Mum was pleased I'd moved in with Brett and his family. She liked him and, quite unbelievably, feted all over Lee. Lee lapped up the attention, behaved like an angel, and was immediately inducted into her good books.
None of us could believe Lee had infiltrated my mother's heart. He was the biggest snot in the family, the one who all of us periodically wished to murder. Rarely a week went by without him pushing his luck at least once, and yet he was still my mother's favourite member of Brett's family.
When Damon learned of my mother's fondness for Lee, he sighed ruefully and wished me well. I told him that in fourteen months, Lee would be in America, and would again be his problem. Damon groaned at this inevitable truth. We both knew that although I might be able to develop a functional relationship with the kid, I would never really grow to be as close to him as he and Brett were.
The time for Damon and his family to return to America came sooner than any of us expected. Before we knew what was happening, we were standing at the airport, saying our last good-byes before they were due to pass through Customs. As they left, Damon made us promise to come and save them if, during their Asian stopover, they were arrested for drug smuggling. I laughed at this, but felt guilty when I realized Damon hadn't been joking.
Brett and I drove back from the airport in my van. My lover wound down the window and smoked cigarette after cigarette, whilst I concentrated on maneuvering through the heavy traffic. It was a Sunday morning and we would be returning to an empty house; Will, Claire and Lee all had plans for the day. It isn't often we have a day together, and I'll admit that I was irritated with Brett's sullen mood. I wanted to have fun with him, not watch him sulk over Damon's departure.
'I can't believe he's gone again,' he remarked.
Brett sighed. 'I had lots of things I wanted to speak to him about. Now it's going to have to wait for next year.'
'You could ring him,' I countered.
'I could, but that would be…odd. What would Trent think?'
'I'm going to assume that if I'm not bothered, then Trent won't be bothered,' I answered firmly. Sometimes, Brett worries more about Trent's reaction than he does about mine. I expect this is because he can see me and is in daily contact with me, and thus knows of my reactions, but occasionally his concern for his ex-lover's current boyfriend gets on my nerves.
Brett sighed again and lit another cigarette. 'On another matter, did you return Victor's diary to Lee?'
'No. Lee said I could keep it.'
'Did he?' Brett sounded surprised. He blew out a stream of smoke and fixed his gaze on the dash. 'Do you think that's appropriate?'
I paused. 'Why do you say that?'
'Why do you think?' he asked officiously.
I gritted my teeth and tried to stay calm. His attitude can really stink at times. 'It's a diary. Some of the content isn't suitable for Lee, and I don't want to throw it away. Is that alright with you?'
'If I'd hung onto so much of Damon's stuff, would you be insulted? Give it to Lee, he's already read it anyway. And why are you even arguing about this with me, Mike?'
'I thought I had a right to privacy?'
'You do. But that doesn't mean I want to think about you dwelling on what a good root your ex-boyfriend was.'
'Did I say that?'
'You implied it.'
'Oh, get a grip Brett,' I snarled angrily. 'Do you actually even think of me as a human being? All you seem to give a shit about is you. Try learning the difference between loving someone, and trying to control them.'
'I do love you,' he argued, his voice growing louder and louder with each word. 'Excuse me if I dare get pissed off because you want to keep a goddamn diary, and who knows how many pornographic photos of you and your ex-boyfriend. Excuse me if I dare get offended that you see no problem in keeping photos of you being taken up the ass by someone else.'
He was furious, and the expression on his face was clearly accusing. He was angry with me because he viewed my retention of Victor's items as a betrayal, and worse still, he was refusing to acknowledge the real reason I'd retained my lover's belongings.
I was incensed that he was being so goddamn insensitive about Victor's diary and photos. I'd especially hated reading the diary, hated sifting through page after page after page of his life. There had been so few good memories that he'd put to paper, the rest of the diary had been filled with the horrors of his childhood, and his depression. It had been so fucking hard to read it, so difficult to acknowledge the truth.
There was so much that I'd been blissfully ignorant of during our time together. I knew, after reading the diary, I should have questioned Victor more. How many times had he written 'I wish Mikey would ask' or 'I tried to tell him, but he gave me that look as though I were just white trash and he wasn't surprised at what I've have to say, anyway'? I should have asked. I should have been a better person, a better boyfriend. Ever since his first suicide attempt, I'd try to absolve myself of blame, but his diary had forced me to face unsavoury facts; I'd screwed up. I had been in a position, more than anyone else had been, to help him. I had ignored every single goddamn warning sign. Now, on top of my guilt, I had a boyfriend laying into me.
'Fuck you Brett. Don't you dare start attacking me out of nowhere. All I did was suggest you call Damon occasionally. You have no bloody excuse to start paying out on me over Victor.'
'Look, I'm sorry,' he offered irritably, his the tone of his voice considerably lower than it had been mere seconds ago. 'We'll both shut-up and forget about it. Keep whatever shit you want, just keep it away from me.'
'No, the problem is you aren't sorry. The problem is you're an absolute asshole, and you've managed to convince yourself that because everyone's accustomed to your behaviour, it's an acceptable way to act.'
'Oh, fuck you Michael,' he spat condescendingly. 'I'm really not in the mood for this, so shut the fuck up already.'
Truthfully, I wouldn't have minded pulling over and tossing him out of the van, but I was driving through the CBD and there were roadworks, so that wasn't such a practical idea. And tempted as I was to make a comment about him having the exact same manner of fighting as his father, I decided it was wisest to keep my mouth shut for the journey home.
We ended up making our way home without exchanging another word. Neither of us spoke, although I mentally gave Brett a verbal serving, and I can assume he did the same.
No sooner than we arrived home, though, before Brett started with the snide comments.
'What are you doing following me?' he demanded as we made our way to the front door. 'I would have thought you wouldn't want to be near me and my asshole behaviour.'
'You're forgetting I live here,' I snarled. 'So maybe you are the one who should fuck off.'
'You're forgetting that I'm paying for this house, so I can kick you out whenever I fucking well want.'
'Oh congratulations Brett, you've just cemented your reputation as Australia's biggest fuckwit. Would you like to sit down sir while I go and fetch you a beer?'
'Why the fuck am I an asshole? And when did I ask you to get me a beer? All I did was point out that I own the house, not you. Ergo, if I don't want you living here, you will move out.'
'Good on you,' I retorted. 'But just to make it easy on you, I think I'll leave now. That way you can sit here and enjoy the house you paid for all on your own.'
I headed back to my van and flung open the driver's door. As I drove down the street, I regretted not knowing how to do a burn-out. I would have liked to have left the asshole with one last reminder of me.
'You don't know how to do a burn-out?' Brennan repeated. 'Are you for real mate?'
I glared into my glass of beer. 'No, I don't know how to do a burnout. Is that so weird?'
Bren snickered. 'Shit yeah.'
I sighed and lit and glanced over at the clock. I'd been gone four hours and Brett had already called me three times in the past half hour, apologizing for his behaviour. I'd hung up on him on all three occasions – although I'd spoken to him long enough to let him know I was happily settled in at my brother's house – and was now waiting to see if he was going to attempt a fourth phone call.
'I can't believe you had a shitty little fight and moved out,' Dane compalined. 'Man, I'd be pretty fucked off if I found out Bren had photos of him with another guy.'
'You just didn't like Victor,' I accused.
'No, I liked Victor perfectly fine until he started fucking you over,' Dane argued. 'But that's beside the point. Give the poor guy a break; you've spent the past week telling him you're over Victor and yet you still keep photos of you two going at it. Bin them, Mike. If I died, and Bren hung onto that kind of shit even after he found a new partner, I'd come back and haunt him until he stopped being such a dickhead.'
'It isn't that simple. It's…disrespectful. I've already passed on everything else I own, what difference is a diary and a few photos? Most of the photos aren't pornographic.'
Bren met my eye. 'What's in the diary?'
'Nothing sexual,' I snapped. 'He didn't even have a problem with it, I just know it. His problem was the photos, he just didn't want to come out and say it.'
Brennan and Dane exchanged a pointed look.
'Quit it,' I demanded. 'If you were dead, would you want someone getting rid of your photos?'
'In your case, yes!' Dane exclaimed. 'You're a fuckwit, Mike. Why do you keep over-reacting to everything he does? Chill out.'
'I'm sure you'd be chilled out if Brennan told you he could kick you out because he owned the house.'
Dane exhaled loudly. 'Dad's right. You two totally should have discussed your finances before you moved in with him. Then he wouldn't be able to say things like that.'
The argument would have doubtlessly continued had my mobile phone not sounded. Thankfully, my phone sounded to signify that someone had sent me a text-message, and I jumped on it, hoping to see a message from Brett.
It was Brett. He'd written 'I'm sorry. I love you. Please forgive me?'
Dane snatched the phone out of my hand. 'I'm sorry. I love you. Please forgive me?' he repeated. 'Aw, Brett, you love my brother. How…cute.'
My younger brother took the phone and walked around his townhouse, reading and re-reading the message. He stepped into the kitchen with the phone, collected another beer for himself, and meandered out around the courtyard. I watched him suspiciously, wondering what he was up to.
Dane came back inside wearing a smirk. 'Here,' he offered. 'I text messaged him back, to say you'd been pissing and moaning on our couch for the past four hours, and that you're ready to forgive him.'
'I didn't say that.'
'No, but you let me text message him, which means that you're just too gutless to say it directly. Suck it up, Mike, and get back with him. There's no way in hell I'm giving you your bed back.'
Brennan and Dane went for a drive, to give Brett and I time together.
I was grateful for the privacy, but nervous about being along with Brett. Brett had arrived ten minutes after my brother and his boyfriend had left, and each of us seemed incapable of making the first apology. We just sat alongside each other on the outdoor chairs, fiddling with our beers and smoking cigarettes.
'I still love you,' he offered with a wan smile. 'Um…are you going to forgive me?'
'Yes,' I muttered. 'Are you going to make an effort to be nicer?'
He nodded slowly. 'Yeah, I will. I'm really sorry that I said some of that stuff. And the diary and stuff…that's none of my business. I can understand why you'd want to keep it.'
'You can? Because Dane and Brennan told me it was…well…that they wouldn't appreciate it if their partner had photos like that.'
Brett leant over and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. 'I don't appreciate it. But I know I have to accept it if I want you to stay.'
'Oh.' I stared over at him in surprise. 'Well, I didn't realise you were that unhappy. To me, it's nothing. It's not like I'm still attracted to Victor, because I'm not. I don't even plan on looking at those photos, but that doesn't mean I'm happy to throw them away. That's….it seems awful to me.
'I wasn't even going to tell anyone I had his stuff, because I didn't want the judgment calls. But, uh, when Lee asked if I had anything of Victor's…it seemed right to tell him. A lot of what Victor left behind belonged with him. I wanted to pass it on. The diary, though…I think that Lee was right when he gave it to me. It made me face up to a lot of facts I'd wanted to ignore. For whatever reason, facing things head on has made it better. I know that I probably won't make the same mistakes again.'
My lover nodded. 'I'm cool with that.'
'All you needed to do was ask,' I reprimanded him gently. 'I still feel guilty about it, so you yelling at me was kinda hard.'
'I know,' he mumbled, moving from his deck chair onto mine. He stroked my leg absently, his gaze downturned. 'Mike, I'm honestly sorry. I went way overboard, especially about the house. You're right; it's your home too.'
I lightly hit his arm. 'Hey, you should be glad it's my home, too,' I grinned. 'Don't you want me to help you out with the mortgage.'
'You don't have to do that.'
'I have to help out somehow,' I chastised. 'Or were you planning on giving me free room and board.'
He smiled. 'The food's not that great.'
'Ah, but you buy me chocolate,' I retorted smoothly. 'And my favourite one at that. Honestly, Brett, what's not to like?'
Brett laughed. 'The landlord?'
I laughed back and pulled him onto my lap. 'I love the landlord, Brett. I love him more than you could possibly imagine.'