After We Danced

by Mark Peters

Chapter 16

When we returned to our camp it was later in the afternoon than we had thought and the sun wasn't very far above the mountainous horizon.

'How about you get the fire going again and I'll see if I can catch something,' Matt said as I dropped our bag of fruit onto the ground beside the tent.

'Sounds okay,' I answered. 'But I really wanted to see you reel in the big one.'

'Light the fire and then come down to the river,' Matt said.

'I can do that.'

He retrieved his fishing line from the boot of the car and then dug some bread out of one of the packets we had brought with us.

'What's that for?' I asked him.

'Bait,' he said with a grin.

'You're joking, of course?'

He shook his head.

'It's a trick dad showed me once. Apparently the fish in this river love it.'

'Whatever,' I simply said, still not quite believing him. He just gave me a wave and trudged off towards the water.

I didn't get to see him reel in the big one, as my rather amateurish fire-lighting skills meant that it took me a while to get a decent fire going. About an hour later, though, just as I was satisfied the fire was going well enough, and just before dark, Matt returned to the camp, all smiles and carrying a huge fish.

'What the hell is that?' I asked him as he sat it on top of the fold-up table.

'Silver Perch,' he said proudly. 'Well at least I think that's what it is. And there you were, doubting the bread trick, huh?'

'I never doubted you for a minute,' I said to him as I hastily put the sausages back into the Esky. I wasn't sure if he saw me do that or not. If he did, at least he didn't give any indication of it.

'I've already cleaned it up, so it's ready to cook. Can you find the roll of foil in the box of stuff in the boot of the car for me? And the salt and pepper.'

'There's a roll of foil in there? As in tin foil, the stuff mum uses in the kitchen?'

'Uh huh.'

I went and did as he asked, and much to my surprise I found what he wanted. I handed it to him and then watched as he carefully wrapped the fish up in it, along with several pieces of sliced lemon and a healthy shake of salt and pepper.

'Are you sure you know what you're doing?'

'Trust me,' he said with a grin.

'Now what?' I asked.

'Can you get the shovel and push some of those pieces of wood off to one side, just leaving coals, please.'

I did as I was asked and then when it was ready he brought the foil package across to the fire and placed in on the hot coals. He then took the shovel from me and scooped up some coals, which he sprinkled across the top of the fish.

'Right then. Now all we have to do is give it about half an hour.'

'You're sure about this?'

'Relax. I've done this heaps of times.'

'Fair dinkum, the more I'm with you the more surprised I get,' I said to him, still shocked at the skills he had displayed.

'Don't you worry about me. I've still got a few surprises up my sleeve for you yet,' he said with a laugh, as he walked away from me towards the car.

'Now what are you doing?' I asked, almost nervously.

'Relax. I'm just turning the radio on. Is that all right?'

'Sure,' I answered, quietly relieved. I was sure that Matt had pulled enough surprises on me for one weekend.

Matt opened the car door and inserted the key into the ignition, then reached in and switched the radio on. Immediately the gentle sounds of Garth Brooks wafted out into the still night air.

'We shall be free…'
'This is what I'm saying to you…'
'We shall be free…'
'Because every night and every day I pray its true…'
'Together, forever…'
'We shall be free…'

Matt came back over and sat down beside me. He took my hand in his and together we just sat and listened to the words as they faded away, then a familiar voice came on, booming out into the night.

'You are listening to Radio New England with Grant Parnell, and that was Garth Brooks with We Shall Be Free . We're exactly half way through our Garth Brooks hour, but first, a word from one of our sponsors…'

An advertisement came on then, for one of the local car dealerships, but we didn't pay too much attention to it. We were too busy holding hands and looking into the campfire, which was still burning, having been pushed away from where we had laid the fish to cook.

When the advertisement was finished another song started up straight away, starting with a guitar introduction that I instantly recognized. It wasn't a major hit, but nonetheless, it was still a favourite of mine.

'It's only natural with time…'
'Details can somehow slip your mind…'
'Something so sweet…'
'Though incomplete…'
'You fill the spaces in between…'

Matt got up and moved over to the fire, stoking it up a little and throwing another log onto it, then came back and sat down beside me. He reached across and took my hand once more as we listened to more of the song.

'And to my heart and soul…'
'This is the way the story has to be told…'
'That's the way I remember it…'
'I remember it that way…'
'From the day, I was living it…'
'I remember it that way…'
'Some of our stories fade as we grow older…'
'Some get sweeter every time they're told…'
'That's the way I remember it…'
'That way…'

As Garth sang on, Matt brought my hand up to his lips and kissed me. I leaned across and kissed him firmly on the lips.

I don't think I heard the remainder of the song, so lost was I in Matt's eyes, and in tasting him, and in feeling his taut body against mine.

They played some more songs, of that I was sure, but to be honest, I paid little attention to them.

It wasn't until Matt begrudgingly tore himself away from me and went back to the fire that I stopped and listened again.

As he took the shovel in his hand and gently scraped away the top layer of coals from our meal I heard the familiar introduction to The Dance float out towards us.

'Looking back…'
'On the memory of…'
'The dance we shared…'
'Beneath the stars above…'
'For a moment…'
'All the world was right…'
'How could I have known…'
'That you'd ever say goodbye…'

It was during this first verse that Matt turned and looked at me. I couldn't see his expression, as his face was in shadow, but what he would have seen was me rocking gently from side to side.

Leaving our dinner where it was for a few minutes more he stood up and walked back to me then stretched his hand out towards me.

I took it and he pulled me to my feet, then we embraced and just rocked gently from side to side to the music.

'And now I'm glad I didn't know…'
'The way it all would end…'
'The way it all would go…'
'Our lives…'
'Are better left to chance…'
'I could have missed the pain…'
'But I'd have had to miss the dance…'
'Holding you…'
'I held everything…'
'And for a moment…'
'Wasn't I the king?'
'If I'd have only known…'
'How the king would fall…'
'Then who's to say…'
'How I might have changed it all…'
'And now I'm glad I didn't know…'
'The way it all would end…'
'The way it all would go…'
'Our lives…'
'Are better left to chance…'
'I could have missed the pain…'
'But I'd have had to miss the dance…'
'It's my life…'
'It's better left to chance…'
'I could have missed the pain…'
'But I'd have had to miss…'
'The Dance………………'

When it was finished he leaned in and kissed me.

'That was an unexpected surprise,' I whispered to him when our lips finally parted.

'What's that?'

'You and me. Dancing in the firelight while listening to Garth Brooks , of all people.'

'I thought you liked him?'

'I do. But just look at the setting would you?'

'It couldn't be better, I don't think. Could it?'

I glanced around our campsite and then thought for a second. There was only the two of us here. We didn't have anyone to answer to. And we were free.

I smiled back at him and said, 'No. It couldn't be better.'

'Good. Come on then. I'm starving.'

I really hated to leave that place, but we both knew that our real lives were somewhere at home waiting for us to step back into them.

At least now I felt alive once more. And I could only have Matt to thank for that.

He brought out the best in everyone around him, and in everything he seemed to touch, even something as simple as cooking the fish the night before. But I have to say that I admired and loved him for more than just his culinary skills.

After having a swim in the early morning, and finally witnessing the phenomenon of the jumping fish that Matt had described to me on the way down into the valley, we cooked some breakfast and then packed all our camping gear away, taking our time in doing so.

'It's been a great weekend,' I said to Matt as we finally packed the last of it back into the car.

'It has, hasn't it?'

'Yeah. Thank you so much for bringing me here.'

He came over to me and put his arms around my waist, pulling my body towards his until our groins were gently rubbing together. Then he kissed me.

'Anytime,' he said. 'Anytime at all.'

'We'll have to bring all of the guys down here sometime. Maybe on a long weekend, or at Easter or something. And get Tim and Guy to come up too.'

'That'd be a great idea. We could all have a bit of fun then.'

I grinned at him, and he grinned back.

A short while later we were in the car and found ourselves heading out of the valley, climbing the narrow track that was the only way in and out.

I turned in my seat and gazed lovingly at the beauty below me for as long as I could, then when I could no longer see the river or the grassy flats I turned and looked at the track we were on.

'It's not going to fall off, you know?' Matt said to me after glancing down at me absentmindedly twirling the silver band which now adorned my finger.

I looked across and saw him smiling at me, which I quickly returned.

'You left me speechless!'

'Well, there's a first time for everything isn't there?'

'Very funny.'

We drove on in silence for a little while longer, soon reaching the top of the range, then after traveling a few more miles we crossed the first of the small creeks that we would come to.

'What are you thinking about?' Matt asked me as we splashed our way across the first cement causeway.

'Huh?' I said, not really hearing him properly the first time, seeing as I was in a bit of a daze.

'I asked what you were thinking about? You looked like you were a million miles away.'

'I was,' I said, managing a faint smile.

'Where were you?'

'I was thinking about a place where two guys could get married and no one would care.'


'It could happen one day,' I said to him.

'Well, I hope it happens sometime before we are both in wheelchairs. I meant what I said yesterday afternoon.'

'I know. And I love you for it. And I've been thinking about it ever since.'

I looked straight at him and noticed him raise his eyebrows in a questioning gesture.

'Not now,' I answered. 'I might tell you later.'

He nodded and kept driving, all the while wearing this silly grin and glancing back across at me.

I was tempted to say something about what I had read in the newspapers about some countries having passed laws to allow same-sex marriage, and the thought that maybe one day, if it didn't happen here, we might be able to visit one of those countries ourselves. For the moment, though, I thought it best to save mentioning that until later.

A little over an hour later we were back in town. We pulled up at our flat and got out of the car, and Matt's mother, who had been hanging out the washing, came across to greet us.

We both received a kiss and then she stood back from us, with her face crinkled up in distaste.

'You stink. Both of you. And you both need to have a shave,' she said to us. 'Go and hit the showers. Then come up to the house for lunch.'

'Yes, ma'am,' Matt said, giving his mother a mock salute.

She dismissed him with a laugh then went back to her laundry.

After lunch we decided to call on our friends and see what they were up to, seeing as we hadn't spoken to them in days.

Dwayne and DJ were home, busily working on some presentation that needed to be sent off to a company in Sydney by that afternoon.

'So, where have you guys been?' DJ asked us, almost as soon as we were through the door.

'Camping,' Matt answered. 'Dancing under the stars. Swimming naked in a cool mountain stream. Making love in the moonlight.'

'Sounds almost too good to be true,' Dwayne said.

Matt and I just grinned.

'Maybe we should try it some time,' DJ said to Dwayne.

'Maybe,' he answered.

'We were actually thinking we should all head there one long weekend,' I suggested.

'You can count us in!' DJ enthusiastically replied.

We stayed for a little while, but we could see that they were busy so soon left them to it.

As we were walking out the door DJ looked up and said to me, 'Hey, Luke, any news?'

I shook my head and said, 'Nothing so far. Looks like we're going to Highlands.'


'Well, not really. It's still a good university. I'm sure we'll do okay down there.'

'I'm sure you will,' Dwayne answered.

We left them then and drove around to Phil's place to drop the gear off and see if he was home. We were out of luck, so we packed everything back into the garage where it had come from, then decided to try Hoss's place. Same story there; nobody home.

'You've gone all quiet again,' Matt said as we headed downtown.

'Huh?' I answered, only half listening to him.

'I said you've gone all quiet again. You okay?'

'Yeah. I'm fine. You want to know something? I thought I would get all down when they mentioned the university back there. But I don't think it bothers me anymore.'

'You sure?'

'Yeah. I think so. I mean the future is what we make it, right? So it doesn't really matter what direction that we head off in, we just have to do the best we can. Don't we?'

'That's my boy.'

I laughed. I think I had finally reconciled with the fact that I wasn't going to be attending SSU and, somewhat surprisingly, I felt free once more.

In the end, we didn't find Phil or Hoss, so we called around to my parents' place to let them know we were home, then headed into town to catch a movie, finally getting home at about ten o'clock, tired but happy.

'I don't know about you,' Matt said as he collapsed on our bed. 'But I am absolutely stuffed. It's actually been a fairly tiring three days.'

'Ain't that the truth,' I said as I collapsed beside him.

'And tomorrow it's back to the same old routine.'

'Uh, huh.'

'You going to keep ringing SSU? You know, just in case there's a vacancy?'

'Yeah. I will, but I think I've finally realised that it's not meant to be. I'll start tomorrow with making some concrete plans about going to Highlands.'

'Don't give up totally. Keep in touch with Tim or Guy. If they're going to SSU they'll most likely have organised some place to stay already.'

'You keep talking as if that's where we're going?' I sighed.

'I just want you to keep your options open. Don't give up until the very last minute. Will you promise me that?'

I smiled and quickly kissed him.

'It's a deal,' I said to him.

'Good. Now get up and turn the lights out, then get your arse back in bed.'

'I love it when you talk dirty like that.'

It was back to work again the next day. More shelf packing for me. More backyard mechanics for Matt. I wondered for how much longer we would both be doing this.

Not long, I thought.

At lunchtime we came back to the flat and while Matt made some sandwiches, I tried the SSU Admissions Office again.

'I'm sorry, Mr Solomon. There are still no vacancies in your course,' the same woman said to me.

I thought that they might as well just record it and just play the same message back to me over and over again whenever I called.

'Still no luck, huh?' Matt said as he placed a plate on the table in front of me.

I just shook my head.

'It'll work out, mate. Don't worry about it,' he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.

'Well, looks like I better find the number for a real estate agent in Highlands and call them.'

'What about their admissions centre. Won't they be able to tell you who to call?'

'Good idea.'

I found the telephone number while I ate the sandwich, then when I had finished eating I punched it into Matt's phone.

The woman I spoke to provided me with a couple of numbers to try, so I started calling straight away.

'What sort of accommodation are you looking for?' the first guy I spoke to asked me.

'Ummm, just a flat or something for me and my, errrrr, partner. I'm starting university there soon.'

I glanced quickly at Matt and saw him grinning at me.

'Hmmm. You may have left your run a bit late, mate. Most of the places that students usually rent are already taken. Can I get your number and call you back?'

'Fine,' I said with a sigh. I quoted him the phone number and he read it back to me, then we disconnected.

The next number I tried was even less helpful. I got a straight out, 'Nothing left I'm afraid. You're too late,' the honey-voiced receptionist replied.

When I disconnected from that call I put the phone down on the table and just put my head in my hands. I didn't feel like crying, although to Matt that was probably what it looked like.

He got up and came around behind me and gave me a hug anyway.

'Just keep trying,' he whispered into my ear. 'We're going to be fine, remember?'

I turned in my seat and looked at him.

He grinned at me and I said, 'Of course we are.'

We went back to work for the afternoon, for more of the same old routine, and while I was packing shelves I had a visit from Hoss, who it seemed had also spent the weekend away with Phil.

'So where did you guys get to?' he asked me.

'We went camping. A place called Cockatoo Creek. Ever been there?'

'Once,' he answered. 'It's nice.'

'It sure is. What did you get up to? You and Phil still going strong?'

He blushed slightly and nodded.

'We went down to the coast. His family has a house down there at Mermaid Beach.'

'Sounds like fun.'

'Well, we didn't see much of the water.'

I put my hand up to stop him. 'That's enough.'

We both just laughed.

'So, how are your plans going for the big move?' he asked me.

'Slowly,' I answered. 'We still haven't found any place to stay though. A real estate agent from Highlands is going to call me back.'

'No luck with SSU yet?'

I shook my head.

'Ah well, Highlands is supposed to be a good university, and it's a nice area.'

'Thanks. That's what everyone seems to say.'

I went back to my trolley of boxes after he left and tried not to think about houses or universities or moving.

It didn't do me any good though. That was all I could think about.

The rest of the week was filled with more phone calls, interrupted only by our having to go to work.

The real estate agent phoned back on Thursday to let me know he had found a flat for us. One bedroom. Small. Not fancy. Not too expensive.

Best of all it was partly furnished and had things like a refrigerator, a bed and a kitchen table. I told him on the spot that we would take it.

I didn't care what it looked like, provided we had a roof over our heads. We could always look around later for something else if we didn't like it.

By Friday there was still no good news from SSU and so it looked like our destiny would lie to the south after all.

The countdown appeared to have started. T minus eight days and counting.

Shit, that had snuck up on us quickly.

That night we sat down and made up a list of things we needed to do, right on the very top of which was to book a U–Haul Trailer.

When we got there we would need to organise electricity or gas or whatever it was we needed.

'We also need to resign from our jobs,' Matt suddenly said.

'Surely they know we're going? I mean we've both talked about it at work haven't we? You know… with the people we work with?'

'Yeah, maybe, but we still have to make it official.'

Suddenly everything seemed so final. Almost irrevocable. We were cutting the ties that had bound us to this town for so long. It was actually happening.

The next morning, while Matt was at work, I went down to the nearest service station, which happened to be an agent for the trailer-hire company and booked a large, covered–in trailer.

We had both laboured into the night and composed our official letters of resignation for our respective employers. Matt had taken his with him to work and was going to give it to his boss today.

Mine was in my pocket, and in spite of my not having to work that day, I decided to call in and deliver it anyway.

'Thank you, Luke,' my boss said, while shaking my hand. 'We'll be sorry to see you go, but I hope that everything goes well with your studies.'

'Thank you,' I replied. I was now close to tears myself and couldn't say much more. After working there for four years, I was actually going to miss it once I finished my final few shifts over the next week.

Afterwards I called in to see Matt. He was actually worse. I could see that he had actually been crying. He ushered me into the office where we hugged, which seemed to make him feel a little better.

Matt was giving up a great deal more than I was. And he was doing it for me.

He had been helping out at Auto Stop even longer than I had been at the supermarket, having started making a nuisance of himself there when he was about thirteen, so the owner had taken pity on him and let him sweep floors and throw rubbish away. He had been a fixture there ever since.

As we were leaving to go to lunch we were stopped by Matt's boss, who wished me well. He knew everything that needed to be known about the two of us after Matt had told him everything about what had been going on since Christmas. He had been totally supportive of the two of us, and Matt couldn't have asked for a better boss.

A short while later we met up with the gang at Con's and told them all about the plans we had made.

'So, you're really doing it?' Hoss asked.

'Looks like it. We're finally leaving you,' Matt answered.

'We'll survive,' DJ added. 'But if we get in trouble you better come running. Either that, or make some room on your sofa.'

'Don't think we'll have enough room for one of those by the sounds of things,' I said. 'So that means you'll be sleeping in the car if you come and visit.'

'Huh. That'd be right.'

When we had finished our lunch break Matt went back to work and I went scavenging for some large boxes and rolls of packing tape. I was going to have to start it sooner or later.

The rest of the weekend flew by and between us we got most of what we would need, at least for the first few months anyway, packed and ready to load.

Our mothers came and helped at various stages, but to tell you the truth, they became more of a hindrance than a help, so they were soon banished. They took it with good grace, but it didn't stop either of them from popping their heads in through the doors at regular intervals to make sure we were still working.

I had to laugh at them. I mean, what else would we be doing?

By Sunday night all that remained were those things which we would need this week, or would be leaving behind.

The flat now looked half–empty. Only the large stack of boxes by the back door, each labelled with its contents, gave any indication of what was happening.

We both worked through most of the next week, marking off the days we had left on our calendar.

I tried calling SSU a couple of times, half–hopeful that there would be some news, but time and again I was to be disappointed.

Matt and I planned to leave for Highlands on the Friday morning, so I had booked the trailer for Thursday to give us the chance to pack it, ready to get away early the next morning for the long drive.

At lunchtime on Thursday, I finished my last shift and was presented with my very last pay packet, a nice card and silver pen in a fancy case, which everyone had apparently pitched in to buy me.

I thanked everyone, did my best to hold back the tears that were fighting to get out, and then walked out of there for the final time, determined not to look back.

'Not long now, mate,' I said to Matt as I joined him at Con's, where I found him sitting with DJ and Hoss. I handed him the case containing the pen and he opened it, admiring the shiny new object, before showing it to the others.

'So, tomorrow's the day, huh?' Hoss said, as I sat down at the booth.

'Yeah. You going to come and see us off?'

'We could probably do that.'

The guys had already ordered and so just after I had sat down our burgers were brought out to us by our old friend Con.

'Is–a that–a right you–a going?' he asked Matt and me.

'I'm afraid so, Con,' Matt answered. 'We're off to bigger and better things, you know?'

The old Greek face broke out into a broad smile.

'I bet–a I'm–a gonna go broke now,' he said as he slapped us both on the back, then turned and went back to his kitchen.

'You got all your packing done yet?' DJ asked us, between mouthfuls of burger.

'Just got to pick up the trailer this afternoon and load it up tonight,' I answered.

'We're only taking what we really need. For now, anyway. The flat we've got lined up is small and is partly furnished anyway,' Matt added.

DJ and Hoss simply nodded and continued eating.

Just then Matt's phone, which was sitting on the table in front of us, started ringing.

He flipped it open and said, 'Hello.'

'No, it's not,' we heard him say. 'I'll put him on.'

Then he passed it to me. I gave him the quizzical who is it look, but he just shrugged.

I took the phone from him and said, 'Hello.'

The woman on the other end of the line started talking, and I knew instantly who it was.

'Yes… No… Uh, huh!… Thank you very much.'

That was all I said, but suddenly all eyes were on me.

With trembling hands, I flipped the phone closed and handed it back to Matt.

'Well?' he asked.

'We're not going to Highlands,' was all I could say.



Matt let out a shriek of triumph and leaned over and hugged me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. Right there in the middle of the café.

Everyone looked at us. But we didn't care. We were going to Thompsonville, where the sea was blue, the beaches were white and life was relaxed and carefree.

Matt had to go back to work and finish off his last day, so I took the car and his phone, picked up the trailer and headed home.

I decided to call around to my parents' place first and tell mum the news and found her in the garden, up to her elbows in mulch.

'What's wrong?' she asked me as I walked up the path. 'You look like you've seen a ghost.'

I managed a smile and simply said that there was a change in plans.


'I'm going to SSU,' I said. 'I just got a call.'

She jumped to her feet and threw off her gardening gloves then gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek.

'I'm so happy for you,' she said, still hugging me.


'Now come inside. Your father and I have got something for you. A little graduation present, if you like.'

I looked at her suspiciously. 'Like what?' I asked.

'You'll see.'

I followed her around to the back of the house and we climbed the few steps up into the back room, where I was shown three rather large boxes.

'Oh, no mum, you and dad can't afford that,' I said.

'Don't you worry about what we can and can't afford,' she said.


'But nothing. It's yours.'

I walked over to the boxes and ran my hands over them.

'I don't know what to say.'

'Thank you would be a good start,' she answered.

I went back and hugged her, then tore open the top of the first box, which contained a massive, brand new computer monitor.

'We told the man at the shop what you would be doing and said we wanted the best we could get. It all had to be up to date. The very latest. Is that what we got?'

I quickly read the specs on the outside of the next box and then tore it open. It pretty much had the works… even if it would be outdated within six months, such was the pace at which technology was changing.

'Yeah mum, that's about what you got. I don't know how to thank you. It must have cost a fortune.'

'Don't worry about that. You just go and do us proud.'

So much for packing the trailer. I ended up spending most of the afternoon on the phone.

Matt was going to kill me when he got the next phone account.

I rang Matt.

I rang my father at his work to thank him.

I rang a rather annoyed real estate agent and told him to let the flat out to someone else.

I rang Tim and Guy to let them know about our change in plans.

They were already in Thompsonville and they told me that they had found an old farmhouse that was cheap. And yes, there was plenty of room for Matt and me.

'He's going to be so buzzed when I tell him.'

'Great,' Guy said to me. 'When are you coming down?'

'Tomorrow,' I answered. 'Will you be there at the house?'

'We've got to go into the university in the morning, then we'll be home after lunch.'

'I suppose I'll have to go and finish signing forms anyway. We're going to leave fairly early if we can, so we'll be there before lunchtime. How about we meet at the university and then we'll follow you home?'

'That sounds perfect.'

We disconnected then, and I just sat on the bed staring at the phone.

Was this actually happening to me? Was everything finally falling in to place?

I pinched my arm, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Ouch. It hurt. It wasn't a dream.

There was a knock at the door just then and Matt's mum called out.

'Are you in there, Luke?'

'Yes, in here,' I called back.

She came in and was all smiles.

'Matt just rang me and told me your news. Congratulations,' she said as she hugged me.

'Thank you.'

'So, you're nearly ready, huh?' she said, as she looked around the room at how little there seemed to be left in here.

'I guess so,' I answered. 'Tomorrow's the day.'

'I don't think I've said this to you before, but I wanted to thank you, before you left.'

'What for?' I asked.

'For being there for Matt. And for loving him,' she said.

'You don't have to thank me for that,' I answered. 'He's pretty easy to love, you know.'

'Yes. He is, isn't he?'

We smiled at each other and sat down on the edge of our unmade bed. She looked at it for a moment. At the two pillows. At the blankets strewn back.

I nervously looked down and hoped there were no stains showing on the sheets. Much to my relief there weren't.

'It took us a while to get used to having you around, you know? I mean… you know… as more than just Matt's friend.'

'Well, I can understand that. I guess we did put everyone on the spot.'

I sat there nervously playing with the ring on my finger. She looked down at it and smiled.

'Hmmm. You will take care of him for me, won't you?'

'I'll do my best. But it's him who does most of the taking care of people. It's one of the reasons I love him so much.'

She put her hands on mine.

'I'm happy that he has you. Thank you.'

With that she leaned across and kissed me on the cheek, then got up to leave.

'Oh, by the way,' she said, as she stopped at the doorway. 'I've been speaking to your mother. Seeing as it's your last night in town we are all going out to dinner. I've already booked, so don't argue. And your friends are all coming as well. So you and Matt can't get out of it.'

She left then, leaving me sitting there on my own looking out the doorway of our bedroom, at a pile of boxes stacked just inside the front door of the kitchen.

By the time it was time to pick Matt up from work, I had loaded all our boxes and some of the furniture items, like my desk and bookcase, into the trailer. We were almost ready to leave.

Before I started loading it, I had unhooked the trailer and managed to push it close to the door, so thankfully I didn't have to carry anything very far.

With that done I was now covered in sweat, so I had a quick shower and changed into some clean clothes, then drove down to pick Matt up.

He passed me his going away present when he got into the car. A pewter mug, engraved with the words, 'To Matt, With Thanks and Best Wishes, from your Friends at Auto Stop.

'That's nice,' I said to him.


'You sad about leaving?'

'In a way. I really liked it there, but there's no looking back now. We've both got new things to do.'

'We do.'

'Did mum tell you about tonight?' he asked me.

'Yeah. Sounds like they've planned quite a shindig.'

'Yeah. Well, I hope they don't make a real big thing of it.'

'Oh, they will. I'm sure of it.'

I started the car and drove us home. Matt had a shower and changed, ready for our night out.

'And I spoke to Guy this afternoon,' I said to him as he was pulling on a shirt.


I walked over to him and started buttoning the shirt for him.

'They've found a house in Thompsonville, an old farmhouse apparently, just out of town, and they've got room for us. We're going to meet them at the university at about lunchtime, then follow them out. Is that okay with you?'

'Sounds perfect. What's the house like?'

'Old and cheap. Even if we don't like it, it'll do for starters.'

'Yeah. It'll be fine though. I'm sure. Well, are you ready for our big send off?'

'So, it's all finally happening, huh?'

He put his arms around me and hugged me.

'Yeah, and tomorrow we're out of here. You and me. We have our future to live. Nobody else's but ours. If we fuck it up, then we only have ourselves to blame. But that ain't going to happen, because I have faith in you. I have faith in us. We've got a long haul ahead of us and it starts tomorrow.'

I kissed him and said, 'Thank you.'

Then we went outside and climbed into the car, then drove up to his parents' house. While I sat in the car, fiddling with the ring on my finger and smiling to myself at just how everything had turned out, Matt got out and went inside, to see if they were ready to leave.

The big night out certainly was a big night out. We went downtown to a restaurant that I had never been to. It looked expensive, and when I saw the menu it most certainly was.

My parents and little sister were there. So were Matt's parents, along with Phil and Hoss, Phil's parents, DJ and Dwayne and a few of Matt's other relatives, most of whom I knew even if I'd only met them once or twice.

It was a great night, which lasted until we were the last group of people left in the restaurant and the proprietors started making noises about shutting up for the night.

'What time are you leaving tomorrow?' Dwayne asked us as he and DJ got up, ready to leave.

'About nine,' Matt answered.

'We'll come and see you off then. You know, just to make sure you actually go.'

'Smart arse,' Matt replied.

The rest of our merry crowd gradually dispersed, and we finally said goodbye to the last of them on the steps of the restaurant at about eleven thirty.

We were wished well by everyone, and had even been given some small gifts, then we walked the short distance to our car.

Matt's parents were walking ahead of us and turned and said, 'See you in the morning,' just before they got into their car.

We said goodnight and watched them drive away.

'Come on, there's something we have to see before we go home,' Matt said, taking my hand and dragging me the last few steps to the car.

'What?' I said, trying to protest.

'You'll see.'

We got in and he started it up, then we drove towards home, before turning off and heading for the lookout.

'It's too late,' I said to him.

He looked across at me and in the faint light coming from the dashboard I saw him just shake his head at me.

When we reached the mountain top he parked the car as close as he could to the actual lookout and we got out and made our way up the steps to the viewing platform.

There was a breeze blowing, warm, though refreshing. Above us stars were shining. Below us the lights of the town sparkled in the valley.

I was standing at the railing looking out over the town, while Matt stood behind me with one hand holding the railing on either side of me and with his chin resting gently on my shoulder.

'It's funny how things sometimes turn out, isn't it?' he whispered.

'Yeah… but in a good way,' I replied.

'Yeah… especially now that we've got everything sorted out and all the crap we had to deal with has settled down.'

'And the arsehole people who were giving us a hard time are out of our lives…'

'You mean, like Davo?'

'Yeah… amongst others.'

I felt him nod his head, but nothing more was said for a few moments.

'Do you think it was him who was behind those phone calls?' he eventually asked me.

'There's a good chance it was,' I answered. 'But it doesn't really matter, does it? At least they've stopped now.'

'Yeah. That's true.'

For the next few minutes we remained silent, just breathing in the cool night air and looking down at the lights of the town, twinkling far below us.

'You know, this is the last time we will see them like this,' Matt said to me.

'What do you mean?'

'I mean, it's the last time we'll be up here on this lookout as residents of this fine town. Next time we come back here will be as visitors. Or even as strangers, maybe.'

'Next time we see this view it will be the same. But it will be different,' I added. 'It almost seems weird.'


'Come on. Let's go home,' I suggested. 'There's something else that we need to do for one last time in this town tonight, at least as residents…'

Silently, he took my hand and led me back to the car.

Don't you just hate long goodbyes?

The next morning, after a predictably late start, we hooked the trailer back onto the car, but only after being dragged outside by the rowdy mob that had gathered for the lynching.

Our families and the whole gang gathered at eight thirty, knocking on our door while we were still getting dressed.

'Come on you two,' Matt's father called out. 'Some of us still have work to go to, you know?'

We emerged, still pulling our t–shirts on, to see a group of familiar faces, some smiling, some sad.

Quickly, we gathered up the last of the things we needed, mainly being our suitcases full of clothes and packed them into the trailer.

Our mothers were the first to crack up. Funny that!

They each covered their sons with kisses and tears, then exchanged places.

I looked despairingly at Matt. He was laughing.

We hugged my sister and gave her a kiss. We shook hands with our fathers, then hugged them. Then did the same with all our friends, DJ, Dwayne, Hoss, Phil.

I tell you, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Finally, we managed to wrestle free of everyone and made a break for the car.

'Safe trip.'

'Take care.'

'Be good.'

'Call us when you get there.'

The last thing I remember seeing before I got into the car was them all standing there waving.

Matt started the Commodore and looked across at me.

'Are you ready for this?' he asked.

'Ready as I'll ever be,' I answered.

He gave the motor a small rev and started off down the driveway, with everyone following us up the driveway until we readied ourselves to turn onto the street.

As we pulled out onto the road Matt gave them all a blast of the car horn, and as we drove away we waved back to everyone, who were all still waving madly at us from the sidewalk.

Slowly they grew smaller and smaller, until finally we went around the corner and we disappeared from each other's view.

Matt and I looked at each other and smiled, then with our hands clasped together on the seat between us we left the town of our childhood behind.

The future was ours and it would be what we made of it.

It was only us now.

We Shall Be Free

Performed by Garth Brooks

Written by Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis.

Copyright: Liberty Records

That's The Way I Remember It

Performed by Chris Gaines (Garth Brooks)

Written by Tommy Sims and Tony Arata

Copyright: Bases Loaded Music, Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publ., MCA Music Publishing A.D.O. Universal S

The Dance

Performed by Garth Brooks

Written by Tony Arata

Copyright: Morganactive Songs Inc., Emi April Music Inc.

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