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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Leopard Hunt - 6. Chapter 6

Saturday 10th January, 2015

Liam woke and smiled at finding himself spooning Neil. He loved it when Neil held him, but his favourite position was holding his boyfriend. The number of times they had spent the night in the same bed was still low enough for Liam to count, but the pleasure of waking up next to Neil hadn’t decreased.

He lay there, enjoying the moment, until he realised that Neil was also awake. Liam kissed the back of Neil’s neck. “Morning.”

“Er…hi.”

Liam stifled a chuckle. He was getting better at reading the signs. “What are you overthinking about this time?”

Neil rolled over so he faced Liam. There was a smile on his face. “The usual.”

That threw Liam. There had been a number of different topics they had discussed in the past. “The usual?”

“Us. Our future.” Neil gave Liam a light kiss as he ran a hand softly down Liam’s side. “This time it’s about where I’m going to be staying while we’re studying.”

“You’re staying with Sam and Marcus. I thought that was all organised.”

“It is, but is that really what’s going to happen?” Neil’s hand slipped lower until it was resting on Liam’s naked bum. “Or am I going to be living here most of the time?”

Liam hesitated. This was a delicate topic he knew he had to handle with care. “I’d love you to be here all the time, but we both agreed it was too early. We’ve only been going out for six months. It’s been a hectic six months, but it’s still only half a year.”

Neil gently rolled Liam onto his back and then rested his head on Liam’s chest. “I know, and we’ll have homework and assignments to do when our courses start, but…”

Liam waited to see if Neil would finish his statement. When it was clear that he wasn’t, Liam started to stroke Neil’s back. “What made you start thinking about this?”

“Last night. At the party.” Neil sighed. “I saw so many people—people having fun—and sex was part of that.” He raised his head to look Liam in the eye. “Am I making us miss out on something?”

“There’s a difference between having sex and making love. Both are enjoyable, but only one lasts. Having sex is about your own pleasure. Making love is about your partner’s pleasure. Most of those people last night were looking for sex, not love.” Liam smiled at his boyfriend. “What we do is make love, and while sex is a good way to show that love, we can make love by simply walking down the street holding hands. I love you, Neil, and while I’d love as much sex as we can get away with, that’s not my reason for being in this relationship.”

Neil didn’t smile back. He stared for a moment longer and then dropped his head back onto Liam’s chest.

“Is there anything in particular you saw last night that triggered this?” Liam asked.

“Mason and Shri. They’d only just met, but they had trouble keeping their hands off each other. It was like they had an instant connection. Something strong.”

Liam heard the unspoken continuation: that it was stronger than what they had. “That was lust, not love.” He thought for a moment. “It’s like when you put dried leaves onto a fire. They burn brightly, but they don’t last. A short flash of brilliance and then nothing. A log burns slower and isn’t as flashy, but it lasts longer, and the coals give off warmth even when the flames are gone.

“I’m sure Mason and Shri had fun last night like we did, but they probably won’t be together in a few weeks. It would be great if I’m wrong—Mason seems like a nice guy, and I’d like it if he found someone so soon after arriving in this country—but I don’t think they’ll be together much outside of the bedroom or a party.” Liam gave Neil a squeeze. “I love it when we spend the night together, but I also love it when we spend our days together, regardless of where we are. Sex is part of our relationship, but it’s not the whole thing. At the moment, I think sex is all Mason and Shri have. That’s fun, and they’ll enjoy it, but if that’s all they’ve got, it’s not going to last.”

“You’ve obviously been thinking about this.”

Liam again heard the unspoken part, this time a question of why. He chuckled. “Remember, I was in a relationship without sex for almost two years. That taught me a lot.”

“Do you still love her?”

Liam opted for the truth, rather than glibness. “In my own way, yes I do. It’s nothing compared to what I feel for you, but I still hold some affection for Clarissa. That means I’m happy that she’s happy, and I hope she and Deon can build on what they’ve started.”

“They’ve only been going out for about as long as we have.”

“And, like me, she followed her boyfriend to Sydney. We have that in common. It’s a big step, leaving everyone behind and moving to another city just to be with the one you want. I hope we can help each other with that. If the two of us have a rocky patch, I’m hoping Clarissa will keep me grounded and help us get back on track, and I’ll do the same for her. We’ve both made a big investment in our relationships, and neither one of us wants to throw that away.”

Neil was silent for several seconds. “Getting back to what I asked earlier, will I be spending most of my time here?”

Liam kissed the top of Neil’s head. “That’s up to you.”

“No, it’s not. It’s up to both of us. If we’re a couple, we should be making decisions as a couple.”

Liam could feel his face going red. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“So…?”

“As I said before, I’d love for you to be here all the time, but we decided earlier, when we weren’t in bed at the time”—Liam grinned, even though he knew Neil couldn’t see it—“that it’s too soon. We don’t want our relationship to be all about sex and not about other things.”

“We don’t want to be dried leaves. We want to be a long-term log.”

Liam laughed. “Exactly.”

“To get a fire started, though, you need kindling.” Neil slipped a hand down and started running it through Liam’s pubic hairs, which generated an immediate reaction on Liam’s behalf. “I think I’ve found something appropriate; small and thin—that’s what you need for kindling, right?”

Liam used his superior strength to flip them so he was looking down at Neil’s grinning face. “Small and thin? You cheeky bastard! There’s no way that’s small and thin.”

* * *

It was almost ten when Ben slipped through the front door of the Leopard house he shared with three of his teammates in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Lilydale. He didn’t get very far before being accosted.

“And what time do you think it is?” Oliver was standing in the doorway from the living room with arms crossed and a frown on his face.

“Ollie!” Ben tried not to appear too defensive. Despite the difference in size and appearance, Oliver’s stance was reminding Ben too much of his father. Staying out all night was a rare treat for him when he was living in Sydney, and that was only after a grudging prior approval from his parents. “I didn’t think it mattered what time I got in.”

“Well, you’re wrong.” Oliver glared at Ben. “What you do reflects on everyone in the team. You obviously spent the night in bed with someone,” Oliver suddenly grinned, “because if you’d been drinking all night, I’d be able to smell it from here. That’s fine, but to get back at this time means you would’ve left first thing in the morning.”

“Yeah…” Ben was confused. “I left a bit after eight.”

Oliver shook his head. “Ben, Ben, Ben… You’ve got a lot to learn. Love-em and leave-em is fine, but you need to be a gentleman. You don’t slip out before they wake up no matter how ugly they are in the morning. And believe me, I had some shockers before I met Helena.” He raised an eyebrow. “How bad was he?”

Ben laughed. “He was at least a seven, possibly higher. Definitely not ugly.”

“Problems in bed, then?”

“Nope.” Ben couldn’t help grinning. He’d had a great night and one he hoped he could repeat.

“Then why the fuck did you leave him so early?”

“Because Mitchell had to get ready for work. He’s got a part-time job until his uni course starts again. We’re going to get together again next weekend.”

Oliver stared for a moment and then nodded while keeping a stern expression on his face. “As excuses go, I suppose that’s acceptable.” He smiled. “A short-term fling, or do you think there’s long-term potential?”

Ben’s general euphoria faded. “I don’t know.” The problem wasn’t with Mitchell, but with himself. Mitchell was the one who had apologised for kicking Ben out so early and had asked to see him again. Mitchell certainly appeared to have no objection to something more than a one-night stand. He had wanted to see Ben again that night. It was Ben who put off their next time to the following weekend.

Ben’s worry was that a long-term relationship would increase the risk that his parents would find out, but so would a series of short-term affairs. His best option to stay hidden was to only allow himself the occasional dalliance. He just wasn’t sure he had enough willpower to do that.

Oliver slapped him on the back. “Well, regardless, have fun! If you want to invite him back here next Friday or Saturday, I’m happy to cook breakfast the next day.” He winked. “I’ll be cooking for Helena, anyway, so it’s no big deal.”

Ben gave him a weak smile. “Thanks, Ollie. I’ll let you know.”

* * *

Mason glanced back at the real-estate office he had just left and then took a deep breath. It was decision time. Glancing around, he spotted a nearby coffee shop and headed over. He didn’t want to be standing in the middle of the street while he made this phone call.

A few minutes later, an untouched latte with a decorative pattern of brown and white on the top sitting in front of him, Mason dialled a number he hadn’t used since he had arrived in Australia. By his calculations, it would be early Friday evening in Washington, DC.

“Mason! It’s good to hear from you. Are you enjoying Australia?”

“Hi, Dad. Yeah, it’s great. I’ve already met some people who attend Sydney University and a few who are hoping to.”

Mason and his father chatted for a couple of minutes, catching up on what Mason had been doing for the last week. Mason sensed his father knew that there was a reason for the call, but he was waiting for Mason to tell him what it was. That was made obvious when his father never commented on the fact that the last time they spoke was just before Mason was shoved onto the plane to Australia.

After being told that his mother wasn’t around because she was meeting with some of her fellow congressmen, Mason decided it was time to get serious. “Dad, I’m not going to find somewhere permanent to rent in the next week. I’ve decided to take a short-term rental to give myself some more time.”

“That was always an option, son.”

“I know, but you told me before I left”—Mason had almost said kicked out—“that you would consider buying me a place if I can’t find anywhere to rent. Is that still a possibility?”

“It is,” Abraham Rivers said slowly. “Is the property market that bad?”

“It’s not so much that as I’d like a place I can stay at for four years. I don’t want a place to myself—I want people around me—but I need some control over who those people will be. At the student-housing places I’ve looked at, the people will be changing each year, and I won’t have a say in who they’ll be. Those places have common areas that we share, and I don’t want to be forced to be with people I don’t like or don’t like or accept me. I need somewhere self-contained where I don’t have to interact with others if I don’t want to.”

There was a pause before his father responded. “That’s not unreasonable.”

Mason immediately relaxed. That was as close as his lawyer father would usually go to agreeing: a qualified yes that allowed him to back out if he changed his mind. “Thanks, Dad.”

“How much is it going to cost?”

Mason tensed again. He chose his words carefully, knowing he was treading through a minefield. “A lot, but that’s everywhere in Sydney, and it looks worse than it really is because of the exchange rate. The property market is booming here, with double-digit growth in property values some years.”

“How much, Mason?” Abraham’s tone was firm.

“To get somewhere decent, in a reasonable area, that’s not too far from college”— Mason mentally crossed his fingers—“somewhere around half a million, maybe a bit more.”

What?

Mason knew he had been deceptive with his comment, as he had implied that was in Australian dollars, so his father would assume that the cost in US dollars would be around the $400,000 mark, but that half-million figure was the US-dollar cost, and even there, Mason had hedged. After speaking to the real-estate agent he had just left, he knew he was unlikely to find a place to buy that met his requirements for less than $700,000 in Australian dollars. That was around $560,000 in US dollars.

“The property market here is going strong.” Mason started to speak quickly. “Anything you buy will be a good investment. When you come to sell in four years’ time, it’ll probably have gone up in value by at least fifteen, maybe twenty percent.”

There was another long pause. Mason knew that meant his father was thinking about it. “Dad?”

“I’m going to need to look into this, Mason. I’m not rejecting the idea out of hand, but it’s a lot more than I expected.”

Mason was careful not to let his father hear his sigh of relief. “Thanks, Dad. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting those prices, either. Rents are similarly high, which is another reason I’ve not picked a place to stay. I’m not going to pay over $500 a week for a place that’s got problems.”

It wasn’t a done deal, but Mason was confident his parents would buy him a place to stay. Now he needed to find somewhere he would be happy to live for four years.

* * *

Clarissa glanced at the time shown on her phone and then at the two dishevelled guys who had wandered into the unit’s kitchen. “About time you two got up. It’s almost after lunchtime.”

Liam grinned. “We were up earlier, but then we were otherwise occupied.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know. The walls don’t hide much of the noise.” She noticed Neil’s reddened face immediately dropped, and she softened her tone. “It’s okay, Neil. As long as you don’t do it all the time, I can live with the X-rated soundtrack playing occasionally.” She then jabbed a finger in Liam’s direction. She knew he was the one who could more easily take her complaints. “Just don’t do it when I’m trying to sleep or study.”

“Point noted.” Liam nudged Neil. “What do you want for lunch?”

“Not fussed. Anything will be fine.”

After making themselves a couple of salad rolls—Clarissa told them she’d already eaten—the guys sat down with Clarissa to chat.

“You were meeting with some current uni students last night, weren’t you? How did that go?” Clarissa asked.

“Pretty good overall. There were four of them, but only three go to Sydney Uni. The other goes to UTS, the University of Technology next door to Sydney Uni.”

Clarissa noticed Neil’s squirm at Liam’s comment. “Neil? How did you find them?”

“They were okay, but I’m not sure I’ll have much to do with them. Greg’s the only one who’s also doing engineering, and…”

“And?”

Liam answered for Neil. “Greg takes a bit of getting used to. I think he could be a really good friend, but he’s definitely not for everyone.”

Clarissa fixed Liam with a steely gaze. “You’re going to have to explain that, buster.”

“I didn’t ask him—I thought it was rude to do so, especially in public—but I’m pretty sure Greg’s on the autism spectrum]. He has a lot of the classic traits, especially a lack of social skills. He’s bright, though, at least based on our conversations from last night.”

Clarissa stared back for a moment and then nodded slowly. “Noel.”

“Yeah. Greg’s different, in that he’s more outgoing than my brother, but I saw a lot of similarities. That’s why I was willing to look past the…er…difficulties.”

Neil shuddered. “He has trouble keeping his hands to himself.”

“That’s probably something new for him,” Liam said. “I think it’s because he was in a place where he knew most, if not all, the guys were gay.” He grimaced. “Someone needs to explain to him about what’s acceptable and what’s not, but if he’d been doing that in secondary school, he would’ve been in trouble with the police. It can be one of the problems with teenagers on the spectrum. A lack of social skills combined with social isolation and raging hormones is a bad combination.”

Neil stared. “How do you know all of that?”

Liam smiled, though Clarissa could see more than a hint of sadness in that expression. “My brother’s on the spectrum; I’ve read up on autism so I can help him.” Liam dropped his head. “Could help him. I can’t do much from here.”

“Did you ever consider applying for a psychology degree?” Clarissa knew Liam’s brother from the time they dated, but he wasn’t someone they’d discussed a lot. She knew Liam was protective when it came to Noel, but she hadn’t realised how much he cared for his younger brother. Noel had almost always been in his room playing on his computer when she’d visited Liam’s home in Melbourne.

Liam shook his head. “I just want to help him—and kids like him. I can do that as a teacher. These kids spend more time at school than anywhere else, so that’s where someone can make a difference.” He looked up with eyes glistening from emotion. “That’s why I put teaching above social working on my uni preference list.”

“But either would allow you to help them.” Clarissa felt a small pain as Liam’s comment brought back some of the feelings she’d had for him before he told her he’s gay. She had always known he had a compassionate core, though often he had hidden it behind an uncaring, pseudo-macho façade. It was only when he started going out with Neil that she had seen him truly blend his compassion with his masculinity.

“Yeah…”

Neil seemed worried as he turned to look at his boyfriend. “You’d like me to be friends with Greg?”

Liam’s smile was warmer this time. “Yes, please, but don’t do it if it makes you uncomfortable. Just remember that he’s different, but that doesn’t mean something’s wrong. He’s normal, just not the norm.”

Neil smiled back. “Like you and me. We’re normal, just not the norm.”

“Exactly!”

“Okay, I’ll try, but I don’t really want to go to any more parties like that one.”

“Party?” Clarissa’s gaze settled on Liam as the better target for interrogation. “I thought you guys were going to a pub?”

“Greg invited us to a party afterwards. The other guys went, too, but…it wasn’t for us.” When Clarissa narrowed her eyes, Liam continued. “It was a pickup party. Even the guys who were in a relationship with each other were looking to hook up.” Liam glanced at Neil for a moment and then shook his head. “The dancing was fun, but the sleaze wasn’t something we need to experience again.”

Clarissa could tell that there was something else about the party that Liam wasn’t saying, but she let him get away with it. If they didn’t plan on going to more parties like that, it probably wasn’t important.

“Did Mason go, too?” Clarissa still hadn’t decided how she felt about the black American, but she’d realised that Neil was probably going to be spending time with him, so she needed to know more. “Is he likely to bring one of those sleazebags to our housewarming party next weekend?”

“He went with us. He and Shri—one of the guys who’s also going to Sydney Uni—they hit it off pretty quickly.” Liam chewed his lower lip for a moment and then sighed. “I think Mason’s a good guy, Clarissa. He warned us at the party to be on the lookout for spiked drinks. We didn’t stay long, but he had to deal with his own set of sleazebags. If Mason brings someone, I think they’ll be okay.”

She blinked. Spiked drinks weren’t something she had considered, but she normally avoided situations where they could be an issue. After considering Liam’s last comment for a moment, she shrugged. “And if they’re not, we’ll have a unit full of football players who can eject them if needed.” That started her thinking along different lines. “I hope neither of them try to hit on any of the guys. That wouldn’t be good.”

“We’ve already told Mason that the guys will be straight. We just have to make sure he tells Shri, if he brings him. Shri’s pretty cool; he’ll understand.”

“When are you planning on catching up with him?”

Liam and Neil exchanged looks before Liam waved a hand to indicate he’d like Neil to answer it.

“We know he’s house hunting today, but we were thinking tomorrow or Monday.”

“If you make it tomorrow afternoon, I’ll join you. I’m busy in the morning.”

Liam looked puzzled, while Neil merely raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to the airport?” Neil asked.

“That’s right. How did you know?”

Neil smiled. “Sam and Marcus are taking Deon, so I’m guessing they’ll swing by here to pick you up, too.”

“Why is Deon going to the airport?” Liam asked.

“The AFL Players’ Association is having an induction camp for new players on Monday and Tuesday,” Neil said. “Ty, Jim, Paul and Dave will be there, too.”

Clarissa nodded. “Which is why I’m going to be left on my little ol’ lonesome, and I’m going to need entertaining.” She narrowed her eyes at the two guys. “That’s your responsibility.”

Both guys grinned. Neil nodded, but Liam saluted, which looked extremely awkward since he was sitting down with one hand on top of Neil’s. “Sir, yes sir! Entertainment is now scheduled. Sir!”

* * *

Mason didn’t waste any time. By mid-afternoon, he had arranged to rent an apartment for two months, with the option to extend it further if needed. That would take him to the start of university and beyond. It helped that Veronica had provided details of a number of short-term rental properties earlier in the week, so he had done his homework and had already created a preference list. He arranged so the lease would start on the following Saturday, the day before he would be checking out of the hotel.

The real-estate agent he had been speaking to earlier had said that buying property in Sydney usually took two months from when contracts were signed to when the title of the property changed hands. It could be done quicker, but sixty days was the norm. Hence Mason’s decision to immediately rent for two months, knowing he’d probably need at least that much time.

Once that was done, he decided to take some time off to enjoy Sydney. A couple of phone calls later, he was on his way to join Dexter at Bondi Beach.

He was sitting in the bus when his phone rang. “Liam?”

“G’day, Mason. How’s the house hunting going?”

“It’s on hold for a couple of days. I’ve found some short-term accommodation for a couple of months, so I’m no longer rushed. I’m taking the rest of today and tomorrow off, and then I’ll start up again on Monday.”

“That’s perfect! Would you like to do something with Neil, Clarissa and myself? Clarissa’s got a commitment tomorrow morning, but we’ll be free after that. We’re thinking of either Taronga Zoo or Bondi Beach. Do you have a preference?”

Mason laughed. “Can I let you know later? I’m on my way to Bondi Beach now to meet up with Dexter. If there’s lots of eye candy, I’ll be happy to go there again tomorrow, but otherwise the zoo sounds like a good idea.”

“Give me a sec.” Mason could hear Liam talking to a couple of people, but the noise from the bus didn’t allow him to make out the details. A short time later, Liam came back. “How about we join you? Send me or Neil a text when you know where you’ll be, and we’ll meet you there. Clarissa’s checking to see if Deon can join us, too, since you haven’t met him yet.”

Mason didn’t hesitate. The more friends he made and kept, the better. “Sure. Hopefully, I’ll see you soon.”

Liam chuckled. “It’ll probably be an hour by the time we get ourselves organised to get there. We’ll let you know when we’re getting close.”

“Okay. I’ll see you when I see you.”

Mason settled back into the bus seat. The fact that Neil and Liam had reached out to him was promising. It indicated that they wanted to know him better, and that meant he wouldn’t be alone when his classes started.

The smile on his face faded. New friends were good to find, but he missed his old friends back in Los Angeles. He had no idea when he would see any of them face-to-face again.

* * *

Mason rose and held up a hand as he peered across the crowded beach. A few seconds later, he smiled down at where Dexter was sitting in the sand. “They’re here.”

“About bloody time.” Dexter’s grin showed he wasn’t upset. “Now we’ll be able to wander around and check out all the guys.”

“I told you, you could’ve done that. I was happy to wait here by myself.”

Dexter shrugged before clambering to his feet, brushing the sand off his legs. “You’re the new exotic guy. I didn’t want you being swamped without someone being here to protect you.”

“And if it’d been some hot guy in Speedos two sizes too small that approached me?”

“Then I would’ve protected you by taking him back to my place for the rest of the day.” Dexter turned his attention to the approaching group. “Liam, Neil, it’s good to see you again.”

“You, too.” Liam waved a hand to the other couple with him and Neil. “Clarissa, you’ve met Mason, but this is Dexter. He’s a friend of Mason’s and one of the barmen at the bar we went to last night. Dexter, Mason, this is Deon. We talked about him last night.”

“Deon Bradshaw?” Dexter asked as he held out a hand.

Deon blushed. “That’s me.”

While Dexter charmed Deon and Clarissa, Mason eyed Clarissa’s boyfriend. Deon was one of the few Australians he’d met who was taller than he was. Mason eagerly waited for Deon to strip off his top so he could view more of the slender but well-defined muscular build of the young man.

“He’s taken,” a quiet but hard voice said.

Mason looked down at Clarissa. She had slipped up unnoticed while he had been staring at Deon. He smiled. “I know. You’re one very lucky person.”

To his mild surprise, since he had just complimented her and her boyfriend, she frowned. “You don’t know him, so how can you say that? Appearances aren’t everything. They’re not even the most important thing, not if you want a relationship to work.”

Mason was mentally rocked back. “Okay, you’re right. He’s very easy on the eyes, though, and that’s a good start.” He thought quickly. “He’s also your boyfriend and a friend of Neil and Liam. Given what I know of them, that means he’s a good guy, too, because I don’t see them associating with douchebags. So, it’s not just appearances.”

She stared for a moment and then laughed. “Nice recovery, but you’ve still got a lot to learn. Both Liam and his best friend were douchebags, using your term, last year. Liam’s gotten better, but I’m reserving judgement on Doug.”

“Doug being Liam’s best friend? Maybe I should meet him to make up my own mind as to whether he’s a douchebag.”

“He’s back in Melbourne, so I don’t see that happening.” She stared up at Mason for a moment and then gave a slight nod. “We didn’t get off to a great start when we first met. I’d apologise, but Neil and Liam will tell you, since it’s not a cold day in hell, that’s not happening.” She grinned. “However, I wouldn’t mind starting again, if that’s okay with you.”

Mason grinned back. “You’re protective and loyal. And you’re friends with Neil and Liam, which means you’re not a female douchebag, even if you act like one at times. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind starting again.”

Clarissa glared for a moment and then chuckled. “I suppose I deserve that.” She glanced over to where Neil, Liam, Deon and Dexter were still chatting. “I think I’d better rescue someone.”

She stepped over to the rest of the group and coughed loudly while scowling up at Deon. “While I don’t mind you having an all-male fan club, this female is here to enjoy the beach, and she needs someone to pamper her.” She jabbed a finger into Deon’s chest. “That’s your job.”

Deon laughed before leaning over and giving her a quick kiss. “It’ll be my pleasure, but can we just lie here for a bit? I had a long session in the gym today, and I’d like to relax.”

She smiled. “Of course. After you rub suntan lotion on my back. Then, if you ask nicely, I’m sure Mason will do the same for you.”

Mason wasn’t sure what to make of Clarissa’s comment, but when she winked at him, he knew it was her offering an olive branch. The offer, however, made Mason uncomfortable, as it was almost as if she was prostituting her boyfriend. “I think you should make Clarissa do that. As your girlfriend, that’s her job.”

Clarissa stared and then blushed. “Point taken.” She smiled up at Deon. “But I don’t think the two jobs are equivalent. There’s a lot more of him than there is of me.”

“And you’re complaining?” Mason asked. “Most girls I know are of the opinion that bigger is better.”

Dexter chuckled as he glanced at Deon’s boardshorts. “I know a lot of guys who have the same opinion.”

“Er…can we talk about something else? Please?” a red-faced Deon asked.

Clarissa pulled her beach towel out of the bag she was carrying. “How about instead of talking, you get to work and help me put suntan lotion on? After that, you can relax while I return the favour. Unless you’d like Mason and Dexter to do it for you?”

“No, no. You’re fine.” Deon’s uneasiness was displaced when Clarissa reached up and pulled his head down so she could give him a good kiss.

Dexter glanced at Liam and Neil. “Mason and I are going window shopping. Want to join us?”

“Window shopping?” Neil asked.

Dexter grinned. “Checking out the hot guys.” His gaze swept over the group. “Though the scenery here is pretty good, too.”

Mason wasn’t surprised when Neil blushed.

“Go, guys,” Clarissa said as she settled down on the towel she had laid out. “We’ll be fine here. Leave your stuff; we’ll keep an eye on it.”

After thanking her, Mason and the other three guys wandered along the crowded beach. A warm, almost hot, summer Saturday had brought a lot of people to the beach. While many were nothing to write home about, there were enough cute guys that Mason was enjoying himself.

They were about halfway along the beach when something odd attracted Mason’s attention. “What’s going on over there?” When the others looked at him, he pointed to where a guy with a large video camera and another with a boom microphone were following someone in a two-toned blue shirt.

“It looks like they’re filming another season of Bondi Rescue.” Dexter grinned at Mason. “If you go out and try to drown yourself, you may end up on TV. It’s usually foreign tourists that end up on the program. The locals generally know enough not to get into trouble.”

“It’s a reality show?”

“Yep. They follow the surf lifesavers around, recording rescues, incidents, training and anything else they think is interesting.”

“I’ve watched it a lot.” Liam smiled. “Plenty of topless guys in Speedos and boardshorts. What more can you ask for?”

Dexter chuckled. “I wanted more, especially on the episode when they had a couple of the hotter guys patrolling a nudist beach. All we got to see was one shot of them from behind as they headed over a sand dune.” He winked at Mason. “A nice sight, but I would’ve liked to have seen more.”

Mason blinked. “Are you saying the lifesavers were nude, too?”

“Yep!”

That, I’d like to see! Have you ever been to that beach?”

Dexter shook his head. “It’s not my thing. I’ve been to parties where lots of guys end up naked, but the people who go to nudist beaches don’t want people perving on them. I respect that.”

Mason pondered the point for a moment and then nodded his head. “They’re not pickup places.”

“They’re not supposed to be.” Dexter turned to Liam and Neil. “Have you guys ever been to a nudist beach?”

“No, but neither one of us lives near a beach.” Liam gave them a wry smile. “At least we didn’t. Bondi is close enough to visit a few times over summer now that we’re here. And I think we’ll pass on a nude beach.” He blushed. “I don’t think I’d have the balls to strip off in public.”

“It’s not for everyone,” Dexter said. “But if you ever change your mind, speak to Greg. He goes from time to time.”

“Greg?” Neil asked. “I would’ve thought…”

When Neil’s voice faded, Liam chuckled. “You’ve got to remember that he doesn’t think the same way as us.” He glanced across at Dexter. “I didn’t ask him, but he’s on the autism spectrum, isn’t he?”

Dexter blinked. “Yeah, he is. High-functioning autism.”

Mason was taken aback, though in hindsight the weirdness he had observed started to make sense. “But the way he’s so in-your-face; that wouldn’t go well with other nudists, would it?”

“He’s only like that when he’s with guys he knows are gay and only after he’s had a drink or two. He’s not like that at other times. In fact, he’s usually quite reserved. That’s why his nights at the bar and at parties are so important to him. They give him a social outlet he wouldn’t get otherwise.” Dexter’s brow wrinkled as he looked at Liam. “Do you know other guys who are autistic?”

“My younger brother has Asperger’s. His social outlet is online. He’s heavily into gaming.”

“A real nerd, then.”

“Definitely!” Liam and Dexter exchanged grins.

Mason watched the two for a moment and then made a decision. “Dexter, are you doing anything next Saturday?”

“Nothing currently planned. Why?”

Mason could tell that Dexter was perplexed as to why he seemed to be asking him out on a date while they’re at a beach with friends. He grinned. “Liam and Clarissa have invited me to their housewarming party, and I thought you would like to go, too. That’s okay with you, isn’t it, Liam?”

“Sure!” Liam smiled at Dexter. “Just be aware that most of the guys there will be straight. Deon and Kevin have invited a number of their teammates.”

Dexter chuckled. “Hands off, then, but can I drool? A room full of football players will be hard to resist.”

“Discreet drooling is permissible.” Liam winked. “Just don’t be too obvious.”

Neil frowned at Mason. “I thought you would’ve invited Shri.”

Mason shrugged and lied, though he wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually the truth. “I think he’s already got plans for that night.” Mason enjoyed his time with Shri, and he was looking forward to more fun with him, but he didn’t see Shri as being a social date. Dexter was the one he was more comfortable with outside of a gay bar or club.

* * *

That night, Clarissa gave Liam a quizzical look when he entered their unit alone. “Where’s Neil?”

“On the train heading home.” He gave a despondent sigh.

“Neil’s not staying?”

“No. He thought he should spend more time with Sam and Marcus since they’re giving him free room and board.” Liam headed to the refrigerator.

She stared for a moment and then nodded. “Fair enough. Does that mean you’re planning an early night?”

“Probably.” He grinned back over his shoulder. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

She snorted. “Yeah, I know.”

Liam’s response was contrite. “Sorry.”

Clarissa waved a hand to dismiss the apology. “Don’t be. As long as both of you are happy, enjoy your times together.” She didn’t mean to sigh, but it slipped out.

Liam straightened from where he had been checking for food and frowned at Clarissa. “Something bothering you?” He closed the refrigerator door and headed back to join her on the couch. “I’m here if you want to talk.”

She was tempted, but she wasn’t sure she wanted her ex to know about her concerns. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Are you sure?” Liam’s gentle tone brought back memories of the times he’d been dating her while in the closet. Those memories were suddenly painful. “You don’t sound like you’re not worried about something.”

Clarissa scowled as she rebuilt her defences. “What do you mean?”

A soft smile appeared on his lips. “I know you. I know you better than most people. Something’s bothering you because you’re starting to be more abrasive than normal.”

“Are you saying I’m abrasive?”

“Yes, and you know it’s true. It’s how you hide your feelings.” He reached out, put an arm across her shoulders, and gently pulled her towards him. “So, what’s wrong?”

Clarissa’s resistance crumbled, and a sob escaped her lips. She rested her head against Liam’s body while he whispered soothing words to her. It was a couple of minutes later before she regained enough composure to pull away. Liam waited patiently while she wiped a hand across her eyes.

“Am I making a big mistake being here?”

“Is it Deon you’re worried about?” Liam asked.

“Yes. No.” She growled in frustration. “I don’t know.”

“Talk to me.” Liam gently pulled her back towards him. “Maybe talking it out will help.”

Clarissa didn’t ask him to keep what she said to himself. She knew he wouldn’t tell anyone, not even Neil. “It’s this trip Deon’s on tomorrow. It suddenly struck me that I’m going to be seeing him fly off without me a lot. If he makes the senior team, he’ll be travelling roughly every second week. I knew football was his priority when we started dating—and I told him that’s fine as long as I’m still up there on his list—but it’s only now starting to sink in how much of a priority it is.” She sighed as the tears threatened to start to fall again. “I’m second, or close to second, in his priorities—he showed that last night by putting me above everything else—but I can’t help feeling I’m a distant second.”

She made a half-hearted effort to push Liam away when he pulled her to him for another hug, but she quickly surrendered. She wasn’t sure why, but it was probably a combination of her history of dating him, combined with knowing he’s gay, that made her feel safe in his arms. She didn’t have to hide.

It was a few minutes later before she pulled herself away. After wiping her eyes, she scowled at Liam. “Don’t you dare tell anyone about this, or…”

He smiled. “Or a certain video goes viral. I know.”

She didn’t tell him that she no longer had that video of him in a dress singing crude songs with a drunken and uninhibited slur. She’d deleted it months earlier once she was confident he wasn’t going to bully Neil anymore. It was now almost a running joke between them, with Liam apparently not caring and her not telling him it was no longer hanging over his head.

“As long as you know.”

Liam nodded, his expression still soft. “Is there anything else?”

She sighed as she thought it might be good to get her other concern off her chest. “I’m worried he’s going to leave me. I’ve heard about how many girls Kevin had last year. Deon’s going to have girls chasing him, too.” She glanced at her body. “Girls with more appeal than me.”

“He chased you last year, even to the extent of making sure you’d be at my birthday party so he could say hello. He’s not going to go after someone else just because they push their big tits at him.”

Clarissa bristled before realising Liam was simply vocalising one of her fears.

“And don’t forget he’s hoping to move so he’s not so far away. As soon as he and Kevin find a place, he’ll be closer than he is now. He’s doing that so he can spend more time with you.” Liam reached over and put a hand on top of hers. “Things are chaotic at the moment, but they’ll settle down soon. Once uni starts and the football season kicks off, we’ll all settle into a routine, and Deon will be able to find more time to spend with you. Just you wait and see.”

Clarissa knew in her head that Liam was right, but she was still scared. It was going to be worse on Monday and Tuesday, with Deon in Melbourne and Liam starting his new job at the radio station. She knew that Neil would be going with Liam, so Clarissa hoped that Daphne would be free; Clarissa wasn’t used to being alone.

* * *

Sunday morning, Deon introduced Clarissa to a couple of his friends. “Caleb, Jack, this is Clarissa.” Deon grinned at his girlfriend. “I don’t know where the rest of the guys are, but Caleb and Jack are two of the other guys GWS drafted last year.”

“No! Really?” Clarissa gave him a mock-shocked look. “The GWS jackets you’re all wearing and the fact that we’re here at the airport so you can fly back to Melbourne for your draft camp weren’t clues at all.”

Deon laughed and leant over to give her a quick kiss. When he straightened, he winked at his teammates. “She doesn’t let me get away with things, which is good. She keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground.”

After both guys said hello to her, Caleb cocked his head and smiled at Clarissa. “I understand you’re going to go to university up here.”

“That’s the plan, but I’ve got to wait to see if I get an offer.” Clarissa was confident she’d get into the course she had applied for, but she was still apprehensive in case her confidence was misplaced.

“You’ll get in,” Deon said. “Your ATAR was definitely good enough.”

“You’ve applied for Western Sydney?” Jack asked.

“Yes, but it’s low on my preference list, so I doubt it’ll be the one I get an offer for. Anyway, it doesn’t sound like it has a good reputation.”

Jack frowned. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with it. My sister goes there!”

Clarissa chuckled. “I’m sure the school is fine, but I’ve heard bad things about their football team.” She smirked at Deon. “I’ve heard they’re so desperate that they’re considering playing some tall, lanky guy from Melbourne.”

All three guys laughed. The University of Western Sydney had an arrangement with the Greater Western Sydney Giants whereby their AFL players who didn’t make the senior team would play for the university in the NEAFL, the second-tier competition that was the local equivalent of the VFL. Deon wasn’t going to be attending the university as a student, but as an AFL first-year player, he would probably be playing a number of games for them until he was able to break into the GWS senior team.

“There you are!” Sam Bradshaw grinned as he and his partner, Marcus Collins, approached. They had dropped Deon and Clarissa off at the terminal five minutes earlier before leaving to park the car. “I was beginning to wonder where you’d gone when you weren’t where you said you’d be.”

“Sorry, Dad. We saw Caleb and Jack and joined them.”

“Hi, guys. Can you do me a favour and try to keep this one out of trouble while you’re in Melbourne?” Sam winked.

“Sure, Sam,” Caleb said. “Good to see you again, Marcus.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Caleb.”

After being joined by the other new GWS draftees, checking in and going through security to the gate lounge, the small group of GWS players, friends and family chatted while waiting for the flight to start boarding. It was obvious to all that the new AFL players were excited, with several discussing what they knew of previous AFL player inductee camps.

As the boarding time approached, Deon pulled Clarissa off to the side. “I’ll be back late Tuesday. I believe Wednesday will be a light day, so how would you like to go out to dinner that night?”

Clarissa smiled up at her boyfriend. “That sounds great.”

Deon gave her a quick kiss. He stared for a moment as a faint frown appeared on his face. “Are you okay?”

She scowled. “I’m fine!”

Deon hugged her tight. “I’ll be back soon.” Clarissa tried to push him away. He resisted her efforts for a couple of seconds and then let go. “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry about?”

“Leaving you.” He started to stroke her hair, but she blocked his hand. “This is my job. I’ve been told things will settle down in a month or two, but until then, they’re running me off my feet, and I’m not spending the time with you that I should. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You’d better.” Clarissa dropped her head for a moment and then glared up at him. “My life doesn’t revolve around you.”

Deon sat on a nearby empty seat. He smiled and patted his legs. Clarissa hesitated and then sat on his lap. They kissed for several seconds before Clarissa sighed and rested her head on Deon’s shoulder. This time she allowed him to stroke her hair. They sat there, not talking, until it was time for Deon to board the plane.

“I’ll see you on Wednesday,” Deon said after one last kiss.

She smiled, her eyes bright with moisture. “I’ll see you then.”

They stood, and Deon headed off to join his teammates. He turned just before entering the air bridge and waved. She waved back.

She was still standing there a couple of minutes later when a hand gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Been there. Done that.”

She looked around to see Marcus giving her a sad smile. “What do you mean?”

“Seeing someone you care for getting on a plane. At least you know when you’ll see him again. I didn’t when it happened to me.” When she gave him a quizzical look, he explained. “When Sam and I started out, we only saw each other when he was here in Sydney on a business trip. That wasn’t as often as I wanted, and I often only knew a few days beforehand when he’d be coming back. It was tough, but I kept hoping, and it eventually worked out.” He grimaced as he looked past her to Sam. “But it still involved a lot of pain, and not just for us. Deon and his mum eventually got caught up in that pain, too, when Sam came clean and moved here to be with me. All that pain took a long time to heal.”

Clarissa sighed. She understood the lesson that Marcus was teaching her. If she wanted Deon, she would have to learn to cope with the pain of separation. It was the how to cope that still eluded her.

Copyright © 2018 Graeme; All Rights Reserved.
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It's a delicate balance, the trade-off between the seemingly endless wait of two weeks between chapters and the reward when another amazing instalment comes along. I have come to care deeply about these characters. They are serious, funny, foolish, smart, endearing, frustrating, and always entertaining.  Thanks Graeme

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Deon was one of the few Australians he’d met who was taller than he was.

 

Uhm, Mason will be surprised when he meets other Leopards, then. Eg Ross and Todd. Or even other forwards from GWS or from the Swans. And why didn't he have this thought when he met Kevin ? As far as I recall Deon is short for a forward, but makes up for it by jumping well and having excellent timing. Did you forget this small detail ? :lol:  If so, your dedicated fan(s) will waste no time reminding you. :rofl:

I can see Mason is slowly edging closer to buying the unit next to Liam and Clarissa's place. I checked and it has three bedrooms. If he can tell his dad he'll be sharing with two professional football players who can pay rent and thus provide income to pay for some of the costs of buying, it may help convince his parents. Also, they'll probably all agree to install some security features,  as Deon and Kevin will prefer not to be bothered by fans and journalists.

I'm glad Clarissa has plans to spend time with Daphne. I think it would be good for both of them if she knows. Clarissa needs a crusade in her life, and taking on bigots who are nasty to Kevin's girlfriend sounds perfect. :lol:

I shall have to go back and read the parts about Greg in the light of the revelation he's autistic. I know several people who are on the higher end of the spectrum (myself included) and Liam and Dexter's explanations make a lot of sense. Luckily, we all like rules, and once we get the proper behavior drilled into us by family, friends or teachers, we can usually cope with social situations - at least for a span of time.

Great chapter - when do you start posting every Saturday ?

Edited by Timothy M.
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Well, it's good to know Clarissa's human, although she still has a way to go. At some point she might actually have to apologize to someone.  :yes: I really liked this chapter! Lots of great character development plus Ollie for some comic relief. I'm glad Dexter seems to be a long-term friend prospect for Mason.  And I predict the house buying will start after the house-warming party when Mason learns about the 3-bedroom unit for sale near Liam and Clarissa.  Speaking of houses, it sounds like Neil might be rethinking his decision not to live with Liam. I can't imagine Sam and Marcus would hold it against him if he moved out. 

 

As an unrelated aside,  airport security must be different in Australia.  It's been decades since nonpassengers could pass through security and hang out at the gate area in the US. 

Edited by impunity
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1 minute ago, impunity said:

As an unrelated aside,  airport security must be different in Australia.  It's been decades since nonpassengers could pass through security and hang out at the gate area in the US. 

 

Yes, I noticed that too. Perhaps it's because it's a domestic flight ?

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6 hours ago, Timothy M. said:

Yes, I noticed that too. Perhaps it's because it's a domestic flight ?

 

:no: The security is the same for all flights here. 

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“There’s a difference between having sex and making love. Both are enjoyable, but only one lasts. Having sex is about your own pleasure. Making love is about your partner’s pleasure.

1

 

I vehemently disagree. In fact, I've not even finished reading the chapter but was compelled to address the issue. This sounds like an inane statement by a right-wing Christian conservative instead of a teen. It doesn't ring true coming from Liam. And it's utterly false.

 

From recent personal experience and abundant previous ones, I can tell you sex isn't all about your own pleasure. I enjoyed making him feel good as much as he did giving me pleasure. Vilification of casual sexual acts is but a tool used often by repressed individuals intent on demonizing what they don't understand or are too scared to try.

Edited by Carlos Hazday
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12 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

Vilification of casual sexual acts is but a tool used often by repressed individuals intent on demonizing what they don't understand or are too scared to try.

 

Very true, but Liam wasn't doing that. He passed no judgement on Mason and he didn't say casual sex was wrong. He said that in a relationship between two who love each other, sex isn't the only thing they share and want from each other. He was trying to convince Neil that he wouldn't prefer casual sex with others to what they have.

 

But I agree with you that it didn't sound like something coming from a teen. It was much too mature in some ways, while the part about sex being about your own pleasure was the voice of inexperience. Perhaps Liam has been reading things which made him think like this, and gave him those images. But he didn't use them - and nor did Graeme - to vilify casual sex. Or at least I didn't feel that way, and I'm as much a fan of casual sex and threesomes and fun as you are. A true Dane :P  https://satwcomic.com/good-to-see-you-australia last picture

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Apologies for highjacking your comments, Graeme.

@Timothy M. I might be a bit oversensitive about this issue due to a recent comment by a reader. I had my two MCs end up in bed with two other men after a night dancing in Amsterdam. Even though there was no intercourse between the couples, someone objected and claimed they shouldn't get married since they were cheating. I'm tired of internalized homophobia and attempts to impose personal mores inherited from heterosexual practices on us. Even when I disagree with certain practices, I'm not about to judge. Live and let live as long as nobody's getting hurt.

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@Carlos Hazday no apology necessary. I never intend my characters to be perfect (unless it's satire or a parody) and they make mistakes. There is a multitude of opinions and views in the world on almost every topic, and sex is no different. As I keep telling my boys: everyone's different. When it comes to sex, some like monogamy, some like open relationships, some like casual sex, some like orgies, some like what others call "kinks" -- as long as all participants are happy, I don't see a problem with it. After all, it's only the participant's views that are important :)

 

@Timothy M. thanks for your post. One thing we don't know is how much experience Liam has. Remember, he was in a sexless relationship for two years, so the chances are he's only had casual sex before Neil, and probably not that often (there aren't that many opportunities for a closeted teen in the outer suburbs of Melbourne) . If he's had a few bad experiences, that may have coloured his views. And, both of them know about what happened to Roscoe prior to the draft... (in Leopards Leap).

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No problem @Carlos Hazday  I can understand your exasperation on the matter. I like your stories exactly because they don't conform to silly Victorian morals.

 

Quote

One thing we don't know is how much experience Liam has. 

 

Yes, we do. Liam admitted to Doug he had never kissed a boy and was a virgin regarding gay sex.

Unless you're thinking about his experiences with girls.

Edited by Timothy M.
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Ah, but @Timothy M. how do we know that Liam told Doug the truth? Even if Doug was his best friend, would Liam admit to, for example, swapping blowjobs with a stranger in a public toilet? All we can say is that if he had sex before Neil, he wasn't willing to admit to it.

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48 minutes ago, Graeme said:

Ah, but @Timothy M. how do we know that Liam told Doug the truth? Even if Doug was his best friend, would Liam admit to, for example, swapping blowjobs with a stranger in a public toilet? All we can say is that if he had sex before Neil, he wasn't willing to admit to it.

 

I finally found the place, and the exchange with Doug makes me think Liam would have preferred to tell him the truth if he had tried gay sex, even without any details.

 

Quote

“Have you met any other gay guys so far?”
“Only online.” Liam shrugged. 

and later in the conversation

Liam shrugged. “He might be, but he’s got a boyfriend. I’m not going to try to steal him away, and I don’t want my first time to be a one-night stand.”
“Your first time? You’re a virgin?”
Liam grimaced. “With guys, yes.”
He glared at Doug. “And unless you’re volunteering to fix that, you keep your trap shut. I only told you because I trust you.”

 

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Okay, @Timothy M. Either Liam is a good liar, or he really was a virgin at that time. Since he started to chase Neil within a couple of months of that time, he's unlikely to have weakened and had casual sex, so it's fair to say he probably hasn't experienced casual sex himself. Which raises the question of where did his opinion come from. From the section you quoted, it sounds like it probably came from online, or from simply trying to discourage Neil from considering the idea.

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On 7/21/2018 at 1:41 PM, Timothy M. said:

Luckily, we all like rules, and once we get the proper behavior drilled into us by family, friends or teachers, we can usually cope with social situations - at least for a span of time.

 

 

Sadly, there's no field as diverse as social interaction.... I'm 33 and still get it wrong in some situations. Luckily not catastophically so, but still.

 

@Graeme, thanks for including this exchange about autism. It both enhances Liam as a character (although we really already knew because of scattered observations of his connection to Noel) as well as educates your readers on other people that are normal, yet not the norm.

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Thanks, @shyboy85. I have had experiences with a number of people on the spectrum over the years. I guess it shows :*)

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12 hours ago, shyboy85 said:

 

Sadly, there's no field as diverse as social interaction.... I'm 33 and still get it wrong in some situations. Luckily not catastrophically so, but still.

 

Oh well, I'm 54 and I still get it wrong at times. At least, we know why. Before I realized (around your age) I just thought I was socially inept for no good reason.

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On 7/23/2018 at 11:06 PM, Timothy M. said:

 

Oh well, I'm 54 and I still get it wrong at times. At least, we know why. Before I realized (around your age) I just thought I was socially inept for no good reason.

Thanks for sharing your insights into Autism, it’s not often that we come across people on the Spectrum and as they say you learn something new every day. 

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It’s been great to catch up with the guys again, but I think that I 

may wait a few weeks before I read this story again as more chapters will have been posted and I tend to forget what’s happened in the story as I read a few other stories and sometimes it’s hard to remember the story. 

Mason should use the world clock feature on his smartphone as it will make it easier to track the time differences between Aus and the us 

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1 hour ago, Bft said:

Thanks for sharing your insights into Autism, it’s not often that we come across people on the Spectrum and as they say you learn something new every day. 

I think there are more people on the spectrum that we realise. When people think of autism, they usually think of the extreme cases, like the person who can't/won't talk, or requires a carer most of the time, or kids who go to special classes/schools. But there are a lot of people on the spectrum who have mild symptoms and aren't that noticable. I know of kids on the spectrum who go to mainstream schools, and adults who hold down regular jobs without any apparent issue.

 

1 hour ago, Bft said:

It’s been great to catch up with the guys again, but I think that I 

may wait a few weeks before I read this story again as more chapters will have been posted and I tend to forget what’s happened in the story as I read a few other stories and sometimes it’s hard to remember the story. 

Mason should use the world clock feature on his smartphone as it will make it easier to track the time differences between Aus and the us 

That's fine. I wish I was in a position to post every week, but I'm not :( However, I always write on the assumption that most people will read it right through without long breaks (ie. the way it'll be read by everyone who finds the story after it's finished).

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