After We Danced

by Mark Peters

Chapter 15

With the weight of the world now lifted from our shoulders, the rest of the week simply flew by.

We had all noticed the change that had taken place among us, which was nothing short of amazing. The inner light, which now illuminated not only Matt and his parents but my own parents as well, was shining out for all to see.

With only one exception, things were finally as they should be.

I could only hope that the joy would last, as I still felt as if there was a shadow hanging over me after having found out that I was only on a waiting list for Southern Star University.

Despite this, I was doing my best to put that to the back of my mind and busied myself with making plans for our move into what seemed, on the surface at least, to be an uncertain future. But regardless of what I was feeling I was determined that my own problems would not drag Matt and me back into the abyss from which we had just climbed.

We had all celebrated after leaving the Court House on Tuesday morning. Matt's father had insisted on taking us all out for a celebratory lunch, my parents included, and for the very first time that I could recall, this togetherness we shared made it feel like a real family gathering. It was something the likes of which I could only ever remember having experienced at Christmas when I was a little kid.

That may sound strange, but that was just how it felt to me.

Tim and Guy phoned us on Wednesday to see how things had gone in Court, which I thought was kind of them. They could hardly contain their excitement when we told them our news.

As expected, they asked about my application with SSU, and shared my disappointment when I told them I was only on a waiting list.

'I've been accepted to Highlands though,' I told them, trying to remain positive, but my voice betrayed the emotion I was trying to hide.

'We'll keep our fingers crossed for you, buddy,' Tim said. 'We want you guys to be there with us.'

'Thanks,' I said to them. 'We want to be there too.'

We both had to work for the remainder of the week, which kept us busy and to a certain extent kept my mind off my other problems.

On Thursday, I made yet another call to the admissions office at SSU, which would only prove to disappoint me yet again. By Friday, we were back into our same old routine, familiar and comforting. By Saturday, however, Matt sensed that things were starting to get me down again.

We were lying in bed early that morning, listening to the early morning radio announcer, when Matt rolled over and faced me. Propping himself up on one elbow he just lay there watching me, while I continued to stare at the ceiling, my thoughts obviously elsewhere.

'I'm sorry,' he said to me, as he started running the tips of his fingers back and forth along my forearm. 'I've been on such a high this week that I've hardly even taken the time to ask how you were doing.'

I rolled my head sideways and looked at him.

'You don't have to be sorry,' I said to him. 'Things really are good for us both. You are free. Dad is free. And I'm going to a good University. As far as I am concerned that is all that matters.'

'But they could be better though, right?'

I smiled at him, then said, 'Maybe, but like I said, that doesn't matter. We've gotten through the worst thing that is ever going to happen to us. We have each other. And that is all I care about right now.'

'You constantly amaze me,' he said, then leaned across and kissed me.

I couldn't tell him that deep down, I was hurting like I had never hurt before. I couldn't tell him that I was aching for what I knew we were both now going to be missing out on.

I just kissed him back.

When he broke away he looked at me for a long moment, with that same thoughtful expression that I had become so familiar with. It sometimes felt as if it was like he was trying to read my mind. I hoped that he wasn't managing to do that right now.

'How about we go away for the weekend?' he asked finally.

'Again? Where to?'

'I don't know. Maybe we could just go out into the bush somewhere. Just go camping or something. It won't cost us anything, and neither of us has to go to work Monday. Besides, it'll get your mind off other things.'

Damn it! He knew.

'Okay,' I finally answered, then he grinned and leaned in and kissed me again.

As usual, Matt was right. It did take my mind off things.

After making a few hurried calls, we once again borrowed the tent and some other equipment from Phil, then Matt raided his parents' cupboards and freezer for some food to take with us.

At about ten o'clock, after leaving notes for our parents to let them know we had 'gone camping' , we headed out of town, on our way out into one of the National Parks. Out into the mountains.

Matt told me about a camping spot beside a river where he had been before as a kid, where we could be ourselves and it didn't matter what was happening anywhere else in the world. We would have our own little world to occupy us for the next couple of days and all our cares and worries would soon be washed away in some cool mountain waters.

It sounded perfect to me.

The place he had in mind was about an hour's drive from town, and we arrived there well before noon after following a narrow, winding dirt road along a heavily timbered ridge, down into a valley, over several creeks, up a hill, and then down the side of a mountain into another even more beautiful valley.

'Wow,' I said, when we were about halfway down the mountain and I saw the entire valley for the first time. 'What is this place?'

'Cockatoo Creek,' he answered. 'Haven't you ever heard of it?'

I shook my head.

'I used to come out here with dad quite a bit. I haven't been here for a couple of years though, until now.'

'It's fantastic.'

'See the river down there?' he asked, pointing down into the valley.

I could see a dark line of trees snaking their way through the centre of the valley, which I guessed must be following the line of the waterway.

'I thought you said it was only a creek?'

'That was Cockatoo Creek we just crossed. It flows down into that river, which is the Nymboida River. There are water holes along there that are just so deep and so wide. It's amazing. And when you swim in them late in the afternoon or really early in the morning, the fish are just jumping all around you. You really have to experience it.'

We drove cautiously onwards, dropping down closer and closer to the valley floor.

'What's that?' I said, pointing at what looked like a couple of small sheds, perched atop a low hill.

'Toilets, showers and undercover barbeque area,' Matt answered.

'Showers? Out here?'

'Yeah. But just cold ones.'

'Just my luck.'

A short time later, we pulled up near the amenities buildings, which were actually just two tin sheds, side by side… one for the boys and one for the girls… with the covered barbeque area not far away.

'Where do we set up camp?' I asked Matt as we got out and stretched.

He looked around for a moment, then pointed towards a low hill, which was between the river and us.

'How about over there?' he asked. 'We can set it up so we are looking out over the river.'

'Well, you're the one who knows all about this camping shit. Whatever you say goes,' I answered, so we got back in the car and drove the short distance to where Matt had been pointing.

Besides the time that Matt and I had camped out on our Schoolies trip, the only other time that I had ever been camping was once when I was just a kid, when we had gone on our annual family holidays.

That had been an unmitigated disaster, to say the least, so we had never tried it again.

After my earlier trip with Matt however, I had a feeling that we would be doing a fair bit of this in the future.

The tent went up easily, then afterwards we set about gathering some wood for a fire. There was plenty of timber around that we could burn, so it didn't take us long to gather what we thought would be enough to last.

When we were finished, Matt stood up and wiped his arm across his forehead, wiping away the sweat, which had formed there and was now running down his flushed cheeks.

'I don't know about you, but I could do with a swim,' he said to me, as he pulled his t–shirt off over his head, revealing his perfect body.

'Last one in is a rotten egg,' I said to him as I started doing the same.

We raced each other to the water's edge, across dry summer grasses and then a sandy beach, leaving behind a long trail of clothes scattered in our wake.

The water was cold. Ice cold. But still we waded out into it. Both naked. Both laughing.

'Ain't nothing like mountain water to bring you to life,' Matt said after he surfaced from a dive that took him out into the deeper waters.

While treading water he flicked his head from side to side, sending a spray of water in a wide arc around him, which shimmered in the afternoon light.

Sunlight sparkled from the beaded necklace that I had given him on a day that seemed just so long ago now.

Absentmindedly, I reached up and felt the arrowhead that was now hanging around my neck along with my own necklace, and smiled at the thoughts and memories that came flooding back.

'What are you grinning at?' Matt asked as he swam in closer then waded back towards where I was standing, in water that was above my waist.

'Nothing much,' I answered. 'Just thinking happy thoughts.'

'Well think about this, then,' he said as he jumped up and placed his hands on top of my head, dunking me.

'Hey, no fair,' I protested, when I was able to scramble back to the surface.

'All's fair in love and war, pal. Didn't you know that?'

'So it's war now is it?' I yelled, diving after him.

We laughed and played like that for about half an hour before finally growing tired of it, then we both swam over to a large flat rock that ran down to the water's edge, and which was now bathed in the warm late-afternoon sun. After hauling ourselves out of the water, we stretched our bodies out to dry.

We felt like two kids playing hooky and we loved it. If only it could last.

'It's been a hell of a couple of months, hasn't it?' Matt said as he lay on his side looking at me.

'Hmmm. You could say that,' I answered.

'Any regrets?'

'Not a one. You?'

He shook his head and smiled. 'Never,' he answered.

'Are we going to grow old together?' I asked him.

That thoughtful expression once again washed over his face.

'Is that what you want?'

'More than anything else in the world.'

'That could possibly be arranged,' he answered, as he leaned across and kissed me.

When our lips parted he was looking down on me, with that devilish glint in his eye that he did so well.

'What?' I asked him.

'Nothing,' he whispered. But I knew that look. Nothing was exactly what it wasn't!

We dragged ourselves to our feet and walked back along the water's edge towards where we had first entered the water, then turned and started uphill, picking up our clothes as we went, one piece at a time.

When we reached the tent and the car we pulled our shorts back on, but that was all, then finished unpacking sleeping bags and an Esky and a few other creature comforts.

By dusk, we had the fire going well and were soon cooking some sausages, eggs and tomato in a cast iron frying pan.

After we had eaten, we sat by the fire talking about friends and things that were going on in our lives. Neither of us mentioned SSU or Highlands, but it was there nonetheless, hovering in the back of our minds, staying in the background, but most definitely there. We could feel it.

When the log that we had thrown on the fire had died down we decided it was time we turned in and so we retreated to the haven of our tent, where we made beautiful love before drifting off into an uneasy sleep.

The following morning, when the first signs of dawn appeared in the east, I found myself sitting alone on the riverbank, looking out across gently bubbling waters, watching the colours of the day gradually emerge.

It was a quiet morning, clear and cool. And it was beautiful.

I had slept only fitfully through the night, waking at intervals that were far too regular and rolling over to see the silhouette of Matt lying peacefully beside me.

Throughout the night, there seemed to be only one thought that kept bouncing around inside my mind, being the realisation of what I would be missing out on and what I would be robbing Matt of.

I had thought that I had come to terms with my own perceived sense of loss, but when you wake in the middle of the night, grieving for something you can almost taste or almost reach out and touch, only to find it so far out of reach and unattainable… well, is there anything that can be said other than it hurts?

And it is then that the sense of loss begins to simply overwhelm you, it crushes you, leaving you feeling helpless, and lifeless. We had both set our hearts firmly on Thompsonville and the lifestyle that we were sure it would offer us, but now it appeared that our dreams were shattered.

From where I sat, I turned and looked back towards the tent and listened to the gentle snores coming from within.

'I'm so sorry, Matt,' I whispered into the still morning air.

Somewhere above me a bird screeched into the dawn.

I looked skywards but saw nothing. Only grey, tinged with faint shades of scarlet and gold, growing ever brighter, but still far from being daylight.

'Damn bird. What are you doing up at this hour?' I asked it.

Just then, somewhere near me, something suddenly splashed into the water. I glanced down at the surface of the water but could see nothing. There were no telltale ripples radiating out from a point of impact, just a smooth surface, accompanied by the gentle bubbling sound of water trickling over nearby rocks.

For a long, long time, I sat and watched as the morning slowly came alive. I had never in all my life experienced Mother Nature in such a way. Never before had I realised just how beautiful she was.

The colours of the parrots, scarlet and crimson and gold and green, in the branches above me were spectacular. The sounds and sights and smells of the morning brought every sense in my body alive.

It was an exhilarating feeling.

As the sun's rays peeped over the mountains for the first time that day, I just closed my eyes and breathed in, and listened.

The sounds of the running water and the birds in the trees were like music.

The smells of the eucalyptus and river oaks, mingled with the fragrance of the fresh water, was intoxicating. For the first time in days it felt good to be alive and finally the thoughts of SSU and Thompsonville were gone from my mind. For how long though, I could only guess.

Somewhere close to me I heard the rustling sound of dry grass and I opened my eyes, thinking that it might have been Matt coming down to find me.

What I was not prepared for, was the sight of two kangaroos not more than twenty feet from me, moving slowly through the grass, picking at fresh shoots.

I held my breath and didn't move a muscle. I watched them as they moved awkwardly in a motion that defied description. A kind of bunny hop, where they leaned down with their front paws and balanced themselves using their tails while bringing their powerful hind legs under them.

It was the first time I had ever seen them up close.

If I had moved they would have, no doubt, bounded away in their familiar hop. But I didn't. And for the moment they were just taking their time, enjoying their breakfast.

Eventually they must have sensed my presence there, as suddenly the larger of the two stood erect and looked straight at me.

We just eyeballed each other. No sounds were made and for a long while, neither of us moved.

Finally the animal just hopped away, with its friend following closely behind, and I watched as they disappeared into a thick stand of trees about one hundred yards below where I sat.

He was almost upon me when I finally heard Matt approach a short time later, before sitting down beside me and bumping my shoulder with his, in greeting.

'Good morning.'

'To you too. Been out here long?' he asked me.

'Yeah, a little while. Couldn't sleep much.'

'Yeah, I noticed. You all right?'

'Never better,' I answered. Maybe it wasn't quite the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but it would do for now.

'I'm glad,' Matt said as he put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him.

After we had eaten breakfast, Matt asked me what I wanted to spend the day doing. I looked across the fire at him and grinned.

'Not all day?' he responded.

'How about for just some of it then?'

'Works for me! But first I thought we might go for a walk. You up for that?' he asked.

'Sure. Where to?' I asked.

He shrugged then said, 'I don't know. We could just follow the river, either upstream or downstream for a couple of hours, then turn around and come back along the other side or something. Nothing too strenuous, though. I want to save some energy for later.'

'Sounds cool. Which way do you want to go?'

He came around to the same side of the fire I was standing on, then fished a coin out of his pocket and flicked it into the air. What the hell he was doing with a coin in his pocket way out here, I had no idea. We both watched it as it spiraled upwards then downwards, before he caught it and slammed it down on the back of his hand.

'Heads we go upstream. Tails, downstream,' I said to him.

He nodded and then drew his hand back to reveal the image of Her Majesty's head, which was on the back of all our coins.

'Heads it is,' I proclaimed.

'Yup. Sure is.'

We made some sandwiches to carry with us and then, after we cleaned up our little campsite and packed away any equipment we had out, either into the tent or back into the car – just in case some inquisitive animal like a dingo or possum came hurrying through the camp – we set off along the riverbank, heading upstream and with a warm sun beating down on us.

There was very little in the way of a path, so we kept to the open ground as much as possible, even though it often meant heading away from the water.

When the bush cleared we could go back down to the water's edge, and when we reached the river we found a beautiful waterhole, at the far end of which was a waterfall emptying the contents of the creek into it.

'We've got to do this more often,' I said to Matt as we relaxed beside each other in the shade, while cooling our now bare feet in the water and admiring the view.


I nodded.

'Any time you feel like it,' he answered. 'The more time I spend with you, away from the rest of the world, the happier I am.'

'You mean that, don't you?'

'Of course I do. Why do you keep on doubting me? Why do you keep on doubting us?'

He wasn't accusing in his tone. He was being his usual straight forward and honest self, but it still caught me off guard.

'I… ummm…' I started to say, but couldn't quite get the words out.

Matt scurried closer to me and took both of my hands in his.

'How many times do I need to tell you that I love you?' he asked.

I looked into his eyes and could see the depth of feeling that was there.

'I guess,' I started to say, 'that I still find it hard to comprehend that we are together. I know it sounds silly. But sometimes that's just what it seems like. It's something that keeps spinning around in my mind, spurred on by these little voices that keep taunting me. And each time that I think I have gotten rid of them, they keep coming back to nag and haunt me.'

He leaned forward and kissed me then. And he smiled.

'Banish them. Forever,' he said. 'You were there for me when I went through the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Every step of the way, you were there to hold my hand. To cajole me into doing what I needed to do. To hold me when the hurting just got too much. I can't forget that. I won't forget that. If you hadn't shown up on the cliff that night in the rain, I just don't know what might have happened.'

I blinked back some tears, but one escaped and trickled down my cheek.

Ever so gently, Matt brushed it away with his thumb.

'I love you, Luke, and I always will. And it doesn't matter where we are living, or what we are doing, I will always be there for you, just loving you.'

'I know,' I answered. 'And I love you too. I honestly do.'

'I know, mate,' he said, then he hugged me.

I buried my face into his neck and started to cry again. When we separated, Matt looked at me long and hard.

'What?' I asked him, wiping my face with the back of my hand.

He just smiled, then started pulling at one of his fingers.

'What are you doing?' I asked him.

'Nothing much,' he answered.

'Don't give me that shit,' I said.

He smiled again, then came up with the prize he had been trying to remove from his finger. It was a ring, a plain band, shiny and silver. He'd had it for years.

'What are you doing?' I asked again.

'Luke, in a perfect world we could do this and nobody would care. But this isn't a perfect world, and it is the only world we have, but I want us to do this anyway.'

'I don't follow,' I said.

'Luke. You know I love you. I love you more than anything. More than my car even.'

I couldn't help it, I giggled.

He took my hand again and held it with my index finger extended, then started to place the ring on it.

'What are you doing?'

'As weird as this may sound, mate, I want you to know just how committed to you I really am. And to us. If I could say to you that what I wanted was for us to get married, I would. But seeing as that's not really an option that is available to us, all I can say is that I love you. I will always love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.'

He paused and looked directly into my eyes. He would have seen tears again. I can tell you that much.

Suddenly, I could feel myself trembling all over, while around us there were birds whistling and singing, as if in celebration, and water continued to cascade down onto rocks not more than fifty feet from us.

I saw none of that. I heard none of that. All I could see and hear was Matt. And all I could feel was the touch of silver on my finger, the embrace of his loving arms and the touch of his lips upon mine.

We fell asleep in each other's arms, in the shade of a huge, old gum tree, with gnarled and twisted branches and exposed roots that ran down along a partially eroded riverbank. It was beside a waterhole that was clear and wide and relatively shallow, with a gravel bottom, and after waking up sometime after lunch neither of us could resist diving in and cooling off.

'This is fabulous,' Matt said, as he floated around on his back, with his semi–hard cock pointing to the skies.

'It looks pretty good from here,' I called to him.

He laughed and swam over closer to me, then quickly shot his arm forwards and into the water, sending a plume of water in my direction.

'Hey. Watch it,' I said to him.

'Or you'll what?' he demanded.

'Hmmm. I'm sure I could think of something I could deprive you of to make you suffer.'

'You wouldn't?'

'Oh, wouldn't I?' I threatened.

'Okay. Okay. You win,' he laughed. 'This time.'

We didn't stay in the water too long and gradually we made our way back to the riverbank, where we hauled ourselves out on to the grassy edge and lay in the sun.

'I wish we could stay down here in this valley forever,' I said to him as I lay there with my hands clasped behind my head, gazing into the skies and watching wispy clouds float by.

'I wonder what it would be like to live down here? Away from the world. With no cares in the world.'

'It'd be magic.'

We both sat up then. Matt looked across at me and I looked across at him. What each of us saw was the naked lover of the other, young and firm and tanned.

Six months ago we would been giggling like the schoolkids we then were if we had done anything like this, or even so much as thought of doing anything like this. Obviously a great deal can change in a short period of time.

We weren't schoolboys any more. We were now two young adults, very much in love, who were just setting out on the journey that would be the rest of our lives.

'What are you thinking about?' Matt suddenly asked me.

'Change. And especially how we've both changed in the past few months.'

'For the better of course.'

'Yeah. For the better.'

With that, he crawled across the few feet that separated us and sat beside me, looking me up and down, gently caressing my forearm with his fingers.

'I can't believe that for all the years we have been best friends, it took this long for us both to slip up and let each other know how we really felt about each other,' he said to me.

'And the funny thing is it all happened by accident,' I answered.

'Destiny, more like it.'

'You think so?'

'Hmmmph. Who knows. But I'm so glad it did happen.'

'Yeah. Me too,' I said, as I leaned across and kissed him.

'I wish I'd known about you sooner,' Matt said after our lips parted.

We leant our foreheads together, staring deep into each other's eyes and letting the tips of our fingers delicately skim over the skin of the other, exploring as far as we both could reach, then back again.

'It might sound strange to you, but I don't really.'

His head jerked back and suddenly he was looking at me strangely.

'Why do you say that?' he asked, almost defensively.

'Well, I've wondered about that a lot lately. And if you think about it, if we'd started fooling around with each other like this, years ago, do you really think that we would be caring for each other in the way we do now? As it is, we were the best of friends and we knew each other inside out before we ever jumped into bed together, and I think that has made what we have now all the more special. We were friends before we were lovers, and if it had been the other way round, I somehow doubt if it would have lasted. Probably only until the next cute guy came along and distracted one of us or the other.'

Matt's jaw dropped and he just stared at me. It was a long while before he even moved, and I just sat there, hoping that he wouldn't be mad at me.

'Say something. Please,' I finally said to him.

Finally he just smiled and leaned across and kissed me.

'I think you're right,' he finally said to me. 'You know better than anyone what I was like from the time I was about thirteen through to sixteen. When the hormones started kicking in about then, all I could think of was sex, and how I could get some. And if I had caught you then, you probably would have just been another conquest, and then I would have moved on to the next one. And if that had happened, we wouldn't have what we have now.'

I let out a deep breath and just smiled at him. 'No regrets then?' I asked him.

'Fuck no!'

'Thank you.'

We got dressed and left that spot on the riverbank a little while later, crossing over onto the other side of the river at a shallow place where it looked as if livestock often crossed. Then, once we were safely across we started our journey back towards our campsite, along a narrow path that had obviously been well worn by animals.

It was a hot day and all that both of us were wearing were our shorts. Matt led the way and I followed behind on the narrow trail, taking every opportunity to gaze at the strong legs, broad shoulders and tanned back, which now glistened with sweat in the afternoon sun.

Every now and then Matt would stop and turn around, making sure I was still following.

He caught me grinning at him a couple of times and instinctively knew what I was grinning at. Once he even hooked his thumb in the elastic of his shorts and slid them down a little for my benefit.

I let out an audible groan and he soon pulled them back into place. I told him he was a bastard for doing that.

We walked on for a while longer along the path. There was scrub on both sides of us, and in a couple of instances we had to break branches off to get through, but it was basically easy going and not too strenuous.

'Hey check this out,' Matt said as he suddenly stopped and waited for me to catch up.

When I reached him I found that we had rounded a bend in the river and the scrub suddenly gave way to an open grassy flat on which some cattle were grazing peacefully.

'Cool,' I said. We watched them for a few minutes and they lazily lifted their heads and watched us, before deciding that we were an intrusion they didn't want and then turned and unhurriedly walked away.

'I wonder what else we'll see down here?' he asked.

'Who knows,' I answered.

He started walking again and I followed, crossing the flat where the cattle had been, then we headed toward a rocky knoll that jutted out above the river ahead of us.

I figured we were still at least half an hour from our camp site, so if we kept walking we would make it back by mid–afternoon, giving us enough time to perhaps have another swim, or maybe even try and catch a fish for dinner.

When we reached the other side of the river flat, Matt suddenly stopped in front of me and I almost ran into him.

'What's wrong?' I asked as I stopped beside him.

He was looking away from the river. Looking in the direction that the cattle had taken when they had wandered off. I followed his gaze, but could see nothing.

'Can you see that, up there?' he finally asked, pointing to a spot that was somewhere above the far end of the flats, towards some low hills that seemed to rise out of them.

'I see trees,' I answered.

'Come on, there's something I want to check out,' he said and in a flash he was off, striding out with real determination.

There really wasn't much I could do, other than sit down and wait for him to return, so resignedly, I followed.

We walked to the end of the river flat, to where they narrowed and some hills came in on either side. There was quite a bit of scrub around us, but after a little while I could soon see what it was that Matt had seen.

It was a hut. A very old hut.

It was located part way up a hill, about fifty metres above where the river flats ended and at the end of a path, which rose up into the surrounding hills and had been worn by countless numbers of animals.

'Hey, this is pretty neat,' I said to Matt as we reached the hut, before stepping up onto the creaking boards of its front verandah.

When we turned and looked back down towards the river we found ourselves looking straight out across the top of the tree line. We could clearly see not only the river but also across the flats to our campsite as well, which was closer than we had thought it was thanks to a bend in the river.

'Come on, let's have a look around,' Matt said to me, as he walked across the verandah and tried the door handle.

I watched as it turned easily in his hand and he pushed the door open.

'I guess it was a workers' hut, or something?' I said to him as we both stepped inside.

When our eyes adjusted to the dim light we found that the hut had been well furnished for one that was so far from civilisation.

There was a bed, complete with an old striped mattress that was badly stained and from which the mice had pulled most of the stuffing.

In the middle of the room there was an old, square wooden table, from which the varnish had long peeled off and around which sat four rickety chairs.

There was a cupboard, which proved to be empty. And a bench on which there was a pale-green enamel kitchen sink. Kerosene lanterns were hanging from the walls in various spots, and a straw broom was propped against one wall.

I ran my hand across the kitchen table and left three parallel lines in the thick dust.

'Been a while since anyone has been in here,' Matt said as he watched me brush the dust from my fingers.

'Hmmm,' I replied. 'Well, there's not too much in here to look at, how about we take a look around outside?'

'Good idea.'

We went out through the back door, onto another small verandah, then down a few rickety steps.

Looking around we could see very little to excite us, except maybe a water tank that was so badly rusted you could poke your fingers through the holes, and a half-fallen-down post and rail fence.

I was about to say to Matt, 'Let's go,' when something colourful amongst the trees managed to catch my eye and I started walking towards whatever it was.

When I called out and said, 'Hey, Matt, come and look at this,' he was still looking at the water tank.

He quickly caught up with me and when he did we both just stood staring at what must have been the orchard for whoever it was that had lived there.

The first trees we saw were lemon and apples trees, both heavily laden with fruit. Upon further investigation we also found apricots, walnuts and a couple of other types of fruit that we didn't even recognise.

'Christ, it's a regular Garden of Eden,' Matt said in amazement.

'Not quite,' I said to him as I tapped him on the arm and pointed off to a distant tree.

'Wha…' he started to say, before then noticing what it was I was pointing at.

A row of three gravestones, sitting inside a wrought iron fence and with knee deep grass growing up all around them.

Slowly I started walking towards them. I was totally overwhelmed by the thought that people had lived here, and had died here. So far away from anywhere.

'You okay, mate?' Matt asked from behind me as I knelt down by the rusting, iron fence and looked at the gravestones.

I said nothing.


'Huh?' I finally said.

'I asked if you were okay?'

'Just look at these will you,' I said to him. 'It wasn't just a workers' cottage. It was their home. And it was where they died.'

I read the three headstones out aloud.

'Celia Adams. Born 1867. Died 1904. Beloved wife of John Adams.'

'James Adams. Born 1895. Died 1896.'

'William Adams. Born 1897. Died 1915.'

Neither of us spoke for what seemed a long while, then Matt finally said, 'Christ, Luke, one was only a year old. The other one was the same age as us. I wonder what happened to them? And I wonder what happened to John Adams?'

I just shook my head. Suddenly the whole cycle of life and death and our own fragile tenure on the world that was around us all seemed to fall into place for me.

I reached up from where I knelt and took Matt's hand. We were both trembling.

I looked up at him and saw the sombre expression on his face and realised that we had both come to the same conclusion.

I got to my feet and hugged him.

We took one last look at the graves of Celia and James and William, then turned and walked back towards the orchard, hand in hand, each not wanting to let the other go.

I was still thinking about life and death. And about what it would be like to live the isolated existence that these people must have lived. We both now knew that we wouldn't live forever, so we needed to make sure that we lived every minute we could.

Matt reached out and picked a large lemon from the tree as we passed it.

'Hey,' he said quietly. 'Do you feel like fresh fish topped with lemon juice for dinner?'

'Sounds delicious. Only problem is, we don't have any fish.'

'I'll catch one,' he answered with confidence.

'Well, at least we've still got some sausages and a bit of bacon left, just in case you don't.'

'Very funny.'

I slipped the bag from my shoulder, that our lunch had been in earlier, and Matt dropped a few lemons into it.

'We may as well stock up while we're here,' he said to me, and moved on to the next tree, which was an apple tree, covered with bright-red fruit.

We picked some of the healthy looking fruits and dropped them into the bag as well.

'Hey Matt,' I said to him as he hungrily bit into one of them.


'What's worse than finding a grub in your apple?'

'Don't know,' he answered, between bites of the apple. 'What?'

'Finding half a one.'

He suddenly stopped eating and looked closely at the apple he was holding, then looked up at me and grinned.

'Bastard,' he said.

'Made you have a look though, didn't I?'

He threw what was left of the apple at me, which I easily ducked, then we turned and left the home of John and Celia Adams behind.

I didn't know about Matt, but I made myself a promise that I would return here one day. Just to make sure that everything was still in place.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead