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'What are you doing here?' Jamie asks bluntly.
I glance around his business. It's Saturday afternoon and it's busy; there are swarms of people here. Jamie, who was never this uptight when he was working for someone else, looks entirely unimpressed that I've shown up uninvited.
'I thought I could help out,' I suggest. 'Will needs to leave at four.'
'It's two-thirty, now. Four o'clock is an hour and a half away. Fuck, we close at four and that's when Will heads off, so what's the rush?'
I shrug. 'Nothing.'
Jamie shakes his head wearily, looks around the place, and sighs. He nudges my arm and guides me towards the gate. 'I need a fag.'
'I'm not available in that capacity.'
'You're like Lee, only you use longer words,' Jamie grins. 'Nah, the fucking anti-smoking nazi's won't let me smoke in my own place of business.' He snorts disdainfully. 'Fuckheads. Hey, you don't want a dog, do you? I've got to get rid of Stan. Apparently I can't have him here, either.'
'We have a cat. I don't think that would work out too well.'
Jamie grumbles under his breath and rolls himself a cigarette. He sticks it in his mouth, lights up, and inhales deeply. Nicotine craving satisfied, he fixes his hazel eyes on me and asks why the fuck I haven't come around earlier.
He shrugs. 'You miss a lot of shit when you hang out at home. Get Mike look to after your kids sometime, and come out with me. Shit, take your kids with you, I don't mind.'
'I can take my kids but not Michael?'
'Your kids are more fun than your boyfriend,' he replies bluntly. 'Or haven't you noticed?'
The insult is more annoying than offensive. Jamie has no actual problem with Michael, other than that Michael is my partner. He's insecure. He doesn't like being beaten, and he sees himself as being in competition with Mike, which is clearly ridiculous because there's nothing to compete for.
'I haven't, actually. It seems like you haven't, either, because he said you dropped by a few times while I was overseas.'
'That was to see if you'd come back early.'
I give up. 'Right.'
Jamie sighs. 'Come around for tea tonight. Come to Joy's new house. Take Mike if you really have to.'
'Joy has a new house?'
He shrugs defensively. 'I thought I should make sure she's stable. She's pregnant; she doesn't need to worry about where she's living.'
'Most men choose to propose.'
'I tried that. She wasn't keen. She doesn't want to live with me. I'm going to keep living here,' he gestures to his place of business, which is also where he lives. 'And visit her a few times a week. I dunno. Why does she have to be so stubborn?'
'Because the alternative is being boring?' I suggest sardonically.
Jamie breaks into laughter. 'Eh, Michael's sweet, Brett. You know I'm only fucking around when I give him shit.'
It's as close to an apology as I'm going to get, and I accept it with all the grace and tact I can muster. After all, Michael – thankfully – has grown a thick enough skin to ignore Jamie's periodic, antagonizing, comments.
'Where's Ben?' Joy asks.
'On a date,' Michael replies. 'Has he mentioned a 'Dragana' to you?'
She looks disappointed. 'Oh. No, no, he hasn't mentioned Dragana.' She laughs awkwardly. 'I'm disappointed. This is sad. I'm disappointed a thirteen year old boy isn't here.'
'I'm not,' Jamie remarks.
It isn't hard to see why Jamie and I are friends. We're both petty and jealous enough to hate anyone intruding on 'our' property. The difference is that Jamie is better at admitting he's jealous and petty, and doesn't let it interfere with his life as much as I do. Thus, while Jamie dislikes Ben's closeness to his girlfriend, he certainly doesn't prevent Ben from helping his girlfriend out, and entertaining her, when needed.
'I like that kid,' she protests. 'I wonder what his girlfriend is like.'
I nod my head. 'Me too. I was going to ask him yesterday, but he and Tom went to a mosque.'
'Is Tom considering converting?' Joy asks.
'Nope,' I shake my head. 'I asked Ben why they went to the mosque and he said went to speak to someone, and Tom was there for moral support. Mind you, it would be easier for us if they all had the same religion. They could do their praying at the same time, eat the same foods, and go to the same mosque or church. Teagan has, for the – wait for it – thirteenth time, been removed from her biological home. She'll be coming back on Wednesday. Then we'll have a Christian, a Catholic and a Muslim living with us. What did I do to deserve this?'
Jamie sniggers. 'At least Lee and Claire have moved out. If you'd had a vegetarian in there as well, you would have lost it.'
The two of us find the combination hilarious. Joy gives a slight smile.
Michael twists his napkin in his hands, silently fuming. He's not angry with us, though. He's angry with social services. They rang us earlier this afternoon to advise that Teagan has been removed from her mother's care. She lasted just three weeks in her biological home before the neighbours made a report to the department, claiming that they'd heard excessive screaming and crying from the house.
Teagan has been molested, and both she and her brothers have been neglected. There was no food in the house, and no clean clothes. Her brothers have welts on their skin, from having been whipped with an electrical cord. Needless to say, her mother's 'final chance' has come to an end.
When I heard the news, I asked Michael if he wanted to stay at home tonight. He said he'd rather go to Joy's house with me; he didn't want to spend too much time dwelling on what has occurred. Now, unfortunately, I've been a dickhead and reminded him.
I touch his leg under the table. 'Sorry,' I mouth.
He forces a smile. 'I'll survive.'
'Man, I can't imagine having a Muslim kid,' Jamie remarks. 'He's gotta being copping heaps of shit. Speaking of which, I really need to kick Gary's arse about some of the shit he says to him.'
'Yes, you should,' I agree, meeting his eye.
Jamie nods slightly. 'No worries, Brett. I'll tell him, and the rest of 'em, to fucking shut up about it.'
I sleep in until mid-morning, before heading to the kitchen to cook up a nice, hot, breakfast.
Michael, who was doing his ironing in front of the television, stops what he's doing and follows me into the kitchen. I pull him against me and hug him appreciatively. He's warm and clean and beautiful and for the millionth time, I wonder how I managed to score such a hot boyfriend. He's so patient with me, so giving and understanding.
'I love you, Mikey-Mikey-Mike. You make me want to lock you inside so you never run away. Seeing as that kind of stuff is illegal, do you want pancakes? Sausages? Eggs? It's all I have to offer you.'
He rubs my cheek affectionately. 'I'll eat anything. Even you.'
I kiss him. 'Mmm, is that a promise or a threat?'
'A definite promise. Want to take me up on it?'
'Maybe. Where are the kids?'
Michael pushes his body against mine. 'Will's at work, Tom is at church and Ben, from what I can gather, is praying to Allah.'
I sigh happily and lead him down the hallway to our bedroom. 'Did I really say I didn't like religion last night? Can I retract that?'
'You'll change your mind when you have to take Teagan to mass.'
'Nope,' I refute. 'I've heard the Catholics drink. Where there's wine, there's happiness.'
My boyfriend laughs at my oh-so-naïve interpretation of what might occur during a trip to a Catholic church, and swings into our bedroom, shutting the door behind us. He pulls off his shirt, steps out of his jeans, and in less time than it takes me to turn around, he's naked and spread-eagled seductively on our unmade bed.
I eye him up lustfully, before jumping on him and participating in some good, hard, loving. He moans into the pillow when he comes, and afterwards, props himself up on one elbow and regards me half-lovingly, and half-curious way.
'You're hungry,' he states.
Would I be thinking of crispy bacon dunked into runny egg yolks just two minutes after orgasm? Well, of course I would be. I'm only human.
'Yes,' I admit.
He stares wistfully into my eyes. 'Shit, Brett. I know all about who you are. You don't know anything about me.'
'I know you're giving me your 'please take me somewhere nice today because otherwise I'll have a mental breakdown' look,' I point out. 'I also know that the only reason you had sex with me was to guilt me into taking you out.'
A slow smile takes shape on Michael's face. 'Only the first part is true.'
'So you had sex with me because you were horny and I'm hot in bed?' I ask hopefully.
He reaches out and takes my hand. 'Yep. I'm only half-wrong. Still, being half-wrong is karma for accusing you of being thoughtless when you weren't.'
'And being half-wrong is my bad karma for knowing you wanted to spend time with me, but trying to figure out how I could get out of spending time with you. I still need to fix the chook pen.'
Michael grabs a pillow and belts me with it. He throws the pillow away and glares at me, before kicking, pushing and shoving me off the bed.
'You pig,' he accuses.
I pull him down onto my stomach. 'You love it.'
'Yes. Yes, I do.' He admits. 'You're predictable. I like that. I don't have to worry about you.'
I whimper pathetically. 'You should also love me because I'm hot and sexy and loving.'