if it doesn’t work out. I’ll see you soon.” The call disconnected before Clarissa could respond. She contemplated calling him back and demanding an explanation but decided it was easier to do that in person. Instead, she finished her breakfast and then went to her room to get ready. She was waiting outside enjoying the warm January sun when Mason arrived. He was being driven by a neatly dressed older woman whose hair was tied into a tight bun. Clarissa took in the real-estate company’s logo down the side of the car and prepared to get in the back seat. She was therefore surprised when both Mason and the woman exited the vehicle, Mason carrying a backpack. “Clarissa, this is Rosemary. Rosemary, Clarissa is the other person I told you would be checking out the apartment with me.” Rosemary smiled as she reached out to shake Clarissa’s hand. “Pleased to meet you.” She glanced back at Mason. “Shall we go look at it now?” “By all means.” Mason grinned as he hooked his arm into Clarissa’s, and instead of turning back to the car, started walking along the driveway that ran down the side of the block and back towards her unit. “What are you doing?” Clarissa frowned up at the tall American. “Where are we going?” “I’m going to show you a place that I think I can convince my dad to buy for me. It’s big enough for Deon and Kevin to live in, too. We just need to make sure it’s suitable.” “You’re going to love it!” Rosemary said as she smiled at the two of them. “Spacious, well-laid-out, and still relatively new.” It was only as they passed her unit that Clarissa realised where they were going. She stumbled for a moment, causing Mason to give her a look of concern. “The three-bedroom unit at the back of the block? The one that’s for sale?” “Exactly!” Mason chuckled. “I think I can sell the idea to Deon on location alone, and Kevin seemed keen last night to share a place if I do most of the cooking. What do you think? Will they go for it?” While the real-estate agent fumbled with the key safe on the security door at the front of the townhouse-style apartment in question, Clarissa tried to get her thoughts into gear. “We’ll need to see it first. It might be a tip.” “That’s what we’re doing now.” Mason frowned. “A tip? What do you mean?” Clarissa was puzzled for a moment before realising that the word meant something else to Mason. “A rubbish dump.” She smirked. “Like a typical teenage male’s bedroom.” Mason chuckled before becoming more serious. “I’m only going to be able to sell the idea to my dad if I can convince him I’ve got two guaranteed renters. I need Deon and Kevin to move in if it’s going to work.” “If it’s up to scratch…” Clarissa let her voice fade as the ramifications sank in. She didn’t mind Deon being so close, and if Daphne moved in with Kevin, like they had been talking about, she’d have another friend nearby when Deon was travelling. Rosemary stepped back, holding the door to the apartment open. “Here we are. Come inside, and I’ll show you around.” * * * Deon hesitated when he saw who was in the room. It was the second and last day of the AFL Players’ Association induction camp in Melbourne, but he had been asked by one of the organisers to leave the scheduled session for an unexplained meeting. He hadn’t questioned the request and had followed the person to a small room within the Etihad Stadium complex. What he hadn’t expected to see was the new president of the AFL Players’ Association, three people wearing Hawthorn Football Club apparel, and Ty. Ty’s grin of greeting was only momentary, which told Deon that something serious was going on. It was the AFLPA president who spoke first. “Take a seat, Deon. There’s something we want to ask you before we approach your club.” “What’s this about?” Deon asked as he took the only empty seat in the room. “Dave.” Ty grimaced. “That bastard’s trial is coming up at the end of the month, and Dave is going to have to testify. I know the Leopards will be joining Dad and me there to support Dave as well as Dad and me, but I think it’ll mean a lot to him if you fly down from Sydney to be there, too.” “Okay, but my club…” Deon knew it wasn’t a decision he could make on his own. He had responsibilities to his team, though he also wanted to support his former teammate. He shivered at the thought of what had been done to Dave when he was eleven. He didn’t know the details—he didn’t want to know the details—but he knew enough that the guy who did it was a monster. The AFLPA president nodded. “That’s why we’re here. Hawthorn,” he said, indicating the three other people in the room, “are willing to pay for you to fly down and stay in Melbourne for the week of the trial. They’re also offering their training facilities so you can keep up your preparation for the upcoming season when you’re not at the courthouse or with Dave.” “You can stay with Dad and me at Paddy’s place,” Ty said. “Paddy will agree if I ask him.” He glanced at the others in the room. “Paddy’s house isn’t far from the city. It’s a short trip from there to the courthouse.” One of the Hawthorn representatives leant forward. “Deon, we really want you there for Dave. We’re giving him all the support we can, but he also needs his friends with him. Will you help us?” “If my club allows it, of course I’ll be there.” The three Hawthorn men visibly relaxed. The one who spoke turned to the AFLPA president. “Can you send through the initial request to GWS? The media is going to know that a current AFL player is going to testify at the trial, but we want to keep the name of the club out of it for Dave’s sake.” He grimaced. “Too many people already know, but we’re trying to not increase those numbers. We’ll contact them, if you like, but we’d prefer it if the request came from the AFLPA.” The president nodded. “Sure. I’ll do it as soon as we’ve finished here.” “Thanks!” The Hawthorn representative smiled at Deon. “We’ll be in touch with you shortly to organise flights and other details once GWS say you can go. Look out for an email from me.” Deon nodded and then gave them a wry smile. “Okay, but it’ll help if I knew who you are…” Everyone in the room chuckled as they realised that no one had introduced themselves, a matter that was quickly rectified. * * * After thanking Rosemary and letting her drive off, Mason and Clarissa retired to her apartment. They were both quiet while Clarissa made them drinks. Mason still struggled with the idea of instant coffee, but he had to admit to himself that the Australian version tasted much better than the stuff he’d tried back home. “It needs a good clean and probably a repaint once the owners move out,” Clarissa finally said as she placed a steaming mug in front of Mason. “And that kitchen isn’t as spacious as she tried to make it sound.” She snorted. “Slightly bigger than this one, but both are small.” “I can work with that kitchen.” Mason agreed with Clarissa about the cleaning required, but he thought if that was addressed, the place might be acceptable. He was concerned, though, that he might be overlooking something in his eagerness to buy. That was why he wanted Clarissa’s opinion. “The master bedroom was decent, but the other two didn’t seem big enough…” Clarissa shook her head. Mason cocked his head. “They were cluttered, but that’s probably more the way the owners laid out their furniture. I think a different layout would be more efficient. They definitely need extra storage space, though. The closets weren’t big enough.” Clarissa nodded before moving on. “The living room was a good size. Maybe too big. It’ll be a pain to clean.” “I can try to get a housekeeper in once a week to look after that.” Mason grinned. “I just have to sell the idea to the ‘rents first. Since they use a housekeeper, I think I can get away with it.” He chuckled. “Now, if it were my grandma that I needed to convince, I’d have a snowball’s chance in hell. She thinks I should be doing it all myself.” “Get Deon to do it. He’ll need to earn his keep.” “If I’m doing the cooking and Deon’s doing the cleaning, what does that leave for Kevin to do?” She shrugged. “You’re big boys. I’m sure you can find chores for him to do.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you going to go for it?” Mason took a deep breath. “I think so. It’s the first place I’ve seen that I’m comfortable with. I also like the neighbours.” He winked. Clarissa pursed her lips. “The Provans have the place between the two units. They’re a retired couple and keep pretty much to themselves, but they’ve been nice the couple of times we’ve said hello. We haven’t met the people from the front unit, though. The Provans told us that Richardsons have two school-aged kids, and they’re currently away on holiday. They’re due back at the end of the month.” “Do the Provans know about Liam and Neil?” Clarissa snorted. “Since Liam was outside giving Neil a goodbye kiss when our neighbours walked past one day, I think the answer is yes. They didn’t say anything, and I’ve spoken to them since then, so I think they’re okay.” “In that case…” Mason reached into his backpack and pulled out his laptop. “Time to let my dad know.” “Do you want our WiFi details?” “No need. When I got the phone, they sold me a broadband connection for my laptop at the same time.” A couple of minutes later, Mason was reviewing the email he had prepared in anticipation. After making a couple of changes, he sent it off. “Now the hard part.” “Waiting for a response?” “No, talking to him.” Mason pulled out his phone and rang his father. The call was answered after three rings. “Mason?” “Hi, Dad. I’ve just sent you an email with updated details about the apartment I checked out this morning. I’d like to buy it, if I can.” Mason could hear the disapproval over the phone. “Mason, we’re happy to buy you a one- or two- bedroom apartment, but three bedrooms is excessive. It’s too expensive, and it’s too risky. If you can’t sublet the rooms, we’ll be out of pocket for a lot of money.” “I’ve already got two guys ready to rent it when it becomes available, Dad. That’ll help with the costs.” There was a short pause. “How old are these guys?” “They’re both nineteen. Why?” “And if they drop out of college, where will that leave you? Students are not the most reliable tenants for apartments. Don’t let looks fool you; you need to do a financial-history check before you lease the spare rooms to anyone.” Mason ground his teeth. “They’re not students. They both have full-time jobs.” “How long have you known them? Did you meet them at that bar you went to last week?” Mason’s jaw dropped. “How do you know about that?” “You charged your drinks to your credit card. The card that I pay for. When I saw the name of the place on the bill, I had someone check to see what sort of place it was.” To Mason’s surprise, his father’s tone softened. “Mason, don’t let them take advantage of you. I’m guessing they’re good-looking guys, and I understand that you’re lonely, but please be careful. Don’t be too trusting.” After a momentary flash of anger at what his father was saying, Mason laughed. “Dad, they’re straight.” He winked at Clarissa while continuing to talk on the phone. “Yes, they’re good-looking, but they’ve both got girlfriends. That’s how I know them; their girlfriends will be starting at the University of Sydney at the same time as me. Clarissa, Deon’s girlfriend, is with me now, if you want to talk to her.” Clarissa raised an eyebrow before holding out a hand to accept the phone. Mason held up a hand and shook his head to indicate that he wasn’t ready to pass it over. There was another pause, longer this time, before Mason’s father spoke again. “What are their names, and what do they do for a living?” “Deon Bradshaw and Kevin Scanlan.” Mason rolled his eyes. “I presume you’re going to do a background check on them, so you’ll find out that they’re both professional football players. And you know how much they get paid. I’ll email you the details when we finish.” Mason wasn’t above misdirecting his father. He had already discovered that the amount Australian football players were paid was considerably less on average than American professional players, but it didn’t hurt to give his father the impression that Deon and Kevin made more than they really did. “Okay. I’ll check them out as well as the apartment you want to purchase. I’ll be in touch.” “Thanks, Dad.” “I’m not promising anything, Mason, but I’ll look into it. If it seems reasonable, I’ll let you know.” Mason rolled his eyes. “I understand. The auction is in less than two weeks, though, so don’t take too long. I’d like to get it before the auction, if I can. I’m not planning on looking at other places unless I don’t get this one.” “Do you know why they’re selling?” “The family is moving to Brisbane. The father has a job there, and they’re selling so they can buy a house once they arrive. The realtor told me the reserve price for the auction will be set very reasonably because they want to sell quickly.” “Okay. Take care, son. Your mother and I both love you.” Mason blinked as the call ended. He slowly lowered the phone while trying to understand how parents who claim to love him can send him away against his will to another country for four years. He only came out of his reflection when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?” Clarissa asked. Mason made a face before smiling. “Yeah, I’m okay.” He glanced at the time on his phone and made a quick mental calculation. “There’s someone else I’d like to talk to, if he’s available.” He sent off a text message and then picked up his now lukewarm coffee. “I think that call went pretty well, all things considered.” “What did your father say?” “He didn’t say yes, but he never does. He’s going to look into it and get back to me. He wouldn’t say that if he wasn’t giving the idea serious thought.” Clarissa stared at him for a couple of seconds. “You gave him the impression that you’ve already lined up Kevin and Deon to share with you.” Mason grinned. “So, I had better get a move on to make sure that’s actually the case. I’ll call Kevin tonight to talk about it, but can you mention it to Deon when you pick him up tonight? Just don’t tell them about the apartment yet. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up until we know I can buy it.” “Sure.” She continued to stare, though this time in a more contemplative manner. “Your father’s going to a lot of effort for you if he’s going to do background checks on whoever you’re going to rent out the other rooms to.” Mason snorted. “He’s paranoid. He thought I’d picked up two guys at a gay bar and had invited them to live with me.” Clarissa frowned. “And that’s something you’ll need to discuss with them. Are you planning on bringing guys home for the night? Are they going to be comfortable with that?” Mason realised she was right. There were a lot of things to discuss if he was going to share an apartment with the two football players. If things were like they were back home, Kevin and Deon would be media-shy when it came to any hint of a scandal. Sharing an apartment with someone who brought home guys for one-night stands might qualify as such a scandal. His thoughts were interrupted by the receipt of a text message. He read it and then grinned. “Time to introduce you to one of my best friends.” He turned back to his computer and brought up Skype. A couple of minutes later, Jeremy was smiling back at him. “Dude!” The background he could see told Mason that Jeremy was in his apartment. Mason grinned. “Let’s see if I can do this.” He took a breath. “Gudday, Jeremy.” When Clarissa rolled her eyes, Mason shrugged. “Okay, I don’t have that quite right. Clarissa, come over here and show me how to do it properly.” Clarissa pulled one of the chairs up next to Mason and smiled at the laptop. “G’day, Jeremy.” “Lady dude!” Jeremy smiled and then looked at Mason. “Have you finally seen the light?” Mason chuckled. “Nope. Her boyfriend’s really cute, and I’m hoping to move in with him. It’s the only reason I’m putting up with her.” Clarissa hit him in the arm. “Hey!” Mason rubbed his bicep. “You need to learn how to hit like a girl.” Jeremy laughed. “Clarissa, was it? Don’t listen to him. It looks like I’ve found the person to keep this dude under control. He needs all the help he can get.” “Hey!” Clarissa ignored Mason and smiled at Jeremy. “I’ll send you my contact details. I may need your help, especially if he’s after my boyfriend.” Jeremy grinned. “Mason, I need a formal introduction.” He winked at Clarissa. “I’m single, and if you ever tire of that boyfriend of yours, let me know.” Clarissa laughed. “I’m very happy at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” She raised an eyebrow at Mason. “Well?” Mason rolled his eyes. “Jeremy, this is Clarissa. She’s going to be at college with me, though she’s not doing engineering. Clarissa, this is my best friend, Jeremy.” Jeremy’s grin broadened. “Pleased to meet you. If you need any help in keeping this goofball under control, let me know.” Mason stiffened and gave Jeremy a mock frown. “Say what?” “Dude, while most of the time you’re quiet and sedate, you’ve been known to go overboard and wild, especially when you’re pissed off with something. Try and tell me that you’re not trying to max out that Amex card of yours as a way of sending a ‘fuck you’ message to the ‘rents.” “My card doesn’t have a max.” Mason gave Jeremy a sheepish smile. “But you may be right.” “So, besides teasing me with the good-looking lady at your side, anything exciting happening?” “I may have found an apartment. Clarissa and I have checked it out, and now I just need my dad to agree to buy it.” “Cool!” Jeremy winked at Clarissa. “Was it a suitable bachelor pad with room for lots of parties?” His brow wrinkled. “Wait a sec. Mason, didn’t you say you were going to move in with Clarissa’s boyfriend?” “He did.” Clarissa looked to the heavens for a moment before smiling. “Deon’s just moved here to Sydney, too, and he’s supposed to be looking for a place to share with Kevin, a friend of his, but neither has been putting in any effort to find somewhere to live. Mason had the idea last night that the three of them could share a place, and Kevin agreed.” Mason chuckled. “What she’s leaving off is the fact that Deon doesn’t know about this yet. Clarissa still hasn’t told him what he’ll be doing.” “He doesn’t have a say in the matter?” “Of course, he does!” Clarissa looked offended. “He gets to say whatever I tell him to say.” Mason winked at Jeremy. “As you may have noticed, she’s pretty strong-willed.” “So, you’ll all be going to college together?” Mason shook his head. “Kevin and Deon are professional football players in the Australian equivalent of the NFL. They’re both rookies, but they’re full-time athletes.” “Dude!” Jeremy’s jaw dropped. “And you’re going to live with them?” “That’s the plan.” Mason grinned at Clarissa. “As soon as Clarissa tells Deon what to think.” Clarissa frowned. “I don’t tell him what to think. I merely tell him what’s in his best interest, and he’s supposed to know better than to disagree.” She grinned. “Which is usually the case.” The three chatted for almost an hour as Mason brought Jeremy up to date on what was going on in his life, and Clarissa got to know Mason’s best friend. After the Skype call ended, Clarissa sat and contemplated Mason. “What?” Mason asked. She was silent for a moment, and then sighed. “It’s tough, isn’t it? Being so far away from everyone, I mean.” Mason grimaced and then nodded. She reached out and rested a hand on his arm. “You know I’m here if you ever want to talk.” She pulled a face. “I know what it’s like, but my family and other friends are only a short flight or a day’s drive away. For you…” Mason wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a one-arm hug. “Thank you, but I’m making new friends. It can be painful at times now, but I’ll get over it.” That’s what Mason kept telling himself. It wasn’t as if he had any choice. * * * “Helena!” Ty gave Oliver’s girlfriend a quick peck on the cheek. “How have you been?” “I’m good. What brings you out here to Lilydale?” The two strolled towards the kitchen. The aromas in the air told Ty that someone was cooking dinner, but it didn’t smell like one of Oliver’s creations. “I’m here mainly to see Charlie, but I’ll say hi to the rest of the guys before I head home.” When he entered the kitchen, Ty paused. Ben and Ross were busy trying to cook something—exactly what eluded Ty—and seemed more than a little flustered. Oliver was seated at the kitchen table typing on a laptop. “Hey, guys!” He waved to the two cooks before peering over Oliver’s shoulder. “What are you doing?” “Sending recipes to Neil. He wants finger food for the party on Saturday night, and he asked me last weekend for some suggestions. I’ve been putting it off because I’ve been so busy.” Oliver winked at Helena before turning his attention back to the laptop. “But I need to get this done tonight so they’ll have plenty of time to prepare.” “What party?” Helena answered for her boyfriend. “Liam and Clarissa are having a housewarming party on Saturday. Neil’s beginning to panic, especially as he doesn’t know how many people are going to be showing up. Deon and Kevin have invited their teammates, but they haven’t told Neil how many have said they’re going.” Ty frowned. “I’m going to have to have a word with Neil. How dare he organise a party without inviting me?” Helena laughed. “It’s in Sydney, brat. What are you going to do? Fly up just for the party?” Ty shrugged. “Details, details.” He glanced to the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “Is Charlie in his room?” “He is,” Oliver said without looking up. “He’s working on something and wanted some peace and quiet, but it should be fine to interrupt him.” “Ollie,” Ben asked as Ty left the room. “Is the cream supposed to boil?” “Fuck no!” Ty chuckled as he left Oliver to sort out the culinary issues. He walked down to his old room, now Charlie’s, and knocked on the door. After hearing a positive response, he entered, closing the door behind him. “Brat!” Charlie gave him a nervous look. “What are you doing here?” “I’ve come to do some planning with you. I didn’t want to do this over the phone, and I had a couple of hours free, so…” Ty shrugged. “What sort of planning?” “The trial.” Ty sighed when Charlie flinched. Personally, he felt angry when the topic was raised, but he knew Charlie was much closer to Dave than he was and hence reacted more in line with how Dave would be feeling. “I’ve spoken to most of the team. Everyone who’s not working or can get time off will be there.” Ty nodded. “Dad and I will be there, too. I haven’t spoken to Paul or Peter yet, but I’m sure they’ll come.” “Julie said she’ll speak to both of them this week.” Charlie dropped his head as he sat down. “I wish the guy would take a plea bargain so Dave doesn’t have to go through this, but I’ve been told he’s holding out. It seems he thinks the evidence is weak since it’s all around ten years old.” Ty dropped onto the bed next to Charlie. “Deon may be able to make it, too, if GWS let him. The Players’ Association is putting in a request to let him come back for the week.” Charlie’s head snapped up. “They know?” “Just a handful. The president and a couple of others. Hawthorn is using them as an intermediary so no one will know which club is involved.” Charlie snorted. “They’ll know it’s the Leopards. We’re all going to be there.” “Yeah, but as far as AFL players are concerned, that still means it could be any of Hawthorn, Carlton, GWS or the Western Bulldogs. If Deon can make it, that’s more likely to make the speculation that it’s him that was the victim.” Ty gave Charlie a wry smile. “Otherwise, why was he flying down to Melbourne for the trial?” “A lot of people know Dave’s got mental-health issues.” “Charlie…” Ty paused to think for a moment on how to address his former teammate’s worries. “We can’t protect Dave from all speculation. Hawthorn told me the TV and radio stations and the newspapers have all told the AFL Commission that they won’t mention him by name or what club he plays for. I wouldn’t trust them myself, but the AFL has a lot of influence. We have to believe they can keep the details out of the mainstream media. It’s the non-official sites that we need to be concerned about, and hopefully they won’t have enough information to make an informed guess.” Charlie dropped his head again. “Hopefully.” Ty understood his concerns. The news that a current AFL player would be a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Fredrick Rollingford was already out there. So far there hadn’t been any public statement, but too many people knew for it to remain a secret. When it was announced, that’s when everything would hit the fan. Being there to support Dave was all they could do. Everything else was out of their control. * * * It was after eight that night when Deon and his teammates arrived at the luggage carousel at the airport and waited for their luggage to appear. All of them were still hyped up over the two-day induction camp they had just completed. “I still think that if you’ve been in a committed relationship for several months, and she tells you that she’s ready for sex, then it’s okay.” Deon shook his head. They were continuing to debate one of the scenarios the AFL presenter had given them in the session on respecting women. “If it’s been discussed beforehand, okay, but if she’s drunk when she says it the first time, you can’t assume she really means it.” For Deon, it wasn’t a theoretical situation. He knew that he had to wait for Clarissa, and when it was time, he needed to make sure she was truly ready. “Maybe she needed some Dutch courage. We’ve already agreed that it was her decision as to when to have sex. Maybe the drinks were needed to allow her to say yes.” “Possibly, but I think we’re better off erring on the side of caution. If the next day she asks why I didn’t have sex with her when she wanted it, then I know for next time. But without knowing that, I can’t assume…” Deon’s voice petered out as he saw who was approaching the group. “Clarissa?” He intercepted her and pulled her into a hug and a kiss. “What are you doing here? I said I’d get a lift home with one of the guys.” “I know, but I thought I’d make a better offer.” She raised an eyebrow. “That is, assuming you prefer me to your teammates.” He laughed as he escorted her back to the group, one arm remaining wrapped around her. “Jack, it looks like I won’t need that lift, after all.” “Okay, Deon.” Jack grinned. “She certainly looks like better company than me and my dad.” He nodded his head towards Clarissa, still smiling. “Look after him, Clarissa. He’s had a long couple of days.” She gave him a look of mock shock. “What about me? Now that he’s here, his job is to pamper me. He’s been neglecting his duty for the last two days, and now he has to make up for it.” Deon’s teammates all laughed, a couple of them giving him a slap on the back. It was about ten minutes later that Deon’s bag appeared on the luggage carousel and it was time to say farewell to his mates. Deon led the way outside. “Where do you think you’re going?” Clarissa asked. Deon glanced towards the taxi rank and then back at his smirking girlfriend. “Are we taking the train?” He knew it would be a long walk from the nearest train station to the host family he lived with. “Nope.” She grinned. “Come with me.” She led him along the concourse until she reached a suited gentleman of Middle Eastern appearance. “We’re ready to go, Tareq.” The man nodded. “Thank you, Miss Hargraves.” He reached towards Deon’s bag. “Would you like me to carry that for you, sir?” Deon hesitated before handing over his luggage. He gave Clarissa a quizzical look. “What’s going on?” She laughed. “Mason booked us a hire car. He insisted. Tareq will drop me off and then take you home. Until then…” She slipped a hand into one of his and smiled. “Is this a sort-of apology for the trick you two played on me last night?” “Actually, no. He insisted on doing this for us earlier in the day. It was his way of trying to show he’s a friend.” She grinned up at him. “And last night was all on Karen. I had almost nothing to do with it.” “Almost nothing?” Deon leant over and gave Clarissa a quick kiss. “Your ‘almost nothing’ almost gave me a heart attack.” To Deon’s surprise—because he was expecting more playful banter—Clarissa sighed. “Mason could end up being a good friend, but he’s got a tendency of wanting to spend money to create a good impression. He needs to learn that he doesn’t need to do that.” She looked up at Deon. “But I think his heart is in the right place, and since you and he will probably be seeing a lot more of each other, it’ll be good if you two get along.” Deon blinked, and then blinked again when they stopped next to a gleaming new-model Mercedes. He glanced at where Tareq was opening the boot and then back at Clarissa. “What do you mean?” “You and Kevin haven’t been getting your act into gear when it comes to finding a place to live in, and Mason’s been looking for one- or two-bedroom units. After talking it over with Kevin last night, he’s started to also look for three-bedroom units for the three of you to share. Kevin’s on board with the idea, so it just leaves you to agree. There are things you need to discuss with Mason, but I think it could work out well for all of you.” Deon wasn’t sure what to think, but he was able to get to the rear car door before her. Opening it, he smiled and waved her in. “It sounds like we’ve got a few things to talk about in the car.” Clarissa sniffed. “If you want, but that wasn’t my plan.” She gave him a mock glare as she sat in the car. “Instead of talking, I’ve got other plans for that mouth of yours.” Deon laughed as he dashed around to the other side of the Mercedes. He was eager to start exploring those other plans.
  3. Graeme

    Chapter 8

    Scott is worse than I expected. Sexual harassment from the very start of day one, and continuing through both of the first two classes...which was as far as we got. It's great that Mark's mother is standing by him and has the principal involved, but I can see things getting worse before they get better.
  4. Graeme

    2019 Anthology Theme Selection

    It's time to start working out what themes we'll use for the 2019 anthologies! A thread has been created in the Gay Authors Anthology forum to allow members to post their suggestions for next year's anthology themes. The detailed rules are in that thread, but in summary: Each member can suggest up to five themes Each theme is to be no more than three words in length. Themes that exceed three words will be disqualified Do not use a theme that's already been used. Past anthology themes can be found here Only themes posted in the 2019 Anthology Theme Suggestion thread will be eligible. Please do not post your suggestions in this blog You can post your suggestions up to the 7th September when the thread will automatically lock. Once it's locked, the themes will be collated and then we'll ask our authors to vote on which themes they would like for next year. I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!
  5. Graeme

    Story Review: Losing Kevin

    An excellent review of an excellent story. Thanks @BlindAmbition For those who haven't discovered @Ronyx's stories, this is certainly one of many enjoyable tales that is a delight to read.
  6. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    I don't know exactly what Bobby has planned, but I hope he's not being overconfident. He can't rely on Scott doing something inappropriate on the school's computer network. Scott has shown he's not going to leave them alone, and I have my doubts that he'll back off if they threaten to reveal the truth about his parents...
  7. Graeme

    Chapter 6

    A gentle chapter where the two boys start to explore their relationship, as well as sharing that relationship with those closest to them. But the clouds are on the horizon, as Mark noted, with school starting soon and Scott probably going to paint a target on both of them. So, this restful time is the calm before the storm, where they steady their minds and souls before braving the elements.
  8. Graeme

    Chapter 5

    I agree with @droughtquake in that Scott's hiding some major pain. His uncle was right when he said that Scott had already been through enough. I can't imagine how it must feel to have both parents sent to prison, and for everyone in the community to know about it. Moving in with his uncle allowed him to escape the fingers that would've been pointed at him, but not the internal pain. So, that's probably part of why he's done what he's done. He wants acceptance, and as every bully knows (yes, Scott is a bully, even if he's one that's hiding an internal hurt), the way to acceptance is to find someone who is an outsider. If you can't find someone, make someone into an outsider. What Scott's done is still wrong, but his motivations and drivers are now clearer. Unfortunately, Mark and Bobby are planning on being bullies in return. While I understand it, I'm disappointed in Mark (I don't know what Bobby is thinking), especially considering how mature he's being with his younger sister. Hopefully, they'll just stop with threatening to reveal the information and not actually go through with revealing Scott's parents situation to others.
  9. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    In that case it's probably by design. You follow stories, not chapters... But an enhancement request to add a Follow button to the chapters to allow someone to follow the story is a good idea
  10. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    That sounds like a bug. There should be a Follow button on the story page (top right-hand side) : https://www.gayauthors.org/story/graeme/leopard-hunt/ I can see it, but if you can't then there's an issue.
  11. Graeme

    Escaping the Pain

    This is tragic tale of Dane. At the start of the story, we learn that his mother had just passed away. It wasn't expected, but it's still a shock for a sensitive high school senior. Once we're introduced to his father, though, we learn that losing his mother is just the top of the iceberg that's Dane's painful life. But the story is titled "Escaping the Pain", so enter Tap, the big high school jock senior who Dane ran into (literally) the day his mother died. Tap sees more in Dane than Dane wanted to reveal, and thus begins the interactions that will allow Dane to escape the pain that was his life up to that point. This is one of Cia's earlier stories and it lacks some of the polish of her later tales, but it's still a great and enjoyable read. Thoroughly recommended, especially for those romantic readers out there (like me).
  12. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    Thanks, @chris191070! It will depend on the costs and interest rates, but you're right in that the totals will hopefully not be too far apart. Since Mason declined the honour of almost drowning and hence being rescued, it's unlikely he appeared on the footage. Even if he did, and the footage survived the editting process, he would only appear in the background for a short period of time. It would take an exceptional observer who was a fan of the show to notice him...and that would only happen when the new season went to air. Jose clearly doesn't like the meal that Pedro's cousin had prepared, and will probably spending time on the toilet afterwards as a consequence...is that the bad you're anticipating? Now, what ulterior motive would she have? Surely, having her boyfriend nearby shouldn't be considered to be something ulterior...should it?
  13. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    Did you miss the part that the only person who knows that Mason is considering buy, rather than renting, is Clarissa? She's the only one who could comment on the unit for sale
  14. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    LOL -- the single-use plastic bag ban didn't come in until June/July 2018 -- that's more than three years in the future for the guys Yes., Mason is still in the hotel. He was booked in for two weeks and while he's renting somewhere else for a couple of months, he doesn't need to move in until the hotel (which is a lot more comfortable) booking ends. It's partly a case of familiarity breeding contempt. They've been aware of the for-sale sign for so long that they don't notice anymore. I think Ty's been a bad influence on Karen...
  15. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    “Time for lunch?” Mason waved a hand towards a nearby café. “My treat.” “Thank you.” Clarissa stared up at the tall American as they entered the shop. “When I joined you to go look at units, I didn’t realise that you were thinking of buying, not renting.” Mason shrugged. “It’s not certain I’ll be able to buy, but the ‘rents haven’t ruled it out, so I’m considering options. Rent or buy; whichever gets me what I want.” He grinned down at her. “I was more surprised that you wanted to come with me until I found out that you’re looking for Deon and Kevin, too.” “Those two don’t seem to be getting their arses into gear, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and see if I can find them somewhere to live.” Clarissa snorted. “Not that that’s been very successful so far.” Mason pulled out a chair for Clarissa and then waited until she was seated before joining her. “That’s one bird. What’s the other?” Clarissa stared at him for a moment, a faint frown etched on her face. “What do you mean?” “You said you were killing two birds. One is looking for an apartment for Deon and Kevin. What’s the other?” She laughed. “Finding something to do. Neil and Liam are at the Q FM radio station where Liam starts his part-time job today. They were supposed to keep me entertained while Deon’s in Melbourne, but they’ve abandoned me. I rang you to see if you were doing anything, and while house-hunting isn’t my preferred option, it’s better than anything else I was able to find.” She grinned. “And so far it’s been more entertaining than I expected. You’re even fussier than I am when it comes to a place to live.” Mason smile disappeared, and he glanced away. “I’m looking for somewhere to live long-term. I don’t want to have to keep moving while I’m a student.” When Clarissa reached over and put a hand on top of his, he jerked away. Clarissa made a face. “Sorry. I’m still having trouble getting my head around your parents sending you here and not wanting you back.” When Mason had met up with Dexter and the group from Melbourne again at Bondi Beach on Sunday afternoon, part of Mason’s story had been revealed. Mason kept most of the details private—Dexter was the only one he’d talked to about Robbie and the failed robbery—but he had been unable to suppress his anger at his parents for exiling him. Clarissa and Liam had picked up on that, and the story soon came out. “It is what it is. Now I need to live with it.” Mason sighed and then glanced around. “Isn’t someone going to bring us a menu?” Clarissa chuckled and pointed to the board at the back of the café. “The menu’s over there. I’m tempted by the Tandoori Chicken wrap.” Mason scanned the board and quickly made a decision. He spotted the cash register with the ‘Order Here’ sign and stood. “Do you want something to drink with that?” “A skinny latte would be great. Thanks!” Mason smiled down at her. “A Tandoori Chicken wrap and a skinny latte. Got it.” A couple of minutes later, he sat back down, placed the stand with their order number on the edge of the table, and smiled across at Clarissa. “You don’t have to stick with me for the rest of the day. To be honest, I’m not sure how many more places I can stomach looking at today. After a while, they all start blurring into one.” Clarissa nodded. “I understand, and I’m beginning to appreciate how lucky Liam was when we found the place we have. One day is all it took us, but it was a case of being at the right place at the right time. It hadn’t been listed online when we saw it, and he picked it up before anyone else got a chance to see it.” “That sort of luck has been eluding me. I know I’ve only been looking for a week, but I want it over. There’s other things I want to do.” Mason sighed. He was already tired of trying to find somewhere to live. It was only his stubborn resolve to find a place he could live in for all four years at the university that stopped him from accepting somewhere that wasn’t up to the standard he wanted. “You’ve been leaving your contact details with the agents we’ve been seeing, so if somewhere similar appears on the market, they know to contact you. It’ll just be a matter of time.” “Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t make the process any less annoying.” Mason shrugged. “I think I’ll check out a couple more places after lunch and then call it quits for the day. What would you like to do when we’ve finished?” He grinned. “Don’t worry about price. The ‘rents can pay for it; they told me to enjoy myself while I wait for college to start. Which I’ll do, once I’ve finished with this stupid apartment hunting.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes for a moment and then laughed. “If I didn’t know you were gay…” Mason grinned. “And you’re taken.” He spotted her momentary grimace. “Didn’t you say Deon’s back on Wednesday?” “Tuesday night, but I won’t see him until Wednesday.” “Who’s picking him up at the airport?” “He’s going to catch a ride with one of the other guys. There’s a couple of players who live in Sydney who are being picked up by their families, and I think someone else has their host family collecting them. He told me there would be space for him in one of the cars.” Mason didn’t hesitate. “How about you surprise him and meet him as he gets off the plane?” She shook her head. “Then how will I get home? I’m not keen on catching a train at that time of night.” Mason grinned. “There are a few options. If you want to go over the top, you can take a stretch limo, but that’s only if you want to. I know a limousine company that would take you and Deon, so you can spend some time together without others intruding.” He winked. “Just you and Deon in the back and the driver in the front keeping his eyes on the road.” “Yeah, right. And how am I supposed to pay for all of that?” Mason ignore Clarissa’s scowl. “You wouldn’t. I’ve got an American Express card that the ‘rents pay. As long as I don’t go overboard, they won’t question what I charge to it.” He held up a hand to stop her protest. “And this isn’t going overboard. Trust me, I’d have to spend a lot more than that before they’ll ask me what’s going on.” She continued to scowl. “Why?” “Because.” Mason knew that one-word answer would infuriate her, but he couldn’t resist. He smiled, and this time it was he who reached out to touch her hand. “Clarissa, let me do this for you. I really appreciate you spending time with me this morning, and I’d like to do this as a way of saying thank you. You miss Deon, and if I can help you two out, I’ll do it. Please let me.” The moment was broken by the arrival of their lunches and coffees. After assuring the waitress that they weren’t waiting for anything else, Mason turned his attention back to Clarissa. Her scowl had been replaced with a frown, but Mason sensed it was more a frown of puzzlement than annoyance. “Well?” he asked. Clarissa nodded slowly. “Okay.” * * * Liam had his arms wrapped around Neil and his mouth on his boyfriend’s lips as soon as the door to his apartment was closed. Sadly, he wasn’t able to enjoy the feeling for as long as he wanted. “About time you two got here. We need some things for dinner, and the unanimous vote of everyone present at the time was that you can go get them.” Liam turned to face Clarissa while keeping one arm around Neil. “Clarissa, we…” He broke off when he saw who was smirking next to his housemate. “Mason?” “Hi, guys. Just for the record, when the vote was taken, I was told how I was supposed to vote—or suffer the consequences.” Clarissa handed Neil a piece of paper. “Here’s what we need. You’ve got thirty minutes to find everything and get back here, or dinner will be late. Daphne and Kevin will be joining us, and Mason has volunteered to cook, so get a move on.” “I think volunteered is a little inaccurate. Ordered may be closer to the truth.” Mason grinned. “But if you can find that stuff, I’ll do my best to cook up a genuine Mexican dinner using one of my grandma’s recipes: enchiladas suizas with Spanish rice as a side dish.” “You didn’t object when I suggested it. That’s close enough to volunteering.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes at Liam and Neil. “You’re lucky. Mason and I have already done the hard work; he wrote out what’s needed, and I translated it into English.” Liam blinked. “You can translate Mexican?” “No, but with the help of Google, I can translate American.” She chuckled. “I didn’t know they call coriander something else.” She glanced at Mason and raised an eyebrow. “Cilantro is what we call it. And it would’ve been Spanish,” Mason added. “Clarissa also pointed out the things she didn’t think you’ll find, and we’ve come up with substitutes. It won’t be as authentic as what my grandma makes, but it should still be edible. If you can’t find something, try for the alternate listed.” Clarissa stared at the other two. “Are you two still here? Do I need to remind you that you promised to entertain me while Deon’s in Melbourne? So far, you haven’t been doing a great job.” Liam winced. “Sorry.” To his surprise, she smiled. “You had to work. I understand. Now, if you want something fancy to celebrate your first day on the job, you need to get moving.” Mason pulled a yellow fifty-dollar note out of his wallet and handed it to Neil. “My contribution. Some of the stuff may be hard to find, so just do your best. If I have to improvise…” He shrugged and then pulled out another note. “Oh, and a couple of bottles of red wine, too, if you can. Don’t go for the cheapest, and I’m not expecting any change.” Neil stared at the hundred dollars in his hand and then tried to return it. “This is too much.” Mason stepped back and held up both hands. “I’m the one with the expensive tastes, so I should pay for them.” He smiled. “We can talk more about it when you get back. But if you want dinner on time, you need to get going.” “Okay.” Neil’s tone made it clear he was still reluctant to accept the money but wasn’t going to argue. Clarissa crossed her arms and scowled. “Are you still here? You’ve got somewhere you have to be, and if you don’t get a move on, you’re going to be late.” Liam chuckled as he pulled Neil back towards the front door of the unit. “We’ll be back soon.” As they strode towards the local supermarket, Neil glanced across to Liam. “What’s going on back there?” “I get the impression that Clarissa and Mason spent at least part of the day together. Given that Kevin and Daphne are coming for dinner, I’m guessing she was being honest when she said she’s organised a celebration dinner for my first day at work.” Liam grinned. “And then they can congratulate you, too.” Neil reddened. “You don’t have to tell them about that.” Liam laughed. “You don’t need to be embarrassed. I’m sure they’ll all be happy for you.” “Promise you won’t tell them?” Liam considered it for a moment. He didn’t want to go against his boyfriend’s wishes, even if they weren’t justified. “They’ll find out sooner or later, so it’ll be better if you’re the one to tell them.” He played his trump card. “You don’t want Clarissa to find out from someone else, do you?” Neil gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Okay, but you’re telling them! I can’t do it.” Liam smiled. He wanted to stop and give Neil a kiss to both comfort and support him, but they needed to keep walking. “Thanks, Neil. Everyone’s going to be happy for you. Just wait and see.” * * * Deon smiled as he handed over a bottle of wine. “Thanks again for inviting me to dinner.” Ty shrugged as he stepped back to allow Deon to enter the house. “I wasn’t sure if you and your teammates had anything planned, but if you didn’t, this was a good chance to catch up.” “They did have plans, but they told me to come here, anyway.” Deon grinned. “You seem to have impressed a number of them with that speech you gave this afternoon.” “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.” Ty smiled as he recalled the scene. His good friend and mentor, Jim Henderson, had been called up to speak to the assembled, first-year AFL players about what it’s like to be a gay football player. Ty had gotten in first with his own take on the subject. Deon smirked. “There was some speculation on which players you suspected were actual girls.” Ty laughed. “I’m not saying, and that’s because—as I said at the time—it’s not important. The only thing that’s important is that we’re AFL football players. The other stuff that seems to upset so many people isn’t a factor.” Deon lifted a hand in greeting as they entered the lounge room. “Jim, Tony, Karen, it’s good to see you again. A belated Happy New Year to all of you. And thanks, Mr. O’Malley, for allowing the brat to invite me to your home,” he said, indicating Ty with a tilt of the head. “Please, call me Paddy.” The elderly Irishman smiled. “Calling me Mr. O’Malley makes me feel old.” Karen stepped over and gave Deon a kiss on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, too.” She grinned. “Clarissa said to tell you that she’s having dinner with a tall, dark and handsome stranger tonight, so don’t worry about her.” “She is?” Deon looked nervous. Ty narrowed his eyes. “And what’s going on, Karen? Clarissa wouldn’t do that to Deon.” “Actually, she is. According to our phone call a couple of hours ago, she met him earlier today and she’s invited him back to her place for dinner.” “Can you guys excuse me?” A visibly flustered Deon didn’t wait for a response but stepped back the way they’d come. Karen snickered. “The guy in question is a tall, black American by the name of Mason. He’s also gay. He’s going to be a student at Sydney Uni. Clarissa and the others met him while Daphne was showing them around. Daphne and Kevin went to a gay bar with him, Liam and Neil last week, and Clarissa and Deon met him at Bondi Beach on Saturday. Given the picture she sent me, I think calling him a tall, dark and handsome stranger is appropriate. It’s not my fault if Deon misinterpreted what I said.” Ty laughed, while the others in the room smiled. “Deon’s not going to be happy with you when he gets back.” Karen put on an expression of mock surprise. “Why? I just told him the truth. I just did it slightly differently to the way Clarissa gave it to me.” As if on cue, Deon stormed back into the room, his phone held to his ear. “She’s right here.” He shoved his phone towards Karen. “Clarissa wants a word.” “Hi!” Karen listened for a few seconds and then scowled. “He’s done what? Have you told Deon?” She shook her head slowly as she continued to listen. “Well, I hope you’re okay in the morning. Don’t hesitate to go to the hospital if you need to.” She frowned and handed the phone back to Deon. “She wants to say goodbye.” Deon snatched the phone. “What’s he done?” Moments later, he scowled at Karen. “Okay, have a good night. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He hung up, glared for a moment longer, and then laughed. “Did you cook that up between you?” “Nope. I just went with the flow.” Karen smiled. “Now stop being so paranoid.” Ty nudged his girlfriend. “What happened? It sounds like it was something good.” Deon answered for her. “Mason’s cooking Mexican for dinner. He warned Clarissa that it might be spicier than she’s used to. I’ll check with Kev later as how hot it really was. He and Daphne are also having dinner there.” He gave Karen a mock glare. “I’m better off asking him, because I’m not sure I’ll get the truth from anyone else.” Karen grinned. “We told you the truth. We just didn’t tell you the whole truth until you asked.” “Speaking of Kevin, how’s the house-hunting going?” Ty asked. Deon snorted. “It’s not. We’ve just been too busy to go looking recently. Hopefully, we’ll find the time sometime soon.” He chuckled. “Clarissa said she checked out a few places for us today, but she didn’t see anywhere she’d recommend.” “Remember, you have to have a place by the start of March. Don’t forget that you’re putting me and Dad up for the weekend of’ Mardi Gras.” Jim looked across at the mention of his nickname. “Hey, leave me out of it. Tony’s already arranged for us to stay with a friend of his.” “He has?” Ty frowned. “When did that happen?” “Earlier today,” Tony said. “I started asking around as soon as I knew you’d organised for Jim to march in the parade. I had an old school friend confirm just after lunch that he could put us up.” He grinned at Jim. “He’s also organising tickets for the after-party. Giving him the bragging rights of showing up with Jim Henderson was the price of having a place to stay.” Jim winced. “As long as he knows it’s just showing up.” Tony laughed. “Yeah, he knows you’re my boyfriend. He just wants to be able to say he’s met you.” Ty raised an eyebrow as he turned to Karen. “Apparently, there’s a party after the parade. Are you interested in going?” Tony interrupted before Karen could answer. “It’s a gay after-party. Don’t say you weren’t warned.” Karen cocked her head. “Let me check with Clarissa and see what she’s planning on doing.” She smiled at Deon. “She told me that you’re marching in the parade, too. Were you thinking of going to the party afterwards?” Deon shrugged. “I didn’t know about it, but it doesn’t sound like something that’ll appeal. It’s more likely we’ll go out for a coffee with Kev and Daphne and then head home.” Patrick had a faint frown on his face. “You’re all going to the Mardi Gras parade in Sydney?” Ty gave him a quizzical look. “Yeah, we are. Didn’t you know? I’ve already organised it with the club.” “Well, they didn’t tell me.” Patrick smiled. “But I’m not involved in the operations side of the club, so I don’t know everything that’s going on.” He pointed a bony finger at Ty. “But I expect you to keep me informed of important things, brat. I’m very disappointed.” The accompanying smile indicated he wasn’t upset. Ty laughed. “Consider yourself informed, Paddy.” * * * Clarissa was smirking when she returned to the kitchen table. “Is Deon okay?” Kevin asked. “He’s fine. He’s just getting over a panic attack after Karen told him I spent the day with someone tall, dark, and handsome and I had then invited that person back here for dinner.” Mason glanced down at his body and then shrugged. “Well, I’m tall and dark, and I’ve had some guys tell me I’m handsome, so the description fits.” He gave Clarissa a mock frown. “But I’m not easy—at least for girls—so keep your hands to yourself.” Kevin chuckled. “Since Deon’s my mate, I should be defending him, but I think I’ll pass. This is too good of a story not to use on him in the future.” He looked at Clarissa again. “Are you sure he’s okay?” “Yeah, he’s with the brat, Karen, Jim and Tony. He’s as fine as he ever is when he’s around the brat.” “The brat?” Mason asked. “Ty Flanders.” Neil grinned. “Better known to his friends as the brat. He tries not to answer to the name Ty anymore, since that’s the name his so-called father gave him. Deon shared a house with him and Jim last year.” Kevin snorted. “I remember hearing his girlfriend call him the brat at the VFL grand final. Needless to say, I was shocked she would call him that. Clarissa was the one who told me he calls himself that.” “He sounds like an interesting guy.” “He is.” Kevin grimaced for a moment. “And he’s going to be one of our opponents this season. If he’s not playing for Carlton’s senior team by the middle of the season, he’ll either be injured or their match-selection panel doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ve played against him; I know how good he is.” “He’s coming up here in March for the Mardi Gras,” Neil said to Mason. “You can meet him then if you want.” Mason had to think for a moment before he realised what Neil was referring to. “Is that Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras?” Mason’s first thoughts had been of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. “That’s right.” “He’ll probably be staying here unless Kevin and Deon find a place by then.” Clarissa smiled at Kevin. “But given how much time you and he have been looking, I don’t expect that to happen.” Kevin laughed as he slipped an arm across Daphne’s shoulders. “Yeah, we keep finding other things that are more important.” He gave his girlfriend a quick kiss. Mason smiled at the couple. “You’ve been very quiet, Daphne. How have you been?” She chuckled. “I’ve been good, and I’ve been enjoying listening to everyone. I don’t need to be the centre of conversation. I’m also enjoying this food; it’s delicious!” “Definitely!” Kevin nodded towards Mason. “Thanks for cooking. The enchiladas and rice were a wonderful surprise and very tasty.” He grinned. “And not too spicy.” Mason shrugged. “My grandma’s version is better, but this turned out okay.” He had to use alternatives for a couple of ingredients the recipe called for because Neil and Liam had been unable to find them at the local store. Despite that, he was happy with the result. After more expressions of appreciation from the others gathered, Mason glanced at Liam. “I believe we’re celebrating your first day at work. How was it?” Liam grinned. “Great! They had me doing odd jobs for most of it, but they’re planning on having me assist the sound technicians in the future. I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s interesting.” “Sound technicians?” Kevin asked. “Where are you working?” “The Q FM radio station. Neil had the people from Pride FM back in Melbourne put in a good word for me, so I got hired.” Liam grinned at Neil. “And as an extra reason to celebrate, today was Neil’s first day on the job, too. I got to help in the control room while he was in the studio.” Mason blinked. “You mean, on the air?” He saw that Daphne and Kevin were equally surprised. Neil blushed and dropped his head. “It wasn’t that big a deal.” “Yes, it is.” Clarissa smiled. “I know you’d been asked, but when did you decide to do it?” “While we were there,” Liam said for Neil. “They had a caller, a teen, during the afternoon show. He wanted to help a friend of his but didn’t know how. It didn’t take much persuasion for Neil to join in from the control room where I was working. At the next ad break, he went into the studio and stayed for the rest of the show.” He grinned at Neil. “They had planned to move me on to do something else, but they let me stay and help while he was in there.” “What was the problem that you helped with?” Mason asked Neil. Neil glanced at Liam and then grimaced. He sighed and looked across the table at Mason. “His friend is having problems with his parents. They’re not accepting him, he’s been hit and…” He shuddered. Liam was quick to pull Neil into an embrace. Clarissa started to get out of her chair but settled down after Liam had taken hold of Neil. “Am I missing something?” Mason asked. Clarissa glanced at Neil before responding in a low voice. “Neil’s father was homophobic. He hit him once. That was enough for Neil to run away.” “Was homophobic?” “He’s better now, more supportive. He told Liam to look after Neil while they’re here in Sydney. His mother is still struggling with the idea of having a gay son.” “Neil’s story was on one of the national, current-affairs shows at the time,” Kevin added, also in a low voice. “In his own way, he’s famous. He’s been on the air at Pride FM in Melbourne because of it, and I’m assuming that’s why he was on the air for Q FM today.” He gave Liam a questioning look and received a nod in reply. The room was silent apart from the sound of quiet eating until Liam released Neil. Mason sensed that a change of topic was needed. “Kevin, are you looking forward to having your own place?” He winked at Clarissa. “Assuming you get around to searching for one, of course.” Kevin grinned. “I am, and I’m not.” The look he gave Daphne was one of deep affection. “I’m looking forward to being able to spend time in my own place with Daphne and maybe eventually ask her to move in with me, but…” he glanced down at the meal in front of him. “…I’m going to miss home-cooked meals. I can’t cook, and I’m not sure how good Deon is.” “He’s okay,” Neil said. “He’s cooked for me a couple of times when I was visiting Ty last year.” He gave Kevin a lopsided smile. “It’s not that hard to learn. Ollie taught me, and I’m sure you’ll find someone to teach you.” “Either that or starve,” Clarissa said. “Starving is a good incentive to learn to cook.” Liam chuckled. “My mum told me that being able to cook and clean would help make me a good boyfriend. It didn’t take too long before I could make decent meals.” He grinned at Mason. “Not as good as this one, though.” “Hey, I haven’t been cooking for very long, either.” Mason shrugged. “My grandma didn’t give me a choice. She didn’t want me ordering takeout for dinner every night while I’m here.” Kevin cocked his head. “Do you give lessons?” “I could, but I understand you don’t have a lot of spare time.” “It’s not that bad, but with the club I’ve usually got things on six days a week. They’re not always full days, but at this time of the year some of the days go late, and I’m exhausted by the end of them.” Mason stared at Clarissa and then at Kevin. He frowned as a thought crossed his mind. “I know you and Deon were looking for a place together. Did you ever consider sharing with a third guy? A college student who can cook, maybe?” He winked. Kevin’s eyebrows shot up. “You?” His forehead wrinkled as he thought. “I don’t see a problem with that, but I don’t know what Deon would say.” Everyone turned to Clarissa, but Daphne was the one who chuckled. “What would Deon say, Clarissa?” Clarissa frowned at Mason. “I’ll let you know, but it’s not such a stupid idea.” Mason grinned. It looked like he might have found some flatmates he could accept. All he needed now was to buy or rent a three-bedroom place. He already had an idea of where to find one. * * * Later that night, Kevin, Daphne and Mason were leaving Liam’s and Clarissa’s apartment and heading towards Kevin’s car. “You really don’t have to give me a ride back to the hotel,” Mason said. “Hey, I could end up living with you, so this is advance payment for all the great meals you’ll be cooking for me.” Kevin grinned. “Either that or payment for the meal we just had.” “He doesn’t mean that, Mason.” Daphne nudged Kevin. “He’s just being friendly.” “She’s right. I was only joking about the cooking.” Mason shrugged. “It’s okay. I sort of promised I’d cook if we shared a place.” “And he asked you to teach him to cook so he can make his own meals.” Daphne stopped, making Kevin and Mason also pause. She leant over and gave Kevin a quick kiss. “He needs to learn how to cook me a romantic dinner for two.” “Is that a requirement before I can propose?” Kevin was grinning. “Maybe…” Mason chuckled as the two exchanged a longer kiss. When it had gone on for long enough, he coughed…and then coughed again, but louder. “Oops, sorry, mate.” Kevin grinned sheepishly. “We got carried away.” “That’s fine, but if you’re going to continue, I need to call a cab.” Mason smiled at the young couple. “I’d like to be back in my bed sometime before sunrise.” “Yeah, that mightn’t be a bad idea. I’ve got training in the morning, too.” Kevin and Daphne still had an arm around each other as they continued towards his car. As they left the block of apartments where Clarissa and Liam lived, Mason was careful not to look at the sign out front. He had noticed it when he had arrived that afternoon, but the significance had only struck him during dinner. As soon as he got back to his hotel room, he needed to check it out and then hopefully email his father with the details. He didn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes until it was a done deal. * * * It was early morning in Mexico when José Rodriguez stared in shock at the bowl in front of him. “¡Buen apetito!” Alejandro Romero’s cruel laugh sent a shiver down José’s spine. Pedro’s cousin sneered as he continued. “Remember, no teeth, unless you want to get very, very sick.” José knew the pile of lozenge-shaped capsules contained narcotics, and he was expected to swallow them all before heading back across the border to America. “Isn’t there another way I can do this?” The thought of all those drugs in his stomach made him feel nauseated, and he hadn’t even started. “For you, this is the safest way. If you carry them, you’ll get caught. Inside you, they can’t see them.” Alejandro suddenly leant over and pushed his face close to José’s. “Remember, you owe us. This first shipment will go part of the way paying for that passport you now carry. Doublecross us…” He didn’t need to continue. José was already in too deep to back out, though the phrase, “first shipment”, filled him with horror. Picking up one of the lozenges, he placed it in his mouth, grabbed the dirty mug of what he hoped was clean water that was next to the plate, and forced himself to swallow. After gagging for a moment, he prayed that it would become easier. “One down. Lots more to go.” Alejandro Romero laughed again. “You are lucky we don’t make these out of condoms anymore. They were much harder to swallow.” José reached for the next lozenges. After consuming all the drugs, he would need to get safely across the border. If he made it that far, he would then be forced to wait under Pedro’s supervision until they all came out the other end, while praying that none broke as they passed through his system. It wasn’t going to be fun.
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