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Innocence Waning - 4. Chapter 4

Bryce fiddles with his iPhone. After remaining unusually quiet for what seems like an eternity, he finally speaks. "I just checked the Bureau of Meteorology's website and it looks like it is going to rain in about forty minutes."

I vacillate between throwing open the front door and staying put. Do I lead my friends to the South Wharf shopping precinct so we can browse at the electronics superstore? Purchasing the phone of my wildest dreams is on my mind, however, my thoughts quickly revert back to trying to identify the voice that was just speaking to me on the phone. His voice was that of an older gentleman, which adds to my confusion and the whole situation is just adding to my frustration.

"Let's just watch a movie or something!" Jayden exclaims after taking the best position in the lounge. He grabs the integrated remote control and powers on the Samsung television along with the other audio and subservient components by tapping a single button. My father invested a fair amount of time automating this system. He would become flustered having to look at five different remote controls which just adds to the clutter on the glass table. "Just get the phone from the Samsung shop the next time you are at Melbourne Central." He makes a good suggestion especially knowing that the storm is rolling in.

I cross my arms and ponder what to do. "I was given a gift card for JB Hi-Fi so I want to use it. The gift card is only for one hundred dollars but it expires in a few days." I patiently wait to see if my friends show any desire to move off of the lounge.

Bryce mimics Jayden's and gets himself into a comfortable position on the lounge. He places one of the red pillows between his arm and torso and watches the nasty weather that is slowly creeping into the city from the south. He slips off his faux-dirty Converse shoes and then peels his socks off. He places his feet on the lounge, and I notice his hairy legs just over his exposed ankles. I then gaze out the window to distract me from Bryce's hairy legs. The mysterious caller has left me unnerved. I grab at the back of my head and mess my hair up further. My dishevelled appearance will hopefully distract anyone who looks at me from the blood that is rushing to my cheeks and face. "The hell with going out and getting rained on," I confidently announce. The menacing storm approaching from the south coughs thunder. Taking up residence in the lounge room seems like the most comfortable, if not dry option.

Jayden begins scrolling through the most recently added television shows and movies on the media centre laptop that is connected to the television. Mel walks past with a large bag of rubbish from the kitchen which gives him just enough time to select Game of Thrones. The score which accompanies the opening credits of the television show plays and everyone hums along in time. "Nope. I have already seen this." He taps the back button and returns to the homepage that lists the newest media that has been added. He curiously watches Mel as she walks toward the foyer and laughs. "It looks like you watched a movie called Eastern Boys. What the hell is that about?"

Bryce reads the description of the movie courtesy of the synopsis that is being displayed on the television screen. "If you knew how to read, you wouldn't have to ask stupid questions. Jesus Christ. Don't they teach you how to read at your private school?"

The front door slams shut which startles me. "It is actually a really good movie." I chirp. "It is about a gang of migrants from some old Soviet eastern bloc country that fucks over a gay bloke. The dude tried to solicit sex from one of the gang members at the train station." I do a double-take and ponder my recent experiences inside the public toilets and roll my eyes for added effect and point at the screen. "Look at the Rotten Tomatoes score of eighty-seven. There is no reason to judge it." The faceless men and women behind the Rotten Tomatoes scoring system seem to know everything. I point at the screen again so the uninterested eyes of my friends will hopefully provide some validation or at least some sort of clue that they agree with me.

"I am not. It looks interesting enough." Jayden says and then begins to scroll through additional movies that are stored on the clustered hard drives. "Nymphomaniac, hey? Is that on your top-ten list, Chezdon? I read a review of this movie somewhere. It is supposedly ridiculously long. Shia LaBeouf fucks some chick in it and you can see his little cock." Jayden coughs and clears his throat.

Bryce begins to laugh hysterically and we must wait for his glee to subside before he adds to the conversation. "Where do you come up with this shit? Have you watched it? How would you know that Shia LaBeouf has a small cock unless you took an active interest in the topic mate?"

"It is the word on the street." Jayden insists and crosses his arms and then his legs. "I also read that LaBeouf got raped when he was putting on some sort of art exhibit somewhere. It was during some sort of live show in public. How can that be possible?"

Bryce takes a keen interest in his phone and begins to read something on its screen. "One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me. What the fuck?" Bryce looks mortified as he reads an article about Shia LaBeouf to us verbatim.

"People just decided to do whatever they wanted to him. Since he was in an artistic moment, the bloke couldn't say no or even punch someone in the face when they crossed the line?" The situation puzzles me and I ponder the ridiculousness of the situation in general. The front door slams and it startles me again.

Bryce continues to read out loud. "Hashtag IAMSORRY involves LaBeouf sitting silently behind a desk in a room in the Los Angeles Cohen gallery with a paper bag bearing the legend 'I am not famous anymore' over his head. For five days, members of the public queued to be able to sit alone with him in a room with a prop of their choice." We start laughing. "How many films can he ride a motorbike in and pretend he is cool? This is such a joke. Who would want to waste their time with this guy."

Jayden interlocks his hands behind his head and appears very comfortable with his feet resting on top of the glass table. "I guess that just means that you can stroke his cock and shove a broom handle up his arse. Why wouldn't he rip the bag off and punch the person who touched him inappropriately?" Jayden offers in a very animated way. "Things like this make me really angry. What a dickhead."

Mel overhears the tail end of our conversation and stops. "Who was raped?" Mel asks us with a sense of concern in her voice.

"Shia" I curtly respond.

"Oh, is she okay?" Mel asks and looks interested.

Bryce makes it known that this is the bloke from the Transformers movie franchise and from what Jayden articulated, the movie, Nymphomaniac. I add that he will be just fine and was just part of an art installation that went wrong for too many reasons to list. Mel appears embarrassed and manages an uncomfortable laugh. "I am going to open a bottle of wine. Does anyone care for a glass?"

"It is only 2:30 PM you know," I add to the conversation knowing full well that time doesn't matter when it involves the consumption of alcohol in this household. "I will have wine please." I offer Mel a wide smile and show her my teeth. Bryce and Jayden also respond in the affirmative. I did promise alcohol to my friends on the way home and fortunately, Mel is delivering.

"Bryce, do you know the rule?" Mel asks. "There is only one rule."

"The rule is if you start drinking alcohol in this place, we aren't allowed to leave unless it is straight home via Uber," Jayden replies as the rule has been ingrained into his memory. "Safety is Mel's number one priority."

"That sounds like a Qantas safety message," I say knowing that even Qantas wouldn't let a gaggle of teenagers get on the drink so early in the afternoon despite their desire for increased market share. Perhaps a quantity of wine will take the edge off. I need to distract myself from what I assume to be nuisance phone calls and the other uncertainties that I am allowing to envelop my personal life.

Bryce looks at Jayden and pulls on a few strands of his exposed underarm hair. "What is your drink of choice? Goon from the cardboard box mate?" Jayden quickly crosses his arms over his chest, depriving Bryce another opportunity to pull hair from his armpit.

Jayden chuckles and swats at Bryce's hand. "My drink of choice is your mother's milk! I love sucking it from her hard-hairy nipples." Jayden squeals with joy and begins to scroll through the available movies again. Jayden stops when he sees Mysterious Skin and begins to read the synopsis out loud, proving to Bryce once and for all he knows how to read. He offers an enthusiastic assessment of the movie. "Aliens, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Let's watch this."

Mel returns holding two glasses of red wine. Bryce offers his thoughts on the movie in a lazy monotonal voice. "Not to spoil the movie for you mate, but your idol Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets bum-raped and plays a teenage male whore. It will be a bit like art imitating life for you I suppose mate." Mel sets the two glasses of wine on the glass table and begins to laugh. I can't hold in my laughter any longer and explode as Bryce starts to cackle himself, obviously amused.

"Whatever." Jayden chooses The Shining and taps play on the integrated remote. "You remind me of the fucked up little boy in this film Bryce."

Mel returns with a glass of wine and hands it to me. "Thanks, Mel." She places the bottle on top of the weekend newspaper and then returns to the kitchen. We drink wine and provide running commentary about the movie which we have all seen before. Half an hour later, we vanquish what is left in the bottle and I am tasked to retrieve another one. I walk to the wine refrigerator, taking care not to touch any of the bottles that I know my father obsesses about. The understanding is not to drink anything from the Barossa Valley since those varietals are always in short supply in our household. Instead, I remove a bottle of Marsh Estate, a wine produced in the Hunter Valley, not far from Sydney. The rain begins to pelt against the windows with some force. The front door slams again, which startles me. I return to the living room holding the open bottle of wine at the same time my father walks into the living room.

"Hey, Daniel. How were the races?" Jayden hops to his feet and shakes my father's hand. "Have you met our esteemed peer Bryce yet? He is a tad antisocial, I know, and he apologises for not standing up." My father insists on being called by his first name, Daniel, and detests formality in the family home.

"I am just fine and dandy mate. It was a good day at the races. Tom Waterhouse will not be retiring anytime soon." Tom Waterhouse is the CEO of the betting agency that my father bets with. "Yes, I know Bryce. How are you doing mate?" Bryce quickly stands up and shakes my father's hand whilst holding his glass of wine with his left hand. "Hopefully my favourite son is keeping you boys entertained." It was more of a statement and not a question and he is not looking for a detailed answer. Daniel walks to the kitchen and after hearing the clinking of glasses in the distance, I am not surprised when he returns holding an empty red wine glass. "I will have some of that Marsh if you would be so kind, sir." He sets the glass on the table in front of Bryce who is closest to the wine bottle.

Bryce gets the hint and slowly pours wine into the depths of my father's glass. Daniel then starts telling us more about the wine. It seems to have the distinction of being the only wine in the Hunter Valley region that is only irrigated by rain. Therefore, it tastes so earthy. He insists that if we are going to drink his bottles that we learn something about what we are gulping from our crystal glasses.

The scene in The Shining where the funny looking wife is explaining to the doctor that her husband broke their son's arm is playing out on the television. "Look at that doctor, she looks mortified." My father says and quickly drinks the wine from his glass in one fluid motion. "It amuses me that the wife can act so blasé that her son was abused. She smokes a pack of cigarettes in the process of telling the sordid story and that only takes thirty seconds." He places his empty glass in front of Bryce again. "Does Chezdon tell you boys that I physically abuse him?"

"Only emotionally," I say and offer a smile. "I only say you abused me before I started puberty." We both look at the television and laugh.

Bryce casually refills not only Daniel's wine glass but his own. Jayden grabs the wine bottle from him. "Jayden, you should only refill your glass when it is empty. This is one of the few things that upset me as you do not want to disrespect the wine. It will make for a different tasting experience as the wine opens up in the bottle and you don't want to mix it." Jayden gulps what is left in his glass and then fills it once again. "Look at this bloody weather. I had to leave the races early as the rain killed the track. The bastards were probably going to cancel the rest of the races anyway."

"Why would they do that?" Jayden asks. He sticks his nose in the glass of wine and snorts.

"Those in charge would be fearful that the horses would get spooked by the thunder and lightning." Daniel drinks from his glass and looks out the window. "Also, the public would frown on a horse getting struck by lightning for some reason."

Mel returns from the kitchen holding an empty glass and kisses Daniel on his cheek. "Why are you bothering the boys, leave them alone and let them have fun." Mel pours what is left of the bottle in her glass and begins to take a sip.

"He isn't bothering us, Mel." Jayden clarifies. "In fact, I am keen to hear more about the races and how business is going." Jayden loves to kiss my father's arse and treats him like he is related to him. He has spent so much time here over the last six months, I am not surprised that they have bonded. Jayden's parents are getting divorced and his father recently moved out of the family home to Western Australia which is thousands of kilometres away.

Both Daniel and Mel sit down and start a conversation with Jayden about horse racing and the business. I skip to the wine refrigerator and retrieve another bottle, refill my glass and offer Bryce a top-up. I move the empty bottle that we just finished off to the side. "Another dead soldier."

Having sat in an awkward position with Mel and Daniel obstructing my view of the television, I turn to the side and recline back onto Bryce, put my feet up and get comfortable. "Thanks, mate, I knew you would be good for something someday." I raise my glass and acknowledge my human pillow from over my shoulder.

My father recants boring stories about his business which mainly involves conflicts with Chinese and Malaysian suppliers. Mel nods her head two hundred times and zones out, sipping from her glass. Jayden somehow manages to devise a thousand questions to ask and Daniel is happy to keep pouring wine and answering them. It isn't long before he is on his feet and removing another bottle of the Marsh Estate from the wine refrigerator.

Another thirty minutes' pass and the movie continues to play. Daniel and Jayden continue to talk and I lean against Bryce with a glass of wine in my hand. He doesn't seem to mind. I always wondered how my father would react if he found out that I like guys. For a second I consider interrupting the story he is telling about corrupt overseas business practices. I can tell him a fact that I really doubt that he has never considered. The same goes for Jayden. I promised myself some time ago that if Jayden asked me a direct question about my sexuality, I would answer him truthfully. He just never has. Neither has Daniel. Eventually, my father excuses himself from question time. Mel follows him from the living room with the open bottle of wine, which encourages me to go to the kitchen to retrieve yet another dusty bottle of wine.

"Hey Chez, I messaged Austin saying that we are chilling out. Can he come around?" Jayden asks as I return with the uncorked bottle. Austin is another friend from school and is the type of guy that is just everyone's mate mainly because he is so funny. Everyone just likes the guy and he is very easy to get along with. He is easy on the eyes also and he is my most attractive mate. There is some animosity between my father and his father which limits the amount of time that we socialise outside of school though.

With the alcohol now integrating itself with my blood, I decide, what the hell. My father shouldn't care just because he is feuding with his old man. "Yeah, tell Austin to come around mate." I reach over and pick up my phone from the glass table after setting the bottle of wine down on the newspaper. I skim messages that have arrived over the last few hours and notice that three of them are from Austin. He was quizzing me as to what I am up to. He must have surmised that Jayden would be with me since we always seem to be attached to the hip these days. I then share a few text messages with Austin and he confirms that he will stop around shortly.

My father begins to get nervous when I invite too many people over to the apartment. On my birthday last year, four of my mates and I decided to start drinking my father's wine. Each of us then thought it was a good idea to invite four of our mutual friends around to my apartment when my father was watching the horse races. When he returned home there were eighteen boys and two girls having the party of the year in this place. Guests were caught having sex in my room. I was aware of what was happening but because I was drunk, I didn't care much at the time. The other couple was caught by my father in his room also having sex. I don't know how many times he proclaimed that disrespected the property after the party concluded. He will go to the grave repeating that he saw some 'tart ride a boy like Damien Oliver would ride a bloody horse.' Damien Oliver is one of the most famous Australian horse jockeys and even nearly a year later I am reminded weekly of the dynamics of my ad-hoc birthday party. I have to continually swear it will never happen again.

I continue to review text messages that I ignored and hold my wine glass by its stem. I review a series of messages from a phone number that is not saved in my contact list and quickly realise that it is James. He has announced that he has finished work and wants to meet for a drink today. Buzzed, I respond and suggest that we meet at the Belgian Beer Cafe, which is next to my building. "What are you doing arsehole?" Jayden shouts. Bryce is trying to pull Jayden's armpit hair again. "Stop it. Chez, pass me the bottle."

I comply and hand Jayden the bottle and he refills his glass. Memories of the snails which are drowned in garlic and butter that is served at the place I told James to meet me flood my brain. "Oh, Jesus." I utter which draws the attention of both Bryce and Jayden. I must be drunk. What did I suggest? I quickly read my sent messages. "Shit." His last message said that he would be downstairs in twenty minutes. "Shit."

Jack Torrance has frozen to death in the movie and the credits for the film are now scrolling up the television. "Hey Jayden, did Austin say when he will get here?"

"About twenty minutes." Jayden looks up at me. "Why?"

"I need your help. I need to fuck off outside quickly but I need you to distract my father and Mel if they come out. You know the rules. If they catch me outside of the unit after getting on the wine, I will be fucked." Not fucked like how Jack Torrance met his demise in the snow at the end of The Shining, but it will be a fate worse than death.

Bryce places his phone on a cushion. He looks at Jayden and then they both look at me. "Where do you need to go that is so important mate?" Bryce smiles and licks the rim of his wine glass. "I am very keen to know."

I think that I can manage to have a quick pint of orange juice with James whilst I leave my friends in the flat. It is with that silly thought that I come to realise that the red wine has clouded my judgement. My usually good critical thinking and time management skills are now rubbish. If I am away and Jayden starts asking Daniel an additional one thousand questions about work and Austin turns up it will be bad. Bryce doesn't know Austin from a bar of soap. My father will wonder where I am and will need to be supervised when speaking with Austin. More bloody drama. I slide towards Bryce, grab the bottle and pour another glass of wine, giving me some time to consider my options along with some courage. "Never mind, don't worry about it. I was just going to step out and meet James quickly." I hope my simple explanation will satisfy his curiosity as I take a sip.

"Who the hell is James?" Jayden asks. "I have never heard you mention a James. Do we even know a James? Is there even a James at our school?" Jayden scratches his head and then at his armpit.

"I don't know anyone called James," Bryce adds and looks at Jayden. He then tries to pull out one of Jayden's armpit hairs again.

I return to the security of my phone and attempt to type a text message as Jayden shouts in pain. The tapping out of the message is much slower since I started drinking earlier and because I do not have auto-correct enabled, the message doesn't make much sense. "Hold on!" I demand and then send another message to James, asking him to meet me here, at my apartment. I glance at my watch and then look at my friends who are both staring at me. Whatever happens, it will at least be entertaining. "James is just a guy that I was talking to at the Emporium earlier. I am just trying to expand my social circle." I say as innocently as possible.

After processing my reply, Jayden asks an apt question. "What school does this kid go to?" Jayden looks intrigued and sticks his nose in his wine glass and snorts yet again. James hasn't even agreed to come to the flat so I may be creating a drama for no reason at all. "When did you have time to talk to anyone earlier anyway?" More questions.

My eyes quickly dart from the left and to the right quickly. I decide it is not in my interest to spin some lie so I come clean. "James is the bloke that sold me the clothes at Armani Exchange. We just started talking and he seems like a cool guy." I take a sip of wine and place the glass gently down on the newspaper.

Jayden looks at Bryce who then looks at his phone and laughs. Like a dog with a bone, Jayden continues to probe. "You couldn't have been shopping for fifteen minutes and now the retail slut is your new mate?" Jayden has gone wide-eyed. "How old is this bloke?" At least by explaining the situation right now, my friends will not be so shocked that they embarrass me and themselves if he does agree to come over. He hasn't even confirmed if we will and I hope that he will find it too much of an awkward situation and decline it.

"Look, mate, I don't know. He is in his twenties, I guess. Why do you care? I thought it would be fun to have a drink with him." I never thought that the wine would lead me to make such a spontaneous decision. An unpredictable decision is what it really is. I read another new message from James who claims he is keen to come around and asks for my address. I respond with the pertinent details.

I recount my brief interaction with James to my interested friends. I explain that James simply asked me if I wanted to get a drink as some sort of thank you for helping him make his sales target. I finish the story by raising my voice and talk over their laughter and jibes.

Jayden reads a message on his phone. "Austin will be here in one minute." Jayden's lips skew to the right like he is pondering what to say next. He swirls the wine in his glass and sets his phone on the table.

The intercom on the wall rings and the video display comes to life. I walk over to it and see Austin's smiling face. I pick up the phone-like receiver and yell a protracted "Wassup!" and press the button that allows my friend entry into the building. He is then permitted to access the elevator and ride it to my home on the 72nd floor. He has been to my apartment many times in the past so he doesn't need further instruction. I walk to the foyer and out of sight of my friends and wait by the front door holding my glass of wine. Bryce and Jayden are laughing hysterically in the living room, most likely at my expense.

A knock on the door encourages me to throw it open, revealing Austin. His dark brown eyes blend with his ripped black skinny jeans. My attention is drawn to his silver DC shoes and then his blond wavy hair which looks a bit more wild than usual today. He always dresses very trendily when he isn't forced to wear the school uniform on weekdays. We share the same greeting, which is always, "Sup!" I follow him as he enters the apartment which allows me to check out his arse unnoticed.

"Hey Austin, do you want some wine, mate?" Jayden who is acting more like a host than me offers him a newly opened bottle. Austin looks around awkwardly at Bryce as it dawns on me that I should be playing the role of host, and not Jayden. Jayden stands up and walks into the kitchen.

"Austin, this is Bryce Pistorius. Bryce, this is Austin McGuire." Bryce stands up and shakes Austin's hand. He compliments Austin on his shoes. This breaks the ice and the teenagers begin talking about where to find distinctively colourful clothes. Jayden returns with an empty wine glass, fills it and hands it to Austin. The conversation quickly turns to the dreaded topic of local sports. Austin and Bryce quickly find a common ground as they roar in unison when they discover that they both support the Carlton Football Club. Technically, Jayden and I should be mortal enemies with Austin and Bryce since we support the Collingwood Magpies, as there is a robust rivalry between the teams. Like the feud between the elders of my family and those that gave birth to Austin.

I return with the wine glass and the inevitable question is asked by Austin. "So how did the two of you meet?" Austin's dark eyes dart back and forth between Bryce and me. I thought Austin would ask Bryce if he is related to Oskar Pistorius, the Olympian that murdered his wife since Bryce has a South African accent and they share the same surname. So much for that theory.

I grab the bottle of wine by its neck and commence the much-anticipated pour. I open my mouth to answer the question but Jayden interrupts me. "Believe me mate that can wait. You should ask Chez about how he met the other bloke that is turning up here soon." Jayden then slowly raises his glass to his lips and drinks wine slowly whilst keeping his blue eyes focused on mine.

The video intercom rings again and the screen lights up obnoxiously. "Oh fuck. Wait a minute." At first, I believe that I have been saved by the bell, but then realise I am just delaying the inevitable. I walk to the intercom wondering how this is going to end up. Daniel and Mel are not going to stay hidden forever as they will wonder for whom the bell tolls and what all the commotion in the lounge room is all about. Fuck my life. The messes that I create.

"This is going to be awesome!" Bryce shouts. "There is nothing too sinister about how I met Chezdon mate, we met at an athletic carnival about a year ago. Did I mention you have some pretty cool shoes?" Bryce compliments Austin's silver shoes yet again as I answer the video intercom.

"Are strippers coming or something? I don't understand." Austin asks looking confused. I turn around and look at him after confirming that it is indeed James who is waiting patiently outside of the building. He is looking at the small camera mounted on the keypad mounted on the outside wall. I pause and wonder if pressing the entry button will potentially be the worst decision that I have ever made or if I am just overreacting like usual. What could possibly happen? We are young adults after all. The wine has given me courage.

"Press the button!" Jayden yells. "Press it, press it, press it." Jayden and Bryce begin to chant.

"Who is it, Miranda Kerr?" Austin asks and begins walking towards me. I think of my father betting on races and how once he said that you win some and you lose some but you should never regret the choices that you make in the end. I press the entry button. The video display turns dark before Austin can look over my shoulder. "I am so confused."

I turn around and place my hands on Austin's shoulders. He quickly backs up. "It is just a guy I know called James. He wanted to catch up for a drink at some point so I am killing two birds with one stone." I look over Austin's shoulder and raise my voice. "Besides, why should you blokes care?" I look at Austin. He quickly pours wine down his throat and then licks his lips.

"I don't know anyone called James. Does he go to our school? Catch up for a drink? I didn't realise you were some barfly. What a laugh!" Austin smirks. Jayden realises there is no wine in his glass and reaches for the bottle sitting innocuously on the glass table. Bryce begins scrolling through the movies on the media centre and decides to play the movie Mysterious Skin which we discussed earlier. "I am so confused, I don't know anyone called James," Austin repeats to himself. He messes up his blond hair with his hand and pushes his fringe off his forehead. He takes a seat on the lounge, indicating to Jayden with hand signals to pass the bottle.

"Just drink up mate and go with the flow," Jayden adds. There is a loud knock on the door. I pause, take a deep breath and walk quickly to the foyer. I take another deep breath before opening the door. What have I done?

"Hey." I look at James. Laughter erupts from the depths of the lounge room. "Sorry mate, I am sure you were not expecting to come around to my place and be surprised by my obnoxious friends. They are harmless though."

James looks over my shoulder. I turn my head and see Jayden standing behind me, which causes me to jump in shock. I look back at James. "Sorry mate, come in, please. It is good to see you again."

"It has been, what? A whole four hours or something like that?" James smiles and walks past me. He looks Jayden up and down. "Is this your brother?"

"No, thank Christ." I laugh uncomfortably. "This is my mate, Jayden McKenzie." I look at Jayden and it looks like he is going to start laughing. "Jayden, this is James. um. I don't know your surname."

James looks at Jayden. "Wow, you look young mate. Sorry. It is good to meet you." James shakes Jayden's hand. I explain that we have been drinking for a few hours and not to take our nonsense too seriously. James follows me into the lounge room. Jayden stands curiously behind us sniffing the contents of his wine glass. I introduce Bryce and Austin to James. Neither one of them stands up, but simultaneously say "Sup!" and look at each other for a few seconds before taking a drink.

"Okay. I didn't realise that I was going to be hanging out with One Direction today." James says trying to break the ice. I think Austin won't mind being associated with a boyband but the others might take some offence to that comment. Especially Jayden.

"I still don't know what the hell is going on. Who are you?" Austin demands after interrupting Jayden as he starts to sing a One Direction song. "I am just so confused." Austin finishes the rest of the wine that is in his glass and reaches for the empty bottle. "What do you do James and how did you end up here today?"

Bryce stands up and walks toward the kitchen. "I will get another bottle. Do you want some James?"

"No thanks. I don't like wine. But yeah, I met Chezdon earlier today when he was shopping. We were going to catch up for a drink tomorrow but now I am here. So yeah." James can't take his eyes off Austin. "How do you know each other?"

Austin continues to smell the inside of his empty glass and looks out the window. "We go to school together. Well, we don't go to school with this bloke." Austin motions at Bryce as he walks around the corner with an uncorked bottle of wine. Bryce begins to refill the empty glasses.

"Where do you go? Melbourne?" James asks as he looks out the window at the Melbourne city skyline. "This is a great view."

Jayden holds out the empty glass so Bryce can refill it. "I bet you like the view mate." Jayden winks at Bryce, who begins to chuckle.

I follow Austin's lead and shove my nose inside the wine glass. The smell of oak from the barrels transports me back to a more innocent time when I was forced to go on a wine tasting tour with Mel and Daniel in the Yarra Valley. Austin stands up and holds out his glass. Bryce pours more blood of the gods. "Yeah, we go to Melbourne. Great guess."

James must have realised that he has stared at Austin long enough so he decides to engage in small talk with Bryce. "Where do you go, mate?"

"St Kevin’s." Bryce offers and reverts his attention back to the movie which is playing at a very low volume.

"Where is that? Can I get a glass of water?" James begins to fidget. I offer to get him a bottle of water and walk around the corner into the kitchen.

"Toorak. It is a damned all-boys school. It is a great place if you like boys." I nearly drop the bottle of water as I close the refrigerator door after hearing what Bryce says. He rarely misses much and his prolonged staring at Austin would have been noticed.

"Oh, I see. I have never heard of that University. Is it some trade school?" James says. He catches my eye as I walk into the living room holding a bottle of water in one hand and my glass of wine in the other. I would have thought that Bryce telling him it is an all-boys school would have let the cat out of the bag.

Jayden starts laughing and sets his glass down hard which makes a thud when it meets the table. "No, you damned fool, it is a boy's college. He is in year eleven." Bryce begins to laugh hysterically. The laughter is contagious and Austin joins the frivolity. When he gets himself under control he adds, "at least you picked us right. Melbourne Grammar is the place to be." Austin gives Jayden a fist bump and they roll their eyes.

I hand James the water bottle just as he incredulously shouts "Grammar? I thought you went to Melbourne University!" This exchange is so ridiculous even I chuckle.

Daniel and Mel walk into the room. My father looks at us one-by-one. "Hey boys, please keep the crowd limited to just you lot. I don't want this to turn into some party."

Mel stands next to James looks at him in the eyes and extends her hand. "Hi. I don't think I know you." I just want to run away and die. I drop my head and realise this is not going to end well.

Jayden asks the question that is on the tip of the tongue of everyone in the room. I knew this was coming, but I certainly did not want it asked in front of my father. "How old are you James if you don't mind me asking?"

James drinks most of the water in the bottle before answering. "Twenty-five." He screws the cap back on the bottle.

"What the fuck." My father stops speaking and considers his words. Austin returns to sniffing the contents of his wine glass. Bryce finds a sudden interest in the television again. Jayden starts chewing on his bottom lip and takes a sudden interest in the painting hanging above him on the wall.

"Pretty cool painting isn't it Jayden." Jayden looks at me and I realise I need to start talking just to distract everyone. "The artist died not long ago thanks to a long bout with both heroin addiction and alcohol. He won the Archibald Prize in the year 2000. The painter is Adam Cullen." I regurgitate as much as I can remember. Daniel has told countless people about this painting and the tragic life of the artist. I hope that changing the topic to something more sociable will work.

My father refills his wine glass. "You don't find it odd hanging out with a bunch of sixteen-year-olds on a Saturday afternoon, James?" I am so embarrassed. Oh, Jesus. Fuck my life.

"Look, well, umm, you know, I have to go. It was nice meeting everyone but I have to go." James looks like he is going to hyperventilate. I follow him as he walks quickly to the front door of the apartment. He opens the door and walks down the hallway and stands near the elevator. I hear riotous laughter coming from behind me in the lounge room. James presses the 'down' button at least ten times in succession and looks like he would rather be held captive by ISIS instead of being here. I know the feeling and want to tell him that I can empathise as when I return to the lounge room, I will be facing my own judgement and perhaps even a beheading.

"Message me?" I ask in a hushed whisper. The bell announces that the elevator has arrived. The doors will open soon. James turns and looks at me. He tosses the water bottle at me which rebounds off of my knee. The elevator doors open and James disappears behind them, presumably never to be seen again.

Copyright © 2018 chezdon1997; All Rights Reserved.
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