by Mark Peters

Chapter 2

One of the many things you forget about when you live in small backwater towns is that there just aren't the facilities and services available here that there are in the city, so we didn't end up with the paramedics after all. There was an ambulance in the town, which was based at the hospital, it arrived about fifteen minutes later with one ambulance officer and a nurse from the hospital.

They found me wild-eyed and fearful, cradling Charlie's head in my lap on the bathroom floor and quickly kicked into emergency mode, gently extricating him from my hold before going about their business, taking vital signs, sticking needles into him and pumping him with God only knows what. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched.

The nurse looked at the bottle I handed her. She said it was an old prescription, so chances are the bottle may have been half empty already, and being that old the medicine could have possibly lost some of its effectiveness as it was. To be on the safe side they said they would take him to the local hospital for examination by a doctor and overnight observation anyhow.

'He'll be okay,' the ambulance guy said when he saw me about to say something. 'We'll have your boyfriend back to you in no time at all.'

For a moment what he said didn't register, but then it eventually dawned on me. Boyfriend? Is that what they thought Charlie was to me?

At any other time in my life I probably would have denied it, made a song and dance about not being gay, but right now I just didn't care about any of that shit. We are all who we are meant to be, and if people didn't like that then they could go to hell as far as I was concerned.

They loaded Charlie into the ambulance and sped off toward the hospital, leaving me standing at the front door of his house. For a few moments I stood there, struck dumb by the speed of what was happening, but then my brain seemed to click into gear. No matter what happens, I figured, I needed to be with Charlie. I needed to be the first person he saw when he woke up.

Running back inside I went in search of the keys to his mother's car… his car now, I guess. They were sitting on the sideboard in the main bedroom, along with his wallet, some loose coins and some folded pieces of paper. Grabbing the keys and his wallet, which for some reason I figured he might need, I headed for the car, all the while dialling my mother's phone number as I went.

She didn't pick up and the call went to voice mail.

'Mum, it's me. Charlie has just been taken to hospital in an ambulance. I'll explain later. I'm going there now. Please call me! I… I don't know what to do!'

The car started straight away and I quickly backed out and zoomed off in search of the hospital, which was located just on the other side of the canal in the middle of town, perched on Hospital Point and looking out over the lake and the town. It had originally been the location of the first house that had been built by the towns founders, who themselves were buried in the grounds.

Heads turned as I sped through town. I fully expected some flashing red and blue lights to come after me, but I managed to make it to the hospital entrance without mishap. When I pulled up outside I could see the ambulance backed into the emergency entrance so I found a parking space and entered the building.

In comparison to most others, ours was only a small hospital, with only the basic facilities needed in order to service a town such as ours. There was a small emergency department, a ward with a handful of rooms for those who required hospitalization, plus another wing which was essentially a nursing home housing the elderly or those needed long-term care. The one thing which made our hospital different from most others were the magnificent grounds in which it was housed and the old buildings that had once been the home of the most wealthy residents in the district.

The last time I had been here was when I was sixteen years old and had broken my arm playing sport.

As I entered the emergency department I found the reception counter which was being manned by one of the nurses.

'I'm looking for Charlie Holley… he was just brought in,' I said to her.

'Oh, right. Is that his name? He's still being assessed,' she answered. 'Are you family?'

'No, he's… a friend. I… I found him this morning and called triple zero. Is he okay?'

I felt anxious and worried out of my brain. I guess it showed.

'Okay then, honey. How about you take a seat in the waiting room and I'll see what I can find out for you,' she said, while pointing to an alcove off to the side with padded seats and a low wooden table covered with old magazines.

Somewhat reluctantly I went and sat down. I was too tense to be able to do anything. I fiddled with my phone. I flicked through a magazine, before throwing it back on the table. I got up and walked around the small room, then sat down again. Thankfully my phone rang a few moments later. It was my mother.

'What's happened? Where are you?' she asked.

'I'm at the hospital. When I went around to Charlie's this morning I found him passed out on the bathroom floor.'

'Oh, no. Is he okay?'

'I don't know. He's still being assessed. They haven't told me anything yet.'

'Okay then.'

'Mum… there's something else. I found an empty bottle of pills next to him.'

'I'm on my way.'

A doctor came out a short while later and spoke to the nurse behind the counter. She pointed in my direction and the doctor looked my way. He seemed rather young, but he looked like he cared. How I came to that conclusion I have no idea.

He came over to me.

'I'm Doctor Grant,' he said, as he offered me his hand, before sitting beside me. 'They tell me you found our young patient this morning?'

'Yes,' I replied.

'I would say he's going to be okay. He's stable at the moment and there's no sign of any damage, though we will keep him in overnight for observation, just to be sure.'

'Thank you,' I said.

'The nurse and the paramedic said that you told them he'd been drinking last night, and when you found him this morning there was an empty bottle of pills nearby.'

I reached into my pocket and brought out the empty bottle, which for some reason I had picked up when I left the bathroom earlier.

Doctor Grant took it and examined it.

'Diazepam. This can have dangerous side effects when mixed with alcohol. Fortunately I don't think your friend took too many of these, though. Who is CLAIRE HOLLEY?'

'His mother.'

'Do you know where she is? Can we get hold of her?'

'Errr… no. She passed away several months ago. He's alone.'

'Oh, I'm sorry.'

An awkward silence passed between us.

'Can I see him?' I asked.

'In a little while, perhaps. In the meantime, would you be able to help our nurses with some details about our patient?'

'I'm sure you would have everything on file already,' I replied.

'That may be so, but we always need to update our records, so if you can tell them what you know that would be a help to us.'

'Okay. I guess.'

'Thank you. I'll ask her to come and talk to you, then.'

Without another word he got up and walked back to the nurse's desk, just as my mother and Toby came hurrying in. They spotted me straight away and came over, both looking concerned.

I stood and hugged my mother, then Toby.

'Okay, so what happened?' mum demanded.

'It's like I told you on the phone. I found him passed out on the floor, with this beside him,' I replied, while holding up the pill bottle. 'The doctor just told me that he should be okay, but they are going to keep him overnight for observation.'

'And what about you? How are you doing?'


'Honey, I know about your… let's just call it your history , okay?'

Instantly I felt the blood drain from my face and my head start to spin.

'What? I mean… how?' I stammered before collapsing back onto a chair.

'Sometimes we mothers just know things, honey. And I'm fine with it,' she replied, sitting down on one side of me, while Toby sat on the other side. 'You don't have to worry about anything… at least not from me.'

'Did you say something?' I said to Toby.

'No. Honest, I didn't,' he squeaked.

Putting my head in my hands I started rocking back and forth, not knowing what to think. I had just been outed by my own mother. That wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Was it?

'It wasn't Toby,' my mother stated firmly. As she did so she started rubbing my back. 'I've known for a long time that the two of you were more than just close, but then you seemed to drift apart a little, and I'm not sure why that was. I was sure that you would work your way through it though.'

'Yeah, a great job I managed of doing that.'

'Was it something to do with you leaving for the city?'

I could only nod.

'Okay, so now, before you go back, you try to fix things,' she reasoned.

Fuck. And now for bombshell number two.

'I… don't think I'll be going back,' I said.

Her raised eyebrows invited me to continue.

'I've been made redundant. Actually, there were nine of us all together, all at the same time.'

'So that's why you came home a bit early?'


'Well then. Looks like you'll have plenty of time to work on Charlie over Christmas and New Year!'

I could only shake my head.

'I don't think he's interested. When I found him last night down by the lake he was hitting the bottle pretty hard. We talked briefly. He didn't believe that I didn't know anything about Claire having passed away. He didn't want anything to do with me really. I watched him stagger off into the night.'

'I see.'

'I drove past his house afterwards. He got home okay as the lights were on inside. I thought about trying again to talk to him then, but in the end I thought it would be best if I let him sleep it off. Maybe that wasn't such a smart idea though…'

'Don't be too hard on yourself, Kieran. We can't control what goes through other people's minds.'

'I guess not.'

Just at that moment the nurse came over to us, carrying a clip board and a pen.'

'I'm sorry to disturb you, but I need to get some details for our admission records please.'

'Yeah, sure,' I replied.

It was about three hours later when I was finally allowed to see Charlie. Three very long hours of waiting and worrying and trying to think of what I should say to him.

Mum and Toby left not long after we helped the nurse with the admission forms, telling me they would be back later on.

We had managed to talk some more and for once it felt good that I could talk about something that had long been considered taboo in our family. Trying to talk to my father about this would be something else entirely, however. We both knew that.

I told her about my relationship with Charlie and about how and why it had ended the way it did.

'I was a fool to leave here,' I said to her.

'No you weren't,' she replied. 'You needed to do that so you could eventually see where you really needed to be. You needed to get away for a while in order to open your eyes as to what you really wanted out of life.'

'Mum, I've lost my job… how am I going to get anything out of life without a job?'

'That doesn't matter. Something will turn up. First you've got to help Charlie and sort yourselves out. We'll worry about everything else in the New Year, after things have settled down a bit.'

She stood up, getting ready to leave and I did the same. We hugged. It was the first time in a long time that I had hugged anyone like that. It felt good.

'And don't worry about your father, dear. I'll talk to him first. You know him, he'll probably blow a gasket, but by the time you get home I'm sure he'll have settled back down and you two will be able to have an honest chat about things.'

I wasn't too sure if that would really happen, but by the time mum and Toby left me I was seeing my mother in a whole new light.

They let me in to see Charlie later in the afternoon. I sat down in a chair next to his bed. The room was dark as the curtains were drawn and I couldn't tell if he was awake or not. Thankfully the second bed in the room was empty.

I sat there not knowing what I should do, or if I should say something, but eventually he rolled his head in my direction and in a croaky voice he said, 'Hey.'

'Hey, yourself,' I replied, while sitting up and leaning closer. 'You gave us quite a scare, mate.'


'Yeah, right. I thought you might have at least shown just a little gratitude.'

'For what. Everyone automatically thinks the worst. Maybe they should have just left me there.'

'Jesus, Charlie. What sort of an attitude is that? Don't you care about anything any more?'

'You done? I want some sleep,' he spat back at me, before rolling over and turning away from me, leaving just his bare shoulders showing.

If I didn't care about him so much and if I wasn't feeling so guilty about having left him alone last night I would have got up and left him then, but I couldn't do that. He was my best friend for fuck's sake. And beside that… I loved the guy, as hard as that has been to accept.

I wasn't going to give in to him, but I wasn't going to give up on him either.

I sat there until it was beginning to grow dark outside, just listening to him breathe and watching the rise and fall of his body. Apart from that he hadn't moved all afternoon. Either he really was asleep or he was awaiting a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar.

When it sounded like he really was beginning to snore I decided it was time to go. There wasn't anything more that I could do today.

Getting to my feet I headed for the door, before stopping and looking back at him.

'I've been a fool, Charlie,' I said to him, almost certain that he wouldn't hear what I had to say. 'I should never have left here. I should have never left you. We all make mistakes and that was my biggest. I've missed you every damn day!'

There was no response from the bed, but now that I had started I felt I needed to continue.

'I didn't think I'd ever be able to tell you this, but I was more scared of what other people would think than I was about what you would think, or how you would feel. And that was so wrong. You were right back then when you called me an asshole, and if you were awake now I'm sure you'd be right again if you called me that now. I deserved it.'

I stopped for a moment while I thought of what else to say.

'I'm sorry about everything I've ever done to upset you. I'm sorry that I wasn't here for you when your mum passed away. I love you, man. Always have and always will. I'm not going back to Sydney, I'm going to hang around here for a while, so I just hope you'll give me the chance to prove it to you once more.'

That was enough, I figured, so I left him then and walked down the corridor, passing a nurse who was standing at the doorway to another room and must have heard everything, and then out into the evening. I had gotten all that off my chest and felt better for it. Now I would just have to say it again when he was awake.

What I couldn't know right at that moment was that Charlie had been awake and had been listening to me the whole time, with tears rolling down his cheeks and dampening his pillow. It would only be later that he would tell me this.

He finally knew that someone really did care about him.

After leaving the hospital I stopped in town, firstly at the petrol station where Charlie worked, just in case he was supposed to be on tonight, then I grabbed something from one of the shops on the boardwalk, as I hadn't eaten all day. I found a table and spent some time just staring out at the lake and thinking about what had happened today. I needed some time alone, just wanting to try and figure out where we went from here. Somehow I needed to get the message through to Charlie that I still cared about him and hated seeing him like this. We had shared so much together over the years and I was hoping that there would be much more that we could share in the future. For some reason our old tradition of spending some time together on Christmas Eve came to mind.

I knew it was only wishful thinking, especially with Christmas just days away now, but it would certainly be a nice Christmas present if we could get our relationship back on track and pick up where we left off.

While I was sitting there and gazing out at the lights on the far side of the lake, watching their reflections bounce on the water, and juggling my thoughts and squatting mosquitoes, my phone rang several times. I glanced at the number – it was home – but I never answered the calls.

When I made it home some time later and walked in the front door I was met by three faces turning my way; two showing great concern, one much more difficult to read. My mother was the first to say anything, coming to me and hugging me and asking how Charlie was.

'Not very talkative,' I replied. 'I'll try again in the morning.'

We both looked at my father, waiting for some kind of reaction from him, but there was nothing. The expression on his face gave nothing away as to what he was thinking or how he was feeling. I'm pretty sure mum must have filled him in on what had transpired and read him the riot act. It's not the first time she's had to do that.

'Have you eaten?' mum asked.

'Yeah, thanks. I got something down at the boardwalk. I think I'm just going to hit the sack. It's been a long day.'

Leaving them in the television room I went down the hall to the bathroom where I had a wash, before making my way to the kitchen and pouring myself a cold drink.

Fuck! It really had been a long day. A long and quite stressful day, set to be followed by more of the same tomorrow.

I needed sleep, but doubted it would be possible. I went to my bedroom, stripped down to my boxers and lay on top of my bed, my hands behind my head as I watched shadows and patterns created by the street lights outside dance across the walls and ceiling.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and it opened. It was my father. He came in and crossed the floor, before sitting down on the edge of my bed.

'I don't want an argument with you, Dad,' I said, wanting to get in first.

'You're not going to get one, son. Your mum,' he began. 'She has explained some things to me.'

I said nothing.

'I know you've always been something of a free spirit… and I'll be honest, I've never quite known how to handle that, or sometimes even just how to understand you. You were always a good kid, but there was a side to you that always seemed to want to do its own thing.'

'I'm just me, dad. I think you always wanted me to be someone else though. Sorry if I didn't measure up, or conform, but I just couldn't do that.'

'Yeah, maybe you're right.'

'What did mum tell you?'

'Bloody hell, where do I start?' he said with a soft chuckle.

I waited.

'This thing with you and Charlie. It's been going on for a while then? I always suspected it, but, I don't know, I could never talk openly about it. Maybe I hoped it would just be a phase you were going through, or something.'

'You certainly dropped enough hints. I got the message you didn't approve.'

'Didn't make much difference though, did it?'


'So what are you going to do now?'

'Fucked if I know. I guess it's up to Charlie.'

I could see him tense up when I used the 'F' word… he had never approved of profanities… but he said nothing.

Then I could see him nodding.

'You're not going to stand in our way if we get back together?'

'Would it make any difference?'

'Probably not.'

'It's going to take some getting used to, but I guess it's your life.'

'Thank you,' I replied.

'So what's this about your job, then?'

'Not much to say really… it no longer exists. Can we talk about that later? I've kind of got other things on my mind right now, like why my best friend drank a bottle of booze and then swallowed a bottle of pills.'

'Yeah, I guess so.'


As he was about to get up to leave I reached up and put a hand on his shoulder, then I sat up. He turned to face me and I reached out for him. For the first time that I could remember I hugged my father. As I did so I sensed some movement at the open doorway and glancing in that direction I spotted my mother standing there, smiling.

When I arrived at the hospital the following morning, at least partially refreshed by a few hours of sleep, I found Charlie sitting up in bed and eating some breakfast.

He looked up at me in the doorway and our eyes locked. He put the cup of juice he was holding back down on the tray.

'You weren't bullshitting me when you said you didn't know about mum?'

'No, mate. Honestly I didn't. If I had known about it then I would have been here, I promise you,' I replied as I crossed the floor and perched myself on the edge of his bed.

'I believe you.'

'Can we talk?' I asked him. 'You know, really talk… and I don't mean just about the weather and shit. I want to talk about you and about what happened. I want to talk about us, about what happened between us in the past, and…'

'And what? What might happen in the future?'

'I didn't want to go there… at least not yet.'

He offered a wan smile then placed one hand over mine.

'It's cool,' he answered.

We both sat there with goofy smiles on our faces, knowing that our relationship was on the mend. I rolled my hand over, allowing our fingers to intertwine. It had been a long time since we had done that.

'What did you mean when you said you weren't going back to Sydney?' he eventually asked me.

For a moment I was surprised, then I remembered everything I had said the previous evening.

'You heard all that?'

'Yeah. Every last word,' he replied. 'There were a few tears I have to admit, but when I turned over to face you again you had already gone. It was nice to know that someone still cares.'

Just at that moment we were interrupted by someone going 'Ahem' in the doorway and turning to look in that direction we found a nurse standing there.

'I'm sorry to interrupt, guys, but the doctor will be around shortly to talk to you, Charlie. Remember we discussed this yesterday?'

I looked at him and he offered a sheepish smile.

'I think she's talking about the shrink,' he said to me. 'They want to make sure I'm not going to try to top myself or something.'

'Charlie!' the nurse scolded.

'Well, I already said that I only took some tablets to try and calm down to get some sleep, just like mum used to do… how was I to know that they wouldn't mix with the bottle of bourbon I had already swallowed?'

I had been wondering how I was going to get that information out of him, so I was glad that they saved me the trouble.

'Well, you'll just have to tell that to him again,' the nurse said, before turning on her heels and heading back down the hallway.

'So that's what happened?' I said to him once the sound of her retreating footsteps had fallen silent.

'Yeah. That was it. Call me an idiot if you want.'

'I wouldn't say that.'

'No, you mightn't, but there's plenty of others who would,' he said with a chuckle.

'So I guess I'm going to get kicked out of here while you get the third degree?' I asked.

'I'd say so. You'll come back after though, right?'

'Of course. I'll go and fill the olds in on what's happening and do a few jobs. Maybe when I come back you'll know when you're going to get out of here?'

'I hope so.'

'And what happens after that?' I enquired.

'Well, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, isn't it? I seem to recall there's a certain tradition that we usually observe on that day!'

'Ha! You really are feeling better then!' I said, as I stood up to get ready to leave.

'I hope you're going to give me a kiss goodbye at least?' he pouted.

'Of course,' I replied, while leaning over him. Cupping his cheek in one hand I pulled him closer toward me and when our lips met everything in the past seemed to be swept away.

Charlie was discharged from the hospital that same afternoon. When I returned to see him a couple of hours later he was itching to get out of the place, so much so in fact that he walked out wearing only what he had been taken there wearing; his Star Wars boxer shorts, although he was at least partially covered by a paper thin blue hospital gown.

I had offered to go and get him some clothes from his place, but he would have none of that. One way or another he was going home right then and there.

Reconnecting with each other would prove to be just the first step for us, but it was an important one. In some respects it felt like we had picked up where we left off, but we both knew that it wouldn't be quite that simple… there were things that we still needed to work through first. We both knew that.

'So, where to first?' I said to him, once we had settled into our seats in his mother's car.

'Well, dressed like this I think I'd better go home first, don't you?'

'Oh, I don't know. I thought we might go get some lunch at the boardwalk or something.'

'Smart arse!'

Smiling to myself, happy that the real Charlie seemed to have returned, I started the car and pulled out of the car park, then headed back through town.

Seeing the Christmas decorations throughout the town, which I hadn't really taken a lot of notice of to that point, reminded me again that tomorrow would be Christmas Eve. I was torn between things I wanted to do with Charlie and also helping out at home. I figured I would talk to mum about it later and see if there was anything that she needed me to do, as there was bound to be family arriving for lunch, at the very least.

'I thought, provided of course you felt up to it, we might go to the movies this afternoon,' I suggested.

' The Rise of Skywalker ?'

'What else?'

'Count me in!'

'I thought you might say that.'

A few minutes later we pulled up outside his front door. He nervously looked around to see if there was anyone on the street, not wanting to be embarrassed by being spotted in his hospital attire, but when he was satisfied that the coast was clear he made a break for it and ran inside. I wanted to laugh, but thought better of it.

I had already checked the session times at our small local cinema and we had plenty of time up our sleeve, so while Charlie had a shower I phoned mum to bring her up to speed. I had spoken with her earlier to let her know what had actually happened to land Charlie in hospital, which she was relieved to hear.

We were still talking fifteen minutes later when Charlie came out, showered and dressed and looking like a brand new man. I told mum I had to go, but would see her tomorrow, then disconnected.

'Geez mate, you scrub up alright,' I said to him as I looked him up and down. He was wearing blue jeans with a nice button-down shirt with pale grey and pink and white checkers, his short, light brown hair was spiked with some sort of product, and gone was the scruffy stubble that had adorned his face.

'I guess I have a reason to clean up my act now,' he said softly while coming over to stand directly in front of me. I was slightly taller than him and as he looked up into my eyes I felt his hands go to my hips, pulling us closer together until our bodies touched. 'So, now that you've caught me, what are your plans, big guy?'

'Well, I thought a movie and then dinner for starters…'

'Sounds good so far.'

'Followed by a romantic night in. Then tomorrow, before we have to go to my folks place for Christmas and get dragged into doing all the things mum insists have to be done, including Midnight Mass, I thought we should head up into the mountains to that special place of ours and do that thing we always used to do on Christmas Eve…'

'I like our Christmas traditions,' he whispered.

'And let's make this year one that we'll never forget.'

'I think we've already done that,' he said, before placing a hand behind my neck and pulling my face closer to his.

For the second time today our lips met and those same feelings as before flooded through me, only multiplied.

It was like we were sixteen years old again, that feeling of excitement, and of the unknown, of a future that held so many possibilities, it was back, and so were we; only this time there was nothing to stand in our way!

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