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Graeme

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  1. Graeme

    Chapter 10

    Well, we know what's going on with David, Alex and Scott, but I'm still curious as to what's going on with Devin. He and David appear to have had words, though it's possible that Devin has simply observed Scott's attraction to David and is reacting negatively due to jealousy and disappointment. We can see Devin shutting Scott out, but we still don't know exactly why. One curious point, for me, is the change in Scott. It appears he's willing to give up on David (or at least postpone any possible relationship) until the situation with Devin is resolved. That's not the old Scott. The old Scott never thought about others' wellbeing, or what was best for someone else. He certainly would never have sacrificed something he wanted to help someone else. That's a big change and a big improvement!
  2. Graeme

    Chapter 9

    Scott certainly has fallen into an alternate universe. From a homophobic world where he has to be a bully to hide his secrets, he's in a world where two guys -- brothers, even -- are now fighting for his attention. But I agree with @tesao, in that David is after a sex partner, while Devin is looking for an affection partner (a.k.a. a boyfriend). Scott appears to recognise the difference, but who knows whether it'll be his heart or hormones that win out in the end.
  3. Graeme

    Chapter 12

    While it may not be in the story, it's reasonable to assume that the Leopards talk to each other. We already know that Deon has been left out of things to some extent (the epilogue of Leopard Hunt shows that, with respect to Todd's upcoming wedding), but if he's involved, it's probable that he's been told that all the other former Leopards who are now with AFL clubs will be there. Of course, they're all based in Melbourne, so it's easier for them. Has Deon (or Charlie and Ty) thought through all the consequences? That remains to be seen... I wouldn't say expressing an interest in Ben's career is stalking. Andrew doesn't know that Ben doesn't want him there. Remember, while VFL players are not celebrities like AFL players, they're only one level below them. For someone who is a keen follower of football (shown by his interest in having a photo with a celebrity football player), having an interest in someone playing at the VFL level is quite reasonable. If Ben didn't have somethig to hide, it wouldn't be an issue. Contraceptives and family planning isn't an issue at most churches I know. Abortion is still a touchy subject though, regardless of religious (or non-religous) affiliation. That's a legacy of past progress. An exemption for religious schools (which are all private schools) was necessary at the time to allow broader anti-discrimination laws to pass. Now that society has progressed, we're in a position to remove that exemption. Even so, I know there will be a lot of pushback on the subject so I won't guarantee that it'll be repealed, even with both sides of politics being in general agreement (with a subset in both major parties being against the idea).
  4. Graeme

    Chapter 12

    @Bft I think your comment about Clarissa qualifies as an understatement.... As for Andrew, I will let you make up your own mi d.
  5. Graeme

    Chapter 12

    Please, @Timothy M., we both know you've hacked into my computer and read the chapters before everyone else. It's the only way you can right so often... What's creepy about wanting to get to know his prospective brother-in-law, especially since said brother-in-law will be living close by? As for the episode with Jim, from Andrew's perspective, Jim is both a celebrity and an AFL football player. That fact that he's gay isn't important. Isn't that the way it should be? Yes, there is religious-based homophobia in Australia, but in my experience the majority of Australians, including those who consider themselves to be religious, are not particularly homophobic. Andrew is an example of such. Indeed, there were many churches during the recent survey on same-sex marriage that were prominent in campaigning to allow same-sex marriage, even if the 'official' stance of that denomination was against. In short, there are many gay-friendly churches, including Anglican and Catholic churches, so being religious in Australia is by no means an automatic indicator of homophobia.
  6. Graeme

    Leopard Hunt

    The Leopards have scattered, some interstate and others to different parts of Melbourne, but the events of 2014 continue to bind them together. In the meantime, new Leopards and new friends have their own challenges that must be overcome. This includes one newcomer who is unaware he's being hunted.
  7. Graeme

    Chapter 12

    Clarissa stared at the paper ticket that the Qantas self-serve, check-in machine had printed off and then glared at Mason. “Business class?” Mason shrugged. “Apparently, there’s no first class for flights between Sydney and Melbourne, so business class was the best I could do.” He gave her a cheeky half-smile. “And before you ask, I don’t think I would’ve gotten away with chartering a private jet for the trip. The ‘rents aren’t that oblivious.” “Even business class is too much!” She poked him in the chest. “You’re going overboard again, Mason, and I’m not happy.” She frowned in thought. “And if you’ve booked a limo to pick us up in Melbourne, you’re going to get a kick to the balls so hard that you’ll be singing soprano for the entire week.” Mason wasn’t sure she was joking. “If you’re all checked in, I just need to make a pit stop.” He’d have to pay a limo cancellation fee, but he didn’t want Clarissa to ruin any chances he may have for sex while he was in her home city. She rolled her eyes. “I’ll be dropping off my suitcase. Join me when you’ve finished.” She took a step away and then looked back over her shoulder. “Did you have any real friends back in America, or did you buy them like you’re trying to do here?” Mason opened his mouth to retort but stopped. He knew he had friends, real friends, back home, but he also never splashed cash around like he was doing in Australia. He knew he was making a fresh start in Sydney and wasn’t carrying any baggage from past behaviour, but Clarissa’s comment had prompted him to ask himself if he was changing too much. He saw himself as being generous with his parents’ money, not as someone trying to buy friendship. He knew how Clarissa saw his spending habits, but was she the only one, or were his other new friends simply too polite to say something? After cancelling the limo in Melbourne, Mason trudged his way to the luggage drop-off area. After scanning his boarding pass and putting his bag on the conveyor belt, he turned to Clarissa. “Sorry.” She sighed “Mason, I keep telling you, you don’t need to purchase our friendship.” “I know, and I’m not like that back home. It’s just…” “Just, what?” Mason grimaced as he waved a hand to indicate that they should head towards the security check-in to their left. “Things are different here. My old friends, my old real friends, aren’t around. I’m starting from scratch again. I’m also still angry with the ‘rents, which is why I keep spending their money. They shipped me out here, so they can share in the pain by paying my bills.” Mason took a couple more steps before realising that Clarissa had stopped. “What’s wrong?” he asked. She shook her head. “Not here, but we need to talk about what you just said.” She paused. “Actually, I think you should talk to Karen when we get to Melbourne. She understands these things better than me.” Mason frowned. “Talk to her about what? About missing my friends or being angry with the ‘rents?” Clarissa shook her head. “Neither. What you said about sharing the pain.” She gave him a look laced heavily with sympathy. “You don’t need to be in pain, Mason. If you are, then there’s something wrong.” * * * Mason checked his phone. “We’ve got twenty minutes until Neil’s and Deon’s plane lands. Plenty of time.” After leaving the Qantas terminal at Melbourne Airport, Mason was pleasantly surprised that the Virgin Australia terminal really was only a short walk away. His best friend, Jeremy, had fooled him too many times in the past about the real distance they would be walking. Clarissa snorted. “Yeah, but I’m not going back through security with my suitcase—I’m not even sure they’ll allow it—so we’re going to have to surprise them at the luggage carousel.” She scowled at her bright-blue case. “We didn’t think this surprise through properly. That’s your fault.” Mason laughed. He knew Clarissa didn’t really blame him, though he was privately embarrassed for the miscalculation. If he’d had a limo to pick them up, like he had originally planned, they could’ve left their bags with their driver, but Clarissa told him they would catch either a taxi or a bus. She was on the warpath to make sure Mason didn’t spend any more of his parents’ money than necessary. “Clarissa?” a voice asked from behind them. “And…Mason, isn’t it?” Clarissa turned around. “Ty!” She peered past him to the person behind and smiled. “And Jim. What brings you here?” Ty mock-scowled. “It’s Dad and the brat. I don’t know this Ty guy you mentioned.” Jim rolled his eyes. “We’re picking up Deon and Neil. Didn’t they tell you?” He looked around. “Where are they?” “Their plane hasn’t landed yet.” Clarissa shrugged. “They’ll be here in about half an hour.” Ty frowned. “But you’re already here…” Mason grinned. “We’re going to surprise Deon. He doesn’t know Clarissa is going to meet him.” He held up his phone. “I promised Clarissa I’d take photos when he sees her.” Ty maintained his frown as he stared at Mason. “Do you know why he’s flying down to Melbourne?” Clarissa answered for both of them. “No, he wouldn’t tell me.” She scowled. “Which is pissing me off, but Neil said there’s a good reason, so I’m letting him get away with it…for now.” Ty and Jim exchanged looks. Jim grimaced and then shrugged. Ty nodded and turned his attention back to Clarissa. “If you don’t have plans, why don’t you join us for dinner tonight, and we’ll explain.” He glanced around. “This is not the place for that discussion; otherwise, I’d tell you now.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why can you tell me, but Deon can’t?” Jim gave her a sympathetic smile. “It’s not so much that Deon can’t, as he’s being very conservative with who he’s telling. Under the circumstances, that’s understandable, so please don’t fault him for not saying anything.” He cocked his head. “I’m assuming you’re staying with your parents.” “Actually, no,” Mason said. “I’ve booked a couple of hotel rooms near the Carlton training complex. We’ll be staying there until Sunday.” “Oh?” When Mason provided the name of the hotel, Ty grinned. “That’s perfect. You’re only about a ten-minute walk from Paddy’s house. I’ll give you the instructions on how to get there. Dinner will be at seven.” He chuckled. “Paddy’s pretty strict about meal times.” Mason blinked. “I’m invited? I thought it was only Clarissa.” Jim frowned. “Brat, I’m not sure we should be telling him.” Ty shrugged. “Clarissa, the things that Deon’s not telling you are private and confidential. I understand Deon’s going to be moving in with Mason soon, which tells me Deon trusts him. If you agree, that makes Mason part of the team, so he’s invited, too.” “So, Mason can be told, but I’m not good enough for Deon to tell?” Mason could see that Clarissa was about to explode. “If I don’t need to know, that’s okay.” He smirked. “The ‘rents are both lawyers, and my mom is also a politician. I get it that there are some things I shouldn’t be told and other things I have to keep my mouth shut about. If it’s easier, I’ll just find the nearest gay bar and see who I can pick up.” Ty shook his head. “Clarissa, Dad, we all know that Deon’s not one to rush into things. Outside of the football field, if he’s not sure, he doesn’t act—or at least not quickly. But Dad, you taught me to trust my instincts. My instincts are telling me Clarissa needs to know and that it’s okay to tell Mason, too. Deon didn’t want to say anything, but I’m not Deon.” He raised an eyebrow. “Well?” Jim grimaced and then nodded. “Okay, brat, but not here.” Ty rolled his eyes. “Of course, not here.” He turned to Clarissa. “My gut tells me Mason can be trusted. What do you think? Are you both coming for dinner tonight to hear what’s going on?” A calmer Clarissa contemplated Mason for a few seconds before turning back to Ty. “I trust him. We’ll be there by seven.” She grinned at Mason. “You can do your gay-pub crawl one night when Deon and I go out for dinner.” “Thanks.” Ty smiled. “And we may be able to find you someone who knows the bars, too.” He waved a hand towards security. “Should we go through and wait for the flight to arrive?” Clarissa shook her head. “I’d love to, but I’m not going to lug my suitcase around. Mason and I will wait here for Deon.” Ty frowned at Clarissa’s and Mason’s luggage and then turned to Jim. “Dad…” Jim rolled his eyes. “Okay, brat. I’ll keep an eye on their stuff while you three go through security and surprise the guys.” He smiled. “Just make sure I get copies of the pictures.” Ty grinned, turned to Mason and Clarissa, and tilted his head towards the security check in. “Shall we go?” * * * After checking in at Melbourne’s Virgin Australia terminal and dropping off her luggage, Eve gave her brother another hug. “Thanks again for coming with us, Ben. It means a lot to me that you’re here.” Ben gave her a gentle squeeze—conscious that she was pregnant even if it wasn’t showing—before letting go. “It’s no problem.” He smiled past her at her boyfriend. “And it’s given me more time to get to know Andrew.” It hadn’t been a difficult decision to accompany Eve and her boyfriend to the airport. After lunch on Saturday, Ben had only seen his sister on Sunday afternoon when the two went window shopping at the Eastland shopping centre. It was then that Eve told Ben that she was definitely moving to Melbourne but asked that he not mentioned anything to their parents or brother. Andrew Rider grinned at the two of them. “We’ve got about forty minutes before your flight starts to board, Eve, so how about we grab a coffee and something to eat? That way you won’t need to buy anything on the plane.” Ben found Andrew something of an enigma. He knew from Eve’s comments on Saturday that Andrew worked for a religious organisation, but Ben saw few signs of the zealotry he expected. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve thought Andrew was just another typical Australian bloke. The three took the escalator down from the check-in counters to where a small collection of shops formed the hub to the departure gates. They were approaching the coffee shop when Andrew almost stumbled. “That’s Jim Henderson!” Ben tensed as he followed Andrew’s gaze to where Jim was signing something for two young boys while their parents watched and smiled. He hadn’t expected to meet anyone he knew at the airport and hoped that Jim wouldn’t approach him. “Who?” Eve asked, surprising Ben. Jim had been a subject of derision at several family dinners the previous year. He then recalled that Eve hadn’t been at the last one, after Jim had made the news as the AFL’s first openly gay player. Since the AFL didn’t make the news as often in Sydney as it did in Melbourne, he privately conceded it may have been over six months since she’d heard Jim’s name mentioned. “Jim Henderson. You know, the gay footballer who was drafted by Carlton last year.” Andrew pulled out his phone. “I’m going to see if he’ll let me take a selfie with him. The guys at work won’t believe me otherwise.” “Wait a minute.” Eve frowned at Andrew. “Why would the guys at work care? In fact, wouldn’t they object to his lifestyle?” “I work with two Carlton fans and another who’s a celebrity nut, and all three of them are going to be insanely jealous.” Andrew shrugged. “While there are some people at work who don’t like gays, there are plenty who think they’re just people like the rest of us; some are good, some are bad, and…” he winked, “…some play football. Ben will tell you; there are people here in Melbourne for whom the AFL is almost a religion, and football players are demi-gods.” “Isn’t that blasphemy?” Eve smirked. “Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?” “Only if you take it seriously.” Andrew smiled at her before glancing over to where the young family was moving away from Jim. “Come on, let’s see if I can get a picture with him.” Not waiting for a response, he quickly moved up to the table where Jim was sitting. “Hi, Jim. I don’t want to take up much of your time, but is there any chance of getting a picture with you?” Ben hung behind his sister as they approached, hoping that Jim wouldn’t recognise him. “Sure.” Jim looked past Andrew and smiled. “G’day, Ben. This is a pleasant surprise. Let me get this photo taken, and I’ll be with you in a moment.” “Wait, you know Ben?” Andrew stared for a moment and then smiled. “Of course! He plays for the Leopards, and one of your former teammates would’ve introduced you.” Ben stepped forward reluctantly. “Jim, this is my sister, Eve, and her boyfriend, Andrew. Eve’s heading back to Sydney. Andrew and I are here to see her off.” Jim rose and smiled at Eve. “Pleased to meet you. I hope you have a pleasant trip home.” He waved a hand at the chairs around the table. “Why don’t you join me? I’m just waiting for a few people while minding some bags,” he said, his gaze flicking towards the suitcase and duffel bag next to him. Andrew immediately sat, but Eve seemed confused. “You’re friends with him, Ben?” “Not really. We’ve been introduced and that’s all.” Ben hoped she wouldn’t explode from merely knowing Jim. He had received hints in the past that she wasn’t as homophobic as the rest of the family, but that had been in private, and he knew it might’ve been wishful thinking. “We met at Todd’s New Year’s Eve party. Todd’s one of my new teammates.” Jim nodded. “We’ve only met the once. The brat and I wanted to say hello to all the new Leopards, and Todd’s party was a good opportunity.” He smiled. “It doubled as a farewell party for some people heading to Sydney for school, so it was pretty busy. I didn’t get much time with Ben.” Ben repressed the urge to give a sigh of relief. Besides the party he had mentioned, Ben had also met Jim one other time, when Ben joined a group going to a gay nightclub. From the way Jim was lying about their past encounters, Ben was assuming that Tony had told Jim about how homophobic Ben’s family could be. Eve’s expression was largely neutral. “Andrew, give me your phone and I’ll take a picture of you and Jim.” She raised an eyebrow at Ben. “Do you want to join in, too?” “I’ll pass.” Ben did his best to hide a shudder. A photo with Jim—especially one taken by his sister and with Eve’s boyfriend also in the picture—was too likely to end up being seen by his parents. Eve gave him a quizzical look and then shrugged. She smiled at Andrew and Jim. “Say cheese!” Shortly afterwards, the four of them were seated at the small table, each with a cup of coffee. Ben stayed largely quiet as Jim and Andrew chatted. He noticed Eve didn’t say a lot, either, and she kept glancing at him when she didn’t think he was looking. Ben hoped that was simply because she was surprised he wasn’t exploding with homophobia rather than her suspecting the truth. Regardless, her own missing explosion gave him hope that she’d support him when he was eventually outed. * * * Mason grinned as he kept his phone steady. He and Ty had agreed that there was no need for both of them to take photos, so Ty was busy taking pictures while Mason recorded a video of Deon’s reaction to seeing Clarissa waiting for him. The reaction was perfect, right down to the sudden stop and the dropped jaw. “Clarissa?” Clarissa crossed her arms. “You’re late. Your plane arrived five minutes ago. What took you so long to get off?” It was obvious that Deon didn’t know whether or not she was serious. A smile kept appearing and disappearing as he stared at his girlfriend. The smile won, and he stepped forward to give her a hug. “This is a wonderful surprise.” Clarissa grinned and put a hand behind Deon’s neck so she could pull his head down for a kiss. Mason waited a moment longer and then stopped the video. He doubted the rest of reunion would be worth recording. “I presume you’re responsible for this.” Neil smiled as Mason’s head snapped around. Neil had managed to approach while Mason’s attention had been on Clarissa and Deon. “You presume correctly.” Mason winked. “Clarissa wasn’t happy that Deon was disappearing for a few days, and I didn’t have anything keeping me in Sydney, so I invited her to show me around Melbourne.” “I don’t know if this is good or bad. Deon didn’t tell her why we were flying down—for a good reason.” Mason nodded. “Ty invited us both to dinner tonight and said he’d explain then. He also said this wasn’t the time or place to say anything.” Neil frowned as he spotted Ty approaching Deon and Clarissa. “The brat’s going to tell you? He was adamant we needed to keep this quiet for as long as possible. And you’re not involved, so why bring you into it?” “Honestly, I don’t know. I offered to go to a bar instead of joining you guys, but he insisted. He said something about me being part of the team, apparently because I’m going to be living with Deon.” Neil chuckled. “If he thinks you’re part of the team, then you are. Even though he no longer plays for the Leopards, he’s still a Leopard at heart.” He grinned at Mason. “Welcome to the Leopards, the best club in the VFL.” Mason decided not to ask what VFL stood for; the term sounded familiar, so he knew he’d heard it before, but he’d look it up later, if necessary. He glanced over to see a grinning Deon with an arm around Clarissa. “I think it’s time to move. Jim Henderson is watching our luggage, and we shouldn’t keep him waiting.” Neil nodded, then frowned. “Where are you staying while you’re in Melbourne?” Mason explained while the group wandered back through security to the main portion of the airport concourse. Once there, he saw that Jim was sitting with three other people, none of whom he recognised. The girl and one of the guys were clearly a couple. It was the other person who attracted Mason’s attention; a muscular guy around his own age who definitely qualified as eye candy. Ty’s gaze flicked between Deon and the strangers. He then grinned. “Deon, I don’t believe you’ve met your swap-mate. Deon, this is Ben,” he said, indicating the guy Mason was eyeing. “Ben, this is Deon.” Deon smiled and shook hands with Ben before frowning at Ty. “What’s a swap-mate?” Ty’s grin broadened. “The Leopards sent you to Sydney and got Ben in return. Personally, I think they got the better deal in the swap.” “Brat…” Jim rolled his eyes before smiling at Deon. “Ben’s one of the new Leopards. He used to be with the Swans’ Academy in Sydney. And this is his sister, Eve, and Eve’s boyfriend, Andrew.” The group broke up soon afterwards as Eve, Ben, and Andrew headed to Eve’s departure gate, and the others took the escalator down to the luggage carousels. Mason would’ve liked to have had more time to memorise Ben’s appearance, but he was happy. He had enough for some late-night fantasies. While they waited for Deon, Ty had made the offer to show Mason around the Carlton football club, and if Ty and Jim were representative, Mason would have lots of fantasy material to keep him occupied when he was alone. Mason also silently planned on making a trip to see the Leopards train. He was unlikely to be allowed into their locker room, but spending time watching sexy guys run around would still be worthwhile. * * * Ben was happy that the first twenty minutes of the drive from the airport back to Lilydale were quiet. Ben’s mind was in a state of flux, alternating between pleasure at having seen his sister again, panic that she may suspect him, fear that his parents are going to get involved in his life again, and the distracting idea that the tall, black American with the sexy smile appeared to have paid more attention to Ben than seem warranted. The silence was finally broken when Andrew cleared his throat. “Ben?” “Yes?” “Thanks for coming to the airport with us. I know it meant a lot to Eve. She’s been worried about you.” Ben’s turmoil was displaced as the new conversation took his focus. “Why has she been worried?” “She didn’t think you’d approve of me—because of my background and who I work for.” Andrew’s gaze left the road for a moment as he glanced at Ben. “She thought you’d reject the idea of her dating someone who goes to church.” Ben shrugged. “What you do is your own business. As long as you don’t force my sister to do something she doesn’t want to do, I don’t care.” There was silence for a few seconds before Andrew spoke again. “I asked Eve to marry me. She said she’d think about it.” Ben’s mouth opened, but no words came out. He shook his head in an attempt to put his brain back into gear and tried again. “She said what?” When Ben had first spoken with Eve, he had been given the impression she and Andrew were planning a wedding, though, in hindsight, maybe it had been more that they would be living together. “She told me just because she’s carrying my…our baby, that’s no reason to get married.” Andrew screwed up his face. “She’s right about that, but that wasn’t the only reason I proposed.” He glanced across at Ben again. “I know it’s only been a few months, but she means a lot to me. She…” he paused, as if searching for the right word “…challenges me. She makes me face things I probably don’t want to face, but she’s never malicious or cruel when she does it. We fight a lot, but it’s only on the surface. None of our fights have gone deeper. I want her to continue to challenge me, and I hope I equally challenge her. That’s why I proposed. The baby was just the prompt to make me act on how I was feeling. It wasn’t the reason.” He scrunched up his face as if he was trying to control his emotions. “But she didn’t seem keen.” Ben could see how much Eve meant to Andrew. “Do you think she meant never or just not now?” “I don’t know.” If Andrew wasn’t driving, Ben thought he would’ve dropped his head. Instead, Andrew was trying—and failing—to be stoic. Ben recalled what Eve had said when they talked on Saturday. “Is she still moving in with you?” “Yeah…which is why I don’t understand why she doesn’t seem to want to marry me. She’s going to live with me, we’re going to raise a child together, but she didn’t say yes…” Ben didn’t know what his sister was thinking, but he had his suspicions. “It sounds like you’ll be a de facto couple, with all the associated rights and responsibilities. Do you really need to get married? And if you did, would you want to get married in a church?” “Of course…” Andrew’s voice faltered. “That’s the stumbling block, isn’t it? She’d never go for a church wedding.” “She might, for you, but maybe not now. It’s probably too early for that. If you’re in a de facto relationship, you’ll be effectively married for almost all legal purposes, so she’s probably thinking it’s because you want a church wedding. She may eventually change her mind if you tell her you’ll be happy with a civil ceremony. But you’ll have to find some arguments about why a de facto relationship isn’t good enough.” Ben raised a hand in warning. “And those arguments can’t be religious ones.” Andrew nodded to himself a few times. “Okay, I think I see what you’re saying.” He made a face. “She’s challenging me, again. Do I really need to be married to her to have her in my life?” Ben stayed quiet. This was something Andrew and Eve needed to work out between them. He had already interfered enough. “Thanks, Ben.” Andrew flicked him a quick smile. “I’ve come up with another argument I can use on Eve for getting married, but I’ll wait before I use it.” Ben raised an eyebrow. “Why wait?” “Because she wouldn’t believe just yet that I’d love to have you as a brother-in-law. I’ll need to get to know you a bit better before that happens.” Andrew grinned. “I presume I’ll find you at the Leopards clubhouse fairly often. When’s the best time to drop in?” Ben tried to hide his fear, but he couldn’t stop himself from stiffening. “You don’t have to do that.” If Andrew started showing up at the club, it wouldn’t be long before he found out that Ben’s housemate Ross is gay. That would cause problems when that snippet of information made its inevitable way back to Ben’s family. Given that Ben had been coming out to his teammates, it also wouldn’t be long before his own sexual orientation became known. That’s when the fireworks would really start. Ben had to avoid—or at least delay—that at all costs. Andrew shrugged. “Hey, you’re a football player. I happen to like football even if I can’t play it to save my life, so coming to see you play or train is fine with me.” Andrew chuckled. “If you’re too shy or modest to tell me, I’ll look it up on the club’s website. I’m sure they’ll list something, even if it’s just the dates and times of your upcoming matches.” “We don’t have any matches until March.” Ben spoke quickly, trying to find reasons to not have Andrew come to the club. “That’s when the pre-season practise matches start. The main season doesn’t start until the middle of April.” “So?” Andrew’s brow wrinkled. “Don’t you want me to come to the club?” Ben knew he was sinking fast. “I’m not really that talkative after a training session. Julie, our head coach, usually makes sure we’re too tired to do much before she lets us finish.” He was quite proud of that statement as it wasn’t that far from the truth, though the team generally recovered quickly enough for a drink or two in the clubroom afterwards. “How about we catch up on the nights I don’t train?” As soon as he said it, Ben realised he was about to give away the nights he would be at the club if Andrew decided to drop in. All he could hope was that if Andrew wanted to get to know him better; one-on-one time away from the club would suffice. “Sounds good to me. How about we go out for dinner? Somewhere not too expensive.” Andrew grinned. “I don’t think either one of us is flush with cash.” Ben grinned back. “Agreed. How does Thursday nights sound to you? Are you okay going to one of the local pubs?” Andrew chuckled. “No problems there with me. One of my workmates doesn’t drink, but the rest of us, myself included, like a beer or two.” He paused. “Well, a couple prefer wine, and one only drinks spirits, but I think you get the picture.” Ben smiled, while mentally shaking with fear. At least he’d kept Andrew away from the football club and everyone who knew he’s gay. * * * Ty glanced at Jim before sweeping his gaze across the others gathered around the dining-room table. He grimaced and then stared at one person. “Clarissa, you wanted to know why Deon flew down here today. It’s time to tell you, but you have to promise not to say anything to anyone. And I mean anyone.” He turned to Mason and Patrick. “That goes for you guys, too. I’m sorry, but this is important.” “I don’t have to know if you think it’s inappropriate.” Patrick put his bony hands on the armrests of his chair and started to lever himself up. “Paddy, stay.” Ty’s gaze flicked to Jim once more before returning to the old Irishman. “We’ll probably be discussing this all week, so it’s easier for everyone if you know. There are a few others at the club who know what’s going on, so don’t think you’ll be the only ones.” “But I don’t need to know.” Mason rose and smiled down at everyone. “Thanks for the wonderful dinner, Paddy. It was a real pleasure.” “Sit back down, Mason.” Jim made a face. “While this doesn’t involve you, you’re also completely unconnected to everything, and you may have insights we miss because we’re too close.” He snorted and a flicker of a smile appeared on his lips. “That’s the argument the brat used to convince me, as well the fact that Deon, Clarissa, and Neil all trust you. Please sit back down.” Mason hesitated before returning to his seat. He frowned at first to Jim, then Ty. “If you’re sure…” Jim nodded to Ty. “It’s your show, brat.” Ty took a deep breath. “There’s a court case starting tomorrow. Fredrick Rollingford is a former junior-football coach who’s been charged with multiple counts of child abuse. Someone we know is one of the victims and will be testifying at the trial. As that person is an AFL player, it’s going to hit the news in a big way. We’re here to make sure that person gets the support he needs to stand up and tell the court what was done to him.” Mason cringed. While he didn’t truly understand where the AFL fitted into the nation’s psyche, he knew the players were sporting celebrities. “The media rats will be swarming when they find out.” “Actually, they already know.” Ty grimaced. “At least the major ones do, and I’ve been told they’ll keep names out of the story, apart from that Rollingford bastard. But it’s still not going to be easy.” Patrick frowned down at the dining room table. “Well, that explains a few things.” He looked up. “If he needs a place to hide for a few days, he’s welcome here, but I’m sure you Leopards have everything in hand.” Clarissa’s face went through a number of expressions before a look of horror appeared. She slowly turned to Deon. “You…” Deon seemed puzzled. “What’s wrong?” “What did he…?” She grimaced and looked away. “Don’t answer that!” Deon rocked back in his seat, his eyes opening wide. “It’s not me!” She was frowning as she turned back to face him. “If you’re not the one testifying, then why did you fly down for the trial?” Patrick chuckled. “Because he’s a Leopard, lassie. They stick together even if some of them are now playing for other teams.” He smiled and nodded towards Deon. “It’ll mean a lot to him that you’ve flown in to show your support.” Deon reddened. “That’s how the brat got me here. That, plus his club made a special request directly to my team’s senior management.” Mason glanced around the table. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but it looks to me that Clarissa is the only other person who doesn’t know. I can step out of the room while you tell her, if you like.” “Stay.” Ty screwed up his face. “Paddy, you’ve obviously worked it out, which means it’ll be easy for others to do so, too.” “Sorry, brat, but it is rather obvious in hindsight.” Patrick tilted his head towards Clarissa. “Now how about putting the poor lassie out of her misery?” Ty grimaced and then sighed. “Clarissa, last year at Easter, one of our teammates had a breakdown. Dave was subsequently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a result of being raped by his football coach when he was only eleven.” He glanced across at Jim. “We don’t really know anything more than that about what happened, but we know he suppressed the memories for years. They all emerged after his breakdown, and remembering almost broke him.” Jim continued in a soft voice. “Dave is one of the strongest and toughest players I know. But the way he reacts when he recalls…” Jim bowed his head. “All the clubs know about his diagnosis,” Patrick said. “When he was invited to last year’s combine, he sent the AFL a letter informing them of the situation, though he withheld the details of how it came about, releasing that information only to the clubs’ medical personnel. Despite that, he was drafted by Hawthorn.” He frowned at Ty. “What are the Hawks doing for him, brat?” Deon answered. “They paid for my flights. They also offered to pay for accommodation, but the brat decided I was better off staying here. They’re going to do what they can to give Dave the support he needs.” Ty nodded. “They’re coordinating things and doing their best to keep the media off Dave’s back.” He grimaced. “How well they succeed remains to be seen.” Deon gave Clarissa an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t say anything. I needed to protect Dave.” Mason could see that Clarissa was still in shock. While personally disturbed, he didn’t know the people involved, and that gave him some sense of detachment. Leaving Clarissa to Deon, he turned his attention to Ty and Jim. “How tight is the case against the coach? If it’s just Dave’s word against his, and Dave suppressed the memories for a long time, it’s going to be hard to get a conviction.” Jim made a face. “Dave wasn’t his only victim. The police have found other kids who were molested; I can’t remember how many.” “At least four others,” Neil said. When the others stared at him, he shrugged. “It was in the news report at the time of the arrest. The police asked for any other victims to come forward at that time, but I didn’t see any news articles to know if any more did.” “You remember that?” Clarissa asked. Neil dropped his head. “I’ve got a good memory, and some things I can’t forget even if I wanted to. I’ll never forget that Easter.” Mason knew how Neil felt as his own mind went back to when Robbie was shot. That was an incident he didn’t think would ever fade from his memory. * * * Late that night, Ben was about to retire to his room when Ross tapped him on the shoulder. “Got a minute?” “Sure.” Ross smiled. “I’ve had a text from Jim. He, Tony, and a few others are going to a couple of bars on Thursday night before heading on to MANdatory for some late-night dancing. He was inviting us along. I know you won’t want to go to the bars in case you’re seen, but why don’t you meet us at the nightclub?” “Thursday?” Ben grimaced. “I’m meeting my sister’s boyfriend that night for dinner. He wants to get to know me.” Ben snorted before giving Ross a soft smile. “He’s treating me as the prospective brother-in-law.” “Sounds serious.” Ross narrowed his eyes. “But dinner probably won’t go late, and we probably won’t get to the nightclub until after ten, so you can still join us if you’re interested.” Ben didn’t want to say that he really enjoyed his nights at MANdatory. He was already beginning to worry that he was going there too often. “I’m not sure if Mitchell will be free. He usually has a late night on Friday night, and he probably wouldn’t want to have two late nights in a row.” “You can go there without Mitchell.” Ross cocked his head. “Or are you two already in a relationship?” “Er…” Ben really didn’t know. He wasn’t experienced in any sort of relationship, let alone a gay one. Did the fact that he’d spent both Friday and Saturday nights with Mitchell make them a couple? At the start, Mitchell had made it clear where the boundaries lay, but he had also indicated that those boundaries could change. Since then, nothing had been said on either side, but Ben didn’t know if there were unspoken rules he would be breaking. “What’s this about, anyway? Why Thursday night and not the more usual Friday night?” Ross shrugged. “Jim said there’s an American down from Sydney who wants to visit some gay bars and nightclubs. They’re showing him around Thursday.” “Mason?” Ben doubted there would be another American around, though it was a possibility. “You know him?” “We met at the airport when Andrew and I dropped off my sister for her flight back home.” Ben recalled how Mason had smiled at him longer than would normally be considered polite. He hadn’t known at the time that the dark-skinned stranger was gay. “So, should I tell Jim you’ll meet us at the nightclub?” “Yeah, I’ll be there.” Ben hadn’t made a conscious decision but found the words coming out of his mouth, anyway. “If I can get away from Andrew at a reasonable time.” Ben needed to give himself an out. “Okay, I’ll let him know.” Ross smiled and opened his mouth as if he was going to say something else but then closed it and simply grinned and walked away. Ben strolled to his room, his mind at war with itself again. Mason had shown an interest in him at the airport even though they only spoke for a few minutes. Ben knew the interest went the other way, too, but he also knew that if anything happened, it would only be for a night or two. Mason lived in Sydney and wouldn’t be able to stay in Melbourne, which meant he was relatively safe as far as Ben was concerned. Was a one-night fling with someone other than Mitchell a good idea? Ben didn’t know. If he was in a relationship, he knew it would be wrong, but Mitchell and he hadn’t discussed the situation between them. For all he knew, Mitchell could be sleeping with other guys, too. Ben made a face. He didn’t believe that of Mitchell, and he knew he was looking for excuses. Mason had the allure of the exotic, coupled with the certainty that it wouldn’t last and hence wouldn’t be discovered by his family. If he went for Mason—assuming he wasn’t misinterpreting what had happened at the airport—he would be betraying Mitchell. Ben sighed as he threw himself onto his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He liked his times with Mitchell, but he was scared that if they became a couple, his family would find out. He was safer if he was single, and that would give him the chance for a night with Mason. He had been thinking that matters with Mitchell were approaching danger level all weekend, but Ben had been too weak to do anything about it. Common sense told Ben that he wasn’t ready for a relationship, even a casual one, but sex had trumped common sense. With the allure of Mason giving him the potential of sex without a relationship, maybe common sense could reassert itself. Ben pulled out his phone, brought up Mitchell’s name, and stared at it. He told himself to break things off before they went too far. All it would take would be a phone call. If he was a complete coward, he could do it with a text. In the end, the phone found itself on Ben’s bedside table, unused. Ben would sleep on the issue and decide in the morning. Maybe things would be clearer then. He slowly firmed his resolve. He would break things off with Mitchell in the morning. That would be better than late at night, anyway. At least that’s what he told himself.
  8. Graeme

    Chapter 8

    Scott has half-promised to tell David about his history, or at least part of it. I wonder if he'll keep that promise, and how much he tells? At least he's now got an outlet for his anger and frustration. Protecting Devin looks like it may keep him busy in that respect!
  9. Graeme

    Chapter 7

    I like how Scott reacted instinctively to Devin when they first met, in that he acted just like he would have in California. He didn't think, he immediately took an offensive position and called the other guy a fag. That shows how much he still has to learn. The ending also shows how much he still has to learn. While it's a start, Just because Devin grinned and shook his hand doesn't make Devin a friend. Devin is giving Scott a chance to be a friend, but Scott doesn't know enough to understand the distinction. Scott is still emotionally inexperienced when it comes to friendship and is in danger of making mistakes as a consequence. I hope it all works out, but I won't be surprised if Scott makes a few missteps along the way.
  10. Graeme

    Chapter 11

    You'll learn more about Eve's boyfriend in later chapters. As a hint, though, not everyone is a stereotype...
  11. The final round of voting for the 2019 anthology themes is now open. The previous voting identified the 13 most popular themes, so it's now time to narrow that down to a final set of four themes. To do this, three polls have been set up to allow all authors and poets to indicate how they feel about each of the 13 themes by giving them a number from 1 to 5, with 1 being least liked and 5 being the themes you like the most. Three polls have been set up because of limitations in the forum polling system, so please remember to vote in all three polls. The links to the polls can be found below. Poll #1 Poll #2 Poll #3 Polling will close on Friday 19th October, USA time, and the winning themes announced soon afterwards.
  12. Graeme

    2019 Anthology Theme - Final Round of Voting

    And I fixed it. Can I leave the naughty corner now?
  13. Graeme

    Chapter 6

    I found it interesting how quickly Scott's aunt blamed his mother for his problems. At least one person on that side of the family understands the concept of compassion, and she's clearly taught her son the same. Scott still has a long way to go before he's healed and reformed, but it looks like he's on the right track. School will be the next big challenge for him, because it'll be so easy to fall back into a familiar destructive pattern of behaviour....
  14. Graeme

    2019 Anthology Theme - Final Round of Voting

    Sorry. Fixed now
  15. Graeme

    Chapter 5

    I suppose I had been aware in the back of my mind, but this chapter brought home something about Scott that I hadn't consciously realised before. Scott was emotionally starved. And when a starving person find sustenance, they latch onto it. In California, the sustenance was the sense of power he achieved through bullying, and the respect of his peers for being the leader of the pack of bullies. In Arkansas, it's Alex, starting with the hug, and then leading through to the breakdown on the way home. In California, the emotional sustenance was negative and corrupting. So far, in Arkansas the emotional sustenance has been positive and sustaining. Let's hope that continues.
  16. Graeme

    Chapter 11

    You are correct. I was describing it from the perspective of Ben's father, not describing reality.
  17. Graeme

    Chapter 11

    @Timothy M. Mason's going to have an income of $500 a week. That's $26,000 a year. It's not a big income, but he won't be paying rent, so his biggest expenses will be the utilities and food. He'll still have plenty to spend in frivolous stuff if he wants. He just won't be able to buy anything particularly big unless he saves up. Oh, and with the way his father has organised things, he won't be paying any Australian tax on that income. I don't know about USA taxes, but I'm sure those taxes will be minimal, too. So, as an after-tax and after-rent income, $26,000 a year is quite decent. @impunity Anti-religious and anti-gay is an uncommon combination. It's just in this case that the source of that attitude is due to Ben's uncle being molested by a someone at a religious school. Ben's father hates the religious organisation for protecting the molester, and hates gays because his brother was molested by one. That appears to be the father's views, though so far we only have Ben's thoughts on the matter.
  18. Graeme

    Chapter 11

    Mitchell gave Ben another kiss. “I’m sorry, but you know the routine.” Ben chuckled. The two were still intertwined in Mitchell’s bed. “You’re kicking me out again.” He knew Mitchell worked on Saturday mornings, and Mitchell had more than made up for the inconvenience the night before. Ben wasn’t bothered by the impending early-morning departure. “Only after I make you breakfast.” Mitchell propped himself up on one elbow so he could smile down at the young football player. “But since it’s a long weekend, would you like to do anything special? Neither one of us has to work on Monday.” That year, Australia Day, January 26th, fell on a Monday, giving most people in the country a three-day weekend. “What did you have in mind?” Ben was enjoying the sex with Mitchell, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted things to go too much further. He liked being with the university student, and the times out of bed had also been fun, but Ben didn’t feel a connection. He wasn’t sure if it was because there wasn’t one or if he was too scared to allow one to form. “I’m open to suggestions. We could have dinner, see a movie, socialise at a bar, go to MANdatory for some dancing…whatever you want.” “Was that one suggestion or four?” Mitchell laughed. “Either. I wouldn’t mind it being one.” He walked his free hand up Ben’s bare chest until it reached the stubble on Ben’s cheek. He then leant over and gave Ben another kiss. When they eventually broke apart, Mitchell made a face. “Now I have to run and get ready or I’m going to be late for work.” He rolled out of bed, but rather than heading to the bathroom to take a shower, he smiled down at Ben. “You don’t know how tempted I am to tell work that I’m not well and I’m going to have to spend the day in bed.” Ben blushed while grinning back. He wouldn’t mind spending the day in bed with Mitchell, but it would be the wrong thing to do. “Go and have a shower.” While Mitchell was getting ready for work, Ben checked his phone. His hands started to shake when he read one of his emails. His sister, Eve, was taking advantage of the long weekend to fly down to Melbourne to see him. She would be at the house in Lilydale around lunchtime. * * * “Mason?” Liam stepped back to let the tall American enter the unit. “What brings you out here?” “House hunting.” Mason was pleased that Clarissa hadn’t told Liam what was going on. “Clarissa told me that the apartment at the back of your block is being auctioned this morning, and I thought I’d come along to see how things work in Australia. After the auction, I was going to check out some places to see if I can find somewhere to live.” “Well, best of luck with that.” Liam led the way to the kitchen. “Coffee?” “I won’t say no.” Mason looked around. “Is Neil here?” Liam grinned. “He’s getting dressed.” “I’m surprised you’re not helping him.” Mason winked. “I was, but I got kicked out after an hour.” Mason laughed. “You were up early, then. It’s only ten o’clock.” Liam winked as he led the way to the kitchen. “Both of us were ‘up’ early.” “Tell me about it.” A grumpy Clarissa greeted the two. She glared at Liam. “I believe they were watching porn with the volume up too high. At least, that’s what it sounded like.” Mason saw Liam blush, but watching porn wasn’t what he thought the guys would’ve been doing. “Sounds exciting. Was it a DVD or something online? I may want to watch it myself when I get back to the apartment.” He was further confused when Liam’s blush deepened and Clarissa started laughing. Once she recovered, she grinned at him. “Mason, I don’t think that’s an option. I had the impression it was a live performance. I didn’t catch both names, but one of the actors was called Liam.” She smirked at Liam. “Do you know the name of the other one?” “Enough, Clarissa. We’re sorry, okay? We just got carried away.” Mason finally understood. “Thin walls?” Clarissa chuckled. “At least not thick enough for those two. The guys have been warned, but they still don’t seem to stop themselves.” She contemplated Liam for a moment. “Maybe castration would slow them down?” “Don’t you dare!” Neil joined them and slipped an arm around Liam’s waist. “I like him just the way he is.” Mason was interested that the dynamics weren’t what he expected. He would’ve expected it to be Liam who would stand up to Clarissa. Clarissa narrowed her eyes at Neil. “What makes you think it’s him I’m intending to castrate?” Neil chuckled. “It doesn’t make any difference; you’re still not doing it.” He gave Liam a kiss on the cheek. “You’re not going to do anything to mess us up. You and Karen went to too much trouble to get us together in the first place. You’d hate to see all that effort go to waste.” Clarissa glared. “You may think you’ve won this argument…” She then laughed. “Whatever happened to the shy, meek Neil from last year?” “He grew up.” Neil turned away and wiped a hand across his eyes. “He had to.” Liam immediately pulled Neil into an embrace. Clarissa also moved over to rest a hand on Neil’s shoulder. “Sorry.” Mason decided it was best to leave them alone. They shared a history he didn’t know, and it was obvious that there were more connections between them than he thought. Mason slipped past the group and put the kettle on for the coffee that Liam had offered him. “I was going to do that,” Liam said. Mason smiled back over his shoulder. “You’ve got more important things to do.” He smirked. “But if you want to make it up to me…” He grimaced as he realised how inappropriate the suggestion he’d been about to make was going to be. He would only have been joking, but asking for a copy of the ‘porn’ from the morning wouldn’t have gone down well. “What do you want me to do?” Liam moved up next to Mason and pulled four mugs from the cupboard above the bench. Mason thought quickly. “Allow me to buy you a proper coffeemaker.” He stared down at the coffee mugs. “There’s something wrong about using instant coffee. Coffee should be made fresh.” “No, you don’t! You’re not buying us something else.” Clarissa glared at Mason. “You can’t keep spending money like that.” “Think of it as a late housewarming gift. Everyone should have their own coffeemaker.” Clarissa jabbed a finger into Mason’s chest. “Nice try, but you told us that the wine glasses were a late housewarming gift. No coffeemaker!” Mason rolled his eyes. “Fine. Have it your way.” He deliberately shuddered. “I’ll just have to get used to instant coffee when I come to visit.” Mason didn’t mind losing that argument. If things worked out, there would be a coffeemaker two doors down in the three-bedroom apartment at the end of the block. * * * “Please, she can’t find out!” Ben’s gaze darted between Oliver, Charlie, and Ross. “Whatever happens, she can’t know.” Helena spoke up from where she was sitting at the side of the room. “Would it help if I had one of my cousins come around and pretend to be your girlfriend?” “Yes!” Ben shook his head. “No.” He grimaced. “Maybe. We’d have to act as if we’d just started dating so I can tell my family later that it didn’t work out.” “Ben, calm down.” Oliver glanced around the room. “We’ve still got a couple of hours before your sister gets here. Ross, how about you disappear? It’ll be easier to not mention Warwick or the fact that you’ve got a boyfriend if you’re not here. We can tell Ben’s sister that you’re out with friends.” Ross smiled. “I’ll go to the gym for a couple of hours. Send me a text if you want me to stay out longer. I can always go shopping afterwards.” Ben tried to find problems with the suggestion. “What if she wants to stay for dinner?” “Then she can stay, but Ross already had other plans.” Oliver grinned at Helena. “That’s when we use some girl as an excuse, if needed. She doesn’t even have to be here.” He thought for a moment. “Glenda. That’s the name of Roscoe’s date in case it comes up.” He chuckled. “She’s always had a soft spot for Roscoe.” Ben appreciated the moment of levity, though he didn’t join the others in laughing. Glenda was the front-office manager for the Leopards and a nice lady but way too old for any of the players, in Ben’s opinion. “She’ll want to meet him since he’s one of my housemates. How should we do that?” Charlie shook his head. “Don’t let her. The less she interacts with Roscoe, the easier it is to make him fade in the background.” He smiled at Ross. “Sorry, but it’s true. Too many people know about Warwick. We don’t want someone to mention him where she can hear, so it’s better if there’s nothing to prompt the topic.” “I could go away for the long weekend. Lots of people do, so it wouldn’t be suspicious.” Ross shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll see if Warwick is okay if I stay with him, but if I have to, I can go back home. Mum would like to see more of me, anyway.” “That’s probably safer,” Oliver said. “Better than making up a false date that we’d have to remember.” Ross pulled out his phone. “I’ll check with Warwick first. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll ring Mum.” Helena frowned. “Ben, do you know where your sister is going to be staying while she’s here in Melbourne?” “I don’t know.” Ben checked the email again. “She doesn’t say anything about it.” He gnawed at his lower lip. “Do you think she’ll ask to stay here?” Oliver shrugged. “If she does, we can work it out. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The main thing is to minimise the chance of someone slipping up. As long as we’re not talking about Ross, Jim, dating, or sex, we’ll be fine.” Helena laughed. “Sorry, Ben, but it looks like you’re in trouble. There’s no way Ollie won’t talk about sex.” Ben’s return smile was weak. He could trust Charlie to be circumspect, but Helena was right. Oliver didn’t have a filter, and when—not if—the topic turned to sex, either he or Helena was likely to say something that risked exposing his secret. * * * “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.” The auctioneer smiled over the small, gathered crowd. “It’s a beautiful summer’s day, and I’m happy to see so many people in attendance. There has been a lot of interest in this fine property behind me, suitable for a young family or an investor, and we have three registered bidders for today’s auction.” Mason, Neil, Liam, and Clarissa were at the back of the crowd that stood outside the unit that was being auctioned. While the auctioneer explained the rules of the auction, Mason used his above-average height to look for the agent that his father had hired. He hadn’t been introduced—another source of anger at his parents—but he thought he’d try to work out who it could be. He saw a young Asian couple with two small children standing on one side, along with an older couple. Mason suspected that the older couple were trying to buy a place for their children and grandchildren. Near the middle of the crowd, there was a rough-looking-and-tanned, middle-aged Caucasian man; a better-dressed man with a backpack stood nearby, and on the far side there were a couple of men in suits. The rest of the crowd appeared to be locals who were there to see who was going to buy the unit. Mason initially thought that the men in suits represented his father’s agent until the auctioneer spoke with them, apparently giving instructions. That was when he realised they were part of the real-estate agent’s team. His next guess was the man with the backpack, as there didn’t appear to be anyone else appropriate. He didn’t look like someone who was there to buy an apartment for himself or a family member. An elderly couple approached Liam, Neil, and Clarissa. “This looks exciting. I hope that young couple get the place,” the woman said. “It’ll be good to have some nice neighbours.” Liam chuckled. “You don’t think a couple of university students are nice enough, Mrs. Provan?” He caught Mason’s puzzled look. “Mason, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Provan. They have the unit between ours and the one being auctioned. Mr. and Mrs. Provan, this is Mason. He’s going to be at Sydney Uni with us.” Mason smiled and stuck out a hand. “Pleased to meet you.” She raised an eyebrow as she greeted Mason. “An American! I’m pleased to meet you, too.” She smiled and then grinned at Liam. “You know I didn’t mean you. You and Clarissa are nice neighbours. We just hope we have nice neighbours on the other side of us, too.” Mr. Provan shook Mason’s hand. “What brings you to Australia, Mason, and what will you be studying?” “I want to get a degree in Space Engineering. Sydney University is one of the few places where I can study that.” Mr. Provan’s eyebrows rose. “Impressive! There’s a lot of potential in space. It’s the final frontier.” Mason stared at the straight-faced, elderly gentleman, wondering if he knew the pop-culture association for what he’d said. When Mr. Provan solemnly lifted his left hand, holding his ring and little finger away from the middle and forefinger and said, “Live long and prosper”, Mason grinned. “Peace and long life,” he replied. He didn’t try to return the salute; he’d tried enough times to know he wasn’t able to make his fingers move that way easily. Mr. Provan grinned back. “Not many people know that response. I hope to see more of you in the future. I’m sure we’ll have lots to discuss.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “What are you two talking about?” “Star Trek.” Mason smiled at the old man. “Sorry, but that’s about as much as I know. I’ve got a friend back home who’s a Trekkie. That’s the only reason I knew the Vulcan response. He spent two years making sure I knew it.” Mason chuckled. “He also tried to teach me Klingon, but I gave up on that after only a month.” Mr. Provan nodded. “I’ve thought about learning Klingon, but at my age the neurons aren’t firing as fast as they used to. I decided concentrating on developing warp-drive technology was a better use of my time.” “That makes sense.” Mason raised an eyebrow. “You’re an engineer?” “I was before I retired, but I’m sure there have been a lot of changes in the field since I went to school.” Mr. Provan smiled as he glanced over to where Liam, Neil, and Clarissa were talking to his wife. “It’s why Neil and I get along. He’s very excited about studying engineering.” Their conversation was interrupted when the auctioneer called for opening bids. “Shall we start with five hundred and fifty thousand?” Mason winced. He knew property prices in Sydney were higher than he was used to, and the weaker Australian dollar made the number appear worse than if it had been expressed in US dollars, but starting the bidding at $550,000 was, to his mind, excessive. It also created a conflict in his mind as to his parents. While he wasn’t letting go of his anger at being exiled to Australia, the amount of money his parents were willing to spend on an apartment for him indicated that they still cared. The opening bid was made by the rough-looking man, but the backpack man and the patriarch of the Asian family soon joined in with bids of $560K and $570K, respectively. The rough-looking man’s gravelly voice was loud over the murmurs of the crowd as he responded. “Six twenty.” The backpack man frowned. “Six thirty,” the Asian patriarch countered. The rough-looking man crossed his arms. “Six fifty.” The auction stalled at that point. After calling for more bids and not receiving any, the auctioneer announced that he was going inside to consult with the sellers. “What does that mean?” Liam asked. “Why didn’t he declare the property sold?” “It means that the property hasn’t reached the reserve price set beforehand,” Mr. Provan said. “The auctioneer’s gone inside to see if the owners are happy to sell at that price, if they’ll lower their reserve, or if they want the unit passed in.” “Passed in? What does that mean?” Mason asked. Clarissa gave him the answer. “That happens if the auction doesn’t reach the price the owners want. Essentially, the property doesn’t get sold.” “It doesn’t look like that young couple will be buying the place.” Mrs. Provan’s disappointment was obvious. “Not necessarily,” her husband replied. “If they expected the reserve price to be higher, they may have let the auction stall at this point to see if the owners will lower that price.” “What happens if the reserve isn’t met?” Neil asked. “Then the highest bidder gets the first chance to negotiate with the owners.” Mr. Provan frowned. “It’ll all depend on how greedy the owners are or how desperate they are to sell. If they’re too greedy, they’ll wait until they get the price they want. If they’re desperate, they may be willing to lower the price.” “I was told they were moving to Brisbane,” Mason said. “They’ll probably want to sell.” “Maybe. If they’ve got some cash reserves to tide them over, they may be able to leave the unit vacant for a few weeks while they continue to try to sell it.” “I’m not sure I like that man who had the last bid.” Mrs. Provan shook her head. “He doesn’t look like a pleasant person. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable living next door to him.” Mason stayed silent, but he was personally hoping the backpack man would win the bid. The auctioneer reappeared. “I have spoken to the vendors, and the reserve has not yet been reached. They have authorised me to make a vendor bid of $690,000. Do I hear seven hundred?” The backpack man shook his head and started to leave. Mason grimaced, realising that his chance of buying the apartment had just evaporated. The response from the Asian gentleman was strong and confident. “Seven hundred.” The response from the rough-looking man was immediate. “Seven twenty.” “Ladies and gentlemen, the property is now on the market.” The auctioneer turned to the Asian family. “Do I hear seven thirty?” Mason frowned. “What does he mean, that the property is now on the market? Hasn’t it been on the market the whole time? And what was that about a vendor bid?” Mr. Provan chuckled. “The wording is odd, but it means that the reserve price has been met, and so the property will definitely be sold today. Whoever bids the highest will get the unit, there’s no backing out. In New South Wales, the person selling the property is allowed to make one bid themselves. I’d say they just used that bid to signal what price they were looking for.” “Why don’t they just have a family member or friend bid on their behalf? That would be less obvious.” “They can’t. Only the auctioneer can bid on behalf of the seller.” Mr. Provan made a face. “I can’t remember the details, but there were some scandals some time ago, and laws were passed to make dummy bids illegal.” After a short discussion with his family, the Asian patriarch bid again. “Seven twenty-five.” The reaction from the other bidder was immediate. “Seven thirty.” “Do I hear seven thirty-five?” The Asian family held a low-voiced conversation for almost a minute before the patriarch turned to the auctioneer and shook his head. “Are you sure? Properties like this don’t come on the market often.” After a couple of minutes of trying to cajole the Asian family, the auctioneer admitted defeat and made the traditional ‘going once, going twice, sold!’ declaration. “Okay, it’s all over.” Mrs. Provan sighed. “I hope he turns out to be nicer than he looks.” The group turned away, the Provans heading to their unit and the rest heading to Liam’s and Clarissa’s. “Mr. Rivers? Mason Rivers?” The gravelly voice caught them all by surprise. They stopped and looked back at the rough-looking man who had approached them. “Yes?” Mason said, wondering how the stranger knew his name. The man smiled. “I’m Lewis Invernell. Your father said you may be present. Since you’re here, it would expedite things if you came in and signed the paperwork. Congratulations, by the way. You’re now the owner of a wonderful three-bedroom unit.” Mason blinked as he shook hands with Lewis. “You’re my father’s agent?” Lewis chuckled. “I like to look like a rough-and-tumble sort. That—and bidding confidently—has been known to scare some other bidders off.” He shrugged. “It didn’t work today, but we still managed to get a reasonable price.” “What’s going on?” Liam asked. “Did you just buy that unit?” Mason grinned. “Yep!” It was beginning to sink in that he’d gotten what he wanted. Lewis cleared his throat. “You haven’t bought it until paperwork is signed, so if you could follow me…?” Mason dutifully followed his father’s agent back to the unit to sign the paperwork, a beaming smile on his face. The next step, after he found out when he’d be able to move in, would be to ask Deon and Kevin if they’d like to share the apartment with him. He was confident they wouldn’t say no. * * * “Eve! It’s good to see you again.” Ben leant forward and gave his big sister a peck on the cheek. “Did you have a good trip?” He noticed she didn’t have any luggage with her and hoped that meant she wasn’t going to ask to stay with him for the weekend. “It’s been just under a month since Christmas, Ben. Did you miss me that much?” She smiled back. “The flight was fine. No dramas, which is the way I like it.” “Come in, and I’ll introduce you to the others. One of the guys has gone away for the weekend, but the others are here.” Eve grabbed Ben by the arm, halting his movement back into the house. “Before that, how are you, Ben? Really. No bullshit. Are you happy?” Ben hesitated, wondering what she was after. “I’m happy. My teammates are all great, my housemates are fantastic, and I’m starting to make new friends. I like it here.” She stared into his eyes for a moment and then nodded once. “Okay. Then I’m happy, too.” She waved a hand toward the interior of the house. “Let’s go.” Ben led her into the kitchen, where Oliver, Helena, and Charlie were waiting. Oliver was stirring the contents of a saucepan while the other two were seated at the kitchen table. Charlie immediately rose. “G’day. You must be Eve.” “That’s me!” She grinned and lifted a hand in greeting. “Something smells nice.” Oliver grinned. “We weren’t sure what time you were showing up, so I’ve had a pasta sauce simmering. Now that you’re here, I can cook the pasta.” “Eve, this is Charlie. The master chef is Ollie, and the young lady at the table is his girlfriend, Helena.” Helena was standing by the time Ben finished the introductions. She contemplated Eve for a moment and then stepped forward to give her a hug. “Charlie’s also taken, but I’ve got a couple of cousins who I’m sure would love to take you out for dinner, if you’re interested.” Eve stiffened, and her smiling expression looked forced. “That’s okay. I’ve already got plans for tonight.” Ben chuckled. “Helena, settle down.” He winked at Eve. “Helena comes from a very large extended family. I believe she has a cousin for all occasions, no matter what those occasions may be.” He snorted. “She tried to set me up with one of those cousins soon after I arrived.” “And she would’ve been good for you.” Helena chuckled. “How was I supposed to know that big-breasted Greek girls weren’t your thing?” Oliver chuckled. “You left off aggressive. Arianna had him married with three kids and twins on the way within ten minutes of meeting him.” Ben tensed, though he realised it was his own fault for raising the subject. Talking about love interests was not what he wanted to discuss in front of his sister. “How long before lunch is ready, Ollie?” “Fifteen minutes. As soon as the water boils and the pasta is cooked, we can eat.” Eve touched Ben’s arm to attract his attention. “Can we talk after lunch? In private?” “Sure.” Ben felt anything but sure, but he tried to maintain a confident façade. His sister was the one member of his family who he thought may be okay with him being gay, but he also knew that it may be wishful thinking extrapolated from a handful of comments she’d made when they’d been alone. Charlie spoke up for the first time since the initial introductions. “Eve, have you got any stories to tell about Ben? We know about his football history in Sydney, but he’s been reticent to say much about anything else. It’ll be good to hear what he was like growing up.” Eve threw Ben an odd look that he had trouble deciphering. She then chuckled. “Oh, I have lots of stories that I’m sure he doesn’t want me to repeat.” Ben wasn’t sure if he should be grateful for Charlie’s distraction, but embarrassing tales from his past was a much safer topic than his love life. He glared at Charlie, mainly because it was expected, but kept his mouth shut and didn’t object. “Has he told you he’s a chocoholic?” Eve asked. “He is?” Oliver frowned. “I don’t think I’ve seen him eat any since he moved in.” “It’s not on my diet.” Ben frowned at his sister. “You know I don’t eat chocolate anymore.” “Except at Easter, your birthday, Christmas, and whenever you think you can get away with no one knowing.” Eve smirked. “I’m sure you have a large block hidden somewhere in your room right now just waiting for a celebration—or comfort food after losing a game.” Ben blushed. Helena chuckled. “Should we tell him that there’s a chocolate factory about twenty minutes from here that provides free samples?” Eve laughed. “Probably not a good idea. If he finds out where it is, he’ll become fat and unable to play football.” Charlie shook his head. “We’ve got the perfect cure for that. Her name’s Julie.” Ben flinched. He knew what Charlie meant. “Julie?” Eve gave Ben a quizzical look. “Who’s Julie?” “Our head coach.” Ben made a face. “If she thought I was getting fat, she’d have me running laps every day until my body-fat percentage was back to acceptable levels.” He snorted. “And she gets to decide what’s acceptable.” “That’s Julie!” Oliver smiled at Eve. “Are you okay with a glass of wine with lunch?” “You don’t have to…” Helena chuckled. “Ollie doesn’t do things he doesn’t have to, apart from when Julie tells him to do something. It’s a long weekend, and we don’t have any special plans. We’re opening a bottle anyway, so it’s no trouble.” “In that case, and as long as it’s only one glass, then yes, please.” The look she threw at Ben was one of playful fun. “Anyway, we found out Ben was a chocoholic when he was eight. Dad had taken us out for ice creams and said we could choose two flavours. Ben said he’d have chocolate.” Ben rolled his eyes. Out of all the stories she could’ve told, this one wasn’t embarrassing. Eve continued. “Dad reminded him he could have two flavours and asked Ben what he wanted for the other one. Ben replied, in a tone that indicated he wasn’t going to change his mind, that he wanted chocolate for the second flavour, too.” “There’s nothing wrong with liking chocolate.” Ben crossed his arms and scowled at a sniggering Oliver. “Does that include having your face covered with chocolate ice-cream? And then not letting Mum clean it up, but wiping it off your face with your fingers and then licking your fingers clean?” Ben blushed again. * * * “Thanks again, Ollie. That was wonderful.” Eve patted her stomach. “If that’s the sort of meal you usually have here, I’m sure Julie will have all of you running lots of laps.” The three guys all laughed. “She doesn’t need an excuse. She makes us run laps, anyway,” Ben said. “I’m sorry if it looks like I’m rushing out after that wonderful meal, but I have some things I need to do this afternoon.” Eve glanced at Ben. “Can we talk now?” “We can go to my room.” Ben thought Eve looked nervous, which worried him. A minute later, the two were sitting on Ben’s bed with the door shut. “Ben, you know that I’m closer to you than I am to anyone else in the family, right?” Ben nodded but stayed silent. “Will you be there for me if I need you?” Eve asked. “You won’t abandon me?” Ben’s eyes opened wide. “Is there something wrong? You’re not sick, are you?” “No…well, not really.” Eve grimaced. “Can you just sit there and be quiet while I explain?” “Okay.” Ben wrapped an arm around his sister and gently pulled her up to him. He was glad she didn’t resist. “Tell me what you want to tell me, and I’ll wait until you’ve finished before I say anything.” He gave her a squeeze of reassurance. “I’m here for you.” Whatever was going on, Ben knew it was about her, not him. That both gave him a sense of relief—she wasn’t about to accuse him of being gay—and a touch of fear about what she was going to say. “It all started a couple of months ago. I was at a party and met this guy.” She gave an amused snort. “I thought he was hot until I found out he works for a Christian-outreach organisation. I hit him with both barrels on the evils of organised religion. I was surprised to find he gave as good as he got.” Ben was baffled as to where this story was going. “Anyway, to cut a long story short, we argued for most of that night and several times over the following weeks.” She dropped her head. “We fought a lot, but we kept seeing each other…including spending the night together.” She looked up to reveal watery eyes. “He infuriates me at times, but he also does something for me that I can’t explain.” Ben gave her another squeeze. He was beginning to understand why she’d come to talk to him. His father would never tolerate her having a religious boyfriend. That would be as bad—if not worse—as having a gay son. “Anyway, I saw him off a couple of weeks ago. He’d only been in Sydney for a few months while working on a project, and he’s now back home in Melbourne, not too far from here. But since he’s been gone, I’ve realised how much I’ve been missing him. A couple of days ago, I made the decision to fly down to see him again. He picked me up from the airport, and he’s going to come and get me as soon as I text him. I’m staying with him for the weekend.” Ben broke his promise to stay quiet, but he thought she needed to know he was okay with what she was saying. “It sounds like this is serious. I’d like to meet him.” Eve’s face lit up, and she gave him a big hug. “Thank you! I was so worried.” “Because he’s religious?” Ben gave her as soft a smile as he could. “You have good taste, Eve. If you like him, then I’m sure I’ll like him, too.” A flicker of something crossed her face. “There’s more.” Ben waited. “I’m pregnant.” * * * Kevin frowned. “Let’s get this straight. You now own that unit at the end of the block, and you’re asking Deon and myself to rent rooms from you?” Mason shrugged. “Technically, I don’t own it until the 23rd of February, but yes.” He smiled. “You said you’d be happy renting a place with me, so what’s the problem?” “No problem. I’m just in shock. I didn’t expect you to buy a place. I thought we’d all be renting.” Kevin glanced over at where Deon had an arm wrapped around Clarissa. “I take it you’re okay with this?” “Sure, but I’ll admit that it was a bit of a shock for me, too.” Deon chuckled. “But they say real estate is all about location, location, location, and living two doors down from Clarissa is definitely a perfect location for me.” Mason was trying to determine if Kevin had reservations or if it was merely that the surprise had knocked him off balance. Both Kevin and Deon had been sent text messages earlier, asking them to come to Clarissa’s and Liam’s apartment as soon as they finished training. It was only when they arrived—Kevin brought Daphne with him—that they found out what was going on. Daphne frowned. “You’re moving in next month? I thought sales took longer than that to finalise.” “The contract was originally for sixty days, but we asked if we could move in sooner. The people selling it were happy to do that, so we renegotiated for a thirty-day settlement.” Mason shrugged. “Everyone was happy with that, and my father’s agent said he can make it happen. I’m taking him at his word.” “How much is the rent going to be?” Kevin made a face. “I thought we’d be splitting the rent three ways, but does this mean you’ll be setting the rent?” “Ah, about that…” Mason was glad his dark skin prevented his friends from seeing him go red. “My father told me that I’m going to have to live on the rent you guys pay me. That’ll be my income while I’m living here, so I can’t make it as cheap as I originally planned. I hope that’s okay.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “How much, Mason?” Mason had discussed the matter with Lewis, but he thought the amount that his father’s agent had recommended was way too high. He mentally reduced that number by a hundred. “Can you guys afford $250 a week?” “Is that between us, or each?” Kevin asked. Mason cringed. “Each.” Deon rose. “Kevin, can I have a word with you?” “Sure.” The two football players stepped outside to talk. “Is it going to be awkward being the landlord while living with them?” Liam asked. “I hope not.” Mason hadn’t considered that complication. He was beginning to wonder if he’d made a huge mistake in telling his father he had two guaranteed renters. Daphne smiled. “It’ll work out, but I think you should arrange for Deon and Kevin to have a look at the place before they make any commitment. So far, you’re the only one who’s seen what it looks like inside.” Clarissa flinched. “Not quite. I was with Mason when he checked it out.” She gave Mason a weak smile. “Sorry, I thought they’d be thrilled. I guess we didn’t think things through.” Daphne chuckled softly. “Give them time and they’ll be thrilled. You’ve just taken them by surprise, that’s all.” Her smile faded as she caught Mason’s eye. “Kevin wants me to move in with him. Is that going to be okay?” Mason grinned. That was one question he was prepared for. “Of course! I was expecting that to happen, which is why you two will get the master bedroom.” Her eyes widened. “But you’re the owner. That should be your room!” “Hey, I just need a room.” Mason shrugged. “I’d like to have the private bathroom that comes with the master bedroom, but I can live without that. It’s not like I would’ve had one if I’d been living in a college dorm back home.” Kevin stuck his head inside. “Daphne, can you join us outside?” After Daphne left, Mason gave Clarissa, Liam, and Neil a nervous smile. “What do you think they’re discussing?” Clarissa shrugged. “Probably whether your offer is too good to be believed.” When Mason frowned, she continued. “You’re offering them a rent that’s lower than what Liam and I pay, and it’s for a bigger place. Yes, they have to share it with you, too, but I don’t blame them if they’re wondering if there’s a catch.” “I just want to live with some friends. I’m not interested in the money. If the ‘rents hadn’t told me I have to live off the rent money, I would’ve made it lower. Is that too hard to believe?” “From most people, yes.” Clarissa cocked her head. “But from you…no. You keep spending money like you don’t know its value. The rest of us don’t have a lot and have to keep an eye on our budgets. The idea of spending over $700,000 so casually…” She shook her head. “We have trouble understanding the mindset that can do that.” “It wasn’t casually! I want a place to live for the next four years. I want somewhere I’ll be comfortable. I don’t want to be lonely. I want people I can trust living with me—people I can share things with. They’re the important things, not how much I spent to get them.” Mason hadn’t noticed Deon, Kevin, and Daphne’s return until Kevin spoke. “And those things are important to us, too.” Deon nodded. “We still need to work out some details, but Kevin and I would love to share the unit with you. Daphne would, too.” He grinned and stuck out a hand. “What do you say, flatmate?” * * * Oliver clapped Ben on the shoulder as Eve and her boyfriend pulled out of the driveway. “She seems nice, and there wasn’t any drama unless she said something during your private chat. It looks like you weathered that storm.” Ben shook his head. “The storm’s still coming.” He sighed and turned to go back into the house. “She’s thinking of moving down here.” “You think that if she lives in Melbourne, she’ll find out the truth sooner or later?” “Yeah, but that’s not what’s worrying me.” Oliver frowned. “Then what is it?” “My sister’s pregnant. She’s going to move in with her boyfriend while they plan on getting married.” “And your parents will be down for the wedding.” Oliver shrugged. “It shouldn’t be too hard to keep your secret for that long.” Ben shook his head again. “I don’t think my parents will be there. From what Eve said, I suspect it’ll be a church wedding, and there’s no way my parents will set foot inside a church.” He screwed up his face. “No, it’s worse than that.” “Then what’s wrong?” “Even if she doesn’t start World War Three by dating a religious guy, this will be my parents’ first grandchild. Mum, at least, and possibly Dad, will be down here to be with her as much as possible, and Dad will be down trying to make her break up with her boyfriend. They’re going to drag me into the whole mess even though I’m on Eve’s side. I’m not going to be able to avoid them, and it’ll only be a matter of time before the rest of the truth comes out.” His head dropped. “I’m here because I wanted to get away from them, but that’s not going to happen. I’m trapped.” Oliver frowned and then punched Ben in the arm. “Idiot!” While Ben rubbed his bicep, Oliver continued. “You’re not alone. The whole team will stand up for you. They’ll even stand between you and your parents, if that’s required. “You’re a Leopard. You’re family…and we protect our own.” Oliver scowled. “And if you need us to protect Eve, we’ll do that, too.” * * * Back in Los Angeles, Pedro Romero sneered at the weakling in front of him. “How many of the capsules did you swallow?” José Rodriguez was visibly frightened, though he was making an unsuccessful effort to hide it. “I don’t know. It was a lot.” “My cousin told me it was 187. How many capsules did you find in your shit?” Pedro didn’t wait for an answer. “It was only 185.” He pulled out a knife and started cleaning his fingernails. “What did you do with the other two capsules?” “I didn’t do nothing!” José started shaking. “They must still be inside me.” “Likely story.” Pedro knew they weren’t inside José because his cousin had told me that 185 was the number delivered, but both agreed that José was too stupid to know that. “Your first delivery was perfect, but this second one…” Pedro scowled and jabbed his knife in José’s direction. “You’re short, and that means you owe me.” “But I—” “But nothing!” Pedro knew that his unwilling drug mule had a limited useful life. After enough trips across the border, the immigration authorities would suspect the person identified on José’s passport to be smuggling drugs. The trick was to cut the fool loose just prior to that happening. “This time was supposed to pay for your flights and some spending money in Australia so you can fix that fuck-up of yours. But because of the missing drugs, you’re going to have to make another couple of trips to pay for what you’ve lost.” He glared at José, silently demanding a response. José swallowed and nodded. “Good. My cousin will be expecting you in three days. Just in case those drugs are still in your body, I suggest you save all your shit between now and then and check to see if they’re there. If they are, I expect you to clean them up and deliver them to me. If not…don’t fuck up again or it’ll be your last time. Got it?” A pale José nodded again. “Then get the fuck out of my sight!” Pedro settled back into his chair as José left the room. His experience told him that two more smuggling trips would probably be safe. He would play it by ear as to whether to force the idiot to do a third or cut him loose and send him to Australia. Killing José was another option, but despite him being an imbecile, there were people with power who would take offense if the young gang member was terminated. Pedro didn’t need that aggravation. In the meantime, he needed to keep José away from the other members. Pedro didn’t need José finding out that he wasn’t in as much trouble for the failed robbery as Pedro made out.
  19. Graeme

    Good News Thread

    I'm not sure if this is going be a flop, but I'm going to try anyway What I'd like this to be is a thread on Good News stories. I was surfing the Internet the other day and stumbled across the CBS Good News Page. I'd like to see if we can do the same, with a thread on just good news stories. As they state on their page, this will be for: Stories that show the best of human nature; people helping people, triumphs of the human spirit. I'll start with my favourite from the CBS Good News Page: Michigan Middle School Football Team Conspires for Touching Touchdown Feel free to add your own!
  20. Graeme

    Chapter 4

    I'm not sure that Scott has truly learnt his lesson. His attitude at the start of the chapter was that everything was Mark and Bobby's fault. That they had enticed him and that was the cause of the problems. Yes, he had a change of heart while tied to the goalpost, but moving to Arkansas, he'll be in a very similar mindset to when he moved to California. He has the chance to do the right thing, but he could easily revert to being a bully. When he moved to California, he was desperate for acceptance, and found it by bullying others. He's leaving California desperate for acceptance, and...
  21. Graeme

    Chapter 3

    Given how many people he'd been having sex with (Richard, William and now Ryan), it's surprising that rumours never started. William, in particular, I would have expected to have said something to someone while he was jealous that his cousin had stolen Scott from him. I actually found Scott a little less revolting in this chapter. Admittedly, this is from his perspective, but he didn't come over as bad as he did from Mark's perspective. When he wasn't near Mark and Bobby, he sounds almost reasonable, with normal concerns about what his peers will think of him, and whether he'll be left all alone...again. Of course, we don't see what he's doing or trying to do to Mark and Bobby, except at the theatre, but it's interesting. I wonder if what he's left out is a reflection of him not wanting to think about it, or not realising how wrong it was and therefore not worth mentioning?
  22. Graeme

    Make us laugh!

    When I was younger people laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, no one is laughing now.
  23. Graeme

    Sequels, Prequels and Spin-offs

    This is why there are stories that I would like to write a sequel for, but I haven't: I can't come up with a story, that is to say, a start, middle, finish. The start is usually easy for a sequel, because you've got a starting point, but you also need the middle and finish to make it a story. When I have written a sequel (which hasn't been often, though I'm currently on my fourth novel in a series that I never expected to take off in this way) I usually introduce new main characters as a way of bringing something new to the story. The familiar and loved characters still play a significant role, but the story at least partially revolves around the new characters, not the old. The one prequel I wrote, for that same series, describes one particular scene from the original book from a different perspective, but I was very careful to avoid anything except minor spoilers as part of that prequel (it helps that the scene in question was in an early chapter of the original series). I have another prequel planned, to explain part of the motivation of one of the characters of the series, but again, it'll be written to avoid spoilers. My Lilydale Leopard series didn't start out as a planned series, but I kept that as an option as I was writing. The original story was standalone, but I was always aware that I had an entire year of football ahead, so I wrote the first book accordingly. The third book came about because I realised I wasn't going to be able to finish the second book where I originally planned, so I brought it to a conclusion at an appropriate point, and then started on the third book to bring the story to a close at the original intended ending point, introducing a new character in the process to allow myself more writing material and more of a story. The fourth book is more of a spin-off, taking the action away from the core group of characters, and is again largely centred around a new character. A fifth book, returning to the core characters is planned.... Most of the above came about organically. I didn't plan on a series, but I allowed it evolve. At each step of the process, though, I asked the questions that Comicality said to ask. What is going on that will make a story? Where is the conflict/challenge? Is there going to be a satisfactory conclusion? Unless I had positive answers to those questions, I wasn't going to proceed. I have a long list of short stories that I would love to expand into a novel or novella, but I haven't because I haven't been able to come up with positive answers to those questions. Similarly, for sequels to my other novels. Without inspiration of how to write a unique new story, I can't write a sequel for those novels. I like to reflect on movies when it comes to sequels. There are very few sequels that come up to the standard of the original movie, and those that succeed have done so by not repeating the story of the original. My favourite example is Short Circuit and it's sequel. The sequel doesn't repeat the same story, but focuses on a different character from the original, and builds something new as a consequence. That's my goal each time I contemplate a sequel: to create something new, not just more of the same.
  24. Graeme

    Chapter 2

    Now there's the Scott we've all grown to hate... He really has been indoctrinated by his father. His uncle isn't any better, but Scott started out knowing what he was doing was wrong. This chapter shows that it didn't take much for him to fall into the same mentality that caused his problems in the first place. After being downtrodden and abused for so long, he's moved onto the other side of the fence and became the one doing the abusing and making others downtrodden. I can appreciate that the power went to his head, but it would've been nice if he'd felt even a little remorse doing what he was doing. He did at the start, but that didn't take long to disappear...
  25. Graeme

    Chapter 1

    People have a reason for acting the way they have. It may not always be rational, but there's a reason. Learning the reason Scott was the way he was doesn't make what he did right, but it explains why he did it. It was an emotional reaction on the spur of the moment. Intellectually, Scott should know his father wasn't going to beat him up again, but he was probably afraid that his uncle would. His experiences at his old school also probably meant he never considered the possibillity that he may be going to a gay-tolerant school. So, he lashes out and burns his bridges behind him...all to protect himself
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