Okarito - The Great Beynon
When they pulled up outside the school next morning, Logan was there waiting and he beamed a huge smile when he saw them arrive. Lorne grimaced, this was not going to be easy.
"'Bye, Dad. See you this afternoon."
"Yeah, 'bye. Lorne, listen, I've been thinking. I''m going out tonight, so if you want to stop-over at Logan's place, it's okay by me."
"I don't think so. I'd rather go home."
"You're sure? Okay, it's up to you. See you later."
Dan drove away. Lorne slung his bag over his shoulder and started walking inside.
"Hey, Lorne. How're you?"
"Hello. I'm okay, thanks." He kept walking.
"What? Hey! Wait a minute." Logan grabbed his arm to stop him.
Lorne wrenched it away. "Fuck off. Don't touch me!"
"Okay, sorry. I just want to talk to you, I've been waiting here."
"What do you want, a medal? There's no time to talk, school's starting." He walked away and Logan, totally confused, stood there staring.
"There's plenty of time. We're not late." He caught up to him, but didn't touch. "Lorne, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong It's just another day. Go find someone else to talk to, I'm busy."
"I don't want to talk to someone else, just you."
"Well tough." He went inside and the door swung closed behind him.
Logan stood and wondered. What had he done? He didn't know.
"Hey, Greene. All ready to win, are you?" Ben Rodden slapped him on the back.
"Well, umm, yeah. I guess."
"Full of confidence, aren't you? Don't worry, we'll slaughter them! What's up with your boyfriend?"
"Beats me. I mean, he's not my boyfriend, we're just mates. I thought we were."
"So did I. Looks like he doesn't want to know you. No great loss anyway, he's weird. Come on then, back to the daily grind."
Lorne spent the morning sitting with several different girls – chatting, laughing and flirting. They were delighted.
Logan spent the first class alone, and then found someone else to sit with. He didn't want to be by himself, looking like a total dipstick, all day. What was going on? He find out later. But he didn't. At lunchtime, Lorne pulled his disappearing act again – he was good at that.
Logan looked for him, and then had to give up. He had a game to get ready for.
The First 15 Rugby Team played their match against Linwood High, and lost. That was probably Logan's fault. His heart just wasn't in it and he missed a tackle and a couple of catches. No-one said anything to him, but he knew. He was distracted, worrying about Lorne.
Why wouldn't he talk to him. He hadn't done anything wrong – had he? He didn't know.
Their Coach, Mr. Lawson, was standing near the door when Logan came out of the changing room. "Not one of your better days, Logan."
"Yeah, well," he shrugged. "I was off. Sorry."
"Don't sweat it. Everyone has an off day sometimes."
"And today, I did. Shame we lost though."
"Yeah, well," Mr. Lawson shrugged in return. "Can't win them all."
"Ain't that the truth?" Logan went looking around in case Lorne had waited for him. He hadn't. What was up with him anyway? He'd find out tomorrow. He'd make bloody sure of it.
His mother greeted him with a smile. "How was my big boy's day today?"
"Bloody awful, if you really want to know."
"Oh? I take it that you didn't win the game then?"
"We didn't. They thrashed us."
"Oh well, maybe next time. Listen I'm going out for a few drinks tonight. Will you be okay with watching the boys, or do you want me to get one of your grandparents to come around?"
"I can do it. We don't need a babysitter."
"You sure that's all right? You can always ring Gran if you have to."
"We'll be fine, Mum. But, who are you going out with?"
"Never you mind. That's my business."
"But you never go out, especially on a week night."
"Tonight I am. I was asked and I'm going."
"With a guy? That's great! Enjoy it."
"Oh, I will. Thanks, Son."
His mum left, in her own car and by herself, so he still didn't know who she was going out with. He hoped it was someone nice, she deserved some fun in her life. However, it was just not right – kids keep secrets from their parents, they had to! But parents shouldn't keep secrets from their kids. Should they?
Jack and Brad were okay. There was a bit of a protest when he told them that it was bedtime. They didn't want to go, but Logan told he'd thump the pair of them if they didn't. So that ended that argument. They didn't shower, they just went to bed. He didn't try to make them, at least they'd gone.
He tried phoning Lorne, twice, but there was no answer. He didn't answer the emails or Facebook messages either, so – whatever. He'd see him tomorrow.
In the morning, Logan stood waiting outside the school again. Lately, he seemed to be there more often than not. How come Lorne never waited anywhere for him? He was beginning to get a bit slacked-off. Lorne was being strange and why was Logan always the one who did the chasing after?
Lorne arrived, not in his father's truck, but walking – walking, talking and laughing, with a girl! He was with Sarah Meates, so there was only one thing he'd be after. Logan knew her reputation, everyone did, and it was not good. Not unless you were looking for an easy lay, that is.
So that was how it was, was it? Logan stopped worrying, he stopped wondering and he got mad. 'Stuff him! He got what he wanted – used me and now he's dumped me. Must want to try the other side now. Well, he can go to Hell! Fuck him! I don't want to know.'
He spun around and stalked into school. 'I've got a life and Lorne Beynon's not part of it. I got along okay before him and I will again. I don't need him.'
They stayed separate, didn't speak and basically grew further apart as the day, and then the days, went on. Sarah had a new interest by the second day. Lorne was nice to look at but he was no fun and not interested in sex. He was boring and there were plenty of other boys to play with.
By the end of the week they'd more-or-less slipped back into the separate lives they lived before the new year started. Lorne was alone and sad-faced again. Logan was again surrounded by people and close to none of them. The only remaining difference was that neither of them was very happy and, sometimes, sad, longing and yearning glances went both ways across the room.
Friday afternoon, when they all poured out of school, Dan was sitting in his old ute, directly outside the main entrance. Lorne went over and quietly got in. He did, kind-of, wish that his dad would buy a new bloody truck already, but on the other hand, he didn't care what anyone thought of their old wheels.
"You're early today," he commented as he struggled to fasten the seat-belt.
"Of course," Dan replied. "It's poet's day, don't you know?"
"Poet's day? What does that mean?"
"Piss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday. That's the beauty of being my own boss, I can do what I want. Actually, there's a reason for leaving early. We're going home to get cleaned-up and changed into good clothes, and then we're coming back to town."
"You might be, I'm not. Once I get home I'm staying there."
"Oh, but you're not. You are coming back with me."
"Dad, I don't want to! Don't I get any choice in this?"
"You don't. I pay the bills and I call the shots. You just do what you're told. Relax, Lorne. It's not like I'm dragging you into the dentist's. We're going to have a nice night out, with dinner in that new buffet restaurant in the Golden Lead hotel. You'll like that – it's self-service, help yourself and eat all you want. They've got a choice of about 50 different dishes with desserts to follow.
After that, I've got a surprise for you. Several surprises in fact."
"I don't like surprises!"
"Yes you do. You love them – what is magic if not the surprise element?"
"Well, maybe. Anyway, you'll like these ones."
"Maybe not, if you're going to be a grumpy-arse. - it's up to you. You're not very happy lately, is something wrong?"
"Nothing at all? You wouldn't tell me if there was, would you? How is Logan today?"
"Logan Greene – your friend, remember?"
"I haven't got a friend named Logan."
"You did last weekend."
"That was then, this is now."
"I see. Had a row? I should've known. You haven't mentioned him for days now and you've forgotten how to smile."
"I've got nothing to smile about. Can we just drop this? I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to go back to town."
"Fine. We'll drop it, but you are coming back with me, like it or not."
"I don't like it."
"Oh dear, how sad, never mind."
The rest of the trip was in an uncomfortable silence. They stopped next to the house.
"Here we are then. I'll feed the livestock while you get the first shower. If you're not out by the time I come inside, I'll get in there with you."
"Make it quick then. It's time you had another shave too, you're getting a furry-face. Clean-up and put your good clothes on."
"Why can't I wear my old clothes?"
"You can if you want to, but you'll regret it. We're going to a nice restaurant, and then to the theater. If you're not wearing decent clothes, you'll be the only one there who isn't and you'll feel stupid."
"I often do."
"Stop it, Lorne! You're a pain in the arse when you get like this."
"Why are we going to the theater? Is it that Film Festival thing?"
"No. That finished earlier this week. This is something new, and you'll love it."
"Wait and see. I think you will."
"I know I won't."
"Enough! Go and get in the shower right now!"
Driving back into town, Lorne sat as far away from his dad as he could get. He sulked. He couldn't get out of this outing, but no-one was going to make him enjoy it.
Dan tried to engage him in conversation. "Looking good, Lorne."
"Pffft!" He blew a raspberry.
"I think it's time you had a new jacket though. Those sleeves are getting a bit short. You swam in that jacket when we bought it. Now look at you! Getting bigger all the time."
"When they're kids, yes. There'd be something wrong if I kept growing. Now – you know I've been seeing someone?"
"Yeah. You haven't exactly kept it a secret."
"And I'm not going to. It's early days yet, but I've got a very good feeling about this one."
"So, who is it?"
"You'll soon find out. They're coming with us tonight."
"You behave yourself and don't you dare stuff this up on me."
"All right. You said 'they' are coming?"
"Yes, they are. My friend's a solo mother and she's got 3 kids."
Three? A mother and three kids? Oh-oh – it couldn't be, could it? Would his father do that to him?
Yes, he would. They left the truck, (locked even!), in the council car-park behind the main street. (Parking was free because it was after-hours). They walked around to the front street and, there, all dressed-up and smiling, standing outside the Golden Lead, was Karen Greene – His mother. At least her boys weren't with her.
"Hi, Karen," Dan said. "Been waiting long?"
"Hi, Dan. Not long, just a few minutes."
"Sorry about that. Lorne didn't want to hurry. He didn't want to come at all."
"But he did and I'm glad he did. Hello,Lorne, you're looking good."
"Hey," he said and he turned to study the bill of fare in the window. At least she hadn't brought her brats with her – that was one good thing.
But she had brought them, dammit. Karen put two fingers in her mouth and blew a loud, piercing whistle – (yeah, All Class!) Jack, Brad, and the Other One appeared out of the recessed doorway of Toyworld up the street. They came running – well trained apparently.
Lorne had never seen Karen's boys dressed up before, and he wasn't admitting it to anyone, but they looked good. All of them looked good, even the Other One did. Dammit.
"Hey, Dan. Hey, Lorne," the younger boys chorused. Lorne looked the other way. Dan got a small smile and a nod from Logan, but that was all.
"Right then" Dan looked at his watch. "Let's see if our seats are ready yet. I hope everyone's hungry. It's a buffet so it costs the same no matter how much you eat."
"Dan" Karen smiled. "We've got four growing boys here. Of course they're hungry, they always are!"
'Yeah?' Lorne thought.'Well I'm not.'
They went inside and milled around while Dan checked-in at the teller's desk. Logan turned his back on Lorne and spoke to his brothers. Lorne stood apart, arms folded and glowering. He ignored everyone and only started moving when Dan gave him a push.
"Come on, Lorne, we haven't got all night." He lowered his voice and growled, "Behave yourself or you're in trouble!"
"I told you, I don't want to be here."
"You are here. Make the most of it."
Karen and her boys were already seated in the crowded dining room. The waitress stood by the table, waiting for Dan and Lorne. They went over and sat down.
"All here now?" She had a plastic smile. "Welcome to Mr. Pickwick's. Have you eaten here before?"
"No. It's our first time," Karen replied.
"It's everyone's first time," she sighed. "We've only been open for a week. Anyway, the procedure is – In the tureens over there, there are four different soups and buttered rolls on the top. Take a plate, ladle out the soup you choose and bring some rolls back to the table. Next, join the line there, pick up a plate and fill it from the bain-maries as you work along the line. Take whatever you want and go back as many times as you like. When you're ready, the desserts are in the carousel at that end of the room. Enjoy your meal."
She went to greet the next party. Brad said, "Can we go now?"
"Hungry?" Karen smiled. "Let's get started then."
Brad, Jack and Logan went with Karen. Dan stood up. Lorne stayed where he was, fiddling with the cutlery.
"Are you coming, Lorne?"
"I'm not hungry."
"You must be sick! Come on, Boy. You have to get something, it's paid for. Something there will appeal to you."
Dan pulled on his arm. Lorne shrugged him off, stood and followed him to the start of the queue. The place was full of people and, inevitably, some old lady was holding up the line. Dan joined the queue, Lorne turned back to the soup tureens. He filled a bowl with the thick mushroom soup, got a couple of rolls and went back to sit at the table.
He was there, looking at the soup and playing with a spoon, when the others started arriving back. Logan was first. He sat down and said, "Lorne, I knew nothing about this. It was a surprise for us too. I can see that you don't want to be here. I don't much want to either, but we are so we might as well make the best of it."
Lorne looked the other way and Logan thought, 'Stuff you, Mate! That's it – I'm not trying again.' He did wonder what was going on, but obviously wasn't going to find out.
Karen and Jack came back with their meals and sat down. "Well," she said. "This is nice, isn't it? Good food and good company." She glanced at the sulky-faced big boys and was sorry she spoke.
Dan and Karen tried to get them all talking. Brad was no problem; this was all new and exciting and he couldn't shut up. Jack, and then Logan joined in. Lorne fiddled with his soup and rolls, kept his eyes down and his mouth shut.
Karen's boys all had seconds, and then third helpings. Dan and Karen both had a second helping. Then they moved on to the desserts and soft drinks, (and had several helpings of them too!)
Lorne finished the soup, ate the two rolls and said that was enough, He didn't want any more.
The two younger boys were rubbing their bellies and moaning about how full they they were as they all walked outside. The others just smiled at them, except Lorne. Dan had given up on trying to involve him, but he was sure he'd snap out of it when he saw what was coming next. If this didn't get him excited, nothing would.
Night had fallen and it was dark outside. The streetlights were on and most of the shops and businesses along the street were all lit-up. The brightest spot in the town was where they were heading for. The newly restored and renovated theater, at the end of the next block, was ablaze with lights. Hundreds of small, white lights covered the canopy over the entrance and the name, 'Majestic Theater' was picked out in red lights. They hadn't worked for years and it really did look majestic now. It was an old building, but as good as new again and it stood out among all the old and faded buildings along the street.
Sandwich boards on the sidewalk and posters on the walls advertised the 'Grand Re-opening Festival.'
"Oh, doesn't the old place look grand!" Karen exclaimed. "What's on the program for tonight?"
"An old-time vaudeville show," Dan replied. "They've got some really special acts too."
They went inside and waited in the lobby while Dan got their tickets and reservations. The walls were covered in old posters, including a special display of 'Okarito's own – Great Benyon!' "Oh, gee. Wow!" Logan rushed over for a closer look.
Karen, Jack and Brad follwed him. Lorne stayed where he was, with an unreadable look on his face.
"So, Lorne." Dan came back. "What do you think of all that then? Your granddad would've been really chuffed!"
"Yeah, maybe," he replied quietly.
'I give up!' Dan shrugged. What would it take to impress this Gloomy-Guts? He thought that Lorne was going to be so impressed. He wasn't. He was showing no reaction at all But this was not the place to get into an argument.
"Come and find our seats."
They went into the auditorium and sat in their seats, high-up towards the back. A string quartet was playing quiet music, on the stage in front of the curtains. The theater was not full, but there was a good-sized crowd coming in. Mrs. Carter, the School Principal, was there with her family. She smiled and waved when she saw Lorne. He nodded and didn't smile. The lights dimmed and the quartet left the stage.
The emcee for the evening was the school's Mr. Lawson and he walked out on the stage, resplendent in Victorian evening-wear, complete with a big false, moustache. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls – Welcome. Welcome, one and all to a splendid evening of wholesome family entertainment! To mark the reopening of our Majestic Theater, we have assembled old-time variety acts including a special appearance by New Zealand's greatest ever entertainer – the Great Benyon!
Unfortunately, the Great Benyon himself could not be here tonight, as he has gone to that theater in the sky. His place will be taken by a worthy successor, Orlando, who, I am sure, will astound us all.
To begin the show, please welcome Okarito's First Lady of Song, the beautiful, Miss Emily Thompson!"
The curtains parted and Mr. Lawson took his place in the pulpit at the left of the stage. The band began to play and Miss Emily Thompson came out singing and twirling a parasol.
Most of the acts were amateurs, members of the local operatic society, all dressed in old-fashioned costumes. But there were several surprise acts by professionals, including circus actrobats and jugglers.
The majority of the crowd went outside during the intermission, but, apart from runs to the toilets, Dan, Karen and the boys stayed where they were. Nobody wanted any ice cream – they were 'stuffed'.
The younger boys especially, were chattering excitedly. They thought their teachers, (and the pastor!), looked funny in their costumes, but it was good fun. Five of their party were enjoying themselves. Lorne sat with his arms folded, looking straight ahead and saying nothing. It was almost like he was under his own little black cloud.
The others all just left him alone, apart from Logan stealing glances at him. His father decided that they were going to have a serious talk when they were alone. He was getting mighty sick of this!
The second half of the program started with a comic song and an unfunny comedian.
"And now – the highlight of the evening! Taking the part of the Great Benyon's regular touring companion, his own daughter, Miss Evelyn Talma, we have, from Christchurch, the lovely Miss Suzanne Donaldson!"
Dan forgot his worries and he laughed, whistled, and enthusiastically applauded the impersonation of his big sister. She was brilliant!
The curtains closed and Karen said, "Enjoyed that, didn't you, Dan? She'll be a hard act to follow. What did you think, Lorne."
"She was okay," he replied.
Dan leaned forward. He was going to say something, but didn't get a chance. There was a fanfare and drum roll and the emcee walked across the stage, proclaiming, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome, the star of our show, the one, the only, the Great – Benyon!"
A small man fought his way out from behind the curtains. He had bushy white hair and was wearing gray trousers, a brown suit-jacket and too much make-up. He peered myopically at the audience.
"Oh. Hello! What are you all doing here? A show, you say? Well then – Bam Boo Zalem!!"
He flung his arms out wide and the curtains opened on a stage covered in props. He walked behind a screen and, without pausing, came out the other side dressed in a long, blue, oriental robe and matching hat. He turned around slowly and announced, "Same man, different clothes! Now, this here is the Peking Mystery Palace – imagine that! So, what do we have in the Peking Mystery Palace?"
When 'the Great Benyon' first appeared on the stage, Lorne was shocked. His eyes opened wide and he took a deep breath. It really was like seeing his grandad again. The long and white bushy hair was identical – it must've been a wig?
However, as the show went on and this imposter went through his granddad's routines, it was more and more obvious that he wasn't him. He was a bit fatter for a start, and he wasn't as good. No-one was as good as the real Great Benyon, he was the greatest ever!
Orlando did put on a good show. The audience certainly liked him and Lorne, sort-of, did – grudgingly. But he wasn't going to admit that to anyone. He knew all of the tricks, so there were no surprises there and the billiard-cue juggling routine was a complete stuff-up.
But, on the whole, he wasn't too bad, it could've been a lot worse. It was almost like seeing his granddad one more time and he was feeling sadder than ever when they left the theater.
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