Tom and Adam started working out together, spotting for each other when they did chest presses or squats. They pushed each other on to do more sit-ups than they really wanted to, to spend an extra five minutes on the treadmill. They exchanged mobile numbers. Tom came round twice unannounced in that first week, bearing a bottle of wine, and spent the night. On the Wednesday of the second week, he asked Adam after gym whether he wanted to go out for dinner again. Adam agreed, but pointed out that it was his treat. Tom drove over from his place, but they decided to walk to the restaurant, which was only a k or so away. The walk home couldn’t have been more different from that first walk, when Tom had been so bleak and so drunk. He laughed and joked and sang snatches of songs. Adam would have enjoyed himself even if he hadn’t been in love with Tom.
On the Friday a week later, Tom said to him, “What’s on for you this weekend?”
“Nothing.” Adam shrugged. He had planned to visit the gym, swim a bit, keep working on his fat and his muscles. Even though he kept on telling himself it was hopeless and pointless, he continued to try and make himself look better. The workouts with Tom were increasing the width of his shoulders and the size of his chest and biceps and legs. But Tom continued to show absolutely no interest in him as a sexual object. Yet he couldn’t have been a nicer friend, warm, thoughtful, generous, and charming, so charming that Adam always suspected that it was put on.
“You want to come camping? There’s a place I used to go to, in the mountains near Marysville, well off the road. Fantastic, surrounded by ancient tree-fern forests. There’s a stream with a waterfall, and a deep pool where we can swim if it’s hot. I’ve got a tent we can use, somewhere. Have you got hiking boots?”
Adam hadn’t, so Tom said he’d go with him first thing on Saturday morning and help him choose some. Tom arrived at Adam’s flat in the convertible, its hood down to take advantage of the summer warmth, his Gucci dark glasses and the car making him look like some wealthy Continental playboy.
At the hiking shop, Tom took charge, measuring Adam’s feet, and selecting the boots. There was something deeply unsettling and erotic about Tom fussing round his feet as he tried on different boots for fit and comfort, but Adam gave himself up to the pleasure of it, little shivers of ecstasy skittering over his skin. He put on the boots conscious that Tom had chosen them for him, that they were first things Tom had given him. Well, not given, it was Adam’s credit card that had been charged, but it felt as intimate as a personal gift.
Tent, sleeping bags, backpacks and provisions were already in the BMW’s boot, and all they had to do was point its nose out of the city and go.
It took just over two hours, firstly on the freeway, then on ever smaller and more poorly surfaced roads until they came to a clearing from where, Tom said, they would have to walk. The path through the gums followed the side of a stream, and the gully it was in became progressively deeper as they hiked up towards the highlands. Tom had been right – there were massive tree-ferns, bigger than Adam had ever seen before.
“There hasn’t been a bush fire here for over two hundred years,” said Tom, stopping to look back at Adam on one of the flatter ledges of the path.
“It’s stunning,” gasped Adam, much less fit that he’d thought he was, and trying not to let Tom notice.
“The boots OK? Should we rest for a little?” Tom managed to let Adam know by his tone of voice that he’d seen how out of condition he was and that he was tired, but that he didn’t think the worse of him for that.
Perversely, Adam insisted that they were fine, though he could feel a blister developing on his little toe on one foot and on the ball of the other foot. Tom glanced at him for a moment, then said firmly, “Well, I need a break, even if you don’t.” He sat down on a mossy log, and took a swig off his water bottle before passing it to Adam. Adam deliberately didn’t wipe the bottle – he wanted to feel that Tom’s spit was still there, and that he could taste it in the water. Not that he could. But he’d grown used over the years to the small, stolen intimacies.
When they reached the waterfall two hours later, Tom pointed out the sheltered ledge where they would camp, and casting aside his backpack, threw off his clothes and leapt in the pool. Adam followed suit much more slowly, unable to keep his eyes off the white of the lace thong lying casually on top of Tom’s khaki cargo shorts and his Holeproof socks.
He himself was wearing running shorts with a built-in inner brief, and even though he knew it would expose him to Tom’s teasing, he decided not to take them off. It was too late now to let Tom know what he felt. If he did, he might lose Tom’s friendship, and that was precious to him, and much, much better than nothing. And his cock was so treacherous – it was hard enough controlling what he said, without letting that little fucker give him away.
But Tom said nothing, merely raising his eyebrows ironically, and Adam was able to steal furtive glances at his perfect body, without Tom seeing how it was affecting him.
Before the sun set, they collected a pile of dead gum-tree branches and a heap of twigs, and as the light washed out of the western sky, Adam got the fire going.
Tom was much more organized than he. He had brought marshmallows, a bottle of brandy (wine and beer being too heavy to carry), as well as frozen chips and packets of bacon, dried fruit, nuts and raisins, dried stew. Adam felt like an idiot, having brought totally unsuitable stuff, like a plastic container of salad and another of bread. But Tom was pleased. “We can have toast. And I like salad.”
So, as the fire sparks danced in the velvet dark of the Australian bush, they toasted marshmallows and bread on sticks, burnt their fingers and swore, and lay on their sleeping bags and talked, passing the bottle of brandy back and forth between them.
“Why did you take up footy?” asked Adam, sucking his finger where it had been burnt by a melting marshmallow.
“You make it sound like a fashionable vice – opium or boyslove,” said Tom, grinning. Adam could see the glint of his teeth in the firelight, the sparkle of his eyes.
Nice choice of words, thought Adam, squirming.
“Well what I really wanted was to be a dancer… ” admitted Tom, shyly.
“ …as in ballet?” interrupted Adam.
“Yes,” said Tom, waiting for all the usual comments.
“You are truly the most amazing man, Thomas. First you seem like a classic footy cretin. Then you admit to singing and guitar. And to crown it all, ballet! Why the fuck did you give it up? I bet you were good at it too.”
Tom was flabbergasted. Here was the first man he’d ever told who had thought doing ballet was a perfectly sane and normal thing to do. Feeling wonderfully warm and accepted, he said, “I was turned down for the VCA. And I was good. So I turned to footy in revenge, almost, to show them. Pretty stupid, huh?”
“You made a mint, presumably, and if you play your cards right, you’ll go on getting richer.”
“I wasted a lot too. On drugs, on stupid designer clothes, on my wife.”
“I think for a guy your age, you are pretty comfortably off. BMW, Toorak mansion. Stop whingeing.” Frustrated desire made his voice sharper than usual.
“Yes, boss,” said Tom with a laugh in his voice. “Well, I certainly made more than I would have as a dancer.” There was a quiet pause. “All the same, that’s what I wanted to do. More than anything.”
Adam took another swig of brandy. He was starting to feel a pleasant buzz. “You still can. Oh, not on stage with the youngsters. But you could probably do a couple of hours a week. I know a guy who can teach us.”
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to learn. Going with someone else won’t be so embarrassing.” Adam had often wanted to have a body like the male ballet dancers he had known – slim, strong yet not over muscled. He had reason to know exactly how a dancer’s body looked and felt. Mark diFabio, a dancer with the Australian Ballet, had been his lover for a while. The sex hadn’t lasted that long, but to both their surprise, they had remained friends, the kind who see each other once every two or three months, and start off where they had left off, as if the separation had been only for a day or so. “We can do it together. You don’t want that buff, booffel body to get saggy and blobby and fat, do you?”
“Yeah, well, ballet would stop that! There’s this wonderful poster of Baryshnikov doing a pirouette, with the sweat sliding of his fingertips in an arc. It’s like that. It seems so simple and easy to the audience, but it’s effing hard work. But every so often there’s this rush, when you get it right, and a step or sequence of steps works properly. Not to mention the fact that you’re wearing tights and snug tops, and you – and everybody else – can see even the tiniest roll of fat in the wall-to-ceiling mirrors. You’d lose a lot quickly, fatso.”
“Thanks for nothing.” Adam thought of pretending to be more hurt than he was, but he could hear the smile in Tom’s voice. He knew that insults like this were a rite of friendship. “I’ll phone him tomorrow, when we get back,” he said. “I’ll organize private lessons at first. I don’t want more than one person to see my body, or my dancing ability.” He decided to double the number of lengths he swam at his thrice weekly swim.
Then Tom asked the question that Adam had been dreading. “So how come you don’t have a girlfriend?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
Tom stretched luxuriously on his sleeping bag, and yawned. “I asked first. Anyway you know why.”
Adam had thought of a hundred answers to this question, but now every answer deserted him. “I’m ugly and fat and unattractive. What girl would look at me?”
“Bullshit. You’re good-looking, and only a little overweight. You’ve already lost some fat. I noticed it when we were swimming. And you’ve got nice eyes. Women go for that.”
Adam began to wonder whether Tom was actually one hundred per cent straight. Ballet, his wife’s g-strings, wanting to sleep in the same bed as his friend, and then noticing that said friend had lost weight and had beautiful eyes. A guitarist, a singer – once upon a time, ‘musical’ was another way of saying ‘gay’. Yet Adam was as certain as he could be that Tom was utterly, completely, totally straight. It was precisely because he was so straight, so confident in his masculinity that he could do the things he did.
“Tom, leave me alone. If it happens, it happens.” But it won’t, he added silently, with anybody, male or female.
“Fair enough,” replied Tom equably.
If only he wasn’t so damn lovable and fine, thought Adam ruefully. If he’d been a dickhead, selfish, up himself, thick. But he wasn’t. He had a sense of humor, he was intelligent, thoughtful, kind, even – there was no other word for it – loving.
“Have you any other surprises for me, Thomas Milton Siedentrop?”
“Nope,” said Tom comfortably, taking another swallow of brandy, and passing the bottle to Adam. He hadn’t felt so happy since his year eleven camp, the last camp his year group did together before the hard work of their finals, when he’d been just Tom to his friends, someone with a great future ahead of him. Most people would say he had had that great future, but Tom knew better. But he had the feeling that he could start again, that he was starting again.
They set up the tent, in the dark, having idiotically forgotten to do it while it was light. That they were both a little drunk didn’t help. But with a fair amount of helpless laughter and swearing, they finally got it up. They wouldn’t have bothered, would have slept outside, but it looked as if it might rain.
“Sleep tight, Tom.”
In the morning, the inside of the tent was wet with condensation, while outside a thick mist made their campsite a mysterious secret place in a world which vanished in all directions into the silence of the dripping forest. The air smelled of eucalyptus, of damp, of rotting leaves. They could have been thousands of miles from civilization.
Adam restarted the fire, and they had toast and bacon, with some of the reconstituted stew, which they agreed was disgusting, and tipped into the forest for some wild creature to eat.
The sun soon burned off the mist, and they went for another swim.
“You can take off your shorts, this time. We’re all guys together here,” said Tom. His smile was a little mocking. So Adam had no alternative. He was so keyed up about not giving himself away that there was in point of fact zero risk of it. Afterwards, they lay in the sun on a smooth rock to dry off.
“Yeah,” said Tom, casually looking over Adam’s body, “definitely losing weight. And your shoulders and chest are getting bigger.”
Adam had to roll over onto his stomach. “Can’t say the same about you,” he said, his voice muffled in his towel.
He felt Tom pounce without any warning.
“Didn’t quite get that,” Tom said, straddling Adam’s body, twisting Adam’s arm up behind his head, his voice teasing.
“Ow, you great lumbering bully! Get off! What I was going to say, was that you couldn’t lose any fat, because you have none, because your body is so frigging perfect. Now get the fuck off.” Adam closed his eyes, waiting for his humiliation to be exposed, for the game to be up. But the tension in his voice or his body must have alerted Tom to Adam’s distress, because he got off without a word. Adam could feel where Tom’s butt had pressed against his own, where his arm had brushed Adam’s back, where his muscular thighs had so thoughtlessly tangled with Tom’s legs. I can’t go on, Adam thought, this is too hard. He was close to weeping. I love him and I can’t have him. I’m going to have to get rid of him, somehow.
But he couldn’t bring himself even to think of it.
Adam was morose and withdrawn as they went back to the city, and when Tom asked him if he wanted to drive the BMW, he curtly refused. Tom cast him a sideways glance, but didn’t argue. He was wondering what he had done to make Adam look so sad and angry, and of course, hadn’t the faintest notion. However, he understood all at once how much Adam meant to him, and how used he had become to being with him, when Adam thanked him for the trip with a cool politeness and didn’t invite him up. Adam almost changed his mind when he saw how bewildered and hurt Tom looked, and he felt appallingly mean and ungrateful. It took only ten minutes after Tom had gone before Adam regretted his moodiness, and phoned Tom on his mobile. But Tom’s voicemail service answered, and Adam couldn’t face apologizing to a machine.