A NIGHT AT THE BALLET (18)
It was a warm Saturday evening, the light draining peacefully out of the sky over the bay, a thin skein of apricot cirrus startling against the turquoise and indigo. General Sir Roger Makepeace Sutton, and his wife, Lady Jennifer (“Nibbles”) Sutton, however, were oblivious of the spectacular sunset, the scented warmth of an autumn evening, the perfect occasion to dine outside at a pavement café. They were indoors, having taken their usual box at the State Theater. The ballet was Swan Lake. They didn’t come to the modern ballets, for Lady Sutton didn’t care for them. But she loved the spectacle of the swans, the romance of the pas de deux, and the tuneful music of Tchaikovsky. Best of all, she liked dressing up in one of her expensive evening dresses, bought from a Chapel Street shop for more than what most people earned in a month. She had given Sean, their chauffeur, the evening off, and this little act of generosity made her feel even more satisfied with herself.
The General was indifferent to how he spent his evening, as long as he was with Nibbles. It seemed quite unremarkable to him that even after forty years of marriage, he still loved her as deeply as he had when he had seen her at a post-game footy party over forty years ago, when he had been a handsome player and she a stunning blonde with luminous green eyes. So he’d made all the right noises when informed that they would be attending Swan Lake that evening, and had been pleased to give their chauffeur the evening off. He enjoyed driving the Bentley, though, secretly, he would have preferred a sports car. But his wife would never have understood his need for excitement.
Having a chauffeur had been Nibbles’ idea. She had felt there was more cachet in being driven than in driving. “Anyway,” she’d said, as the clincher to the discussion, “we’ll never have to worry about parking. We can give the driver a mobile, and we can call him when we need him. And we don’t have to worry about being over the limit, and you know how it is with parties.” This was Nibbles-speak for the General’s penchant for one too many glasses of gin. However, as they were going to be at the ballet and not a cocktail party, Lady Sutton thought it might be fun to have just the two of them. To tell the truth, she still felt uncomfortable with servants, having never mastered the British upper-class technique of treating them as insentient as doorknobs or cutlery.
Sean told neither of the Suttons that he had been given the evening off by the other, and was courteously grateful to both. He liked his job. It was easy. And he needed it. He was in his room above the garage at the Sutton’s Toorak mansion, on his second joint, with two beers inside him and a porn video playing. The video was an old favorite, Katy Submits, and in the past he’d always found that, like a familiar childhood tale, it had the requisite effect. But this time, the body he imagined as he stroked himself wasn’t the beautiful and buxom Katy’s, but his employers’ son’s, the pale lean limbs, the compact wheaten curls, the fair wire on the back of his neck, the light dusting of freckles on his shoulders, the tight perfection of his arse.
Going up to find out whether he would be needed after seven many weeks before, he had met Jasper coming down the front steps of the mansion, and the devastated sorrow on his face had made him ask, “You OK, mate?” treating him as if he was an equal, not the son of his employer, not his social superior. Jasper had shaken his head, staring at the ground, anywhere but at him. Sean was in his uniform. “Want me to take you somewhere?” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. That was his job. As soon as he’d said it, he felt the absurdity of his offer. He was too embarrassed by Jasper’s suffering to do what he knew he should, to take him into his arms, to comfort him. Whatever had happened, Jasper needed human warmth. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Jasper had nodded.
“Come on, then, mate.” Sean’s rough kindness had opened the floodgates, and Jasper gave a great growling open-mouthed cry of grief.
“Fuck, come on, this way, you’ll be OK, dude. Hey, don’t! Hey, Jasper, stop.” By this time he’d bundled Jasper up the stairs to his flat, and he had him in his arms, and Jasper was revealing all that had happened to him between gut-wrenching sobs, his head against Jasper’s chest. Sean had never had a man in his arms before. He’d comforted his younger brothers after their father had beaten them, or humiliated them, and at first his feelings towards Jasper were no more complicated than that. He might be chronologically the younger of the two, by quite a few years, but he had had a hard life. Compared to him, Jasper was no more than a boy. Jasper was rich and spoiled. Sean had known soul-grinding poverty. He’d learnt to survive his father’s drunken beatings, his mother’s withdrawal into drugs, the constant mortifications visited upon him by his school teachers, the terrible humiliations of poverty. He’d learned to scrounge and steal food to keep his brothers fed. Sean was tough.
When Jasper had kissed him, the shock had made him freeze. But the eager warmth of Jasper’s mouth, his obvious need for comfort, so reminiscent of his brothers, the many months since he had had another human in his arms, had melted him, and he had responded. Before he had time to reconsider, they were naked on his bed, and his body was moving as it would with a girl, only his cock was held in a tight warmth that still haunted his dreams weeks later.
Afterwards, Jasper had lain in silence on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
Sean had embarrassedly gotten dressed, unable to meet Jasper’s eyes. “I c’n take you to a friend, dude.” He didn’t want him in his flat.
Jasper had just nodded. When Sean had dropped him off from his motorbike, Jasper had looked at him and said, “Thank you. I’m sorry… ” and his eyes were so troubled and sad that Sean had responded, unthinkingly, “No worries, dude. It’s no biggie.” Neither was taken in by the lie.
“Yeah, it is. It’s a huge fucking biggie. I’m such a selfish retard.”
When Sean had stared at him, Jasper’d given him a stiff humorless smile, and said, “Not your problem, mate. You did good.” And he’d punched Sean lightly on his leather-clad shoulder. Without a backward glance, Jasper had walked off to the front entrance of the block of flats, his shoulders hunched, his shoes filled with lead.
Sean had been unable to put that night out of his mind. He wasn’t gay. No way. But every time he thought of sex, in the shower in the morning, in front of the video at night, or in the middle of the night, it was Jasper’s body that had come to mind. “Fuck him!” he thought, angrily. “Why’d he hafta do that?” But a door had been opened in his mind and his heart, and something dangerous had been let in. And it was much too late to drive it out. The perfect ease of his life had been disturbed, the even tenor of his day-to-day existence ruined, and he had no idea why, or what had happened to him.
At interval, the Suttons went down to the lobby to have a glass of champagne. The General struggled through the queues to the bar, and took the glasses back to his lady.
“Pookie,” said Lady Sutton, giving the vowels their proper crisp English upper-class values, which she only forgot to do when she was in a temper or while they were making love, when she reverted to the strong ocker accent of her Western Suburbs youth, “Isn’t that Jasper over there?”
The General’s eyesight wasn’t as good as it had been. “I can’t tell, my dear. Would you like me to move closer to see?” He didn’t particularly want to go anywhere near his son, not after what had happened the last time they were together, but if she wanted it, he would go and look.
“Let’s sort of drift a little nearer, darling.” Lady Sutton was no keener to speak to her son than the General was. If anything, her situation was worse, for she secretly felt she had wronged Jasper. And that made her all the more determined to blame him, and not to make the first move towards reconciliation. But just because she had thrown Jasper out of their lives didn’t mean that she wasn’t still fascinated by what he did, and who his friends were.
Jasper was with a group of other young people. As far as she could make out, peering discreetly into her make-up mirror at the group behind her, the group consisted of four men and one woman. She was astonished when the woman reached out to her son, her gay son – the selfish little fucker, how dare he behave like that? – and ruffled his hair, in a way that spoke not just of affection but also of a kind of possession. And when Jasper smiled back at her, his mother saw that the affection was mutual, that Jasper was fond of, more than fond of, the woman.
“Pookie, Jasper has a girlfriend.” Her excited squeaky whisper made the General turn around to look directly at his son. The General was not as sharp as he had once been. Too many gins had spoiled a brain which had anyway never been outstanding.
Jasper looked up at the same moment that his father looked at him. A wash of loss and grief crossed his face, and then it went cold and hard and he held his father’s eye before deliberately looking away. All at once, the General sorrowed at how things had changed between him and his son. Once they had been friends. When Jasper was a little boy, they had played footy on the vice-regal lawn, and he had let his son win every game. He had taken him to watch his old team, Archbishops. He had proudly shown him off to his former team mates, his friends. And now his son was a stranger, refusing even to acknowledge his father. The General couldn’t bring himself to blame his only offspring. Instead, he wished, without knowing quite how, that things had been different. He felt an abrupt rare displeasure at his wife, at her pointless vendettas and her determination to always have her own way. He loved her, but he was far from blind to her faults. Then he felt anger at both of them, that they had forced him to choose between them.
“What is it, Jas?” Mark and Fiona had both seen the pain pass over Jasper’s face and, a moment later, the tight mask of cold dislike.
“Bullshit!” said Mark, frowning. Jasper noticed absently that the creases on Mark’s forehead were getting deeper. He found it made Mark more endearing, not less. He wondered when it had happened that his heart had been so thoroughly captured, and all the dross of looks and beauty, broad shoulders and a big package had become unimportant.
“It’s my darling parents.” Jasper capitulated easily, sure of the support and comfort he would get from his friends.
Jasper jerked his head backwards. “There, next to that pillar, in DJ and green evening dress.”
They all turned to look.
Lady Sutton saw them turn around, in her mirror, and was furious with her husband. “They’ve seen us,” she hissed. “You fool, Pookie, you shouldn’t have looked at them.”
The General was still angry enough at her to be uncharacteristically sharp. “You shouldn’t have squeaked at me like that!”
Lady Sutton flicked a glance at him. She hoped he wasn’t going to sulk. That made things so tedious, and though he always was the one to make up after one of their quarrels, she was too excited about this discovery of her son’s sexuality to waste time on a week of mutual icy silences. “Sorry, Pookie,” she said contritely. She looked in her mirror again. Though Jasper was ostentatiously looking in another direction, his four friends were glaring at her. Cowardice was not one of Lady Sutton’s faults. She snapped her compact closed, turned on her heels, and marched towards them, dragging the General reluctantly in her wake.
The four watched her in hostile silence, and as she neared them, one of the men put his hand on Jasper’s shoulder and said something to him. Jasper turned around and faced his parents. Even Lady Sutton felt her heart quail at the enmity and dislike on their five faces. But she was excellent at sweeping disagreements under the carpet.
“Darling!” she called, her accent deliberately upper-class, her diction exactly as it had been when she had met Jasper with a group of his friends, and she was playing at being “mummeh”. She had struggled hard to rid herself of the Western suburbs.
There was a terrible silence. They all stared at her mutely, their eyes cold. Her heart began to sink. Really it was so tiresome of people to bear grudges. She never did.
“Aren’t you going to say hello, darling? To your own mother?” She put just the right amount of pathos into her question. She was a past master at this, after all.
The silence stretched. The other four moved closer to Jasper, as if to protect him. One of the men, dark, Italian-looking, with a slim sinewy body, slipped his arm through Jasper’s, comfort and possession in every muscle of his body. The woman took Jasper’s hand.
“Last time we spoke,” said Jasper quietly, “you said you had no son. I remember it well, mother dearest.”
She had never heard Jasper so cold to her. Every time she had hurt him or betrayed him in some way in the past, she had always been able to persuade him into a reconciliation.
“Oh, darling, you know what one says, by accident, when one is angry. But darling, I am still your mother. Now won’t you introduce me to your friends?”
Jasper turned to the others. “Guys, these are my parents.” The cool indifference in his voice stung. He turned back to his mother and father, and indicating each one of his companions with a hand which trembled with suppressed passion, he said, “This is Mark diFabio, my lover, and Fiona Hopkinson, his lover and my dear friend. Of course, you know Adam,” the smile on his face was cruel and ironic, for of course she did, and Adam, poor and plain, had never been good enough for her son, “and this is Tom Siedentrop, his lover.” He stared at her, relishing her shock and astonishment.
It was his father who saved the day. He was not a genius, but he had not risen as high as he had without a natural charm and social finesse, a skill at fitting in, so that both sides of politics had felt he secretly supported them. “Tom! How nice to meet you again!” Completely ignoring the awkwardness, the social solecism of their encountering each other like this, he reached out his hand towards Tom. Everybody had forgotten that they would naturally be acquainted, since Tom was a player with Archbishops, and Sir Roger Sutton was on the Archbishops’ board, and had once been a player almost as famous as Tom.
Tom hesitated only for a moment before reaching out and clasping the General’s hand. “How nice to see you…sir.” If the baronet, multi-millionaire and former Governor-General noticed the hesitation while Tom decided how to address him, he gave no sign of it.
“Call me Roger, Tom, please.” He smiled at Tom, hoping his wife would stay quiet. Girlfriend, hah! Trust Nibbles to get it wrong. But Tom, whatever his sexuality, was one of them: he played footy. He played footy like a God, better than Roger had played it himself, with a natural grace and strength that made him a pleasure to watch. And he had taken the club that Roger loved to two successive Grand Final victories. Tom could be forgiven anything, after that, in the General’s opinion. And Jasper was a friend of Tom Siedentrop’s, so close a friend, indeed, that Tom clearly knew the whole story of their sorry and spiteful treatment of their son.
“How are you enjoying the ballet?”
“I thought,” said Tom, “that the pas de deux in Act Two was a little stiff.”
The General was lost. He had not meant to actually debate the dancing. He experienced a moment of irritation. Why couldn’t Tom Siedentrop play the game? He longed for something stronger than champagne in his hand, and gulped down the remainder of his glass. At that moment, the warning gongs sounded, and relieved, he said, “Well, I suppose we’d better get back. But perhaps we could have coffee afterwards? At L’Escargot?”
Jasper stared at his father for several heartbeats, then his face neutral, nodded.
The five of them had rented an old Victorian house in Carlton. It didn’t look large from the street, but it was on one of the long, narrow blocks that the Victorians favored, and it had two stories. They decided that Adam and Tom would share a bedroom, and so they got the balcony room upstairs with a view over the avenue and the little park. Jasper, Fiona and Mark had their own bedrooms, each with its double bed. They hadn’t quite worked out which nights Mark would spend with Jasper and which with Fiona, but in fact it hadn’t been awkward.
That Saturday morning, after Mark and Jasper had spent the night together, Fiona came upon them in the drawing room in their dressing gowns, their legs entwined and their arms around each other. They had started to untangle themselves, looking self-conscious. “For fuck’s sake,” she growled, “stop it! We know what we’re doing when we’re with each other. If we’re going to be embarrassed every time we meet afterwards, this is never going to work.” And she went and sat on the sofa next to them. She kissed Mark on his lips, warmly, and made small noises of love into his ear, then she kissed Jasper on his cheek.
Jasper looked at her with his green eyes, and a smile stole over his face, making him look warm and kind and wonderfully attractive. “You and Adam have the same gentle steel in you.”
Fiona looked at him sharply, ready to attack, only to be quite disarmed by his next words.
“You both are tough, deep inside, hard and strong. You are survivors. Yet you go on forgiving and caring and making allowances, no matter what is done to you. When people first meet you, they are misled into believing you’re all squidge. And you are not, neither of you. I think, probably you’re the tougher, actually. Which makes it all the nicer when you set aside the full bitch persona and act nice.”
She clouted Jasper lightly around his head. “Behave, peasant.” She leaned back against Mark, and arranged her legs over Jasper’s. “I’m a woman, remember?”
“I had noticed.” Jasper’s voice was dry, but his eyes were dancing.
“Which means, Jas, that I’m a realist. And tough. So watch out.”
“Yeah, he’s terrified, aren’t you, Jas?” These days, secure in her love, and happy, Mark teased her a lot.
She grabbed Mark’s ear. “What was that, dog breath?”
“Um, you’re the tops? You’re the Colosseum?” Both Mark and Jasper were laughing.
“Exactly!” Fiona began to laugh, too. “You two are such wusses! Well, which of you is making breakfast?”
“Neither of us. For a start, we can’t get up, with a fat lump like you squashing us. Anyway, why don’t we have brunch at The Pink Geranium? You can go and wake your slug-a-bed of a brother and Tom, and we can all go.” Mark kissed her neck. She felt the familiar surge of desire rise in her. It didn’t trouble her that Jasper was there. He was inspecting them both, his lips curved slightly in gentle amusement, his eyes accepting. Knowing Mark, the two men had probably made love that morning, and she knew quite well that he could probably do it all over again. But she wasn’t sure how to deal with Jasper – send him away? Do it with him there? Let him do Mark while she and Mark were making love? She decided she wasn’t ready for that yet, but that maybe she would be, soon, and as she pushed herself up off the two men, she saw in their faces that they had intuited what she had been thinking. They stared at her tranquilly, their love for each other reaching out tentative tendrils towards her. She ruffled their hair, to show that she in turn had seen their acceptance of her decision, and said, lightly, “Well, come on then. Make yourselves decent while I raise the others, and we can go.”
She made coffee and took a tray through to Tom and Adam’s room. “You guys awake?”
She assumed that meant they were at least decent. The late summer light was pouring through the gauze curtains that covered the balcony windows. Tom’s straw hair, dishevelled and spiky, gleamed in the light. Adam’s curls were dark against Tom’s shoulder. They couldn’t have been closer together. Their separate bodies appeared melded into one. Fiona experienced a rush of love for her brother, that he had at last found someone to love, that he was no longer alone.
“You spoil us.” Tom’s voice was creaky with sleep.
“Yes. I do. Get up. We’re going to the Pink Geranium for brekker.”
The Pink Geranium was only a few hundred meters from their house, with a view over Carlton Gardens. They took their usual summer table, in the shade of the vine-covered trellis.
After they had ordered, Mark said, “Who’s for ballet tonight? André has offered me some tickets if I want them.” André had succeeded Mark as the current principal with the Australian Ballet.
“Aren’t we going to footy, Tom?” Out of loyalty to Tom, and because just being with him was pleasure enough, Adam had started going to the matches with him. This was a big concession for Adam. To his secret amazement, he had started to like footy, even though he no longer bothered ogling the players. And they four blokes had occasionally played footy in the park, being joined by any strangers who happened to be there. After the first time, Adam could barely walk the next day, but he soon grew to enjoy it. His favorite activity during the makeshift games they had was tackling Tom.
“No, there isn’t any team I want to see today.” The season hadn’t really started, though there newspapers were already full of pre-season publicity photos. “Plonker. You know footy is a winter sport!”
“Don’t call me ‘plonker’, you dag! I have of ways of making you pay!”
“Dag? Tom?” Jasper laughed at Adam. “Look who’s talking.”
Mark was teaching them ballet in one of the huge back upstairs rooms at the house. He had had a barre fitted. Tom found going back to dancing exhilarating. Adam had passed the hardest first stage, when his arms and legs either had a demented life of their own, or morphed into senseless lumps, and was beginning to enjoy it. Jasper was not going to be left out. When Fiona first heard the thumps on the floorboard as they did grands jetés and climbed the stairs to find the four men, sweaty and laughing, as they struggled to get the complex moves right, she knew she had to do this too. So at least twice a week, in decorous black tights and leotard, they practised. As part of their education, Mark took them all to see professional dancers, and once had amused a whole restaurant when he got up from their post-ballet dinner table to demonstrate a particular port de bras/petits battements combination.
So that was how they ended up at the ballet, indoors on a perfect autumn evening. None of them minded. Doing things together was utterly satisfying and pleasing. They fitted together as if they had been siblings, best friends, family, for decades.
L’Escargot was one of the grand restaurants along the river waterfront, with stunning views of the city skyline. Adam had taken clients there, and Tom had eaten there once with one of his corporate sponsors. None of them would have eaten there off their own bat – it was far too pretentious and expensive. The hors-d’oeuvres cost $25, and you get a whole meal at one of the café-restaurants they frequented for half that. Although Tom had good money from his job and his investments, the rest of them weren’t rich. After he had been given the push by his homophobe boss, and thrown out of home by his parents, Jasper had gotten a job at a refugee advocate center. He made a pittance. Fiona worked for a welfare agency, and Adam’s business was still struggling. Their favorite eateries were cheap, and since Mark was vegetarian, and Adam had become one to lose weight, they mostly went to Asian restaurants where they could get decent veggie food as well as meat or fish.
The eminent baronet, general and former Governor-General and his lady had been welcomed unctuously by the maître d’hôtel. Roger was in the sort of mood that made the smarmy sycophancy off-putting. Nibbles recognised his bad temper, and decided not to say anything. She hoped he wouldn’t get drunk. They had hardly seated themselves when the General had ordered a gin and tonic. The drink and the coffee had only just arrived when the five young people came in.
Roger’s smile for his son was tentative and diffident. During the second half of the ballet, while his wife had thrilled to the music and the dancing and the spectacle, he had been thinking. He was furious with himself that he hadn’t guessed at his son’s pain at all that had happened. And he had decided to make it up to him, to make up with him, whatever his wife thought. Jasper was his only child. Nibbles would sulk, probably, and nag, but the General could be very stubborn when he wanted to. He called it tenacious. Others called him pig-headed. Once he had made up his mind on a topic that was important to him, he was deaf to reason, entreaties, bullying or nagging. To her dismay, Lady Sutton recognised all the signs – an introspective look, a firming of the jaw, a slight protrusion of his nether lip, and a firmness and uprightness to his back and shoulders. She sighed inwardly. What now?
The General made a point of being extremely welcoming and polite to each of his son’s friends.
“Now, Tom, you sit here next to my wife, with Adam. And Jasper, sit next to me. And… ” he racked his brains for a moment, but a lifetime of diplomatic training came to his rescue, “ …Mark and Fiona over there, where I can easily talk to you.”
Mutely, they all sat, according to orders.
The General summoned the waiter with the sort of look and gesture that Mark, Tom, Fiona and Adam knew they would never be able to replicate. The waiter instantly appeared.
“Two bottles of Krug, please.” The waiter bowed silently. Krug was ten times as expensive as the Australian champagne they had been drinking at the ballet. The General was making a point. Nibbles began to feel a little apprehensive.
“So,” said the General, smiling easily at his son’s friends. “Tell me about yourselves.”
Jasper was angry that his father was so ostentatiously ignoring what had been done and said when he had been thrown out of home. But when he caught sight of his mother’s face, he almost laughed – she was so obviously alarmed at what was happening that he decided to play along.
“Dad, this is my guy, Mark.”
“How nice to meet you at last,” said the General evenly, his tone a clear warning to his wife to keep quiet.
“Thank you, sir.” Mark was following Jasper’s cue. He had no more idea of what was happening than Lady Sutton.
“Oh, please call me Roger, Mark. You’re one of the family, aren’t you?” As he said this, he flicked his eyes over to his wife, and was grimly satisfied to see that her mouth had dropped a little open. He wondered in just how much trouble he would be later on. Well, he’d made up his mind. Nibbles would just have to lump it.
The reaction of the young people round the table was just as satisfying. No one spoke, but they shifted in their chairs, drew their breath.
“Dad,” said Jasper, his eyes meeting his father’s, suddenly aware that they were allies, for that night at least, “this is Fiona, Adam’s sister, and Mark’s… lover.” He had been going to say “girlfriend’ but at the last minute decide that “lover” was a far better word, conveying the seriousness with which they regarded the relationship.
The General, his mind racing as he put all the bonds into perspective, smiled at Fiona. “How nice to meet you,” he said, his cautious political instincts and skills saving him from a faux pas, “you have the look of your brother.” His son was in a ménage à trois! He saw Fiona and Jasper look at each other in support, with Mark looking subtly pleased at their alliance. Perhaps Nibbles had after all been right, in some sense. He and she would have much to discuss later on, if they were still on speaking terms. “And Adam, it’s good to see you again.”
“Thank you, Roger.” Adam had over the years repeatedly been told by the General to call him Roger. Lady Sutton had always made it quite plain, on the other hand, that she was to be addressed as ‘Lady Sutton’. Adam was rather fond of Jasper’s father, and was quite certain that it had been Lady Sutton who had driven the whole episode that had seen Jasper thrown out of his home.
“Are you still with Sehnburgs?” asked the General, completely unaware of all that had happened over the last few months.
“No – I’ve started my own funds management business. We opened our doors on Monday, as it happens. It took ages to get the licences, find premises. You know how it is.”
“Give me a ring next week, Adam. I’m sure you can manage our money better than our current people.” The General was in point of fact being perfectly sincere: he admired Adam’s intellect and abilities. Despite appearing to be an old duffer to some, he was sharper than he looked, and, perhaps more important, he had connexions and contacts everywhere in Melbourne and across the nation, and these connexions, when quietly sounded out at his clubs, or over expensive meals, had given a cautious thumbs up to Adam’s abilities. But the General was also doing this by way of amende honorable to Jasper. With satisfaction he saw Jasper’s and Adam’s eyes meet as they recognised this fact.
“I should be delighted,” said Adam loudly. The General was very rich. He had inherited money from his English father, and had made more, much more, during his business career. Adam sensed that Lady Sutton hadn’t been consulted on this. That pleased him as much as he knew it would annoy her.
The champagne arrived, and the waiter made a great ceremony of opening the bottles and pouring.
“To friends and family,” said the General.
“Friends and family,” they responded, except for Lady Sutton, who looked furious. She had no idea what had gotten into the General, but she fully intended to give him a piece of her mind when they were alone. When she looked at him, she could see he knew that, and didn’t care, and that made her even angrier.
The General talked about politics, and entertained them with an anecdote about the Prime Minister. In public, the former Governor-General was tactfully neutral, but in private, he detested the current occupant of Kirribilli House. The anecdote wasn’t complimentary. They all laughed, except Lady Sutton, who had heard it before, and was in any case sulking.
The general conversation broke up. Tom and Adam chatted to each other, resolutely ignored by a formidably silent Lady Sutton.
At a moment when Mark and Fiona were talking, the General took the chance to ask his son, “How have you been, Jas?” His voice was soft, and the concern in his eyes genuine.
Jasper couldn’t help smiling at his father. “OK, dad. The guys have been great to me. We all live together in a house in Carlton.”
“Where’re you working?”
Jasper told him. The General knew that it probably paid half of nothing, and debated whether to offer to find Jasper a job through one of his contacts, then saw the harder lines in his son’s face, and forbore. Instead he asked, “Are you OK for money?”
“Thanks, dad. Yeah.” He didn’t say any more, but his father could see that it wasn’t true, but that Jasper wouldn’t take any money from him, for whatever reason. The General had always thought that his son had been spoiled, and had regretted that at critical times in his adolescence, he hadn’t been there for him, too busy with his career, his job as Governor-General. Ironically, forcing Jasper to leave home had been good for him.
“I’m sorry, Jas. She’ll come round eventually.”
“Maybe.” Jasper was bitter.
The General changed the subject, and turned to Tom.
It was late when they finished. They had all been invited to join the General in the directors’ box at Archbishops’ first big game of the season the following Friday night. Lady Sutton never went to footy, so it was to be just the five of them and the General.
There were very different scenes in the two cars as they followed their separate routes home.
The Bentley purred quietly through the half-empty streets, with only the General’s soft happy hum breaking the hush, while his wife maintained an ominous silence in the seat next to him.
Tom’s BMW, on the other hand, was extremely noisy, with everybody commenting on an amazing evening, full of revelations and changes. Only Jasper was silent. He was thinking that if he once again started visiting his parents, he would inevitably meet Sean. The new Jasper knew how fragile his happiness was, how easy it would be to go back to his old ways, and so lose everything. He was afraid. Worse, he felt guilty. Yet he couldn’t dismiss the memory of that night from his mind.
© Nick Thiwerspoon 2015. All rights reserved.