Vince made a point of staring at his watch. “Sorry, I’ve got to go check on the calves.” He rose to his feet.
Matt jumped up. “I’ll help you.”
The two guys sped out of the living room before their mothers could say anything. They were almost out the kitchen door when they heard Mrs. Aster call out.
“Make sure you’re back before lunchtime. We have to finish this today!”
Vince glanced at Matt. “I don’t think we fooled them.”
Matt gave a wry smile. “Nope. They let us get away with it, though, so don’t complain.”
“Who would’ve known that organising a wedding is so complicated? I almost wish that we could just elope.”
“It’s a commitment ceremony, and we don’t have to go through with it if we don’t want to.”
“It’s an illegal wedding. Rhys won’t be happy if we call it anything else.” Vince smirked. “Speaking of the devil, there he is.”
Rhys was squatting down and passing tools to where Bobby was working underneath the four-wheel bike. He glanced up as Matt and Vince approached.
“Hi, guys. Where have you been? I saw your dads earlier, but they just grinned when I asked them where you were.”
“Our wonderful, loving fathers left us to fend for ourselves. I’m not sure we’re going to forgive them for some time.” Vince smiled to show he wasn’t serious.
“Our mums have had us since breakfast, organising things. They seem to think we need to provide input on all the planning for the commitment ceremony, even though they both appear to have firm ideas on what is going to happen. Most of the time Vince and I just have to agree to what they decide, but they won’t let us leave it in their hands. They keep telling us that it’s our day and we need to be involved.” Matt rolled his eyes and grinned. “We’ve snuck out for a bit, but we’ve been told we have to be back by lunchtime.”
“I think both of them have had this planned for years – all the ideas just seem to pour out of them,” Vince said.
Bobby pushed himself out from under the bike. “Have you set a date, then?”
“Not precisely. We need to check with Reverend Cloister before we can do that. At one point, Mum suggested we go to church today so we could talk to him afterwards, but Matt’s mum said that there was too much to organise. We’ll ring him this afternoon. Easter is in two weeks’ time, followed by the mid-semester break. That’s the perfect time – we just need to work out when.”
“Since practically everyone we want to invite is going to be off, we’re thinking of doing it mid-week.”
Vince pulled a face. “Sorry, Bobby, but when we talked about a weekend, Mum just stared down her nose at me and said that there are only fifty-two weekends in a year, and guess when everyone wants to have their wedding. The chances of being able to get things to fall into place for a weekend at this short a notice is unlikely.”
Bobby shrugged. “I’ll just take the day off. You don’t think I’d miss this, do you?”
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to get into trouble at work.”
Bobby grinned. “If my boss isn’t keen, I’ll just go over his head. I know someone in upper management who I think will let me have the day off. I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to go, too.”
“Who do you know?” Rhys asked. “When I was there, they were anal about no leave until you’ve been working for twelve months.”
“KEITH TYLER!” Rhys’s jaw dropped. He shook his head. “How do you know the CEO of the winery?”
“A long story.” Bobby turned back to Vince. “Let me know the date, and I’ll make sure I’m there. I promise.”
“I hope he doesn’t want to go to the reception. I already think we’ve got too many on the list.” Vince said.
“I doubt it, but I think he’ll want to see the service under The Tree. Just a guess, and I could be wrong.”
“Speaking of the reception list, can you add an extra couple of names?” Rhys asked.
“Probably.” Matt smirked. “Don’t tell me you’re planning on bringing two girls?”
Rhys dropped his gaze and started twisting his right foot on the ground. “Ah, no. This will be in addition to my date.”
“I don’t know, Rhys. I’d love to, but I’ve been told we’ve got to keep the total number below sixty. Mama’s insisted that we have it at her place, and it won’t hold much more than that comfortably.”
“You have to. I promised.” Rhys lifted his head and stared at Vince with wide eyes. “Please?”
Matt frowned. “I don’t think you should’ve done that. It’s not your place to say who can come.”
Vince sighed. He knew Rhys wouldn’t have invited someone without a good reason – at least a reason that Rhys considered to be good. “Who are they?”
“Leo McKaylee and Craig Patterson.”
Matt turned to Vince and raised his eyebrows. Vince blinked once before he recalled who they were. “The gay lawyers?”
Rhys started speaking quickly. “Yeah. You see, while you were missing, I went to them to ask them about how you’d be able to get married, without saying who you were, and they first told me you couldn’t, until they realised I was talking about The Heart, and then they told me it didn’t have to be a legal wedding, and that all you had to do was have a public ceremony. I was about to leave, and then they mentioned their bill and I thought I was about to go broke, but they said all they wanted was invitations to the wedding and the reception, and they’ll even do some legal work for you as their wedding present. I’ll pay you, if that’s the problem, but I really, really need you to invite them, or they might sue me, and –”
“Stop!” Vince took a deep breath and smiled. “Okay, two more on the list.”
Rhys grinned and grabbed Vince’s hand. “Thank you!”
“Home, sweet home,” Vince said as he walked through the front door of the house in Dubbo.
“I thought Mourton was your home.” Matt smirked as he teased his boyfriend.
“Normally, yes, but I’m glad to get away. I don’t think your dad was too impressed, either, when he was told he had to stay an extra couple of days while our mums work out more details. If we didn’t have uni, I think they would’ve insisted we stay, too.”
Mark looked up from the couch where he and Mia were watching TV. “I’d been wondering what was taking you two so long. The rest of us have been back for an hour.”
Vince gave a wry grin. “Just as we were about to walk out the door, Mum said that there was one more quick thing she wanted us to do. An hour later, we managed to slip away.” Vince rolled his eyes when Matt’s phone started to ring. “At least physically. They’ve been ringing every ten minutes or so, with more questions.”
Matt took the call and turned to Vince. “They want to know if we’re going to hire suits here or back in Mourton.”
Vince shrugged and made a decision. “Here. We can do it during the week, that way.”
Matt grinned and passed on the information before putting his phone away.
Rhys chuckled from where he stood near the kitchen door. “There’s a lot to do. I remember Joanna’s wedding and everything that went along with that.” He paused to reflect. “It seems such a long time ago, but that was when all of this started. The branch that fell off The Tree at her wedding triggered off a lot of changes in all our lives.”
Matt shook his head. “No, Rhys. It all started with Gary dying. Don’t forget that, because otherwise it trivialises what all of this really means.” He sighed and looked at the carpet.
Vince pulled Matt into a hug. “We won’t, I promise. Even if everyone else forgets, we’ll remember Gary.”
There was an awkward silence for a few moments until Vince let go. He kept hold of Matt’s hand, though, as he felt it was important to maintain contact.
“Have you set the date?” Mia asked.
Vince nodded and took a deep breath. “That makes it seem so much more real, somehow.”
“Well? When is it?” Mia crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.
“Thursday, April twentieth,” Matt said. “Only two and a half weeks away.”
Mark whistled. “Not long at all!”
“Yeah, which is why our mums are going crazy.” Matt grinned at Vince. “I’ll be glad when all of this is over and we can just spend some time by ourselves.”
“Where are you going for your honeymoon?” Rhys asked. He jumped over the back of an empty seat and made himself comfortable.
Vince smiled and snorted. “None of your business!”
“So you’ve worked out where you’re going, then.”
Matt shrugged. “Not yet, but we’ve got a few ideas.” He eyed Rhys. “But I sincerely doubt we’ll be telling you when we do decide, so don’t bother asking.”
“I’m hurt!” Rhys grinned.
“So who’s going to be in the wedding party? How many groomsmen are you having?” Mia asked.
Vince laughed. “You sound just like my mum. She was asking that earlier today.”
“We’re having two each. I’ve already asked Shane to be my best man, and I’m going to ring Brendan tonight to ask if he’ll be the second,” Matt said.
“Shane, eh? Hmm... I think that would work out,” Rhys said, half to himself.
“What do you mean?” Vince asked.
Rhys just grinned. “What about you?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Vince said. “I don’t want to rush things. I think I’ll ask Warren to be the second, but I haven’t worked out who I want as the best man.”
“You don’t have a lot of time. You know the best man has a lot of responsibilities. It’s not something you can dump on someone at the last minute. You should decide quickly, so they can get started.”
Rhys was projecting an innocent air that made Vince suspicious. “What do you mean?”
“Well, there’s the speech. Making sure you’re organised for the big day.” Rhys paused. “Oh, yeah, and organising the bucks night. That takes lots of time to plan. They really need to get onto that straight away. So who’s it going to be?”
Vince knew that Rhys was the obvious choice. Bobby was the other possibility, but since he was staying in Mourton that made it difficult. Rhys was a lot closer friend than Mark.
“You really think I should make a decision now?” Vince asked while thinking about the consequences of having Rhys in charge of a bucks night.
“Definitely! Don’t you agree, Matt?” Rhys asked.
“He’s got a point,” Matt said to Vince.
Vince smiled. “Okay. You’re right. I know who I’d like as my best man.”
Rhys grinned and stood up.
Vince turned to Mia. “Mia, would you do me the honour?”
“WHAT?” Mark, Mia and Rhys chorused.
“Mia can’t be the best man, she’s a girl!” Rhys said.
“That sounded almost insulting,” Mia said, glaring at Rhys.
“I didn’t mean it that way, but the best man is supposed to be a guy!”
“Ignore him, Mia. Will you do it?” Vince waited anxiously.
“I’m honoured, Vince, but Rhys is right. It’s not really appropriate for me to be the best man.”
“Since I’m marrying another guy, it’s not exactly a traditional wedding, anyway. I want a best friend, not a best man. What do you say?”
Mia smiled. “I’d love to.”
Rhys stared for a moment and then gave a wry grin. “All right, then. Mia, can I have a word in private. I’ve got this list of plans for the bucks night that I need to go over with you.”
Vince was apprehensive as he watched Mia and Rhys disappear. “I hope she can keep him under control.”
“Don’t worry. If there’s one thing you can trust, it’s that Mia will do the right thing,” Mark said.
“Trust her. You surprised me, but I think she’s a good choice.” Matt gave Vince a light kiss on the lips. “Now, there’s something private we need to discuss.” He winked.
Vince was happy. Things were coming to a head, but the end result would be Matt by his side for the rest of their lives.
A couple of minutes later, Vince and Matt were lying on Vince’s bed. Vince started to kiss his boyfriend while slipping a hand under his shirt.
Matt pulled away. “That’s nice, but there really is something we need to discuss. And, believe it or not, that’s not a change of topic.”
Vince lifted himself up onto one elbow. “What do you mean?”
“We were going to wait until your birthday...”
Vince felt himself blushing. “I can wait until the wedding, if that’s what you mean. It’ll only be another couple of weeks.”
“Actually, I was thinking we shouldn’t wait.” Matt smiled. “I know people like to talk about the wedding night, but I want your first time to be special, and I suspect we’ll both be stressed out by the end of that day. I’ve already booked a room for us on Thursday night – don’t make any special plans.” He winked.
Vince relaxed. He gave Matt a quick kiss. “Thanks.” Vince frowned as a thought hit him. “We still haven’t agreed on where we’re going to live after the wedding. Your place is too small, and I’m sharing a room.”
Matt sighed. “Another thing to be sorted out. As if our mums haven’t given us enough.” He grinned as he slipped an arm around Vince and pulled the younger guy on top of him. “Now, where were we?”
Rhys looked around the room. “Where are they?”
“Matt said they had something private to ‘discuss’ so they’ve gone off to the bedroom.” Mark smirked.
“Good!” Rhys turned to Mia. “I’ll get a piece of paper and we’ll start making a list of the names for the party – even if it’s not going to be much of one.”
Mark raised an eyebrow at Mia while Rhys scavenged through his bag. “What did he mean by that?”
Mia snorted. “He had this long list of wild ideas that he wanted to do at the party, and he’s not happy that I’ve vetoed most of them.”
“Such as tying them up and putting Vince on a train to Sydney, and taking Matt out to the state forest and leaving him there – naked. It seems that Rhys and Warren have been cooking this up for a long time and they had lots of ideas for humiliating Vince that are now being scrapped.” Mia spoke the last part of the sentence while glaring at Rhys.
Rhys sat down next to them. “They were good ideas, too!”
“And they’re not going to happen.” She smiled. “At least, not until your bucks night.”
Rhys rocked back. “What? Hey, that’s not fair. I only told you them for Vince’s bucks night. You’re not allowed to use them against me.”
Mia gave him a sweet smile and reached over to pat him on the knee. “Of course not, Rhysie-poo. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Mark frowned. “Sorry to change the subject, but I’m worried about something and I’m wondering if you two have been having the same concerns.”
Mia immediately became serious. “What is it?”
“Well, you know how The Heart was supposed to be a girl, but it turned out to be Vince. It was only tonight that it struck me how much Vince is becoming the girl in their relationship.”
“You’ve lost me,” Rhys said.
“Look at the evidence. Matt proposed to Vince. Matt is going to be the main income earner of the two. Vince asks Mia to be the main person for him in the wedding party. It’s like he’s the girl and Matt’s the guy. Is that healthy?”
“You’re on very thin ice, buster,” Mia said as she glared at Mark.
“Okay, I mightn’t have said that well, but can you see what I mean?”
Rhys looked thoughtful. “I think it’s more an illusion than reality. Take the proposal thing. We all know that Matt was the one who had commitment issues. Vince was ready to propose weeks ago, but they agreed that they would wait until Matt was ready, and so it makes sense that he’s the one to propose.”
“As for the income thing, there are lots of women who earn more than their partners.” Mia narrowed her eyes. “I should also point out that from the figures in Aunt Cynthia’s books, once I take over the running of the store, I’ll be earning more than a trainee primary school teacher, taking an occupation at random.”
Mark blushed. “Okay, I deserved that one. School teachers don’t get paid enough.”
“As for your last point, however much I hate to admit it, I think Vince was right.” Rhys shrugged. “I think I could’ve organised a bucks night that would’ve been retold for years to come, but if both of them had picked guys for their best men, then the girls wouldn’t have had any part to play in the wedding. Let’s face it, weddings are more for the girls than the guys – shutting them out of it would’ve been cruel.”
Mia blinked. “I think that was a compliment, but I’m not sure. Thanks, anyway, Rhys.”
“My pleasure.” Rhys chuckled. “Plus, it means that you’ll be partnering Shane in the wedding party, which should make Mark really happy.”
Mark’s mouth dropped open as he realised Rhys was right. He started to say something, but then he caught Mia’s stony expression.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Mia asked in a cold tone.
Mark wisely just shook his head.
Penny Whitehorse crawled out of the tent. Since she worked nights as a waitress at The Royal Orchid, she had volunteered for three early-morning shifts per week at The Tree. It had been an adventure at first, but then the novelty had worn off. She stood up and stretched while glancing around. The sun had only just risen, but there were already a couple of joggers running along the edge of the park.
Penny turned and surveyed The Tree. It was looking decrepit, thought there were still a number of strong branches. Penny sighed. She had had dreams of being the new Heart, but she knew she wasn’t the one. When the news had gone around that it was Alex Landeau, she had been shocked for a moment, but had quickly realised that The Tree didn’t care about gender – only love. She saw nothing wrong with two guys being in love, though it was something she couldn’t personally comprehend. Later, when someone told her that it was really a different gay couple, she just shrugged. It didn’t matter to her who the couple would be – just that The Tree would be saved.
Her musings were interrupted by the sound of a heavy truck using its engine braking. She glanced in the direction of the noise and gave an involuntary gasp. Recovering quickly, she dove back into the tent and grabbed the mobile phone that had been left for emergencies.
“Hello?” a sleepy voice answered.
“This is Penny. I’m at The Tree. A truck has just pulled up with the words ‘Henry’s Tree and Stump Removals’ on the side.”
There was a momentary pause. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. Thanks, Penny.”
Penny made a number of other calls while she watched three workmen exit the truck and begin unloading equipment. She finished before the workmen, but decided to stay where she was, rather than confront them. She was expecting reinforcements and didn’t feel brave enough to do anything by herself.
She was getting nervous when one of the workmen started up a chainsaw, but breathed a sigh of relief when a car pulled up and Craig Patterson stepped out. She glanced around and saw a number of other people approaching. Penny jogged over so she could listen to what was about to happen.
“Excuse me, but may I ask what you think you’re doing with that chainsaw?” Craig asked, maintaining a polite tone.
“Doing my job. If you don’t want to get hurt, you had better step back.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No. I’m just pointing out that a chainsaw is a dangerous piece of equipment and that onlookers should stay well back. You’re free to watch, if you want, but don’t get too close – it’s just a safety issue, that’s all.” The workman grinned to show that there was no malice in what he was saying.
“Can I ask if you’re planning on cutting down this tree?” Craig asked, indicating The Tree.
“That’s what the work order says. Now if you’ll excuse me...”
Craig shook his head and pulled a piece of paper from his back pocket. “I’m sorry, but this is a court injunction that prohibits you from damaging that tree in any way. You’ll have to stop what you’re doing.”
Penny watched as the three men argued with Craig Patterson. They told him that they had been hired to cut down The Tree, and that if he had a problem, he should take it up with the person who had hired them. One of the workmen made a phone call and then reported that someone was coming to sort out the mess.
About ten minutes later, a late model Range Rover stopped nearby and Councillor John Young stepped out. By that stage, there was a small crowd of locals between The Tree and the workmen. Other vehicles were pulling up as the word spread.
John Young stormed over to Craig Patterson. “What’s going on here? What’s this about an injunction?”
Craig smiled and handed over the document he was holding. “Here you are, councillor. This is an injunction signed by Magistrate Elizabeth Jones. It enjoins the council, or any agent of the council, from preventing Mourton Wineries from completing the contract they have with the council to cut down the Moreton Bay fig tree located in Memorial Park.”
John Young scowled as he read the paper. He started to screw it up, but pushed it into Craig’s hands, instead. “I’ll get this overturned and then we’ll get back to making this park safe.”
“On what grounds? The injunction is very clear,” Craig said.
John glanced past Craig. “Keith! What fool game do you think you’re playing?”
Keith Tyler stepped up to the two men. He was unshaven and his tie was crooked. “Good morning, John. Morning, Craig. I have to say that it has been a long time since I was up and about this early.”
“Stop stalling. You were supposed to have cut down The Tree by now!”
Keith met John’s glare with a pleasant smile. “I’m sorry, but that wasn’t my reading of the contract. All we are obliged to do is to cut it down after all health and safety issues have been addressed. It’s terribly unfortunate that that process is taking longer than we expected.”
“Bah! You’ve got no intention of doing it. Why don’t you just admit it?”
“What’s your rush, John? Is it because there’s a council meeting on Wednesday, and the issue of The Tree is on the agenda?”
John glared. “You might think you’ve won this round, but this isn’t over.” He marched back to his vehicle and drove off, tyres squealing.
“I take it this means we’re not doing the job today,” the lead workman stated, rather than asked.
“Sorry, no, and hopefully you won’t be doing it at all.”
The man frowned. “We still need to be paid. It’s a five hour round trip from Dubbo in that truck – we’re not doing it just for the fun of it.”
Keith smiled. “I think that’s up to John to sort out, but if you have problems, let me know.” He handed over his business card. “I’ll make sure you’re not out of pocket, even if I have to pay you myself.”
While Keith spoke to the workmen, Craig wandered over to Penny. “Penny, isn’t it? Thanks for the call. It looks like we’ve bought some more time.”
Penny looked down at the ground. She was embarrassed. “It was nothing. Some things just need to be done.”
“I really wish you were coming here this weekend,” Alex said.
“I wish I could, but I’ve got exams next week and we both know that if I showed up I’d never get any study done,” Jamie said.
Alex chuckled. He was lying on his bed having his nightly phone chat with Jamie. They had settled into a routine of having a lot of contact, even if they only saw each other every second weekend.
“Mum’s fine with me staying with you for the full three weeks of the mid-semester break, though,” Jamie continued.
“That’s going to be great, though I’ll still be working.”
“I hope you’re not working on the twentieth.”
“What day is that?” Alex was trying to work it out when Jamie answered.
“It’s a Thursday. It’s also Matt and Vince’s wedding.”
“Cool! They’ve set a date, then. I heard it was going to happen, but not when. I should be able to get an hour off to see the ceremony – I suspect a lot of the town will be taking some time off once the word gets out.”
“You’ll need to take more than an hour off – we have invitations to the reception. Vince gave them to me this afternoon.”
“You’re joking, right? We’ve only really known them since Christmas.”
“No joke. I thought the same thing, but for some reason Matt and Vince want us there. Vince said he owes us a lot, by your coming out before him. He said it made it easier for him to decide to go ahead.”
Alex shook his head in disbelief while he grinned. “Wow! I don’t know what to say.”
“I know. I was floored, too. Now we need to work out what to give them as a present.”
“I’ll talk to Mum and Dad. Maybe they’ll have some ideas. We’ve got a couple of weeks. I’m sure we’ll come up with something by then.”
“Good idea. I’ll ask Mum, too. There was something else, too.”
Alex waited a moment, but Jamie didn’t say anything. “What was it?”
“This is strictly between the two of us. I told Vince I don’t keep secrets from you, and he accepted that.”
Alex grinned. “Spit it out before I get in the ute and drive down there to beat it out of you.”
“Ooo... tempting. At least I’d see you again.”
Jamie laughed. “Okay. No more playing. I’m serious about it being strictly between the two of us, though. Did you know that Matt and Vince have been waiting before they have sex?”
“No, but then their relationship’s always been different to ours.”
“Well, I was surprised. Anyway, Vince wanted to talk to me about it. He didn’t want to ask Matt, for obvious reasons, and I’m the only other gay guy here that he feels he knows well enough to trust.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That he shouldn’t worry. If he concentrates on making sure Matt is happy, the rest will fall into place. He knows a bit about what to do, but I told him that if he’s uncomfortable with anything, he should just tell Matt, and trust him.”
“Good advice. I hope it all goes well for them.”
“I’m sure it will. Enough of that. Tell me what you’ve been doing today.”
Alex grinned as he settled back in his bed. It didn’t matter if he was talking or listening – phone calls with Jamie always made him happy.
Mayor Betty McAllister peered down at the piece of paper in front of her. “Item seven on the agenda is the matter of the destruction order for the Moreton Bay fig tree in the park.”
John Young jumped in before anyone else could speak. “We decided this weeks ago. I see no point in discussing it again, and I move that we skip on to the next item.”
A number of boos sounded across the council chambers. Most of the councillors glanced over at the packed viewing area. A couple of the councillors twitched nervously.
“Don’t you dare cut down The Tree!” a masculine voice called out. “Too right!” another voice yelled in support, and there was a general growl of agreement from the crowd.
The mayor banged her gavel. “Quiet, please!” She paused until most of the noise had subsided. “As I warned at the start of this meeting, if there is a disturbance, the viewing area will be cleared.” She paused and frowned at the crowd. “Alternatively, we can close the meeting early, without voting on this matter.”
Betty McAllister’s threat did its job. The crowd fell silent.
“Shall we move on to the next item, then?” John asked. He glanced at his copy of the agenda. “The planning permit for the new dam on the Fredrickson property.”
“Wait a minute. There are things to discuss regarding item seven,” Peter McCann said.
“I can’t see what they could be. Nothing has changed, so our previous decision should stay,” John said.
“Not true. We’re here as the elected representatives of the community, and the community has clearly indicated that they want us to reconsider. It has been suggested to me that we are rushing things and that we should allow more time to see if an alternative process can save The Tree.” Peter nodded to the crowd. “You can see that this is an important issue for our town. I can’t recall the last time a council meeting had so many viewers.”
The other councillors seemed content to let Peter and John debate the matter.
“But as the representatives, we sometimes have to make unpopular decisions. We can’t let reason be swayed by emotional arguments. That tree is in a dangerous state and needs to be removed for the safety of the community.”
A low rumble of dissent from the audience had the mayor banging her gavel again. “Quiet, please!”
“There is a perimeter fence that keeps people away. The surrounding area is safe.”
“That fence keeps being removed or damaged during the night. Our wonderful police force seems unable to catch the culprits.”
Peter frowned. “I haven’t heard of any reports indicating an immediate danger. As for the other matter, that’s for the police and we should let them get on with their job.”
“There’s also the matter of the contract. If we cancel the destruction order, we’ll be liable for breaking the contract. Our budget is tight enough as it is because of the drought – we don’t need to add unnecessary charges.”
There was a murmur from a few of the other councillors. Peter McCann knew the poor state of the budget from his work on the finance committee, but he was prepared for that argument. Keith Tyler had given him the details of the contract before the meeting started. There was a ten percent penalty for cancelling the contract – which worked out to be the princely sum of ten cents. Peter had laughed when Keith told him.
“To show you how strongly I feel about the matter, I am formally and officially stating that I will personally pay any and all penalties resulting from the cancelling of that contract.” He turned to the council clerk. “Can you please make sure that’s minuted, Darren?”
The young man nodded his head.
After another ten minutes of debate, the vote was held. The crowd roared when it was announced that the destruction order was revoked.
Peter smiled at the result, though he noted the anger on John’s face. He wasn’t sure what the other councillor could do, but he made a note to keep a careful eye on Councillor Young.
“Happy birthday, Vince.” Matt raised his wine glass and smiled across the table.
They were in the corner of the motel restaurant. It was early in the evening and the two guys had checked in thirty minutes earlier. Vince was wearing the small rectangular pendant Matt had given him for his birthday. The back was inscribed with Love Forever while the front showed an abstract pattern that looked vaguely like a bull. There was only one other guest in the room – a middle-aged man sitting at a table by himself, reading a book.
Vince picked up his glass and used it to tap Matt’s. “Thanks, Matt. This was totally unexpected.”
“I know you’re nervous, so I thought dinner first would be a good idea. A glass or two of wine and a good steak should start the night off on a good note.”
Vince gave Matt a sheepish grin. “Is it that obvious?”
“Not really, but I’ve gotten to know you over the last few months. When you’re nervous, you don’t make eye contact. Now, how about we talk about something else? A change of topic will help you relax.”
Vince smiled. He appreciated the care with which Matt was approaching the night. “I don’t think I’ve told you that Bobby rang last night. The council has changed their minds and they’re not going to cut down The Tree.”
“That’s great news!”
“Mia also tells me that the private room at The Nacho Nirvana has been booked for the Tuesday before the wedding for the bucks night. It looks like there’s going to be about twenty people there.”
“I know. Shane told me the same thing. It seems that they decided there’s no point in having two parties since there’s a number of people who want to go to both, so they combined them.”
Vince chuckled. “I also heard that Rhys has been arguing for a pair of strippers as entertainment. Mia’s said no.”
Matt eyebrows rose. “Really? I didn’t think Rhys would be into that. I’m happy that he’s not getting his way – I just want a good night out with friends – but why would he want to watch a pair of guys stripping?”
Vince grinned. “It wasn’t going to be a pair of guys. Mia might’ve okayed that. No, he wanted a pair of girls. His excuse was that it was our last chance to find out if we’re actually straight.”
Matt laughed. “Yeah, but we all know that all he really wanted to do was to watch them himself.”
The two guys spent an hour over dinner, with the conversation ranging from planning for the future to general gossip. Neither was willing to bet on whether Bobby would be inviting Cindy to the reception – they both assumed she would be there unless she had a prior commitment. They had a longer debate on who Rhys’s date might be. Vince was sure he’d invite a girl from university, while Matt thought he’d end up going with Padma. They made a decision on where to go for their honeymoon and agreed to look at rings at the jeweller in Mourton on the weekend.
By the time they’d finished, Vince was pleased that they had started the evening with dinner. He was feeling a lot more relaxed than he had been earlier, and he decided to take Jamie’s advice to heart and trust Matt. That didn’t stop his hands shaking as the motel door closed behind them, but he took a deep breath and smiled at his boyfriend. He was surprised to see Matt look sheepish.
“It’s time for a little confession, Vince.”
Vince’s forehead wrinkled as he tried to work out what Matt meant. “What is it?”
Matt looked away and started to rummage in his bag. “When I organised this, I forgot that we’ve got exams next week. It wouldn’t have bothered me, but we’re not going to get much studying done this weekend. Our mums are going to have a long list of things we’re going to have to do, instead.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Matt pulled something out of his bag and turned to face Vince. He shrugged. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to study tonight. I don’t want to be the one to blame for you failing an exam. I brought a textbook for you, since I was sure you wouldn’t bring any of your own.” Matt had an apologetic smile on his face as he held out the book.
Vince stared at Matt. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It wasn’t what he’d expected for that night. “You’ve got to be joking!”
“Sorry, no.” The corners of Matt’s mouth started to twitch.
Vince was suspicious. There was something going on. He was about to say something when he glanced down at the book that Matt was holding. He took the book, examined it for a few seconds, and then looked up. “I suppose you’re right. This is a subject I haven’t been doing too well in recently.” He gave a heavy sigh. “I don’t suppose you know someone who could tutor me? I wouldn’t want to fail this particular subject.”
Matt grinned. “I know a bit about it. How about I help you?”
Vince returned the grin. “Shall we get started?” He jumped onto the bed and patted the spot next to him.
As Matt sat down, Vince opened The Joy of Gay Sex.
Vince smirked. “It looks like there’s lots of prac work involved in this subject. Do you think you could help me with that, too?”
Matt nodded. “You don’t have to do the whole book tonight, though. You should have enough time before the exam.”
“When is the exam?”
Matt gave Vince a kiss. “Whenever you want it to be. You can do as much study and prac work as you like, beforehand. Oh, and happy birthday.”
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.