Chapter One

'Congratulations Ashley, on giving your wife, what? Two months rest? Before climbing between her legs again and making another one.'

The sarcastic speech is made by Brett's father over a few drinks in the pub. Brett and Ash are brothers, with Brett, the younger, being my 'significant other'. The men are normally quite close, although it has to be said that Ash often seems to be on a different plain of thought to the rest of humanity.

'Thanks,' Ash mutters.

Brett and I exchange glances. Ash and his wife, Helen, have a four month old girl and Brett's father isn't too far off the mark with his comments.

'When is she due?' Brett asks, turning to his brother.

'June.'

'Congratulations.'

Ash gives a wry grin at his younger siblings' more genuine sounding congratulations. I really don't understand why his father is being so harsh on him, when as far as I'm aware, the couple is coping well with their new child. They have a house, matching wedding rings, a son – although admittedly, Helen isn't his biological mother – and baby Ally. To all intents and purposes, they're living the ideal heterosexual lifestyle. They've even started going to church with Brett and Ash's mother.

Brett and I, on the other hand, live in a unit out in the suburbs. We're not married because my name is Damon, not Darla, and I have epilepsy, which I've learnt to live with, but don't particularly like. I have no job, and due to my medical problems, no driver's license. In short, I don't have anything to offer my boyfriend, other than my love.

I study my pot of bitter carefully, wiping the condensation off with my index finger. This really isn't that good a set of news for me, because every time Brett sees or hears of one of his friends or family having a child, he slips into 'I want a baby of my own' melancholy. Ninety-five percent of the time I'm entirely secure within the relationship, but whenever babies or money are mentioned, I start to worry.

'Congratulations,' their father sighs. 'Although it's Helen I should be congratulating, not my bloody son whose only contribution was getting his end wet.'

Ash snorts in disgust. 'It wasn't all bad from her end, either.'

'I'm going to take your word for it,' comes the bemused reply. 'Bundy, Ash?'

'Yeah, thanks.'

I try and catch Brett's eye, but he's deep in conversation with Ash and seems oblivious to me. All I want is for him to look at me and smile, but I doubt he will; he's happy for his brother, but sad at the same time, regretting that he won't ever be able to announce a pregnancy. Nobody's ever going to roll their eyes at his rapid breeding, and nobody's ever going to get up and shout everyone a round of rum and Coke so proper congratulations can be given.

When his father returns with a jug of alcohol and four glasses, Brett finally glances my way, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. I smile and he smiles back, his crooked teeth only slightly visible. He doesn't smile showing his teeth for the very reason that they're neither straight, nor particularly white – although he brushes his teeth twice a day – and he becomes uncomfortable with people's stares.

With his mouth shut, he looks perfectly attractive. I initially thought maybe he was half-Italian or something, but he's just a dark skinned guy. His face is nice; he has the best nose I've seen on a man, and when his five o'clock shadow appears, he looks undeniably sexy. Underneath his clothing is a great body, solidly muscular and incredibly strong. I've long since learnt that it's futile trying to win a play fight, and anyone who's stupid enough to take a swing at him in anger obviously doesn't have any idea what they're up against. Don't fuck with my boyfriend, in other words, because although he'll never take the first swing, he'll definitely take the last.

Excluding his bad teeth, he's an almost carbon copy of his brother and father; the other two men have nice, white smiles, unlike my much-loved boyfriend. Whenever I'm with the trio, I always wonder whether or not Ash or Brian have ever considered batting for the other side. They look so similar it's almost an anathema that they could be so staunchly heterosexual.

I push my beer aside and accept the glass of rum and Coke Brian pours for me, chinking it against Ashley's as his father congratulates him on Helen's pregnancy. I'm happy for Ash, glad that he's got his life sorted out, even though he can be a little close-minded at times. I know he struggles to accept my relationship with Brett, but he seems to be loosening up. He lost his girlfriend, who was the mother of his first child, Ricky, nearly two years ago, and he was thus forced into the realization that societal expectations of people and relationships frequently clash with 'real life'. Sometimes he seems to regress a little, back into the relative normality of homophobia, but on the whole he treats us fairly decently. Not that I personally care, because my life is my business and nobody else's, but he and Brett used to be close, and I don't want my lover being hurt.

'We should get going,' Brett remarks, draining his drink. 'Congratulations Ash and look after Hezza. We might come around and see you on Saturday.'

'Yeah, do that,' Ash agrees. 'Ricky's gonna be over, so bring Lexis with you.'

Lexis is our tan and white Fox Terrier. He was given to us by a friend of a friend and although foxies aren't apparently that good with kids, Lexis is definitely the exception.

Brett's a little quiet as we walk out the door. I hate his lapses into silence, because I'm never entirely sure what to say to him.

'Brett?' I ask as we get into our car. 'Is something up?'

He turns to face me, a smile flitting across his lips. 'Baby jealousy again. Maybe we should baby-sit Evan for a night to remind ourselves how awful kids really are.'

'Maybe we should invite James and Evan over together,' I suggest, biting my lower lip. 'Mitch is cheating again.'

James is my best friend, with Mitch being his partner and Evan being their son. Evan's an eleven month old cutie who toddles around after everyone and loves his building blocks. He looks like his father, James; tall for his age, skinny, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair. He has Mitch's nose, which isn't surprising seeing Evan's mother is Mitch's older sister, Hailey, but I hope to hell he doesn't have Mitch's tendency to stray.

Once upon a time Brett and I used to both live with, and partner swap with James and Mitch. After Evan's birth, James decided he wanted an entirely monogamous relationship, something that didn't particularly bother either Brett or myself, and we happily helped them move into to a house of their own.

James seemed happy for a month or two. Unfortunately for James, Mitch wasn't happy. Even more unfortunately for my best friend, Mitch decided the best way to deal with his roving eye was to start a casual affair with a fellow first year police officer. When James realised why it was his partner was always home late and didn't have the same interest in sex that he used to, he hit the roof.

Mitch swore never to do it again, but rather predictably, he did. He keeps going back to her, which is really starting to get to James. No matter how many times Mitch tries to tell him it's 'only sex', he can't cope with his partner straying, especially when he's straying into a woman's arms.

'He needs a bloody leash,' Brett replies irritably. 'And some respect for James.'

Brett has quite a firm stance on morality, especially having unsanctioned sexual relations, and if nothing else I know that he'd never cheat. There's a slight possibility that he may leave me one day, but I'd wager a lot of money that he'd never sleep with anyone else while he was still with me.

'Would you forgive me if I cheated?' I inquire.

Brett sighs. 'You know damn well I would.'

'I wouldn't though,' I reply honestly. 'You're cranky enough as it is.'

He cracks a smile at that, because we both know it's true. He's an incredible grumpy bum, always sooking and throwing tantrums over the slightest little thing. It can be unbelievably annoying, but we've been together for over two years, so I'm more than accustomed to his outbursts.

'Would you forgive me?'

That one's a no-brainer. 'Without doubt. You could sleep with every second person in Australia and I'd still forgive you.'

'Then it's a pity every second person in Australia doesn't want to sleep with me,' he teases, his dark eyes flashing.

We make the remainder of the journey home in silence. I'm not sure what Brett's thinking, but I definitely hope it in no way relates to the chidren he won't be having. I sometimes find it incomprehensible why he wants a baby, when he knows how much work they are. Memories of Evan's squalling are still deeply implanted in my mind, replete with smelly baby poo, milky vomits and nights of seemingly endless crying. Brett, however, doesn't appear to fazed at the mess children make, and I know when he mentioned inviting James and Evan over, it had nothing to do with 'reminding himself of how awful children are', rather 'doting on the child I once used to share a house with'.

He sits in front of the computer, studying, when we return home, whilst I make dinner. I always seem to cook, because although Brett can and will do 'the honours', there's only so much grease I can stand. I must have gained ten kilos since we first met and I'm determined that I won't gain any more.

'Dinner's ready,' I announce an hour later.

'Yeah, hang on a second.'

His 'second' turns into an hour, because whereas studying is definitely not my forte, it's definitely Brett's. Maybe it's because he's actually interested in what he's studying, but regardless, it's depressing to know that he gets better grades than I do, when I'm a full-time student, and he's a full-time worker on top of his studies. He teaches welding apprentices at the local TAFE, a job which pays surprisingly well and doesn't tire him as much as boilermaking, although it's a shame I don't see him in blue overalls too much anymore. He looked gorgeous in workclothes.

I've completely forgotten about Helen's pregnancy when Brett makes reference to it. My heart sinks. He's wearing his 'I want one' expression and fiddling with his cous cous, leaving me little room for comfort.

'Didn't you ever want kids?' he asks plaintively.

'Nope,' I reply, returning my attention to the television. 'I always planned on admiring James'.'

'Hmm,' he mumbles. 'Pity Mitch doesn't seem fond of admiring James.'

'He does,' I argue truthfully. 'That hasn't changed. Do you really think Mitch doesn't love him anymore?'

Brett pauses, mulling over his answer. 'I think he loves him, I just don't think he respects him.'

'But he tried to hide what he was doing,' I rejoind, playing devil's advocate. 'He didn't intend to hurt James.'

Brett puts his fork down and reaches for his cigarettes. He lights one, offers me the pack, and rubs his eyes tiredly. I feel a little bit guilty about arguing the matter, when I already know his stance, and also know that he doesn't appreciate discussing subjects that make his blood boil. And cheating partners most definitely infuriate him.

'Sorry,' I apologise, lighting my cigarette.

He waves aside my apology before reaching across the table and resting his hand on mine. 'If he wanted other partners, he should have made it clear at the beginning of the relationship, not hiding his...activities...and having James find out the hard way.'

'You didn't tell me you wanted children,' I reply, immediately regretting my words.

I wince and wait for Brett's reaction, knowing it could be anything from quiet concurrence to a major temper tantrum. He sighs tiredly, squeezing my hand and giving me a wry smile. I return the smile nervously, highly doubting he'd ever leave me, but fearing it nonetheless.

'I wasn't thinking about the future at the time,' he admits, drawing on his cigarette with his free hand. 'But no regrets Daidee.'

He only uses his pet name for me when he's happy. Determining him to be in a good mood, I decide to tease him a little. 'Even though I don't have boobies?'

Brett rolls his eyes and stubs out his cigarette. 'Wanker.'

For some reason, his last retort makes me crack up laughing.

Chapter Two

Every semester, as part of my university studies, I'm obliged to undertake a certain number of hours practical work. I'm currently placed in a foster care/emergency housing office, where the staff are continually frustrated, always complaining about the lack of funds and overall, pretty nice people.

Fiona is the lady I work with and on Friday morning I find her looking remarkably cheerful. She's a short, morbidly obese woman who dresses in brightly coloured caftans and leather sandals, and I'd guess she's in her forties, but I'm not that good with age. She also happens to think Brett is 'a hunk'.

'Morning Damon,' she greets. 'Counting down the hours to a dirty weekend with your boyfriend?'

'Not yet,' I reply, trying not to shudder. Talking about sex with other men is one thing, talking about sex with a woman my mother's age is entirely different. 'How has your week been?'

'Terrible,' she complains, reaching for her coffee. 'My bloody doctor keeps telling me to diet and quit smoking.'

She hands me a stack of papers for filing as she fills me in on the last four days. I file whilst she chats, only half listening to her as I continue worrying about Brett and his desires for a child. There's something unsettling about it, probably because I don't understand why he wants this so much. I'm also a little pissed, because I don't want to worry. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we could never have had children together, so I don't want him upping and leaving for the sake of a 'family'.

I continue worrying as clients come and go. None of them are particularly nasty, and Fiona has me make a few check-up calls before calling for a lunch break. She drives us down to the local McDonalds and we eat in, relieved that there's only a few more hours to go.

'Penny for your thoughts,' she offers.

'I'm not really thinking about anything,' I reply truthfully. 'Other than home.'

'Problems?' she asks sympathetically, offering me the pickle from her burger.

I know most people can't stand it, but I absolutely adore the pickles McDonalds put on their burgers, and accept the soggy green offerings gratefully.

'He wants babies,' I admit. I'm not sure why I'm confessing, but she's probably the best person for me to be talking to. I don't want to whinge to James, when he has enough problems of his own, and my other best mate, Terry, is dating Brett's best mate, so he's clearly not an option either.

'He wants babies or he wants children?'

'I have honestly no idea,' I admit. 'I hate raising the subject. I only talk about it enough to make him feel like I'm interested, but quite frankly, I don't give a fuck. I don't really give a damn if he wants children, because he's sure as hell not getting them from me.'

We're both shocked at how bitter I sound. Even I didn't fully realize how uptight the whole subject was making me.

'I'm sorry,' she apologises. 'Maybe you should look at foster care? There are certainly enough teenagers that need a stable home and you'd probably be close enough in age to avoid any huge fights with them.'

'That's not the same as having his own.'

'But it's a lot less selfish,' Fiona reprimands me, diving into her fries. 'And who are you to tell someone that because they're not tiny and cute they're not as valuable?'

I steal a few of her chips. 'It doesn't matter. We're fags, no teenager in their right mind would want to share a house with us.'

Fiona glares. 'Given a choice between living with two men or living on the streets, I'm fairly certain that most would chose the former.'

'No,' I argue, shaking my head. 'They wouldn't. Trust me Fiona, I'm only a few years past teenagehood. No guy in his right mind chooses to live with a homosexual couple. Besides, I'm not sure how good Brett would be with giving the kid back.'

'Then opt for long term care.'

'Why are you pushing this?' I ask uneasily, not used to be prodded. Brett and I fight, yes, and we frequently point out each other's faults, but we don't try to force our opinions on each other.

Fiona sighs. 'Because we need more foster carers who don't already have any children in the home. Long term homes, for kids with disabilities.'

'And I look like the closest sucker?'

'You're one of our better options,' she admits, pushing aside her lunch. 'And I've been meaning to suggest it for some time.'

I fiddle with my burger. Admittedly, the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion, but I never wanted to push the subject. I know that we're eligible to be foster parents, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we'd be accepted. Any child or teen that would be put into our care would be the worst of the worst; unable to live with a 'suitable' family and thrown into our home in a last ditch bid to save them from the streets or incarceration.

'Brett would already have a blue card, wouldn't he?' Fiona muses. 'Teaching at TAFE?'

'Yeah.'

Fiona nods thoughtfully, before easing her massive body from the hard plastic seat. 'Let's go back to the office and I'll give you the forms. Because you're working with us, the application should get processed within a few weeks.'


'You're so beautiful,' he whispers, stroking my face and kissing me.

I accept his embrace, tasting myself on his lips and loving the feel of his sweat-slicked torso in my arms. We're lying on our couch, naked and sexually satisfied, both of us looking forward to the weekend.

'Your butt feels like sandpaper,' I mumble, running my hands over his prickly behind. 'Nice. When did you last shave?'

'I dunno,' he mumbles in reply, shifting my hands from his butt to his waist. 'I don't want to think about my bum anymore.'

He has a point there. Six months ago I took him a little too hard and what we at the time thought was a 'small tear' ended up resulting in a trip to the hospital for stitches and a blood transfusion. I didn't realize it was possible to hurt someone so much during anal, but the worst part wasn't my own guilt, but the reaction Brett faced from his work colleagues when after a week off work, he found out the details on his medical certificate had been leaked. He still struggles to gain their respect, and I don't envy him the battle.

'Sorry,' I whisper, hugging him tightly. 'Love you.'

'Love you too.'

Maybe it's because he's only been 'out' for a little over two years, or maybe it's simply his personality, but either way, he gets extremely uptight when people disrespect him over his sexuality. Underneath his tough exterior, he's a big softie, and I don't doubt that, amongst other things, he'd make a good father. My only concern now is that in mentioning foster care, I'll be reminding him of his social infertility and ruining his good Friday afternoon, post-coital mood.

'Hon,' I whisper, resting his head in the crook of my neck. 'Would you be interested in applying to be someone's foster parent?'

He doesn't reply for a few minutes. 'Okay,' he agrees eventually. 'If they'll allow us.'

I run my fingers through his hair, relieved that he acquiesced so quickly. Maybe, I think, maybe when we have a child living here, he won't crave one of his own so much.

'Do you think that if they give us somebody to look after, you'll stop wanting your own baby?' I ask him.

'Is that what this is about?' he responds quietly, tracing his fingers over my collarbone.

'Yeah,' I admit. 'I don't want you to leave me.'

He props himself up on his elbows, leaning over my body and staring at my forehead. His fingers move over my skin carefully, wiping away droplets of sweat and brushing my hair back into place while he considers his answer.

'I'd never leave you,' he offers brokenly, pressing his lips to my cheek. 'And besides, if we had a kid, we wouldn't be able to do what we just did.'

What we 'just did' involved exchanging oral sex in the living room. I have to admit, he has a point; the impact a teenager is going to make on our life is going to be nothing short of horrendous.

'But we could probably afford it, if you want,' he adds as something of an afterthought. 'And it's hardly likely that we'd actually be given anyone's kid to look after, so if you want, we may as well apply.'

I guess that deep inside, a part of me does want to do this. I'm in the unenviable position of knowing exactly how awful it is to be sexually abused – something the majority of teenagers I encounter at 'work' have experienced – and some of the foster parents I've come across aren't exactly crash hot. That's not to say that I think I'd be a great parent, because I know damn well a twenty-one year old (me) and a twenty-five year old aren't the right 'age' but I don't think we'd be as bloody awful as some of the bitches and bastards Fiona and I have to work with.

'I'll fill in the forms,' I grin, pulling him down for a kiss. 'I'll save everyone your atrocious handwriting.'

'It's not that bad.'

I snort in disgust and try and throw him off the couch. As I've mentioned, play fights with Brett never result in him losing and I soon find myself hanging half off the couch, naked, with my nude lover pinning my arms to the floor whilst keeping my legs on the couch.

'Mercy?'

'Mercy,' I agree, my lower half slipping onto the floor as he releases his grip. 'Are you really sure you want to do this?'

He shrugs noncommittally but his eyes tell a different story; he knows this is the closest he's going to get to fatherhood and even though it's not perfect, he's going to take the opportunity.

'Cool,' I grin, sitting up and reaching for my clothing. 'I'm gonna make dinner, okay?'

'Or we could go out,' he suggests. 'I think Terry has some work thing tonight and Jamie wasn't planning on going. I wouldn't mind dropping in on him.'

'Maybe I should stay here then,' I argue. I hate interfering with Brett and Jamie time. They don't get to see each other that much and besides, having your boyfriend with you every second that you're not at work can't be too pleasant for him.

'No, come,' he argues. 'Go and have a shower while I give him a call.'

Forty-five minutes later, we arrive at Jamie and Terry's townhouse. Surprisingly, not only is Jamie home, but Terry's also sitting at the kitchen table, a shot glass in one hand, a bottle of vodka in the other. Having lived with him for a few, painful, months, I understand that something at work, or one of his family members, has severely pissed him off and he's chosen to drink himself into oblivion. He doesn't often goes hard and heavy with the alcohol but when he does, he rarely quits until he's thrown up everywhere and can fall into a deep, dreamless, sleep. Brett and Jamie collect beers from the fridge and head out to the courtyard, Jamie seemingly unfazed by his boyfriend's inebriation.

'How drunk are you?' I ask Terry.

'Not enough,' he replies irritably. 'I can't wait till I start getting sick. At least then I won't have to work.'

His olive green eyes meet mine coldly. 'And don't even try and tell me that's a horrible thing to say. It's true. I just want it all to be over.'

'What happened?' I ask, not wanting to hear any more references to his illness. He's been HIV positive for three years now and his doctor thinks he has another seven years of good health ahead of him, but seven years isn't exactly what I'd call 'a long time'.

'I screwed up,' he admits, pouring himself another glass. 'I hate screwing up.'

'Everyone makes mistakes,' I point out.

'That may be true,' he rejoins. 'But it doesn't mean I have to like it.'

'So you're going to sit here and piss up?'

Terry slowly places the bottle back on the table. 'Not anymore.'

I ask him why he isn't at his work function and he replies with 'I was planning on getting plastered instead'. The answer is worrying; Terry was always a career guy, a fact that was a lead part in our relationship's quick demise four years ago. He would never have missed a work function unless there was some major emergency.

'I don't care anymore,' he admits when I ask him the real reason behind his non-attendance. 'I'm thinking of getting another job, one that's not so stressful and won't involve fifty hour plus working weeks. I want to spend some time with Jamie before it's too late.'

Admittedly, I'm a little jealous, but when Terry and I were together he wasn't a ticking time bomb. There was no real reason for him not to focus on his career.

'Jamie's still clean,' Terry adds quietly. 'I know Brett worries, but we're careful.'

'Are you letting him fuck you now?' I prod, knowing Terry's 'caution' is actually more along the lines of 'paranoia'.

Terry sighs. 'Yes. What can I say? He wanted it and he knows what he's risking. Stupid kid.'

Terry's only a year older than his lover, but that doesn't stop him from frequently referring to him as 'kid'. It's used as a term of endearment, but it always sounds funny having this skinny femme guy refer to his very masculine lover in such a way. And really, Terry is extremely camp; he has a lisp and dresses immaculately, whereas Jamie's always in jeans and dirty Nikes or workboots, depending on whether or not he's been to work that day.

Terry truly is one of those 'utterly gay' men whose never had given a second thought to sex with women and in this, we're identical. Jamie's sexuality, however, confuses me. Jamie makes me a little uneasy because I can't categorize him; he identifies as straight, and yet he's in a relationship with a man. I really don't understand it. Whether he's with Terry for the sake of 'having someone' or he truly loves him, I don't know. All I know is that I sometimes struggle not to think that perhaps Jamie's motivated by the fact that he's going to inherit a hell of a lot of money when Terry dies and perhaps this is the real reason he stays with one of my best friends.

'I bet he's happy,' I reply, remembering that I need to answer.

Terry shrugs. 'He's not new to anal. He liked doing it with women so why wouldn't he like doing it with men?'

'Hmm,' I respond quietly, looking around. Jamie and Brett are still out in the courtyard, chatting about God knows what. 'What's he like in bed?'

'Dominant but not controlling,' Terry shrugs. 'It's good, I can't ask for anything more.'

'Does he kiss you?'

Terry picks up the vodka and pours a healthy measure into the shot glass. 'Leave it Damon,' he replies wearily. 'Don't use a conversation on sex to ask the questions you know I don't like you asking.'

'Terry…'

'Damon!' he replies, draining his glass. 'I don't care what you think. Leave the subject alone.'

'I don't want to fight with you.'

Terry glares, pouring yet more vodka. He must be pretty hammered to be able to drink it neat without choking. 'You're prodding at my sore spot. Sometimes I wish to God we could go back to having no one know about the relationship.'

'I'm only worried.'

'You worry too much about other people,' he replies, unexpectedly smiling. 'I'm fine. Don't you trust my judgment?'

I grin back at him and pour myself a shot of vodka. It burns my throat and I'm coughing uncontrollably, my eyes watering. Terry starts laughing at me, struggling to move his inebriated, lithe body out of his chair to pour me a glass of water.

'Guess what?' I ask after gulping down the water and regaining control. 'Brett and I are going to apply to be foster parents. Can you write us a nice reference?'

Terry falls silent.

'You're joking?' he asks eventually.

'No,' I reply uneasily, wondering if he's going to try to dissuade me. I honestly thought he'd be happy, but he looks more shocked than pleased.

'That's great,' he grins, hugging me awkwardly. 'Of course I'll write you a reference. Just wait until I'm a bit more sober.'

Chapter Three

Terry may have taken the news of our application to become foster parents quite well, but Brett's family take an entirely opposite viewpoint.

'You're really only getting his hopes up ,' Leanne – Brett's stepmother – tells me . 'Leave him alone and he'll get used to the idea he won't be having children. Don't use somebody else's, already damaged, child to try and make things better for him.'

'But that's not the whole reason we're doing this,' I argue, hoping Brett won't be exiting the bathroom any time soon.

Leanne sighs. 'Damon, I don't want to say this but it has to be said. You're gay. Brett's bisexual. The poor child's going to be tormented until the end of time for living with you. I know that from your perspective it's probably quite difficult to see the bigger picture, but you won't be doing anyone any favours in fostering a child.'

I stare down at my hands miserably, not comfortable enough with Leanne that I've already thought this over and reached the conclusion that as Brett hates public displays of affection and neither of us come across as 'gay', the child wouldn't have to reveal anything they didn't feel comfortable with.

Footsteps alert us to Brett's return, but neither Leanne nor I have anything to say to cover up the silence.

'This is quiet,' Brett remarks, wiping his wet hands on his jeans. 'Why are you guys so serious?'

'Brett, your father and I would rather not be involved in your application to foster a child,' Leanne explains.

Brett stares at her in shock. After all this time together, I know him well enough to recognize the expression on his face. He's hurt. He's insulted, too, but mostly, he's hurt.

'Okay,' he agrees unevenly a few seconds later. 'I asked Mum last night and she said no, too, so no problems. I think I'll go outside and have a smoke.'

I follow him outside, not bothering to glance back at Leanne. It shouldn't have been her job to break the news to Brett because it was more his father's job than his stepmother's. Leanne's been his stepmother for less than two years, whereas Brett and his father had previously had what I considered a fantastic relationship.

'I'm sorry,' I apologise, stroking his leg.

He shakes his head, dismissing my apology. 'We're not going to be able to foster unless we have family support.'

'I know,' I admit quietly. I last saw my mother maybe three months ago, and despite leaving several messages on her answering machine, she's yet to contact me. I'm not sure whether she's not interested in speaking to me, or my stepfather's deleting the messages before she has a chance to hear them, but I wouldn't be surprised either way. My relationship with my family is utterly crap and there's no way they'd be lending support to our cause.

'Stay here,' he orders, standing up and kissing the top of my head. 'I'm going to go and speak to Dad.'

Brett heads off to the shed where his father is working on fixing some appliance. I light another cigarette and wish I was at home, not sitting here uneasily trying to conjure up a nice way of explaining our 'family situations' to Fiona.

My chain of thought is broken and a cold sweat breaks out when Brett's voice rises. He's not one to argue quietly; if he becomes frustrated he'll yell at the person he's fighting with until either they walk away, hit him or agree with his point of view.

His father's yelling at him to calm down, but even I could tell him that's like telling an addict not to shoot up.

'I'm not shutting up,' comes the infuriated response. 'If he was a girl, and I said he was pregnant, you'd be delighted. Get over yourself, I'm so fucking sick of you telling me you're okay with us, and then shitting all over us whenever we're not around. Just say it. Just fucking say that you hate me being with him.'

'I'm disappointed you're with him,' his father yells back. 'And honestly Brett, are you even surprised at that? You had your whole fucking life ahead of you and you decided to shack up with another bloke. How the fuck did you think I'd feel? Blessed that my youngest son sacrificed his future for some unemployed poof?'

My heart skips a few beats at his words. Brett and I had always assumed that his father had no issues with us as a couple; he'd never come out with anything derogatory or, as far as I knew, persuaded Brett to leave the relationship, but now the truth is out. And I don't like the truth. I hate that our relationship is now going to be threatened by parental disapproval, because I know how much respect Brett has for his father.

'Fuck you,' Brett swears loudly, bitterly. 'Fuck you. Why the hell did you have to lie to me?'

I can't hear the answer, but I'm not entirely sure I want to. Leanne steps outside, staring at the garden shed, utterly ignoring me. We watch Brett emerge, rapidly covering the distance between the shed and the house, his face wearing a hard expression.

'Let's go,' he requests, paying Leanne no heed.

We walk back to our car wordlessly. As his shaking hands fumble with the door, he glances back towards the house and swears. I turn around to see his father approaching, and sink into my seat, praying that I won't be privy to any more evidence of his 'disappointment'. I don't want him to come and talk to Brett, because Brett's mine now; he's my lover and I love him and want to hold him until he stops shaking, not hang around whilst his father persuades him to leave me.

'Fuck off,' Brett demands, flinging open the driver-seat door. 'Stick your disappointment because I've got enough of my own without having yours on top of it.'

'Why the fuck are you turning this into such a big drama?'

'Because you're a fucking hypocrite,' Brett snarls before throwing himself into the driver's seat and jabbing his keys into the ignition. 'Fuck you. Goddamn you, I thought you liked him.'

We're screeching down the street before his father has a chance to reply. Brett's eyes remained trained on the road as he drives, but I can tell by the way he changes gear that he's fuming. I hate feeling like some dependent little fag, but that's exactly the way I feel right now. All I want is for time to wind back twenty-four hours and for Brian and Leanne to agree to support our decision.

'I'm sorry,' Brett apologises brusquely. 'He was just being an asshole. He didn't mean to call you that.'

It takes me a few seconds to remember Brian's remark about me being an 'unemployed poof'.

'It's fine. I've been called worse, and it's hardly as though I care what other people think of me.'

Brett sighs and fumbles for his cigarettes. He flicks the lighter as we pull up at red lights, inhaling deeply. 'You know, it sounds incredibly daggy and angsty, but sometimes I wish it was all over. You know, life. All I want is a little peace, a little acceptance.'

'I don't think anyone gets that. Nobody ever will, unless we all start being the same.'

'Well fuck being a homogenized heterosexual statistic,' he retorts viciously, slinking back into his foul mood. 'Fuck them. Goddamn them, fuck every goddamned motherfucking prick on the face of this planet.'

When Brett's being childish, it's prudent to keep your mouth shut. It's not that I'm scared of him - although frequently people assume that because his moods intimidate them, they must intimidate me - more that I know my boyfriend's a big sook and prefer not to start pointless fights.

He's still stewing when we arrive home, and he heads straight to the small room we use as a study, utterly ignoring Lexis' pleas for attention. At times like these, I have to confess I'd wonder how a teenager would cope with having such a moody guardian. Fiona's assumption that there would be less fights is probably entirely inaccurate; another aggressive person would likely result in a never-ending war of the egos.

I take Lexis down to the skate park, leaving him in the company of a group of young kids while I go for a skate.

When I return home, he's so....sad that I'm not sure how to react. I don't think I've ever seen him so down before; never has he been as defeated and world weary as he is tonight. He barely speaks, but he wraps himself firmly around me and refuses to let go. He reeks of cigarette smoke - he smokes furiously whenever he's angry - and he's pressing on several, new, bruises, but I can't find it within myself to push him away.

'Don't say anything,' he whispers, dropping to his knees and reaching for my fly.

I want to tell him that I'm sorry for leaving him, and for not realising he was hurting. I want to tell him that he has no need to feel any guilt over what his father said about me, and that maybe we'll still be able to adopt together, and even if we can't, it doesn't matter.

I don't say anything, though, because he asked me not to and I can respect that.


Sunday night was only the start of a week of serious loving. I receive almost non-stop oral sex, interrupted only by copious amounts of affection. Every time I try and ask him what's wrong, he lies to me, and tells me it's nothing.

I should point out here that Brett is really funny around people who are openly physically affectionate with their partners, and he's always giving people his 'evil eye'. Because of this, everyone he knows teases him mercilessly, and Brett responds by informing us that 'it doesn't need to be seen'. Or something. It's kind of depressing when everyone around you is snuggling with their partners, and yours is more intent on glaring at the 'offenders' than getting close to you, so for this reason I don't tend to listen to his mini-lectures on the subject.

On Saturday morning, he floors me. We head into a busy cafe, filled with families with seemingly endless numbers of prams, and sit across from each other in a corner booth. I'm tapping my fingers on the table absently when I realise his hands have closed over mine. I'm not an easily surprised person, but this most definitely isn't normal Brett behaviour. Everyone can see us, and we live in a 'family' not 'alternative' area, and....well, it's just not something Brett would ever do.

His fingers slip between mine, intertwining our hands. It's ridiculous how nervous I am, but I've never actually had a man hold my hand in a predominantly heterosexual place. It's simply not something that's done.

'What's up?' I whisper. 'Brett? Why are you doing this?'

He flushes red and averts his gaze. 'You always complain that I'm not affectionate enough.'

'Yeah, but don't do that here.'

'Why not?'

I take my hand from his. 'Let's go home.'

He frowns, but more than that, he looks embarrassed. 'We need to go shopping.'

I grin and grab his hand. Hell, it's too late for modesty; we're already getting 'those' looks. 'The only thing we need is lubricant,' I mouth, laughing in tune with my boyfriend.

We walk out of the cafe, the other patrons giving us looks ranging from disgust to fury to curiousity. I want to poke out my tongue, or do something equally childish, but I'd prefer not to show that I care. Other people's homophobia isn't my problem and I've long since learnt it can be really hard to alter people's opinions.

I'm grateful that Brett's agreed to abort our grocery shopping trip because he looks as though he may confess why it is he's been behaving so oddly this week. Honestly, the amount of oral I've received is obscene, even by homosexual standards, and as for holding my hand in public....I don't think I can even begin to imagine why he chose to do that.

Lexis jumps all over us when we return home. I swear that dog can tell what day of the week it is, because every Saturday - when we return home from shopping, bringing with us a bone from the butchers - he's inordinately excited to see us.

'Sorry,' I apologise, scratching his head. 'No bone.'

I take him outside, feeling unbelievably guilty over the lack of bone. It's ridiculous how much guilt an animal can inspire.

Inside, Brett's sitting on our blue-flowered couch, a cigarette clenched between his fingers. His gaze is trained on his jeans and he's biting down on his lower lip in between periodic pulls on his smoke. I sit alongside him, and he immediately buries his head in my neck, pulling us down so we're lying together. He keeps his face tucked into my neck and his arms around my back whilst I try and figure out how to start questioning him.

When the question is but seconds from being asked, I realise with a shock that he's crying. This is most definitely not a good sign, because Brett rarely cries, or if he does, he doesn't do it around me. In over two years, this is only the third time I've seen him lose control and the worst part is, I don't know how to respond.

'Brett? What's wrong honey?'

He shakes his head and tightens his grip. 'You're all I have left,' he whispers. 'I thought it was okay, you know? I really, truly, thought everyone was happy. Now I know...' He breaks off, sniffling and keeping his face firmly buried in my neck. '....now I know it was all just bullshit. Now I know they were all lying, and I don't know if I can trust my judgement anymore.'

'Brett, your Dad will get over it. He got over Ash and Helen having another baby.'

'You don't get it,' he argues sadly, digging his fingers into my back. 'They lied. And everyone.... everyone at work is being such a fucking bastard and I hate it. I want to kill them. Do you have any idea what it's like to want to be able to kill someone, and know that you can't?'

'Brett,' I whisper, stroking his hair and kissing the small patch of forehead available. 'Don't get angry honey.'

'I don't want to be angry,' he replies furiously. 'But I am. I hate people lies. I hate hypocrites.'

He starts crying again, his body heaving as his tears wet my neck, soaking into my shirt and itching my chest. I hold him while he gets it all out, not saying anything, not doing anything save offering my support.

Sometimes, that's all that you can do.

Chapter Four

'Brett?'

'Mmm?'

He doesn't sound particularly interested in what I have to say. The only thing Brett seems interested in is his 'thank-God-I'm-home-and-it's-Friday' hug. It's been three weeks since his fight with his father and although he seems to be coping a little better now, he's still overly affectionate. Truthfully, I love his touchy feely side and were it not for my good news, I wouldn't have bothered speaking.

'We got approved,' I whisper, stroking his hair. 'Amazing huh?'

He steps back and locks eyes with me. 'Are you serious?'

'I wouldn't lie,' I point out, leaning forward and kissing him. 'Especially about that.'

'No, you wouldn't,' he agrees wryly, resting his hands on my hips. 'Thank God for that.'

'Uh-huh, don't get like that,' I demand, glaring at him. 'Remember? No ruining our time together.'

He grins sheepishly and shuts his eyes, leaning in for another kiss. He told me last night that his work mates are finally easing up on the derogatory comments and even though I'm pissed that the bloody assholes had to make the remarks in the first place, I'm grateful they seem to be slowly accepting Brett into the fold. He enjoys the job and I know that had he left, he would have ended up regretting his decision.

'I think I'd better tell my dad,' Brett remarks, pulling away. 'Maybe we should go and see him tonight.'

'You want to stick it up him that you don't need him?'

'No,' Brett lies. 'I just think it's best he knows.'

'Brett.'

'Damon.'

'Stop lying. You're still pissed and you want to shove it to him that you can do whatever you want and that's the truth. Stop acting like a child.'

His eyes darken and his eyebrows almost join as an expression of irritation crosses his face. It's almost funny the way he loves his father so much and yet can't resist poking his tongue out at the man. Not that I particularly want anything to do with Brian; I'm still a little upset over the way he referred to me, and his ability to strike fear into me with only a few short words is disconcerting. I don't know where I'd live, or what I'd do, without Brett. He's the grumpy, lying, irritable love of my love and as cliché and tacky as it sounds, I genuinely believe he's my soulmate.

'So what if I want to stick it to him? Wouldn't you?'

I follow him to the kitchen and wrap my hands loosely around his neck. 'I should strangle you and dump your body.'

'You wouldn't be the first to express that desire,' he admits, his eyes shining with amusement.

I'm only a centimeter taller than Brett so we're on eye level as I mentally debate how I'd actually manage to dispose of his body without alerting suspicion.

'What are you thinking?' he asks suspiciously, removing my hands from his neck.

'How I'd manage to get rid of your body without getting caught.'

'Comforting words from the one I love,' he replies drily, opening the fridge and retrieving a beer. 'Beer?'

'Thanks.'

This is a really good time of the week for us, knowing that for two days we don't need to do anything we don't want to. Of course, Brett will study and I'll wish I had his ability to concentrate for such long periods of time as I stare blankly at my own notes, and the shopping will have to be done, but there's no real restrictions on either of us.

'You know I really flipped when that guy opened the fridge and commented on the amount of beer we had,' Brett remarks, in reference to the 'household inspection' we underwent last week. 'I thought we'd definitely be rejected for that.'

'I'm surprised half the contents didn't come tumbling out,' I grin, twisting the cap off my beer. 'I think we need to clean out our cupboards and fridge.'

'You're home all week.'

I roll my eyes in disgust. One of the most annoying, patriarchal views of Brett's is that whoever stays home should do every scrap of housekeeping. No matter how many times I point out that I also have to go to Uni and study, he still continues with his hints about my sometimes sloppy cleaning. According to Eleanor, he was exactly the same with her; unable to understand why he, as the 'man of the house' should even have to know what Ajax is.

'Your turn to make dinner,' I smile sweetly.

The expression that crosses his face is hilarious. He knows he's in the wrong expecting me to act as a personal maid, and yet the belief that I'll act a certain way is so ingrained he can't help himself.

'Sorry. I'll go and get takeaway. Was there anything you wanted in particular?'

'If you're willing to drive to that nice Thai place, I'll clean the fridge while you're gone,' I offer. 'Deal?'

'Deal.'

We kiss good-bye and Lexis and I watch him head off. I glance down at my companion hoping that somewhere in his canine brain he harbors a little sympathy for me, but this is highly unlikely; Lexis definitely prefers Brett over me.

'Maybe after I murder him, I could dump his body in the fridge?' I suggest as I fling open the door, to be confronted with shelves of leftovers, half-used jars of sauces, yogurt, milk, twenty million types of cheese and a miscellany of other junk. I don't even want to think about what's lurking at the back of the vegetable crisper. 'What do you think Lexis?'

Lexis thinks the various leftovers I'm pulling out of the fridge look delectable. Last night's spaghetti is placed in his dogbowl and quickly gobbled down before he returns his attentions to the other garbage. I almost lose my temper when I return from taking the garbage out to find the stupid mutt eating Monday night's leftover steak amongst a sea of mess he's made rummaging through the 'to be thrown' pile. He's only a puppy so being too angry is out of the question, but Lexis does find himself unceremoniously placed in the laundry.

'Brett?' someone calls out, knocking on the front door. 'Are you there mate?'

I'm stuck in the middle of a kitchen catastrophe and not particularly in the mood for visitors, but I wander over to the door, only to receive the shock of my life.

'Brian.'

'Yeah. Is Brett around?'

'He's gone to get dinner,' I reply slowly, meeting his gaze. 'He'll should be back in around twenty minutes.'

Brian gives me a pointed look.

'You can come in if you want to wait.'

'That would be good,' he agrees, walking inside and sitting himself down at the kitchen table.

It's odd, but I've noticed that very few people view the unit as 'Brett and Damon's' home. If they're a friend of mine, it's 'my' home, and if they're a friend or family member of my boyfriend's, it's 'Brett's' home. Brian, for his part, doesn't even seem the slightest bit perturbed that he's sitting in my - my - home, unapologetic of his previous, derogatory comments.

Seeing as the carton'son the bench and in plain view, I hand over a beer. He thanks me, but I don't want to respond and so I don't. I know it's petulant, and fairly Brett-like behaviour, but I would prefer Brian leaves, and the sooner the better. There was an awful part of me that actually liked the fact that Brett wasn't going to easily forgive his father, which maybe stems from utter tiredness with people's homophobia. I really don't care what Brian thinks of my sexuality; who I love and make love to is my business, and my business only. He's not my father and I don't appreciate his presence, which I deeply suspect is related to some hidden agenda of his to convince my sweetie to leave.

'We were approved as foster parents,' I remark, unable to help myself. 'We found out today.'

Brian is silent for a few minutes. 'I honestly didn't think you'd be approved.'

'Well we were,' I shrug, returning to the fridge. I haven't been as angry as I am right now in well over a year. Life had settled down for Brett and I, become the peaceful, cosy, secure existence I'd always wanted and now, simply because we made an application to foster, Brian's trying to destroy it.

'I really don't think either of you have given this the consideration this deserves,' he remarks. 'Do either of you even know what having a child entails?'

'I lived with a baby for six months, I'm fairly sure I have a good idea.'

'Damon, mate, I'm not criticizing you, but that's a whole different ballpark to what looking after an older child is like.'

'Then we'll learn.'

He sighs heavily and lights a cigarette. 'Is it really that neither of you have any comprehension of how ridiculous this is?'

Brian's spoken to Brett and Ash in this manner more times than I could hope to remember, but it's not until I hear the words spoken that I understand how harsh it is to be the recipient of his disdain. It's honestly no longer a wonder to me that Brett was so terrified of his sexuality, and repressed his desires for so long. Any normal person growing up with Brian would have inevitably ended up with the same fears and insecurities Brett suffers, only likely in greater proportions.

'Obviously not,' I reply sarcastically, staring into the fridge, wondering if there's a way to quickly repack everything and exit the house until Brett returns.

'It's just that you obviously have no regard for this child...'

'...the same way you have no regard for us.'

I'm dumbstruck those words came out of my mouth. I was thinking them, not intending to voice them, but regardless, my opinion's out and seeing as the toothpaste is already out of the tube, I might as well continue while I have the chance.

'This is my house,' I continue, my voice oddly bereft of emotion. 'And you're here, fucking with me. Brett's right; you are a hypocrit. You sit here and tell me that I'm screwing up someone else's life, whilst you try and screw up ours. Just....leave us alone. I don't care if you don't like it, because there's nothing you can do about it, so stop thinking you can. You can't,' I repeat. 'You can't.'

'You're going way overboard there mate.'

'Whatever. Think whatever the fuck you want,' I retort, slamming everything back into the fridge. I work in silence, fuming, so incredibly angry that he thinks he has a right to try and fuck up our relationship.

'Damon, leave that a second and sit down,' he requests tiredly.

'No thanks.'

'Damon?' he repeats, this time a little firmer. 'I'm sorry if I've offended you, but if you don't have any objections, I wouldn't mind five minutes of your time. If you still feel that I'm going out of my way to break you and Brett up, I won't argue. All I'm asking for is a few minutes of your time.'

It's a hard call. Despite my anger, I'm scared of creating a huge rift, because I already know how the night will turn out; Brett will return home, he and his father will talk, and they'll reach some form of agreement. Then, either Brian and I will continue our own, private, vendetta, or we'll act like civilized adults, despite our differences. I take the only option open to me and place the few 'to be kept' items back in the fridge, let Lexis out of the laundry and down at the kitchen table opposite Brian.

'You might not be my first choice of a partner for Brett,' he begins slowly. 'But I don't hate you. I don't even dislike you. Hell, I know it means nothing to you, but I actually think you're a decent sort of bloke. And maybe, what my problem is, is simply that I never expected Brett to stay with you. I thought he'd get sick of the hell he must be copping and tell you to take a hike.'

There probably isn't a person in the world who's as brutal as Brian, and I can't help but wince at his words. He notices and gives me a half-apologetic shrug before continuing.

'I wanted him to get married and have children of his own,' he states simply. 'But that's not the whole reason I'm so jacked off at what you're doing. I'm bloody pissed at both of you, because you're acting as though you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can't, and you can't use somebody else's child to complete your life. Kids are hard work, Damon, bloody hard work. Don't throw away what little money you two have for some pipe dream.'

'But it's not just about having a child,' I argue miserably. 'It's also....it's also...'

I can't say it. How do you tell your partner's father that you spent years being sexually abused and you know how it feels, and you have a desire to help someone, not simply foster a child to make a family? When Fiona initially broached the matter, I'll admit I probably wasn't considering the bigger picture, but during the past few weeks what we're doing has really hit home with me.

Brian stares at me expectantly. 'Also what?'

My heart's racing and there's an awful taste in my mouth as I debate confessing. I know that some people - Mitch, Terry - don't view what Michael did as rape, because I had the chance to remove myself from the situation and didn't - but I do. He was my stepfather and he used my sexuality to obtain sexual favours, to flaunt power, and I couldn't leave, because I was so terrified of what would happen to me if I did.

'My stepfather....' I trail off miserably. 'My stepfather, he, uh.... He....'

'...Holy shit.'

He understands what I'm trying to save, and I'm grateful for the reprieve.

'That's the other reason,' I explain weakly. 'And, uh, that sounds like Brett's car, so I'm going to go and have a shower.'

He's wearing an expression of shock mingled with distinct unease and awful as I feel at just walking away, I'm not capable of doing much else. I really, really don't want to get any more upset than I already am, because all these years on, I'm still not fully over what Michael did. When I was in contact with my mother, for those short, sharp few months, she kept mentioning him, as though I wanted to hear what he was doing when quite honestly, all I wanted was for karma to give him a good kick up the ass.

With the bathroom door safely closed, I stare at myself in the mirror, wondering how it is I can look so damn normal when everything inside of me is all messed up. I look like the sort of person you'd walk past without even noticing; blue eyes, brown hair, fair skin, nothing remarkable about me in the slightest. My mind, however, seems to function differently from everyone around me; I'm gay, I have fucking epilepsy, I can't get my life together and as much as everyone tells me I worry too much about others, I fear that I'm entirely too selfish.

'Damon?'

'Come in,' I sigh, tearing my gaze away from my image to that of Brett's. He looks worried, his face is strained and tight, but his eyes are concerned and I can't help but melt into his arms. He makes soft noises of concern and pats my hair, asking me if I feel up to telling him what's transpired between his father and I.

'I told him about Michael,' I mumble. 'To try and make him understand why I want to foster a child.'

'Jesus,' he whispers, smoothing down my hair. 'God Damon, you didn't need to do that.'

I shake my head, furious at the mess I've made of everything.

'I can't do it,' I tell him. 'We can't foster a child, Brett. He's right, you know, we really can't.'

He falls silent, his body freezing.

'Alright,' he agrees eventually. 'How about we just leave things be? If we're asked, we'll reconsider, but we won't pester Fiona. That way, the only possibility is that we'll care for someone who truly has nowhere else to go.'

'Okay,' I agree. 'I'd prefer that. I really don't want to fuck with anyone's life.'

He nods and hugs me again. 'I'm going to speak to my Dad. Are you going to be alright?'

My smile is forced as I lie. 'Yes.'

Chapter Five

'Hey Damon?'

'What?' I croak, trying to lift my head off the pillow. Ouch. I could quite happily live out the remainder of my life without ever having another seizure.

'You right?' James asks, gingerly sitting himself on the edge of my bed.

'Yeah, I just don't plan on moving anytime soon.'

James snickers and lays down beside me. 'God I love this bed.'

'That's because it comes with a naked man,' I tease, poking his bicep.

He rolls his hazel eyes with amused disgust because it's true, I am currently in the raw. Not that everything's visible, because Brett laid the doona over me when he put me to bed post-seizure, but I wouldn't really care if James saw me naked anyway. He's seen it often enough; during sex, whilst cleaning me up after those disgusting seizures when I wet myself - and truly, you don't know what embarrassment is unless you've messed yourself in a very public place - and those times when I've drunk too much and decided to strip off 'for the hell of it'.

'So where's Evan?' I inquire. 'And could you get me a couple of Panadol and a glass of water?'

'Evan's with Hailey, and yeah, hang on a sec,' James replies reluctantly, getting out of bed.

Hailey is Mitch's elder sister, and Evan's biological mother, and Evan stays with her for two weekends a month.James and Mitchdon't want Evan growing up only being comfortable around men, not to mention thinking that his mother didn't care about him because she 'didn't want to keep' him, hence the visits.

James returns with the paracetamol and water, both ofwhich I swallow quicklybefore returning to licking my wounds. There's a new bruise forming on my elbow and you can take my word for it when I say it hurts.

'Brett and I were approved as foster parents,' I remark.

'Hey, that's excellent!' he replies, ruffling my hair. 'Shit I'm glad. I could have sworn that when the guy remarked on all the beer in your fridge, there was no way you were going to be approved.'

'That's what we thought,' I reply. 'But I don't want to do it any more. I don't think we can do this. I mean, I'm not even twenty-two yet and I keep having these fucking seizures and...'

'...and you'd be fine,' he interrupts firmly, lying down again. 'Damn Damon, people with epilepsy have kids.'

'Not gay people. And I don't want to fuck up anyone's life.'

'If they're being placed in foster care, their lives are already fucked.'

I give him a filthy look. He gives me a world weary look in return, which reminds me that he has enough problems of his own right now, namely Mitch, and Mitch's penchant for sex with other people. Everyone always thought they were the perfect couple; capable of overcoming each and every obstacle but this obviously isn't the case. Perhaps we were all too blase; we knew from our very first meeting that he was promiscuous and would go to bed with anything that moved, but expected him to settle into monogamy without a problem. After all, I'd screw anything and everything, yet secretly yearned the comfort of a close relationship and so we projected my feelings onto someone who obviously is inherently very different.

'How's your honey?' I inquire gently.

'That should be 'where's my honey',' James corrects. 'And the answer is 'with her'.'

'Damn.'

'Damn,' he agrees. 'Fuck him. I wanted to spend some time with him, not hang around home waiting for him to finish his fun.'

I glance over at him, my headache fading and my heartache growing. James and I have always been incredibly close, closer than mates normally are and I hate to see him agonising over his boyfriend. Were it not for Evan, I'd probably advise him to tell Mitch to find another sucker, but the three of them are a family and I've enough experience with broken families to be loathe to recommend anyone else give it a whirl.

'I saw a picture of her,' he admits, his voice cracking. 'She's nothing special.'

'Honestly?'

He shrugs. 'She's okay. No tits, but she's pretty. I hate her already.' He props himself up on his elbows and stares down at the pillow beneath him. 'He said she reckons it gets her off knowing he has a partner.'

'Bitch.'

'Bitch,' James agrees. 'It's as though, I dunno.... He likes rubbing my face in it. I want to hate him, but then he goes back to normal and we fuck each other senseless and it's all good for a few days. Then Evan will play up, or the electricity bill will come in and he'll go off to her and forget Evan and I exist.'

'Jerk.'

'Jerk that I love,' James smiles wryly. 'I wish he wouldn't do it. Why can't he.... I don't know. I asked him if he wanted a girl with us all the time - you know, if he was after a triad or something - but he said no.'

'Maybe you should go out and get laid?'

'That's what he suggested.'

Our eyes lock and James shuffles a little closer, hesitantly placing an arm over me. I wrap my arms around him, holding him close to me and listening to his heavy breath, wondering whether he's going to cry. He doesn't. Instead, he gets out of bed, shuts the door and returns to his position beside me, this time lying on his back with one of my arms underneath his shoulders. I'm fairly sure that I know what he's trying to pull, but it's not until he closes his eyes, rests his forehead against mine and starts to unbutton his jeans that I make a noise of protest.

'Why not?' he demands aggressively. 'It's not sex, I just want company while I wank. We always used to do this together, what's different now?'

'I have a boyfriend.'

James snorts. 'The door's closed and Brett's studying. He won't even know.'

He tries to slide the doona down, but I stop him. Almost immediately after, he smooths his hand over where my crotch is, obviously hoping for a reaction.

'James, quit it.'

If anyone else tried that sort of crap with me I'd be pretty pissed, but this is James, not 'someone else' and I don't even take much offence. I know it's companionship he really wants, but frequently in life you can't have what you want and for James, this is one of those times that he's not going to receive what he desires.

'It's Saturday. We'll go out tonight and you can pick up someone gorgeous and take them back to our place,' I suggest. 'Brett can drive us.'

'Brett hates clubbing,' James sighs. 'And I'm sorry. Not to mention embarrassed.'

'No need for either,' I reply, hugging him. 'I've tried to worm my way into bed with you and Mitch when you didn't want me there. Actually, I've done a lot worse...'

I trail off and we both crack up laughing. Unfortunately, I've been entirely too shameless on entirely too many occasions and remembering some of my worse behaviour is enough to send us both into hysterics.


'Remind me why it is I agreed to this,' Brett complains, prodding his hair, which I've gelled into a faux hawk.

'Because you're no longer fighting with your father and you're a wonderful boyfriend,' I retort, smacking his hand away and fixing his hair. 'Stop sulking. I'm the one whose had a seizure today and I'm still going out tonight.'

'You slept all evening,' Brett argues. 'So much for a 'quick snooze'.'

He may sound grumpy, but he isn't; he simply likes to sook and sulk and I, for my part, enjoy teasing him. He's right; I did have another sleep after James left to go home and get dressed and I'm actually feeling more or less reasonable. Sore, overweight and old, but reasonable and maybe more than a little excited. I absolutely love going out, dancing, drinking, staring at men and watching people pick up. I'm oddly nervous on James' behalf, wondering whether he'll go through with this, and if he does, if he'll confide in Mitch. A part of me is hoping that he'll let Mitch know exactly what he did with another man, and that will kick in Mitch's jealous side.

'You know you're gonna have fun. Try actually getting up out of your chair this time, laying the beer aside and....wait for it....flirting.'

'I don't know how to flirt.'

'Well we'll go in separately and I'll pretend I don't know you and try and pick you up,' I suggest, my mind ticking over. 'Actually that would be a helluva lot of fun. I think that's what we'll do.'

'Do you two want a chauffeur or not?' Brett grumbles as we pull up outside the James and Mitch's flat. 'Because if you even try and pull a stunt like that, you're on your own.'

'Please?' I plead as he honks the horn several times.

The look he gives is enough to knock the idea out of my head. It isn't that he simply doesn't want to play, but he's too insecure to feel comfortable pretending to pick me up.

'Sorry.'

'Mmph,' he acknowledges, giving me a shy smile. 'Thanks.'

I inspect James' appearance as he makes his way towards our beat-up old car. He looks good, very twink-ish, and it's a no-brainer that if he wants a man for the night, then dressed like that, he'll find one. He's a tall, thin, guy with super-white teeth and he's only recently left acne behind, but his skin is a faint, golden brown and his grey singlet brings out the green in his hazel eyes. His jeans are hanging a little low on his hips, exposing a flash of smooth, tanned skin and his brown hair is brushed back out of his face. Looking at him like this, so naturally good-looking, I can't imagine why Mitch would even want to go elsewhere.

'You smell nice,' I tell him. 'But you look better. Way better.'

'So I stink?'

'Nope,' I grin. 'You smell great. Very nice. Mmm. Very, very nice.'

'I feel guilty.'

'Don't,' I demand. 'No guilt. Try feeling horny instead.'

Half an hour later we're walking into a club, James and I snickering and Brett eagerly looking out for an unoccupied table whilst several men unabashedly check him out. He has a nice - very nice - body, but he loathes being hit on, which ruins a lot of potential fun. Unfortunately for James and I, Brett does his normal trick of spying and claiming a recently vacated table and plonking his butt down in the seat with the intention of not moving for the remainder of the night.

'You know what?' I tell him. 'You can sit there all night, on your own, or you can come with us.'

He stares at me reproachfully.

'Stop being such a chicken. How do you think women feel when you and Jamie used to hit on them? If you expect women to put up with men hitting on them, they you can damn well see what it's like firsthand.'

'I never did that,' Brett replies sullenly, cocking his head in the direction of two men.... Well, being a lot more intimate than I care to describe.

I'd probably continue arguing, but James grabs Brett's hand and wrenches him out ofhis seat. Obviously Brett doesn't have as many qualms about joining us on the dancefloor as he'd like to have us think, because we all know Brett's capable of knocking James flat.

It takes my sweetie maybe fifteen minutes to really get into it, and that's when I chose to leave him alone for a while. I'd really like to start going out with him; we have the money and nothing to keep us at home, so it's best he finally learns how to look after himself.

I check up on him periodically and he seems to be coping well without my presence. He looks bloody nice, too, all sweat slicked and dark skinned and he doesn't entirely have two left feet. Obviously watching everybody else has taught him a thing or two.

'Bad teeth,' a man standing next to me remarks, following my gaze. 'And I'd swear he's married. Which aspect bothers you more?'

'He's not married,' I reply, turning to see a short bleach blonde. 'He's my partner.'

'Then for heaven's sake, drag the man off to an orthodontist,' comes my companion's reply - coupled with overly dramatic eye-rolling - as he melds back into the crowd.

'And I'll drag you off for euthanasia at the same time,' I mutter under my breath, heading towards Brett. Granted I may dissect other men in exactly the same manner, but I don't like to listen to people pick at my boyfriend. Besides, convincing Brett to endure braces would be impossible. He's so sensitive he'd probably never open his mouth at all if I commented on his teeth.

Brett looks surprised and happy to see me, flinging his arms around my waist and drawing me close.

'Love you,' I whisper in his ear. 'You want to take a break?'

'Definitely. Although I feel like pointing out to everyone who hits on me that you've already dessicated my anus.'

I'm so proud of him that we end up sitting out the next hour, kissing and trying to find James. Life being what it is, the very second I give up on finding my mate, he comes over, bringing with him his pick-up, a nice-looking man in his late twenties. They're both fairly drunk, laughing at everything, mauling one another and struggling to stay upright.

'I guess you're ready to go?' Brett asks easily.

They both nod before breaking into laughter. They seem happy enough although whether they're both sober enough to perform is another matter. On the journey home Brett and I ignore what's occuring in the backseat and talk to one another about his make-up with his father. He answers shyly, obviously pleased that his father's 'gotten over' the whole mess and is now willing to support our application to foster a child.

'He's sorry,' Brett adds softly. 'Don't be offended by what he called you. Fuck, some of the things he called Ash and me.... You got out pretty light.'

I'd point out that a few days ago Brett was still fuming over the manner in which his father had described me, but admittedly, he's right. I should, I really, really, really should have known not to even listen to Brian, and yet I did.

'You didn't need to tell him about Michael,' Brett adds, in a voice so quiet I have to concentrate to hear him. 'That was none of his business. But I'm proud of you; I wouldn't have had the guts to do that.'

We smile at one another and complete the journey listening to James and his pick-up go at it. They're almost naked by the time we reach our unit and Brett's flushing bright red and trying not to give his 'don't you dare do that in front of me' look.

'Mmm,' I mumble, after the two lovers have been directed to the spare room. 'Doesn't that make you horny watching them all over each other?'

'It makes me want to hurl,' Brett corrects. 'He should be at home with Mitch.'

'He needs to boost his self-esteem.'

'That's not a good reason to pick up,' Brett argues.

'Mitch hasn't touched him in a week.'

Brett pauses. A look of anger crosses his face as he speaks 'Mitch really needs to get his priorities right.'

'I know,' I admit. 'And James needs to get laid. And so,' I continue, lightening my tone and getting a good feel of Brett's butt. 'Do you. Get into bed, mister.'

Chapter Six

Brett climbs into bed and without thinking, or bothering to open my eyes, I fling an arm around him, snuggling into his chest. Within seconds I realize my error; it's James I've snuggled into, not Brett.

'Sorry,' I apologise, loosening my grip and shuffling back a bit. 'Didn't realize it was you.'

James shrugs. 'It was a nice hug while it lasted.'

I give him another, quick hug, wondering where my boyfriend and James' pick-up have gone. When I inquire, James replies that there's a note on the table from Brett, advising he's driving Warren – James' pick-up – home.

'Brett's gonna be pissed with me,' James adds ruefully. 'What else is new?'

'Brett's not going to be pissed,' I argue, reaching for my cigarettes. I didn't drink too much last night – certainly not enough to give myself a hangover – and given that the alarm clock is telling me it's eleven am, I've had enough sleep not to be tired. 'You always think he's pissed with you. He isn't, trust me, he's like that with everyone.'

James tries to flap away the smoke I'm exhaling. 'He's worse with me.'

'No,' I reply truthfully. 'He's better with you, because he knows you think he doesn't like you.'

James glares at me, as though I'm telling lies. In response, I slowly push down the doona, revealing my nude form. James rolls his eyes and shakes his head in disgust. He knows I'm taking the piss out of his behaviour yesterday afternoon and yet he can't resist glancing over periodically.

'Stop it,' he demands, rolling over so he's facing away from me. 'Quit being a slut and ask me how Warren was.'

'How did I forget to ask?' I ponder aloud. 'How was he?'

'He humped like a maniac and sucked like one of those vacuum cleaners that can pick up a bowling ball.'

'Wow. I thought you two would have been too drunk.'

I settle back with my head on the pillow as we discuss our sex lives in vivid detail. Slowly, the conversation turns to Mitch. James feels guilty, and wants to go home and see his honey, but he's too scared to call and ask his boyfriend to come and pick him up.

'What are you scared of?'

James bites down on his lower lip. 'Him not caring that I slept with someone else. I want him to care. I want him to know how much it sucks to know…. You know.'

I'm really not happy with Mitch at the moment. I never really understood why James was so rapt in him, but at the same time, nor did I really hate him. At this point in time though, my feelings border on animosity. He really, really should have told James that he wanted an open relationship, that sort of thing is far too important to hide. I can accept that there are people who find it impossible to be monogamous, but in keeping his desires secret, all Mitch is doing is helping perpetuate the rather horrendous reputation for senseless, shameless promiscuity that bisexual men seem to have. I think that because I'm homosexual I try a little harder than most to keep an open mind about other people's lives, but there's never any justification in lying to your primary lover so they'll stay with you, while you have a secret, sideline sex-with-multiple-strangers habit.

'You looked fucking hot last night,' I reply when no other words come to mind.

'Warren left his number.'

'Are you going to call?'

James pauses. He stares down at his feet, his face contorting, as he tries to find the answer. 'If Mitch keeps seeing Veronica, then yes. I miss sex too much.'

I know – unfortunately, because it's information I could have happily lived without – that Brett's friends, Eleanor and Kevin, aren't getting much nookie in now that their baby Ryan has arrived, and I acknowledge that with children comes a decline in sex, but James shouldn't be missing out on intercourse simply because his partner wants to be with other people.

'Maybe you could come to bed with me and Brett sometime,' I suggest, rolling onto my stomach and propping myself up on my elbows. 'I don't think he'd mind too much.'

James whacks my bicep. 'That makes me feel so welcome,' he retorts, pulling a face. 'At least sound excited about group sex.'

'Oh, I am,' I tease, deciding I probably should make a trip to the bathroom before I wet myself. 'The more sexy boys who are willing to suck my dick, the better.'

James rolls his eyes, following me from bedroom to bathroom and leaning against the bathroom vanity as I do my business. Sometimes – in other words, when Brett remarks on how weird it apparently is – I wonder why James and I are so physically comfortable with one another. Perhaps it's because we were each other's 'first', or maybe we simply have too much history together to quibble over stupid little things like nudity or bodily functions, but the fact remains that there's little we could do to revolt the other.

'Damon?' Brett calls, opening the front door to our unit. 'You awake?'

'Yeah, I'm in the bathroom.'

'Well have a shower while you're in there and make it quick. Terry's in hospital.'

James and I exchange horrified glances.

'Fuck,' he swears. 'I'll get Mitch to pick me up, okay? Just get ready and go.'

It takes all of ten minutes to shower, dress and get into the car. Mitch has agreed to pick up James and although I'm curious as to how he'll react to James actions last night, I'm terrified that one of my best mates may be dying.

'Jamie said it isn't serious,' Brett comforts, but his voice is grim.

We're both aware of how quickly infection can overcome someone with HIV and despite Jamie's assurance to Brett that the admission was more precautionary than necessary, it's impossible not to be worried. It's such a cliché, but the journey literally seems to take forever. We live about forty minutes drive from the hospital where Terry's been admitted and every second drags. Even when we arrive, we need to find a parking space and learn where in the hospital it is that Terry's being kept.

We locate Terry's mother as we're walking along yet another corridor. I can't say Margaret and I were ever on the best of terms, but we both feign congeniality as we complete the journey to Terry's room. As we talk, she expresses her anger with Jamie, because there are 'no doubts' in her mind that this is all his fault. The worst part of her opinion is that deep inside me, I'm thinking exactly the same thing. Without even having a snippet of information on how it is Terry came to be hospitalized, some nasty part of me won't stop suggesting that if Jamie had taken better care of his boyfriend this would never have happened.

'There he is,' Brett remarks, pointing to a room on our left.

We rush inside, only to be confronted with a very serene looking Terry propped upright, talking with Jamie.

'I'll go for a smoke,' Jamie offers.

'I'll go with you,' Brett agrees.

'Nice to see you Brett,' Terry offers sarcastically. His and my boyfriend's gazes meet and they both smile, before Brett and Jamie leave the three of us in peace.

Margaret fusses over her son, telling him she's sorry she took so long to arrive, and asking him what it is that's wrong with him. Terry pulls a face and explains that he has 'a little pneumonia' and he shouldn't be here in the first place.

I disagree. He has a drip, a little hose up his nose and his blood pressure is being monitored by one of those beeping machines; proof that obviously the situation is a little more serious than he's making out.

'You have thrush,' I remark, touching his mouth. 'How long have you had that?'

'Only a week,' Terry retorts irritably. 'It's nothing new Damon, I used to get it before I was infected. You know that.'

'You didn't get it in your mouth,' I argue.

'There's a first time for everything,' he snaps. 'Leave it. I'm perfectly fine, you're all overreacting. My viral load isn't that bad and I should be able to go home soon. I don't even need to be here for fuck's sake…'

'…Terry, don't use language like that,' Margaret interrupts. 'I know you're upset but you don't need to abuse us. And quite frankly, I'm glad you're here so you can receive proper treatment. Why on earth Jamie…'

'…this has nothing to do with Jamie,' Terry retorts furiously. 'In case it's escaped your attention I was positive prior to meeting him.'

'Which is exactly my problem,' comes the cold reply. 'If you think I'm going to trust some good-looking heterosexual man with Jamie's type of family, who comes in and feigns love for someone in order to obtain an inheritance, you've got another think coming.'

Margaret has said what I've been thinking since I first learned of the relationship. Oh, prior to the relationship, when I never gave the matter much thought, I would have said a relationship between Terry and Jamie would be fantastic, but the reality is, there are only a few people who believe Jamie's intentions are pure.

Terry stares down at his hands for a few seconds. 'Thanks,' he replies sarcastically. 'It's good to know you think there's no way he could love me.'

'Terry…' his mother begins, her tone markedly gentler.

'…No,' he interrupts, shaking his head. 'You don't understand. I've never felt this way towards anyone before. I know it probably looks suspicious, and I admit I'd probably think the same thing if I were you, but I know he feels the same way. Even if he doesn't, I don't care. I'm tired of thinking too much about things that don't need to be thought about.'

Terry continues, carefully persuading his mother that this isn't Jamie's fault, and that Brett's best mate's love for him is real. I don't know if Margaret believes him – I certainly don't – but she appears a little calmer and agrees to leave a coffee while Terry and I have a private chat.

'Sit here,' Terry requests, pointing to the seat beside his bed.

I move to the seat desired, regretting that it's come to this. I wish that I could go back in time and do something to prevent him from being infected because on closer inspection, he really doesn't look very healthy.

'You don't have to say it,' he sighs. 'I know you agree with my mother.'

I stare at him uneasily. 'Sorry. It's only that it's hard to imagine why Jamie would be with you when he's straight.'

Terry shrugs. 'It doesn't matter. What he and I have is good enough for me not to care what you think.'

I wince at the rebuke. 'I don't want to see you being used.'

'Damon,' Terry sighs tiredly. 'How is he using me? When I'm dead, somebody has to inherit everything. My family don't need anything; they've got more than enough. Why shouldn't Jamie have it? I know that I'm going to die, and after I do, I want him to find a wife and have children. Don't you get it? I want him to have a good life.'

'I'm sorry,' I apologise, worried that he's going to get all worked up and only make himself sicker. 'Forget about it, okay? You're right; what I think doesn't matter, and it shouldn't. Just concentrate on getting better, because I'm really not ready for you to die.'

He recognises that I'm genuinely sorry - and I am - because despite my concerns, it isn't my place to attack his decisions. Maybe there's even a part of me that's saying 'who cares if Jamie's only with him for the money?' because Terry truly does need someone to be by his side during his last few years of life. Our conversation turns to lighter subjects for a few minutes before he asks me if I've been watching the news in the last few weeks

'Huh?' I ask, confused. 'Mostly. Why?'

'Did you see the bit about the teenage boy who was found dead alongside a baby?'

'It was pretty hard to miss,' I reply, which is the absolute truth. A fortnight ago, for twenty-four hours it was on every goddamned news update, before being dropped like the proverbial hot potato.

'That was Victor,' Terry adds softly. 'That funny-looking gay kid that used to be over at our house all the time. The baby was his sister. His mother shook the baby to death and for Victor it was the last straw.'

I can't possibly begin to explain how horrified I am. Horrified that someone could kill their own child, horrified that a teenager has taken their own life, and horrified that I was pestering Terry about Jamie's intentions when one of his friends had committed suicide only weeks before.

'My God, I'm so sorry.'

Terry only nods, his eyes closed and his posture that of a defeated man. 'So am I. I'm sorry for so much right now that it's almost unfathomable.'

I lean over and hug him, wondering whether he was this frail when we first met, or if the encroach of AIDS is coming unusually early. I'm too scared to ask, though, and I don't say a word until Terry unsubtly pushes me off.

'Can you find Jamie?' he requests. 'I want a few minutes with him before my mother starts the onslaught.'

I guess you have to know what his mother's like to understand why it is we exchange wry grins at Terry's request. I leave his hospital room, confused and alone. Right now life is really becoming a heap of shit and I have to wonder what the hell it is we've done to deserve all the bad karma.

Chapter Seven

We have - had - possibly the shittiest car in Australia. Seventeen years old, poo-brown, dead airconditioning, no CD player, falling hood-lining and just a general aura of crappiness. I think maybe Brett had a little too much emotional attachment to the car as it was his 'first car', but truthfully, he should have traded it in years ago.

On Wednesday 'the beast' met it's overdue demise at the hands of a wanker in a Landrover. Brett escaped unharmed only by some miracle but the car was a write off. There was a picture of the wreck in the local paper the next day and I freaked out, unable to figure out how the hell it was Brett had only acquired a scrape on his arm. Seeing the black and white photo of a crumpled piece of metal really scared the shit out of me, moreso than I let on. Brett only whinged, as is his forte, and asked Jamie if he could borrow his motorbike. Jamie instead offered the Monaro, on the basis that he and Terry already have a car, and how would Brett and I do our shopping, etc, without a car?

I could tell Brett really didn't want to be responsible for something so expensive, but Jamie had a definite point. Brett and I had no idea how long it would take us to find our new baby, obtain finance and bring it home and besides, Brett's the only one in our household with a motorbike jacket and helmet.

For this reason, we're now car shopping. Every time we pull up, salesman fling themselves at us, assuming that we have loads of money, and give us looks of disdain and make snide comments when they realise the Monaro isn't ours. I'm amused by their transparency and oddly enough, so is Brett. I would have thought he'd get all pissy, but occasionally he surprises me by reacting well.

When we've utterly given up on either finding something suitable, or even being treated with some modicum of respect, we find it. Well, to be precise, she finds it for us. 'She' is the only female used car salesperson I've ever met and the car is a three year old black Astra. It has air conditioning and a CD player and she and Brett negotiate a price with minimum fuss. Assuming our mechanical check turns up nothing terrible, we should have our new car on Friday.

'I don't want to give Jamie's car back,' I whinge as we leave the car yard. 'Maybe we can give him the Astra and keep the Monaro?'

'Nice thought,' Brett agrees. 'But I find it highly unlikely that he'll agree to that.'

Seeing as Terry was released from hospital yesterday, we decide to pay the couple a visit to let them know they'll soon have their hot-shit purple car back. I'll admit to being pretty worried about Terry, although he told me on Thursday that since he was admitted, four of his work colleagues have had to take time off from work for a very nasty version of the flu and his doctor believes that the seriousness of his illness was due more to overwork, exhaustion and stress than his HIV infection.

I'm glad he's going to be alright, because although we sucked as lovers, we're great as friends. He's helped me through more than a few bad patches and he's definitely the most mature of my friends. He has his moments of abject childishness but on the whole, he's a really good person to be around.

They're unpacking their groceries as we arrive, and I quickly claim for myself a tub of yoghurt. Terry pauses in his unpacking only long enough to hand me a spoon and tell me not to make a mess.

'Yes Daddy,' I reply sarcastically. 'Wanna wipe my face and hands when I'm finished?'

Terry rolls his eyes as he rotates the fruit in the fruit bowl. 'Occasionally you make me want to wash your mouth out with soap, but that's about it.'

'You swear too.'

'Nowhere near as much as you do. Why are you always 'fuck this', 'fuck that', 'fuck you'?'

'Woodridge vocabulary,' I shrug. 'Besides, it's a word that can be used in so many, many ways. Try being unemployed and poor for a while and you'll start swearing, too.'

'I am unemployed,' Terry replies quickly. 'I quit my job yesterday. Resignation effective immediately.'

It wouldn't be possible for me to be more surprised. His career used to be everything. Hell, why it is he's giving up stable, very well paid employment to do....whatever it is he's planning on doing with his time, is beyond me.

'What are you going to do?' I inquire.

'Nothing,' he replies, a smile flitting across his face. 'I'm going to volunteer with the AIDS Council, go fishing, and help young, homosexual people and that's about it.'

Jamie's giving me a warning look, commanding me not to comment. Were I not gay and more accustomed to men than most other guys my age, I'd probably be intimidated. Unlike Brett who looks grumpy, or James who's capable of giving terribly aggressive glares, Jamie's capable of giving you the sort of death stare that makes you aware that if you push him any further, he'll make your life a living hell.

I ignore Jamie's glare and comment anyway. 'How exciting.'

Terry hands me a pack of toilet paper and collects for himself a toothbrush and a bottle of shampoo from the counter. 'Upstairs.'

In one of the most thinly disguised requests for a talk I've ever seen, I trudge up the stairs and into the bathroom. Terry shuts the door behind us and gives me a pointed look.

'What's up Damon?'

'I'm worried about you.'

Terry makes a noise of frustration and makes stabbing motions with his hand, pretending he has a knife. After a few seconds of helpless staring at one another, he grabs me by wrist and veritably throws me into his bedroom. This time he not only shuts, but also locks, the door. I do as he requests and sit on the bed as Terry opens the top bedside drawer, retrieving a pack of photos. He flicks through and picks out a few, handing them over.

He's handed over pictures of he and Jamie; the sort of photos you take of you and your partner when there's no one else around. They're both wearing those happy, in-love expressions that are impossible to fake and straight away, I start to suffer the onslaught of guilt.

'See, he kisses me,' Terry adds archly, pointing to one of the pictures in which the couple are, well, kissing.

'Sorry. I just couldn't imagine him doing that. Actually,' I grin, putting the photo's aside. 'I can't imagine him doing all the other stuff he must be doing, either. Show me the rest of those photos.'

I ask because Terry's little kink is photographing men down on their knees. I used to tease him about the fact that he relies on such cheap porn when he has so much money, but admittedly, I never minded posing. It's hardly like he'd ever post anything to the net, or anything similarly atrocious although he does allow me a good look at Jamie's naked form.

'I have to show Brett.'

'In whose dreams?' Terry snorts, trying to retrieve the photo as I scoot over the other side of the bed, neatly evading him.

I refuse to let go of the photo. It isn't as though it's going to matter if I take it; Jamie will never know and besides, both Brett and I have pondered what lies beneath Jamie's clothes. Now I know, and I'm determined to share the image with my boyfriend.

'If Jamie finds out, I have no knowledge of this,' Terry warns, giving in. 'And warn Brett what it is that you're showing him before you actually pull it out.'

'Want to know how he reacts?' I grin.

'Absolutely,' Terry confirms, breaking into laughter. 'Okay, now stop laughing, because I want to ask you something.'

'What?'

He licks his lips nervously. 'Do you really think Jamie's with me because... you know why. I'm a goddamn lawyer, I should be able to say it, but I can't.'

'No.'

'Tha'ts good,' he smiles softly. 'I hated regretting that we'd told everyone. Even at the time, I knew it wasn't a great idea, but I... I had to tell everyone, because he makes me so ridiculously happy.'

I glance down at the photo in my hands. 'And he has a cute butt,' I add.


'Where's Blinky the fourth?' Brett inquires, peering into our Siamese's bowl.

'That's a good question,' I admit, eyeing off the suspiciously empty home of our former pet. 'Do you reckon Lexis could reach him here?'

We glance towards our dog, then to the empty fishbowl, which is currently sitting in the middle of our kitchen table. The fishbowl is thus positioned as Blinky the third met his demise after Lexis decided that he liked fish water better than the stuff in his bowl and then made a meal of our pet.

'Nah,' Brett disagrees. 'No way. Maybe he jumped?'

We hunt around the floor, desperately trying to find Blinky the fourth. We eventually find him wedged between the wall and the carpet, looking remarkably dead.

'No more fish,' Brett sighs, carrying the crispy body of our fourth fish to the bin. 'Let's face it, neither of us have any nurturing skills.'

'But this one jumped,' I argue, probably futiley. 'If I get a fishtank not a fishbowl then our next fish will probably live.'

'Yeah, and everyone in the world will recognise me as their natural leader and start bowing downbefore me,' Brett snorts. 'If you want another fish, use your own goddamned money.'

Brett and I have an arragement whereby at the beginning of each month, when he gets paid, he has a certain amount deducted and paid directly into my account. This is then the money I use for smoking, textbooks, student union fees, clothing and whatnot. It works out well and I'm back to budgeting almost as well as I did when I was living on my own, but I know damn well that because it's nearing the end of the month, Brett thinks I don't have any money left. He's actually wrong because not only can I budget fairly well, but I always leave a bit extra so I'll be able to get him something nice for Christmas. I know it's cheesey, but I want to surprise the shit out of him but proving I can actually save for a good present. Having said that, I know that if I remember to make my lunch this week, rather than buying it at Uni, I can get a new fish and tank.

'I think I will. I like having a pet.'

'We have Lexis.'

'Lexis only loves you.'

'You're the one that insisted on carrying him in when we took him to be neutered. I wouldn't like you either if I saw you as being the person responsible for having my testicles removed.'

'He could have blamed the vet,' I sulk, tipping Blinky the fourth's water into the sink. 'Stupid dog.'

Brett merely laughs at my indignation. It wouldn't be so funny if he wasn't the 'preferred one' but admittedly, he does have a point. He makes dinner and as we're eating, I ask if he wants to see Jamie naked.

'I'll be right.'

'You know you want to see.'

'No, I don't,' he replies firmly. 'This kind of shit is only funny to you, James, Mitch and Terry. Not to Jamie, and not to me.'

I should have remembered how private he is about sex and nudity. He invests a lot of emotion in love-making and in hindsight, it was a pretty stupid idea to 'borrow' the picture. He may think his best mate's extremely hot, and he may wonder what he looks like in the raw, but his curiosity doesn't supersede his morals.

'What if I tell you he has a great butt?'

Brett rolls his eyes. 'I've been staring at his rear for the greater part of twenty years. I know damn well he has a great butt.'

'Pervert.'

Brett sighs. 'Take the photo back Daidee. I'm not risking a friendship for the sake of a quick, sexual thrill.'

'Sorry,' I apologise, although I'll admit to being more disappointed than apologetic. 'I'll bring it back next week. After I get my fish.'

I pretend not to notice my boyfriend rolling his eyes for the second time in seconds.

Chapter Eight

'Damon, what are you doing this afternoon?'

'Buying a fishtank,' I reply. 'And a fish. Blinky the fourth took a suicide leap out of his bowl.'

Although she's on the other end of the phone line, and not in front of me, I know instinctively that Fiona's expression is one of amusement.

'I've got a small tank if you want it,' she offers. 'I used to have goldfish in it until they outgrew the bloody thing and my husband and I had to dig a goddamn pond in the backyard.'

'You have a fish pond?'

'I do,' she confirms. 'But now is not the time for that discussion. I know this is a little sudden, but there's a fourteen year old boy who needs a home and you and Brett appear to be the best match for him.'

She pauses, waiting for me to comment, as a gazillion thoughts run through my mind. I never told her I was having second doubts, and as a matter of fact, just last night Brett and I agreed to revel in life as single, child-free guys in their twenties. Children, quite simply, stopped being part of the equation and I assumed if we laid low our applications would be forgotten in time.

'I know you wanted a younger child,' she adds sympathetically. 'It's fine to say 'no', if you feel this might be too much. And I'm not going to lie to you; we're asking for a long term commitment.'

'It's not about how old he is,' I point our hurriedly. 'It's just…. I didn't think this would happen. I'm not sure I can do this anymore.'

Fiona pauses again. 'The first step to becoming someone's guardian is admitting you know nothing. It makes things easier when you stuff up and you have a hormonal teenager telling you that he hates you while your partner demands to know where his clean socks are.'

'You sound experienced,' I joke weakly.

'I am,' she agrees. 'So do you want to meet him? He's staying with his father at the moment, and he'll be able to meet you at three thirty, if you want. I'll need to come with you, so if you can come to the office, I'll happy to drive you there and back.'

'Shouldn't Brett be there?'

'No. I want him to meet you first. It's less intimidating and besides, he'll see a lot more of you than Brett.'

My Monday morning, which consisted of being bored to death at Uni, has been met with an afternoon that may be the catalyst for…. Hell, I don't even know how to describe this. I can't even fathom what this boy – how did I forget to ask his name? – looks like, or even that he exists. I have no idea what he's doing in life, if he has any mental, emotional or physical problems, and what qualities he's seeking in his foster parents.

I don't have time to return home from Uni and get changed, so I'll have to head straight to the office in my shorts, singlet and thongs. I stare around at other students, suddenly grateful that none of my friends have the same Monday timetable as me. I don't think I'd want to explain the foster care application, or the fact that I'm about to meet somebody who may end up living with us.

By the time I reach the office, I've smoked twenty million cigarettes and probably reek of smoke. Fiona's really busy and instead of telling me anything more about the child, she instead hands me an overflowing manila folder and requests I file the contents. I file and I file and I file, growing increasingly nervous, until I realize it's a quarter past three and Fiona and I are due to meet 'the boy' in just fifteen minutes.

'Shit,' she swears, scurrying into the office. 'Sorry to abandon you; the hospital rang five minutes before you arrived with a mother needing emergency surgery, no relatives in the state and a husband away on a business trip. We had to get four children out of her hands ASAP.'

'Is it sorted now?'

'Unbelievably,' Fiona replies, breathing a sigh of relief, her pudgy face red with exertion. 'Jesus, the things that go on. Are you ready to leave now and meet Lee?'

'I guess.'

'No time for guessing now. Now, what do you want to know about him?'

'Everything?'

'Sounds good,' she agrees, grabbing her keys and handbag and heading out the door.

I follow her obediently, climbing into the front passenger side of her car and taking the refidex 'in case she gets lost'. As we drive, Fiona shares what she knows. Lee turned fourteen in July and he's currently enrolled in Year Nine, but he's had a rough year and will probably need to repeat. He was removed from his mother's care two weeks ago due to an 'unsafe home environment' and stayed with a foster family for four days before they decided Lee was a terror. He stole money, stole food, refused to go to school, hit one of their biological children and to top it off 'displayed inappropriate sexual behaviour'.

'His natural father came to Brisbane four days ago. They've been staying in a hotel, but it isn't the best of situations. His father's from South Australia and they hadn't met previously, although his father calls once a month to speak to him. You'll need to see that they keep that up.'

She speaks with an air of disdain, as though Lee's father isn't doing nearly enough, but in my mind, the kid is unbelievably lucky. I would have killed to have my father call me, travel interstate to care for me when I had nowhere else to go, and generally be interested in who I was.

'What's his father like?' I inquire.

Fiona sighs. 'I don't know, all I know is that he's angry that we didn't place him with someone more suitable, and demanding to know why it was the last family refused to take care of his son.'

'Doesn't he know about the stealing and stuff?'

'I think Lee persuaded him the family greatly over-exaggerated.'

'Did they?'

Fiona gives me an appraising look. 'Between you and me, of course they did. They foster for the money, and the money only, but until they step out of line, and whilst we're so desperate for carers, who am I to complain? I don't believe for one second that the kid's an angel, but he's definitely not the terror they made him out to be.'

We pull up outside a cheap, family-friendly motel and I start to smoke 'one last cigarette'. My heart's beating unbelievably quickly and my palms are damp with sweat. For God's sake, I'm twenty-one, I'm too young for this. What were Brett and I thinking?

'We're already five minutes late,' Fiona remarks. 'Put that out and let's get you and Lee acquainted.'

'Wait,' I yelp.

Fiona gives me a pointed, impatient look. 'What?'

'Does he know we're a couple? I mean, does he know we're both guys and…'

'…No Damon, I thought I'd leave that as a surprise,' she replies dryly. 'Of course he knows. He wanted an adult male in the house, and now he might get two of them.'

Chastened, I follow her into the motel. It's amusing in a way that she treats me like a child whilst at the same time being so adamant that Brett and I should foster somebody else's offspring. I focus on the amusement and not on my fear as we make our way upstairs to the designated room.

My mind had built an image of a tall, thickset, rather ugly father and son duo, the father with tattoos and in a flannelette shirt and old jeans, so it's rather a surprise to meet Austin and his son Lee. There are enough physical similarities between the pair for a bystander to recognize that they're related, and yet they're not identical. Both have tanned, freckled skin and regular builds, but whilst his father's hair is brown, Lee's is a dirty blonde colour.

My mind's entirely focused on how surprised I am that they look so utterly unlike what I expected, and I guess Austin and Lee are thinking the same, because we just stand there for a minute or two, inspecting one another.

I'm curious about Austin's actual role in his son's life. There's a wedding ring on the man's finger and he doesn't look 'poor', although I wouldn't peg him to be any higher than middle class, so I'm guessing he's mildly, but not overly, interested. He's in his mid thirties, with hazel eyes and I'll admit, he doesn't look too happy with me. Perhaps 'disappointed' is the best word to use.

Lee looks extremely uncomfortable. His green eyes occasionally meet mine but he gives a slight smile, showing gap teeth, when I smile at him. His clothes are brand new and his hair looks to have been recently cut, but what I notice most is his utter anxiety.

'This is Damon,' Fiona introduces. 'Damon, this is Austin and Lee.'

We shake hands with each other awkwardly and return to our nervous staring.

'How about we sit down and get to know one another?' Fiona suggests, waddling towards the hotel room table. 'Lee, I'm sure you must have lots of questions, so go ahead and ask.'

Lee's face tells us all he would rather have brain surgery without anesthetic than interview me, but his father and Fiona are giving him pointed looks so it looks like he really doesn't have any options.

'Have you looked after anyone other foster kids?' he asks softly.

'No.'

'Okay. Um…' Lee pauses to fiddle with the saltshaker. 'What do you do? I know somebody told us, but I can't remember whether it was you or your….boyfriend….who worked and who went to Uni.'

'I study social work,' I reply, launching into conversation.

I hate blabbing, although I've been told I'm quite good at it, and Lee starts looking a little more settled as I explain what we do, where we live, who our friends are, and my inability to keep a fish alive for more than a few months.

'Lee, Austin,' Fiona interrupts, giving me a 'shut-up' look. 'Do you have any questions for Damon?'

Lee shakes his head. Austin considers the matter, or, more likely, considers the question he wants to ask. I'm actually more worried about Austin's reaction than his son's, because if Brett and James' families are anything to go by, they're very particular about who takes care of their children when they can't. Babysitters and even childless relative are given a never-ending drill on childcare, as though they knew absolutely nothing about caring for anyone under 18 years of age.

'Fiona mentioned you have epilepsy.'

I loathe epilepsy questions. I hate talking about what it's like, how often, how I feel afterwards, and what I'm capable of. Sometimes I wish I could just say 'it looks nasty, it feels nasty when I regain consciousness, and I'm a space cadet for a while afterwards, but other than that, I'm pretty normal'.

Fiona helps me out with the explanation. Austin seems to regret asking, and Lee's embarrassed, but I know that it's actually a reasonable question and one that I sort of anticipated.

It seems like we've been there forever, but when Fiona requests I go down to her car while she, Austin and Lee 'have a talk' I glance at the clock and realize it's only four o'clock.

I know exactly why it is that I've been turfed out; so Lee can decide whether or not he wants to meet Brett, come over our house and 'test out' our home. Fortunately the wait for Fiona is relatively brief. I'm finishing my second cigarette as she exits the hotel, but although I scan her face for hints, I can't judge what has occurred.

'What do you think?' she inquires, lighting a cigarette. 'Think you could handle the kid?'

'Uh, yeah, I guess. Is he…interested in meeting Brett?'

'Damon, this isn't some likeability contest. Do you, or do you not, feel that you and Brett would be able to have a good relationship with Lee?'

'I wasn't thinking that way,' I admit, leaning against her car and removing a pebble from my left thong. 'But you know, he's really a lot better than I thought he would be. You made him sound creepy and he's actually seems to be a pretty good kid.'

Fiona smiles. 'He is, isn't he?'

'Yeah. Um, well, I have no problems. It just feels weird to say 'yes'.'

Fiona's smile widens. 'Excellent. I've organized for them to visit you and Brett tomorrow at six-thirty. Now, did you want to drop by my house and pick up this fish tank?'


Blinky the fifth settles into his new tank quite well. Brett's entirely uninterested in the fish; he's too busy worrying and stressing out. The level of anxiety he's displaying makes my fear yesterday look piddly and insignificant, which in turn makes me anxious and we both sit around nervously, waiting for Fiona, Austin and Lee to arrive.

They arrive early, with Fiona and another social worker – Roger – leading the way. The introductions are made quickly, and I note, with some jealousy, that Austin and Brett seem to have an instant rapport. Whilst Austin didn't seem to think much of me and spoke little, he and Brett get on like they've been mates forever.

'You got a new fish,' Lee mentions quietly, cocking his head in the direction of the kitchen table.

'Yeah, Blinky the fifth. Lexis is outside, do you want to see him?'

We'd put the dog outside so he wouldn't start barking, humping anyone's leg or doing anything else similarly off-putting but he's currently alerting us to his presence by running around in circles and barking. Our courtyard's actually starting to look quite reasonable at the moment; it used to be a tiny patch of grass with a large shed, but Brett and I pulled our decrepit shed down a few weeks ago and laid some turf. Lexis appreciates the extra room and I appreciate being rid of the eyesore of a shed, which makes the three hours we spent yanking down corrugated iron worth the effort.

Lexis brings Lee a slobber-covered, split green tennis ball with the intention of playing catch. Brett and I have long since learnt that playing any sort of game with Lexis only ever results in the human getting tired before the dog, and the human then being followed by the dog pushing his drool-covered toys in your face the second you try and sneak away.

We're followed outside almost immediately. Brett and Austin and are still talking, and Fiona asks Lee if he'd like to have a quick look through the house before he starts playing with the dog.

'Okay,' he agrees, shrugging and handing the ball to his father.

Fiona, Lee and I head inside, leaving Roger, Brett and Austin to throw the ball to a now-excited Lexis.

'Bedroom, kitchen, Bedroom, Study, laundry,' I announce, walking down the hall and pointing to various rooms.

'Hold on Damon,' Fiona scolds. 'Now, this is the room that Lee would have?'

'No, we were planning on stuffing him in the laundry.'

Lee grins at me as we crowd into the vacant room. There's nothing in it but my old queen-size bed, a built-in cupboard and a bookshelf but it's a decent sized room and the window looks out onto the courtyard.

'I could have this bed?' Lee inquires.

'That was the plan,' I confirm. 'But we need to get new pillows; those ones are all flat.'

It's at that second that I realize he wants to move in with us. No, that's not correct, it's at that point that all three of us recognize the fact, and all discomfort just disappears. It's weird, but it really feels right, as though Lee was meant to live with us and fostering another child would be plain wrong.

'I can deal with flat pillows,' Lee replies, eyeing off the bed. 'Man, you have no idea how much I'm looking forward to getting out of the hotel.'

'But then your Dad goes,' I point out.

'It's okay,' Lee replies blithely. 'I've never met him before, and besides, he calls every month.'

'Lee also has a few siblings,' Fiona points out. 'Eight of them, actually.'

My jaw hits the floor. 'Eight?'

'Eight,' Lee grins. 'Talisha, Charlene, Lucas, Gabby, Anna, Tai, Aaliyah and Thomas.'

'His eldest sister is married and the second eldest is living with a friend. The six younger children are divided between two other families, who have decided they'll make family visitation easy and meet up at Sizzler at the Hyperdome every Thursday. I'll give you the other family's phone numbers so you can confirm. Now, let's see what the men are up to.'

The 'men' are sitting at the kitchen table, beers in hand, discussing the material aspect of Lee's needs, stuff like clothes, school uniforms, shoes and orthodontic work.

'I don't want braces,' Lee complains, overhearing the conversation.

That's when I realize that Lee's actually a kid, and not some sort of permanent houseguest. I sort of forget this rather important aspect, probably owing to the small age gap between us, but I'm now more than aware of it, and I'm willing to bet a lot of money that it's only a matter of weeks before he and Brett start fighting. Sometimes you just 'know' these things.

Shit.

Chapter Nine

Lee sits across from me at the kitchen table, fiddling with his dinner. Brett's in the study simultaneously studying and eating, apparently unperturbed that this is Lee's first night at 'our' house.

'Don't you like cannelloni?'

'No, it's nice,' he replies quickly. 'Um, doesn't Brett want me living here?'

I feel really bad for him, knowing how nervous he is. I don't envy him the situation, but nor am I sure how to put him at ease.

'Brett wants you here, but he studies most nights. Either that, or he's marking assignments or something.'

'Oh.' Lee returns to his dinner, neatly cutting a tube in half. 'He looked pretty grumpy.'

'Get used to it,' I grin. 'Just take the piss out of him if you feel like it, because he wears that look most of the time. I don't think he listened when his Mum told him not to pull faces in case the wind changed and he got stuck that way.'

Lee grins and finishes his meal at a much faster speed. His father dropped him off two hours ago and after spending an hour unpacking – and, probably, spending a little time sitting around and sorting out his emotions – he played with Lexis while I made dinner.

I think maybe Brett's a little sulky because he wanted to pick up our new car tonight and yet couldn't, because they wanted to close early and most likely drink themselves into oblivion at the local pub. This means that we have Jamie's Monaro until tomorrow morning, when Brett will be collecting the Astra. Truly, sometimes I feel like shaking my boyfriend until he realizes how much his moods affect his friends and family.

'You want dessert?' I inquire as Lee scrapes clean his plate.

'Um, okay.'

Brett emerges from the study as I'm squirting ice magic over our ice-cream, unsubtly hinting that he, too, would like some, by collecting a third bowl. I want to laugh at how awkward this all is; with the three of us so nervous and figuring out where we 'fit' in the household. It's so stupid to have Brett standing right next to me, and not stroking my back, or molesting me, or being a smartass and shoving a scoop of frozen dessert down my shirt. I pestered him for regular affection until it became a part of his nature, and 'keeping it out of sight' is going to be difficult.

'About tomorrow,' Brett starts, the second we're all sitting down at the table. 'I'm going to pick up Jamie at nine tomorrow and we're going to pick up the Astra together so he can take the Monaro straight home. I was thinking I could pick you two up on the way back and you could get everything you need while I do the grocery shopping.'

'I'm good with that,' I agree. 'Lee?'

'I don't mind. I don't really need anything though.'

Brett and I exchange glances. Lee left his home with one school uniform, tattered old shoes, a few shirts and a pair of old shorts, not exactly what either of us would call a complete wardrobe. Brett, who has fortunately never known poverty, was disgusted, but whilst I'm not surprised at how little he has, I'm amused that he isn't interested in going shopping. Spending money is one of my favourite pastimes, and besides, the government kindly donated a few hundred dollars for Lee's 'moving in' expenses, so it's not like much money's coming out of either Brett or my pockets.

'Do you need to call anyone?' Brett asks. 'We have a cordless phone, you could take it to your room if you'd prefer.'

'Do you mind?'

Lee looks so relieved at the offer I feel like kicking myself for not asking earlier.

'No,' Brett shakes his head. 'It's on the coffee table, if you want to call now. You'll only be missing out on the washing up.'

'You don't want me to help?'

'No, you're good. We're waiting until you've settled in before we make you our slave,' I reply, not wanting to give Brett the chance of getting out of washing up. He'd never go near dishwater if he could help it, but I prefer to see him do some housework.

As Lee heads to his room, Brett and I collect the bowls and stand over the sink awkwardly. My boyfriend looks exhausted with dark shadows under his eyes and his hair all messed up and he smiles and shuts his eyes tiredly as I smooth the tangles from his hair.

'Maybe you should only do one or two subjects next semester,' I suggest. 'We could spend some more time together then, 'cause I'm really starting to miss having time with you.'

'Maybe.'

'No maybes please. Make it my birthday present if you want, or my Christmas present.'

His hands settle on my waist and he flushes red before pressing his lips against mine. No matter how many times he hugs and kisses me, there'll always be something incredibly nice about it. His scent, the texture of his skin, the way he moves, everything about him is both familiar and enticing.

'We'll go to bed in an hour or so and make love?' he whispers, nipping at my neck, his hands roaming over my back. 'If you can do the washing-up, I'll finish what I'm doing and…'

'That's not what I want Brett.'

Brett steps back and gives me a doubtful look. 'That's not what LD is saying.'

LD – a.k.a. Little Damon – is my dick.

'Okay, maybe I want sex as well,' I admit. 'But I also want you, mister, because I don't get that much time with you anymore and now Lee's moved in, if you keep studying shitloads, I'll never see you at all.'

He flushes redder and stares at the floor. 'Okay then. I'll only do one subject, but you can't complain that you're sick of having me around.'

I have no idea why it is he finds my desire to spend time with him embarrassing. When we first met, even in the weeks before he expressed his love, we used to spend so much time together. I want to go back to the days when we fell asleep, lying all over each other, at ridiculously early times, when we would visit people for longer than two hours and on weekday nights we'd go to the pub for pool and beer.

'You're becoming boring,' I whisper, hugging him tightly. 'And I love you too much for to let that happen.'

He makes an amused-sounding snort and gently pushes me off. 'We have to the do the washing-up now.'

'No, I'll do it. Go and study, so you don't spend the night fidgeting and wishing that instead of bad television, you were facing….whatever crap it is that they make you study.'

He grins and leans over, giving me a quick kiss before leaving me to face the washing-up.

I want to kick myself as I realize that for the millionth time, Brett has successfully avoided the dishwater.

Damn him.


'That was quick,' I remark, surprised at how quickly we've managed to find the jeans, jumper, shorts and shoes that Lee required. 'Now I guess we just need to get socks and jocks?'

Lee tries his best to be diplomatic. 'Has anyone ever told you that you speak really, really loudly?'

'Sorry.'

We make our way to Target, where I do my best to not harp on about why satin boxer shorts imprinted with stupid cartoon characters and bad innuendos aren't what you want to find underneath a man's jeans.

'Damon, no offence, but wearing those,' he points, in the direction of more form-fitting underwear. 'Is like having a big sign on my back saying 'I'm a poof, beat the shit out of me'.'

'Who was ever beaten up because of their choice of underwear?' I prod, ignoring the dirty looks of several men who were in the midst of purchasing the said, rather cute, underwear.

'You haven't been to high school lately, have you?'

'Point taken.'

I don't bother asking how anyone would actually find out what type of underwear another student was wearing; I put nothing past fourteen year old males.

'Besides, boxers increase your fertility,' Lee points out as we make our way to the check-out.

'Your fourteen, you don't need to be fertile. Actually, come to think of it, I think I'd prefer it if you weren't.'

'I won't be making babies,' he grins. 'I need a girlfriend for that and my last one dumped me after…um, the stuff that happened.'

I have no idea exactly what transpired prior to Lee's removal from his mother's home, and according to Fiona, if I want to find out, I'm going to have to wait until Lee's ready to tell me. Lee had already made clear, prior to being placed with anyone, his 'requirements' for a new home and amongst other things, he wanted somewhere where his wishes to not disclose anything he didn't want to were respected. Frankly, the curiosity is killing me, because I can be a fairly nosey person, but I dorespect his privacy all the same.

'So you're straight?'

'Uh-huh,' Lee nods. 'Um, you didn't think I was, like, gay or anything did you?'

'Actually, the thought only just occurred to me when I realised you could be breeding recklessly with fourteen year old girls.'

'Hmph. Unless you can find some hot, willing women, that's pretty unlikely.'

I grin at him as the checkout chick boredly scans our purchases. I can't really imagine Lee dating; he looks so young that it's odd to think of him even having that desire. Actually, I'd never realised how young and immature fourteen year olds looked until I saw a reflection of us together in a shop window earlier this morning.

'Maybe we should check out that pet store before we find Brett,' I suggest, eyeing off a Pets Paradise. 'I want to see Blinky's cousins.'

'Okay.'

I love looking at Blinky relatives, even if I am rather incapable of keeping my pets alive. I never had a pet until Mitch and James gave us our first Siamese as a present, and I like 'looking after' something. In my real life, it seems that everyone around me is looking after me; financially supporting me, driving me around town, and helping me when I have a seizure, so it may simply be a control thing, but regardless, I love my pretty fish.

Lee and I browse through the store before settling ourselves in front of the Siamese jars.

'Man that one looks sweet,' he remarks, pointing to a green and gold fish.

I pause a second and consider how grumpy Brett would be, and how ethical it is, to spend money meant to 'buy the necessities' for a new foster child, on a pet for the child in question. Then I start to wonder why in buggery it is that I'm considering ethics and Centerlink in the same thought.

'I don't care if you get it,' I offer. 'I mean, there's seventeen dollars leftover, and your Dad gave Brett the money for your school uniforms, so it's not like there's any other use for it. Unless you needed something else?'

'I didn't need what you and my Dad bought,' he argues. 'But…' his gaze drifts towards the fish again.

I'll admit, it is a beautiful fish and it's rather boring have Brett do nothing but roll his eyes whenever I start talking about Blinky, and I wouldn't mind someone else in the household being interested.

'Let's get it.'

We manage to find a fishbowl lid that will fit over our current bowl and take it, and the green and gold fish, to the counter. Somewhere along the line, we decide our fish probably needs plants, and add some greenery to our purchases.

We're leaving the pet store when Brett rings my mobile, politely inquiring where exactly Lee and I are, and how long it will be till we finished.

'We're finished now,' I reply, glancing over at Lee. 'Meet you in the foodcourt? At KFC?'

I'm starting to get to the 'food, food, food' stage and I guess Lee is too because we find Brett rather quickly. He rolls his eyes at the pet store bag and inquires as to what is we've purchased.

'How cute,' he remarks dryly when we show him the fish. 'That was one of those necessities, huh?'

'It's essential for my mental health,' Lee agrees. 'Damon told everyone we were going shopping for socks and jocks.'

Brett may laugh, but I'm just happy Lee's seems to be settling in. He's nowhere near as nervous as he was last night and I'm starting to get a good idea of his personality and how he reacts. Actually, I'm really, really relieved at how everything's working out, because Brett and I were admittedly more than a little worried about how well Lee would settle in. With this in mind, I eat my lunch contently, without a care in the world.

By Wednesday night, though, I realize exactly how stupid I was to assume it was that easy. As if. Frankly, by Wednesday night, both Brett and I are wishing we'd never met the kid. How can one child be so much trouble?

Fucking guess. Or come and try him out for a while, because within a few days you'll know exactly how it is that one fourteen year old can almost entirely fuck up your life.

Chapter Ten

Neither of us ever could have foreseen Lee's actions. Or maybe we could have, should have, seeing as neither of us departed adolescence that long ago, but the fact remains that we didn't expect him to do what he did, and as a result, Lee is no longer with us.

The weekend progressed uneventfully, and I was even starting to wonder what was so difficult about teenagers. Everyone whinges about them, but Lee was a gem; no moodiness, no arguments, and no behavioural problems. Seriously, by Sunday night, I was cruising along happily.

On Monday the problems started.

Brett had dropped Lee off at school and given him the money for extra school uniforms, before heading to work. For my part, all transport normally takes place via the local bus service, but sometimes one of my friends – I guess acquaintances would be a more accurate description – from Uni will drop me off home. On Monday afternoon, Anna had given me a lift and I was home by five past three. I'll admit I was surprised to find Lee had beaten me home and I questioned him about it immediately.

'I thought school finished at three?' I asked.

'Ten to three,' he corrected in a snide tone. 'And I got a lift home. I think I'll go to my room now.'

Maybe a 'normal person' would have gone to speak to him, ask him whether anything was wrong, but I'm so accustomed to Brett, I put his disdain down to hormones and adjusting to a new home. I didn't even question him when he said he wanted to eat dinner in his room, or when he entirely ignored Brett.

I was, however, a little suspicious, and rang the school the next day to ensure Lee was present. He wasn't. More to the point, he hadn't shown up yesterday, which meant that he'd lied to me. I was more than a little pissed off, because he'd spent the morning in the same sullen mood he'd been in the night before and had refused my attempts at conversation.

Having said that, my irritation at his wagging school was nothing compared to my fury when I realised someone had cleaned my bank account out. At first I thought maybe Brett had picked up my keycard from the kitchen table by mistake, and had used it to make a big purchase, but when I rang him from Uni to ask, he merely went silent before confirming it had nothing to do with him.

'Do you think its Lee?' I asked.

'It has to be,' he replied, sounding confused. 'But how would he know your PIN?'

'Maybe he saw it on Saturday?' I suggested. 'Maybe I should ask him before you get home? I rang the school and they said he wasn't there and he wasn't there yesterday either, so I can speak to him about that, too.'

'Bloody little bastard,' Brett swore. 'Are you sure you want to speak to him on your own? You don't want to wait for me to come home?'

'No, I'm good.'

My talk with Lee resulted in Brett being called home early, Fiona and Roger arriving to mediate, two juvenile protection police officers nearly arresting Brett, and Mitch having to drop by to 'explain'.

I'd sat Lee down at the table, wondering why it was he was glaring viciously at me, and asked him why it was he hadn't gone to school.

'I did.'

'You didn't,' I argued, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. 'I rang the school.'

'You were stalking me,' he accused viciously, scraping his chair back from the table. 'Fuck you. At least I don't live with a fucking rapist.'

'What the fuck are you talking about?'

'You know,' he replied darkly, his eyes narrowed into slits. 'You two are disgusting, and as soon as Fiona calls me back, I'm making her get me out of here. I have the phone in my room, too, so don't even think about trying to stop me.'

I don't lose my temper easily, but I guess the anger at losing the eight hundred dollars from my account, as well as Lee's attitude just pissed me off too much. As confused as I was as to what he was going on about, I wasn't about to stand for this sort of crap.

'Well then kindly give me the money you took from my account,' I demanded furiously as he went to his room and slammed the door.

'I didn't take your fucking money you faggot.'

One of my most awful, hidden secrets is that sometimes, just sometimes, comments like that seriously get to me. My stomach tightens and I become so defensive and angry that I need to have a smoke and calm down before saying something I know I'll regret. I loathe that people can get to me, but the sad fact is that they can, sometimes.

I smoked a cigarette before calling Fiona from my mobile. She answered, sounding cold and distant, and when I asked her what was wrong – probably sounding as terrified and upset as I was – she told me to 'wait'. I called Brett, asking him to come home and he agreed, his voice tight and strained. For whatever reason, I couldn't relay to Brett Lee's description of him as a rapist.

I just didn't understand. Deep in my heart, I knew Brett wouldn't dream of touching anybody who didn't want him. As I've said, he invests a lot of emotion in sex, and whether he realizes it or not, he needs a caring partner who won't trample all over his post-coital vulnerability. It's simply unfathomable that he would rape anyone.

Half an hour later, I was almost wishing I could die. Everyone; Brett, Fiona, Roger, and two juvenile protection police officers showed up within a minute of one another, each demanding to know what was going on.

'I don't know,' I explained helplessly. 'He didn't go to school yesterday or today, and I think he's taken money out of my bank account, but when I tried to speak to him, he told me Brett was a rapist. Brett would never do that, absolutely….'

'…Slow down,' Fiona demanded. 'Why don't we all sit down, ask Lee to join us, and work through this together?'

The cops weren't happy with that. 'We'd rather talk to the child in private,' one of them advised. 'An allegation of rape is a serious matter, probably not something he wishes to discuss in front of the perpetrator.'

And as quickly as that, they had decided that not only was Brett a rapist, but the person he'd molested was Lee. Brett was devastated. There's no other word to describe it; he looked so upset, so vulnerable, that I didn't give a shit who was around, and what Brett thought of public displays of affection, I just went over to him and hugged him, my own rapid heartbeat moving in time with his.

'I love you,' he whispered, suddenly holding me firmly against his body. 'I love you so much Damon.'

'I love you too,' I replied, ignoring Fiona and Roger's probing stares. 'It's going to be alright. They'll get this sorted out, and Lee will leave and then we'll be…'

His gaze met mine in understanding. At that point in time, all we wanted was it for it to back to the two of us, safe and in love, with no lying, thieving brats to make false allegations and place Brett's employment, his freedom, and maybe even his life – because everyone knows how child molesters are treated in prison – on the line. I couldn't understand why Lee had changed, and why he suddenly hated us. I didn't understand why this was going on, and how anyone could possibly accuse my boyfriend of such terrible crimes.

We sat at the kitchen table together, as physically close as we could manage, smoking cigarette after cigarette whilst the police finished questioning Lee, and then searched the house. I wasn't far off tears by the time the police sat themselves at the table, gesturing for Roger and Fiona to join us, and placed a video cassette on the table.

'Do you care to explain what's on this?' they demanded roughly.

'Holy shit,' I swore softly, suddenly understanding. I understood exactly why Lee was upset, why he was accusing Brett of being a rapist, and why we were in such a huge fucking mess. I wanted to bang my head against the table, and maybe bang Lee's head against the fucking brick wall for snooping, but mostly – mostly, I was relieved, because now I understood why it was Lee had become so upset on Monday.

It all had to do with Mitch - James' partner, Mitch. He's kinky as all fuck, and incredibly submissive, especially around Brett, and in the days when Brett and I would partner swap with the couple, we used to throw in a little BDSM every now and then to keep him happy.

There was one day, though, when Mitch made a request. He was into fantasy rape – not that we didn't already know that – and wanted the full deal. He wanted us to, well, pretty much set up an attack and rape. It wasn't as though the thought aroused James, Brett or I, but we were accustomed to Mitch's kinks and told him we'd do one better; we were going to tape it all, and give him the tape for his twenty-first birthday.

So we did it. I taped – because of all of us, I'm the least accommodating when it comes to mock rape – Mitch arriving home from work in his blue copper's uniform, only to be taken to the floor, smacked around, and raped. I guess somewhere deep inside of me, I never liked the idea, but I never disliked it enough to refuse to participate. Or maybe I did want to ask them stop, but couldn't, because I didn't want Mitch to realize how uncomfortable it was making me.

It's not a nice recording; it genuinely does look like the 'real deal' and just because this sort of stuff turns Mitch on, doesn't mean he had a cheesy big grin plastered to his face throughout the ordeal. I mean, he never cued us to stop, and afterwards he made it clear how much he appreciated what we'd done, but at the time… I don't know, I only ever watched the tape once. It's hard to describe what it involved, without making people think 'ew, why the fuck did you do that?' Simply put, unless you're into that kind of thing and knew it wasn't real, watching it would be pretty distressing.

'It's Mitch,' I offered weakly. 'He's a friend of ours. He's…you know, into that sort of stuff. It's not what it looks like, truly it isn't. You can call him if you want, he's a cop…'

'…his number?'

Mitch was called and his presence requested. Then we had to sit and watch the fucking thing, while Fiona took Lee for a drive. It wasn't a nice experience. Mitch and Brett were so humiliated, and I just wanted to fucking killLee from going through our room, watching something that was never intended for his eyes, and then starting this drama.

All he needed to do was keep his own bloody nose out of our room and it would have been fine. I know – I truly do understand – that we probably shouldn't have kept the tape, but… we did. We kept it, for whatever reasons, and the consequences were far worse than we could ever have imagined.

'Are you aware of how damaging this sort of material is?' one of the juvenile protection cops kept asking. 'What's so wrong with you all that you made it in the first place?'

We had no answers. None of us, neither Brett nor Mitch nor I could explain why it was we'd made the tape, but if nothing else, James didn't have to be called in, and we agreed to destroy the tape in lieu of nobody trying to press any charges.

Slowly, painfully, we sat with Lee and explained that it wasn't 'real'. I don't think it mattered to him; he was so disgusted that he couldn't even look at us, and although I wanted to wring his fucking neck for snooping, something inside of me recognized that this was also my and Brett's fault. There's a point in life when you have to hang up the whips and chains and recognize there are children around, and neither Brett nor I respected this fact.

'We also need to discuss… Damon's bank account,' Roger added. 'Lee? I know you've been through a lot, but if you could please tell us whether or not you took the money…'

'NO,' he yelled, shocking all of us. 'I told you I didn't touch the bastard's money. Get me out of here. I don't want to stay here, and I don't want anything to do with you. Any of you.'

Brett and I let him go. I don't know where he went. Truly, I didn't care either. We wrote the money off, and told Fiona and Roger not to bother about it. Whether Lee took it or not didn't matter; we knew we were never going to get that money back and after the accusations of rape, money is nothing.

Fiona came around earlier this afternoon to pick up the last of Lee's belongings. I'd cleaned out his room in the morning and had been unimpressed – and yet no unsurprised – at the mess he'd managed to make within just a few, short days, but all that was really required was for her to pick up his clothing. She didn't speak much to me, certainly nowhere near as much as she used to, and before she left, she asked if Lee would be allowed to keep Gordon, his Siamese.

'He can have him,' I sighed tiredly. 'I'm sorry.'

Fiona released a sigh of her own. 'I'm sorry, too, Damon. I genuinely didn't think he would steal anything, least of all so much.'

'Are you mad at me over the video?' I prodded, nervous and wondering why it was she wasn't as friendly as she had been previously.

She paused. 'I'm disgusted. I think it's depraved and unnatural, but it's not for me to judge.'

'I'm sorry.'

Fiona paused again. 'Damon, you're going to need to find another place to undertake your work experience. I'm sorry, but I don't think it's…appropriate…that you return to the office.'

That's when it hit me, how badly Brett and I had fucked up. That's when the most overwhelming feeling of failure settled over my like a heavy cloud, and my heart sunk into the dark abyss of depression.