Cheers for the reviews.
I had expected Brett to wait a week or two before calling – if he was going to call at all – so it was something of a surprise when he rang on Saturday night, just days after I'd given him my number.
He wanted to know if I was busy on Sunday. I wasn't. We agreed to go to the cricket, and he arranged to pick me up just prior to lunch.
After he hung up, I started panicking. I'd never attended a sporting event with a virtual stranger before, and definitely not one like cricket, where conversation would be almost necessary. What would we speak about? What should I wear? And did Brett even realize why it was I'd given him my number? Would I have to show him what I wanted, and risk rejection?
By Sunday morning I was a ball of anxiety. I kept checking my outfit in the mirror, eating mints to ensure I didn't have bad breath, and compiling a mental checklist of conversational topics so there would be no awkward silences. It was bad. I don't think I'd ever been so nervous about spending a day with a man I liked.
My nerves weren't as ridiculous as they might seem. I hadn't been interested in anyone since Victor, and given that Victor passed away two years prior, a long period had elapsed where I hadn't had any relationship experience. I hadn't let a single person into my heart, either romantically or plantonically. Now, though, things were changing. I guess the gaping wound that Victor's suicide left was starting to heal, because I was beginning to experience spurts of loneliness.
I wanted a lover, but not the sort of lover I'd previously had; I wanted someone who was in it for the long run, someone mature and stable enough to work through the bad periods and enjoy the good ones. I wanted someone who would never intentionally hurt me. Instinctively, I somehow knew that Brett, too, would seek these values in a relationship. Thus, my loneliness, coupled with the intuitive understanding that Brett was possibly the person I'd been searching for, combined with my two years of sitting on the sidelines in the game of love and resulted in previously uncharacteristic worrying.
Ten minutes before Brett was due to arrive, I sat down on the couch in my studio apartment and told myself to get a grip. I may not have been as muscular as Brett, but I'd never struggled to maintain a healthy weight. Nor was I ugly. I'll admit that I'm a fairly ordinary looking person, not particularly attractive, but neither am I particularly distasteful. My hair is blonde, my eyes are blue, and my skin is a very ordinary light tan. There are no major blemishes, and I have not tattoos or piercings.
On this particular day I was dressed in a blue polo shirt and khaki shorts, an outfit that I felt more or less self-confident in. I was presentable, yet not over-dressed. My hair was neat, I had no awful zits, and my breath was minty enough to make a Tic-Tac quiver in fear. I drank a glass of water and tried to concentrate on some banal Sunday morning business program, rather than watch the time slip by. Brett was late.
He eventually arrived, ten minutes behind schedule, clothed in a maroon jersey and denim shorts, with his dark hair brushed out of his face.
'Hey,' he greeted me as I opened my front door. 'Sorry I'm late. You ready?'
'Yeah, no worries. I'm good to go. Did I need to bring anything?'
'Only yourself,' he grinned.
I grinned back and grabbed my keys, cigarettes, and wallet before following him out to his car. It was then that I realised he wasn't alone. Sitting in the back of his late model black Astra was a boy in his mid-teens and an infant in a child car seat.
I recognized the boy immediately. He was Lee, the younger brother of Victor, who by some twist of fate had found his way into the care of Brett following Lee's removal from his biological home by child welfare. As I gazed at Lee, for the first time, I considered two very important possibilities. Firstly, that the only reason Brett had invited me to the cricket was to give his foster son access to the man who had loved his older brother and secondly, that Lee might not be too impressed with the prospect of his brother's ex-lover, and his foster parent, having a relationship.
'Hi Lee,' I offered, trying to sound as 'normal' as possible.
'Hello.' He replied easily.
'That's Ella,' Brett gestured with a nod of his head. 'Lee's daughter. Claire's at home catching up on her schoolwork.'
I inspected the child who would have known Victor as an uncle, had he still been alive. She was eight months old at the time, and rather cute, if fat. I could see traces of her father in her; the blonde hair, the fair skin, and the shape of the two teeth she possessed were both of Lee's origin, as well as features that I assumed could only have come from her mother.
'Is she keeping you busy?' I inquired. I always marvel at people who become parents in their mid-teens. I was twenty-five at the time, and couldn't have imagined being a parental figure at that age, let alone as a teenager. Lee wasn't the only young parent I knew; my own, younger, brother had become a father at sixteen, and as I raised my question, I wondered why on earth all four parents involved had been so careless during sex.
'Yeah. I used to want a huge family, and now I think I only want two or three more.'
Brett laughed at that. 'I thought Claire only wanted one more?'
Lee shrugged. 'She'll come around.'
Brett glanced over at me with an eyebrow half-raised in amusement. I smiled at him; pleased he seemed a little happier than he'd been on Thursday night.
During the journey, I learnt a little more about my like-object. I discovered he preferred to have music playing, and no one talking, when he drove. I watched a myriad of expressions cross his face as other drivers repeatedly tried to cut him off. I found he had the oddest way of parking a car I'd ever seen.
Two hours after we arrived at the cricket, I was still unable to keep my eyes off him. He had orthodontic braces on at that point in his life, and every time he laughed, they'd glint in the sun. He'd hand over the sunscreen every hour, and although I wanted to point out I didn't mind working on my tan, I accepted it anyway.
When Ella became fussy and wanted a change of scenery, Lee took her for a walk around the mostly empty stands and I got my first opportunity to talk to Brett alone.
'I didn't realize Lee had a daughter,' I remarked. 'Terry didn't mention it. I would have last seen him around the time she was born.'
Brett hesitated before replying. 'I didn't see Terry around for a while.'
'I thought Jamie was a mate of yours?' I inquired, curious.
Brett paused again. 'He is. It's a long story.'
Many months later I would learn that there had been a falling out and Terry and Jamie, and Brett and his partner of the time, Damon, had gone their separate ways. On that day, though, I was smart enough to realize it wasn't a topic Brett relished, and let it drop.
There was a period of silence that followed. We watched the game in wordless uneasiness, before the Bulls and the Blues went for an afternoon break.
'I wonder when Lee's going to get back?' I wondered aloud.
'When he's ready. He doesn't like cricket.'
'Then why did he come?'
'To see you. And to give Claire a chance to catch up on her schoolwork. She's in Year 11, and he's in Year 10, so her work is a little more difficult than his.'
'Lee and Claire are both still at school full-time?'
I considered Brett's comments regarding Lee's reasons for attending the cricket. 'What did Lee want to see me for?'
Brett seemed surprised that I would ask. 'You were in love with his brother. I expect he's grateful that not everyone's forgotten about Victor.'
'Did he want to ask me anything?'
'I don't think so.'
'Oh.' I sat back in my seat and stared at the cricket pitch. I began to wonder whether I actually had a chance of getting through to Brett that I wanted to try a relationship with him.
'I didn't mean to be rude,' Brett added suddenly. 'I didn't ask you to come so you could be pestered.'
'No, no worries. Lee's welcome to ask whatever he wants. I just didn't expect him to be here.'
Brett's eyes locked on mine. Understanding dawned on him, and I half-smiled to re-enforce that yes, I did like him and that yes, my reasons for agreeing to attend cricket matches with him went beyond camaraderie and a shared like of the game.
He bit down on his bottom lip before turning his gaze to the buddy of Coke in his hand. The move confused me. As he had done on Thursday night, he hadn't so much rejected my advances, but acknowledged them, and then chosen to ignore them. The only men and women who had previously reacted to my hints in that manner had been players and attention whores who enjoyed the attention and wanted to keep receiving it, but I could immediately sense that Brett was by no means a player.
'Are you seeing anyone?' I asked. Terry had advised me Brett was single, and Brett himself had made no mention of a special someone, but that didn't mean there wasn't a man or woman who had caught his eye.
'No. Are you?' He asked, although I'd already made it perfectly clear that I wasn't.
There was no one sitting near us, or more to the point, no one sitting within earshot who seemed interested in what we might be discussing, so I decided to interrogate him a little further.
'If you don't mind me asking, when did you split with…Damon?'
He didn't appreciate the question. 'Five months months if you count the fact that he moved out and ended it a month before telling me it was over.'
I didn't miss the bitterness in his voice; it would have been impossible not to notice. I did, however, ponder Damon's reasons for leaving and how it was he'd managed to leave the house, and the relationship, without Brett realising. It had been some years since I'd spoken to Damon – who I had known a little better than Brett – but the man had always spoken about his lover with affection. Obviously something had fallen to the wayside.
'I'm sorry, I know I have no excuse to pry, but is he still in contact with you and Lee?'
His dark eyes caught mine. 'If what you want to ask is how Lee took the split, then the answer is, he's not terribly happy. He's not depressed, though. He doesn't seem to have that inclination. I take him to a psychologist every couple of months, and other than normal teenage mood swings, he's fairly normal. It's nothing to be proud of, but he's used to people leaving his life, and he's accustomed to saying good-byes.'
That wasn't the information I was seeking, but I was glad to have the unexpected knowledge. One suicide in the family was surely more than enough. And if Lee had a strong enough personality to survive the knock downs, then more power to him. He certainly had a better ability to keep on standing up to face the next onslaught than I did.
'Lee's angry with him,' Brett continued unexpectedly. He kept his gaze fixed in the distance as he spoke. 'But Damon…sometimes it was like he had his head in the fucking clouds. I don't think that when he left he realised how much Lee loved him. He was…he is…he doesn't always understand how his actions affect people.'
I didn't know Damon well enough to comment intelligently. 'Maybe they'll reconcile.'
'Maybe. Maybe not. Damon's leaving for America next week. He hasn't bothered to advise Lee.'
'Do you think he wanted you to tell him?'
'No. He didn't actually want me to know he was going. Jamie told me. Not that it makes a difference.'
The conversation was uncomfortable, but having started it, I only had myself to blame. Thankfully, Lee and Ella returned at this point, the latter asleep in the former's arms.
My conversation with Brett ceased abruptly, the topic of conversation not being one appropriate for Lee to overhear.
We returned our attention to the cricket until Ella awoke. This time, a walk around was not enough to placate the infant, and it became obvious that Brett, Lee, and Ella would need to return home.
'Do you mind?' Brett asked. 'I could pick you up later and drive you home, if you want to stay?'
'No, it's sweet. I think the Bulls are going to lose this one.'
Brett glanced at the scoreboard. 'They might still win.'
'I react badly when my team loses,' I lied.
He didn't push the matter. We made our way out, with Ella perking up the second we were out of the stadium. I watched Brett take her from her father's arms and cuddle her. Ella looked at Brett as though he were something of a marvel and maybe, for a second or two, I was jealous. Brett's only worry seemed to be the recent departure of his lover and that, in the scheme of things, was nothing terrible. He had his family, his foster child, and an infant who was told he was her grandfather. He didn't appear to either want, or need, a new lover, whereas I both wanted, and needed, someone.
On the journey home, I told myself I was going crazy. Brett has broken all my rules. If I'd met him in my early twenties, the fact that he'd bought his family with him, the way he ignored my subtle hints, and the discussion about his ex, would have had me running to the hills. The 'date' had been a failure of monumental proportions.
And yet, I wanted to see him again. I wanted to ask him out. I wanted to be totally up front with him.
But I couldn't. Lee was there, and his presence dictated that I didn't push matters. So when Brett arrived at my apartment, I simply hopped out and thanked him for the ride.
I watched him drive off, wondering if I'd ever seen him again. At that moment, I doubted it.
Thankfully, one week later, Terry decided to interfere. Terry later told me he could interfere, because he had AIDS and was dying, and people were inclined to excuse his actions, but I prefer to think that he did it because he knew Brett and I would be good together.