Jamie padded into the kitchen to make his breakfast. Bobby was still asleep – not surprising, given the late hour they’d arrived home. It had been a good night, and even though Jamie had wanted to stay with Alex, he understood that his boyfriend would have to get up early to go to work. The family business operated seven days a week, and Alex had to open the store on Saturday mornings.
Jamie found himself starting to think of long-term issues regarding his relationship with Alex. He was surprised to realise he had only known the guy for just over a week. It had been a few days since New Year’s Eve and Alex’s being outed, and the days had been very full. Jamie was experiencing feelings that he didn’t want to give up.
He would finish his degree in two years and would then be looking for a job. Getting one around Mourton would be ideal, but he didn’t know how many IT positions were available. He didn’t consider asking Alex to move – Alex’s family was too important to him for Jamie to do that.
A noise at the door made Jamie look up from his cup of coffee. The glimpse of a pastel dressing gown disappearing brought a momentary smile to his lips. Bobby’s parents had been avoiding Jamie as much as possible, and ignoring him when they couldn’t. He was surprised a couple of minutes later when both Mr. and Mrs. Elkington entered the kitchen.
Mrs. Elkington fixed Jamie with a stern gaze. “We’d like a word with you, young man.”
Jamie looked at her and then at her husband. They appeared united in whatever it was they were doing.
“Sure. What can I do for you?” Jamie asked.
When both parents remained standing, Jamie wondered if he should get up. He found it intimidating to see them staring down at him.
“We didn’t approve when you first arrived here and we still don’t like it, but Lawrie and I have seen the change in Bobby and there is no doubt he’s the happiest he’s been in a long time.”
Mr. Elkington nodded. “I’m not thrilled that Bobby is that way inclined, but I can’t deny what’s in front of my nose. If it makes him happy, then I can live with it.”
“I agree, which makes us both concerned about what we’ve been hearing. We want to know what your intentions are towards our son. Has he just been a plaything to you, and now you’re going to throw him on the scrap heap?” Mrs. Elkington glared at Jamie.
“I don’t understand,” Jamie said. His hand shook as he lifted his cup to take a sip.
“We’ve been hearing rumours that you’ve been fooling around behind Bobby’s back with that Alex boy. We also know that you’re leaving soon, and we want to know if you’ve been just playing with our son and you’re now going to leave him broken hearted. You’ve made him happy, and we don’t want him to get hurt because you’ve run out on him,” Mrs. Elkington said.
Jamie dropped his eyes to the lace tablecloth that covered the kitchen table. A random memory of Arsenic and Old Lace ran through his mind at the menacing tone Bobby’s mother was using. He knew he had to say something but wasn’t sure what to say.
“Well?” Mr. Elkington said.
Jamie made a decision and looked up. “Will you please take a seat? I’ve got some things to say and I can’t do it while you’re looming over me.”
Jamie gathered his thoughts while Bobby’s parents sat down opposite. They both glared at him.
“The first thing is that I’ve never played with Bobby’s emotions. He’s a gentleman and a good friend, and I hope he always stays that way. However, there is one thing you’ve got wrong and it’s time you learnt the truth. I’m not the one making Bobby happy – you are.”
“We are? What do you mean?” Mrs. Elkington asked.
Both parents lost their antagonistic demeanour as they tried to work out what Jamie was talking about.
“Bobby didn’t ask me to stay here because I’m gay. He asked me because my parents divorced four years ago, and he wanted me to help him make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.”
Jamie watched their surprised reactions and made a guess. “You’ve never told him you’re planning that, have you?”
“How did you know?” Mr. Elkington asked.
“Bobby’s overheard you talking and asked for my help. I’ve told him I can’t stop you, but I can help him accept it. The thing about pretending to be gay was his own idea, and I told him I didn’t think it would work.”
“Pretending?” Mrs. Elkington asked faintly.
“Yes. Bobby’s not gay, but when you two united against him because you thought he was, he jumped on it. He told me it’s the first time you’ve agreed on something for as long as he can remember. He’s not happy because I’m here. He’s happy because he’s seeing the two of you agreeing and talking together. It’s nothing to do with me, and all to do with you.”
Mr. Elkington turned his head to look in the direction of Bobby’s bedroom. “I didn’t realise...”
“Am I right in thinking there’s no real chance you’ll stay together?” Jamie asked.
Both parents shook their heads, denying the possibility of their marriage surviving.
“Then don’t you think it’s about time you told Bobby? He’s falling apart, hoping you won’t divorce, and the way you’ve been acting has given him hope. You spoke about me playing with his heart – it’s not me who’s doing the playing.”
Bobby’s parents looked at each other.
“I think we need to talk to him, Penny.”
“I agree. We need to get this out in the open.”
Jamie attracted their attention when he stood up. He shook his head slowly while looking down at them, knowing that the house was about to become a very unhappy place.
“Do me one favour. Don’t just talk to him; listen to him. He’s going to be hurt, but the only way you can help him is to hear what he says and give him answers. He might not like them, but he’s running on false hope at the moment, and that’s worse than knowing the truth.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think you need to get ready for when Bobby wakes up. I’m going to go out for the day so you can have the place to yourselves.”
A few minutes later, Jamie quietly closed the front door. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, he mentally wished Bobby’s family good luck. He knew it was going to be a painful day for them.
Warren and Shane looked up as Mia and Karen walked into the kitchen.
“You’re early,” Warren said. “I wasn’t planning on leaving for another couple of hours.”
Karen gave him a wry smile. “I’ve been awake since four, so when Mia offered to give me a lift out, I accepted.”
“Hi, Mia.” Shane was subdued, but he brightened when he got a smile in return.
“G’day, Shane.” Mia glanced around. “Where’s everyone else?”
Warren grinned. “Mum is ironing some of my shirts that are going to get wrinkled anyway, but she insisted, while Dad, Vince and Matt are out checking the cattle. They did promise to be back in time to see me off, but I told them I wouldn’t hold them to that.”
Aunt Cynthia walked through the door. Warren jumped to his feet.
“Aunt Cynthia! What are you doing here?”
The old lady grinned. “And it’s good to see you again, too, Warren. How has Sydney been treating you?”
Warren blushed. “Sorry.” He stepped forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. “Sydney’s been good. I don’t think I’d like living anywhere else.”
“That’s good, dear. Now, did I hear you say that Vince and Matt are out in the paddocks?”
“Yep. We’ve got some pink eye and they wanted to check the herds carefully.”
Aunt Cynthia seated herself at the table. “In that case, I guess I’ll have to wait.” She smiled across at Shane. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m the town’s little old lady who doesn’t realise that she can’t just wander into a house and make herself at home. You must be Shane.”
Shane smiled. Even though he’d only just met her, Aunt Cynthia’s personality made him feel relaxed and comfortable. “Hi. Matt’s told me about you so I’m not going to make the mistake of calling you Mrs. Boyle.” He stood up and gave her a small bow. “How do you do, Aunt Cynthia?”
She chuckled. “Very well, thank you. I can see why my granddaughter likes you so much.”
Shane’s heart leapt up at the comment. He glanced across at Mia to see her reaction, but she was looking out a window.
Kirstie Aster entered the room. “Aunt Cynthia! This is a pleasant surprise. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“That would be very kind, Kirstie. I decided to come out and see Karen off, and also to say hello to Vince and Matt. I haven’t had a chance to see them properly since they returned at Christmas time.”
Kirstie had started to fill a kettle but paused and looked over her shoulder. “I’ll give them a call and ask them to come back in.”
Aunt Cynthia waved a hand to dismiss the suggestion. “There’s no rush. Let them finish what they’re doing.”
Warren glanced at Mia and then at Aunt Cynthia. “Who’s looking after the shop while you’re both here?”
Mia smiled. “Paul. He volunteered, but he did say it’s only this one time.”
There was a moment of silence and then Karen gave Mia a nudge. Mia glared back but Karen stared her down. Mia sighed and then turned to Shane.
“Would you like to go for a walk outside, Shane?”
Shane sensed that something wasn’t right. Trying to hide his apprehension, but knowing he was probably failing, he rose to his feet.
“Sure, Mia-mine. I’d love to.”
Once they were out in the early morning sunlight, Shane made a tentative attempt to hold Mia’s hand, but she kept it away from him. His shoulders slumped.
“Do you want to get it over and done with quickly? I don’t need it to be dragged out,” Shane said.
Mia threw him a surprised look as they walked slowly around the corner of the house towards the shade of the ghost gum. Shane waited for her response, while every second without a word felt like a lead weight dragging him down. He could tell that Mia was about to say that he wasn’t the one for her.
“Bye, Karen. Best of luck!” Vince gave her a hug. A soft breeze gave some temporary respite from the heat. It was going to be another hot day.
Warren stood by his four-wheel drive, watching as Karen said goodbye to her friends. Her bags had been packed away for over an hour, but they were waiting for Vince and Matt to return before they started on their way to Sydney.
While Matt whispered something to Karen, Warren smiled. In the short time he had known Matt, Warren had been impressed by the maturity and character of his brother’s boyfriend. He mentally crossed his fingers, hoping that things would work out for the two of them.
Karen stepped back and swept her gaze over the group. Only one person present hadn’t said goodbye to her. Shane was standing off to the side, eyes to the ground.
Warren had been inside when first Mia and then Shane had gone back into the house. The grim expressions and silence had told him all he needed to know. He had been glad when Aunt Cynthia stood up and put a hand on Mia’s shoulder momentarily, before sweeping Shane away for a private chat.
That chat had ended shortly before it was time for Warren and Karen to go. Warren suspected it was only at Aunt Cynthia’s insistence that Shane had gone outside to see Karen off. Shane had an I-don’t-want-to-be-here air about him.
Karen stepped over to stand in front of Shane and put her fists on her hips. “Well, fairy boy. Are you going to wish me luck?”
Shane muttered something.
Karen was blunt. “I didn’t hear you.”
Shane looked up. “I said...”
Before he could say anything more, Karen grabbed both sides of his face and kissed him firmly on the lips. A couple of seconds later, she let go and stepped back. “Keep in touch, Shane.”
Warren was startled almost as much as Shane appeared to be. Karen marched up and climbed into the car. She looked across at Warren, who was still standing on the other side.
“Isn’t it time to be going?”
Warren grinned. “Sure, Karen.” He waved to everyone. “See you all next time!”
A few minutes later they were on the main road to Dubbo – the first leg of their journey to Sydney.
“You can tell me to mind my own business, but what was that with Shane just before we left? Were you trying to give him a heart attack?” Warren asked.
Karen sat silently for a short time. She then sighed. “I don’t know. I’m not used to being confused.”
“Am I right in thinking that Mia just broke up with him?”
Karen nodded. “Yeah. We had a long chat yesterday about him, and ...” She paused. “I don’t know why I’m saying anything. It’s really none of your business.”
“No, it’s not. If you’d like to talk about it, I’m happy to listen and I won’t tell anyone, but it’s up to you. We’ve got a long way to go and you’ve got that interview. If it helps you settle by talking this over, I’m here.”
When Karen didn’t respond, Warren turned on the radio and searched for a music station, thinking that it was going to be a long drive.
“Is he going to be okay out there?” Vince asked, looking out the window at Shane. Matt was standing next to him, an arm draped across his shoulders.
“He’ll be fine, Vince. He just needs to be alone to think. He’s had a couple of big shocks, and that takes time to absorb,” Aunt Cynthia said from where she sat at the kitchen table.
Only the three of them were present. Tony Aster had gone back out to the paddocks, and Kirstie, sensing that Aunt Cynthia wanted a private talk with the boys, had disappeared to the far end of the house.
“Don’t worry, Vince. I’ll go out later if he stays out there too long.” Matt turned and gave Aunt Cynthia a wry smile. “It’s really good to see you again, Aunt Cynthia. I’ve been meaning to drop by since I got back, but I’ve been busy.”
She laughed. “I know, which is why I decided to impose on Mia and ask for a lift out here. I’m going to have to impose on you for a ride back into town, though, since Mia’s headed back to the shop.”
Matt gave her a courtly bow. “It’ll be my pleasure, ma’am.”
Soon, all three were sitting around the table. The two guys had coffee while Aunt Cynthia had accepted a cup of tea.
“I’ve wanted to have a private chat with both of you for the last few days, so I decided to grab this opportunity,” Aunt Cynthia said.
“What did you want to talk about?” Vince asked.
She raised an eyebrow and gave her lips a twist. “I was thinking you might have things you wanted to talk to me about.”
Vince glanced across at Matt and then turned his attention back to Aunt Cynthia. “Can you tell me what I am going to have to do as The Heart?”
Aunt Cynthia chuckled at the apprehensive tone. “The short answer is nothing. Don’t get uptight about things, because there’s nothing you have to do as The Heart. The Heart is who are you are, not what you do.”
“But don’t I have to save The Tree?”
The old lady fixed Vince with a stern gaze. “Forget The Tree, Vince. The only things that are important are you and Matt. If it’ll make you happy, The Tree can die as far as I’m concerned.”
Vince rocked back in shock but recovered quickly. His forehead wrinkled as he thought on Aunt Cynthia’s words. Matt reached over and put his hand on top of Vince’s and smiled to indicate his support.
“What about helping people, like you do?” Vince asked. “Mia’s brother’s already started asking questions.”
“I know what Paul’s done. Just because I love talking to people and helping them with their little problems, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Be yourself, that’s all you need to do.” She winked at Matt. “And if people get pushy, pass them on to Matt. From what Shane’s told me, Matt’s already been doing that sort of thing for the gay and lesbian youths at university.”
“How did you start doing all of that, Aunt Cynthia?” Matt asked.
She leant back in her chair and a smile played across her lips as she stared out into space. “It was my husband’s fault, of course.”
She gave Matt a grin. “Well, he had this job that left me all alone for hours on end. I suppose he needed to earn enough money to keep a roof over our heads, but what was a young wife to do? I just started talking to people, and soon I found that people would come to ask my advice. I made a few mistakes, but overall I think I did a good job. It wasn’t anything I was supposed to do – just something I liked doing.” She paused. “You two will find what you want to do. As long as you’re happy, everything will fall into place.”
Vince dropped his eyes to the table. “Yeah, but you aren’t gay. I don’t even know if we’ll be able to have any sort of wedding under The Tree. What if Reverend Cloister objects? A lot of people trust his opinion.”
Cynthia snorted and then smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that. You’ll find he’s on your side when you need him.”
Vince looked up, surprised. “How do you know?”
“Because I’ve already asked him.”
“You outed me?” Vince was shocked. Blood drained from his face. Matt immediately put an arm across Vince’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze.
“Of course not,” Aunt Cynthia scoffed. “What you don’t realise is that Ian Cloister and I have the same basic interests at heart; we both want what’s best for the young people of this town. When there are serious issues, we discuss them and work together for the good of everyone concerned. All I did was to go to him and say that I had someone come to me about feelings for another boy, and that I didn’t know what to do. Ian read me chapter and verse about how there’s nothing wrong with it, and that the young man was just the way God intended him to be.” She smiled at the two young men. “He’s probably thinking it was Alex Landeau who came to see me, but you won’t have any trouble from that quarter.”
“So you think the town will accept me?” Vince asked.
Aunt Cynthia sighed. “Most will, but sadly there will be some that won’t. Some will avoid you, some will be uncomfortable around you, and others will just tolerate you. There will also be the ones that hate.”
Matt scowled. “There are homophobes everywhere. I’d like to be able to get rid of them, but the best bet is just to keep away. I hate them.”
Aunt Cynthia raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re awfully young to hate so strongly.”
“Maybe hate was the wrong word, but why can’t they just leave us alone? We’re not doing anything to hurt them, but they seem to go out of their way to hate us. They’ve got no reason to do so, but they do it anyway!”
“Really.” Aunt Cynthia’s tone was dry.
Matt started to say something, but stopped. He watched as Aunt Cynthia stared calmly back at him. Slowly, Matt relaxed. “What is it, then? You want to say something, don’t you?”
Aunt Cynthia gave him a smile that was full of love. She then grinned at Vince. “You’ve got a good one here, Vince. Listen to him when he speaks, because he’s very perceptive.” She nodded to Matt. “Yes, I do. There’s one person in town that I’m sure will hate both of you, and hate you to the bottom of her heart. I don’t believe she’ll be able to hurt you in any way, but her hate isn’t without reason. I know why she hates and while I don’t agree, I understand.”
“Who?” Vince asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“It doesn’t matter who, because the thing to remember is that people almost always have a reason. It may not make sense, but if you don’t try to understand, you’re no better than they are.”
She paused and narrowed her eyes as she stared at Matt and Vince. “This is for your information only. If you think Alex and Jamie need to know it, too, ask them to come to see me. Everything I know is told to me in confidence and I don’t want anyone else to learn about it. Understand?”
“Sure, Aunt Cynthia. Anything you say,” Matt said. Vince nodded his agreement.
“Matt, would you believe there was a time, after I was married, that I hated as much as this woman?”
“You? But you’re the most loving person I’ve ever met. I can’t believe you’re capable of hating anyone.” Matt shook his head in disbelief.
Aunt Cynthia pulled out a lace handkerchief and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. “I did, though it was a long time ago. My eldest daughter, Evonne, and her best friend, Ruby, were killed in a car accident when they were only sixteen. The driver of the other car came out of the crash with only scratches. After Evonne was laid to rest, I started to hate. I hated it every time I saw him down the street, thinking how could he still be alive, but my beautiful little girl was not. I wanted to do something, something to make him pay for what he did. I don’t know if I would’ve, but Andrew made sure I didn’t. It took me years, but I finally forgave the young man for what he’d done. He’d paid a price, too, but I didn’t recognise that for a long time. He’d stolen my daughter from me, and the pain that caused is something I hope no one ever has to experience.”
She paused to wipe her eyes again, and Vince and Matt took the opportunity to move to either side of her. She rested her head on Matt’s shoulder and let the boys comfort her.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Cynthia,” Matt whispered.
She sniffled and then straightened up. Forcing a smile, she leant over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you. And thank you, too, Vince. You’re probably wondering what this dottery old lady is talking about, though.”
She looked at first Matt and then Vince. “The point I’m making is that the depth of a mother’s love for her children is something you may not understand. There are things a mother feels when her child is hurt that only another mother can fully appreciate.”
She could tell that both guys were puzzled as to the relevance of what she was saying. “There’s a mother in town who, many years ago, found out that her son was being abused. The perpetrator is long gone, but she still harbours a hatred for any who prey on children. She’s wrong to think that homosexuals are child molesters, but her hate isn’t without reason. Her son was a complete wreck for a long time afterwards.
“Don’t hate her, Matt. Feel sorry for her; that she’s never been able to move on. It wasn’t only her son that was hurt.”
Mama Saviloni smiled as the dinner guests entered. She’d prepared a corner table for David Neilson’s birthday and had baked some special treats for the event.
“How is the birthday boy today?” she asked as she stepped forward to kiss him on both cheeks.
“I’m fine, Mama, but I’m not happy that someone...” he glared at his wife “...has told everyone.”
Mama Saviloni chuckled as David’s wife grinned back at her husband. The elderly Italian grandmother had known the couple for many years and knew that David wasn’t really upset.
“None of that, now. I’ve got your table ready and...” she reached behind the counter and pulled out a couple of homemade biscuits “...something for the boys.”
Paul and Ian stepped forward eagerly to accept their gifts.
“What do you say?” Carol Neilson asked them.
“Thank you,” the boys chorused. Paul carefully put his biscuit into a pocket, but Ian stuffed his treat straight into his mouth.
“Don’t worry about it, David. It’s a special day, and they’re allowed to have fun,” Carol said.
“I know, but they know their manners.”
“I said thank you,” Ian protested, spraying biscuit crumbs everywhere.
Mama Saviloni bent down before Ian’s parents could say anything. “Don’t worry about it. Your dad is thirty-five today, and that makes some people a little cranky.” She straightened up. “Now, let me show you to your table.”
A couple of minutes later the front door opened again and Felicity Neilson walked in. Mama Saviloni frowned and then glanced over to where Felicity’s son was laughing with his family.
“Good afternoon, Mama,” Felicity said, as she walked past and headed towards the birthday group.
“Could you please wait a moment, Felicity?” Mama Saviloni said.
“Certainly. Is there something wrong?”
“I’m sorry, but there is,” Mama Saviloni said, lowering her voice. “I don’t want to ruin David’s birthday, but I’m afraid this is the last time you’ll be welcome here. I would prefer it if you didn’t step foot inside this establishment again.”
“What?” Felicity shook her head as she tried to understand what she had just been told.
“I have heard what you’ve been saying about young Alex Landeau, and I will not have someone who spreads such slanderous lies in my restaurant. Alex and his friend saved the daughter of my good friend Ken Lo Chou, and I will not have anything said against them.”
Felicity was taken aback. She tried to intimidate Mama Saviloni with an angry glare, but the elderly lady just stared back impassively.
“You... you’re taking the side of that... that pervert over the safety of the children? How can you defend him when there are children in danger?” Felicity’s voice rose until everyone in the restaurant had fallen silent and were watching the scene.
David rose to his feet. “Mum...”
Mama Saviloni’s lips were compressed into an angry line. She crossed her arms. “I’m very sorry, Felicity, but I will not have that young man’s character besmirched. I’m afraid you’re no longer welcome in my establishment. Please leave.”
David Neilson stepped up. “Mum, what’s going on here?”
Felicity spun around to face him. “Come on, David. Let’s find somewhere else to eat. The atmosphere here has gone quite rancid.”
“What’s going on?” David repeated.
“Your mother has been spreading malicious rumours and insulting not only the honour of a fine young man, but the honour of the town.”
“Honour? When there’s a pervert like that wandering around and no one cares? It’s my civil duty to inform everyone on the truth!”
“That’s enough. Get out now, or I’ll call the police.”
Felicity threw her head back. “As if I’d stay. Let’s go, David.” She stormed out.
David looked at Mama Saviloni. He was confused. “Mama?”
Mama Saviloni sighed. “Your mother is telling everyone that young Alex from the hardware store is a pervert. He’s not, but she’s too blind to see the truth. I’m sorry to have ruined your birthday party. You can stay if you want, but if you’d prefer to go I don’t mind.”
“Ah. Okay, I understand now.” David bit his lower lip as he looked back at his family. His two sons were staring wide-eyed at him. David dropped his gaze to the floor for a couple of seconds and then looked up. “We’ll be staying, but I should go out to tell Mum. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Of course, take as much time as you want.”
Mama Saviloni was staring at the door that had closed behind David Neilson when she heard someone come up behind her.
“If she causes you any legal problems, just let us know and we’ll do what we can.” The voice was one she recognised immediately.
Mama turned and gave Leo McKaylee a wan smile. “Thank you, but I don’t think that will be necessary. She’s going to find she’s in the minority with her opinion.”
“Well, thank you for sticking up for Alex Landeau. Both Craig and I appreciate it.”
Mama chuckled. “Why? Because you’re gay, too? What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Felicity Neilson seems to think it means something.” Leo raised an eyebrow, silently asking Mama to continue.
Mama turned and looked back through the restaurant window where she could see David and his mum arguing.
“You would think after living most of her life in the town of amour that she would understand what love is. I remember when you and Craig first came in together and I recognised what I saw that day. I still see it today.”
She glanced back and smiled at Leo. “I haven’t met Alex’s friend, so I don’t know if I’ll see the same between them. I’ll be surprised if I do, because that sort of love takes time, but if it’s there I’m not going to complain. I’m certainly not going to put roadblocks in their way. They deserve their chance at love, and I think most of the town will agree.”
She frowned at Leo and poked a finger in his direction. “Your dinner is getting cold. Don’t waste good food worrying – go back and celebrate being with the one you love. Felicity will either come to her senses or she’ll find herself alone. Now, go!”
Leo grinned. “Yes, Mama.”
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form – physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise – without the author’s expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
A special thank you to Ray and Kel, and also to everyone at The Mail Crew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron of The Mail Crew for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.