Jump to content


Admin: Site Administrator
  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


Everything posted by Graeme

  1. Graeme

    Being Gay is Genetic.

    Twin studies are useful when analysing if something is genetic. If it's genetic, there should be a difference reported when comparing identitical twins with non-identical (fraternal) twins. Many years ago I read of one such study on homosexuality. While identical twins didn't always share the same sexual orientation (as @Thorn Wilde mentioned above), the percentage of identicial twins that did was much, much higher than for fraternal twins. From memory, the figures were something like 60% vs 10%. The obvious conclusion is that there is a genetic component to homosexuality, but there is something else involved, too. Since it's known that some genes are only active when triggered, the most likely answer is that homosexuality has a genetic component that only manifests when triggered. Some speculation is that the trigger occurs in the mother's womb, but that's still largely speculation. I think this one is the study I remember (with the percentages being 65% and 30% for identical vs fraternal twins). However, Wikipedia lists other studies with wildly different results. I'm still of the opinion that the twin studies show a genetic component to homosexuality, but there's no 'gay gene' per se that makes a person gay. It's much more complex than that.
  2. Graeme

    Chapter 18

    When José located the Wentworth Building the next morning, he frowned. He realised that things weren’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped. From the signage out the front, the five-storey building was used by the student union for a variety of purposes, and there would probably be a lot of people coming and going throughout the day. With multiple public entrances, there was nowhere he could sit or stand that would allow him a clear view of everyone who entered the building. Instead of a wait-and-watch approach, he would have to circle through the building, looking for either Mason or the two students he had followed for a short time the day before. Unfortunately, he hadn’t made the effort to memorise their appearance, so it was really only Mason he could recognise. As he didn’t know what time the students were going to meet or even if they would meet at all, it was going to be a long day. One of the many things that worried José was that if he loitered too long inside the building, someone might notice and report him. He hadn’t seen any sign of campus security officers, though he was sure they were around somewhere. The last thing he wanted to do was to attract their attention. At least he saw no sign of metal detectors, so it would be safe for him to enter with his knife. After walking through the building, he decided that if Mason was going to appear, it would be most likely in one of the food areas or one of the lounges. The fourth-floor International Student Lounge seemed like the most obvious place for Mason to go, so José headed there first to see what the access was like. The lounge turned out to be a large open area with chairs, tables in one section, and beanbags and couches in another. There were microwaves and vending machines available, and large windows presented views across parts of the university. “Hi! Welcome to the International Student Lounge.” José turned and made himself smile at the attractive young Asian woman. “Hi.” “I’m Chi, and I work over there.” She pointed to a small office at the side of the lounge. “If you have any questions about the student union, clubs and societies, or what discounts your student membership can get you, just ask. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the lounge is open to all students, not just international ones.” She contemplated José for a moment. “Let me guess. You’re from Brazil, right?” José shook his head. “America.” He then mentally kicked himself for revealing the truth. Anywhere would’ve been better than what he’d just said. Chi grinned. “That’s cool. We don’t get a lot of Americans here, but we get a few. What will you be studying?” José started to get flustered. His plan had been to keep his mouth shut as much as possible and try to blend into the background. A conversation about his non-existent college major wasn’t something he was prepared for. Grasping at straws, he picked something he knew was taught at the University of Sydney. “Engineering.” “That’s great! I hope you enjoy your time here.” She smiled and patted his arm. “I’ll leave you alone, but you don’t have to be shy. If you ever want to use more than one-word sentences, you know where to find me. Oh, and I finish work at lunchtime today.” She winked, gave him a cheeky grin, and then walked away, looking back over her shoulder just before she entered the office she’d pointed out earlier. José stood there staring for several seconds. He then shook himself and exited the lounge. While a dalliance with Chi would’ve been fun if he was truly a student or even a tourist, he couldn’t afford to let himself get distracted. He had one job to do, and it was time to return to that task. * * * Outside the Redfern train station, Kevin gave Daphne one last hug. “Remember, don’t go to that meeting without me.” Clarissa rolled her eyes. “And if she forgets, I’m sure someone else will remember since you said the same thing in front of everyone else. In fact, Deon was the only person you didn’t order around.” “Be fair,” Liam said to Clarissa. “He didn’t order anyone. He’s just worried.” He smiled at Kevin. “Someone will be with her at all times. We’re not going to give anyone a chance to bully her. Now go or you’ll be late for training.” Kevin gave Daphne a quick kiss, a worried look, and then a soft smile. “Take care. I’ll be back at lunchtime.” He then started to jog off in the opposite direction from the university, heading towards the Sydney Swans training facilities at Moore Park approximately two kilometres away. “I’m still not sure going to that meeting is a good idea.” Neil frowned at Liam. “In my experience, avoiding bullies was the smarter option.” Liam gave him a sheepish look. “Yeah, but we were still kids then, and you were alone. Daphne has all of us to support her and to make sure there’s no trouble.” He gave Neil a quick hug. “And you’re never going to be alone again, either.” The text message Mason had received from the Quidditch club committee the previous night—setting up a time to meet so they could apologise to Daphne in person—had resulted in a long discussion, a discussion that had continued over breakfast that morning. Kevin had convinced Daphne to stay the night with him and organised for her sister to drop off a change of clothes and other items to be ready for the next day. Clarissa and Liam joined Mason, Deon, Kevin, and Daphne for breakfast, with Neil showing up thirty minutes later. With Kevin training only a couple of kilometres away, he had promised to be there when they met with the Quidditch club members if they could arrange the meeting for lunchtime. Deon apologised that he wouldn’t be able to be there, as his training ground at the old Sydney Olympic complex was too far away for him to get there in time. Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “Okay, Liam and I have orientation sessions we need to attend. Neil, Mason, you’re responsible for looking after Daphne. Got it?” Mason saluted. “Sir, yes, sir!” He grinned. “Anything else, Clarissa? Or should that be Sergeant Clarissa?” She sniffed. “If I’m going to have a military rank, it needs to be at least a Captain, though Colonel Clarissa has a nice ring to it.” She smiled at Daphne and then gave her a hug. “Text me if you have any problems with bullies—or these two. I’ll sort them out.” A couple of minutes later, Liam and Clarissa were gone. Neil gave Mason and Daphne a quizzical look. “What now?” Mason shrugged. “Unless you two have plans, I was thinking of dropping in to see this cute girl I’ve got my eye on.” “Girl?” Neil blinked. “But you’re…” Mason laughed. “Come on, and I’ll introduce you two to Shelley. I guarantee she’ll have both of you charmed within twenty seconds of meeting her.” * * * After a thorough check of the building, José decided he should base himself in the food court on the second floor. From there, he could watch most of the places Mason was likely to go, with periodic trips up to the third floor to check out the study area. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls used to make several of the internal spaces within the building made it easy to see who was in those areas simply by walking past. He was glad that security wasn’t a major issue for the university. He would also check the International Student Lounge from time to time, but he didn’t want to attract Chi’s attention again. If she saw him going in regularly, she might misunderstand why he kept showing up. José’s biggest concern was that in wandering around, he would come face to face with Mason. The last thing he wanted to happen was for Mason to recognise him. As a consequence, he wore sunglasses and a baseball cap, even inside. He also had a short beard that he didn’t have during the convenience-store robbery, and he hoped the combination would be enough to make him look different. José still didn’t have a detailed plan, but he saw a few options. If Mason headed into one of the bathrooms, José could follow him, drag him into a cubicle, and use the knife he’d bought the day before. It would also be fine if Mason ended up in a semi-isolated area, though that option was much riskier. Following Mason when he left, looking for better opportunities was what José was hoping for, though simply learning more about his target might give him other ideas. It was now a waiting game. * * * Mason reluctantly handed Shelley over to Neil, who immediately started making googly-eyes at the baby girl. Mason sighed and then smiled at Shelley’s mother. “So, when am I allowed to have another date with Shelley?” Veronica laughed. “If you want to take her for an hour, I’m happy for you to do so most afternoons around three. At the moment, with the new semester starting up, the office usually has a lot of work to be done, and they’d love it if I was available to help.” “I can’t promise every afternoon, but how about today and tomorrow?” Mason glanced over to see Daphne smiling over Neil’s shoulder at the little girl. “And I think I’ve found another couple of people to help.” Daphne looked back at him and shook her head. “I don’t mind babies, but I’m not ready to look after one. Please don’t ask me.” Neil’s brow wrinkled, and then he smiled. “I’m happy to help out some of the time, but I don’t know if I can do anything regularly.” Mason gave him a mock frown. “I may be willing to share her tomorrow, but today she’s all mine. I want some one-on-one time with my baby sister.” “Sister?” Neil asked. Mason shrugged. “I’ve always wanted a little sister. Now, I have one, at least for as long as Veronica will let me.” He grinned at Shelley’s mother. “Shall I come here and get her at three, then? I was thinking of taking her to the park over there.” He waved a hand to the east. “Victoria Park?” Veronica smiled. “She’d like that. I’ll have her stroller and a bag ready.” “Just a bag. I’m sure I can carry her there and back, and I was going to play with her on the grass. A stroller will just be in the way.” He grinned. “Who knows, maybe I can teach her to walk?” “I don’t think it’ll be long until she does. She’s getting close at home.” Veronica nodded. “Okay, I’ll have everything ready for you at three.” “Done!” Mason flicked a quick look at Daphne, who was smiling down at Shelley, and then made a face. “While I have you, there’s something you may be able to help us with.” “Oh? What’s the problem?” “It’s about an incident that happened yesterday…” Daphne’s head spun around. “Mason, no!” “Daphne, I’m just going to ask for advice in case it happens again. I want to know what we should do.” Veronica frowned as she looked from Mason to Daphne and then back to Mason. “This sounds like it was serious. What happened?” “Daphne, it’s your choice,” Neil said as he continued to lightly tickle Shelley, “but I think Mason’s right. Even if you don’t want to make an official complaint, we should find out what to do if it happens again.” Daphne grimaced. Her shoulders slumped and then she nodded her head. “Go ahead.” “Thank you.” Mason turned back to Veronica. “Yesterday, Daphne was verbally abused and harassed at the Quidditch demonstration match by a current student. The Quidditch club committee is meeting us at lunchtime today to apologise, but I wanted to know what options Daphne has with reporting this to the university.” Veronica screwed up her face. “I’m sorry that happened, Daphne.” She took a deep breath. “Generally, the university prefers students to resolve things between themselves, but this sounds sufficiently serious that I would suggest going to see the Student Affairs Unit and talking to them. You don’t have to make a formal complaint, but they’ll be the best ones to review your options. “Talking to them now will also help if this happens again in the future. The university defines bullying as repeated behaviour, so it has to occur more than once. So, even if you decide with Student Affairs that you don’t want to take it further, having a record of it will support a later charge of bullying if it happens again.” Mason nodded. “Thanks. Now, where can we find the Student Affairs Unit?” “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll get you the details.” Veronica pulled out her phone and started typing. After a short time, she turned her phone around and gave it to Mason. “Here’s the website for the complaint process. The details for Students Affairs are on that page.” Mason memorised the details and then checked the website address. He saw it was under Administration, accessible from the university’s home page. “Thanks, Veronica.” He handed the phone back. “We’ve got time to wander over there now.” He glanced back to Daphne. “You don’t have to make a formal complaint, but will you please speak with them?” Daphne sighed before nodding reluctantly. “I don’t want to make things worse.” “You won’t. Not being prepared if he does this again is what would make it worse.” Mason caught Neil’s eye. “It’s time to give Shelley back to Veronica. We’ve got places to go, people to see.” He smiled at Veronica. “Thanks for all your help. We really appreciate it.” “You’re welcome, Mason. I hope it all goes well, but let me know if you need anything more from me.” Veronica smiled at Daphne. “Good luck with everything. Don’t let one fool ruin your time here.” As he watched, Mason was concerned that Daphne was becoming passive and withdrawn. She barely acknowledged Veronica and seemed to be almost indifferent to what was going on around her. He made a mental note to find time to talk to Kevin about Daphne’s state of mind. He wasn’t going to stand around and let one of his friends struggle without trying to help. * * * José was returning from the bathroom—a visit necessitated by the numerous coffees he’d been drinking as an excuse for staying in the food court—when he spotted Mason with a group of people heading up the stairs to the next level. He immediately followed while trying to stay far enough away that he wouldn’t attract their attention. José grimaced as they continued up to the fourth floor and entered the International Student Lounge. He knew it was lunchtime, and he hoped Chi didn’t think he was showing up to meet with her. He paused outside the lounge entrance, wondering if he could use her as cover to allow him to get closer to Mason. He thought about it for a moment and then entered. If she was there, he would have to deal with her. Chi stepped out of the office at the side of the lounge. It was almost as if she had been waiting for him. “Well, hello! You’ve got good timing. I’ve just finished work for the day. Would you like to join me for lunch?” José smiled. “I’d like that, but how about we stay here for a while? I’ve been doing a lot of walking, and I’d like to relax for a few.” “Sure thing.” Chi slipped her arm through his. “I’ll give you a neck massage, if you like.” She smirked. “I can also do other massages, but I usually don’t do those in public places.” “That sounds interesting.” José was torn. Chi seemed like an easy lay, but he needed to find a way to get to Mason. That meant trying to learn what he was doing so he could find an opportunity to strike. He saw Mason joining a smaller group on one side of the lounge. There were empty couches near them, so he pointed in that direction. “Why don’t we sit down over there, and you can give me that massage. Then I’ll buy you lunch as a thank you.” Chi giggled. “And after lunch…” She walked the fingers of her free arm up José’s chest and then leant forward and gave him a quick kiss. “…maybe I can show you where I’m living?” José smiled but didn’t say anything. It all depended on how much he would learn while eavesdropping on the other group. * * * Kevin kept an arm around Daphne while the three members of the Quidditch club committee apologised. Mason had sent him a text earlier that day to say that Daphne seemed withdrawn and listless, and when Kevin arrived from his morning training, he could see the same. She perked up for a moment when she saw him, but she’d quickly settled back into an overly passive, almost indifferent, pose. “…and so we’d like to say again, how sorry we are. What happened is not what our club is about.” Mason scowled. “What about Rick? Why the fuck is he still a member of your club if you really mean what you’re saying?” Jeff, the committee member who had been doing most of the talking, grimaced. “We talked about expelling him from the club, but one negative incident from someone who has otherwise been a great member wasn’t deemed enough to justify that action. He’s on probation, and he’s been told another incident will result in him being kicked out, but for now he’s still a member.” He looked directly at Daphne, even though she didn’t lift her head enough to notice. “Daphne, please let us know immediately if he says or does anything. He’s been told to keep away from you, so if he doesn’t, tell us.” Daphne’s response was soft. “Okay.” Kevin pulled her closer to him, trying to reassure her with his presence. He looked across and could see that Mason, Clarissa, Liam, and Neil were also concerned. Mason glanced across the group and then turned to the Quidditch club members. “I’m not going to be joining your club, not while Rick is a member. I’ll let the others speak for themselves, but don’t be surprised if we choose to support Daphne over Quidditch.” “We’re with Daphne and Mason,” Liam said, clearly speaking for both himself and Neil. “Same here.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “But I’d like to be kept informed of when and where your matches and social events will be.” The Quidditch club committee members seemed surprised. “Sure,” Jeff said. “I can’t see any problem with that. Does that mean you might attend some of them?” Clarissa shook her head. “I just want a heads up on places and times to avoid. We don’t want to run into that bastard unexpectedly, so if we know where you guys are, we know where we’re not going to be.” Kevin took a small amount of satisfaction from the way the committee members flinched at Clarissa’s statement. He was also proud of her and the other guys for the way they had made it clear that Daphne was their priority. The meeting ended soon afterwards. After a few more grovelling apologies, the three Quidditch-club committee members left the lounge. Daphne immediately let out a heavy sigh and collapsed against Kevin. “Are you okay?” Kevin immediately gave himself a mental slap for stupidity. “Sorry, but do you want anything? I can take you back with me if you want to get away from here.” He glanced across the rest of the group. “The offer’s open to all of you, too. We’ve got some outside training scheduled for the afternoon, so you can all watch from the stands, if you want.” He turned his attention back to the girl in his arms. “Daphne?” “Can you stay for a bit? I’ll be all right, soon.” “Sure.” He gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “Take your time. It doesn’t matter if I’m late.” Neil and Liam had been holding a whispered conversation. Liam nodded and then smiled at Kevin. “If Daphne goes with you and doesn’t mind some company, we’ll come, too. But if she stays here, we’re staying with her.” Liam grinned. “No offense intended, but she’s prettier than you.” Kevin could feel Daphne give an aborted chuckle. She looked up, a weak smile on her face. “And you’re both gay.” “So?” Liam shrugged. “We still prefer to be with you than Kevin.” Kevin felt like giving both Liam and Neil a hug. He could tell that what they were saying was exactly what Daphne needed to hear. It was only his need to hold onto Daphne that stopped him from doing so. He hoped that they could read his thanks from his expression. “I’m staying with Daphne, too.” Clarissa frowned at Kevin. “But taking her away from here may be a good idea. Give her a chance to relax.” Kevin gave Daphne a soft squeeze. “What do you say? Would you like to come see where I train?” She looked up at him, and he could see how much she was still afraid. There was, however, a steely resolve in her eyes, too. “Thanks. I’d like that.” Kevin glanced across at Mason. “What about you?” Mason shook his head. “I’ll pass. I’ve got a hot date at three, and I need to get ready.” “Oh? Who’s the lucky guy?” “Girl. Her name’s Shelley.” He grinned. “I’m taking her to Victoria Park, in the northeastern corner of the university, for some fun and games.” He gave Kevin an exaggerated wink. Kevin’s confusion was amplified when both Neil and Daphne laughed. He was glad to see he wasn’t alone, as both Liam and Clarissa also seemed perplexed. Clarissa glared at Mason. “What’s going on? Who’s Shelley and what are you planning on doing to her?” Neil grinned. “I’ll explain it, but not now.” He smiled at Kevin. “I don’t know how much time you’ve got off, but wouldn’t it be a good idea if we started to head to your training ground?” “Yeah, but only if Daphne’s ready.” She smiled. “Let’s go.” She left his embrace and proceeded to give Clarissa, Liam, Neil, and Mason a hug, saying thank you to each as she did so. Kevin then slipped an arm around her waist and the group headed to the door. Kevin smiled at the couple nearby who were in the middle of a passionate make-out session as they walked past. He wanted to do the same with Daphne, but that would have to wait until they returned to the unit. And that would take longer than he wanted since they were going to go via Daphne’s parents’ house to pick up more of her clothes and other possessions. The two had decided during the night that there was no point waiting until the weekend before she moved in. Instead, they would spend the rest of the week slowly moving everything she needed from her parents’ house to their new home. Leaving the International Student Lounge, the group stopped when they saw who was waiting there. Jeff ran a nervous hand through his hair. “Er…hi, Kevin. I know this is a bad time…but is there any chance that at some point in the future…not now…that I could get a selfie with you?” “You want what?” Jeff gave him a sheepish smile. “I promise I won’t say anything to anyone, but I thought I recognised you.” He held up his phone to show Kevin’s player portrait from the Sydney Swans website. “I’m a Swans fan, so…” He gave Kevin a hopeful look. Kevin could feel Daphne starting to shake. He glared at Jeff. “If you say one word to anyone about Daphne…” Jeff shook his head. “I promise. I wouldn’t, anyway. And I’m not going to hold it over your head; that would be a bastard thing to do.” He grimaced. “Daphne, I’m not going to out you or tell people that you and Kevin are dating. I’m not going to say a word to anyone, I promise.” Kevin smiled as he felt Daphne start to relax. She was still tense but no longer shaking. “You can tell people we’re dating,” Kevin said. “That’s something I’m happy to tell everyone. The rest is private and none of anyone’s business.” “I agree.” Jeff made a face. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll leave you guys alone.” He turned and took a quick few steps away. “Wait!” Kevin looked at Daphne for a moment. She sighed, nodded, and then took a half step back. Kevin smiled his thanks before turning his attention back to Jeff. “You can have that selfie, if you still want it.” “Really!” Jeff’s face lit up. “Thanks, man!” As Kevin smiled for the camera, he knew it was only a matter of time before the truth of his relationship with Daphne made the news. He made a mental note to tell Alastair McCrae of the recent events. His manager needed to be prepared. * * * A few minutes later, José and Chi came up for air. He smiled. He now knew where Mason would be at three o’clock, and there should only be one other person around at that time. The opportunity might not be perfect, but he could get himself into position beforehand and see if he’d get a chance to end things. That also meant he had time for other activities. His smile broadened into a grin. “How about I buy you lunch, now?” he asked Chi. “Fuck lunch. I’m hungry for something else right now. My room’s ten minutes away.” He rose and held out his hand to help her up. “Then what are we waiting for?” José was happy. It was shaping up to be a very enjoyable afternoon. * * * Clarissa and Daphne sat alone in the stand watching Kevin and his teammates train. There had been a small issue with getting access to the grounds when they first arrived, but Kevin had sweet-talked their way past security. Liam and Neil had shown interest in their first glimpse of the Sydney Swans training facilities, but Clarissa had kept her attention on Daphne. A lot of things were beginning to make sense to her, and she was trying to decide if it was time to talk about them. Clarissa knew she hadn’t fooled either of Liam and Neil when she’d asked them—ordered them may be more accurate—to get some bottled water for Daphne and herself, but the guys didn’t say anything. They’d left, giving Clarissa some one-on-one time with Daphne. “Do you remember a conversation we had last month about how we were both worried about holding our boyfriends back?” Clarissa asked. Daphne sighed and nodded once. “What you said at the time makes more sense now.” Clarissa put a hand on Daphne’s shoulder for a moment. “But it’s obvious to all of us that Kevin loves you. He’ll do anything for you. You know that, right?” Daphne grimaced as she stared at the seats in front of them. “Yeah, I do. He’ll do anything…including throwing away the career he loves.” “Deon’s the same. He’s already almost thrown it away once.” Daphne’s head snapped up. Her eyes were wide. “He has?” “Yeah. It was to do with the trial back in Melbourne.” It was Clarissa’s turn to sigh. “He was willing to risk ruining his relationship with his club to support Dave. They ended up supporting him, but he was prepared to go, even if they’d told him not to.” “I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like.” Daphne looked out over the players on the ground. “To have that done to you, at such a young age…” “But even if we don’t understand, we can sympathise and support him, right?” When Daphne gave her a quizzical look, Clarissa smiled. “Just like we don’t understand what it’s like for you, but we’re all here to support you and Kevin in any way you need.” Daphne’s face contorted, as if she wanted to smile but didn’t know how. “But he’s going to be ruined.” “We don’t know that. The AFL already has a gay player. Another isn’t going to be the end of the world.” “Kevin’s not gay.” Daphne must’ve seen Clarissa’s surprise because she immediately continued. “He’s told me that while he could have sex with a guy if he had to, he’s not attracted to guys. He likes girls. He’s not gay.” “But, you…” Clarissa didn’t know how to put into words what she wanted to say. Daphne flinched. “I’m a girl, not a guy.” Clarissa screwed up her face. “I’m sorry. I know you’re a girl, but… Fuck, I don’t know how to talk about this.” “And that’s why Kevin will be ruined when the word gets out.” Daphne started to cry. “People will find out—it didn’t take long for that guy at the uni to learn the truth—and then everyone will point and stare…” She put her head in her hands. Clarissa bit back her frustration and put an arm across Daphne’s shoulders. “I can’t promise that bad things won’t happen, but Kevin’s tough. He’ll stand up, face everyone, and tell them he loves you. Anyone who had a problem with that can go fuck themselves.” She smiled, even if Daphne couldn’t see it. “Okay, he may not use those exact words on national TV, but he’ll make everyone aware of how he feels about you. He won’t be alone, either. Deon will stand with Kevin, and I suspect a few others will, too. You can count on Ty and Jim being right behind Deon in showing their support, and from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from Neil, the rest of the Leopards football club will be right there, too.” Daphne lifted her head and stared at Clarissa. “But why?” “Because they know Kevin and they know Deon.” She shrugged. “I can’t say what they’ll be thinking, but they’ll stand by Deon, and Deon will stand by Kevin. There will be a room full of testosterone-filled football Neanderthals all waiting to be the first to beat up anyone who says anything against you and your boyfriend.” “He’ll be better off without me.” Clarissa scowled at Daphne’s tone. “Don’t you even think about it. You’re not breaking up with him because you think he’ll be better off. He loves you. Breaking up with him would be what would destroy him, not him standing by your side.” “But if I wasn’t around—” Clarissa didn’t let her continue. “He’d be devastated!” She gave a low growl as her anger and frustration started to get the better of her. “I don’t have a fucking clue as to what goes on inside his head or how things work between you, but he worships you! He told Jeff at the uni that he could tell anyone he wanted that the two of you are dating—Kevin’s proud of that fact—so if you want what’s best for Kevin, stay with him!” Clarissa kicked herself as Daphne started to cry again. She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Daphne didn’t need her to be angry. “Daphne, I’ve been telling you what I see from Kevin. How about you tell me how you feel about him? He loves you. Don’t you love him back?” “More than you can imagine.” The tears were still trickling down Daphne’s face as she stared at the players training. “He’s been like a dream come true.” “So why would you want to walk away?” “Because I love him.” “Then stop being so selfish!” “Selfish?” “Yes, selfish.” Clarissa could see that Daphne was confused, but that was better than being despondent. “You’re deciding what’s best for Kevin without listening to him. He’ll tell you he doesn’t want you to walk away, that being with you is what makes him happy. You’re ignoring him and doing what you want without taking his feelings into account. Relationships require two people to listen to each other, not for one person to make major decisions for the other without consultation.” For the first time, a weak smile appeared on Daphne’s lips. “Like you do for Deon?” Clarissa shrugged and decided to play the hypocrite. “That’s different. In that case, I really do know what’s best for him. He knows it, too, which is why he always does what I tell him to do.” “Like flying to Melbourne without telling you why?” Clarissa was caught off guard. She hadn’t expected Daphne to come up with a counter-example so quickly. “Well…” Daphne’s smile strengthened. “Okay, you win. I won’t walk away.” The smile slipped away. “But I hope you’re right about the support. Kevin’s going to need it.” “And you’ve got support, too. We’re all here for you, Daphne. You and Kevin. You’re not alone.” Clarissa still couldn’t understand the relationship between Daphne and Kevin, but she didn’t care. Just like when Liam and Neil started going out together, she could approve of their love while reminding herself that she didn’t need to know or understand what happened in their bedrooms. * * * José made sure his sunglasses were on securely and his baseball cap on tight. He had spotted Mason in the distance a few minutes earlier and had then started to circle cautiously through the trees so he could approach from behind. Mason was currently alone, though there were others in the park, and José wanted to act before Mason’s date showed up. Moving cautiously without attracting undue attention was a challenge, but José pretended to be looking up in the branches while he moved. If anyone asked, he intended to say he had heard that there were many colourful birds in Australia and he was trying to spot some. The glimpses of Mason as he moved indicated that Mason was carrying something, but he couldn’t make out what. José assumed it was a present for his date, but he didn’t really care. Just like he didn’t care that the guy he thought was a fag was going on a date with a girl. All that mattered was getting to Mason while he was still largely isolated. If José was quick, Mason wouldn’t make a sound, and the others in the park would hopefully think he was just resting in the sun like several students José could see. By the time José was in hearing distance, Mason was sitting on the ground, holding something in his arms. “You know, if I didn’t already have a date for the Mardi Gras afterparty, I would take you. You’re so cute, you’d make me the centre of attention. Scratch that. You’d be the centre of attention, and I could bask in your glow.” Mason lowered his head towards whatever it was he was holding and made a raspberry sound. José assumed Mason was rehearsing what he was planning to say to his date. He didn’t understand what Mason was doing, but he didn’t care. In a few moments, what Mason was doing would be irrelevant after José dealt with the guy who had ruined his life. “I hated it when the ‘rents sent me here, but if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met you or any of my new friends. You’re making me like living here.” Mason lifted what was in his lap above his head. “You’ve got a lot to answer for, young lady.” José froze as he saw what Mason was holding: a baby girl. That was unexpected and disconcerted José, as the traditional Hispanic attitude to children momentarily asserted itself. Gathering his scattered thoughts together, he narrowed his eyes and refocused his attention. The gang of which he was a member had a different view concerning children—one that wasn’t weighed down by sentimentality. If he wanted to prove himself to the gang, he couldn’t let an infant get in his way. He grasped the handle of his concealed hunting knife as he prepared to draw the blade and finish what he’d arrived in Australia to do. He had taken another quiet step forward when he spotted a young couple heading in his general direction. He hesitated again, trying to judge if he would be able to kill Mason without them immediately noticing. By the time he realised he may have been able to do so, it was too late. They were still approaching, and each second that passed reduced José’s chance of escaping before Mason’s body was discovered. José stepped back and then turned and ran for the shelter of the trees. He would have to find another opportunity to deal with Mason, one where he would have a better chance of getting away afterwards. * * * Mason turned his head as he heard footsteps behind him, but all he saw was a dark-skinned young man running away. He frowned and then shrugged. He had more important things to worry about than what some random stranger was doing. “Sorry, Shelley. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah.” Mason gave Shelley another raspberry on her tummy. She loved that, and he loved it when she giggled. He held her up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Do I really need to give you back your mom?” A distinctive aroma wafted up to Mason’s nose. He laughed. “Oh, yeah. Yes, I do.” He put Shelley down on the grass and then reached for the bag that Veronica had given him. “But I can change you this once, I suppose.”
  3. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    To be fair to Sue, she's being protective. She doesn't like seeing her friends hurt, and naturally blames the one who hurt them. As to whether Drew needs to share some of the blame for what happened with James, we don't know
  4. Graeme

    Chapter 14

    LOL -- the whole story revolves around Rick being too scared to admit he's straight.... Think of how many 'traditional' gay stories would be different if the gay guy wasn't too scare to admit the truth?
  5. Graeme

    Chapter 12

    Another possible reason is because Australia has had a lot of immigration over the years, especially after WWII. That makes the opinion pool more diverse, which is generally a good thing.
  6. Graeme

    Chapter 13

    Deaths in prison in Australia are rare, but I believe the attitude to those who harm kids is similar...just not as fatal.
  7. Graeme

    Chapter 17

    Given what else Mason believes his father has done, why wouldn't he think he'd investigate his friends, too? Especially friends who will be living two doors away. His father appears paranoid about who Mason will be associating with, so it's not unreasonable for Mason to believe his father will have a report on his friends, too. I agree that their focus needs to be on Daphne, but transgender confuses a lot of people. As an analogy, there are also people who don't understand homosexuality. That doesn't mean they don't accept people who are homosexual. All it means is that they don't understand how someone could be attracted to someone of the same sex in that way, let alone have sex with that person. They can lookup information on what homosexuality is, but that doesn't tell them what it's like to gay. They will probably never understand how one guy can be attracted to another guy, but they can certainly accept it. With Daphne and Kevin, some of the confusion was shown before that conversation when Neil asked if this means Kevin is gay. Transgender disrupts the norm of binary sexes and this introduces confusion. We're used to labelling things, and that includes people. But people don't always fit into nice little boxes (unless you use a chainsaw), and that can throw people. Look at how much confusion there is about bisexuality. There are still a lot of people who think that someone is gay or straight; the idea that someone could be attracted to people of either sex makes some people uncomfortable. Transgender takes that confusion to another level. The group is certainly rallying around Daphne, though only time will show how much support they'll give. Words are cheap, as they say. It's actions that show the real friends.
  8. Graeme

    Chapter 3

    Mason has never been as alone as he is right now. Yes, he needs a friend.
  9. Graeme

    Chapter 17

    “Thanks, everyone.” Mason glanced around the still largely bare apartment before grinning at his guests. “I still have trouble believing this place is now mine.” Deon chuckled as he used a fork to spear some stir-fried vegetables from the plastic container in his hands. “And I’m having the same problem with knowing I’m moving in here tomorrow.” He glanced at Kevin. “What about you?” Kevin shrugged. “I’m just excited.” He leant over and gave Daphne a kiss on the cheek. “And to make it an official announcement, Daphne said she’ll start moving her stuff in this coming weekend. We’re going to start living together as of Saturday night.” Mason smiled while joining in the round of congratulations everyone gave the happy couple. He wondered if Kevin and Daphne had already told Deon about Daphne being transgender, but the news they were moving in indicated to him that it wouldn’t be long before everyone was aware. In the meantime, Mason was beginning to appreciate what living with two professional athletes would mean. When he had invited everyone to join him in celebrating buying the apartment, he had planned on having a large number of pizzas delivered. It was only later in the day that he learnt that both Kevin and Deon had to be careful with their diet. While Kevin had been willing to share a pizza, he had told Mason that it would be better for both himself and Deon if they had something approved by their clubs’ dietitians. The result was the two football players ordered stir fries from the local Thai restaurant while the rest of the group had pizza. Deon turned to Kevin. “What time are your teammates arriving tomorrow? Mine said they’d be here around nine.” “Nic and Sean will be showing up at my host family’s place at eight. We should be back here around nine. I’ve got a few more things to move from there than you do since I’ve been living there for the last year, so I asked them to help me out.” “Fair enough.” Deon chuckled. “I’ve still got stuff I haven’t unpacked from when I first moved in with the Kennedys. I just need to put them in the back of my car, and that will be half of my moving done.” Neil had a faint frown on his face. “Did you have any problems with your club when you told them you were moving out? I had the impression that they wanted you to stay with a host family the first year.” Deon smiled. “Not really. Yes, the club sets up all the new players who won’t be living at home with host families to help them settle in and let them concentrate on their football, but they know I’m different from most new draftees. Most were still living with their parents last year, so moving in with a host family minimised the disruption and stress of leaving home. I moved out of home the year before, so I’m already used to not having Mum looking after me all the time. The Kennedys have been great—and a bit disappointed that I’m not staying with them—but they understand. I had a long chat with the club’s welfare manager, too, and he accepts that I know what I’m doing.” Mason frowned. “Why wouldn’t you know what you’re doing? Are they that controlling?” “It’s not so much controlling as trying to make sure I don’t get distracted from my football.” Deon’s brow wrinkled. “I get what they mean, because moving out of home last year was a big culture shock.” He grinned. “It took Jim a month to teach me that I needed to wash my clothes regularly. I used to leave them until I had nothing clean to wear before I’d use the washing machine…and even then, I’d often wait a few more days.” Clarissa put both hands over her ears. “I don’t need to hear this.” She gave Deon a mock scowl. “I hope you’re better now, because I’m not going to date you if your clothes stink.” Deon laughed. “Yeah, I’m better. I used to do my clothes-washing at least once a week by the end of the year and sometimes twice.” He sighed. “I’m going to have to start doing that again. Mrs. Kennedy has been doing my washing for the last couple of months.” Kevin made a face. “Another thing I’m going to have to learn to do.” Daphne stared at him in surprise. “You’ve never washed your own clothes?” He shrugged. “Once or twice back in Melbourne, but most of the time Mum would do it. Here in Sydney, Mrs. Wembley’s been doing my washing.” He chuckled. “But she insisted I clean my own room, so that’s one thing I do know how to do.” Clarissa jabbed a finger in Daphne’s direction. “Don’t offer to do his washing for him. He’s a big boy; he can do it himself.” Daphne smiled back. “Neither of us have had to look after ourselves. We’ll be both be learning things as we go.” She smirked at Kevin. “Maybe I should be asking him to do my washing for me?” Kevin grinned. “If you want me to, I won’t mind. I suspect I’ll have more to wash than you, anyway, with all my training gear.” Mason caught sight of a strange expression on Neil’s face. “Are you okay?” Neil screwed up his face for a moment and then smiled. “Yeah. Just remembering what it was like for me when I moved out of home.” He sighed. “There was a lot to learn.” Liam immediately wrapped an arm around Neil’s waist. “Don’t think about it. You had it tougher than most, and you not only survived, but you thrived.” He glanced at Clarissa. “Tell him.” “Liam’s right. You changed, but all in a good way. It was a bad time, Neil, but that’s over.” Deon must’ve seen Mason’s confusion. “Last year was when Neil’s father hit him and Neil ran away. He moved in with Todd, Paul, and Ollie for the rest of the year. He had to deal with not only learning to live away from home but also the stress of the situation and completing his last year of school.” Mason nodded. “Yeah, that would’ve been tough.” He smiled at Kevin and Daphne. “I’m not much better off than you. I had a few months of ‘training’ from my grandma last year, but I’m sure there’s still lots to learn.” He chuckled. “Such as remembering to buy some laundry detergent for the washing machine tomorrow so Kevin can do Daphne’s washing for her.” “I’ll do some shopping tomorrow, so don’t worry about things until we see what I forget to buy,” Deon said. “I’ll make a list of things we’ll need.” He grinned. “Jim was big on shopping lists. He was strange like that. He actually thought there were more important things than beer to buy.” Clarissa frowned. “Aren’t you supposed to watch how much you drink?” Deon chuckled. “I’m just remembering an incident about this time last year, before the football season had started. We were running out of beer, so the brat and I told Jim that we were going to get some essential supplies. He asked us if we intended to get anything other than beer.” He smiled at Kevin and Mason. “Don’t worry. Since then, I’ve made lots of shopping trips. I may miss a few things, but I should get most of what we’ll need tomorrow.” He winked. “And it won’t just be beer.” Mason turned to Daphne. “Is there anything you’re going to want us to get for you before the weekend? If we’re going to do a lot of shopping over the next couple of days, now is the time to speak up.” She smiled back, though Mason sensed she was a little tense. “It’s okay. I’ll get what I need myself.” Mason shrugged. “The offer’s on the table if you change your mind.” He turned to Clarissa, Neil and Liam. “I’m thinking I’ll head back here early tomorrow. There are a lot of things that will need to be done to make this place liveable, and the sooner they’re done, the sooner I’ll be able to relax.” “What about your orientation sessions?” Neil asked. “There’s only the one, course-related session tomorrow morning. The rest of the activities are things I can skip if I want.” He grinned. “And I want. I’ll stay for the Quidditch match and then head back after it finishes.” “Quidditch?” Kevin blinked. “You mean with brooms and flying and stuff?” Neil and Mason both laughed. “Brooms, yes, flying, no,” Neil said. “Someone came up with rules for ground-based Quidditch, and apparently there is now a Quidditch competition in Sydney.” “Worldwide, actually,” Mason said. “One of my friends back home is going to UCLA, and she’s joined their Quidditch team. It’s a mixed sport, and while I’m not sure it’s for me, it could be fun.” Liam smiled at Clarissa and Daphne. “Neil’s told me about it and said there’s a demo match tomorrow lunchtime. If it looks like fun, and if doesn’t conflict with the uni’s football team that I’m hoping to join—assuming I’m eligible—then Neil and I were thinking of joining. Why don’t you two come along, and see for yourself?” Clarissa cocked her head and then smiled. “It doesn’t hurt to take a look.” “Okay, but I’m not promising to play,” Daphne said. “I prefer to watch things like that rather than participate.” Kevin was frowning at Liam. “What did you mean about being eligible to play football? Why wouldn’t you be?” Liam’s face went red. “Well, there was an incident in the middle of last year, back in Melbourne, and I…er…ended up being suspended. My suspension hasn’t quite run out, yet, but it will soon. But they may not want me, given what happened.” Kevin’s jaw dropped. “What did you do?” He shook his head. “Never mind, I don’t need to know. As long as it was a one-off thing, I don’t think anyone would have a problem.” Liam smiled at Neil while replying to Kevin. “Yeah, it was a one-off thing. I was in a bad place at the time because I didn’t see any hope in getting this guy to like me.” He turned his attention back to Kevin. “I’d stuffed up a lot of things with Neil, and then there was this opposition player who kept making homophobic comments. Eventually, I snapped…and broke a few of his bones in the process. The tribunal gave me a nine-month suspension, and my club told me I wasn’t welcome back this year.” Liam shrugged. “Since I’m no longer in Melbourne, the fact that I can’t play for my old club anymore doesn’t bother me, but I know the football associations in the different states talk to each other. From what I’ve read, a suspension in Victoria also applies here in New South Wales.” “Yeah, it does.” Kevin shook his head. “Sorry to hear about that, but hopefully it won’t stop you from playing for the university if you can make the team.” Liam shrugged. “If it does, it’s not a big deal. I still love my football, but it’s not my number-one priority.” He leant over and gave Neil a quick kiss. “I’ve got something more important in my life, now.” It was only later, as Mason lay on a mattress on the floor in what was going to be his bedroom, that he realised that his father had never mentioned Liam’s suspension. Given the thoroughness of his father’s investigations on Deon and Kevin, he wondered why his father didn’t do the same for Neil and Liam. Mason eventually fell asleep, still unsure if it was an oversight on his father’s part or if his father had found out and simply didn’t think the incident was worth mentioning. * * * The next morning, Deon grinned as two of his teammates arrived at the unit. “G’day, guys!” Jack grinned. “You know I don’t normally get up this early on my day off. You owe me, mate.” Deon chuckled. “When you’re ready to move into your own place let me know, and I’ll be there to help.” Caleb glanced around the empty room. “So, what’s the plan?” “Kevin and a couple of his teammates will be here shortly. We’ve got boxes of furniture in Clarissa’s unit that will need to be moved and then put together. Once that’s done, you guys can go. It’s just that it would’ve been a bit awkward for Kevin and me to shift everything by ourselves.” Jack shrugged. “We can stick around longer than that, if you want.” He cocked his head. “Your other roommate—Mason, wasn’t it—isn’t helping?” “He’s at uni. He said he’ll try to be back this afternoon since he’ll need to set up his own room. Kevin and I are hoping to have the rest of the place done by the end of the day.” “Then let’s get started before the day gets too hot.” Caleb led the way to the door. “At least you didn’t try to do this on the weekend when it was raining. That would’ve been unpleasant.” “Mason only got the keys yesterday, but, yeah, the weather appears to be on our side today.” Caleb rolled his eyes. “Now, you’ve done it. Tempting the weather gods isn’t smart, Deon.” Jack gave them a mock frown. “Hey, guys, this isn’t Melbourne. Our weather in Sydney is much more consistent than what you guys grew up with. We don’t get the classic four-seasons-in-one-day.” Bantering about Sydney and Melbourne weather, the three started to shift the smaller boxes from Clarissa’s and Liam’s unit. They had managed two loads before Kevin and a couple of other Sydney Swans players arrived. After introducing Nic and Sean, Kevin frowned at the boxes that had already been moved. “Is that all you’ve managed to do? I expected you to be just about finished.” Deon grinned. “It’s more than you’ve done. What took you so long? Did you take the scenic drive from your place?” Kevin made a face. “Traffic was bad this morning.” “Traffic is bad most mornings,” Jack said. “Welcome to Sydney!” “Melbourne’s not much better at times.” Deon grinned. “They’re both big cities.” Sean glanced around. “What do you want us to do?” The three newcomers were soon put to work helping to shift the larger boxes. The players from the two Sydney-based AFL teams soon fell into an easy camaraderie as they worked together. “Hey, Kevin,” Sean said at one point. “When is your housewarming party going to be? You are having one, aren’t you?” “We are, but just not yet. This weekend is too soon, and the following weekend is busy. Probably the week after, though we’ll need to make sure Mason is okay with that date.” Deon snorted and then smiled. “He’ll be fine. You know him better than me, Kevin, but I had the impression he’ll be happy to party when he gets the chance.” Kevin shook his head. “That’s been because uni hasn’t started yet. I think you’ll find he’ll settle down and concentrate on his studies once they start.” Jack looked across from where he had been opening one of the boxes. “What’s wrong with the weekend after next?” Deon smiled. “That Saturday’s our first game of the pre-season.” “Yeah, and a party afterwards sounds like a good idea.” Kevin shook his head. “It’s also the night of the Mardi Gras parade. Deon and I are both marching, along with a few others from the Swans.” “There will hopefully be a couple from GWS, too, depending on team selection.” Deon smiled at Jack and Caleb. “More would be welcome, but it may be a rush to get there from our game if any of us are selected for the match. I’ve been told we’ll be up near the front of the parade, as they’re highlighting gay athletes this year, so we need to be there early.” He shrugged. “The other guys have been told that if they’re playing, they don’t have to march, but I’m planning on marching, regardless.” “Jim Henderson will be in it, I presume, if they’re including gay athletes,” Sean said. “Yep, though pride of place goes to the Sydney Convicts, who won the Bingham Cup last year.” “Who?” Caleb asked. “The Sydney Convicts. They’re a gay rugby club, but they play in a general rugby competition.” Jack nodded. “And the Bingham Cup is the world cup of gay rugby. It was held here in Sydney last year. I didn’t get to see it, but it made the news.” “And that’s why that weekend is out.” Kevin grinned. “No one is going to be here that Saturday, so no party. At least not here.” They continued to work until it was close to lunchtime. Nic and Deon headed back to the other unit to get the last of the boxes: linen for the beds that were being put together by the other guys. As they were about to leave Clarissa’s unit, Nic spoke up. “Deon, can I have a private word?” “Sure?” “About what happened in January…” Nic grimaced. “Deon, I just wanted to say…I’m sorry to hear what was done to you. I can’t imagine—” Deon held up his hand to interrupt. “Nic, I don’t want to talk about it. The trial is over, and the bastard got what he deserved. End of story.” He stared at an obviously nervous Nic. “Can we just drop it and not mention it again?” “Yeah, sure. If that’s what you want.” “It is.” Deon wasn’t sure if he should suggest that Kevin give Nic a hint at the truth. At some point in the future, the truth would come out, and Deon knew he would look bad for letting everyone believe the lie. Deon had decided his best option was to shut down attempts to offer sympathy so he wasn’t seen to be taking advantage of the situation, but he didn’t like it. Having Kevin quietly tell Nic not to believe everything he read might stop a backlash from one person, but it might also be the one person who allows the truth to become public. After a few moments of thought, Deon pushed the issue to the back of his mind. He didn’t need to make a decision immediately, though sooner would be better if he wanted Kevin to speak to Nic. * * * “How’s it going?” Mason asked late that morning when he caught up with the others. “Pretty good,” Clarissa said. “I’ve got a better idea of what’s going to happen in my course, now.” Daphne nodded. “Same here. I’m finished with all the course-related orientation stuff, so it’s just the ancillary stuff like library and student services if you guys want to check them out.” She smiled. “I’m already familiar with most of them, so don’t worry about what I want to do next.” “It sounds like we’re all pretty much done, then.” Liam raised an eyebrow at Neil. “You’re on top of things?” “Yeah…” Liam chuckled. “You don’t sound too confident.” Neil shrugged. “It’s just going to be a lot of work, that’s all.” He smiled at his boyfriend. “But I think I’m okay.” Mason frowned. “I can’t help thinking I’m missing something. Orientation is supposed to go for a week, but it’s halfway through Day Two, and we’re all basically finished. I’ve got another subject orientation session on Thursday, but that’s it.” Liam laughed. “That’s because orientation is more than just academic orientation. It’s also to get everyone settled into uni, academically and socially. If you look at what’s available this week, the majority is not about what we’ll be studying.” “And orientation also gives people a chance to learn about things they may not have had a chance to explore beforehand, like support services,” Daphne added. Mason nodded slowly. “Okay. I thought it was strange that they had a week but didn’t use it all for engineering stuff, but that makes sense.” He glanced around the group. “The Quidditch game is supposed to start soon. Do you still want to go see it?” Liam shrugged his shoulder. “I can’t see any harm. Let’s check it out.” Clarissa rolled her eyes. “After we’ve grabbed something to eat. I’m not sitting around watching a bunch of guys running around a field without having some food in my stomach.” Daphne grinned. “I’m with Clarissa on that one. Breakfast was a long time ago for me.” “Food would be nice.” Neil peered at his phone. “There’s supposed to be some food trucks near where the Quidditch match is being played, so we can grab something on the way.” Fifteen minutes later, they were standing with a small bunch of other spectators while, Abdul, one of the Quidditch players, quickly went through the main rules. Mason listened as Abdul explained that while team sizes ranged from seven upwards, only six players per team—three chasers, two beaters, and one keeper, their roles identified by coloured headbands—started on the pitch. Those players would try to score goals, worth ten points each, by throwing the quaffle—a slightly deflated volleyball—through one of three hoops set on poles at one end of the pitch, while trying to stop the opposition from doing the same for the three hoops set up at the other end. The beaters used bludgers—slightly deflated dodgeball balls—to hit opponents, forcing the opponents to dismount from their ‘brooms’, drop any ball they held, and then return to touch one of their team’s hoops before they could join in the game again. While Abdul talked about how all players must ride their ‘brooms’—for the demonstration game, they were using lengths of PVC pipe as the brooms—Mason glanced around looking for Rick but couldn’t see him. He returned his attention just as Abdul mentioned that after seventeen minutes the golden snitch—a neutral player wearing yellow with a tennis ball in a yellow sock hanging from the player’s shorts—was released onto the field. A minute later, the seventh member of each team—the seekers—were allowed on to try to capture the snitch by making a clean grab of the tennis ball. The game ended when the snitch was caught, awarding thirty points to the catching team. One thing that Mason found intriguing was that Quidditch was a true mixed-gender sport. Of the six starting players for each team, only four could be of the same gender. As the demonstration game started, he noticed that one team consisted of an equal number of males and females, with a male seeker, while the other team had four males and a female seeker. The snitch was a lithe woman who looked like an experienced runner. Mason leant over to whisper to Neil. “I wouldn’t mind having that guy seeker chasing me. Maybe I should join and play as the snitch?” Neil blushed. “What if both seekers are girls?” he whispered back. Mason shrugged. “Then it’ll be someone else’s turn to be the snitch.” He grinned at Neil. “Ollie told me you were the runner for the Leopards last year. Maybe we could alternate being the snitch?” Neil chuckled. “If Liam was playing, I doubt they’d let me. I don’t think I could be unbiased.” Mason was going to respond, but at that point the referee called out that the snitch was loose, and the woman in yellow ran off and started mingling with the small crowd watching the game. The referee then started the game with a call of, “Brooms Up!” Daphne and Clarissa both flinched the first time one of the chasers was bumped hard by an opposition player, but Mason found the game intriguing. It was certainly a lot faster than he expected it to be, with a couple of the players being sufficiently skilled to be able to hold the ‘broom’ hands-free between their legs for short periods of time. This made it easier for them to use both hands to fend off other players. It was also more physical than he would’ve assumed given that the teams consisted of both males and females. He was beginning to seriously consider joining the university’s Quidditch club when he heard someone approaching. “Well, well, well. What do we have here? I came over to watch the match, and what do I find? The Freak, standing with a bunch of people as if he didn’t have something to hide.” Mason frowned as he turned. He recognised Rick’s voice, but he didn’t like the malicious tone. “What are you talking about?” Rick Stratton ignored him. Instead, he sneered at Daphne. “Hello, David. I see you still like dressing up in girls’ clothes.” Mason saw Daphne had gone pale, and an expression of horror had appeared on her face. Neil was the closest person to Mason, so he grabbed Neil’s arm to get his attention. “Get Daphne out of here. Now!” He gave Neil a small push and then let go so he could turn his attention back to Rick. “What’s wrong, Freak? Can’t say anything? Or is it you hadn’t told your friends your dirty little secret?” Rick scowled. “You’re good at that, aren’t you? Hiding little secrets. Well, not while I’m around. You’re not going to fool anyone else, David. Not if I can help it.” Mason glanced across and saw Daphne starting to cry as she took a couple of fearful steps backwards. Mason could tell she was close to panicking. Liam, Neil, and Clarissa all appeared either stunned or confused. “That’s it, David. Run away, but don’t worry. You can’t run forever.” Mason snapped sharply at his friends. “Guys, move it!” He stepped between Rick and the rest of the group. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, shithead?” Rick put on an expression of mock-surprise. “Me? I’m not picking on anyone. I’m just saying hello to an old school friend.” Mason was the taller of the two, but Rick appeared to be more muscular. Mason didn’t care. He moved forward, forcing Rick to take a half step back. “You know, you must be really popular.” “What do you mean?” Out of the corner of his eye, Mason saw Liam step up next to him. He mentally gave a sigh of relief. Now that Rick was facing two of them, Mason hoped he would be smart enough to avoid violence. “You remember I’m gay, right?” Not waiting for Rick to respond, Mason pasted on a false smile. “That means I’ve had lots of experience with dicks and asses.” “What the fuck has that got to do with anything?” Mason could tell that Rick was confused by the change of topic. He hoped that would buy Neil and Clarissa enough time to get Daphne somewhere quiet. “That’s why I thought you’d be so popular, at least with the gay boys. We all love dicks and assholes…and you’re both.” Mason didn’t wait for Rick to respond. He caught Liam’s eye and tilted his head in a signal to follow the others. Liam nodded, and the two turned their back on Rick. Mason knew that was a risk, but if they were attacked from behind, that would make things so much worse for Rick, given the number of spectators nearby. Even so, he was listening hard as they stepped away. Now that he had his back to Rick, he scanned the area to locate the others. He could see Neil and Clarissa escorting a distraught Daphne away. Clarissa had all her attention on Daphne, but Neil’s head kept turning so he could keep an eye on Liam and Mason. Mason smiled at him and started to lengthen his stride. “Hey!” Mason’s arm was grabbed. He turned to see Rick glaring at him. “I’m not a dick or an arsehole.” “Really?” Mason matched Rick’s glare. “You’re certainly doing a good impression of both.” He noted that Liam had also stopped and had his fists clenched. Rick raised his voice as he let go of Mason’s arm. “If anyone’s an arsehole, it’s David. He’s a freak, pretending to be a girl. I’m just making sure you knew.” The hate on Rick’s face was obvious. “He’s the lying bastard, not me.” Mason could see that the Quidditch match had stopped, with everyone peering in their direction, so he matched Rick’s volume. “And I’m just making sure everyone knows you’re a dick and asshole. You seem to like hurting girls.” “David’s not a girl!” “Daphne is a girl, and you can’t even get her name right!” Mason put on an apologetic expression and looked past Rick to the others watching. “Sorry, everyone, but while the game looks fun, my friends and I don’t want anything to do with this asshole.” Mason turned away again. He and Liam headed in the direction that the others had gone. He was happy to see that they were all out of sight. This time Rick let them go, though not without a shouted taunt. “You’ll learn. David’s not who you think he is!” Liam didn’t say anything until they were well away from the field where the Quidditch match had been held. “You’re right. He is a dick and an arsehole.” He checked his phone. “Neil says they’re heading to the train station. Daphne hasn’t stopped crying.” Mason grimaced. “I can understand that.” He pulled out his own phone. “Tell Neil to wait for us, and we’ll leave together. I’m going to call Kevin and make sure he’s there when we get back to the apartment. Daphne needs him.” Liam nodded his agreement as he started to type on his phone. * * * During the train trip back to the unit, Mason had shut down every attempt to talk about what had happened. A public place was not where he wanted that conversation to take place. Instead, he concentrated on comforting Daphne, while Liam and Neil sat opposite them, each with a matching expression of concern and confusion. Clarissa helped Mason calm Daphne, but Mason could sense she also had questions she wanted answered. When they arrived at the station, they found Kevin waiting for them. Daphne rushed into his arms and started crying again. While murmuring soft words of support, Kevin gave Mason and the others a quizzical look. “Daphne,” Mason said in as gentle as tone as he could managed. “Are you okay to walk back to the apartment, or do you want me to get you a ride?” “No need,” Kevin said. “I brought my car with me. I can drive everyone back if you don’t mind being squashed a bit. Clarissa pursed her lips as she contemplated Kevin and Daphne. She then held out her hand. “Give me your keys. I’ll drive while you look after Daphne in the back seat.” She turned to Mason, Liam, and Neil. “I think it might be best if you three walk back so these two can have some space to themselves. We’ll be in our unit. Then, I think we all need to talk.” “Only if Daphne is up to it.” Mason made a face. “If she’s not, a talk can wait.” He turned to Liam and Neil. “Come on, let’s go.” He then lowered his voice into a stage whisper that he was sure everyone could still hear. “As soon as they’re out of sight, I’ll call for a cab. There’s no way I’m going to walk all that way.” Daphne gave a short bark and then lifted her head to give Mason a weak smile. “Ten minutes? You walked for longer than that around the uni this morning.” “And now I’m exhausted!” Mason shrugged. “You need to get going. Clarissa won’t let me call a cab while she’s around, so you have to take her away first.” Clarissa scowled. “It’s not all about you, Mason!” She spun around and glared at Kevin. “Where’s your car?” Mason was hurt, though he tried not to show it. He realised he wasn’t successful when Liam put a hand on his shoulder. “She didn’t mean it. She’s just stressed by what’s happened, and she doesn’t know what’s going on. When she’s had a chance to think about it, she’ll realise you were just trying to distract Daphne and weren’t trying to make this about you.” Mason put on a surprised look. “You mean it’s not all about me?” Liam chuckled. “Now that she’s gone, did you want to call a taxi, or should we walk?” “We’ll walk.” Mason smiled “It’ll take longer for a cab to show up and take us to the apartment than it would to go by foot. Just don’t tell Clarissa.” Liam and Neil both laughed, though their expressions turned serious almost immediately afterwards. The three headed towards the units. They didn’t rush but still set a brisk pace. Mason was anxious to see how Daphne would react to being outed and whether it would make a difference to the group. “You knew, didn’t you,” Neil said when they were about halfway there. “I mean, you weren’t surprised. You acted immediately.” Mason considered denying it, but he realised that to keep everyone’s trust, he would need to be honest. “Yes, I did. I found out a month ago.” “She told you, but she didn’t think to tell us?” Mason shook his head. “She didn’t know I knew. I’ve dropped a few hints that I would be okay with everything, but it was supposed to be up to her to tell us when she was ready.” He glanced across at Neil and Liam. “You guys understand that, don’t you? No one should be outed against their wishes.” Liam nodded. “Yeah, we understand. That doesn’t mean we’re still not confused by what’s happened, but we understand.” Neil frowned. “Does this mean that Kevin’s gay?” Mason sighed. “I think we should let Kevin explain himself, if he wants to. If he doesn’t…” Mason shrugged. “It’s his life, not ours, and he’s a professional football player. I have no idea what will happen if word gets out, but I can’t see any good coming from it.” “How did you find out?” Liam asked. Mason smiled. “I think I should tell that story to everyone at once. Can your curiosity wait a little longer?” “Sure. It’s not really that important.” Liam smiled. “As you guessed, I was just wondering. It doesn’t matter if I don’t find out.” Liam and Neil held a quiet conversation during the rest of the walk, but Mason made no attempt to listen in. Instead, he mentally prepared for everything he thought could go wrong. While he was confident that Deon would be okay with Daphne being transgender, he wasn’t sure if there would be repercussions that could adversely affect the relationship between him and his two flatmates. He grimaced as he thought about how having this happen on the day Kevin and Deon moved in had to have been the worst possible timing. When they arrived at the suburban block where the units were located, Deon and four other guys were waiting outside. Mason recognised a couple of them from Liam’s and Clarissa’s housewarming party back in January, though he couldn’t remember their names. He was quickly introduced to Jack, Caleb, Nic, and Sean. Liam and Neil said hello and then disappeared into Liam’s unit. “The guys are heading out to grab some lunch,” Deon said. “They’ll be back in half an hour.” “We can stay out longer if needed, since Deon’s girlfriend has just arrived home.” Jack winked. “I’m sure he’s going to love living two doors down from her.” Mason smiled at the four football players. “Thanks for helping out this morning. Sorry I couldn’t be there to help, but I’m back now.” He pulled out his wallet. “Lunch is on me.” Nic waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll text Kevin or Deon when we’re about to return.” Mason’s brow wrinkled as he watched the four guys stroll down the driveway. He turned to Deon. “Why would they need to text you?” Deon shrugged. “Kevin disappeared half an hour ago, saying something was wrong with Daphne. He showed up with her a few minutes before you got here, and it was obvious that she was upset. I was going to go to lunch with the guys, but Clarissa asked me to stay, saying we needed to talk about what went on at the uni. The guys took the hint, and they’re going to warn us before they return so they don’t interrupt whatever is going on. That’s why Jack said they could stay out longer if we need them to.” “They’re a good bunch of guys.” “Yeah…” Deon sighed and made a face. “Let’s go check on Kevin and Daphne.” * * * Kevin kept one arm around Daphne while resting his other hand on top of hers. After hearing what had happened at the Quidditch demonstration match, he wanted to head back to the university to do something violent to Rick Stratton, but his priority was Daphne. He’d given her a squeeze of reassurance several times and a soft kiss on the cheek twice. He was startled to learn that Mason had known that Daphne was transgender for about a month, and that Mason’s father had both him and Deon investigated before agreeing to buy the unit. He was heartened, though, when Mason apologised for his father’s actions, and that he was still looking forward to Daphne moving in with them. That was the only thing that heartened him, though. Deon was avoiding eye contact, and while Neil and Liam didn’t seem upset, Kevin sensed some unease or uncertainty in their expressions. Clarissa also seemed a little uncomfortable, though she had also been the one to take Daphne into the bathroom after they arrived to help her wash her face and make herself presentable. Kevin decided he needed to bring things out into the open. “Okay, where does this leave us? Deon, are you going to be okay living with Daphne and me?” When Deon didn’t immediately respond, Mason spoke up. “Kevin, give him time to think. That’s not a decision that needs to be made right now. We’ve got plenty of time, so let him think things over.” Deon shook his head. “No, Kevin’s right.” For the first time since the conversation started, he looked directly at Kevin. “If it’s not going to work out, we need to know as soon as possible. I’m sure the Kennedys will let me move back in with them, but if I’m going to do that, I should do it in the next day or two.” “Then we’ve got a day or two. Nothing needs to be decided now.” Mason then challenged Liam and Neil with a stern gaze. “I understand what it’s like to be part of a minority—to have some people despise me for things outside of my control. I’m not going to turn my back on Daphne or Kevin. They’re still my friends; nothing’s changed.” Liam and Neil turned and stared at each other. Neil leant forward and whispered something to Liam, who nodded in return. Liam was the spokesman. “Daphne, Kevin, we agree with Mason. We don’t understand what all of this means, and we don’t know what is going to happen, but we’ll stand with both of you.” Neil nodded. “I’ve been bullied, and I know what it feels like. What Rick did today was wrong. Daphne, you’re not alone when it comes to facing this. We’re with you.” Kevin could feel some of the tension leaving Daphne’s body. He smiled at Liam and Neil. “Thanks, guys. That means a lot to both of us.” When Mason turned to Clarissa, she scowled and spoke before he could. “Don’t you dare say anything to me, mister. If you don’t know what I’m going to do, you’ve got a lot to learn.” Neil smiled. “That means she’s with us.” Clarissa glared at him. “And I don’t need you to translate for me.” Her expression softened as she looked at Daphne. “Karen warned me at our housewarming party that she thought you were fragile, but she didn’t know why. I don’t understand a lot of things, but I do know this: you’re a good friend, and Kevin loves you. You’re not alone.” Daphne’s reply was barely audible. “Thank you.” Clarissa turned to Deon and narrowed her eyes. “As for you…” “That’s enough, Clarissa.” Kevin met her steely gaze with one of his own. “Deon needs to make up his own mind on this. You can’t do it for him.” He looked at where Deon sat with his head bowed, staring at the carpet. “Deon’s one of my best mates, but he shouldn’t be forced into something he’s not comfortable with.” Kevin nodded towards Mason. “Mason’s right. Deon needs time to think things through.” Deon lifted his head. “Thanks, mate,” he said softly. He then looked at Daphne. “I don’t understand a lot of things, but you make Kevin happy, so that’s good enough for me. It’s other things that have me worried.” “What other things?” Kevin asked. “Who else knows? What does this mean for us as players? What’s the media going to do when they find out?” Deon dropped his head and lowered his voice, though everyone could still hear him. “Am I strong enough to cope with the pressure?” Clarissa scowled. “You? You’re worried about the pressure? What about Daphne and Kevin? What about them?” Deon sighed. “I saw the pressure Jim was under simply because he’s gay. None of that reflected back on me, but I can’t help worry that Kevin and Daphne are going to get worse. Being gay isn’t as much of a novelty anymore, but transgender is still new. A high-level, gay football player draws a lot of attention, but an AFL footballer with a transgender girlfriend is going to attract even more. Living with them means some of that attention is going to fall on me, too.” He made a face and looked at Kevin. “Sorry. I know that’s selfish, because things will hit you much harder, but I don’t know if I’m that strong. Not in that way.” Kevin held up a hand to forestall anyone else responding. “Deon, mate, you’re stronger than you think. Look at what you did for Dave at the trial. You had all that attention on you then, but you held up fine. You may be worried now, but I know you. When everything hits the fan—and it will—you’ll be there for Daphne and me. That’s who you are, even if you’re not feeling it now. “As for your other questions, not many people know on my side. There are three senior people at the Swans who know, and I’ve been told there’s a draft press release ready for when the news goes public. The club will stand by me. Other than that, it’s just Warwick and Roscoe on my side who know the truth.” Deon’s eyes widened at the name of the football player who replaced him on the Leopards team. “Roscoe? How did he find out?” Kevin chuckled, and he gave Daphne another squeeze. “Warwick is the one who introduced us. He’s got a transgender friend who is an online friend of Daphne’s. When he realised that I’m attracted to someone like Daphne, he flew her down to Melbourne for a weekend.” He gave Daphne a quick kiss. “Our first date was a double date with Warwick and Roscoe. That was before the draft, when Roscoe was still in the closet.” “There’s one other person on Kevin’s side who knows,” Daphne said, speaking for the first time since the conversation started. “Kevin was so proud when he introduced me to his manager.” She rested her head on Kevin’s shoulder. “Oh, yeah.” Kevin grinned sheepishly. “I’d forgotten about Alastair.” “Alastair knows?” Deon seemed surprised. “He’s looking after things for you?” “Not yet, but he will when the media finds out. He’s going to coordinate things with the club to make sure Daphne and I are protected as much as possible. We’re hoping that won’t happen anytime soon.” “Unfortunately, on my side, there are too many people who know.” Daphne sighed. “Everyone I used to go to school with knows. Rick used to be my best friend, but when I finally accepted I’m really a girl…he freaked. He’s hated me ever since.” Kevin gave her another squeeze, trying to reassure her with tactile contact. “Rick is the main reason she deferred uni a year. She needed time to recover from all his bullying, and we’d hoped that with him being a year ahead of her at uni, she would be less likely to run into him.” He grimaced. “That didn’t work out.” Daphne dropped her head. “I’d forgotten that when we were both younger, he was a big Harry Potter fan. If I’d remembered that, I would never have gone to the Quidditch match. I should’ve known that’s something he would’ve been interested in.” Kevin hugged her again and followed it with a kiss on the top of her head. He didn’t know what else to do. “How’s your family with everything?” Neil asked. Daphne gave him a weak smile. “They’ve been great. They’re very protective and supportive. They also all love Kevin.” “That’s good. Things are easier when you know your family is behind you.” He frowned at Kevin. “What about yours?” Kevin shook his head. “They don’t know yet, and there’s no rush in telling them.” He smiled at Daphne. “My view is that it’s up to Daphne to decide who she tells and when. I won’t tell anyone without checking with her first.” The smile faded away. “She’s been getting ready to tell you guys, but events overtook our plans. Sorry.” Deon’s phone beeped. He stared at the message, sighed, and rose from his chair. “The other guys will be back from lunch in about ten minutes.” He stared down at Kevin and Daphne for a moment, and then smiled and held out his hand. “Come on, housemates. We should get back to setting up the place we’re going to be sharing.” * * * José had been having a frustrating day. After waking up at three in the morning and being unable to fall back asleep, he had dressed and had an early breakfast. He then filled in a little time exploring the area in which he was staying. It was quickly clear to him that Kings Cross was an adult-entertainment district—something he had been too tired the day before to notice—which made José feel more at home. He realised he may be able to find some criminal types in the area if he was cautious and if he decided he needed the help. That was something that could wait until night, though, because the people he would be looking for wouldn’t be around until then. After filling in some time, he had made his way to Redfern and the university. When he arrived, he realised his clothes wouldn’t allow him to blend in, so he had gone and found a shopping mall to buy some new clothes. By the time he’d returned to the university looking more like a new college student, it was late morning and he was feeling drained and hungry. Once he’d finished a quick snack, he headed to the engineering section of the university. It took him longer than he thought—for reasons he couldn’t work out, even though he had been sure he had been heading south to where he needed to go, he had found himself north of his starting point; but once there, partly hidden beneath a baseball cap, he waited. After what felt like a couple of hours of sitting in the shade, his patience was running out with no sign of his prey. Being still jet-lagged didn’t help, either. He started to wander around the area, twice cautiously approaching a tall, dark-skinned guy only to realise as he got closer that he wasn’t the person he was looking for. He stopped at one point to watch a mixed group of males and females dressed in some sort of sporting gear walk past carrying, amongst other things, a collection of plastic pipes. He frowned while trying to work out what sport they played but then shrugged and moved on. It was soon afterwards José overheard two people—a young man and a young woman—as they walked past. “…need to find him and his friends. Hopefully, that shouldn’t be too hard. I can’t imagine there are too many tall, black Americans on campus. I’d be surprised if there were more than one or two first-year students matching that description.” The young man scowled. “Rick was completely out of line with what he did. If I’d been the American, I would’ve decked him.” “Yeah. Personally, I think he should be kicked out of the club. The rulebook even says that the gender rule for teams is based on the gender identity of the player, so transphobia is a definite no-no when it comes to Quidditch. That girl Rick harassed would make a good addition to the team. She was tall and looked fairly athletic. The American wasn’t bad-looking, either.” The young woman licked her lips. José slipped behind the strolling couple and matched their speed. He started peering around at the buildings around them as if he was sightseeing, but he kept his concentration on the two a few feet in front of him. “Agree about the girl, and I’m not going to touch that comment about the guy with a ten-foot pole. You do remember he said he’s gay?” The young man grimaced. “Okay, so how do we find them? The American may stand out in a crowd, but we’ll still need to be in the right area at the right time.” The young woman grinned. “And that’s where you can thank me later. Yesterday, he’d put his name down on the list of those interested in joining the club. I’ve got his name and contact number. I’ve called for a meeting of the committee tonight to discuss not only what to do about Rick but also how to apologise to the girl he insulted.” “Why don’t we ask if the American and his friends could join us tomorrow for a formal apology? Maybe somewhere in the Wentworth Building? I think I heard Rick say something yesterday about a black American doing engineering, so that wouldn’t be too far away from where he’s likely to be.” “Sounds like a plan. I just hope he won’t hang up when we say who we are.” She shrugged. “All we can do is try.” She scowled. “I’m so going to try to get Rick kicked out. He isn’t a bad player, and he’s certainly enthusiastic, but what he did today was unforgivable.” “Yeah. Okay, if we’ve got a meeting called for tonight, we can also discuss some of the other activities we’ve got organised for this week. I’m not happy about the planned horcrux hunt. Some of the items they’re supposed to find are a little dicey…” When it was clear that they were no longer talking about Mason, José let them wander ahead of him. He pulled out a map of the university and located the Wentworth Building. He smiled as he headed back to his hotel. He now knew where he would be spending the next day. Until then, there was something else José needed to do. It was time for the hunter to buy a hunting knife.
  10. Graeme

    Chapter 14

    As with everywhere, there is quite a range of kids and their attitudes in Australia. David has been taught to respect authority, though he's not totally subservient to that principle. Adam is too aware that the only reason he's not homeless is because of David's parents and is reacting accordingly. Other people have a different attitude.
  11. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    I love that SATW comic, @Timothy M. it certainly epitomizes the attitude some people have to coffee.
  12. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    I don't know what it's like in Europe, but instant coffee has a bad name in the USA. Australian instant coffee isn't that bad, so that was all a play on Mason not wanting to drink instant coffee, and is willing to pay for an espresso machine instead. Now, Australians love expresso coffee, and in Melbourne, in particular, coffee is a very personal thing. Melbourne has a lot of coffee shops with personal barisitas to make coffee for their customers. The big coffee chains aren't as successful there as they are in the USA...
  13. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Thank you! I hope you enjoy the other stories just as much
  14. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    Firstly, my apologies for a lack of response to the comments so far. Unfortunately, work commitments means I'm currently travelling a lot, and my online time (and writing time) is very limited. As @Timothy M. knows too well, I generally don't say anything about what's coming up later in the story. However, since I'm still convinced that Timothy has hacked into my computer and read the upcoming chapters and my notes, everyone feel free to ask him what's going to happen Seriously, though, thank you everyone for what you've said. As for what may or may not happen the next day (Tuesday, story time), while it's the day off for both Kevin and Deon, they'll be at the unit moving in. They won't be near the university.
  15. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    Thanks, @Colortom for answering @Efmaer's question. When Mason was trying to get his parents to buy the unit, they had his planned renters investigated. As part of that investigation, they found out that Daphne's original name was David. Mason's father told him as part of his argument that Kevin was an unreliable renter.
  16. Graeme

    Chapter 16

    Ben shuffled his feet awkwardly while staring at the airport carpark’s concrete floor. It had been a fun two-and-a-half weeks, but it was over. Mason was heading back to Sydney, and while Ben had agreed to join the other Leopards who were going to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney the first Saturday in March, he knew he and Mason couldn’t sustain a long-distance relationship. “Hey, it’s only for a couple of weeks, and then we’ll see each other again.” Mason reached over and cupped the side of Ben’s face. “You’re staying with me that weekend, and we’re going to have a great time.” Ben tensed at the touch but didn’t pull away. He was slowly getting used to public signs of affection, though it helped that there weren’t a lot of people nearby on the second level of the Melbourne Airport short-term car park. “I won’t be marching with the others.” “I know, you’ve said that before.” Mason smiled as he dropped his hand. “The cameras will be on Jim and the others marching in the parade, and you can’t let your family see you with him, especially at the Mardi Gras. That’s why I’ll be staying with you.” “You can march if you want to.” It was a discussion they’d had a few times over the prior week. Ben knew that Mason wanted to celebrate being out, and he had been invited to join the Leopards in the parade. Mason had been initially excited until Ben had said he wouldn’t be there. “I’d rather be with you.” Mason shrugged. “I’m here for four years; I’ll have other chances to march if I want to.” He hesitated before continuing. “But you’ll be with me when we go to the party after the march, right?” Ben screwed up his face. He had been vacillating on that subject ever since Mason had made the suggestion. Mason’s friend Dexter had told him he could organise the tickets, but he needed to know the numbers. In a moment of weakness, Ben had agreed to go but had been having second thoughts ever since. “As long as there’s no pictures, yeah, I’ll be there.” “Hey, don’t stress. If we don’t go, we don’t go. It’s not that important.” “But you’d like to go. And you’ve already bought the tickets!” Mason chuckled. “Don’t worry about that. Anyway, it was the ‘rents who are paying, not me.” He winked. “They just don’t know it yet.” Ben gave Mason a weak smile. “I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” On impulse, he moved closer and gave Mason a quick kiss on the lips. “Don’t miss your flight.” He stepped back and smiled while resisting the urge to look around to see if anyone had reacted to the uncharacteristic action. Mason was the one who normally initiated public displays of affection. Mason’s expression was one of pleasant surprise. “I won’t, and even if I did, I’d just take the next available flight.” “But you’ve still got things to do to get ready for university tomorrow.” Mason shrugged. “There’s not that much to do. And it’s only orientation. My classes don’t start until next week.” He smiled. “You know you don’t have to rush off. You can come in and see me off, if you want. I think I can even get you into the airline lounge.” Ben shook his head. “I need to go.” He screwed up his face. “It’s better if we say goodbye here, with less people around.” “I understand.” Mason held out his arms and edged closer. Ben understood and closed the gap. He didn’t know how long the two of them stood there with their arms wrapped around each other and their heads resting on each other’s shoulder, but it was what Ben needed. He was going to miss Mason. When the two separated, both sets of eyes were moist. It was another few minutes before Mason crossed the covered walkway to the Qantas terminal and Ben returned to his car. Ben sat in the driver’s seat, staring into space for a while before starting the engine. He was already missing his American friend. * * * Mason put his two suitcases next to the collection of boxes in the corner of the living room. Deon and Kevin had been busy buying furniture and were storing it in Clarissa’s and Liam’s unit until they were able to access the new apartment. “Thanks for letting me leave my bags here.” Mason reached into his backpack and pulled out a couple of small boxes. “And here’s something to show my appreciation.” Clarissa frowned as she accepted one of the gifts and Liam the other. “If you’ve spent too much money again…” Mason laughed. “I haven’t. They’re something I picked up yesterday while I was out with Ben and Ollie and Helena.” Liam was the first to open one of the packages. “Chocolates!” He grinned while handing the box to Neil. “Someone else has discovered the chocolate factory near Lilydale.” Mason watched with amusement as Liam and Neil fed each other a couple of pieces of chocolate. He then turned to Clarissa and raised an eyebrow. “Okay, it’s not too expensive.” Her mock-scowl was quickly replaced with a soft smile. “Thank you.” “Is Deon going to get any, or are you going to keep them all for yourself?” She grinned. “He’s in training, hoping to be picked for the opening game of the pre-season on the 7th. While I’m sure he’d love some, I’m going to be the good girlfriend and keep them all for myself. That way he won’t get fat.” Mason grinned back. “Sounds like a noble plan. Deon doesn’t deserve someone as unselfish and considerate as you.” He waved a hand towards the small collection of suitcases in the corner of the unit’s living room. “Are you sure they’re okay to be left there?” “Of course. It’s only for today and tomorrow, until you get the keys to your own unit.” Her brow wrinkled. “When are you checking out of your rental?” “Not for a couple of weeks.” She blinked. “Why not?” Mason grinned. “Because it’s going to be used. There are a number of people flying up on the 7th of March for the Mardi Gras parade, and they’re going to need a place to stay. Since the lease doesn’t expire until the 12th, I thought someone should get some use out of it, so I’ve sublet it out to some of the Leopards.” “Sublet?” “Yeah, at an exorbitant rate, too, since most accommodation has already gone for either the Mardi Gras or this World Cup Cricket thing that’s happening.” Mason winked. “Everyone staying has to pay me with a box of chocolates from the chocolate factory. I figure that’ll keep me going until I get a chance to go back to Melbourne and get some more of my own.” Clarissa laughed. “Sounds like a plan. Now, do you want to hear what the charge is going to be to leave you luggage here overnight?” “Another box of chocolates?” Mason asked tentatively, hoping she wasn’t going to be a hardnosed negotiator. She cocked her head. “Two boxes, payable after you’ve been paid.” “Done!” Liam and Neil glanced over towards them. “What’s done?” “Nothing for you two to worry about,” Clarissa said, giving Mason a quick grin. “Mason and I are just making some future plans.” Mason settled back into the sofa. He was surprised to find he had missed Clarissa while she had been in Sydney and he in Melbourne. He wouldn’t have wanted to cut his time with Ben short to return early, but she was a good antidote for the melancholy he had felt on the flight back to Sydney. Liam frowned, then shrugged. “Mason, while I remember, unless you’ve got plans, you’re welcome to stay the night here, and we can all go into uni together tomorrow morning.” He grinned. “Deon, Kevin, and Daphne will be coming for dinner, so one more isn’t going to be a problem.” Mason thought quickly. He had considered going to the Sportsman Bar to see Dexter, but that had only been a half-hearted idea. Seeing Dexter so soon after leaving Ben felt wrong to him. “Thanks, I’d like that, as long as I don’t have to share a bed with Clarissa.” He grinned at her. “No offense intended.” She rolled her eyes. “You get the sofa bed. Or at least you were. I’m thinking the kitchen floor may be better for you.” “The sofa’s fine!” Mason’s grin slipped away. “Can I have a quick word? In private?” She frowned. “Okaaay.” She stretched out the one-word response. “We can talk outside.” A minute later, the two of them were standing outside the front of hers and Liam’s unit. She crossed her arms. “What is this about?” “Deon. I wanted to ask how he’s coping, but I don’t know who knows what. I didn’t want to say anything in front of Liam, just in case he didn’t know.” “Liam knows that it wasn’t Deon who testified at the trial. Neil told him when he returned from Melbourne. Deon’s also told Kevin and Daphne, so everyone who will be here tonight knows the truth. But not everyone’s been told that Deon’s been covering for Dave.” “Yeah, I heard that from the Leopards over the last couple of weeks. The media speculation has died down, but while it was going strong, it was all on Deon.” Mason smiled. “Thanks. That’s all I wanted to ask you. I just didn’t want to say something that I wasn’t supposed to.” Mason was still surprised at how the press hadn’t reported either Deon’s or Dave’s name. The social-media sites had no such restraint with respect to Deon, but the newspaper and TV stations had kept the identity of the person who had testified in the trial a secret. Even when the final verdict of guilty was announced, no victim names were mentioned. * * * “When’s your sister moving to Melbourne?” Oliver asked Ben. “Next weekend. She finished up her two-week notice at her work on Friday, and Andrew is taking this week off to go up to Sydney to help her move.” Ben grimaced. “Mum and Dad will be driving down, too, to help them settle in.” “Did you want to invite any of them here for dinner one night?” “No!” Ben shuddered at the thought of his parents meeting Ross and potentially discovering that he had a gay housemate. Oliver raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that going to make them suspicious?” “I’ll go out for dinner with them. That should satisfy my parents.” He sighed and looked away. “I’ll tell my sister the truth after they’ve returned to Sydney.” “They’re going to find out sooner or later. Wouldn’t it be better for it to be when you can talk to them face to face?” “Definitely not! The further away I am from them, the better.” Ben sighed. “My dad isn’t normally violent, but I’ve seen him lose his temper twice, and both times were to do with gays. I don’t want to be anywhere near him when he learns he’s got a gay son.” “Maybe it won’t be that bad.” “Maybe, but maybe it’ll be worse.” Ben turned back to look at Oliver. “I’m pretty sure Andrew will be okay, and I think Eve will be, too, but my parents…” He shook his head. “I’ll have to meet them at some stage after they know the truth, but the more time they have to think and not just react, the better.” Ben had at one point contemplated telling his parents while he was in Sydney for the Mardi Gras since he’d have both Mason and a lot of his teammates with him for support, but he had decided against it. That weekend was going to be the last time he’d be able to be with Mason, and he didn’t want to ruin it by having a confrontation with his mum and dad. * * * “Are you excited about moving into your own place on Tuesday?” Daphne asked. Kevin took his eyes off the road for a moment so he could grin at his girlfriend. “Yeah, definitely. I’ve enjoyed staying with the Wembleys for the last year and a bit, but it’s time I had my own space.” He reached over and patted her on the leg. “Somewhere we can spend time together.” Daphne’s smile faltered. “They’re going to find out.” She didn’t indicate who she was talking about, but she knew Kevin would understand. “We both know that’s going to happen sooner or later, but this is your life. You don’t have to say anything until you’re ready.” Daphne turned to stare out the car window. “I know, and I should tell them, but it’s hard. I lost friends at school because they couldn’t accept me. What if Deon or Mason are the same? What if they don’t let me stay with you?” Kevin sighed. “I understand.” He grimaced. “Okay, I really don’t, because I can’t imagine what it’s like, but I’m here for you. I think everyone will be fine—Mason’s gay, and Deon’s dad is gay, so they both should understand about being different—but I appreciate we just don’t know.” “Gay’s acceptable. Transgender, on the other hand…” “Then, if it comes to that, I’ll move out.” Kevin made a face. “I’d need to find somewhere quickly, but if I have to so we can stay together, I will.” “My brother or sister would put you up for a time.” Daphne dropped her head. “My parents may let you stay with them, too, but I’m not sure on that one.” “Hey, cheer up! We’re talking worst-case scenario here. I’m confident that both Mason and Deon will be fine, as will Liam, Neil, and Clarissa. They’re all good people.” “I know, but…” When Kevin didn’t respond, Daphne sighed. “I knew some people at school would react badly when I started going to school in a dress, but I thought Rick would be okay. He was my best friend, but he turned on me so fast…” Daphne pulled out a handkerchief and started to dab at her eyes as the memories started to flood back. “You’ve mentioned him before. Rick Stratton, wasn’t it?” Kevin scowled. “He’s the reason you deferred your university course for a year.” “Yeah…” Daphne closed her eyes. “He bullied me right through high school, ever since I asked everyone to call me Daphne. He, and some of my other former friends, refused. He never did it in front of a teacher, but he’d only ever call me David or, more often, ‘The Freak.’” “And he’s a student at Sydney Uni.” Kevin’s tone was gentle. She sighed. “Being a year behind, now, means there’s less chance of running into him.” She lowered her voice. “I hope.” “If you do and he causes problems, text me. Most of the time, I’m only going to be ten or fifteen minutes away. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Kevin reached out again, though this time he left his hand on her knee. “The club knows the situation, or at least a few senior people do. If I have to run out on training or anything else going on, they’ll understand. I can’t abuse it, but I’ve got a free pass to disappear at short notice if needed.” “Maybe if I told the others…” Daphne didn’t want to tell people, but one of the reasons she wanted Clarissa, Liam, Neil as friends was because they’d also be at the university. She was hoping they would be better friends than the ones she’d had at high school. “That’s up to you. I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, Daphne. You know that.” She did. She didn’t understand how a handsome young AFL player could be attracted to someone like her, but he was, and she wasn’t going to question her luck. * * * Mason lifted his wine glass. “To tomorrow, the first day of school and finally getting the key to the unit.” The others around the dining room table all echoed Mason’s toast. As Deon put his wine glass down—Mason found it odd to see the two football players drinking water from a wine glass, but he understood that both were in training—his brow wrinkled. “You know that Kevin and I will be moving in on Tuesday, not tomorrow, right?” “Yeah, I know. That’s your day off.” Mason grinned. “That works out well since I’m planning on getting the unit cleaned from top to bottom on Monday.” Neil frowned. “You’re not going to uni that day? It’s the first day of orientation.” “Did you think that I’m going to do the cleaning?” Mason chuckled. “My dad’s agent will be picking up the key in the morning, and he’s arranged for a cleaning company to come in and mop out the place ready for Tuesday.” Mason shrugged. “I’d thought about moving in immediately, but one more night in my rented apartment isn’t going to kill me.” “How are you going to get us a key so we can move in?” Kevin asked. “My dad’s agent will get two copies cut and will drop them off in Clarissa’s and Liam’s letter box.” Mason smiled. “You’ll be able to start work first thing in the morning, and I’m expecting you will have shifted all your stuff”—Mason indicated the pile of boxes in the living room—“by the time we’ve returned that night.” “That’s the plan.” Deon and Kevin exchanged grins before Deon continued. “We’ve enlisted some help from our teammates to help with the move. We’ve both got boxes of clothes and other things at our host families that will need to be moved, too.” Kevin nodded. “We want everything done on Tuesday so we don’t have to worry about it after that. There’s so much work to be done to get ready for the season, and we can’t afford too many distractions.” “Speaking of distractions, Deon, I was wondering…that is, after you returned from Melbourne…” Mason grimaced while trying to work out how to say what he wanted. Deon chuckled. “Are you talking about the fallout from the trial?” His expression sobered almost immediately. “I’ve been telling everyone I don’t want to talk about it. I’ve also told a handful of people—in private—not to believe what they read. I think they’ve taken the hint.” Kevin made a face. “You have no idea how relieved I was when he told me it wasn’t him.” He glanced at Daphne and then turned to Mason. “I can appreciate that there are some things that are personal and don’t need to be shared, but I’m glad Deon told me as much as he has. He said that you know the truth because you were there at the courthouse, but I’m not going to pry. I’m just glad it wasn’t him.” There was quiet around the table, broken only by the sound of cutlery on plates. Neil was the one to finally break the silence. He smiled at Mason. “I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time with one of the new Leopards.” Mason grinned. “I have. Who told you?” Neil laughed. “Who hasn’t told me? Ollie was the first, but Todd and the brat weren’t far behind. Roscoe also mentioned it, as did Roger.” Mason frowned. “Todd and Roger?” Deon chuckled. “You can’t miss either one of them. They’re two of the three biggest guys on the team. Neil lived with Todd for most of last year, and Roger’s the team captain.” “Okay, thanks, for the info.” Mason shrugged. “I’ll admit that I didn’t mind looking at the other Leopards, but I was only really interested in one guy. I spent most of my time with him and didn’t spend much time talking to the other guys.” Clarissa’s brow wrinkled. “Okay, first things first.” She jabbed a finger at Mason. “Who are you talking about, and”—she glared at Neil—“how come you’ve been talking to so many of the Leopards?” Neil shrugged. “They want to make sure I’m doing okay here in Sydney, and they’ve been keeping in touch.” His eyes seemed to almost glow from reflected moisture. “Remember, for most of last year they were the only family I had.” Liam immediately reached over, put an arm around his boyfriend and whispered something in his ear. Neil gave Liam a faint smile and then a quick kiss on the lips. He glanced around the table, blushed, and dropped his gaze to the food in front of him. Mason knew that Neil didn’t want to be the centre of attention, so he coughed loudly and gave Clarissa a mock glare. “The guy I’ve been seeing isn’t out. His family is extremely homophobic, and he doesn’t want to risk it.” Mason saw Neil shudder and quickly continued. “As Kevin said earlier, some things don’t need to be shared”—he couldn’t stop himself from glancing at Daphne—“but I trust everyone here. Ben’s one of the new Leopards, and we’ve been spending most of the last three weeks together.” He grinned at Clarissa. “You’ll probably also appreciate that I saved a lot of the ‘rents money by moving in with him soon after you flew back here to Sydney. See, I’m not always a spendthrift!” She gave an exaggerated roll of the eyes. “One time saving money doesn’t establish a trend. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do to convince me.” “Well, in that case, it won’t take long.” Mason gave her a sheepish grin. “The ‘rents have told that from tomorrow my Amex card is for emergencies only. And if my new coffee machine breaks down, they’ve said that’s not an emergency.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes. “What new coffee machine?” “The one back at the apartment I’m renting. I had it delivered while I was in Melbourne.” He pasted on a look of innocence that he knew fooled no one. “Surely, you don’t expect me to drink instant coffee in the morning? I have to maintain some standards while I’m living here.” Kevin grinned. “What sort of coffee machine did you get? An espresso maker?” Mason nodded. “There weren’t many choices in what types I could get. The kind I’m used to at home isn’t as common here, so I went with what’s popular.” He smirked at Clarissa. “And the fact that espresso machines were more expensive had absolutely nothing to do with it.” “Yeah, right.” Clarissa couldn’t keep the scowl on her face. “I’d like a weak latte first thing in the morning. I’ll leave you to organise it.” “Easily done.” Mason grinned at Deon. “I believe you’ve now got an early-morning delivery to make once you’ve moved in.” Deon chuckled. “I’m not sure about every morning, but if you don’t mind me using your coffee maker, I’m happy to take a cup to Clarissa when I can.” “Our coffee maker. It’s yours and Kevin’s, too.” Mason smiled at Neil and Liam. “Visitors are also welcome, as long as you’re not showing up at the crack of dawn.” “Thanks!” Liam grinned. “That’ll be fantastic, but let us know if we start to abuse the privilege.” “Sure, but I doubt that will happen.” Mason gave what he hoped was a comforting smile to Daphne. “And, of course, you’re welcome at any time.” He raised an eyebrow. “I presume we’ll be seeing a lot of you, too. You know I’m more than happy for you to move in, if you want. That’s why Kevin’s getting the master bedroom.” Daphne and Kevin looked at each other before Daphne dropped her head. Kevin sighed and then turned to Mason. “We’re still discussing that. I hope it won’t be long, but we haven’t made any decision.” Mason nodded his acceptance. “Just so you know, I’d love it if Daphne joined us. I want people around me who are my friends no matter what, even though I’m black, gay, and…” he lowered his voice and glanced around in a conspiratorial manner, “…the son of a politician.” He winked at Daphne. “I’ve seen too much discrimination in my time to want to see any more. It’s one of things I like about Australia; the people I’ve met have been much more accepting and tolerant than I expected. It’s almost enough to make me want to become an Australian.” The others laughed, but Mason kept a discreet eye on Daphne. He hoped he’d successfully passed on the message that he would accept her, no matter what. Knowing she was transgender wasn’t an issue for him. * * * “Next!” José nervously approached the Australian Customs and Border Protection official. He was tired after the long flight, still mildly disconcerted that somehow he had lost a Sunday and it was now Monday morning, and worried that something was going to go wrong. “Passport and passenger card, please.” “Sorry.” José handed over the requested documents while mentally reminding himself of the name on the passport. He’d been using that passport to travel to and from Mexico, so it wasn’t unfamiliar, but normally he wasn’t doing so while tired. He had tried his best to sleep on the plane, but he hadn’t succeeded. The customs official held up the passport with the photo page showing and glanced from the image to José and back again. “What are your plans while you’re here in Australia?” “Sightseeing. I came into some money recently, and I always wanted to visit Australia, so…” José let his voice trail off as he realised he was rambling. He’d concocted a story about a recently deceased uncle if he was questioned, but he hadn’t intended to say anything more than necessary. The story was just in case he needed to explain what he was doing in Sydney. The official frowned at his computer screen and then wrote something on the incoming passenger card. He then handed both back to José. “Next!” José moved down the aisle next to the customs desk and joined the throng of passengers in the baggage-carousel area. He watched anxiously as a female uniformed officer escorted a beagle through the crowd. He wasn’t carrying any drugs, but he was concerned that the drug dog may detect his previous exposure. José let out a soft sigh of relief when the beagle passed him by with scarcely a sniff. While he waited for his luggage to appear on the carousel, José checked to see what the customs official had written on his incoming passenger card. There was a vertical line through all the various declarations José had made, such as not have large amounts of alcohol or tobacco, not carrying goods for business, not bringing in any plant or animal material, hadn’t been on a farm recently, and hadn’t been in Central or South America, Africa or the Caribbean in the last six days. The only other thing he saw was some sort of scribble he couldn’t decipher. Putting the card back in his jacket pocket, José glanced around at the waiting crowd. While the majority he saw were Caucasian, there were enough others with a darker skin tone that he didn’t stand out. It was several long minutes before his bag finally arrived. The old, battered suitcase was one that Pedro had given him since he had none of his own and didn’t want to buy one for just this one trip. In it were several changes of clothes, a map of Sydney, and a small amount of money. Most of the cash he brought with him was in a flat bag concealed under his clothes. He also had a pre-filled debit card in the same name as his passport. Joining the line that was passing through a second layer of security, José trudged along slowly. While he had been told on the plane what to expect, the idea of a second check for quarantine purposes still felt strange to him. He wasn’t concerned, though, because he wasn’t carrying anything that would cause problems. When he finally reached the front of the line, he tried to give the lady official his passport and immigration card. “Just the card.” She glanced at incoming passenger card and then pointed. “Follow that line and wait for someone to serve you.” José frowned as he followed her directions. Most of the passengers were going a different way, following a green line. He wasn’t the only one heading in his direction, though, so while he was concerned, he tried to stay calm. It wasn’t long before he was standing on the other side of a low table from another border-protection officer. José’s suitcase was on the table between them. “Is this your bag?” When José indicated it was, and, after a follow-up question, that he had packed it himself, the officer smiled. “We’re doing a random baggage check. Are you okay with us opening your bag and checking the contents?” José wasn’t sure how random the random baggage check was, but he knew he didn’t have anything in the suitcase that could get him into trouble. “Go ahead.” The officer proceeded to open the suitcase and carefully check the contents. As he did, he asked José about his plans while he was in Australia. When José mentioned seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the officer smiled. “If you get a chance, try the bridge climb. It’s a fantastic experience, with some spectacular souvenir photos as a bonus.” “Sounds like a good idea.” José really didn’t care, but the Australian seemed friendly. He relaxed, thinking it truly was a random check. That changed when the officer pulled out a short wand with a white cloth on the end. José knew what that was, and he was immediately worried. “I’m just going to take a swab and check for illegal substances. It won’t take long.” He started to fidget while waiting for the officer to return. Jose knew he wasn’t bringing in any drugs, but had Pedro secreted something in the case before he had given it to José? It wasn’t long before he had his answer. “I regret to inform you that the analysis of the swab reported traces of both heroin and cocaine. Can you explain why that may be?” * * * Liam looked around at the university buildings and the scattered clusters of other new students. “Okay, where do we start?” “Mason and I have an engineering orientation session in thirty minutes, so that’s where I’m going,” Neil said. “And later, I want to check out extracurricular clubs and teams.” Mason grinned. “I promised my best friend, Jeremy, that I’d check out the Quidditch team. If it looks like fun, I may join, though I’m more interested in the pick-up basketball club.” Liam grimaced. “My orientation session is not for a couple of hours. I’ll probably have to catch up with you guys at lunchtime.” He turned to where Clarissa and Daphne were talking quietly. “What about you two?” “Our mandatory orientation sessions are this afternoon,” Clarissa said. “We’re just going to wander around and check out what’s going on.” “Shall we meet back here at twelve-thirty, then?” Liam asked. It was quickly agreed. Liam headed off with Clarissa and Daphne, while Mason and Neil headed towards the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies. “Do you and Liam have any plans for tonight?” Mason asked as they strolled along the university pathways. “Not that I know of. Why?” Mason grinned. “I’m planning on ordering pizza and having dinner in the new unit even if there’s currently no furniture, but I would prefer to have some company if I’m going to do that.” He shrugged. “I was going to spend the night back at my current apartment, but I’m thinking of getting a mattress of some kind and sleeping in the new place, instead.” “Sounds like fun.” Neil smiled back. “I’ll check with Liam later, but I think the answer will be yes to pizza.” “Good. In that case, I’ll text Deon and Kevin, too, in case they want to join us. We can ask Clarissa, Daphne, and Liam when we see them at lunch.” The two guys sat through the general-engineering orientation lecture, with Mason recording sections on his phone and Neil typing up notes on his laptop. From Mason’s perspective, it was an important but boring information session. It helped clarify a few points he had wondered about, but most of it was reinforcing details from the course handbook. Mason checked his phone as they left the engineering building. “We’ve got a bit of time before we meet the others. How about we wander through the area where the extracurricular booths are set up so we can check them out?” “Sounds good to me.” There was something about Neil’s tone that didn’t feel right to Mason. “Are you okay?” Neil gave him a half smile. “Just realising how much work this course is going to be. I’m not sure how much spare time I’m going to have once classes start. There’s a lot of material to get my head around.” Mason draped an arm across Neil’s shoulders. “Hey, it’ll be fine. We’ll have a few classes in common, and even when we don’t, there should be some overlap in what we’re studying. We can work together to make sure we both understand what they’re talking about. But I’m going to need to have a word with Liam.” Neil frowned. “Why?” “Because a social life is important, too. It sounds like you’re planning on spending all your time studying. You don’t want to neglect your boyfriend, and you certainly don’t want to neglect your friends.’ Mason grinned. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to Liam, and between us we’ll make sure you have enough breaks from schoolwork to maintain your sanity.” Neil chuckled. “Liam’s already told me I’m not allowed to work all the time. He said I need at least one day a week off, preferably two, unless there are urgent assignments due.” “He’s smart. Listen to him.” Mason sighed as he thought about how he wanted a relationship like Neil’s and Liam’s. Liam was the more dominant of the two, but Neil was strong in his own way. Mason wanted someone to love and care for him like Liam and Neil did for each other. Neil pulled out his phone. “I’ll send him a text to let him know where we’re going, though I think his orientation session is starting soon.” He glanced at Mason. “Quidditch, wasn’t it?” “We’ll start there, but we’ll have a look around to see what else is available.” A few minutes later, the two were standing in front of the small table where the University of Sydney Quidditch Club had their presentation, listening to the spiel from one of the members. “…but you don’t have to play in the state league if you don’t want to. We also cater for those who just want to play casually—or even just treat it as a social club. We regularly schedule social events like trivia competitions, movie nights, Hogsmeade visits—what the uninformed call pub crawls; they’re very popular—and lots of other events. Quidditch is a mixed-team sport, so we have lots of girls in our club, too.” He winked. Mason chuckled. “There’s nothing wrong with girls, but I’m gay. Is that going to be a problem?” The guy shrugged. “Not with me. That just means one less guy I have to worry about moving in on the girl I’m chasing at the time.” He raised an eyebrow. “Are you interested in joining?” “A little, but I’m not sure it’s the sport for me. I don’t have to sign up now, do I?” “Take your time. We’re going to have an exhibition match tomorrow lunchtime if you want to see what the game looks like. Just leave us your number and we’ll text you the details.” “Okay, I’ll do that.” Mason turned to Neil. “What about you?” Neil shrugged. “If I’m going to play a sport, I’d prefer to pick one that Liam will want to play. I’m not sure if he’ll be interested in Quidditch.” Mason chuckled. “You never know. We can ask the girls, too, since they have mixed teams.” He turned back to the club member they had been listening to. “Thanks for your time. It sounds interesting, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a game.” “You won’t be disappointed.” The guy wrote a number on the back of a piece of paper. “Here’s the club contact details, along with my number. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to call or text me. It’s a great club, both from a sporting and social point of view. It’s well worth joining.” “Thanks. I look forward to seeing that game tomorrow.” Mason held out his hand. “I’m Mason, by the way, and this is Neil.” “Pleased to meet you both. I’m Rick, Rick Stratton. I hope to see you both again tomorrow lunchtime, if not before.” * * * José finally stepped out into the Sydney morning sunshine and took a deep breath. There was something about the air that felt strange to him, but that wasn’t the only weird thing going on. It had taken almost two hours, but after the Australian border-protection personnel had searched and X-rayed not only his suitcase but also his carry-on bag, they let him enter the country. José wasn’t sure they believed his tale that one of the people he had been living with was involved with drugs and maybe that’s how the traces ended up on the suitcase, but since they couldn’t find any sign of drugs in his possession, he was allowed to go. José had been expecting them to ship him back to Los Angeles, but that didn’t happen. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the Australian officers. They were always polite but firm and asked his permission before each of the searches. He knew he could’ve refused any one of them, but doing so would’ve meant returning home. Even the two male officers who conducted the strip search were professional. He had been concerned when they found the money he was carrying under his clothes, but after they confirmed he wasn’t carrying more than the legal limit, they simply handed it back without comment or question. José took another deep breath. He was tired, stressed, and generally feeling rundown. He had originally intended to rent a car and drive to the cheap hotel he had booked, but after the dual ordeals of a sleepless long flight and interrogation by the Australian officers, he just wanted to check into his hotel and fall asleep. He stripped off his jacket—it was already much warmer than when he had left Los Angeles—and looked around for a taxi. It didn’t take him long to find one and give the driver the name and address of his hotel. He rested his head on the back of the seat and closed his eyes. He was finally in Australia. He knew he should start work straight away, but he was exhausted. Tomorrow would be early enough to try to find, and then kill, Mason.
  17. The latest novel in the Lilydale Leopards series has started to be posted. I will be posting a chapter every two weeks until I'm far enough ahead that I can switch to posting a chapter a week. Enjoy!
  18. There's an error in the chapter that will be posting later today. The cut-and-paste from my original document messed up at one point near the end, but I didn't spot it until after I had teh chapter scheduled for posting. As the last time Itried to fix a chapter before it posts resulted in it not appearing in the latest chapter list, I'm going to wait until it publishes before I correct it. That should be within the first hour of it posting, but this is to let anyone who reads it before then know about the problem. You'll only be missing a few words and if you come back later, you'll see that it'll be fixed. EDIT TO ADD Fixed!!!
  19. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Yes, long distance relationships are hard work, but Melbourne and Sydney are only an hour apart from plane, and Mason has access to enough money to make the trip regularly. The main issue will be finding the time...
  20. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Thanks, @impunity and @CscottyCA. Australia is very much a multicultural society. Historically, when a new cultural group arrives, they tend to stick together and live in the same general area as others from the same cultural group. After a generation or two, the children of those cultures are more integrated into the rest of the Australian community, but the legacy can still live on. For example, there is a part of Melbourne that's well known for it's Italian community, even if the area is no longer considered to be Italian. Currently, the recent ethnic groups that haven't fully integrated yet are those from the war-torn areas of Africa and the Middle East. Warwick was being polite when he used the phrase 'ethnic youths' to indicate that the group that attacked him and his friend were from one of those groups. He didn't say what nationality the youths were from, but given the location, they were most likely to be from the Middle East. The African-born population is more to the south, around Bankstown. Regarding being a black American, Mason hasn't experienced any real racism in Australia yet, and his initial impressions is that the colour of a person's skin isn't a big factor. That's true in the areas that Mason has been in so far, but he may learn that's not universally true at some point depending on where he goes. Australia doesn't have the same history with respect to African-born people as the USA, but it does have a history of racial abuse towards Australian Aborigines. However, there are distinct differences in facial features between people of African descent and Australian Aboriginies. As such, most people who may harbour prejudice against Australian Aborigines will quickly realise that Mason is not an aborigine. Whether they still hold a prejudice after realising that is up to the individual.
  21. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Ah...okay. You should know me by know that I don't give everything away. Clarissa has reminded Ty of something. Given the history between Ty and Karen, there are many possible events that he could be remembering at that time. I'm not going to try to decide which it could be Karen is a strong person in her own right, and Ty knows that. Looking after her is something that takes tact, because he knows that he can't stomp on her own independence in the process (remember the incident where he tried to pay for lunch over her objections, back in Leopard Spots? He almost lost her when he did that).
  22. Graeme

    Chapter 14

    @Timothy M. When a mother thinks her child has been threatened, she's not always going to stop and think. Mandy tolerates Sam, but she hasn't reconciled with him. She accepts Deon's relationship with her ex-husband, but when someone tells her that something bad has happened to Deon, she doesn't immediately reject the idea that Sam was involved. It's sad, but true. Mason didn't tell his father the truth for the same reason everyone else is staying silent: to protect Dave. He knows who the real victim was, but it's not his place to tell others. Mason's relationship with his father (and to a lesser extent, his mother) is still on rocky grounds. He doesn't know the truth, so Mason doesn't know his father is trying to protect him. As is too common, a lack of communication is causing problems in their relationship. As for Jordan, who thinks that what the other teenager said to Jordan is acceptable? Teenage boys are not noted for being pinnacles of virtue, and Richie is a good example of that. We don't know Richie's relationship to Jordan, but I think it's fair to say that he's probably not one of Jordan's closest friends. A teenager, probably 15 or 16 years of age, said something to Jordan, and Jordan reacted. Why did Richie say what he said? Who knows, but it may be a teenager trying his best to look 'cool'... Teenage males are not the best example of calm and rational behaviour, after all.
  23. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Hi, @Timothy M. I will reply to your post on chapter 14, but I need a little more time to think about it Okay, regarding Ollie...if he grew up, would he still be the same Ollie? Some people simply never grow up, and Ollie is one of those people. He's loving and affectionate, but being serious is difficult for him. Deon is currently in the 'minor celebrity' category. People know of him. but given the circumtances of his celebrity status, more people will be reluctant to approach him. As for other real-world events, there are few that I've ignored. The Lindt siege in December where two people died (one of which was the gay manager) is one of those events. The Charlie Hedbo shooting is another. I'm sorry, but there is only so much I can include. Regarding why Ty wasn't there to see Deon and Clarissa fly back to Sydney, the simplest explanation is that he has work commitments that prevented him from doing so. He's got a full time job, after all, even if he's got the support of Paddy, he can't do whatever he wants. He'll push the boundaries when it's important, but he's going to see Deon and Clarissa again in March. He probably decided it wasn't worth annoying his club by skipping training and other club activities, just to see them off.
  24. Graeme

    Chapter 15

    Mason gave an appreciative sniff as he and Ben entered the kitchen with its aroma of fresh pancakes mixed with cooked bacon. “Sleep well?” Oliver smirked at Ben and Mason. “Breakfast will be ready shortly. I’m sure you guys will need to regain some energy after your late-night workout.” “Ollie!” Ben blushed. Mason chuckled, though he felt his face warming, too. “I’m surprised you heard anything. You seemed to be having a late-night workout, too.” Oliver shrugged. “Part of my regular fitness routine.” A grin appeared as he glanced past the two guys. “Isn’t that right?” Mason turned to see a damp-haired Helena wearing an oversized T-shirt as a nightgown. She smiled as she headed towards the kitchen table. “Ollie is religious when it comes to his cardio program. He never misses an opportunity to work hard.” She turned to Oliver. “Don’t forget, I have to be at the office early today. I’ve got a pile of stuff on my desk that I need to process.” Oliver waved a hand in acknowledgement. “It’s just the four of us today, so it won’t be long. Roscoe spent the night with Warwick, and Charlie’s sleeping in.” He rolled his eyes. “The life of the lazy uni student when classes haven’t started.” Mason chuckled. He understood why Charlie would still be in bed. “What do you do for a living?” he asked Helena. “Secretary at a shipping company.” She grinned. “A glorified clerk, but it pays the bills, and it’ll look good on my résumé.” “As long as you enjoy the job, I don’t think it really matters what you do.” Mason looked over his shoulder at Oliver. “Do you need any help?” “No, I’m fine. Why don’t you and Ben sit down and make yourselves comfortable.” Oliver smirked. “Assuming you can, of course.” “Ollie!” Ben’s blush deepened. Mason chuckled as he seated himself. “No offense intended, but I don’t think we should be discussing the details of Ben’s sex life at the kitchen table.” “Sorry, Ben. I’ll try to keep Ollie under control.” Helena reached over and patted Ben’s hand. “If he steps out of line, let me know and I’ll deal with him.” Oliver grinned as he placed a tray of pancakes on the table. “You know, Ben, that’s just going to make things worse. I happen to like it when Helena deals with me…” He winked and smirked. That changed to a look of surprise as he jumped on the spot and rubbed his bum. “Hey!” “Play nice, Ollie.” Helena’s firm tone, however, was spoiled by the way she licked her lips afterwards. Ben snatched a pancake and made a show of concentrating on his food. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone. While Oliver returned to collect the bacon from the oven, Helena raised an eyebrow at Mason. “What are your plans for the day?” Mason shrugged. “I’ve got nothing scheduled. Ben’s off to work, too, so I thought I’d wander around and see what’s happening here in Lilydale.” Oliver paused with the oven door open. “I’m off to the club for a workout. You’re free to join me. Don’t worry about gear; we’ll find something to fit you.” He grinned as he returned his attention back to getting breakfast ready. “You can do Lilydale later. It won’t take you long.” “Sounds like a plan.” Mason knew that most of Ben’s teammates were straight, but he wouldn’t mind the additional eye candy he’d see if any of them besides Oliver were also working out. Helena caught his eye. “We can’t discuss Ben’s sex life, but what about yours?” Mason laughed. “There’s not much to talk about. I’ve only been in the country for three weeks, I’ve met a few guys, and that’s about it.” “Anyone special?” Mason wasn’t sure how to answer that question, especially in front of Ben. He silently decided against mentioning Dexter. “There’s someone who’s got potential, but there are complications. For starters, he doesn’t live in Sydney.” Helena winced. “Yeah, long-distance relationships can be a struggle. I’ve got a cousin who’s in one, but I can see the toll it takes on her.” Her eyes flicked to Ben before returning to Mason. “If you need any advice, feel free to ask. I can always talk to her and see what she says.” Ben chuckled and smiled at Helena. His face was still red, but he didn’t look as embarrassed as he had moments before. “I’m surprised you don’t have a cousin in Sydney for him to date. You seem to have cousins for everything else.” She frowned, but it seemed to Mason to be one of contemplation, rather than annoyance. “I think Con is still seeing someone, but I’ll check. I’m not sure he’d be a good match for Mason, though, since he prefers pretty boys.” “Hey!” Mason pouted as he played along with what was being proposed. There was also the possibility that Helena’s cousin may be someone he’d like to date. “Are you saying I’m not pretty?” “You’re handsome, Mason, not pretty.” Helena cocked her head. “Though with a bit of makeup and the right clothes…” Mason held up both hands. “Hey, I don’t need a makeover. I’m happy with the way I look.” Ben chuckled. “Now you know how I feel at times.” He gave Helena a soft smile. “We all appreciate how helpful you want to be, but some of us would like to find our own partners.” Mason couldn’t help but notice that Ben’s eyes flicked towards him for a moment. He hoped that meant he and Ben had similar feelings, but he didn’t know how to deal with the tyranny of distance between Melbourne and Sydney. The flying time wasn’t bad, but his father had made it clear that once he moved into the apartment, he would be responsible for most of his own expenses. Travelling each weekend was going to be out of the question. His American Express card would still be available for emergencies, but he doubted his parents would consider visiting a boyfriend to fall into that category. Oliver put the bacon in the middle of the table. “Well, you’re not going to find anyone if you’re starving, so eat up.” He gave Helena a quick kiss. “If you eat quickly, there may be a special treat at the end before you have to leave for work.” Ben rolled his eyes, Helena giggled, and Mason grinned. Mason caught Ben’s eye and raised an eyebrow. Ben froze for a moment then turned his attention to his food. Mason was disappointed at the silent offer not being accepted, but that faded when Ben flicked him a shy smile in between mouthfuls of food. Mason grinned as he concentrated on his own breakfast. There appeared to be a chance of a special treat for him, too. * * * Deon sighed. “Time to go back to work.” He stared at the entrance to the Virgin Australia terminal before turning to Ty. “Thanks for the ride, brat. If neither of us gets to travel beforehand, we’ll see you the weekend of the Mardi Gras.” He stepped forward and gave his friend and former teammate a quick hug. “Given the amount of training both of us have to do, I doubt either of us will be flying anywhere before then, so see you in March.” Ty smiled at Clarissa. “It was good to see you, too. Karen said to remind you to keep in touch.” Clarissa rolled her eyes before grinning and giving Ty a hug of her own. “Karen knows I will. My turn to remind you to look after her.” “I always do.” Ty stepped back as a flicker of some unidentified emotion crossed his face. He jabbed a finger in Deon’s direction. “Get going, and don’t forget that when your contract’s up for renewal, you’re going to ask for a transfer to Carlton.” Deon chuckled. “What makes you think I’m going to do that? I was going to suggest Dad transfers to GWS, instead. If you want to come up and play with the big boys, you can ask, too, but I’m not sure we’ll want you.” Ty painted a mock scowl on his face. “Being in Sydney has affected your mind. You don’t know what you’re talking about anymore.” He smiled at Clarissa. “Try to keep in him under control if you can. I know I’m asking a lot, but…” She chuckled as she wrapped an arm around Deon’s waist. “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” Ty’s brow wrinkled. “You know, I think Karen said something similar once about me.” He shrugged. “I’m not complaining.” Deon laughed. “Neither am I.” He leant over and gave Clarissa a quick kiss. “Okay, enough of that. You both have planes to catch, and I need to go back and start training.” Ty didn’t move for a couple of seconds and then stepped forward and gave, first, Deon and then Clarissa another hug. “Take care and have a safe trip home.” A few minutes later, Ty had driven off and Deon was checked into his flight. He and Clarissa then started the short walk through the International Terminal towards the Qantas Terminal. “I really wish we were travelling together,” Deon said as he rolled Clarissa’s suitcase behind him. “We could’ve, but that would’ve meant giving up the business-class seat that Mason bought for me.” Clarissa chuckled. “I keep telling him to stop wasting money, but I have to say it was a really comfortable trip down, and I don’t want to miss out on the same on my way back.” “If he wasn’t gay, I might be getting jealous.” Deon smiled across at his girlfriend. “He’s incredibly generous.” “Too generous.” Clarissa scowled for a moment and then sighed. “I hope he’s going to be okay. He told me to go, but I’m worried he’s staying in Melbourne without knowing that many people.” “He’ll be fine. Jim and Tony are taking him out to a nightclub tonight, and I’ve been told he’s hitting it off with one of the new Leopards.” Deon’s smile faltered. “He’s promised he’s not going to have a revolving door on his bedroom once we move into that unit, but I can’t help worrying. He seems to be sleeping around a lot.” Clarissa snorted. “Talk to him about it. For all we know, it may be a last set of flings before he settles down.” She cocked her head. “While he seems frivolous and shallow at times, there’s one thing I’m sure of, and that is he’s serious about his studies. Once uni starts, I think most of his focus will be on his degree. Since that’s about the same time as you guys moving in together, I suspect you’ll have nothing to worry about.” “I hope so.” Deon was letting his eyes wander while Clarissa used the automated check-in facilities; he noticed an older couple staring in his direction. When they started approaching, their attention clearly on him, he leant over to whisper in Clarissa’s ear. “I think we’re about to have company.” She looked up at him and then peered in the direction he indicated. She frowned. “They don’t look dangerous.” “I know, but…” Deon didn’t complete his statement. He knew he was playing a role to protect Dave, but he was uncomfortable with the attention. He’d be happy if he was drawing crowds because of his football skills, but having strangers staring at him because of something that didn’t even happen disturbed him. The woman started to reach out to touch him but quickly pulled her hand back when Deon flinched. “I just wanted to say how sorry I am, and I hope that bastard gets life in prison for what he’s done.” Deon tried to smile, but he wasn’t sure it worked. “Thank you. All we can do is trust that justice will be done. It’s out of our hands.” The woman nodded and then turned to Clarissa. “Look after him, dear. He’s been through things that no one should ever encounter.” She screwed up her face for a moment and then reached into her purse for a handkerchief. Deon could see that she was starting to cry. “It’s horrible when it happens, and those who haven’t experienced it will never understand…” Her companion pulled her into an embrace and whispered something. He made a face at Deon, as if he was unsure what to say, and then gently led the still-crying woman away. “I…” Clarissa shook her head. “This must’ve brought back some painful memories for her.” “Yeah…” Deon shuddered. “But I get what she said about never understanding. I heard what Dave said at the trial, but it’s still too unreal for me to really feel it. I know what happened, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand what it’s like to be in that sort of situation.” Clarissa quickly finished her check-in and dropped off her suitcase. She and Deon then hugged for what seemed like several minutes. It only ended when Clarissa pushed him away and glared up at him. “You need to leave so I can be pampered in the Qantas Business Class lounge.” She flicked a hand at him dismissively. “Go!” Deon smiled. He could tell from her behaviour that she didn’t really want him to leave, but they both knew it was time. “I’ll see you in Sydney.” She sniffed. “Maybe.” Her indifferent façade broke almost immediately. “Don’t miss your plane.” Deon nodded, still smiling. “See you soon.” As he returned to the Virgin Australia terminal, he noticed a few people staring in his direction. Happily, none approached him. After the last encounter, he wasn’t sure he could cope with someone else offering their sympathy. * * * “Oh, fuck.” Oliver’s voice was low. “Just try to blend in and pretend you’ve always been here.” Mason just stared at him. While one of the other Leopard players he’d seen during the week had a darker skin tone, there were none with a colour that was close to matching his own. He wondered what Oliver was doing. “Or better still, fade into the background.” Oliver’s frown morphed into a blatantly false smile as he stepped forward to speak to one of the other people already in the gym. “G’day, Julie!” “Ollie.” The Leopards’ head coach turned her steely gaze onto Mason. “Hi. I didn’t get a chance to say hello earlier in the week, but I wanted to say I appreciated the help you gave us at the courthouse.” She smiled and stepped forward with a hand outstretched. “Mason, isn’t it? I’m Julie Crowman.” “Nice to meet you, Julie.” Mason shook her hand, only partly surprised by how firm a grip she had. “I believe you have the pleasure of being Ollie’s coach.” She laughed. “I’m not sure it’s a pleasure, but he’s easier to handle than the brat.” She narrowed her eyes at Oliver. “You know the rules, Ollie. Only players and staff are allowed to use the gym.” “Yeah, well about that...” Oliver was clearly flustered. “I was thinking, as a one-off, as thanks for his help…” Julie held up a hand to cut him off. She reached over to a bench nearby and picked up a clipboard. “Mason, if you sign this, it makes you an unpaid staff member with access to the gym.” She gave him an apologetic half-smile. “I would prefer to just ignore the paperwork, but it’s for insurance purposes.” “You had this ready?” Mason asked as he accepted the clipboard and started to scan the document. “Ben called me first thing this morning to let me know you may be coming to use the gym.” She gave Oliver a mock glare. “He knows the rules and asked for a favour. A favour I was more than willing to give, since he asked.” Oliver’s grin flicked on and off, as if he wasn’t sure if he was in trouble or not. “This is an open-ended employment offer.” Mason looked up and gave Julie a quizzical frown. “I thought it would be just for today.” Julie shrugged. “I have the impression from Ben that you may be visiting a few times. It’s easier to make the end date indefinite and terminate it when it’s appropriate.” “And what exactly does an assistant trainer do?” Mason asked as he signed the form. She chuckled. “That’s an unpaid, volunteer assistant trainer, and the answer is not much. Keep the guys company while they do their workouts, and that’s about it.” She gave Mason a hard look. “You’ll need to be accompanied whenever you use the gym, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem. And the players always have priority on the equipment. Otherwise, knock yourself out.” Her eyes gave Mason a quick once-over. “I’d suggest you start with the treadmills or bikes. Work your way up to the stuff that Ollie and the other guys will be doing; don’t try to match them immediately. A cardio workout followed by a core body program may be a good idea.” She accepted the clipboard from Mason and smiled. “Have fun!” She headed back to the squat machine she’d been using when Mason and Oliver had entered the gym. Mason glanced down at his body and then at Oliver. “Was she trying to tell me I’m getting fat?” Oliver grinned. “She used to be a personal trainer—I believe she’s still qualified as one—and knows how to motivate her clients. You look fine; she was just trying to make sure you worked hard. If there’s one thing she hates, it’s people not trying their hardest.” “And cardio for a warmup is normal, anyway.” Mason headed to the treadmills where a good-looking, stocky young blond was jogging. He’d seen him in the city earlier in the week but hadn’t spoken to him. “Ollie!” The young man grinned as he slowed his treadmill to a fast walk. “And Mason, I believe. G’day, I’m Tony.” He chuckled as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’d normally shake hands, but I don’t think that’s a good idea while I’m exercising.” Mason smiled as he took the machine next to Tony. “I was told you’re Jim Henderson’s boyfriend. I saw you at the courthouse, but you were both busy.” “That’s me.” Tony grinned. “And I was told you’re going to be Deon’s new landlord soon. I hope that works out.” “Any reason why it shouldn’t?” Tony shook his head. “Not that I can think of. Jim and Deon shared a place last year, and they got along well. Deon’s not high maintenance.” “Unlike the brat,” Oliver said as he started up the treadmill on the other side of Mason. “Dad had his hands full for most of the year with that one.” “It wasn’t that bad.” Tony increased the speed on his treadmill. “The two of them played it up to be more than it really was.” “You work here?” Mason asked. “Marketing assistant.” Tony flicked him a smile before returning his attention to his machine. “Mainly dealing with sponsors—current and potential.” “Sounds interesting.” “It’s got its moments.” Tony flicked him another smile. “How are you finding your new job?” Mason blinked. “What do you mean?” “Your job as an unpaid, volunteer assistant trainer.” Tony chuckled. “Julie came to me earlier to come up with a job title for you.” “Isn’t having both unpaid and volunteer in the title redundant?” “Yeah, I suppose so, but it wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously.” He grinned. “My suggestion was Personal Player Assistant, but Julie thought that had too many chances of a risqué interpretation. She also rejected Shower Supervisor.” Mason laughed. “I wouldn’t have minded that one.” After a few seconds of silent jogging, he frowned. “Why are you guys doing this for me?” “Because since Tuesday afternoon, you’ve been a Leopard. We’re just acknowledging that fact.” Mason shot Tony a confused frown. On the other side of him, Oliver chuckled. “I thought you would’ve picked up on it by now. The Leopards are a family. Not only did you prove you’re a family member this week by helping out with Deon and Dave, but you’re sleeping with Ben. You’re a Leopard, Mason. Get used to it.” Mason’s head snapped around to stare at Oliver and then turned back to look at Tony. He wasn’t sure Ben would want others to know he’d spent the night. Tony rolled his eyes. “Ollie, who he’s sleeping with doesn’t come into it. He’s a Leopard because of what happened earlier this week, not because of anything else.” “Sleeping with Ben happened earlier this week.” Oliver smirked. “And I believe both Mason and Ben are hoping it’ll happen again tonight.” “Ollie!” Tony gave Mason a sheepish smile. “Sorry, Mason. Ollie doesn’t have a filter.” Julie’s voice behind the trio distracted all of them. “If Ollie’s able to gossip, he’s not working hard enough. Time for some personal training, Ollie. You can start by grabbing one of the medicine balls.” Mason laughed when he saw Oliver cringe at Julie’s statement. Twenty minutes later, though, he had a new appreciation for the football player’s fitness and strength. The workout Julie was putting Oliver through was tougher than he expected. Oliver was wilting but hadn’t quit. Mason knew he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes doing the exercises Julie was making Oliver do. * * * Andrew was waiting outside the Olinda Creek Hotel in Lilydale when Ben arrived for dinner with his sister’s boyfriend. “Good to see you again, Ben.” Andrew glanced at the double doors behind him. “Do you want to go into the bistro, or would you like to have a drink at the bar first?” He hesitated for a moment. “I suspect you’ve been having a rough week.” Ben frowned. “Why do you say that?” Andrew waved a hand towards the hotel entrance. “Shall we go in first?” Ben followed Andrew into the hotel and then took a table in the bar area of the hotel while Andrew ordered their drinks. A couple of minutes later, Andrew put a beer in front of Ben before sitting down with his own. Ben waited for Andrew to start the conversation. Andrew made a face as he stared at his beer. “I didn’t realise it on Monday when we met Jim Henderson at the airport, but it was Deon Bradshaw he was there to meet.” He looked up and gave Ben a wry smile. “Deon’s been mentioned a lot over the last few days, and the Leopards have been prominent in the video footage I’ve seen. I even spotted you in one of those clips.” Ben stiffened. He hoped his parents hadn’t seen the video that Andrew mentioned. It wasn’t anything significant by itself, but he didn’t want to draw their attention. “It didn’t take much thought to work out what was going on.” Andrew sighed as he contemplated his glass. “I suppose there are worse crimes, but I’m struggling to think of one right now. Raping a kid…” He grimaced and then took a large gulp of beer. Ben didn’t know what to say. “Can we talk about something else?” “Sure, but can you tell me how Deon’s coping, first?” “He’s okay. He was here with his girlfriend, and the two flew back to Sydney this morning. I’ve been told they were picked up at the airport and he’s back with his club. I don’t know much more than that.” Ben also knew that Dave was meeting regularly with the Hawthorn club’s psychologist, but he didn’t want to mention that. The focus on Deon had been keeping Dave’s name out of the spotlight, and that was what all the Leopards wanted. “Thanks.” Andrew tried to smile. “What would you like to talk about?” “How about you and Eve?” Ben was also struggling to force a smile onto his face, though in his case it was more than just the court case that was dragging him down. “She texted me to say she got home fine on Monday, but I haven’t heard from her since.” Andrew chuckled, lifting some of the depressing aura that had been present. “I certainly have. We text and chat regularly. She said she was surprised at your behaviour at the airport when we saw her off. She thought you’d avoid Jim or insult him. The fact that you barely reacted to him wasn’t what she expected.” Ben wasn’t any happier with the new topic of conversation, but he couldn’t change it again without being obvious. “She didn’t say much, either.” “She wasn’t sure what to say. Eve’s uncomfortable around gays, but she recognises that as her problem, not theirs. She told me she’s trying to shrug off her upbringing, but it’s a struggle.” “Her upbringing?” Andrew smiled. “She’s told me about your family and the rants about both religion and homosexuality.” He shrugged. “She’s working harder on overcoming the anti-religion indoctrination, but she said she’s been questioning the anti-gay stuff, too. What about you?” Ben hesitated before deciding to tell part of the truth. “The religion stuff doesn’t affect me. I’m an atheist, but as long as people don’t try to push their views on me, how they live their lives is up to them.” “And the anti-gay stuff? You seemed a little uncomfortable with Jim at the airport, but you didn’t show any other negative signs that I could spot.” Ben hadn’t realised he had been watched that closely. “It’s the same thing. If it doesn’t impact on me, why should I care how others live?” Andrew cocked his head. “What about the impact on others? No altruism about working towards the greater good?” “What do you mean?” Andrew made a face. “You’ve indicated that your views on others are based on whether their opinions affect you. That’s a self-centred point of view. What if they don’t affect you but affect others? Shouldn’t you have an opinion on that? If you know someone is in an abusive relationship, that doesn’t affect you, but shouldn’t you care?” Ben chuckled. “Are you saying that religion is like an abusive relationship, or is it homosexuality you’re describing?” “No!” Andrew stared and then laughed. “Okay, what I said did sound like that. The point I was trying to make was that sometimes we need to look at more than just what impacts on us personally. Like, anti-gay rhetoric can lead to bullying and suicide in kids. Just because it doesn’t impact on you personally doesn’t mean it’s not hurting someone. Shouldn’t we care?” Ben stared, unsure of how to respond. While he had already sensed that Andrew was tolerant about homosexuality, he hadn’t expected a gay-supportive stance. “But aren’t religions one of the core sources of anti-gay rhetoric? How can you say what you just said and be religious?” Andrew laughed. “You sound just like your sister.” He smiled as he took another sip of his beer. “The mistake both of you have made is treating religion as a monolithic entity. It’s not. Personally, I belong to a church that supports gays. Yes, there are members who have a narrow view on homosexuality, but that’s not everyone. Even in the big churches with formal anti-gay views, there are many members who don’t agree with the official stance. I believe in a God of love. That’s the core of my religious beliefs, and treating others with respect and care is a consequence of those beliefs. That includes gays.” “So, it’s because your religion is telling you to treat them nicely. You support gays because you have to.” Andrew shook his head. “I accept gays as part of God’s creation. I try to treat everyone with respect and love; their sexual orientation is irrelevant. To me, the golden rule is to treat others as I would like to be treated. I don’t like being abused or hated, so I do my best to make sure others aren’t, either.” Ben settled back in his chair. He knew that Eve wouldn’t date someone who wasn’t worthwhile, but Andrew had surprised him. He could see why the two would fight often, but he also remembered what Andrew had said about the fights not being deep. He could see the core person that Eve loved, and he liked what he saw. “Are you ready for dinner?” Ben grinned. “I think this is a conversation we shouldn’t have on an empty stomach.” * * * Mason chuckled as the fifth person to ask Jim for a photo or autograph moved away. “You don’t seem to like the attention, but you’re not resisting very much.” Tony grinned and answered for his boyfriend. “Jim doesn’t want to upset people. He’ll put up with a lot before he reacts.” He leant over and gave Jim a kiss on the cheek. “But hopefully that’s everyone, and we’ll be able to finish our meal.” The three were in a small bistro just south of the central business district of Melbourne. With them were Ross and his boyfriend, Warwick. They had barely sat down when the first person approached to speak to Jim. “Does this happen a lot? I remember you had people coming up to speak to you at the airport, too.” “It happens enough that I’m cautious about going out in public.” Jim grimaced as he looked down at his steak. “It’s not really bad, but there are times when I’d like to just be myself and not be on display.” “Aren’t there places to go where that shouldn’t be a problem?” Mason asked. “I mean, places where they’re used to celebrities.” Tony chuckled. “Jim hates being called a celebrity.” Jim gave Tony a mock glare before smiling at Mason. “I’m sure there are, but we can’t afford to go to those sorts of places. Tony is also the one who usually books places like this…” he waved a hand to indicate the bistro, “…because he knows all the gay-friendly restaurants. The downside is that with the place being gay-friendly, the patrons tend to want autographs or selfies.” “You’re a celebrity, but you can’t afford to go somewhere safe to eat?” Jim was about to respond, but Ross interrupted. “I think I can explain.” He turned to Mason. “Jim’s an AFL footballer, which automatically makes him a minor celebrity. He’s also the only openly gay footballer—” “Until you’re drafted.” Warwick smiled at Ross, who grimaced in return. “And we don’t know if that’s going to happen. Please don’t jinx me.” He sighed and gave Mason a wry look. “As I was saying, he’s a celebrity because he’s an AFL player, and he’s the only openly gay one, but he’s also only on the rookie list, which means he’s not paid a lot. Celebrity status doesn’t automatically come with a corresponding income, though I believe he’s getting a bit more than most from product endorsements.” “And that’s another thing he’s been really cautious about,” Tony said. “Jim knows that everything he does is scrutinised because there are people who want to see him fail.” He smiled at Jim while continuing to talk. “But he’s got me and a lot of other people doing our best to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Mason nodded slowly. “A little bit like my mom. She knows that everything she and my dad does is watched like a hawk by her political rivals. When she’s in public, she’s always aware that anything she says or does could be used against her.” Mason stared down at his food—a chicken-parmigiana-based dish that was called an Aussie Parmigiana on the menu—and decided against saying anything about how even her own son could be used against her, which is how he ended up in Australia. Mason was still convinced that his parents had used the incident at the convenience store as an excuse to ship him out of the country. “Exactly!” Tony smiled. “Which is why when we go out, we tend to stick to gay-friendly places as much as possible.” Mason frowned. “Are there places around here that are gay-unfriendly?” The four other guys exchanged looks. Warwick was the one who finally spoke. “There are a few places I wouldn’t want to wander around after dark, but those places are probably just as much stranger-unfriendly as gay-unfriendly. Being gay may provoke a bit more attention, but they’re not nice places even if you’re not gay.” Jim made a face. “I think Warwick’s right, at least as far as Melbourne is concerned. That’s probably true for all of the major cities in Australia. Outside of those, it’s a little hit or miss. I hear certainly rural areas can be unfriendly, but then I hear stories that contradict that.” “Sydney has some very gay-friendly areas but others that are distinctly unfriendly.” Warwick grimaced. “I know that one from experience.” Mason frowned. “What areas are you talking about? If I’m going to be living there for the next four years, I’d like to know what parts to avoid. I’ll also need to make sure Liam and Neil know, too.” “The inner-city areas tend to be gay-friendly, and the Darlinghurst area is the heart of the gay community in Sydney, but there are areas in the outer western parts that I wouldn’t want to be open in.” Warwick’s expression was bleak. “Is that where Deon’s team is located? The Greater Western Sydney Giants?” Jim shook his head. “They’re based in Homebush—at the old Olympic site. I think Warwick is talking about further west than that.” He raised an eyebrow at Warwick, silently inviting him to comment. Warwick sighed. “I was with a friend in Sydney a couple of years ago. It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were walking through Parramatta Park when we were accosted by a gang of ethnic youths. I got away, but my friend…” He shook his head. “He was in hospital for a month.” Tony winced. “Ouch. I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve been to Parramatta a couple of times and while it wasn’t openly gay-friendly, I didn’t get any bad vibes about the place.” Mason’s brow wrinkled. “Parks can be bad places at times. I know a few back home that should be avoided because of gangs.” He nodded towards Warwick. “It’s what you said earlier about places being stranger-unfriendly. Being gay is just an extra trigger for something to happen, but bad things can happen anyway, even if you’re not gay.” “I think that’s what Warwick encountered,” Jim said. “I’ve heard there’s been problems with gangs around Parramatta, but it’s only a small number of people involved. However, it doesn’t take many to cause problems.” Mason understood what Jim was saying. It had only taken one in Los Angeles to disrupt the lives of both Robbie and Mason. * * * Mason waited outside the nightclub. The other guys had already gone inside, but Ben had sent a text message indicating he would be there shortly. Mason had volunteered to be there when Ben arrived in case he had any problems in locating the entrance. Jim had grinned. “Ben’s been here before, Mason. He knows where to go.” Mason was hoping his expression hadn’t given away his embarrassment. Ben had told him that he’d met Mitchell at the nightclub, but Mason had momentarily forgotten that detail in his rush to find an excuse to wait for Ben. Tony came to his rescue. “Hey, it’s a pleasant evening. If Mason wants to wait outside for Ben, I don’t have a problem with that. Nothing’s going to happen around here, so why not?” Mason had given Tony a thank-you smile while ignoring the smirks from Jim and Ross. Warwick had winked but otherwise didn’t do anything to further Mason’s chagrin. Normally, Mason wouldn’t want to wait in a dim alley by himself, but the security guard being nearby—as well as Tony’s indication that the area was safe—addressed that concern. “Mason! What are you doing outside?” Mason grinned and stepped towards Ben. He reached out and pulled Ben in for a welcoming hug and a quick peck on the lips. Mason felt Ben tense and immediately released him. “I was waiting for you.” “You didn’t need to do that.” “I know, but I thought it would be nice.” Mason had enjoyed dinner with the other guys, but Ben was the person he was most comfortable with. It was strange to Mason, but with both Dexter and Ben he felt something that allowed him to relax. He didn’t know why, but he definitely wanted more of it. “It was. Thank you.” Ben hesitated before leaning forward and giving Mason a return kiss. With both grinning and Mason’s arm across Ben’s shoulders, the two entered the nightclub. Mason could tell that Ben was nervous but also excited. Mason hoped that he was a part of that excitement. Ben pointed across the room as he put his mouth next to Mason’s ear so he could be heard over the music without raising his voice. “They’re over there.” Mason nodded, and the two soon joined the others in a corner booth. Jim, Ross, and Warwick had beers while Tony was sipping a mixed drink. Tony volunteered to buy drinks for the newcomers while Jim headed to the bathroom, leaving Ross and Warwick with Ben and Mason. Ross leant forward to make sure he would be heard. “We’re going for a dance. Mind our drinks for us?” Ben nodded, and with that, Ben and Mason found themselves alone. “Would you like a dance when the others get back?” Mason asked. Ben smiled. “Sure!” “You seem more relaxed now.” “It’s safe here. I can be myself.” Mason understood what Ben was saying. He had been experiencing the same since arriving in Australia. With no one to watch out for, no one to hassle him, he didn’t have to hide who he was. “The others are off dancing?” Jim asked as he returned. “Yep!” Ben grinned at Mason. “We’re going to join them.” Before he could move, though, there was a flash of light. The three at the table turned to see one of the other club members looking at something on his phone. “No…” Ben’s face was so pale it was noticeable, even in the dim light of the nightclub. Jim rose. “Leave it to me.” He strode over to the person who had taken the photo. When Ben started to shake, Mason pulled him close. “It’ll be okay.” “But if they post it online…” Ben didn’t appear able to complete the statement. Mason held a trembling Ben against his chest while staring across to where Jim was talking to the photographer. Jim then stood with the other guy and they both smiled as the phone was held up for another photo. “All fixed,” Jim said as he sat down. “He’s deleted the other photo, Ben. You don’t have to worry about it.” “What did you tell him?” Mason asked as he felt Ben slowly calming down. “That I’m with someone who’s not out and who can’t afford to appear in a picture with me.” Jim reached over and put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “He understood, Ben, and deleted the picture.” Ben pulled away from Mason and took a deep breath. He gave Jim a weak smile. “Maybe I shouldn’t be here.” “Hey, it’ll be okay. Most people don’t take pictures without asking, so don’t worry about it.” Jim smiled. “Nothing like that happened last time we were here, did it? This is a one-off. It’s unlikely to happen again.” Ben stared at Jim and then turned to Mason with a question in his eyes. Mason smiled. “Jim’s right. Most people aren’t that rude. And with this being a gay club, I think even more of them will be conscious of privacy.” He raised an eyebrow at Jim, asking him to confirm his statement. Jim nodded. “It’ll be fine, Ben. And if it does happen again, I’ll repeat what I just did: give the guy a photo with me in exchange for deleting the one he shouldn’t’ve taken.” Ben’s body slowly relaxed. Mason waited a moment and then took Ben’s hand. Standing up, he smiled down at Ben. “How about that dance?” Ben’s return smile was still laced with worry, but he allowed Mason to lead him onto the dance floor. By the time the two returned to the corner booth, Ben was relaxed, and both were sweaty. Tony grinned. “You two look like you’ve had a good time.” Mason chuckled. “Do you know Ollie?” Jim rolled his eyes. “Everyone knows Ollie. Why?” “Because I’m sure he’d reply with something along the lines of having the best possible time outside of a bedroom.” Ross laughed. “Wrong! He’d never say anything like that.” Mason frowned. He was sure he’d worked out enough of Oliver’s personality to guess at his response. Ross continued. “He would’ve said he was having the best possible time without sex.” He grinned. “Ollie doesn’t restrict sex to the bedroom.” Mason shrugged and gave him a wry smile. “You’re probably right.” Warwick pushed a couple of unopened water bottles towards them. “Your beers are still here, but you might prefer these right now.” “Thanks!” Ben twisted the lid off one of the bottles and took two quick gulps. Mason drank his water more slowly before putting the lid back on and picking up his beer. He hesitated for a moment, but he felt he could trust the guys he was with. Even if someone had managed to spike the drink, he knew Ben would look after him. He turned to Ben. “You are having a good time, aren’t you?” Ben leant forward and gave Mason a slow, gentle kiss on the lips. “The best possible time outside of the bedroom.” He grinned. “I wish I could stay here like this, but since I can’t, I’m hoping you’ll come back home with me when we leave.” Mason grinned back at Ben as he made a decision. It was just over three weeks until his university orientation would start and he would take possession of the unit near Liam and Clarissa. He had originally intended to do a little touring around the country—visiting Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef in particular—but he now had other priorities. For the next three weeks, Mason was going to spend as much time with Ben as Ben would allow.. Mason didn’t know what would happen when he returned to Sydney, but he would worry about that later. * * * José Rodriguez stared up at the cracked ceiling of the Mexican hovel Pedro’s cousin had provided. The next day would hopefully be the last time he’d have to cross the border back into the U.S.A. carrying drugs. If there were no mess-ups, Pedro had indicated that he’d have paid off all his debts and would be ready to travel to Australia. The ticket he was buying was for a flight in late February. That would give José time to plan how to deal with Mason. He had already discovered online that buying a gun in Australia was probably not viable, at least not openly. He could ask around to see if anyone had a contact he could use once he arrived in Sydney, but if that didn’t work out, buying a knife was a backup option. José smiled. He was okay with a gun, but he was more comfortable with a knife. He was confident he could dispatch his target once he was close enough. The main problem would be, first, finding Mason and then creating an opportunity to act without getting caught. After a suggestion from Pedro, José had started monitoring Mason’s social-media accounts and then those of Mason’s friends. From a post made by someone called Jeremy, José knew that Mason would be attending the University of Sydney. That led him to do some checking on the university. One of the pages he saw mentioned what they called an orientation week for new students. José wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find Mason, but on the map the university didn’t look too large. He figured mingling with the other new students was his best bet to locate his prey. He would need to be careful to not be spotted in return, but initially all he needed to do was to locate his target. “One more month,” he whispered to himself. One more month, maybe a little longer, and his problems would be over.
  25. Graeme

    Good News Thread

    I'm not sure if this is going be a flop, but I'm going to try anyway What I'd like this to be is a thread on Good News stories. I was surfing the Internet the other day and stumbled across the CBS Good News Page. I'd like to see if we can do the same, with a thread on just good news stories. As they state on their page, this will be for: Stories that show the best of human nature; people helping people, triumphs of the human spirit. I'll start with my favourite from the CBS Good News Page: Michigan Middle School Football Team Conspires for Touching Touchdown Feel free to add your own!

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..