Four hours before dawn, Trevor was alone at the helm as Kookaburra cruised north. The summer air was warm on his mostly bare skin, and absently, he glanced ahead and to starboard, at the distant glow of Kalbarri’s lights.
“I bring coffee,” Shane said quietly, padding out into the cockpit, two steaming mugs in hand.
Trevor smiled, accepting the welcome brew. “You’re early; we’re over an hour from the approach.”
Shane, who like Trevor was wearing just boardshorts in the warm night air, put his arm across Trevor’s shoulders. “I figured you’d be out here stewing. I know you’re still fuming a bit, I see it, just flashes. You’ve had a hell of a shock, but it’s more than that.”
Trevor turned the wheel slightly, listening to the whisper of the water, thinking for a moment before replying softly, “Yeah. I’m happy and mad, all at once. I thought having time to think about it would help, but it hasn’t. I know this is hard for you, because you’d love to see your mom again, and I’m glad my mom is alive, but I keep thinking of all the pain and hurt I went through, and they knew. Every time I think of that, and all the lies, I get mad again.”
Shane gave Trevor a one-armed hug. “I can’t say as I blame you. I think I’d be the same if somehow it turned out that my mum had faked her death and left me to grieve. I’d be mad, plus happy to see her. I like Mrs. Blake so I’m a bit biased, but… she created the whole mess she was on the run from. She does have one point; you were just about to turn eight, far too young to be keeping a huge secret.”
In a voice barely above a whisper, Trevor replied, “I know, but I wasn’t eight when I got to Carnarvon, after almost dying at sea and in such a mess they wanted to throw me in the hospital. Mom waited until the day she was in the clear to come see me, and that’s a big part of what’s bugging me.”
Shane thought it over for a while, before replying, “Yeah. You were alone then, didn’t know a soul until you met me, and I remember; you were in a bad way. You’d been alone so long you had trouble talking, and were all shook up. Even if your mum didn’t want to show up, she could have had your aunt and uncle let you know who they are, so at least you’d know you weren’t alone.”
“She said it was to protect me, so she didn’t make me part of a conspiracy, but since when is just knowing something enough to make me part of a long-ago conspiracy? Plenty of other people here knew. Maybe like she said, me being a kind of financial beneficiary could get me in trouble. I don’t know law so I’ve tried to just put that issue aside for now. I know she feels bad, Shane, I can see that, but she wouldn’t take the risk of coming to see me before the clock ran out, and that’s burning at me. I’d also like to know whose idea it was for my Uncle Greg and Aunt Shelly to keep me in the dark. I like Martin and I like Uncle Greg – I don’t blame them – but Mom… I don’t know what to think. She kinda explained it, sort of, about a law called the Jones Act forcing her into what she did, but… she did it for a decade. Atlantis and Ares were basically identical, but she bought Atlantis a few years after Ares even though Atlantis was under the same law, with the same problem. Why? I keep flipping from happy to mad to happy again, it’s so fucking confusing, and now we’re going to the Christmas reunion like nothing happened. It’s fucking surreal, and I don’t know what to do.”
Shane pulled Trevor into a warm hug. “I think you should talk to your mum soon, alone, and let her know. Maybe she had a reason, maybe not, but it sounds like you’re still being kept in the dark on some things. Give it a little time, I guess, and maybe find out what you can first.”
Trevor was silent for almost a minute, thinking. Finally, he said, “Yeah, I’d like to know more before I start asking questions. I just want to know the truth, all of it.”
Shane, at a loss for words, gave Trevor a hug. After a few moments, he tried to cheer Trevor up by asking, “So, when are you going to tell Lisa and Joel where we’re taking Kookaburra this morning?”
Shane’s ploy worked, and Trevor’s mood lightened. A knowing smile spread across his face, and he replied, “I don’t plan on telling ‘em. More fun that way.”
Ten minutes later, in the pre-dawn darkness, a sleepy Lisa and Joel joined Trevor and Shane in the cockpit, as Kookaburra glided through the sea, five miles off the mouth of the Murchison River. Trevor had said nothing more than the time they’d need to be up.
With a few silent smirks, ignoring all questions, Trevor and Shane prepared Kookaburra’s lighting as before, giving her the appearance of a far smaller boat.
This time, it would be easier, for the weather was calmer; no rain, and lower seas, though the base swell was eight feet. Trevor also had the GPS track from the last entry to aid him, so with confidence, he aligned Kookaburra on the entry track from the north, entering the gauntlet between the bar and the shore.
The sound of roaring surf grew, rising above the rumble of Kookaburra’s engines. Joel, squinting ahead in the dark, saw it clearly: the lines of heavy surf. “Are you fucking nuts?” he asked, turning to look at Trevor.
Shane snickered, answering, “Yeah, he is. The first time we tried this, he’d never been here before and he did it in the middle of a storm.”
“Where are we going?” Lisa asked.
Trevor grinned. “Blame Joel, he’s the one always wanting me to sail inland.”
“Hey, quit blaming me!” Joel replied, with a laugh and a nervous shake of his head, as he stared at the maelstrom ahead. “So, where are we going?”
“Inland,” Trevor replied, grinning in the dark as Kookaburra began to roll on the chaotic swells.
This time was easier; the entry passage posed no real danger. Trevor, relaxed at the helm, studied the darkness, seeing no sign of any whitewater within the passage. Kookaburra began bucking on the swells, running between the lines of surf, but soon it was over, and Kookaburra made the turn to the east, entering the sheltered waters off Kalbarri.
Lisa pointed at the lights of the sleeping town. “Is that where we’re going?” she asked.
Trevor snickered, glancing at the town. “Yeah, but not right now. We have to hide Kookaburra first. We’re heading inland.”
The tide was nearing its peak, but Trevor, ever cautious, used the depth finders as before, all the while keeping Kookaburra on her previous track. The improved visibility made things easier, and before long, Kookaburra was past Goat Island, weaving over the shallows, and then nearing her prior refuge.
Joel, by Trevor’s side, was keeping a close eye on the instruments. “Wow, you weren’t kidding about going inland. I didn’t think a boat this size could get anywhere like this.”
“We’re not there yet,” Trevor replied, as he angled towards the narrow channel north of the island.
The first glow of dawn lit the eastern sky as Kookaburra reached her prior anchorage. Working fast, Trevor, Joel, and Shane secured her, returning to the cockpit to find Lisa, standing with her arms crossed. “Trevor,” she said, in that honey-sweet voice that Trevor knew to fear. “That was the scariest boat ride I’ve ever had, and you didn’t even warn me. You did that on purpose, I know you did.”
“Uh huh,” Trevor confirmed, with a smirk.
After breakfast, they locked up Kookaburra and piled into the Zodiac, heading downriver towards Kalbarri to pick up the Jeep.
As they passed Goat Island, Trevor flicked a thumb towards it, and in a flat tone he said, “Mom hid Kookaburra here when she first got to Australia. We didn’t know that when we hid upstream. I guess being on the run kinda runs in the family.”
Joel gave Trevor a sympathetic nod. “How are you doing with all this? You seem okay sometimes, but kinda manic at others.”
Trevor smiled, and then nodded, just once. “Yeah, it’s messing with my head. I sort of understand, but it doesn’t make me too happy that Mom caused the whole mess by continually breaking the law for a decade. Then Dad… I keep remembering him holding me while I cried, holding my hand at the memorial service… I went through hell, but nobody ever told me. I can even understand that, sort of, because I was too young to keep a secret, but I wasn’t eight when I arrived in Carnarvon in such a mess they wanted to put me in the hospital. Mom waited until the day she was in the clear to show up, and that’s a big part of what’s bugging me. Another part of it is I don’t know for sure what really happened, just what she said.”
Lisa and Joel picked up on Trevor’s sad, uneven mood, and soon Trevor was repeating the concerns he’d voiced to Shane.
The conversation went on, becoming so consuming that Trevor almost passed the dock in Kalbarri. They tied up, and then sat talking for another half hour before heading ashore for the walk to the police station, where they met with a smiling Officer Kaminski and received the keys to the Jeep.
“Right-hand drive!” Lisa declared, grinning and jumping onto the rear bench seat. “That’s got to be weird to drive.”
Trevor chuckled, scrambling into the driver’s seat before replying, “It took a bit of getting used to. I’m okay now though, I don’t drive on the wrong side of the road too much.”
“Too much?” Joel shot back, as he got in next to Lisa. “Try not to run us into any trucks.”
With Shane in the front passenger seat, they took off to show Lisa and Joel around Kalbarri. They stopped to shop, splitting up for an hour, and then they decided to return to Kookaburra to load up for the drive to Northampton.
They returned to the dock, where Shane jumped out. “See you back at the boat,” he said, giving them a wave.
“I’ll go with you,” Lisa said, surprising everyone. “Don’t get lost, Trev,” she said, climbing out.
Concerned about what Lisa had in mind for Shane, and also mindful of Shane’s aversion to carrying passengers, Trevor gave Shane a concerned look and arched an enquiring eyebrow.
Shane got the unspoken question, and replied, “No worries, mate. See you back at the boat.”
Reassured, Trevor waved, put the Jeep in gear, and pulled away. As soon as he was back on the road, he said, “She’s going to grill him, isn’t she?”
Joel nodded. “That’s my guess. She’s warming up to him though, so he’ll probably be fine.”
As Shane revved the Zodiac’s engine, heading out into the river, Lisa fixed him in her gaze. “How’s Trev doing, for real?” she asked.
“Shook up as hell, but dealing with it, I think. He’s had one shock after another ever since the pirates. Having his mum show up, he thought he’d actually flipped for real. I’m worried for him; it’s been a lot, coming so fast. His head has got to be spinning. He’s handling things better than can be expected, I think, I just hope there’s no more shocks coming,” Shane said, giving Lisa a pointed glance.
“Trev just seems different. It’s subtle, but he’s… skittish in some ways, sort of rattled. Other times, like when he was bringing us in through the river mouth, he’s his old self. I don’t think he’s dealing with things well at all, like he’s in denial or something,” Lisa said, taking care to appear both negative and judgmental.
Shane glared at Lisa for a moment, before returning his gaze to the river ahead and replying, “What he doesn’t need is a bunch of bollocks. He went through hell out at sea, and he was alone for months, at risk of dying every day. You know what the fucking pirates did to him; he’s dealing with it damn well. Then his mum showing up; that’d fuck with anyone’s head, and he had it on top of all he’s been through, as well as the stress disorder – which I’ve been through myself, so I know it’s a fucking rough go.”
A gentle smile spread across Lisa’s face. “You’ve very protective of him. I like that.”
Puzzled, Shane stared at Lisa for a few moments, until understanding dawned. “That was a test, wasn’t it?”
“Yup,” Lisa confirmed, and then added, “I wanted to see how you’d react, but I really am worried about Trev. He does seem different, but not in denial. I need to know; is he getting worse, or better?”
“Better, in spite of the shock from his mum. I think he’ll be fine, as long as he doesn’t get hammered by any more bad stuff.”
“Let’s do what we can to keep that from happening,” Lisa said, with an approving smile. Then, she angled her head, gave Shane a nod, and said, “One of the reasons I wanted to get you alone is I need your read on another thing; Trev thinks his father is homophobic. Long story short, Trev got it wrong, way wrong, and we have what I think is some very good news. The reason I haven’t shared it with Trev is because he has had so many shocks lately. So, what’s your take; would finding out his father isn’t homophobic, and never was, be a good thing right now? And what about finding out that his father is bi and has a boyfriend, who both Trev and Joel have met? And they think Trev’s the homophobic one, and it’s all one big fat misunderstanding?”
Shane coughed, and then his jaw fell open. “Bloody hell. Oh bloody hell. Yeah, he’s gone on about his father not accepting him, and I know he misses his father a lot. I’ve seen how he tries to come out, so… I’m getting a pretty good idea how all this happened, especially if his father is anything like him. As for how he’ll take it, well, I’d say it’s better that he find out soon, because it’s something that bugs him. Just don’t tell him while he’s driving or at the helm in confined waters, or we might all regret it.”
Lisa chuckled, turning to look upriver. “I’ll make you promise the same thing Joel did; I get to be the one to tell Trev, but yeah, not while he’s doing something. I’ll tell him today, and I’ll make sure we’re all together.”
Shane, laughing, shook his head. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Lisa’s smile faded, and she said, in a darker tone, “There are some other things. Let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on Trev’s mom, but I’ll keep an open mind until I get to know her. But, there’s more. Joel and I… we have some suspicions – nothing solid, and there’s a good chance we’re wrong – about what’s going on back home, but… we didn’t want to load all of it on Trev at once.”
When Trevor and Joel arrived at the beach opposite Kookaburra, they found Shane and Lisa already there, chatting happily away. With a relieved smile, Trevor said, “Let’s get loaded up, then it’s road trip time!”
They returned to Kookaburra, where they made quick work of loading the few bits of luggage they were taking into the Zodiac. Trevor looked at Lisa and Joel, and with a grin, he said, “We need to leave the Zodiac on Kookaburra. What Shane and I did last time was swim the river. Anybody who doesn’t want to swim can stay at the Jeep when we ferry the stuff over; we’ll be back pretty quick.”
Lisa glanced warily at the river. “I’ll leave the swimming to the swimmers and stay dry, thank you very much.”
Joel grinned. “I’ll swim, sounds like fun.”
Trevor turned so that that only Shane could see, gave him a wink, and then headed for the Zodiac, turning to tell Joel, “Shane and I have an extra set of clothes in our bag. If you want, get changed now and we can run the stuff you’re wearing over to the Jeep. You’ll need shoes, but they’ll dry in the Jeep.”
Joel jabbed an accusing finger in Trevor’s direction. “You want me to take my clothes off! That’s sexual harassment!” Joel declared, whipping off his shirt and then beginning to hop on one foot to pull off a shoe, then a sock.
Trevor laughed, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t mean strip on deck, and I knew you’d say that.”
Shane grinned, shaking his head. “Face it, he’s got you pegged, Trev. A serial harasser, that’s what you are.”
Joel finished with his shoes and then shed his shorts and boxers, handing his clothes – except for his shoes – ceremoniously to Lisa and then stalked off naked toward his cabin, proclaiming, “This is sexual harassment!”
Lisa and Shane looked at Trevor as they began cracking up. Trevor shook his head, and with a roll of his eyes, he said, “He strips naked on deck, and that’s sexual harassment by me?”
“I think that definition fits,” Shane said, between laughs.
Joel, in red speedos, returned, crossing his arms and giving Trevor a mock scowl. “You’re looking at me; that’s more sexual harassment, you cruel and abusive bastard.”
Trevor blinked, and then, as understanding dawned, he turned to stutter at Shane, “You… you taught him that.”
Shane gave Trevor his best innocent smile. “You gotta admit, it fits, and I owed Joel a shout for telling me about your sexual harassment proclivities.”
“What is this, abuse Trev day?” Trevor asked, looking at the sky.
“Sounds good to me,” Lisa said, flicking a thumb at the Zodiac before adding, “So, who’s ferrying me and the stuff to the Jeep?”
“I’ll do it,” Trevor replied, jumping into the Zodiac and then casting a wary eye at Joel and Shane. “Even though I think they’ll plot against me while I’m gone.”
“That’s time put to good use,” Lisa replied, with a chuckle and a flick of her hair, as she settled into the Zodiac.
As soon as Trevor roared off, Shane pointed at the island. “We’ll cross it on foot, then have a real good look about before the crossing swim. It’ll probably be safe, so long as we look first, then cross fast.”
Joel arched an eyebrow, asking in a puzzled tone, “Safe from what?”
Shane looked surprised. “You’re in Australia, mate. We’ve got bull sharks here, and they can take to fresh water just fine. Not so much here though.” Shane paused for a few moments, before adding in an offhand way, “They don’t go into rivers that have salty crocs too much.”
Joel’s eyes opened wide. “Salt water crocodiles? We have those in Florida, mainly in the far south, and loads of fresh water alligators all over, but I heard your crocs are huge – and dangerous as hell.”
Shane shrugged casually. “Yeah, they are. One of us will need to climb a tree to have a look, though they do lurk underwater a lot, and the river is a bit cloudy. Still, Trev and I made it across, so I think we’ll do okay, so long as we’re quick. I hope you can climb a tree, because I’m useless at it, and Trev’s not much better.”
“I’ll learn,” Joel replied, staring at the spindly trees on the island, his eyes like saucers.
Trevor returned and stowed the Zodiac. “Okay, let’s lock up and get wet,” he said, with a happy smile.
“Okay, let’s go get suited up,” Shane said, before Joel had a chance to say anything.
As soon as they were in the cabin and stripping off, Trevor asked, “Something’s up. You’re grinning, and Joel’s not acting normal – he hasn’t accused me of sexual harassment for a few minutes.”
Shane pulled on his Speedos, and as Trevor tugged on his own, Shane chuckled, whispering, “Joel is going to climb a tree. Just play along.”
With Kookaburra locked up, they pulled on shoes and set out across the island. When they reached the main channel of the Murchison River, Shane studied it intently for a few moments. “Right, looks good so far. Let’s race!” Shane said.
Joel picked out the stoutest tree he could find. “Wait, let me climb up.” Joel, taking care not to scratch himself on the bark, scrambled up, stopping when he was fifteen feet over the sandy ground, which was as high as he felt the tree would support.
“You’re up a tree,” Trevor observed dryly.
“I know that, asshole,” Joel replied, studying the river with care.
“See any crocs?” Shane asked.
“No, uh, what would they look like?” Joel asked.
“Like a really big crocodile, with a huge mouth and lots of teeth,” Shane replied helpfully. He paused for a few seconds before adding, “Maybe like a big log that’s swimming.”
Joel was, like most any Floridian, very familiar with alligators, so he studied the riverbanks, then the river itself. “I don’t see anything.”
“If we’re fast, there’s no worries – probably,” Shane said.
Joel climbed down, jumping the last few feet to land on the sand.
“Okay, let’s make it a race, loser buys lunch – or maybe is lunch,” Shane said somberly, while limbering up.
Being careful to appear cautious, Trevor waded out, followed by Shane and Joel. “Okay, on three, we race for the far side. One, two, THREE!” Trevor whooped, diving in and securing a slight lead.
Joel swam for all he was worth, slowly gaining ground on Trevor, already past Shane, pulling hard for the far shore. After what felt like a month, he felt his arms touch sand and scrambled to his feet, churning through the water, raising a huge cloud of droplets in the sun. As soon as he reached ankle deep water, he spun around, yelling, “Hurry up!”
“What’s the hurry? You won, I’m second,” Trevor said, casually striding ashore.
“What about the fucking crocodiles?” Joel asked, exasperated, as Lisa jogged over to join them and Shane took his time exiting the water.
Wet, tanned, and toned, the three guys stood together, and Shane shrugged. “Why worry about something that never comes this far south? You almost never see them south of Broome on this coast, and that’s over a thousand kilometers from here,” Shane said, struggling to keep a straight face.
“Then why did you want me to climb that tree?” Joel asked, a split second before he realized it was a wind-up.
Shane smirked. “I thought you might like the view. I did.”
“Asshole,” Joel shouted, before laughing and flipping Shane the bird.
“Men,” Lisa observed, with an amused chuckle, as they began walking to the Jeep, paying no attention to the hum of Basingstoke’s Beechcraft Debonair, which circled once, high overhead, before he rolled out eastbound, heading for Kalbarri airport.
They set out, bouncing along the dirt road, while Shane programmed the GPS. After a few moments, he announced, “Got it, head like we did to Kalbarri National park, inland on the main highway. Looks like a hundred-fifty kilometers to the farm, well under two hours. Hawk’s Head in the National Park is close to our route, we’ve got loads of time to stop.”
Trevor grinned. “Yeah, that’s where we saw the camel.”
And with that, they were off, heading for Hawk’s Head on the Murchison Gorge. Trevor refused to explain what it was, even when they were pulling into the parking lot.
After they parked, they walked to the edge of the magnificent gorge, seeing the gravity-defying Hawk’s Head and the river far below. Trevor grinned, turning to ask, “So, what do you think?”
“Awesome, and you do like your surprises, don’t you?” Lisa observed, turning to give Joel a quick, private wink. “Trevor, when Joel and I were meeting with your father, he said something that kind of got me wondering. Are you sure, I mean really sure, that he’s as homophobic as you think he is?”
Trevor scowled, looked out at the gorge, and sighed. “Yeah, he kept pushing me to get a girlfriend, then we were fighting… It’s a big part of why I had to leave, remember?”
Shane, concerned by Trevor’s suddenly-darkening mood, gave Joel a worried look, only to receive a wink in reply. Knowing roughly what was coming, he decided to keep quiet.
Lisa smiled sweetly at Trevor. “Oh, I do remember. I remember floating the idea that, maybe, Jim and your father were a couple, and you laughed, telling me, ‘I’m not stupid, Lisa.’ Well, when Joel and I met with Jim and your father, they were wearing sundresses! They were in drag, Trev, as a disguise. Real homophobic, huh?”
Trevor arched an eyebrow. He knew Lisa well, and could tell she was about to sandbag him with something, but he had no idea what. “Okay, for Dad that’s really weird, but that doesn’t prove he’s not homophobic.”
Lisa nodded. “Okay, I’ll give you that… but Trev, Joel and I have been on the receiving end of your coming-outs. You come across as homophobic, but you aren’t.”
“Are you trying to say Dad isn’t homophobic anymore?” Trevor asked, in a hopeful tone.
Lisa shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. I’ll tell you something though; he has no idea you’re into guys.”
Trevor blinked, his jaw falling open. “What? But then why… how… he can’t! I came out to him!”
Lisa smiled. “You mean you sounded him out, like you did me and Joel. Did you ever tell him directly you’re into guys?”
Trevor shook his head. “Close enough, and he got real hostile –”
Lisa cut Trevor off to ask, “Shane, Trev came out to you, too. Did he come across as not too cool about gay guys?”
Shane shrugged. “Sorta, yeah. But he did come out to me, even though he gave himself a panic attack doing it.”
Lisa gave Trevor a sad look, and replied, “But he didn’t to his father, or his father’s boyfriend.”
Trevor, who was halfway though a sip of soda, coughed, blinked, and stared. “Huh? You’re shitting me. No way in hell is Dad gay!”
Lisa snickered. “You’re right, he isn’t. Jim is, but your father is bi. And, they think you’re the one who’s homophobic.”
Mind awhirl, Trevor glanced at Joel, who grinned before adding, “It’s true. They’re a couple, and they’re sure you know and disapprove. We told ‘em you don’t know and wouldn’t disapprove at all, but nothing else.”
“No fucking way…” Trevor mumbled, as Shane came to his side.
“Way, oh stupid one,” Lisa replied, chucking.
“But… he was always pushing me to get a girlfriend, to take with me when I flew to Australia for Christmas…”
Lisa gave Trevor a patronizing pat on the head. “Yeah, we wondered about that, but after you told us about your Mom, it’s obvious why: he wanted you to have someone with you when you found out. As for the rest, I remember some of it real well; he was trying to get you to quit making Atlantis the focus of your life.”
Trevor’s gaze flicked rapidly between Lisa and Joel’s faces. “Oh, shit… But, how, why… then… No fucking way!”
Lisa gave Trevor a smirk, but then her smile faded and she pulled him into a warm hug, saying softly, “I couldn’t resist telling you that way, but I guess what you didn’t need right now was another big shock. Bad timing on my part, but yeah, it’s true. At least that’s one problem you don’t have to worry about anymore.”
“I think I’ve got to have a long talk with my dad,” Trevor said, sitting down on a rock, shaking his head, with a stunned look on his face.
Shane sat down next to Trevor, putting his arm around him. “You okay?”
With a bemused look on his face, Trevor replied, “Yeah, I think so… I’m sure getting a lot of surprises lately, huh?”
“That you are, mate,” Shane replied.
The conversation bounced back and forth for several minutes, until Trevor finally believed what he was hearing. Shane and Joel began to chuckle, which earned them a pout from Trevor. “You guys are never going to let me forget this, are you?” he asked, with a weak smile.
“Not a chance in hell,” Shane confirmed.
Soon, they were on the road again, and it didn’t take long before they reached a T-junction on National Route 1 and turned right, following the sign south for Northampton.
Ten minutes later, Trevor spotted something big coming the other way. For a few moments, he assumed it was just the big truck it appeared to be, but as it neared, he could see down its length, and pointed, “Look at that, three trailers,” he shouted, grinning as the one-hundred-fifty foot behemoth roared past.
“That’s a road train, mate,” Shane said, turning around to tell Lisa and Joel, “I’ve not seen one, but we have even longer ones in the outback.”
Soon, they reached Northampton, and Trevor grew quiet, studying the little town as they drove through its center. He followed the GPS’s directions, turning off the main highway, heading east, onto smaller and smaller roads. Shane noted Trevor’s tension, and gave Trevor’s hand on the gear stick a squeeze. “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”
They reached a wrought-iron arched entrance and turned onto the long gravel driveway, passing between fenced green fields, heading for a large ranch house standing amid a cluster of outbuildings, barns, sheep sheds, silos and corrals. The sky was crystal blue, cloudless and wide, as Trevor slowed, taking time to look around. “It’s a bit bigger than I imagined, but it sure looks like a farm,” he said, a little numbly.
Lisa looked around, seeing sheep in the fields, and asked, “Where are the kangaroos?”
Shane, his grinning face concealed from Lisa and Joel’s view, replied, “They raise a few sheep as well, but mainly kangaroos. Maybe Mr. Blake has them grazing somewhere further out. If you ask him, he’ll show them to you; he loves showing them off.”
Trevor pulled to a stop in front of the ranch house; an L-shaped single story building, with a few flowers blooming on the wooden porch. He glanced up just as Rachel walked out, apprehension on her face, until Trevor gave her a smile. “Hi, Mom,” he said, and then, when Martin walked out, added, “Hi, Martin.”
The arrival had been a surreal mix of the pedestrian and the bizarre: Trevor introducing Lisa and Joel to his mother and Martin, and then they chatted in the kitchen over warm cookies, as though the past decade had not occurred. There was an awkwardness, always there though made manifest when Rachel showed the four to their rooms, which were not in the main house.
“I thought you might like some space, and we’re tight on room in the main house, so I tidied up the old farmhouse. It was the main house when Martin and I bought the farm, and we lived in it for two years while the new house was being built. It’s quite cozy. We never lock the doors of the main house, so just come and go as you feel like,” Rachel said, as they approached the little old house. She opened the door, ushering them in to the small living room. “We use it for guest quarters and for temporary extra workers during the sheering season and harvest. Shelly and Greg often stay here as well, when they come down from Carnarvon,” Rachel said, glancing uneasily around, and then nodding towards the small kitchen and the narrow hallway beyond. “The bedrooms are tiny, but there are four of them,” she said, in a hurried tone, before quickly shifting subjects to add, “Shelly, Greg, and Wyatt are riding down with Ned, Melody, and their own two children. They should be here in an hour or so, and I must warn you, the three children raise absolute hell; there shan’t be a moment’s respite. Trev, your grandparents are dying to meet you, and they should be here shortly; they live just a few miles from here. It’s going to be quite a Christmas. Please come to the house once you’re settled in. I’ve got to go tend the dinner or we’ll be eating charcoal, I’m afraid,” Rachel said, turning to dash back to her house.
Trevor stood staring at the open door. “That was kinda weird,” he said, turning to give the others a puzzled look.
Lisa glanced at the open doorway and snorted. “This sort of reminds me of my mother, when I went to visit her in France. I got shunted off to a place down the road and ignored. On the other hand… your mom said we should come and go from the main house whenever, mine said call first. Plus, yours seems friendlier – not that that’s saying much.”
“Ned and his family are in the main house, but you’re out here? Ned? That’s sort of… odd,” Shane said, glancing at the main house.
Joel glanced at the hallway, indicating it with a nod. “I’ve got a hunch it’s got something to do with the bedrooms. She made a point of saying there’s four, and then changed the subject, real quick. You said she knows about you and Shane, and you introduced Lisa and me as engaged, so…” Joel let his voice trail off, arching an eyebrow.
Trevor nodded. “I get it. She doesn’t want us sharing rooms, or at least, doesn’t want to know about it.” Trevor turned towards Shane, “I don’t want to sleep alone, do you?”
“Nuh uh,” Shane replied, shaking his head as he walked into the hallway. “They look about the same. Let’s take the end one.”
Lisa and Joel needed no prompting; they took the bedroom closest to the kitchen.
They soon made their way to the main house, beginning what, for Trevor, was a confused blur; meeting his grandparents for the first time, warm hugs, awkward moments, good cheer and a few jangled nerves. Martin served up beer and eggnog, inviting all to partake, and Trevor found himself falling into an easy rapport with Martin. With his mother, he still felt conflicted at times, and unease often stood between them.
Martin, handing Trevor a beer, took him aside and said quietly, “Your mother set something up, but doesn’t know how to broach the subject. We know there are issues between you and your father, though not the details. He does want to speak to you though. Rachel figured out how to use Skype, a sort of videophone setup over the internet, and it’s all set up in the study. The long and the short of it is, your father should be ringing shortly, and we don’t know if you’ll speak with him, or if you’d prefer to be alone, or –”
Trevor gave Martin an easy smile. “I want to talk to Dad, so this is great news! I, uh, want to introduce him to Shane, too, so I’d like Shane with me.” Trevor’s smile faded, and he asked quietly, “Uh, about me and Shane, ah, who here knows, and, uh, you know, right?”
Martin chuckled. “I had my suspicions, even before your mother confirmed them. Your mother told me about Shane long ago, so it wasn’t a surprise at all. No worries with me; I’m not the bigoted sort. As for Greg and Shelly, I don’t think they would have any issues. Ned Kelly, on the other hand… The choice is yours, but my guess is he’d go wobbly. Your grandparents are old-fashioned; they were quite concerned when they learnt that Lisa and Joel are engaged and would be joining us, and pointedly asked if we were putting them in separate rooms. I highly doubt they’d understand about you and Shane.”
Trevor smiled, and with a nod, said, “Thanks. And Merry Christmas!” while clinking his bottle against Martin’s.
When Dirk called, a relieved Rachel set up the Skype session on her laptop, seeing Dirk for the first time in almost a decade. “Hi, good to see you, and unless I miss my guess, that’s Jim with you?” Rachel asked.
Dirk, his nerves evident, nodded. “I want to introduce him to Trev, I just hope Trev understands. I’ve been told he doesn’t know about us, and I thought he had... issues, but –”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Dirk,” Rachel replied, chuckling as she turned to yell over her shoulder, “Trev, Shane, we’re set up.”
Trevor and Shane bounded into the room, and with a smile, Rachel left. Trevor sat down, staring at his father’s face, and finally managed to say, “Merry Christmas, Dad. I miss you.”
Dirk swallowed once, and after a nervous glance at Jim, replied, “Hi Trev, I miss you too. I’m really sorry, for everything, for all the lies, all the pain.”
Trevor sighed, lowering his gaze to stare at the keyboard for a moment, before replying, “I won’t pretend I’m okay with what happened, but we can talk about that when I get home. The biggest issue I had… according to Lisa and Joel, I was wrong about. So, it’s Christmas, let’s be happy. I, uh, hi Jim, Merry Christmas, great to see you again,” Trevor said, still not certain that they were actually a couple.
After a few moments, Dirk said quietly, “Trev, I was told you might be unaware, of, ah, and…” Dirk’s voice trailed off as he tried to find the words, glancing at Jim for support.
Trevor, sure at last, grinning from ear to ear, grabbed Shane’s arm, pulling him into the frame. “Dad, Jim; Lisa and Joel told me you’re together, that’s awesome, and I want you to meet my boyfriend, Shane.”
Dirk’s eyes opened wide, and he stared at the screen in uncomprehending silence, his mouth opening, though no words came out.
Jim blinked, and then slowly turned to stare at Dirk before muttering, “Boyfriend? He’s got a boyfriend?” Jim’s eyes glazed over for a moment, and then, with a bemused shake of his head, he looked at the screen to say, “I’m beginning to see why Lisa and Joel were so damn certain you’d have no issues with your father and me, and that you didn’t know about us.”
Dirk gaped for a moment. “Huh? Uh, hi, Shane. Trev… I, uh, I was sure you have issues with uh… you… have a… boyfriend?”
“It’s sure been a season for surprises. When Lisa told me about you and Jim, I couldn’t believe it. I… I was trying to sound you out and come out to you, before all the trouble started,” Trevor said, with a bemused shake of his head. “I’ve been told I can come across wrong.”
“Understatement alert,” Shane quipped, with a quiet chuckle.
Jim arched both eyebrows, turning to give Dirk a shake of his head. “Talk about misunderstandings. Dirk, I hope you know you’re never going to hear the end of this?” Jim said, with a wry chuckle and a shake of his head.
“Neither will Trev,” Shane promised, with a grin and a nod.
Issues set aside for the time being, Trevor and Dirk talked, catching up, Trevor’s heart warming as he felt at ease with his father, for the first time in a year. Shane began to edge away, thinking to give Trevor some privacy, but Trevor’s insistent grip on his knee kept him in place.
The call lasted for another fifteen minutes, until the internet connection, barely adequate at best, succumbed to the burden of holiday traffic and began to fade out. Trevor, seeing from the jumbled, failing video that the connection was about to end, blurted out, “Let’s talk again soon; I love you, Dad, and we’re all going to help with the legal stuff,” just before the audio failed.
Trevor and Shane returned to the living room, all smiles, with Christmas music playing in the background, as the family gathered around the tree, and a crunch of gravel from outside caught their attention.
Rachel looked through the window to see Ned’s large van. “They’re here,” she announced with a smile, and then turned to give Shane a wary look, “I’m hoping that the truce between you and Ned holds.”
Shane got the message, and smiled. “No worries from me.”
With a thunder of running feet, the Kelly children and Wyatt Fowler raced inside, storming into the living room, where an excited Wyatt glanced around in confusion, looking at Joel, Shane, and Trevor in turn, before asking shyly, “Is one of you my cousin?”
With a warm smile, Trevor crouched down, “That’s me. Hi, you must by Wyatt. I’m Trev.”
Wyatt brightened, taking a step closer to Trevor. “Hi, you’re my cousin. You talk funny.”
Shane gasped, doubling over and cracking up. “Yeah, he does, but he can’t help it, he’s American.”
The adults entered, with Ned nodding to all but Shane in greeting.
Soon, it was time for Christmas Eve dinner, and Rachel ushered everyone outside, to the tables she had set up near the barbecue. Dinner was soon served; Champagne with barbecued chicken and lamb, tossed salad, followed by pavlova and key lime pie.
“Now you know who I got the recipe from,” Shelly said, with an awkward smile at Trevor. “Your mum told me you liked it.”
Trevor dug in, with a gracious smile, hiding his thoughts.
After dinner, they made their way back inside, where the three children began to play, creating a raucous thunder of pounding feet and abused furniture. Trevor noticed that Greg Fowler had slipped away, and strolled out onto the back porch, to find him nursing a cigar. “You get used to the racket after a while,” he said, raising his beer to Trevor.
Clinking his beer with Fowler’s, Trevor turned to gaze out at the fields where flocks of sheep grazed in the distance. Trevor knew he had to ask, and that now was as good a time as any. “Uncle Greg… Thanks for all you’ve done. I don’t know what I’d have done without you, I didn’t know a soul when I arrived,” Trevor said, turning to look into Fowler’s eyes.
Fowler could tell that Trevor’s words held a deeper meaning. “Trevor, I didn’t know I had a nephew when you arrived. I only found out when I mentioned you to Shelly. I… I was asked to keep an eye out for you, which I already was doing before I knew.”
“Thanks, but I need to know; why didn’t anyone tell me? You knew I was searching for my family, and alone.”
Fowler took a drag on his cigar, and sighed. “I did as I was asked, thinking that your mother had her reasons, though I didn’t know then what they were. As for the rest, I tried to keep you away from Shane at first, because I largely shared Ned’s opinion of him at the time. Also, there was concern about you being near Kookaburra, though that was put completely aside the moment it was clear you had need of her to deal with the press.”
Thankful for the honesty, and feeling a growing rapport with his uncle, Trevor replied, “I’ve had a hell of a lot of shocks lately, and I don’t know what’s real and what’s not sometimes.”
Fowler nodded. “I can only imagine. You’d been through hell already when you arrived, then all this. Anyway, it’s good to meet you, nephew,” Fowler said, with an awkward smile.
Martin, Shane, Lisa, and Joel came out to join them, and Trevor, his mind more at ease, gave them a genuine smile.
Lisa looked out at the fields and the grazing sheep, her brows screwing up in confusion. “Where are the kangaroos? I haven’t seen one yet.”
Martin arched an eyebrow, and after giving Shane a suspicious glance, asked Lisa, “Why would you expect to see kangaroos here?”
“Is it the wrong time of year? I just thought there would always be kangaroos on a kangaroo farm?”
“Shane!” Martin roared, as Shane shook his head, trying to look innocent. “Do you have to tell everyone that I raise those mangy, good-for-nothing, stupid eating machines?”
Shane snickered, and shrugged. “It wasn’t me this time… not at first, anyway.”
Lisa blinked, and began to chuckle. “Trev told me it was a kangaroo farm.”
Martin fixed Trevor in his gaze. “You too? Bastard!” Martin declared, before giving a shake of his head and a wry chuckle.
Ned, who had heard the exchange, walked out to say, “Face it, Martin, you’re becoming the most famous kangaroo farmer in these parts.”
“It’s a conspiracy to drive me around the bend, that’s what it is,” Martin told Lisa and Joel, who were already laughing up a storm.
The good-natured ribbing continued, laughter echoing across the green fields.
Feeling better, though not yet settled, Trevor made his way inside to join his mother in the kitchen. They talked for a while, often interrupted by the thundering herd of three children roaring through. Twice, Wyatt stopped to talk briefly to Trevor, before racing off. Rachel followed him with her eyes, before saying wistfully, “Wyatt is just a bit older than you were when I had to leave. Could you have trusted Wyatt to keep such a terrible secret, one that could put you and your father in danger?”
Trevor took a breath, in part thankful that his mother had raised the issue he’d been dancing around. “No, I guess not. But I wasn’t Wyatt’s age when I arrived here, barely making it here alive. Why’d you wait, Mom… Why did you wait until the day you were free and clear. Why have Uncle Greg and Aunt Shelly hide who they were… at least I’d have known I’d found my family.”
Rachel sat silent for several long moments, before replying in a shaky voice, “I did muck it up, didn’t I? They wanted to tell you, at least of themselves, but by that time you were on Kookaburra, and I was concerned that… No, I won’t lie to you again, enough of that. I was afraid, because I was so close to it being over. I’ve been afraid for so long that I’d be discovered, and had you reacted badly and news reached home, all that I’ve tried to prevent would have happened. You and your father would have lost everything, and Martin and I likely as well. It wasn’t just me that I had to think of, though I admit my own fear was a large part of it. Another factor was your father; his message to me mentioned that Joel would be coming for Christmas, and your father wanted you to have someone you are close to with you when I appeared. I agreed with that, even before I knew of your ordeal. I would have waited until Joel’s arrival, had Martin not told me that you and Shane had become very good friends. I’m truly sorry, Trev, for everything.”
Trevor’s emotions warred, but at last, he took a deep breath and tried to make his peace. “It’s going to take me a while to deal with all this. Part of me understands, sort of, but part of me is mad as hell. No more lies, and no more manipulating me, okay?”
“You have my promise,” Rachel replied, hoping that she could keep her word, and knowing that, were she to break it, she would likely lose her son forever.
“Thanks,” Trevor said, reaching out across the table to take his mother’s hand. “I want to spend more time with you, before I go home.”
“You don’t have to leave, you know… after things quieten down, you could run charters in Shark Bay. I did for many years, until I was injured.”
Trevor side-stepped the issue by asking, “Are you going to be okay? Will your leg get better?”
Rachel sighed. “I don’t truly know. The doctor says that I’ll likely have some impairment, though not as bad as now. It happened so fast; I was in the stockyard, helping move the sheep, when they spooked. Next thing I know I was pushed against the stockyard fence backwards. Sheep have bumped me a million times, but this one just caught me wrong and I felt my knee go. It had been hit and bent, but backwards. The doctor said it was all ripped and torn up inside, and I’ve been slowly regaining the use of my leg ever since. The doctor says I should be as well as I’ll get in a year. I’ve had two surgeries and a lot of physical therapy so far, so we’ll see.”
They talked for a few moments more, while Trevor wrestled with the issue of going home. Finally, he returned to that subject by saying, “I do need to go home to see Dad, but… I’ll be back, I promise. I’ll need to talk to Shane first, but Shane and I could do charters in Shark Bay on Kookaburra part of the year, then on Atlantis at home for the rest. I’ll be getting my captain’s license as soon as I turn eighteen, so I should be okay there. I don’t know what it would take to do legal charters here though.”
Rachel smiled, squeezing Trevor’s hand. “She’s all set up for it already, so with your license, you’ll be fine. You’ll need permission to work in Australia, but getting that should be easy due to your family being here, and you owning the boat.”
Trevor nodded, and decided it was time for a bit of a test. “Mom, why’d you put us in the old house, in four rooms?”
Rachel swallowed once, and met her son’s eyes before telling him the truth: to avoid trouble with his grandparents due to Lisa and Joel, before adding quietly, “They don’t know that Martin and I aren’t legally married. They were at the ceremony, but they don’t know there was no license. I love my parents to bits, but they’re not the most flexible in their thinking.”
Later that evening, Trevor spotted Lisa and Joel on the porch and walked out with Shane to join them. Trevor availed himself of the relative privacy to let them know he was working things out with his mother, and then mentioned returning to Florida, adding, “It’s still all up in the air though. The biggest issue is trying to find out who the fuck was after me or Atlantis, because I’m betting it’s something to do with what Mom did, though I don’t think she knows.”
Lisa glanced at Joel, and then sighed. “Okay, there’s something I’m not too comfortable getting into, because we don’t know anything for sure, but maybe we have a suspect. Bridget Bellevue has… well, Joel and I are kind of thinking that maybe she’s involved somehow, and now you’re worried about your mom’s past. We know she knew Bridget, right? And she bought Atlantis and Ares from the brokerage Bridget owned. I like Bridget, she’s been great to us, but there’s just… some things that are bugging us.” Lisa went on to outline why she and Joel had grown suspicious of Bridget, and then added, “I like her, so I’m hoping it’s not true.”
Trevor stared into the darkness for a few moments, remembering. “The only time I met her… she came across as pretty frosty. She pushed me to give up Atlantis and go back to Dad.”
Joel nodded. “She’s real formal, and yeah, she comes across as frosty sometimes. Uh, did you tell her about your dad being homophobic, like you thought he was?”
Trevor chuckled. “Hell no, she was snooty and her house was big-time old money, and I’d only just met her. No way was I coming out to her. I told her about him sabotaging the engines, though.”
Joel blinked, and then gave Lisa a worried glance. “Uh, I was worried she’d freak about my uncle Carl coming to the wedding at her house, so I asked her in a roundabout way, and she thought I meant you. She said you’d come out to her.”
Trevor’s eyes narrowed. “No, I didn’t. Maybe Julie told her, but I sure as hell didn’t. When did she say this?”
“Not long after Lisa and I got engaged,” Joel replied, and then scratched his head. “That makes no sense. Why would she lie about that? It’s not as if we don’t talk to you a lot.”
Lisa heard Joel’s words, which caused something in the back of her mind to go click. For a long moment, she fought the forming thought, trying to avoid the conclusion, but her mind’s eye flashed back, seeing again the mariner’s clock Trevor had given her, feeling again the sudden bitter chill she’d felt that October day… and a dire sense of unwilling certainty grew in her breaking heart.
Lisa’s face froze, the color draining from her cheeks. Her fingers loosened their grip on her beer, which slipped silently from her hand, falling to land with a thud on the deck, its contents erupting and splashing her, which she didn’t even feel.
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