Luigi didn’t like the turn the conversation was taking, and he said, a little sharply, “Why didn’t he marry one of the men?”
“Gay marriage wasn’t legal then.”
“Well, you know what I mean. Be committed. Loyal. As if they were married even if they weren’t.”
“Maybe in the old days gays couldn’t have permanent relationships. I mean some did.”
“Society is against us,” grumbled Luigi, irritably.
“Have some more champers, Lou, and quieten down. One, things are changing. Two, you idiot, we’ll be around for you, for always. Me and Keith and you too; Cody, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer from either of them. “Maybe,” he went on, “we’ll create a new model of relationships, like an extended family, where we love each other but not exclusively. Shared. Somehow. I don’t know.”
“Would it work? Can it work?” Luigi’s voice showed all his doubts, all his bitterness.
“Gayboy, I’ll be here for you always.” Jason lifted his head and met Luigi’s gaze and their eyes locked. “When we’re in the Shady Acres Retirement Home, we’ll still be friends. By that stage maybe not friends with benefits, you know, since we’ll be ancient, but anyway something important and meaningful. Husbands. Partners. Lovers.”
His eyes shiny with unshed tears, touched beyond belief, Luigi was quite unable to speak.
Jason reached up and tapped him on the nose. “Silly gayboy!” he said softly. He turned his look towards Cody. “You’re part of this too, Co. Luigi loves you and we love Luigi so you’re with us. I don’t know what will happen with Phillippa or your marriage or that stuff, but as long as you’re with Lou you’re our friend too.” He turned his eyes away and looked at the ceiling, speaking quite deliberately. “I screwed up with Brent, and lost someone I loved … so much. I can’t say how much. I can’t. I don’t have the words. And with you and Key I’ve been given a second chance. And I am not going to fuck this one up. When you get a second chance, you must grab it. ‘Cos you won’t get a third.”
Cody felt light headed, transported. He had been given a second chance. First, he’d been alert and no longer drugged when the killer had released him, so he could fight back. Then he’d managed to escape through the forest. Then, when he’d been sure that he would be found, hiding in the phone box on Mt Macedon, Michael had helped him. He’d been kind and unjudgemental. Then, later on, devastated and desperately unhappy because Phillippa had dumped him—not that he blamed her—wandering through the streets, he’d stopped right outside this house. And something had made Jason turn back and find him. And talk to him. And take him in.
Each time, someone or something had led him to safety. He’d been wrong. God wasn’t punishing him for his gayness. God wanted to see him safe, wanted him to have a life with Luigi, wanted him to be gay. Wanted him to be gay. Illumination flooded his brain. He was loved, not just by Cody, accepted not just by Jason and Cody and their friends, by the two old ladies in this magical home, but by God Himself.
Filled with intense joy and delight, he wept tears of happiness.
“Hey!” said Jason. “You OK?”
Cody couldn’t speak. He could only nod.
“Don’t cry, dude,” urged Luigi, cupping Cody’s head with his hands.
Cody shook his head and sniffed.
Luigi kissed him on his forehead and then on his lips. “It’ll be OK, I know that.”
Cody nodded. He knew. He smiled through his tears.
“That’s the ticket!” said Jason. He hugged Cody and pressed his forehead against the other man’s. “You’ve got us, now. We’ll see you right.”
Cody nodded again. He knew. Inside him burned a flame of joy, of acceptance, of love. Still the tears trickled down his cheeks. Luigi lifted his own t-shirt and wiped Cody’s face. Cody looked down at the firm line of Luigi’s stomach, at his Apollo’s belt, and felt love swell inside his heart at the sheer beauty, inner and outer, of this man who still loved him, despite all he had done.
“Thank you,” he whispered, filled with gratitude. “Thank you.”
“C’mon. It’s time for bed.” Jason stood up and reached out his hand to Cody, and pulled him to his feet. In turn, Cody helped Luigi stand up.
For a moment, Luigi had been afraid that they would all have to share a single bed. But there was a queen-sized bed in the room.
“Nice big bed!” he observed.
“Yes. And Eleanor has told me often that she doesn’t mind me bringing friends home.”
“Maybe she didn’t have us in mind,” replied Luigi.
“Nah. She likes you both.”
“Did she say so?”
“I could tell. She’s a lovely person.”
“Yes, she is,” commented Cody unexpectedly. Round a lump in his throat, he said, “She’s so kind. She has such kind, sad eyes.”
“Yeah.” Jason nodded. “You know, I’ve been so lucky. After Brent, I felt shredded. I never thought I’d be happy again. And yet—not that I’ll ever forget him, never—I am happier now than I ever thought I’d be. And that’s because of Eleanor. And you, Lou. And Key. You’ve made me feel welcome. Wanted. Loved.” He gave Luigi a quiet smile, and again, his eyes locked with his friend’s. After a moment he turned to Cody. “You’ve been through some bad times, my dear, and it’s not going to get better quickly. But it will. You’ll learn to love again, to be happy. I was so lucky with coming to this house of all the houses in Melbourne. It seemed to be by chance. And meeting Lou. And I think it’s a lucky place, this house. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I mean it. It’s a good place. You’ll be safe here.”
Cody’s look was so humble and filled with gratitude that Jason was embarrassed. How lucky I’ve been, he thought. How privileged my life has been! He wondered whether he could consider having his mother ‘lucky’. He was—mostly—sure she loved him. Well, she was quite fond of him, he knew that. But she was so obsessed with silly things. Once he might too have been fussed about the things she thought important. But losing Brent—having Brent!—had taught him different. All the stuff which made her so happy or unhappy, it didn’t matter. What mattered was right here in this town, this house, these people. His grandam, Eleanor, Lou, and Keith, even though Keith was with Esmé tonight. This city which had accepted and embraced him from the first day he’d arrived in her.
His heart too full to speak, he stripped down to his trunks and slipped under the bedclothes.
“Aren’t you going to brush your teeth?” asked Luigi, mocking.
“Not if you aren’t. But you’re welcome to use my toothbrush!”
“Ugh! You might have a deadly disease!”
“Prolly have, you plonker. Something vile. Scrofulosity. Your teeth will drop out. Or your eyes will swell and pop. No, I know! You’ll be touched by the ugly stick! No longer the beautiful Luigi DiPietro, just plain, fat, hideous LuLu.”
“What happened to all that guff about the Shady Acres Retirement home?”
“Oh, the ugly stick’ll only get you if you brush your teeth with my toothbrush.”
“Then I won’t!” retorted Luigi, firmly.
“Wise man! Oh fount of wisdom and insight, joy of joys, heart of my heart’s delight …”
“Shut up, you idiot.”
They settled into bed in silence. By unspoken decision, Cody went in the middle. Luigi put him there because he didn’t trust him not to get up in the night and try to do something rash. ‘Run away’ was what he pretended to think, but darker alternatives were in his mind. Jason’s reasons were more complicated. His reasoning was similar to Luigi’s, but he thought that Cosy needed simple comforting and caressing, like a wounded animal. He ought to be held, to have hands on him, and flesh against him. Years before, Jason had read about how infants in Victorian orphanages had died simply because no one had picked them up and held them. He’d stroked a run-over dog; calmed a frightened horse. He firmly believed in the healing power of petting. Cody’s happiness and security, and Cody and Luigi’s relationship had become his cause. And—just a little—he was also saying to Tyche, the Goddess of fortune, “See. I’m trying. I’m trying to make amends for Brent.”
They were all exhausted with the stress and tension of the day and the night before that, and for the first time Cody was tranquil. He handed himself over to Fate. He knew now, as sure as he knew that the sun rose in the east and set in the west, he knew that he was in God’s hands, and that he would come right. He needed only patience. And courage.
If you could have seen those three young men—each one having been through their own personal Golgotha, scarred, damaged, hurt—nevertheless peacefully and trustingly asleep in each other arms … well, you know what you would have felt. I leave it to yourselves, gentle readers, to imagine the simple humanity with which they held each other against the terrors and agonies of life.
Terrors, which it would turn out, were not that far away.
They slept late, and were woken by the clatter of tea things and the smell of toast and bacon from the kitchen.
“Blast!” said Jason, sitting up abruptly. “I meant to do the tidying up and the washing up last night. Bugger.”
Cody blinked open his eyes. And then he gave Jason a smile of surpassing sweetness, and Jason decided all at once that he was going to like him. “Sorry!” Jason said more quietly. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No worries. Got to get up some time.” Cody yawned. “Sorry. Shouldn’t let a bloke see my tonsils.”
Jason grinned. “I rather think that if we get up now, we can have breakfast.” He yawned too. “Would you like to have a shower? I can get you a towel.”
“Thank you. No. Lou and I showered before we came.”
Showered? thought Jason. After sex or instead of? “No probs. I’ll shower after brekker. So we might as well go down now.”
Cody felt shy dressing in front of Jason. Jason was everything Cody admired: handsome, manly, confident, straight-acting, muscular, sexy. And kind. In the normal course of events, they might have fucked last night and been embarrassed and cool with each other this morning. But even though Cody saw all the qualities which would usually have turned him into a gibbering wreck of lust and self-abasement, the peace from the night before stemming from his recognition of God’s love for him was still with him, and what he felt wasn’t lust at all, but a kind of hero-worship. Which made him horribly shy. Yet it wasn’t a humiliating emotion, but homely: the shyness which comes at the beginning of an intense friendship, the shyness you know will lead in the end to intimacy. He had no idea of sex, and he wasn’t conscious of desire. Just of a kind of exalted friendship.
He turned to look at Luigi, whose slim androgynous body has been partially uncovered by his and Jason’s sitting up. He felt an intense love for Luigi, and without stopping to think, bent down and kissed him on the shoulder. He looked up in time to see a sequence of emotions show in Jason’s face: surprise; approval; liking—and jealousy.
“I won’t wake him. He can sleep for ages,” Cody said, disconcerted but nonetheless pleased.
“I know,” replied Jason with a smile which made his eyes glow.
Of course you do, thought Cody, and for a moment it was his turn to be jealous.
“Come on,” urged Jason softly. “Let’s go down and eat and leave gayboy here to sleep.”
They dressed in silence, but when they were on the way to the kitchen, Cody asked, “Why do you call him that.”
“It’s a sort of joke. When we … our first time … it was like we were playing roles. Me, a straight boy doing this for the first time, him a gay queen just interested in the sex. But I’m not and he’s not.”
“He said you were very kind to him.”
“He was so sad.” Jason put his hand on Cody’s arm. “Don’t do that to him again, Cody. He’s a … good man. He loves you. Don’t break his heart again.”
Cody looked down at the shining floor boards. He had to drag his face up to meet Jason’s intense gaze. It took all his courage.
“I won’t,” he promised. “I won’t.” But saying at the second time made it seem less real, and he panicked as he felt Jason draw away in distaste or dislike. Feeling tears come to his eyes, tears of shame and embarrassment and humiliation, he said, “I won’t. I love him.”
“Good,” said Jason. And he smiled. But Cody saw the steel beneath the charm and felt his happiness start to fade.
There was cooked bacon in a dish on the table, covered with a cloth, and toast in the rack.
Jason went to door to the courtyard, where his grandmother and Eleanor Cumberledge were sitting. “Good mornin’ Grandam. Mornin’ Eleanor.” He sounded more than normally English and aristocratic.
“Morning Jason! How are you feeling this morning?” Eleanor smiled with pleasure.
“Beaut, thank you.”
Lucasta noticed the Australianism with amusement.
“Um, sorry I didn’t clean up last night. I meant to, and we got to talking and then … it slipped my mind.”
“Oh, please don’t concern yourself with that, Jason,” entreated Eleanor. “It was our party, anyway.”
“Where more than half the guests were me and my friends!”
“Well, next time, then.” Eleanor waved the issue away. “Help yourself to some bacon and toast and tea, and come out and join us. It’s such a beautiful morning.”
Cody had been standing just out of sight behind Jason, feeling more and more uncomfortable. He stepped forward, his expression bleak.
“Oh, there you are, Cody! There’s bacon and toast in the kitchen.” Eleanor had wondered whether Luigi and Cody would stay and was pleased that they had.
Cody was warmed at the genuine welcome in her voice. He greeted both of the old ladies.
“I slept so late this morning as if I were young again on the razzle dancing till dawn but Mrs Cumberledge explained that it’s really jetlag so barbarous and tiresome but I feel much more alert than I did yesterday morning such a long flight even from Kuala Lumpur and dear Lucy Anstruthers looked after me so well but then I’m not as young as I used to be, am I?” She smiled beatifically at them. Cody was reassured by all this benevolent nonsense. When he turned to look to see how Jason was taking it, he detected a small quirk to his lips which showed his amusement and affection. Jason caught his gaze and their eyes locked for what seemed forever but could only have been one or two seconds. In the other man’s eyes Cody read attraction, goodwill, forgiveness, judgement.
The Watcher lifted his binoculars and looked again at the tableau in the garden of the house on the other side of the block. His heart began to beat and he felt dizzy. For many heartbeats he could not believe what he was seeing. The twink! Right there. Nearby. God had delivered him into his hands. All his doubts had been wrong. It was a clear sign that God wanted him to go on with his work, to rid the world of these abominations. He would get them all; the twink; his handsome friend; the old ladies too. Father McAlister’s Irish burr sounded in his head. Oh, good boy!
Tears trickling down his cheek, the binoculars falling unheeded to the floor, he fell to his knees and began to pray.
Luigi woke to the smells of breakfast and the sounds of chat and laughter drifting through the half-open window. He threw off the bedclothes and pulled his jeans on over his thong. He sniffed the armpits of his shirt. A bit niffy. Couldn’t be helped. He went through to the bathroom and washed his face. The smell of cooking reminded him of his grandmother, of staying at home, of being happy. I’ll give it a go, he thought. It’s not like I’m alone any more. I have Jace and Key and maybe this whole thing with Cody will work out. I’ll be happy. I’ll make myself happy.
He traced the smell and conversation to the kitchen, and emerged into bright autumn sunlight. As he was greeting and being greeted, he couldn’t help looking again and again at Cody to see how he was. There was some reserve, some sadness and grief, but he looked far better than he had when Luigi had picked him up the day before (only one day ago!) in Mt Macedon. Between him and Jason there was the hint of some discomfort, yet reading their body languages, he sensed that they might become friends. He had to fetch a chair from the kitchen for himself. Jason went inside and brought out two teas and gave them to Luigi and Jason.
“This is your tea, isn’t it?” Luigi asked Jason, touched.
“Well I can make myself another. Go on, drink up. It’s good for what ails you!”
Jason winked salaciously, and Luigi felt himself colour. For Heaven’s sake, not in front of the old ladies! Dio! Che scandalo!
Lucasta saw the exchange and was both amused and touched by it. Such a sweet boy flirting in front of me like that full of trust I suppose they shared the bed last night yet once that wouldn’t have been scandalous long ago it’s our world so obsessed by sex but Jason and Brent were in love and loved each other and if it hadn’t all happened so sad they would have got married and really marriage is about more than sex though sex is important and I did love Harold would he have minded I suppose he would have but I would have given him a sharp talking to I’m too old to worry about what society thinks that’s one of the privileges of old age not to care about idiotic beliefs and stuff and nonsense but I do hope dear Jason finds love because it does make the world go round I’m so glad I came and I do love him dear boy so good and Luigi so beautiful extraordinary really I hope he doesn’t break Jason’s heart I couldn’t bear it if it were to happen again poor dear boy.
Aloud, Lucasta observed, “Such a lovely day autumn really is the best season especially here so much warmer than London not to mention the countryside all those old-fashioned houses so badly heated so you roasted on the side facing the fire and froze on the other side and got chilblains.”
“So dispiriting, chilblains,” observed Eleanor, luxuriating in the warmth of the sun and the still slightly chilly air.
“My dear, such a torment at school the dormitories never properly heated quite Victorian really.”
“What are chilblains?” asked Luigi.
Lucasta smiled. “Vile itchy lumps on your hands and fingers which you get in winter quite horrid I assure you.”
The Watcher was again monitoring the group sitting in the sun in the garden opposite. A Nest of Evil, he thought with satisfaction. Vipers and scorpions. The two old ladies no better than the twinks. Encouraging evil ways and abominations. They should have forbidden the twinks the house until they’d accepted Jesus and given up their gayness. Instead, they encouraged it. Look at them laughing together! Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
He would extirpate the lot of them, corrupt homo filth.
She pressed the razor blade into the muscles of her forearm. The sting brought her immediate comfort. She watched the blood swell and trickle down her skin. She was mesmerised by the rich burgundy discharge. You shouldn’t do this. It’s not healthy. She didn’t know where the voice came from. It wasn’t her mother or her father. But she ignored it anyway. She made another cut parallel to the first, a little deeper. She hissed at the pain and closed her eyes. As always, a kind of peace came over and she floated over the memories. She always cut herself up in the fat part of her forearm. It wasn’t really bad, she comforted herself. She’d never cut her wrists, except the once.
The first time he’d come to her, he’d said it was time to show her how to be a woman. She’d adored him. It didn’t seem wrong. Not till later. When he’d told her it was their secret and she should never tell mum. With the instinctual insight of children, she’d felt it wasn’t right, though she didn’t know how or why. Just that it felt off.
The violence had only begun later. When she started going out with a boy from her school.
The autumn sun was warm, but the air felt like champagne, sparkling and full of light. Luigi, Cody and Jason sat in the garden chairs on the back verandah and chatted with Lucasta and Eleanor. It was peaceful in the sun. In the distance, there was the grumble of lorries on the main road, the clang and ping of trams. From neighbouring gardens there came the indistinct mumble of people chatting, of washing machines going, of some energetic soul mowing. The world felt right.
Even Cody felt some peace. His life was in ruins; worse, he had ruined Phillippa’s life. Well, there was nothing he could do now. He had to start again. From scratch. And his grief and humiliation and terror still howled deep inside him. And yet, on this autumn morning, with people who didn’t judge him or who at least had suspended judgment, he had hope. He could start again. He wasn’t dead, murdered by a demented pervert. His life was in front of him. And into his head came the renewed vow, that he would make his life worthwhile, and do something to pay back Fate or God or Life for his good luck.
And he wasn’t alone. He had friends. Luigi and maybe Jason. And Eleanor and Lucasta. Perhaps he could get a room here. So he wouldn’t be a burden on Lou and piss him off. If he still had a job. If.
She’d come home so happy. His name was Sean. He was cute, with brown hair and blue eyes and a smile which made her heart flip. He was shy, and asked if he could walk home with her every day. She watched him with amused affection as he built up his courage to ask her out.
He’d found out. She didn’t think she had to keep it secret. When he found out about it, he’d beaten her, calling her slut and whore and bitch and then he’d fucked her brutally and left her to cry herself out afterwards. The next day, at breakfast, he’d been quite ordinary, almost more loving and friendly than usual.
After that, their sex had never had even the pretence of love. She started making up stories about how she’d fallen down the stairs, or slipped on a wet pavement, or tripped over the edge of the carpet and hurt her eye. She could see the doubt and disbelief in the faces of her interlocutors. She was too ashamed to tell the truth. I deserve it, she thought. I tempted him. This is what he’d told her. And when she turned her face from him as he thrust into her, he’d ask, so reasonable, don’t you love your daddy? And then he’d hit her hard. Smile at me, bitch, he’d say. Smile, you fucking whore. You unlovable trollop. Smile.
But she couldn’t.
“Let’s go home,” suggested Luigi to Cody, after they’d finished helping with the clean up after breakfast.
Home? thought Cody. Where is that? But he didn’t speak.
“Your medical certificate might have come. The doctor said he would send it to my address.”
“Maybe I should just … resign. I dunno that I can face them if the truth comes out.”
“Is it a good job? Pay and stuff?”
“It’s all right. Not a fortune. But enough. Phillippa”— he swallowed and looked away—“she … the house was given to us by her parents … so we …. There was enough money. Even though I didn’t earn a lot.”
Luigi wondered how to put what he was going to ask next. “Will she ask for maintenance?”
“She’s very … yeah.”
“Will you fight that?”
“No. Not for the kids. My kids. I … I want to be …” He broke off, unable to speak.
Luigi waited, patiently.
“I want to be part of their life. Just because …. You know … and I love them. And … well … maybe I can trade, you know, maintenance for access.”
Luigi was quietly angry. Not against Cody. Against society. Cody had a right to see his children, to love them. Just because Cody was gay, didn’t mean that he’d lost that right.
“Well, let’s go and see whether the medical certificate is there and then we can think about phoning your work. One step at a time. We’ll make it.”
Taking Cody’s hand he led him through to where Eleanor was sitting.
“Mrs Cumberledge, we’re off now. Thank you for the party last night and breakfast this morning.”
“Oh, do call me Eleanor, Luigi. ‘Mrs Cumberledge’ sounds so formal.”
He smiled at her. “All right. Thank you. And thank you for … your support.”
Cody looked at her and said, all at once overcome with shyness, “Yes, thank you. I … it helped.”
She took the hand Luigi wasn’t holding and squeezed it. “Do come again, Cody. Soon. You’re very welcome here.”
When she went back to school the next day and told Sean she couldn’t after all go out with him, she hadn’t told him why. When she tried to say even something as simple as ‘my father won’t allow it,’ she’d choked up. She’d almost wept at the way the light went out of his eyes as he realised what she was telling him. She hadn’t been surprised when he’d avoided her after.
But it hadn’t stopped her dad.
Her one friend was Luke, a geeky gay loner in her class. He was fat and embarrassed by it. No one liked him, and the rugby players and the macho handsome sporty types made his life a misery, plastering his locker with dog shit, cuffing him as he walked past, calling out softly and then in a rising crescendo as he approached, “Beware homo! Beware homo! Lukie fagpants.” She never took him home. She knew better than that. But they would meet at the shopping centre, and have an ice cream shake. Sometimes it was the only thing she ate all day, though it wasn’t the only thing he ate. Part of her was wryly intrigued that her response to misery was to eat nothing while his was to eat everything, all the time. Her dad had once found a fold of fat on her while he was fucking her and twisted it hard and called her a fat lesbo fuck and after that she had stopped eating.
Aside from Luke, she had no other friends.