Chapter Nineteen

Jamie's furious with the damage that's been done to his car. He speaks about 'his girl' as if she were a living, breathing, creature, and if I were the residents of unit number twenty-two - who we all suspect to be the perpetrators, as they are the ones who've been making smart ass comments whenever they see Brett or I alone - I'd be running, and fast. As I've said, Jamie's family is full of crims and bikies, so the guys have definitely picked the wrong person to fuck with.

'We should go in,' one of the policemen remarks coolly. 'We need to ask you a few questions.'

We tramp inside and Lee heads off to bed at Brett's request, whilst the rest of us settle ourselves in the living room. After asking who lives where, the police request Ash leaves for home, and Brett, Terry and I go to the study while they 'talk' with Jamie.

'I'll need to call a taxi,' Ash replies.

'Why?' the second officer demands.

Looking a little taken aback, Ash mentions that he's been drinking and isn't sure whether he's over or under the blood alcohol limit.

'We have what's called a breathalyser,' comes the swift, condescending reply. 'Come outside and I'll test you.'

Ash is under the limit, so he's sent home without any further comment. The rest of us are then told to 'leave them have a chat with Jamie'. Not being a particularly suspicious person, I'm halfway down the hallway when I realise that Brett and Terry aren't following.

'Why?' Terry demands of the police. 'I don't see why you need to talk to him in private about this. We're all queers, so it's hardly as though we haven't heard the word 'fag' before.'

'Terry, just go,' Jamie requests tiredly. 'I can look after myself.'

'Like hell you can,' Terry argues. 'In case you've somehow managed to forget...'

'...I haven't,' Jamie interrupts. 'Go to the room with Brett and Damon. You can tell me how stupid I am later.'

'No. If you think...'

'...Terry!' Jamie interrupts again. 'Quit it.' Turning to the police, Jamie requests that they give him two minutes alone with his boyfriend.

The police are reluctant, but it's obvious that they want Brett, Terry and I out of the way, and thus they agree to Jamie's request. Jamie and Terry head off to the laundry and shut the door behind them, but within seconds, Terry's yelling at his boyfriend loud enough for us to all hear. I'm cringing, and I don't even dare look over at Brett, as Terry proceeds to tell Jamie that he's an 'idiot' and how this is just one more item in the long list of incredibly stupid things he's done. When Terry continues yelling, informing Jamie that he's sick of the police coming to their house looking for his relatives, I wince, and chance a glance at the police.

'Is there a lock on the laundry door?' the cop whose gaze I've met inquires.

'No. There's no locks on any of the internal doors. I have epilepsy,' I reply, as though that explains everything they need to know.

Nonetheless, the policeman stands up and brushes past us, before knocking on the bathroom door and requesting Jamie's presence. There's a few minutes silence before the two exit, with Jamie muttering that he'd appreciate it if Terry could sit in on the questioning.

'No, what he's telling you is that I am sitting in,' Terry corrects firmly. 'I'm a registered solicitor and you can consider Jamie to be my client, regardless of whether or not you're going to attempt to charge him with anything.'

Brett nudges me in the direction of our room. Obedient boyfriend that I am, I wait until we're in our room, with the door shut, before I inquire as to what exactly it is that's going on.

'They probably found the baggie of dope Jamie had in the glovebox,' Brett replies in a low tone. 'The second they found out his surname's 'Schroeder', they would have had a fairly good idea which family he comes from.'

'And then they go after him, even though someone's just attacked his car?' I ask, incredulous. 'No way.'

Brett gives me a weary look. 'Yes way, hon. Some of his relatives aren't particularly nice people. I don't know if I entirely blame them for wanting to take the opportunity to bring a few of them down, I only wish it wasn't Jamie they weren't trying to use.'

'Are you worried?'

He gives me an appraising look. 'No. I want to go and belt Terry for talking to him the way he did. Then I'll think about worrying. Jamie's right; he can take care of himself.'

'Not if he's going to be charged with marijuana possession,' I argue.

Brett visibly swallows. 'I still think he'd be better off alone. Terry's far too aggressive. I know he's a solicitor, but still, I'd feel better if it was Jamie talking to the cops himself.'

We sit in silence, not hearing anything discernable, for the greater part of an hour. When I hear what I think is the police leaving, I cautiously open the door and head into the lounge room. Jamie and Terry are sitting on opposite sides of the table, Jamie smoking resignedly and Terry looking furious.

'Are you guys okay?'

'Yeah, it's cool,' Jamie replies, glancing over. 'Sorry mate.'

'It's fine,' I shrug, sitting down at the table. 'Are you in trouble?'

'For Christ's sake Damon, of course he's in fucking trouble,' Terry retorts, reaching for his cigarettes. 'Goddamnit, couldn't you have chosen a better neighbourhood to live in?'

We all fall silent, and to use a cliche, you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Terry's really starting to piss me off; whatever mood he's in tonight, it's not nice, and I wish he'd go and sleep it off. Between his lack of regard for my concerns about taking Lee out, the way he spoke to Jamie, and his comments about my neighbourhood, I've had enough.

'Maybe you should go home,' I suggest. 'Call a taxi or something. I don't want you here if you're going to insult everyone. We all know you're smarter than us, but you don't need to treat us like we're imbeciles.'

'I've got a better idea,' he retorts. 'As Jamie's car has been towed away to a repairer, and I don't think I could stand sharing a taxi with him, I'll take a taxi home and he can stay here. Then, when he trots into the police station on Monday to be officially charged with cannabis possession, he can go home to you and Brett, because I don't want to share a house with him anymore.'

It's not a nice fact of life, but being infected with HIV truly made Terry into a nicer person. When I was with him, he was the nasty, stereotypical type of flamer that the media parodies, but shortly after he found out he was HIV positive, his attitude took a turn for the better. He became a nicer person, quit with the excess arrogance and sarcasm and stopped talking down to people. He matured, became somebody I really looked at as a friend, rather than an ex-lover-on-friendly-terms. Jamie further calmed him, introducing him to the concept of an imperfect image, mess and, I thought, real happiness, not the sort you have when you feel you've one-upped another person.

'Maybe Jamie should stay here,' I suggest eventually. 'But just for tonight. You know you're going to regret this tomorrow.'

Jamie gets up, taking his cigarettes and walking out to the courtyard. Terry ignores the movement, instead focusing his glare on me.

'You're going to lose him,' I warn awkwardly. 'Terry, go and say sorry.'

'Not that long ago, you were telling me he was only in it for the money. Now you want me to say sorry? Why should I do that? You know, I know, everyone knows, he's straight. What do you want me to do? Keep stupid breeder boy on a leash because I want regular sex from someone who every goddamn motherfucker knows doesn't love me?' Terry yells, sounding increasingly frantic with each word. 'I don't care, Damon, you stay here in shitsville with Brett, and keep Jamie with you, because it damn well suits you.'

Brett's standing in the kitchen, Lee's emerged from his bedroom, Jamie's out in the courtyard, but has turned to face us, and I'm standing in front of Terry, all of us wondering what the hell's got into Terry and why he's acting like this.

'I'm serious,' Terry adds, sounding a little calmer, although he's breathing heavily and flushed red with exertion from the fight. 'I don't want to see any of you again. I'll call a mover and have them move Jamie's belongings out. Tell Jamie I'm going to put the townhouse up for sale, and I'll organise to pay out the home loan as soon as possible. He can keep the Monaro, and his bike. I've had enough. I don't want this any more.'

He picks up his impossibly tiny mobile phone and calls for a taxi, pointedly ignoring the stunned, horrified, looks he's receiving. Just watching him like this is worrying, but more than that, I'm incensed that he's acting this way. It's as though he genuinely believes none of us are worth anything more than dirt, and I don't need Lee seeing this. I was right; there's a limit to what a fourteen year old should be exposed to, what they should have to suffer through. Lee came to us, seeking a safe place to live, and so far it's been anything but.

'You can wait for your taxi outside,' I order as he completes the call. 'I'll wait with you. Lee needs to go to sleep, and Brett can keep Jamie company until you come to your senses and realise what a fucking jackass you're being.'

'Thanks, but I don't need you to hold my hand,' Terry retorts coldly. 'Go and jump Damon.'

'You know, you're comments have stopped being hurtful, and they're now just fucking annoying,' I add, glaring at him. 'You're acting like a spoiled little child. Jamie isn't stupid, and I don't live in 'shitsville'. Even if I did, while you're a guest in our home, you can keep your mouth shut.'

Terry snaps his phone shut and stands up, heading out the door to wait for the taxi. Almost immediately, I begin to worry; Jamie's car was just vandalised, and now Terry's going to wait for a taxi, alone, and in the middle of the night, where our homophobic neighbours might be tempted to have a go at him.

'Lee, you should probably go back to bed,' I advise. 'Brett, you make sure Jamie's okay, and then go to bed, too. I'm going to give Terry a while to cool down, and then I'm going to make him apologise to Jamie.'

Lee nods, and reluctantly returns to his own bedroom, whilst Brett stares out the kitchen window at Jamie. Jamie's smoking, and he's no longer looking in our direction, but there's no doubt he has to be seriously upset. Were it James or I that was spoken to the way Terry spoke to Jamie, we'd be crying.

I light a cigarette as Brett goes out to speak to Jamie, while I determine the best way to approach Terry. I want to give him time to cool down, because I know there's no way he wants to terminate his relationship with Jamie. He loves him, it's as simple as that, and obviously either the vandalism, or Jamie's upcoming criminal record, is what's set him off.

'I'm going to sleep,' Brett comments, coming back inside. 'Jamie's fine. If Terry doesn't settle down, get Jamie a blanket and pillow and he'll sleep on the couch. I'm going to sleep.'

I stare at him in shock. 'Have I ever told you you're grossly insensitive?'

'Many times, Oprah, but Jamie doesn't exactly need me picking at his sore spots right now,' Brett retorts in a loud whisper, stalking over to me and planting a kiss on my lips. 'Good-night hon, and don't pester Jamie. He'll talk if, and when, he's ready.'

'Okay,' I agree reluctantly, hugging him. There's enough fighting around us; I don't need to start any extra, unnecessary, trouble. 'I love you.'

Brett smiles. 'I love you too, but you'll have to trust me on this one. Jamie's pissed, and embarrassed, and he doesn't need anyone asking him how he feels when how he feels should be pretty bloody obvious.'

'Maybe you have a point,' I admit, kissing him again. 'But Terry does need someone to talk to, so I'm going to do it. I'll give you your...birthday present...tomorrow.'

He grins and kisses me once more, before heading off to bed. Observing his cute, jean-clad butt, a little anger stirs in me. It's selfish, I know it is, but I really wish Terry hadn't started this crap, not only because he's being out and out ridiculous, but because it's Brett's birthday and I want to make love. I'd bought new stuff to make it extra special, and now all the new goodies remain in the top left-hand corner of the closet, neatly wrapped up and obviously destined to maintain their pristine newness for at least another twelve hours.

I head outside, to find Terry standing in an extremely defensive position, a cigarette in his right hand. He turns for a splitsecond when I open the door, before turning to continue scanning the driveway for the taxi he's ordered.

'Terry? I know you're angry right now, but you could come inside if you want,' I offer, walking towards him. 'I'm not going to get mad at you, or make you apologise to Jamie, but I'm worried about you.'

The second my hand touches his shoulder, he turns around and opens his mouth, as if to speak. No words come out, and as swiftly as he turned to face me, he abruptly turns away, drawing on his cigarette.

'Terry? I'm not sure why you're upset, but ignoring me, and yelling at everyone isn't really going to help.'

'Didn't you hear me?' he replies angrily. 'I told you I didn't want anything...anything...anything...'

By the third 'anything', his eyes had teared up and he accepts my hug. I accept this as progress, and gently lead him back inside, taking him to the study, where we can have some privacy. The second the door to the study is shut, he takes a deep breath and wipes his eyes. The reprieve from his tears lasts only seconds before he starts crying again.

'It's not that bad,' I kid, pulling him onto the floor and sitting alongside him. 'We all still love you.'

Terry snorts sadly. 'I lied to you. When I went to hospital...'

'...it's okay, take your time,' I offer, wiping his eyes for him. 'There's no rush.'

He tries to calm himself down. 'I have to take drugs. Antiretroviral ones. I've been taking them since I was in hospital, but they're making me cranky, and sick, and the more sick I get, the crankier I become.' Terry pauses to sob again, only this time he leans into my shoulder and really lets himself go. 'I keep yelling at him,' he whispers. 'I keep telling him he's an idiot, and I hate it. I love him, but I want him to go, because I don't want him to see me when I'm sick, when I've got diarrhoea, or when I look like shit because I can't fall asleep at night. I don't want him to...I don't want to disgust him.'

I have honestly no idea what to say. I don't want to know that he's had to start taking drugs, and I'm not sure how to persuade him that Jamie will still love him, when I'm not sure myself whether or not Jamie will eventually decide he's had enough.

The only person who can give the right answer is Jamie, and as Jamie's currently in the courtyard, I stand up and walk to the door.

'Don't tell him,' Terry pleads. 'Please Damon, no. I can't have him find out.'

'He's going to find out eventually,' I reply calmly, leaving the room.

Jamie's still in the courtyard - still smoking - and he glances over as I take a seat beside him and light a cigarette of my own. Having heard Terry admit, just minutes earlier, that he's been regularly losing his temper, I'm no longer surprised Jamie is unduly upset. Then I remember the vandalised car and his upcoming possession conviction, and wonder why Terry's fury didn't push him over the edge.

'He's taking drugs for his HIV,' I blurt out. 'He was too scared to tell you, and the medicine is making him short tempered, which is why he keeps yelling at you. He thinks you're going to stop...uh, loving him...when he gets sick.'

Jamie snorts and stubs out his cigarette. 'Moron,' he grins. 'Go to sleep okay? I'll sort Terry out.'

He stands up and walks inside without giving me a second glance. Strange. I make myself a cup of coffee and drink it at the kitchen table, waiting to make sure Terry's not going to start screaming again. Figuring they've sorted everything out, I collect blankets and pillows and unfold the sofa bed, before walking down to the study.

'Guys? There's blankets and shit on the couch, if you want to go to sleep.'

Terry opens the door, slipping outside and shutting the door behind him. 'Thank-you.'

I shrug. 'It's cool. Look, I'm...I'm sorry you have to start taking drugs. I'm sorry this has been such a shitty night, too, but maybe we'll go out sometime soon and make up for it.'

'That would be good,' he agrees, leaning forward and hugging me. 'And I'm sorry, too, for being such an asshole. I know Brett does everything he can to look after you, and if this is the best area you can afford to live in, I shouldn't make fun of you for it.'

'Damn right,' I agree, breaking the hug.

We exchange goodnights, return to bed, physically exhausted and no longer in the mood for sex. Brett grunts as I push him over and lay beside him, but he makes no comment, nor noise of protest, when I snuggle into him.

His body rises and falls with each breath, and even though he's disgustingly hot and sweaty, I wouldn't let go of him for the world.

Chapter Twenty

'Lee, is that you?'

'Do I look like a fourteen year old straight boy?' Terry retorts cheerfully, flinging open our screen door and heading straight to the kitchen. He keeps speaking as he rummages through the cupboards, but the volume on the television's up too high and I can't hear a word he's saying.

'Can you repeat that?' I yell, pressing 'mute'.

Terry make a noise of frustration and stands in the kitchen doorway, a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. 'I said I've come around to celebrate as Jamie is now conviction free.'

'No,' I disagree in surprise. 'I thought he admitted the dope was his. How the hell did he get out of it?'

'Because,' Terry drawls, sitting alongside me and placing the glasses on the coffee table. He doesn't bother to continue, simply sits and smiles evilly as he pops the cork - without the cork going flying and hitting the ceiling, may I add - before pouring the yellowy fluid into my cheap-shit wine glasses.

'Well?' I prod impatiently. 'Don't sit here and be a bastard, tell me.'

Terry grins and hands me one of the glasses. 'Drink.'

I take a gulp. 'Okay, now tell me.'

'Well,' Terry begins, taking a sip and absently plays with the stem of the glass.

I glare at his fingers, which are working the stem in the same way he works a hard-on, albeit at a slower pace. Believe me, what he's doing to the glass isn't one of his natural quirks. Oh no, it's something he cultured, and has - had - a firm habit of doing whenever he was chatting up men. The move is utterly transparent, and yet if he does it in front of you, it's pretty difficult not to watch. Then you - well, me at least - have the habit of starting to think 'sex', 'now', and 'maybe we could...' until you realise you have the worst erection and no idea what's happened to the conversation.

'Would you quit that?' I demand, wrenching the glass from his hand and plonking it down on the coffee table. 'Get to the point. How come Jamie doesn't have a criminal conviction?'

Terry mock sighs. 'Because he managed to convince a magistrate that the police found the marijuana whilst performing an illegal search on his car.'

'Really?' I inquire in disbelief. 'I thought it was in his glove box, where his registration papers were. I mean, didn't the police have a right to look there and try and find a way to contact him?'

Terry laughs superiorly. 'Can you remember when Jamie tried to give Lee all that porn and you told him to take it back home? Well, Jamie left a few mags in the car. Threewere in the glove box. Nestled in the centrefold of a 1997 Playboy was where his little stash was residing when the police found it.'

'Nooo,' I crack up laughing. 'That's too funny.'

Terry's laughter becomes genuine. 'Really,' he gasps. 'Not that Jamie was laughing. He was deadly serious, the police prosecutor was deadly serious and everyone else was cracking up laughing,' he pauses to laugh some more. 'My God it was funny Damon,' he pants. 'I'd told him he had no way out, and that he was more likely to piss the magistrate off than convince them it was an illegal search, and it was...just...so....hilarious. You have to see someone like Jamie asking the police why they were looking at his porn - trying his darndest to sound professional and in control - to fully understand.'

We keep cracking up laughing as Terry retells more and more of the story, and we drink more and more of the wine until there's exactly none left. Lee gives us a withering look when he arrives home, before making a beeline to the kitchen. We tell him what's occurred as he makes himself a monster sandwich, but he's only half-amused.

'You're going to tell me that's proof I shouldn't have been able to keep those magazines, huh?' he guesses, taking his sandwich into the lounge and throwing himself onto the recliner.

'Pretty much,' I agree.

Lee snickers and takes a bite of his sandwich. 'After Victor died, I collected as much of his crap as I could, so nobody could throw it out. He had all this gay porn and I kept that, too. At least I did, until I was with my first foster family, and they found it. They reported me for 'showing inappropriate sexual behaviour' and threw it out,' he rolls his eyes in disgust. 'I don't see why it bothered them. It wasn't that interesting, I'd only kept it because it was Vic's.'

Fiona had warned me, just prior to my meeting with Lee, that he'd shown 'inappropriate sexual behaviour' and admittedly, I had pondered what exactly what it was he'd done. When he started painting nude women, I'd assumed maybe they'd over-reacted to something he'd created, so it's actually rather funny to learn that it was over nude men that they freaked, rather than the naked ladies, when it's women he's attracted to.

'That's deplorable,' Terry remarks. 'Didn't they ask you why you had it?'

'They didn't exactly like me,' Lee admits ruefully, giving us a grin. 'I was a bit shitty when I first went there. The first thing they did when I got there was sit me down and tell me all their rules. One of them was that nobody masturbates in their house. I guess that's why they threw the porn out.'

Terry and I exchange looks, before cracking up laughing again. Brett walks in the door while Terry and I are rolling around, crying with laughter and making bad cracks about 'no masturbation' rules. Lee's nonchalant, continuing to wolf down his snack whilst watching afternoon cartoons, apparently unperturbed with the conversation, as Brett walks over, bends down, and kisses the top of my head.

'You're drunk,' he states. 'You want to sit outside with Terry? I'll ring Jamie and he can come and pick up Terry.'

'I'm not drunk,' I argue in disgust. 'I've only had three glasses of wine.'

I'm lying through my front teeth. My medication has the habit of 'helping along' inebriation. In other words, I'm a complete Cadbury, and judging by Terry's drunkeness, his medication has the same effect. Nonetheless, Terry and I make our way to the courtyard, where Lexis immediately runs up to us, his grotty purple plastic bone in his mouth. Lexis himself stinks of dog and I remember, albeit a little too late, that I was supposed to give him a bath today.

'You know, I had this really nasty dream last night,' Terry whispers. 'It was about Jamie and Brett going for it.'

'You need to dream that?' I snicker. 'I think about that all the time when I'm jacking off.'

'Okay, maybe I do too,' Terry admits, giggling. 'So, who do you think would do who?'

We discuss, in whispers, exactly what we imagine what would happen, eventually agreeing that it's indeed something of a pity that neither Brett nor Jamie would be likely to agree to group sex.

'It would be so much easier if they'd just do what we wanted,' Terry sighs. 'Why is my sex life suddenly so boring? I've been lusting after Jamie since I first laid eyes on him; you think we'd never get out of the bedroom.'

'That's because you're boring,' I reply. 'You should fuck him. I would. I'd be fucking him senseless if I were you. In fact, I think I'd tie him face down on the bed - that's something I think of when wanking, too - and...'

'Shhh,' Terry interrupts. 'Geez you're loud. Brett's going to freak if Lee overhears.'

I go red, before taking his hand and leading him inside. Lee's in front of the Playstation, hypnotised by the game he's playing, and doesn't even bothering to glance up as we walk by, and Brett's in the study, so I'm safe to take Terry to our bedroom. With the door locked, I rummage through the cupboards, stirring up millions of dustballs and having piles of all clothes fall around me as I forage around, locating all of our 'stuff'.

'I have sex toys,' Terry comments dryly. 'I doubt you have anything I don't.'

'Wanna bet?' I grin, turning around. 'I lived with Mitch for over a year. Trust me, he knows his kink.'

'You may have a point,' he admits.

I hand over a stack of old outfits I bought from a costume shop that was closing down. The trip was Mitch's idea, but everything was so cheap that I ended up with literally stacks of stuff that's too large, too small, or just 'doesn't look good' on either Brett or I. Terry has a look of incredulity on his face as he sifts through everything from monk outfits to superman get-ups.

'You could be a sailor,' I suggest, snorting with laughter. 'It's a pretty cute uniform.'

Terry lands on the floor with a loud thump. 'I can just imagine what Jamie would say,' he gasps.

Nonetheless, in between laughing, he puts on the sailor get-up and I dress up as a monk. I expect that we probably shouldn't have gotten drunk when we knew Lee was going to be around, but it's too late to bother with such trivialities, and we race out of the bedroom, running around the unit in our dress-up clothes.

'Hey, cool,' Lee remarks, actually pausing his game to inspect our outfits. 'Where did you get that stuff?'

'Costume shop closing down sale,' I explain. 'Want one? I've got stacks.'

'Can I have one too?' someone asks from the doorway.

It's Hamish. Again. Hamish who basically lives at our house.

'Do you ever go home?' I ask cheerfully.

'Only to sleep,' he smiles broadly, flinging open the screen door. 'Besides, Paddy got a job and if I'm at home by myself, Mum and Dad whinge like nothing else. 'Hamish, Hamish, Hamish',' he mocks. 'Jesus, I need to get out.'

Hamish and Lee head to our bedroom, the former exiting ten minutes later as Superman, the latter as a moth-eaten wizard. Terry and I exchange looks of discomfort as Hamish then races into the study to collect Brett. The jovial mood is marred slightly by the reminder of his lust for my boyfriend, but I'll give the kid this; he manages to persuade Brett to wear a Roman toga get-up, and Brett looks damn good in it. Thus, we have a sailor, a monk, Superman, a wizard and a random Roman something-or-other congregated in our living room.

This is the fantastic point in time that two social workers decide to show up.

'Exactly what is going on?' one inquires, bemused.

'We were dressing-up,' I explain weakly. 'Just for the hell of it.'

'I see. Well, you live and learn.'

They proceed through their inspection of the house, ask how we're all going and then give us our latest run-down on how we're going. We get a 'six out of ten' for our household cleanliness, but, on the upside, we get full marks for our costumes. Terry and I keep struggling not to laugh, and I'm grateful that Brett's hiden the empty wine bottle under the coffee table, because the last thing I needed was for two social workers to realise two of the five people present aren't exactly sober.

'So are we doing okay?' I ask anxiously as they prepare to leave.

They exchange pointed looks.

'There's a lot of room for improvement in regards to your housekeeping. A lot. Essentially, you're living like two bachelors, even though you're now a family,' the social worker - male - remarks, staring at the dirty tiled floor. 'And you're all dressed up like you're preparing for the Mardi Gras. But, it does look like fun and Lee seems to be fitting in well now despite your...rocky beginnings...so we're satisfied. His mother's reiterated that he's probably better cared for in your home than hers, so,' he shrugs. 'Go knock yourselves out. And remember to clean.'

'We will.'

The social workers leave, but the mood is a little subdued. Well, it is until Hamish threatens to rid Brett of his toga. Lee joins in, and the three playfight in the backyard while Terry and I sigh over Hamish's crush.

'Something needs to be done about that,' Terry remarks. 'Ashley was right. Hamish is far too touchy-feely. I'm honestly surprised Brett hasn't realised.'

'Brett thinks he's ugly,' I explain.

'Hmph,' Terry snorts. 'He doesn't look too bad in a toga.'

'No,' I agree. 'Not too bad at all.'

'Hail Caesar,' I grin, kissing Brett's nose. 'I should get you to dress up more often. Rawr, role-playing sex.'

'I like to dominate religious boys,' he agrees, straightening up my cassock. It wasn't removed, more 'lifted up' for the nookie, and I'm reluctant to get out of it, even though it smells like lubricant and lust. Brett neatens up my hair and kisses me on the lips. 'I love you,' he continues. 'Damn I love you. In fact, I don't think it's possible to love anyone as much as I love you.'

I mumble contently and snuggle into his arms, loving my Roman warrior boyfriend. 'Keep going. Keep telling me how much you love me.'

'Umm,' Brett thinks aloud, stroking my hair. 'It's kind of hard to. Can I stop now?'

'Brett!'

'Damon! C'mon, I just told you how much I love you, do you really need to hear it rephrased?'

'Yes,' I sook, covering us with the doona. 'I do. We've been together for almost,' I pause to yawn. 'Three years and you're still bad with romance.'

Brett's silent for a while. 'Okay, here goes,' he starts quietly. 'I'm unbelievably glad I met you and that you put up with me. It amazes me that you forgive me when I'm a bastard to you, and I can't understand why you stay with me. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I'll never stop loving you and I'll never stop being grateful that you love me.'

'Brett?' I whisper, stroking his cheek. 'That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me.'

'Hmph,' he shrugs, going red. 'I love you.'

'I love you too.'

I wrap him in the folds of my cassock, wondering how many people have had sex whilst wearing the costume, and whether Terry's sexy sailor get-up provoked the 'right reaction' from Jamie. I want to ring him, and mentally remind myself to call him the next day.

Then I realize that for the very first time, Terry this afternoon admitted his relationship with Jamie wasn't the perfect union he'd always made it out to be. And I realize that it's this that makes me more comfortable with their pairing, because without hearing the bad parts, and the faults, and the problems, there's no way I could ever believe their relationship was genuine.

'Do you think Jamie would be turned on by Terry in a sailor suit?' I ask Brett.

Brett laughs. 'Not really, but he thought it was funny.'

I smile again. 'Good enough.'

Chapter Twenty-One

'So, have you had this talk with Lee yet?' Ashley inquires.

'Umm,' I hesitate. 'Not exactly.'

Ashley sighs on the other end of the phone line. 'Shit you're useless. How hard is it? You're a fruit, and his brother was a fruit, so do you really think he's going to blow his top because his best mate also happens to bat for the other side?'

'He might be pissed off,' I argue, taking the phone inside and shutting the courtyard door so that Brett, who has just arrived home from work, Lee, and Hamish can't overhear. 'He's always talking to Hamish about girls, and besides…'

'…stop making excuses,' Ashley interrupts. 'We're having a barbecue tonight. Bring Brett, Lee and Hamish. If you can't get that little Irish bastard away from my brother, I will.'

I don't like the sound of that. Ashley isn't exactly what I'd call 'sensitive' and coming out is a pretty big deal for most people. Ashley and I bicker over his plans – plans that he fails to disclose, despite my demands – until he hangs up on me, and calls Brett's mobile number. Brett agrees to the barbie within seconds, oblivious to the fact that his brother has an ulterior motive for inviting us.

For the remainder of Saturday afternoon, I try and find a way to break the news of Hamish's sexuality to Brett and Lee, but every time I open my mouth, words fail me. I can't help it, I don't want to be seen as the 'bad guy', particularly if it turns out that we've all been wrong and Hamish is as straight as the proverbial pole.

In the car on the trip over, Brett realizes something's bothering me. He starts giving me questioning looks, and touching my hand, willing me to explain.

'Later,' I mouth, gripping his hand in mine. My grip may be a little too tight, because I earn myself a look of uncertainty from Brett as he retrieves his arm for the purpose of driving.

I try and light a cigarette, but Brett throws it out the window before I've taken two drags, whinging about my smoking in the car when Lee and Hamish are in it. This does nothing to assist in calming my nerves. By the time we arrive at Ash's house, my stomach's knotted up and I'm desperately trying to think of an excuse as to why we should turn around and go home.

There area of the street outside Ash and Helens' high-set three bedroom house is filled with cars, and the smell of burning steak permeates the evening air. There are children screaming and yelling as they play, and as we walk into the yard, I start to relax. This is too normal, too heterosexual and boring, to be the scene for any dramatic coming-outs.

We head around the back, to be immediately confronted with Ash's friends, their wives and girlfriends, and their seemingly endless offspring. Ashley and his mates are definitely men who know how to breed, and around half the women are in varying stages of pregnancy. It's funny, though, that I'm not nervous about how Brett's going to react to everyone's children; since Lee moved in, he's almost completely lost the 'I want a baby' moodiness.

'Oh, there you are,' Ash greets, approaching from behind. 'How are you all going?'

We exchange greetings, and are given beers, in exchange handing Ash the carton we picked up on the way over. Brett and Ashley, coming from a family where 'fourteen is old enough', allow Lee and Hamish a stubby on the basis that they don't get drunk, or pester anyone for alcohol. I find this odd, and wonder exactly what the social workers would say if they realised we were allowing our 'charge' to drink, but I'll admit that I'd rather be aware of what they're drinking and in what quantities, than finding they've been nicking alcohol and pissing up behind our backs.

'Ben's here,' Ash remarks suddenly, looking in the direction of a group of five newcomers, made up of two men, one woman, and two young children. 'BEN, over here mate.'

Ben is in his late twenties, fairly ugly, with an overweight wife and two chubby children. There's nothing in the slightest bit unusual about them; they dress like Ash and his mates, they've bought yet more beer with them, and the children are fairly ordinary as far as kids go. I've actually met Ben and his family before, but I haven't met the man they've bought with them.

Their 'friend' is in his late teens, of average height, wiry of build, and with tattoos up his arms and over his legs. He's hair is bleached blonde, his face wears an amused smirk, and silver glints from the numerous earrings he wears in each ear.

He screams blue-collar, promiscuous, bisexual slut.

Ashley's 'plans' are immediately obvious. I know why tattoo boy is here, and I have no doubts he knows too, because he's unabashedly eyeing up Hamish. I'm not exactly thrilled to bits, and I can't fathom why it is that Ashley honestly thinks Hamish and…whoever Ben's mate is…would make a good couple.

And obviously Ashley does think they're a good match, because he and Ben are exchanging smug, satisfied looks, as though they're the Gods of gay dating. In reality, neither of them have a clue. Hamish is, and looks, innocent; he has golden, freckled skin, grey eyes and his hair, which was blue over the holidays, was shaved off and is growing back in its normal auburn colour. He smiles a lot, and he dresses in 'surfie' gear - he's currently in Quiksilver jeans and shirt, and there are Converse sneakers on his feet. When one imagines his potential boyfriend, they do not think of Ben's mate, who's in faded, battered Levi's, an old, grey, singlet and looks incredibly rough, not to mention 'experienced'.

'This is Angus,' Ash introduces, ignoring my dumbstruck expression. 'He's single.'

'Hello Angus,' Lee snickers. 'This is Hamish. He's single, too.'

I just about die of shock. I'd never even dreamed that Lee might be aware of Hamish's sexuality. Hamish, for his part, doesn't seem surprised at Lee's comment, although he does go a little red.

I almost miss Lee's next comment, because I'm so relieved that Hamish hasn't been forcibly 'outed', a practice I've never appreciated, that I stop listening for a second.

'We're going to go now,' Lee adds. 'Nice to meet you.'

Everyone seems to be happy to leave Hamish and Angus together. Everybody, that is, except me. I don't exactly 'trust' Angus. I've been around the block – again, and again, and again – and I know damn well that Angus will give Hamish exactly five minutes grace before pushing for sex.

Lee appears unconcerned, and the moment we're out of earshot, he asks if we're mad that neither he nor Hamish mentioned Hamish's sexuality.

'I honestly had no idea,' Brett shrugs. 'But I have pretty shoddy gaydar.'

I snort in disgust. 'He's been hanging off you for God alone knows how long and you didn't know he was gay?'

Lee winces and Brett flushes bright red.

'He wasn't,' Brett mutters under his breath.

Lee gives him an apologetic look. 'I think he was. Sorry. For whatever sick reason, he thinks you're hot.'

Brett goes even redder, making Lee laugh. .

'He's not really completely gay,' Lee adds, as something of an afterthought. 'I mean, he thinks girls are okay but he kind of prefers guys. Just so you know.'

That would explain why Lee and Hamish 'talked girls' together. I chance a glance over at Hamish and Angus. They're not where we left them, and after frantically searching the backyard, I realize they're making their way upstairs. Alone.

'I'll be back in a second,' I start, turning around and trying to make my way to the house.

Brett and Lee hold me firmly, preventing me from going anywhere.

'You really are an asshole,' Lee remarks. 'Can't you let them have five minutes together? I wouldn't want to get to know someone with everyone standing around watching me.'

'Lee, trust me, Angus is going to be down his pants in a heartbeat.'

Lee gives me a wicked grin. 'Is that a bad thing?'

I go red, and several people around us snicker.

'You should ask Ash and Ben if they know any girls,' he adds. 'I wouldn't mind an eighteen year old girlfriend.'

Judging by the number of people that are now laughing, our conversation wasn't exactly private. Everyone's overheard the discussion and now they've decided to join in, just for the laughs.

'Blonde or brunette?' someone asks.

'I'm only after a heartbeat,' Lee admits cheerfully.

Brett smiles at me, amused enough to not be worried about covering his braces. I guess I'm happy. Well, not happy, because I'm still not impressed with Angus, but I do have a grudging respect for Ashley. I wouldn't have ever thought he'd willingly organize gay teenage dating, even if only for the purpose of getting one of the said, gay, teenagers away from his brother.

Almost as though he feels the need to compete, or at least 'keep even score' with Hamish, Lee finds a girlfriend within a week of Hamish and Lee's introduction.

Her name is Krystle, she's fourteen, and she dresses like a tart. Lee introduced her to us all of five minutes ago, and I'm still gaping at her, wondering why on earth Lee would want to date her. She smokes, she swears, her cleavage is almost falling out of her low-cut shirt and her skirt is ridiculously short. On her feet are platform sandals and her face is a sea of make-up. Not to mention the perfume, which I can smell from a good three metres away.

I would like to point out that I much preferred Mackenzie.

'Can you drive us to the movies?' Lee asks Brett. 'Hamish and Angus are going to come, too.'

'Why can't Angus take you?' Brett inquires.

'Petrol,' Lee explains simply.

We've since learnt that Angus is a second year apprentice butcher, so the lack of money for petrol isn't entirely surprising. Besides, it's pure laziness on our part to expect a seventeen year old to drive around his boyfriend's mate and girlfriend, so I give Brett a nasty look until he asks whether Angus would prefer fuel money, or to be driven.

'Probably fuel money,' Lee admits. 'But I didn't want to ask, 'cause Damon's already given me money for the movies.'

Lee's been really good with handing over half his pocket money each week in order to repay the money he stole, but I have a habit of giving it back when I realize he won't have enough to go out with Hamish if I keep it. Besides, I think he's learnt his lesson and I really doubt he'd ever take money from either Brett or I again.

'Thanks Dad,' Lee grins as Brett hands over twenty. 'By the way, do you mind if everyone stays here tonight?'

'Where's everyone going to sleep?' I inquire.

'Hamish and Angus can have the pull-out sofa and Krystle can sleep with me,' Lee shrugs. 'Easy.'

Lee pretends to ignore the lookBrett and I are exchanging. Lee's obviously come down with the last lot of rain if he genuinely believes we're going to agree to that sort of sleeping arrangement.

'How about you sleep in your room, Hamish and Angus on the pull-out, and Krystle can sleep in the study? We have an air mattress and blankets.'

'It's okay,' Krystle interrupts. 'My parents won't care if I sleep in his room.'

I'm beginning to see why Lee's interested in Krystle. Actually, I'm surprised I didn't realize earlier – or maybe I did realize, and didn't want to be presumptuous – that she's one of those girls who has no qualms about going to bed with a brand-new boyfriend.

'So it's okay for Angus and Hamish to sleep together, but not for Krystle and me?' Lee demands irritably. 'God you two are hypocrites. 'You can do whatever you want if it's with another man but suck shit if you're straight'.'

Brett's fuming as he walks out to the courtyard, leaving me behind with Lee and Krystle. He's pissed off enough to not even want to continue the discussion, and for Lee, this isn't a good sign.

'So, can she sleep with me?' Lee prods.

'Didn't Brett just say 'no'?'

'Come on,' Lee whinges. 'Why are you being like this? You know if you make her sleep in the study, she'll just sneak into my bed anyway.'

I don't want to say 'yes', because if I know Brett's going to be mad to learn he's been undermined, nor do I want to be condoning his attempts – or worse, success – in seducing his girlfriend. But Lee does have a point; we're going to allow Hamish and Angus to do…well, whatever they want to do…but we baulk at the prospect of Lee and Krystle doing 'that'. It's a terrible double-standard and one I know I shouldn't probably believe in.

'Hang on,' I reply, getting up. 'I'll ask Brett again.'

To say Brett isn't happy is an understatement. He's starting to get incredibly annoyed with the way Lee speaks to us, and moreover, he isn't inclined to allow two fourteen year olds to share sleeping quarters.

'But if he's going to,' I pause, wincing at the thought. 'Have sex, he's going to do it anyway.'

'I didn't have sex when I was fourteen and I managed just fine,' he mutters.

'I was twelve when I lost my virginity.'

'More fool you. I can't imagine how exciting it must have been.'

'It was great, actually,' I grin, patting his leg. 'James buggered me senseless.'

'Please don't tell me any more,' he groans, burying his head in his arms. 'Okay, fine. I don't give a damn, she can sleep wherever she goddamn wants. I've had enough of thinking about his sex life.'

Lee starts gloating the second I give the okay. Annoyed at his attitude, I yank him into the kitchen and tell him to apologise to Brett or else. I have honestly no idea what 'or else' may entail, but it's obviously a big enough threat to Lee, because he heads outside to talk to Brett.

Whenever Hamish jumped on, touched, or in any way had any half-play, half-lust contact with Brett, Lee would join in, and even when Hamish isn't around, Lee's more physical with Brett than he is with me. He hugs Brett from behind as he apologies; Brett on the outdoor seat, Lee behind him, messing up his hair and trying to squeeze him impossibly tightly. Sometimes I get jealous when I watch them together; even if only in jest, Lee will refer to Brett as 'Dad' rather than 'Brett' on most occasions, and he seems to prefer to be around him. Lee comes to me for money, favours, and help with school projects, but its Brett he likes to talk to, Brett he'll apologise to, and Brett he'll sit beside. Hamish, for his part, is still overly touchy-feely with Brett, although thankfully he seems to have calmed down now he's met Angus.

Angus has a beat-up old Gemini and I can hear it pulling up outside. Wrenched from my thoughts, I go to the door and let Hamish and Angus in. Hamish knows Krystle, but she needs to be introduced to Angus, and vice versa, while Lee asks if anyone wants a drink.

I'm surprised that Angus and Hamish are together, two weeks after they met, but they seem to have a friendly enough relationship. Whether they're in it for sex, or maybe something more, I neither know nor care to question, but what I do know is that introducing Angus to Krystle as his 'boyfriend' involves a large amount of trust on Hamish's part. Krystle attends the same school as Hamish and Lee, and is the first person, other than Lee, to learn of Hamish's sexuality.

'Do your parents know you're gay?' Krystle asks, seconds after Hamish uncomfortably asks her to not to mention it to anyone.

'No,' he admits. 'My brother does though.'

Hamish glances up at me, shrugging slightly. 'He had the wheels I needed for my skateboard. He only took me to meet you because…um…I'd told him and he thought it might make it easier for me.'

'Fair enough.'

Admittedly, I feel a small twinge of irritation that Paddy felt the need to be so covert, but it's okay. I can appreciate that his foremost desire was to help his little brother.

The foursome leave for McDonalds and movies soon after, and I toddle around the unit uselessly, wanting to speak to Patrick about Hamish. I'm not sure why I have the urge, but I do, and eventually I pull his number from my mobile and ask if he minds meeting me at the local pub. He's happy to drink – nothing new there – and I pull on clean jeans and a shirt and kiss Brett good-bye. 'The local' is within easy walking distance, and Paddy will most likely give me a lift home when we leave, so there's no real need to disturb Brett, who has decided to make use of the peace and quiet by studying.

I'm slowly sipping my beer when Paddy arrives. He nods nervously in my direction, before heading to the bar. Five minutes later, with his virgin fire engine in hand, he splays himself out on the vacant barstool opposite me. The pub, I think, was not a good idea; it's Friday night and everyone's pissing up, and we only have ten minutes quiet before the live band returns from intermission.

'I probably should have told you earlier, huh?' he suggests, reaching for his cigarettes. 'Don't bother replying, I know I should have. I just thought, maybe, he could be friends with Lee and eventually...you could perhaps find him someone.'

'It's okay,' I shrug. 'I wouldn't have minded knowing, though. He, uh…I know you probably don't want to hear it, but he sort of developed a crush on Brett.'

'I figured,' he admits. 'He talked about him a lot. I thought it was wisest just to let it pass.'

'You were probably right.'

We drink and smoke in silence, neither of us quite sure what to say. We were never friends outside the skatepark, and this is hardly the best way to extend the friendship.

'I heard you got a job,' I remark eventually.

'Yeah,' he looks up and grins. 'Only factory work, but it's not the dole and the pay's alright. I think I might take night classes at TAFE too, because I'm tired of sitting on my ass.'

'What are you going to do at TAFE?'

'Engineering, I think.'

'Brett does that.'

'Pity more women don't,' he jests, smiling. 'My brother's getting laid, and I'm not.'

Paddy has a habit of talking about sex. Non-stop. It's almost as though he can't think of anything else, which I expect is due to the fact that he hasn't been to bed with anyone in God knows how long. There's really only one way to respond to his comment, though, and I come out with it.

'I could find you some nice men.'

Paddy's reaction isn't that of the normal homophobic straight man. 'Will they suck my cock?'

'Probably. They'd probably want to,' I pause, debating whether or not to test the limits of his tolerance. I decide to test, because quite frankly, I can't stop mid-sentence. 'Fuck you too,' I finish.

'Nah,' he smirks, blowing out a long stream of smoke. 'No one who's ever used the bathroom after I've taken a dump would want to go within Cooee of my ass.'

His comment breaks the ice and for the next hour or two, in between songs and Coke and beer, packets of chips and cigarettes, we talk about skating, Hamish, Lee, and anything else that comes to mind. When the pub starts getting rowdy, and before Paddy's had the chance to drink too much, we leave and he drops me off at home.

Brett's asleep, and Lee & Co haven't returned from their Friday night at the movies. I'm hungry, having missed dinner, and make myself nachos and watch a stupid action movie on television. My mind keeps wandering, skipping away from the show, as I think about Lee and Hamish and their respective partners. More to the point, I think about Paddy taking his brother to meet us, and Ashley helping Hamish to find a boyfriend.

What they both did was pretty cool. I'd kill to know how Paddy found out – or was told – that Hamish preferred men, but more than that, I'd do just about anything to find out how Ashley broached the subject of 'we need to find a boyfriend for a fifteen year old male' with his mates. I can only imagine some of the looks he must have received.

I go to bed an hour later, but I can't sleep. I'm still awake when Lee, Hamish, Krystle and Angus arrive home, and I can't help but try and listen to their conversation. Its not particularly interesting talk and it isn't long before the conversation dies and I realize they've gone to sleep. I glance over at Brett, an odd feeling of longing forming in the pit of my stomach. I snuggle into his chest, only to be greeted with a noise of annoyance and a pointed push away. Brett isn't particularly fond of being held when he's in a deep sleep.

Sighing irritably, I stand up and pull the curtains apart, peering out into the common concrete driveways and carparks. The complex lights are on, highlighting cars, ranging from brand new hatches to running-only-by-some-miracle twenty-five year old bombs. Angus' Gemini, khaki green and beat up, shines under the artificial light, almost as though it's some kind of beacon, inviting someone to vandalise it, to write 'fag' on the bonnet in the same way Jamie's Monaro was vandalized.

'Damon, get back into bed,' Brett orders sleepily.

'I can't sleep,' I complain. 'I'm worried about Angus' car being vandalized.'

He sits up, his hair messed up and his eyes bleary. 'Stop worrying hon. Jamie's car was only a target because it was so expensive.'

'You sure?'

'Fairly,' he yawns, reaching out and stroking my side. 'Come on, sleep. And don't snuggle into me again, either, because you keep breathing all over my nipples.'

Smiling faintly, I slide into bed alongside him and try my best to fall asleep. He's an annoying, cranky, asshole, but I love him all the same.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Big, huge, warm, hugs to everyone who reviewed:-) Well, I said it was going to happen, so here's Lee meeting Mike. Happy Birthday to all Capricorns, too.

We're just about to leave for Brian and Leanne's house when the phone rings. It's Terry, who's calling to ask if Lee still wants to meet Michael, the man who was his brother Victor's boyfriend.

Lee grins crazily when we ask. 'Shit yeah,' he agrees. 'When?'

'When?' I ask Terry.

'Now, if you're not doing anything. I spoke to Mike five minutes ago, and he said he's free this afternoon.'

Terry agrees to pick up Lee and I and drive us over to Michael's house, while Brett visits his father. I'm a little disappointed that I won't get to see baby Rita and baby Mark, but it's hardly as though Brett's siblings are going anywhere.

For once in their lives, Hamish, Krystle and Angus aren't over, something for which I'm insanely grateful. Lee gets dressed, changes his clothes, changes his clothes again, and walks around the unit restlessly while we wait for Terry to arrive. It would be a lie to say Lee's 'over' Victor's death – any conversation on his brother is strictly moderated by him, and when it's too much, he abruptly changes subject, and often heads to his room – but he's more or less accepting of the fact that there's nothing he can do to bring Victor back.

Yesterday he had his first visit with his mother in her new home. She has two of her younger children, plus Charlene, living with her, but it will be some time before any more of her kids are allowed back home. The social workers, she advised us, are giving her three to six months to prove she can be a good mother and until then, the remainder of the children will stay with their foster families.

Terry finally arrives, pulling up outside our unit in Jamie's newly painted Monaro. Every time I see him in the car I have to fight the urge not to laugh; it just looks so damn funny seeing him exit and drive that type of vehicle. Even his motorbike looks more normal, although that may be due to the fact that his bike, helmet, and riding gear are all lime green, yellow and white and the colours suit his personality.

On the trip over he warns us to give Michael space, and not to prod or ask too many questions. Prior to today, Terry hadn't been in contact with Michael since a few days prior to Victor's death, and he's not sure how well Mike's coped with his boyfriend's passing.

'And do not mention Joseph unless he does,' Terry warns.

Joseph was the man Michael was 'mostly' dating in the days where Victor wasn't sure whether he wanted to continue the relationship. I knew Joseph, who's a workmate of Terry's, from the days when Terry and I were a couple, and the guy is a hundred percent geek. Nice, but geeky and definitely not the sort of man I could have ever imagined Mikey dating.

'Why not?' Lee asks. 'Is he dating Joseph now?'

Terry laughs hollowly. 'Not a chance. Joseph's actually seeing a doctor, and the guy's a nice man, so I daresay he won't be running back to Michael anytime soon.'

I'm not perturbed by the animosity in Terry's voice. Terry and Jamie set-up Joseph and Michael when they all genuinely believed Victor was off the scene for good, and I'm not oblivious to the fact that Terry's annoyed at the way Michael 'used' Joseph as a regular fuck-buddy and companion after he'd started screwing Victor again. It's kind of a complicated story.

'Whatever,' Lee shrugs. 'I don't care about Joseph anyway. He shouldn't have hung around when he found out Victor wanted Mikey back.'

'The story's not that simple,' Terry points out diplomatically. 'I'll tell you what I know, sometime, if you're interested, but I doubt you heard the full truth from Victor's mouth.'

'Are you saying Vic's a liar?'

'No, I'm telling you that Victor would have explained things from Victor's point of view,' Terry replies calmly. 'Settle down, I'm not attacking you, I'm only trying to make this go as smoothly as possible.'

Lee sighs. 'Yeah, I know.'

Five minutes later, we pull up outside one of those new apartment blocks designed for young, single, professionals who aren't weighed down by kids or pets. The apartments are of cookie-cutter design, with large balconies and garages underneath.

'I wouldn't mind living here,' Lee mutters.

Terry smiles. 'It's nice, isn't it? Very peaceful.'

Frankly I wonder if it was the quiet that helped drive Victor into depression. There's no life here, no noise or laughter or children, no cats sunning themselves and nobody that looks particularly approachable. For a sixteen year old coming from a poor, overcrowded home, the silence and isolation must have, over time, become a nightmare.

I keep my thoughts to myself as we walk up the stairs to Michael's apartment. He answers shortly after we knock, dressed in a tight white cotton shirt and blue jeans. He looks exactly as I remembered; well, dressed, blonde and wholesome. He's not the sort of man you could ever imagine having an affair with a teenager, much less falling in love with them. He's too…perfect. He looks like a television stereotype, blandly handsome with short blonde hair, tanned skin and blue eyes.

'Come in,' he offers, standing aside and allowing us to tramp in.

We sit at the stained, wooden kitchen table Michael directs us to.

'I'll get what you came for,' he comments, heading to what I assume is the bedroom, and shutting the door behind him.

Lee and I give Terry helpless looks.

'What's he doing?' Lee asks in a low tone.

'I have no idea,' Terry replies, reaching for his cigarettes. 'Goddamn, where's his ashtray?'

In the kitchen, I locate a plain cut-glass ashtray alongside a crumpled soft pack of Marlboro lights. As I'm picking it up, I catch sight of the fridge. It's a plain white freezer-on-top-of-fridge sort, but on the glaring white door is 'Vic loves Mikey' scrawled in thick, black nikko. Holy Jesus. Vic died back in September, and it's now the beginning of March, so for almost six months he's left this message to bombard him every time he enters the kitchen.

Worrying that Mikes' going to come out of his bedroom and see me staring at the fridge, I take the ashtray to Terry. We light cigarettes, and through a series of gestures and whispers, I tell Terry and Lee to go into the kitchen – separately – and check out the fridge.

'So what?' Lee whispers, when they've both had a look. 'Who cares?'

I care, and so does Terry. Besides the fridge, I'm starting to feel really uncomfortable sitting here and waiting for Michael to emerge from the bedroom. I'm worried he's going to forget about us, and leave us here, or worse yet, that we've somehow upset him by coming over.

Minutes meld into one another until we realize it's been half an hour and there's been no sign of Michael. We start debating whether we should go, or stay. Terry wants to go, I want to go, but Lee wants to stay and speak to Michael. As Terry and I are trying to persuade Lee that we can 'come and visit another day', Michael finally exits his bedroom.

He's carrying an old Australia Post bag and without meeting any of our gazes', he hands it over to Lee.

'Here,' he offers. 'This is some of your brother's stuff. I thought you might want it.'

Lee carefully takes the bag, as though it might contain glass or something similarly fragile, and peers in. I want to grab the bag from him and see what in it for myself, but instead I patiently watch him pile the belongings on the table.

Mikey sits in the one, vacant chair, his sad gaze also trained on Lee. His eyes are red, and he seems composed enough to deal with the meeting but it's not until Terry kicks me for staring that I avert my gaze.

A slow smile spreads over Lee's face as he retrieves photos, t-shirts, a discman, a few CD's and an old mobile phone from the bag. It's then that I realize he doesn't – didn't – even have a photo of his brother, at least not one that he showed us.

'I don't know if you want that one,' Michael offers uncomfortably, separating a photo of he and Vic.

'Sure I do,' Lee replies, sounding surprised. 'Do you mind if I keep it? I can have a copy made, and send the original back to you.'

'I already have the original,' Michael explains. 'These were double-prints. I have other photos, after I've gotten copies, I'm happy to send them to you, if you want?'

'Yeah, cool,' Lee agrees, although he looks taken aback that Michael hasn't given him everything he has of, or relating to, Victor.

I'm not at all surprised that Michael hasn't pulled out everything of Vic's and handed it over. If Brett died, even giving Ashley the smallest tokens of his existence would be incredibly painful, and I don't know if Lee fully understands the value of what he's been given. He may feel that he has a 'right' to everything of his brothers, but I know that he doesn't understand what a much-loved partner means to an adult man.

We exchange addresses, and Lee and Mike discuss the origins of the bits and pieces Lee's been given, before Mike starts unsubtly hinting that he wants us to leave. Lee doesn't comprehend what Michael's trying to say, or maybe he does and he's simply ignoring it, because it takes Terry telling him that 'we need to leave' before Lee finally packs everything back into the Australia Post bag.

'Well, thanks for everything,' Lee finishes, standing up. 'Maybe I could come and see you another time?'

'Maybe,' Mike agrees reluctantly.

'What about next weekend?'

'I'm busy, sorry.'

'During the week?'

'Lee,' I interrupt. 'How about we just leave it for the time being?'

Lee glares at me. 'This isn't really any of your business.'

'How about you wait for Mike to call?' Terry suggests, attempting to calm Lee. 'He has a life outside of us, Lee, at least then you'll be able to organize a time that's suitable for both of you.'

Lee doesn't want to agree, but I think he realizes that he's pushing too hard, too fast. 'Whatever.'

Seconds after we've left Mike's apartment, he abruptly closes the door and whether Lee knows it or not, I don't think Michael will ever make that call.

Frankly, after this afternoon, I don't think any of us will ever hear from Michael again. He may know, and accept, that Victor's gone, but it doesn't mean he wants to be confronted with conversation and questions about the man he's loved, and lost.

Chapter Twenty-Three

'Nice shirt,' James compliments.

'Thanks,' Lee grins. 'It was one of my brothers. Mike gave it to me.'

Lee's wearing a blue shirt with a picture of a dog and the caption 'Caution: I lick' on it.

'Does your girlfriend like it?' Mitch inquires.

'She hasn't seen it,' Lee admits. 'But Brett thinks it's like advertising, not a warning.'

James, Mitch and I crack up laughing, drawing puzzled looks from Brett, who's in the kitchen, making coffee.

Suddenly, Lexis yelps and runs inside to Brett, and we turn around to see Evan with a fistful of dog hair in his hand.

'Evan, how many times have you been told not to pull hair?' James asks crossly, stalking over to his son and picking him up. 'Come and sit with us.'

Evan's displeased with that arrangement and starts screaming and wailing whilst James tries to remove the dog hair from his son's sticky fingers.

'No Daddy, no, no, no, NOOOOOOOO.'

James' glare deepens as he struggles not to lose his temper. 'Be quiet and stay still.'

Sometimes I wonder why people have the urge to procreate when this is the result. I watch children and on one hand think 'God you should love your parents for putting up with you' and on the other think 'man, if I was that kid I'd hate my parents for all of eternity'. It sounds terrible, but there are definitely days when I look at Lee and wish we'd never decided to become foster parents. There are those days when all I want is my 'old life' back; sex, freedom, money and nobody putting claims on Brett other than myself.

Evan keeps on screaming and yelling until James dumps him back on the ground, too irritated to bother.

'What?' he demands, glaring at Mitch. 'If you think you can do a better job, I invite you to work part-time and look after demon spawn the rest of the time.'

'I wasn't saying anything,' Mitch replies with a shrug. 'I'd probably have thrown him into the neighbour's yard.'

It's good to see Mitch again, almost as though it's proof that his relationship with James is returning to 'normal'. Well, as normal as it can be whilst Mitch is still sleeping with Veronica on the side. I really don't understand that; why Mitch goes to all the trouble he's gone to, just for the sake of an extra sexual partner. Frankly, I see it as selfish, but I doubt James needs to listen to my private thoughts on the subject.

Krystle arrives as Brett's handing around coffee, and she and Lee head directly to Lee's room. There is where I like to push all thoughts of what they could be doing out of my mind, but James and Mitch are fascinated by Lee's choice in women.

'That is one short skirt,' James remarks, staring after three acres of teenage legs. 'How did he pull her?'

'How did he pull her?' I remark. 'Why would he want her?'

'Damon, let's have a little talk about men that like women,' Mitch starts teasingly. 'See, that girl's going to put out, and when you're Lee's age, women that put out are a rare commodity. If I'd had a chance at a girl like that when I was his age, I'd be screwing her senseless.'

'I think she looks like one of Jamie's ex's,' Brett remarks, lighting a cigarette.

'I can imagine that,' James agrees, waving Brett's smoke away. 'Jesus, Jamie and Terry are an odd combination.'

Just because I'm starting to - albeit finally - understand that Jamie and Terry are genuinely in love with one another doesn't prevent me from agreeing with James' sentiments. It's even more peculiar to think about when you realise that Jamie's previously been one for slutty-looking women.

Soon after, James and Mitch leave, Krystle finally heads off, and Brett, Lee and I have the house to ourselves for another, whole, fourteen or so hours. We never used to have visitors; we were always the people who went visiting, but since Lee's been with us, our unit has become something of a meeting place. Sometimes this is a good thing, but as of late, I just want a little time to myself.

It's the frustration that comes from the perpetual visitors that leads to my argument with Lee on Friday night. He arrives with Hamish, announcing that Hamish will be spending the night with us, before heading to the kitchen for food. I'm annoyed with the fact that they make a mess of the kitchen that I've just cleaned, but I don't comment, instead tidying it up and reminding myself to speak to him about it tomorrow.

They head to Lee's room to do God alone knows what, and I head to the study to, well, study. An hour later they emerge from Lee's room. I can hear them go the lounge room, but don't think too much about what they're doing till I decide to make a smoke break when I find Hamish watching television, and Lee beside him, painting furiously.

One look at the subject matter is enough to bother me. I can deal with the naked woman - I have no issues with his sexuality - but what he has going on is plain nasty. He's using a large sheet of paper, divided into three sections, with a rough sketch in each portion. The first is of a woman seducing a man, the second is of the man performing oral sex on the woman, and the third, of the male being pushed away from the woman's spread legs, with knives half-penetrating his face. Where he got the inspiration from, I don't even want to guess.

'How about you rethink the subject matter?' I suggest. 'Come on, no one wants to look at that.'

'I'll paint whatever the fuck I want.'

'Not that you won't. Get rid of it Lee, it's awful.'

'Get fucked Damon. You're so full of shit; look at the video you and Brett had. How the fuck is this worse?'

If I was intelligent, I'd be able to come up with an intelligent response, but I'm not and I can't. It takes me several minutes of glaring down at his scrunched up face and harsh 'artwork' before I can respond.

'What Brett and I do is none of your business. Get rid of it.'

'Get fucked.'

'Lee!'

'I said 'get fucked',' he reiterates, coldly staring up at me. 'You have no fucking idea what you're talking about. Get off my fucking back.'

Sometimes I hate him. I don't think there's a hormone in the world that can excuse that, but before I can do something I regret, like throw him out, or throw something at him, I grab my cigarettes, mobile phone, wallet and head outside. With my heart pounding, I call for a taxi, and wonder how on earth I'm going to explain this to Brett.

I knew I wasn't cut out to be anyone's parent, and yet still I agreed to Brett's stupid idea of fostering a child. Okay, maybe the idea was mine, but I don't want to think about that right now. I'm to angry, too frustrated, too unable to deal with Lee. I don't know how to do this, don't know how to be a fourteen year old's guardian when I'm only twenty-two myself.

My taxi arrives and it's then I realise that I have nowhere to go. I tell the driver to wait a minute, and race inside to get my medication - pointedly ignoring Lee, who's still painting, and Hamish who's still watching television - before returning to the vehicle. For whatever reasons, I give the driver Terry's address.

I spend the journey listening to him explain to me why society's going down the crapper, but when he starts in on homosexuals, I'm too upset and tired to bother telling him I'm fag. He's convinced he's knows 'the way' and keeps prodding at me, asking me what I think, ensuring that I agree with, and to uphold, his goddamn moral standards. All I want is for him to shut the fuck up, but I um and ah the journey for reasons of my pretty unstable emotional state.

Eventually we arrive at Terry and Jamie's house. Nobody answers when I knock on the front door, so I walk around the back to see if they're swimming or something. They're not swimming; they're working on the gardens and I pause for a little bit, amused at Terry's attire. He's in an old shirt that looks to be one of Jamie's, and there's dirt and water on the front of it. The back is soaked with sweat and his dark, curly, hair is plastered to his scalp.

'Hello,' I greet, walking past the pool. 'What are you doing?'

'Planting stupid plants,' Terry replies with a smile. 'Hearing about their goddamn root systems. Listening to all the things I do wrong. Having someone complain because…'

Jamie makes a pointed noise, causing Terry to abruptly quit his complaints and widen his smile.

'Anyway, what are you doing here? Where's Brett and Lee?'

'Brett's either at work or at home, and Lee's at home with Hamish.'

'And you're here, why?'

It sounds terrible to say 'a fourteen year old told me to fuck off, I had no idea how to respond, and then ran away'. I can't say that. Instead, I shrug.

'Thought I'd see how you were going,' I reply trying to sound blasé.

'Uh-huh,' Terry replies suspiciously, narrowing his eyes. 'Well, I'm going to go and have a shower and go and get dinner. You can take my place helping Jamie and Geoff finish the garden.'

That wasn't the response I was aiming for. I wanted Terry to ask me if I was alright, not use my presence to avoid working on his garden. Not to mention that I neither know, nor care, who Geoff is. Picking up the trowel Terry handed me, I fiddle with it uselessly as he heads indoors.

'If you don't know what you're doing, leave it alone,' Jamie requests. 'Oh, and this is my old man. Call him Geoff.'

'Hi Geoff,' I greet inanely, inspecting Jamie's father. I always do this; always compare fathers and sons, seeking similarities in personality and looks. Geoff doesn't disappoint; he has Jamie's hazel eyes and teeth, the same smile and a similar voice, which he uses to return the greeting.

'You should go and get something to drink,' Jamie suggests. 'We're almost done, anyway.'

I can't possibly express how unwelcome they're making me feel. I'm under the impression they'd rather I jump in a lake and drown myself than spend any more time with me, which only causes my depression to deepen. I go inside and scout through their bar fridge, and their regular fridge, looking for beer or alcoholic mixers or something interesting, but all I can find is twenty million cans of various soft drink. They've got everything from Sarsaparilla to Coke to Creaming Soda but not one skerrick of anything with an alcohol content.

I take a selection downstairs, wondering whether I should call Brett and tell him what's happened, or wait for him to call me.

'Ta mate,' Geoff remarks, collecting a can of Coke. 'So you're Brett's better half?'

'Yeah.'

We're sitting down at the posh outdoor table Jamie and Terry own, me tapping on the table nervously, Jamie smoking and his father sizing me up, when Terry comes out, freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a skin-tight shirt, and asks if I'm planning on staying for dinner.

'I guess.'

'When do you plan on leaving?' he inquires.

I came here seeking some degree of comfort, but instead, I only feel worse. It's as though I have nowhere to go and no friends who want to be with me. I'm screwing everything up, I'm incapable and incompetent and the worst part of this is that I'm not sure whether I have the ability to change.

'I'll go now,' I suggest heading inside. 'I'll call a taxi and go, okay?'

'I'm not asking you to leave,' Terry argues, coming over and resting a hand on my arm. 'Do you want to come and get dinner with me?'

'Do you mind?'

'Not at all.'

Terry leads me out to the garage, directing me to the Monaro. Taking shotgun, I sit and fiddle with my fingers, desperately wishing Brett was around so I could scab a hug. The more I think about Brett, the more upset I become, until I'm almost sniffling. Truly, I know how stupid it sounds, and I tell myself that if I actually cry or get teary, I'll go and have an ultrasound to ensure I don't have ovaries lurking inside of me.

'Did you have a fight with Brett?' Terry asks gently.

'No, I had a fight with Lee. He told me to get fucked, and I didn't know what to do, so I left. That's all. Isn't that so fucking dumb? He's fourteen, and I don't know what the fuck to do about him. I just want him to go back and live with someone else.'

'Why did he tell you to fuck off?'

I explain the picture Lee was creating, my reaction and the fight. Terry winces, periodically patting my arm and asking questions. I sulk, bitch, moan and whinge, outlining exactly how stupid I am and the huge mess I'm making of my life.

'I thought you'd done quite well,' Terry counters. 'What's wrong with being a househusband and student? Brett seems to like having someone pick up after him.'

I grin, despite myself. 'He's such a pig.'

Terry smiles. 'Maybe you should call that pig of yours and ask him to pick you up? I wouldn't be booting you out, but Geoff was released from prison this morning, after nine years behind bars. Jamie wants to spend some time with him, and help him adjust to life.'

'What's to adjust to?'

'Mobile phones, the internet, prices, getting his license again, working, so on and so forth.'

'Damn.' I agree, thinking of how much the world has changed in nine years.

We arrive at the Chinese take-away and as Terry orders, I call Brett and ask him to pick me up. I thought he'd be angry with me, but he sounds more tired than pissy. It's not nice to know that I've disappointed him by running away, and after I hang up, I fiddle anxiously, wishing that Brett were here in front of me, so that I could apologise properly.

Instead, Brett doesn't arrive till nearly an hour later, when we're back at Jamie and Terry's house, eating greasy, over-priced Chinese with Geoff. He looks tired, but perks up a bit when, after a few minute's spent trying to remember, realises who Geoff is. Then they start talking, about Ashley and his children, Brian and his children, and our fostering of Lee. Brett easily agrees to come over during the week with Lee, so he and Geoff can meet, before we finally head to the car.

Brett hasn't mentioned a word about my fight with Lee, and I'm still craving affection, but I'm unsure of what to say or how to say it. His conversation with Geoff seems to have cheered him up, and I'm reluctant to ruin his good mood.

'You should have said Geoff was over,' he reprimands. 'I would have taken Lee and Hamish with me, so he could meet them.'

'He's only Jamie's father,' I argue. 'What's so interesting? Big shit, he's out of jail.'

Brett frowns. 'I've known him since I was six. Besides, he's a good bloke.'

'Whatever.'

I get a puzzled look for my troubles. Ignoring the look, I light a cigarette and replace Brett's Pink Floyd CD with a Britney Spears one. I swear, Brett has the worst taste in music and when I'm in a bad mood, it just jars on my nerves.

When we arrive home, Hamish and Lee are eating ice-cream, looking utterly unperturbed. It hits me that Lee, the little shit, hasn't mentioned one word of our fight to Brett. A sudden rage fills me, making my hands all shaky and my heart beat faster. Working entirely on impulse, I stalk over, sit in front of him and glare.

'Well?'

'Well what?' he asks, trying to remain cool.

It's a farce, he knows that I'm mad, and that I'm only minutes away from punishing him. Until I saw him I would have simply settled for telling Brett and having a little pity-party, but seeing him….seeing him acting so blasé, as though he had a right to speak to me like that, drives me wild.

'You're cleaning the kitchen for the next week. All washing-up, tidying out the fridge, and washing the floor. Everything.'

'Why?' he asks, trying to sound incredulous, whilst sneaking a peek at Brett.

'And the laundry,' I add, ignoring Brett's confusion. 'Washing, taking it in, and ironing.'

'No way,' he scowls, scraping his chair back. 'What have I done?'

'The bathroom too. The toilet gets cleaned every two days. Would you like to keep going?'

Lee glances over at Hamish, obviously weighing up the situation; being embarrassed in front of a mate, versus having his actions made public, and possibly facing the wrath of Brett.

'Fine,' he agrees eventually. 'Kitchen, laundry, bathroom. I'm going to bed now.'

Hamish doesn't look at me as he and Lee head off to Lee's room. I'm both amazed that I managed to actually order punishment without losing my cool, and wretched that I've had to enforce punishment. Now I've probably wrecked our friendly relationship.

'What was that about?' Brett asks, sounding bemused.

'Long story.'

I really dislike Brett's Saturday morning job. It gets in the way of everything, and ever since his birthday, when he only got two hours sleep before having to put in a day's work, he's reluctant to go out on Friday nights.

I wake up at around ten to an empty bed and the smell of something cooking in the kitchen. Groaning, I wonder whether Lee's actually going to clean up the kitchen, or if he's going to try and avoid his punishment. The latter wouldn't surprise me in the least. From being a shy, uncertain potential foster child, he's now remarkably confident and smarmy.

Burying myself under the doona, I wonder how long I can stay in bed before it starts to look like I'm avoiding Lee. Which I am, because I'm gutless and don't want another confrontation.

'Damon?'

'What?' I croak, sitting up.

'Can we come in?' Lee asks.

'Yeah, no problems,' I reply, brushing my hands through my now-faded red hair.

Lee comes in, with Hamish trailing behind him, both guys carrying plates. Lee perches himself on the edge of my bed, handing me a plate of scrambled eggs and burnt-looking bacon. 'We made you breakfast.'

I take my breakfast gingerly. It doesn't look, or smell, like it's been poisoned, and judging by the expectant look on Lee and Hamish's faces, they're waiting for my reaction.

'Uh, thanks. You didn't have to; I would have gotten up sooner or later.'

Lee shrugs and settles himself on the bed, gesturing for Hamish to do likewise.

'I'm sorry for being a bastard. Krystle dumped me and went around telling everyone Hamish was gay, so I was a bit shitty. I know you don't think that's important, but…'

'…wait up,' I interrupt. 'Krystle did what?'

I listen in horror as Lee explains. Krystle decided Lee wasn't good enough for her, and publicly dumped him during school lunch yesterday. She spent the remainder of the afternoon making it public knowledge that Lee's lousy in bed, and Hamish is gay. By close of school, the rumour was that Hamish and Lee were lovers, and Krystle was treated terribly by Brett, me, Lee, Hamish and Angus.

I'm furious. I'm even more angry than Lee and Hamish, who now have adopted an attitude of cool dread towards returning to school on Monday. Frankly, I'm out for blood. I want that little bitch hung, drawn and quartered, and I want the torture extracted slowly.

'I'm going to speak to your Principal,' I announce, laying my plate aside. 'She can't do that.'

'Damon?' Lee replies, his face scrunched up in disbelief. 'Are you serious? Let it go. You're only going to make things worse if you call the school. We'll be killed for sure.'

I know he has a point, but I can't help it, I want to protect him. I don't want he or Hamish to be beaten up, or teased any more than they already have been. I don't want Lee to be scared of sex because some nasty little trollop wanted to gossip, and I'm furious that Krystle alleges that she was treated 'badly'.

'Fine, but I'm not happy.'

Lee grins. 'You're so uncool. Anyway, enjoy you breakfast, 'cause me and Hamish are going to clean up all the rooms you're making me do, and go out with Angus. Okay? Then you and Brett can have time together.'

I want to hug him for being the best foster child in the world, but that would only make me un-cooler.

Chapter Twenty-Four

'Say good-bye to Slave Lee,' Lee grins, flopping onto 'his' recliner. 'He exists no more.'

I glance up and return the grin. Lee's been calling himself 'Slave Lee' since Monday, bitterly complaining about how much work the kitchen, laundry and bathroom entail whilst trying to trick Brett and I into helping him. He's hated every second of his 'duties' while I've appreciated the reprieve from having to pick up after two, very messy, males. However, as it's now Friday night, his punishment is complete.

'Damon?' Lee asks. 'Why does Dad have all those gift vouchers and a cheque for nineteen hundred dollars in an envelope on the top of the fridge?'

'He has what?'

Lee shows me. We count up three hundred and twenty-five dollars in various gift vouchers and stare at the cheque, which appears to have come from an insurance agency.

'Brett,' I yell out. 'Why do you have all this money and crap on top of the fridge?'

'What?'

Brett exits the study, where for once he's not studying, but playing computer games, and checks out the vouchers Lee and I have laid out over the kitchen table. 'Oh that,' he agrees. 'Birthday and Christmas stuff. I thought I'd keep it until you or Lee needed something. The cheque's for my old Commodore. You know, the one that got written off? Nineteen hundred was its market value.'

'I could spend it,' I offer hopefully.

Brett rolls his eyes. 'But you won't. We have a mortgage, a car loan and a monthly orthodontist's bill I don't even want to think about.'

He heads back to the study, ignoring my request for some of his gift vouchers. I honestly can't believe him at times. Why he'd keep the vouchers, rather than using them straight away, eludes me. If I receive a gift voucher on Thursday night, you can bet your bottom dollar that by Friday lunchtime, I'll have bought something with it.

Lee and I are set about discussing Brett's oddities. James thinks I've 'got it made' living with Brett, but he's under the mistaken impression I have my boyfriend wrapped around my little finger. Honestly, Brett can be really hard to live with, not because he has temper tantrums and is a slob, but because he tries to do so much for you that he makes you feel guilty.

'Well, maybe we should take them and choose his present for him,' Lee suggests. 'What does he want?'

'I have no idea,' I admit. 'I'd get clothes, but he can be really picky about what he wears.'

'He dresses properly,' Lee agrees. 'He dresses like someone his age should.'

I'm not entirely sure I like the insinuation there, as though I'm too old to be wearing certain styles and brands. I think Brett dresses in a fairly boring style, but I guess he's not someone you'd be embarrassed to introduce to your mates.

'Are you still lusting after those?' Brett inquires, exiting the study ten minutes later, sitting down at the table with us and browsing through the gift vouchers.

'We were going to choose your present for you,' Lee corrects. 'And maybe only use one or two for ourselves.'

Brett smiles and separates two vouchers. He gives me an adult store voucher that Mitch obviously felt we needed, and hands Lee a music store voucher. 'Happy?'

'No,' Lee replies, making a face and glaring at the voucher Brett handed me. 'That's just wrong. Ugh. Thanks for ruining my night.'

He actually walks off – taking his voucher with him – grossed out at the prospect of his guardians having sex. I want to go after him and tell him we think the same of his sex life, but I don't because the ensuing debate would raise too many bad mental images.

'So what do you want?' I whisper, leaning across the table and waving the voucher in Brett's face.

'The choice is yours,' he replies dryly. 'You're the sex fiend.'

He has a point there. We have fairly different sex drives, and the disparity increases the closer it is to exam time. I view bed as stress relief; Brett views it as fun only when he's relaxed. It's as annoying as all hell, but not as shattering to my self-esteem as it once was.

'I'll get you a leopard print g-string,' I tease, rubbing his stubbly chin. 'Jazma has one.'

'Who's Jazma?'

'Jamie.'

'Now that's disturbing. I won't even ask how you know.'

I grin and pull Brett onto my lap so he's straddling me, with his arms around my back. He smells good; deodorant and a slight sweat smell combined with the peculiar greasy, stale smell of the TAFE workshops where he teaches apprentices welding techniques. Terry's of the opinion that Jamie and Brett are men who should head directly to the shower upon returning home from work, but I kind of like the way Brett smells. It's a distinct scent, and it's familiar to me. It makes me crave him, want to touch his rough, olive skin and feel his gravelly chin against mine.

My hands move over his shoulders and arms, tracing well-developed muscles that are rock-hard to the touch. His hair is dark, smooth and shiny and I run my hands through it, drawing his face close to mine. We start to kiss, slowly, languorously, his chapped lips against mine, urging me to allow his tongue access. His breathing is heavy and he's pushing his body against mine, his hands slipping under my shirt and eagerly grasping my hips.

'Mmm, horny?' I whisper, breaking our kiss to slowly trace my tongue along his collarbone. He tastes of sweat, the sharp saltiness in strong contrast to the slightly spicy flavour of his tongue.

'No,' he whispers, making us both laugh at his lie.

He silences me with another kiss, before starting to grind his groin against mine. My hand slowly moves down his chest and over his stomach, carefully moving downwards until I'm rubbing his hard-on through his clothing.

'Mmph,' he groans, resting his forehead against mine. 'God that feels great.'

I grin, moving my hand to his neck and drawing him down for another kiss. It's so fucking good to have him on me, desiring sex, and just minutes away from the desperate little whimpers he makes when he feels the act is being too drawn out. 'Talk dirty to me,' I request.

I love listening to him tell me what he wants, how he'll do it, and what he thinks of my body. Having him, strong and unyielding, demanding and needy, taking control of our lust, is more than enough to have me spreading my legs, inviting him to use me to satisfy his desires.

His grip becomes firmer by the second, his tongue probing my mouth in between his crude mutterings of need. His fingers desperately fumble with the buttons on my shirt, tearing at the material as he attempts to disrobe me.

'Brett,' I warn, my voice croaky with lust. 'C'mon…uh, hmm…we should go…'

'I know,' he complains, moving my hand to his hard-on. 'But I can't move. I want you. I want to…'

Someone hammering on the door suddenly scares the shit out of both of us, making us jump. We exchange guilty looks, attempting to fix our disarrayed clothing and forget about what we were in the middle of doing.

'Who is it?' I call out weakly, guiltily.

'It's me.'

Goddamn, it's Hamish who was supposed to be spending – for once in his life – his Friday night at his own house.

'What do you want?' I ask irritably, annoyed that what was looking to be damn good sex has just been interrupted.

There's no answer. Pulling a face, I push Brett off my lap and reach down my pants, moving my erection into a position where hopefully it won't be noticeable. I've already half-lost my erection, anyway, thanks to Hamish's interruption.

Flinging open the door, I try my best not to look angry when I come face to face with Hamish and Angus, giving me apologetic looks.

'I guess you want Lee?' I sigh.

'Thanks,' Angus replies, taking Hamish's wrist and leading him down the hallway.

My hard-on almost completely gone, I turn to cast a rueful glance at Brett. 'Bed?'

He shrugs as if to say 'why not?' We walk to the bedroom, exchanging shy glances as we shut the door behind us. No, that's not true, Brett looks shy, as though he's embarrassed of desiring sex, while I probably only look hopeful. I want him lusty and desperate again, clawing at my clothes and giving me some good, hard, loving.

I remove my clothes and sit cross legged on the bed, rubbing my cock. It's funny watching his gaze drift towards me, focusing on my erection as the bulge in his pants grows.

The sex is great. Damn I love my boyfriend.

'My week as Slave Lee is up,' Lee whinges. 'Come on, isn't it your turn?'

'All I'm asking you to do is hang out the washing or vacuum. You're really lazy, y'know?'

Lee tries to scowl. 'Fine. We'll vacuum.'

Lee apparently needs Hamish and Angus to hold his hand while he undertakes the minute task of vacuuming. I can't help it if he doesn't want to clean while his friends are over; his friends are always over and if we ceased cleaning while they were here, the house would be a brothel. It's bad enough already.

Nonetheless, the house is clean by the time I've hung out the washing. Lexis needs a bath, though, and I fill the laundry tub and drag the stupid dog inside. We've actually had quite a good run of late – touch wood – with all three of the 'family fish' surviving, but Lexis hasn't really had a bath since we first got him – hey, he's a short haired dog – and the task is more than overdue.

Lexis is not impressed with the idea of a bath. He'll run under a sprinkler, tip over his dog bowl and drink the water from a fishtank, but he refuses to stay in the laundry tub. Lee runs into the laundry, thinking I'm having a seizure, and cracks up laughing when he sees what I'm attempting.

'Want to help?' I inquire crabbily, trying to keep Lexis in the water whilst opening the bottle of dog shampoo.

Lee's incapable of doing anything but laughing. Thankfully, for the sake of my sanity, Angus and Hamish come in, the former assisting with the dog-washing whilst the latter joins Lee in laughter. Eventually Lexis is clean and we stand him on top of the washing machine while trying to dry him. He shakes, sprinkling us all with water, and Angus and I figure we've done a good enough job and let him out.

He rolls in the one dusty patch, undoing all our good work.

Lee and Hamish find this hilarious, Angus shrugs diplomatically, and I regret that the reason we got the dog was because I wanted one. This means I have to wash the stupid thing, and judging by today's episode, I have a lifetime of hell ahead of me.

'I think I'll go and change my shirt,' I suggest. 'Stupid mutt.'

'We were going to go to the Hyperdome,' Lee replies. 'Want to come with us?'

'If you don't mind? I'll do the grocery shopping and get Brett to pick me up.'

It's kind of embarrassing having a seventeen year old drive you around because you don't have a license. Nonetheless, half an hour later we arrive at the Hyperdome without incident, and I say good-bye to the guys. I'm halfway to Coles when I realize Lee is trailing after me.

'Don't you want to go with Angus and Hamish?'

'No,' he shrugs. 'They don't need me around them all the time. Besides, I'm newly dumped and newly gay, so I think I'll lick my wounds.'

'Newly gay?'

'According to everyone at school. Apparently I've even been seen wearing those dicky pants with the butt cut out. What are they called, anyway?'

'Sorry, I have no idea.'

It's really hard not break into laughter as Lee explains the crap he and Hamish have received the past week. It's more stupid than malicious, so I'm not too worried about his safety, and I give in to the urge to laugh every now and then. Lee's mood lightens as he talks, his voice low and a smile gracing his face.

We're in the supermarket pet aisle, snickering, when someone calls my name. It's not Angus or Lee, or anyone from Uni, but the one person I didn't ever think I'd see again. The normality of my morning has been disturbed, shattered, leaving in it's place the one person, the one event, I've only just given up dreaming of.

'It is you. How are you doing sweetie? You've dyed your hair. And who's this, a friend of yours?'

My tongue's tied, and I'm unable to reply for a second. All I can do is take in the middle-aged woman, with dyed auburn hair, brown eyes and wrinkles, dressed in loose, linen, peddle pushers and button-down shirt.

'Hi Mum,' I greet eventually, my heart racing. 'I'm good, how are you? This is Lee. He's, uh, a, um…staying with us.'

I ignore the puzzled look Lee gives me. My mother's face shows her displeasure the second I mention Lee's living with us, and it's this I'm concentrating on. Some people say that it's the sex that's the most pervasive aspect of homosexual relationships, but I think it's the topic of children that causes the most discomfort. Single parents are basically beacons of Godliness in compared to homosexual couples with children.

'I see,' she replies. 'Well, that's…nice. Are you still with the same man?'

'Brett, yes,' I reply eagerly, happing to change the subject. 'You should come around some time and visit.'

'I will, I will,' she replies, slightly more enthusiastically, but I know she'll never visit. Or if she will, she'll visit once or twice, leading me to think maybe she wants to see me again, before disappearing from my life once more. I'm twenty-two, I'm not stupid. Just hopeful.

'That would be good,' I agree. 'How are Sharon and Tania?'

'Oh, you know, they're both in high school now,' she starts, launching into conversation.

We talk for ages, about my sisters and her life, her life that includes my stepfather – no, not my stepfather, her husband – and what they've been up to. Every time she mentions his name, I try and change the subject, but she continues to talk about him, telling me how he's had two melanoma's removed and received a promotion at work.

'I should be off,' she finishes brightly. 'It was good to see you. I'll come around and visit you sometime.'

I watch her go, wondering how long it will be until I see her again. Days, months, years, it's unpredictable; our relationship is run solely along the lines she prefers. I have no say in it, no say in anything. I'm Damon, her firstborn, bastard, gay, son, who was forced to suck off, masturbate, and be fucked by her husband, and when the knowledge became public, I was the assumed seducer.

'Damon?' Lee asks, touching my arm. 'Are you alright?'

'Kind of,' I reply, with a wry smile. 'Don't worry about that; you'll probably never see her again.'

Lee gives me a look of sympathy that's knowing, knowledgeable, proof that he's lived through more than any fourteen year old kid should have. 'I'm sorry.'

'So am I.'

Chapter Twenty-Five

Oddly enough, the unexpected contact with my mother has put me at peace. It's as though for the first time ever, I understand where my home is and where it isn't. It may not make any sense, but I'm more comfortable, more at peace.

Brett isn't at peace. He's lying on the lounge room floor, shirtless, with me straddling his back and a pile of wax strips beside us. Hamish, Angus and Lee are watching the process intently, snickering everyone time Brett makes a noise of pain.

'Stop complaining, we're almost done,' I demand, pushing him onto the floor as he tries to escape. 'It's not my fault you have a furry back.'

'You don't have to be so brutal.'

'Ooh, poor Brett,' I mock, warming another strip between my hands. 'If you let me do it more often, it wouldn't hurt as much.'

I have no idea why it is we have an audience, because the guys were outside when we started waxing, but they have a habit of following us around. I have no idea why; I thought most people gave their parents a wide berth.

'Maybe you should have looked for a man who wanted a hairy guy,' Angus suggests to Brett. 'Then you wouldn't have to do this.'

'I wasn't looking for a man when I met Damon,' Brett grumbles.

'But you love me anyway,' I point out, placing the wax strip on his left shoulderblade.

'Unfortunately.'

'Do you have any idea how much counseling I'm going to need as an adult?' Lee inquires, scowling. 'God you two are gross. Can't you pretend to be like normal parents?'

'What are normal parents like?' I inquire.

Lee thinks about it. 'Probably grosser than you,' he admits finally. 'Keep waxing.'

I rip the strip off seconds after Brett starts laughing. His reaction makes me laugh. I can't help it, he cultivates the worst body hair until it gets so bad that even he can't stand it, and then he brings me the wax strips to do the parts he can't reach and/or can't be shaved. Then he whinges and moans about the pain.

'We should be going,' Angus remarks. 'You ready Hamish?'

Hamish is ready. We exchange good-byes and I return to the waxing. Lee continues to observe the process, a smile tugging at his lips whenever Brett yelps. When he starts becoming numb to the ongoing pain, and his back is half-red where it's been waxed, Brett asks Lee how he's going post-Krystle. It's the sort of question that I'd have a lot of trouble asking, especially in the concerned but not overly nosey way Brett inquires, and I'm glad my boyfriend's around, and concerned enough, to ask.

'Okay,' Lee shrugs. 'I was starting to like her, so that sucks, but she was a bitch.'

'She isn't giving you any more crap at school?'

'You mean is she telling everyone I'm lousy in bed?' Lee clarifies candidly. 'Yeah, she's still doing that. At least everyone knows I'm not a virgin.'

I roll my eyes, bemused that the idolization of loss of virginity still occurs. Mind you, it probably won't ever stop occurring, at least not in teen circles.

'Hang on,' Brett requests, pushing me off his back. 'I've got to get something.'

He heads to our room, returning with an age-old sex manual and a newer book on lesbian lovemaking. Brett has a 'thing' for lesbian sex, which amuses me to no end. I can watch hours of all-female action and have absolutely no response, whereas it makes Brett horny beyond belief. Terry and I have shared more than a few laughs over our respective boyfriends' penchants, snickering at their treatment of lesbian sex as an almost holy act.

'Here,' he says, offering the books to Lee. 'I know you said you shouldn't take Jamie's porn, but I expect girls your age are still too shy to show you what they want.'

'Thanks. Now I know that even you think I'm lousy in bed.'

Brett grins and returns to his position on the floor. Lee flicks through the older of the books as I wax, laughing at the old-style language and diagrams. In the second book he finds a full-frontal pussy shot, with little arrows and descriptions of what each bit is and how it works.

'How could you not know that,' he scoffs, peering intently at the page. 'Man that's sad. Even if you were a hundred percent gay you'd know.'

To prove his point, he sits beside me, his hands over the descriptions. In a patronizing tone, he asks if I can point out the clitoris.

'There,' I reply confidently, pointing to the page.

Lee snickers. 'Very funny Damon.'

'Am I wrong?'

'Are you serious?' he asks in disbelief. 'Holy shit. Man you're a tosser.'

He shows Brett how 'wrong' I was, and within seconds I fall off Brett's face as he convulses with laughter. He and Lee are beet red and crying laughing, taking the piss out of me as they attempt to point out the 'right part' without choking with laughter.

'Okay fine, it is obvious,' I huff. 'Stop laughing. Come on, it's not that funny.'

Terry, Geoff, Brian, Leanne, Brett and Lee crack up laughing as Lee retells the 'spot the clitoris' episode.

'Terry wouldn't know,' I huff. 'Come on, I'm gay, how am I supposed to know?'

Jamie heads inside, returning with a vulgar, pornographic, picture of a woman with her legs spread.

'Terry, do me a favour and prove Damon wrong,' he requests, placing the magazine in front of his boyfriend.

'It's there,' Terry replies, as confident as I was. Only he's right, whereas I was wrong. The laughter starts again.

'Mate, it'd be a brave woman that let you between her legs,' Geoff remarks.

I can feel my pained expression as Brett informs him that the brave woman has indeed existed, and was my 'let's prove I'm straight' high school girlfriend. I'll admit that the more I think about it, and the more 'woman bits' I'm confronted with, the more I realize how obvious the clitorisshould have been, but I can't help it, I never paid that much attention to women.

Everyone finally settles down, and the talk returns to less sex-orientated matters. We're at Jamie and Terry's house, and Brian and Leanne were invited over so that they could catch up with Geoff. Rita and Mark are also here, and they're looking like normal babies now, something I'm much relieved about.

With the cold weather rapidly approaching, Brett, Jamie and Lee want to make use of the unfailingly awesome pool and slide. Rita and Mark start crying and Terry takes Leanne inside to assist in preparing their formula – Leanne gave up on the idea of breastfeeding twins rather quickly – leaving Brian, Geoff and myself at the outdoor table.

I'm not really part of the conversation, having no idea what to say to either Brian or Geoff, and I debate going swimming as they talk. I left my boardies at home, and I don't want to go swimming in my new, expensive jeans, but nor did I particularly want to borrow Jamie's boardies. It feels wrong to wear his clothes, and there's no way in hell I'd be seen in any of Terry's d.t.'s. To use one of Lee's colloquialisms, they're too 'gay' for me.

'Brett seems to be doing alright,' Geoff mentions.

My ears prick up at the sound of my boyfriend's name, even though the comment was in no way directed to me.

'Yeah,' Brian agrees, his gaze trained on his son, who's in the process of trying to fight off Lee and Jamie as they attempt to dunk him. Brett's incredibly physically strong, and for this reason, he always seems to be play fighting with every trier who thinks they have a chance at beating him. 'I wasn't too keen on the idea of him fostering at first, and I wasn't too shy about it, but he's making me eat my words.'

'They do that,' Geoff agrees. After a pause, he adds 'Jamie had a go at me this week. I only asked the damn kid if he was sweet with the Terry set-up and the bloody bastard flew off the handle.'

I'm sitting right next to Geoff and Brian, but they're talking as though I'm nonexistent. I'm gaining one of the most interesting insights into their opinions, and suddenly I don't at all regret leaving my togs at home.

'He'll get over it. I don't know why they get like that. All their fucking life it's 'get off my back', 'fuck off and leave me alone', 'you don't understand', then the second you figure they'll have to work their own way out of whatever mess they create, it's 'why didn't you….?' Kids.'

'Too right,' Geoff laughs.

They glance over in my direction, as though realizing for the first time that I've been listening in. Embarrassed, I stand up. 'I think I'll go swimming.'

Upstairs, Terry and Leanne are in the lounge, feeding the children. I daresay Terry's a little uneasy around Geoff and Brian. For all his showy confidence, he's sometimes a little uncomfortable around older, heterosexual, rougher, men. He didn't exactly have a good run with his father's friends and older brothers when he came out; they gave, and still give him, a lot of crap about his sexuality, so despite Geoff and Brian being absolutely no threat to him, it looks like he's happier to be with Leanne and her children.

'Terry? Could I borrow some of Jamie's boardies please?'

'No problems,' he agrees, carrying baby Mark into his bedroom. He attempts to continue feeding Mark whilst sorting through the drawers, but Mark squeals the second the teat's out of his mouth, and instead Terry tells me to 'find something' while he sits with Leanne and feeds Mark.

I'm alone in the bedroom, feeling guilty about sifting through their drawers, when Brett walks in. After jumping a mile in surprise, I drop the blue shorts I was holding onto the floor.

'Are you coming in?' he asks, walking over and dripping water all over the floor.

'Yeah, I was just going to get dressed,' I reply, picking up the boardies. 'These look like they'll fit.'

Brett shrugs and leans forward, kissing me. His warm body, covered in water, wets my shirt as he kisses me, his hot tongue probing my mouth.

'I should get dressed,' I interrupt, backing away.

'No,' he disagrees in a whisper, pulling me close. 'Just get naked.'

I laugh, before I'm silenced with another kiss. My eyes shut and my shirt becomes more damp. My heart's beating quickly as his hard-on presses against my thigh and his hands roughly grasp my buttocks. He's horny. The thrill factor of molesting me in someone else's bedroom with the door open, while his father's downstairs, and Terry and Leanne are in the next room is obviously highly arousing for him.

'God your hot,' he croaks, his hands pushing my shirt up and his mouth on my neck. 'Come on, shut the door and…'

'…Damon?' Terry calls out, breaking the spell. 'Can you find anything?'

'Uh, yeah,' I reply weakly. 'I'm just going to get dressed.'

Raising an eyebrow, Brett shuts the door, pushing me back on Jamie and Terry's bed. I fall onto the pristine white and blue doona, knowing I shouldn't be doing this, and yet unable to stop. He tears away my clothing, fondling my erection before taking it intohis mouth.

Within minutes I'm arching my back off the bed, desperately trying not to make a noise, but as I buck during orgasm the bed squeaks on the wooden floor. Brett ends up dribbling semen all over me as I choke on my laughter.

Mess cleaned, he arches an eyebrow suggestively. Returning the gesture, I undo his boardies, wincing at the loud noise of Velcro being undone. We're snickering as he shifts, easing his pants off, revealing one hard-as-nails cock. He tastes like chlorine, but it doesn't matter in the slightest. He's so eager, so desperate, and it doesn't take much before he orgasms, groaning almost imperceptibly. The bed squeaks again, as he peaks, making us break into more laughter the second his climax is complete.

'Naughty,' I tease softly, poking his chest. 'The bed's all wet now.'

'Hmph,' he shrugs, leaning over and kissing me. 'I wanted you. Jamie can live with it.'

I grin, snuggling into his chest for a second, before sitting up. 'So why are you so lusty of late?'

'I don't know,' he admits. 'Why, are you complaining?'

'Nope,' I kiss his nose. 'No way. By the way, your father thinks you're a good foster parent.'

'Really?'

He looks pleased, even though I know him well enough to understand he's trying to sound nonchalant.

'Yep,' I confirm, sliding off the bed. 'And we should get dressed. Everyone's going to wonder what we've been up to.'

We dress quickly, trying to rid ourselves of the last of our erections. Guiltily, we exit the bedroom, casting nervous glances in Leanne and Terry's direction. Leanne's gaze is pointedly focused on her daughter, but Terry smirks.

'Jeez, took you long enough,' Lee complains as we travel via waterslide into the pool. 'What the hell were you doing?'

His question attracts Brian and Geoff's attraction. They give us careful looks, making Brett flush slightly.

'Getting something to eat,' Brett lies. 'Come on, race you down the slide.'

Lee's the only one who believes the lie. He races out of the pool and up the stairs to the slide, his young, thin, pale body juxtaposed against the adult, masculine, form of my lover.

On this quiet Sunday afternoon I lean against the edge of the pool, watching my boyfriend and foster son. I'm happy. Life is good. This is exactly what Brett wanted, and I'm glad he has Lee to be a father to. I love it when he's satisfied, with everything he wants, and everything nicely in place. He has his father's approval, a good job, and Lee seems to be happy. I'm standing by myself, in that nobody is beside me, talking to me, but I'm by no means alone.

As we're leaving, Terry pulls me aside. 'You left my bed all wet.'

'Sorry.'

He hugs me. 'I'm happy for you Damon. Go home and enjoy your family.'

I hug him back. 'You take Jamie inside and keep that bed from drying.'

I never knew what a good feeling it was, to travel home in somebody else's wet boardshorts, with a shitty teenager in the back and Dire Straits in the CD player.

'I love you,' I tell Brett.

'I love you too.'

'Hello? Teenager in the back in serious need of counseling,' Lee complains. 'Oh God, would somebody rescue me?'

We laugh, and Brett takes the piss out of him for the remainder of the journey. As we're getting out of the car, he tells Lee, quite seriously, that he loves him, too.

'Once again, far too much information,' comes the swift reply.

But like Brett when I told him his father was proud of him, the expression on Lee's face tells us he's pleased.