Cheers for the reviews. No, I don't suppose the car thing makes a difference:) School uniforms are mandatory at most Australian schools. Weetbix are wheat biscuits. You either like them, or you don't.
I'm tired, but not tired enough to escape being gobsmacked by our new crockery and cutlery. There are fourteen of us at the table, and we all have matching plates, knives, forks and cups.
I want to pull Mike aside and ask what happened to our old, mismatched, sets. I never gave a shit if one person had a round, blue, plate and the next had a green and white square one. I couldn't care less if we had different cups, different knives, and different forks. My lover obviously feels differently.
'What's wrong?' Michael murmurs.
'The plates,' I whisper. 'Why do we have matching plates?'
'I thought it would be nice to have a decent dinner setting. Don't you think it looks good?'
'It does,' I admit. 'Very nice. Very tasteful.'
He pats my thigh. 'Then stop complaining. I saw them when I was at David Jones buying Teagan's school shoes, and thought we could do with a matching set.'
Teagan is the third, and youngest, of our foster children, and the only one still living at home.
I was happily in charge at the time when the elder two children attended school. This meant they went to a public school, and wore inexpensive uniforms, and weren't required to do much in the way of extra-curricular activities. If last season's Nike's were half the price as the current version, I bought the discounted type. They caught public transport to high school, worked part-time, and if they ran out of pocket money mid way through the week, I can assure you that I wasn't sympathetic. I certainly didn't wander through David Jones looking for kitchenware and children's shoes.
Michael is far less frugal. He wants Teagan to go to the best school, wear the newest clothes, and learn to ride a stupid horse at the most prestigious riding school. He's also insanely protective of her. He refuses to let her get her ears pierced, walk home from school alone – despite the fact that she's now eleven, and more than capable of making the short journey by herself – or wear any jewelry other than a simple silver necklace. She is his girl and there isn't a person in the world who doesn't know it. There also isn't a person in the world who can't see how Michael is setting himself up for future problems with her.
'I'll take your word for it,' I agree.
'They look very posh,' Lee, the eldest of our foster children, interjects. 'I'm impressed. How much did they set you back?'
'That's utterly none of your business,' Michael replies.
Lee shrugs. He was 'mine' long before Mike came on the scene, and the two have them have never caught up for lost ground. 'That means they cost more than I'd be willing to spend,' he replies diplomatically.
'Me too,' I agree.
Lee grins and pushes his dirty blonde hair out of his face. He has tattoos covering his right arm, artwork in a shimmering splash of colour, and the pictures flash in front of my eyes as he moves. 'You own 'em.'
'Michael owns them,' I correct.
Michael leans forward, so I'm not blocking his vision, and glares at Lee.
Lee rolls his bright green eyes, and returns his attention to his baked fish and salad. He'll come by early next week, when Michael is at work, to properly catch up. Knowing Lee, he'll also throw in a few smarmy words about Mike's new dinnerware.
Nestled in between Lee's coarseness, and Teagan's slightly spoilt, protected, self, is our second foster child. If Lee is 'mine' and Teagan is 'Mike's' then Will can only be described as 'ours'. He came to me in his mid teens, a few weeks after Michael had entered my life, and spent a few years with us before moving out to attend university. He's both incredibly tall and incredibly skinny, and overall, a really nice kid. Very shy around strangers, very athletic, and unbelievably smart, but damn I wish he'd gain weight. He has basically no body fat on him.
My welcome home dinner passes without major event. It's Friday night, and everyone's tired from a week at work, which means almost everyone has (thankfully) left by nine-thirty. Only Will remains, and he's only here through formality. He and I start cleaning away the mess, as Michael puts Teagan to bed.
'Are you staying to help with the washing up?' I ask, even though I already know this isn't why he's remained behind. Michael warned me two weeks ago.
Will, who sent his boyfriend home half an hour ago, shrugs. 'Um, yeah. I also wanted to ask you something.'
'You wanted to ask if you could move back home?' I inquire.
He blushes. 'Yes. Michael said we could, so long as you agree.'
'How does Tom feel about this?' I ask, referring to his lover. I have no issues with Tom, but Tom is staunchly Christian and despite Teagan attending a Catholic school, neither Michael nor I have any religious affiliations.
'We really don't have a lot of choice,' Will replies uneasily, tugging at his shirt. 'We're going to run out of money.'
Tom is a professional athlete, and is paid in odd spurts. I don't doubt it's hard to manage, but I'm still frustrated by the pair's inability to manage their income and expenditure especially when I clearly warned Will twelve months ago that he would have to be careful. Mike and I moved in together with no budget, and no agreement on who would pay for what, and it caused more than one fight. I didn't want Will and his boyfriend making the same mistakes.
'Move in,' I sigh. 'But while you're here, you can draw up a budget with Tom and learn to stick to it.'
Will looks infinitely relieved. 'Thank-you.'
I hug him. Will is one of those kids that gives you 'why the hell are you touching me?' looks whenever you hug him, but gives mournful 'what's wrong with me?' stares if you don't.
He hugs me awkwardly in return. 'Thanks Brett.'
'No worries. You should also go and thank Michael.'
I glance over at the dishes. 'You'll need to keep working your part-time job,' I remind him.
'Absolutely,' he assures me.
'You also have to keep studying.'
'I'm not planning on quitting. I'm already half way through.'
He's right. He's already nineteen. Nineteen. He's not a kid anymore, even if we sometimes still treat him like one.
'You've done really well,' I tell him. 'Really well. I'm proud of you.'
He smiles shyly. 'But not proud of my money management.'
'That comes with time. Once you've eaten your millionth home brand weetbix, you start to learn your lesson.'
'I learn a lot of things the hard way,' Will admits.
'So I've realized.'
It's funny how truthful his statement is. He was always the kid who found himself in the wrong spot at the wrong time, who got taken home by the police, rode his motorcycle drunk (and was thankfully caught before he did any damage to himself, or anyone else), and dated the wrong sort of man. No matter what we told him he'd go on his merry way, convinced he was right, until he was forced to face the error of his ways.
'What are we talking about?' Michael asks, wandering into the kitchen.
'My stupidity,' Will replies.
My lover laughs, and hugs his foster son. 'Is this going to be a long conversation?'
'Um, hopefully not,' Will blushes. 'Uh, Brett said Tom and I could move in. Thanks for that.'
Mikey squeezes Will tightly before nudging him in the direction of the door. 'It's our pleasure. Now go home, you have to work tomorrow. You don't want to be tired.'
'I can stay and help clean up.'
'There's no need,' I reply. 'Go. Scat. Call us when you're ready to move in, and we'll come around and help.'
'Thank-you,' Will replies.
Michael smiles and waves him out the door. Will throws a last, quick, grin in our direction before heading outside to his motorcycle. Michael goes over to the front window and peeks out, watching as the boy heads down the street.
'God, why did you ever buy him that thing?' Michael complains. 'He's going to kill himself.'
'He won't. He's a good rider.'
'Good until some idiot changes lanes without checking, and Will ends up as roadkill.'
'Why worry about what might happen?'
Michael leans over the bench and buries his head in his arms. 'Shut-up, Brett. I don't want to start fighting with you already.'
I start running water in the sink. We have fourteen matching plates, knives, forks and cups to wash up, as well as the baking and salad dishes. There's food scattered over the floor and the kitchen is a pigsty. We can't go to sleep until the worst of it is cleaned, so there's little point in communicating with Michael if he's going to be difficult.
'What? You told me to shut-up.'
'You normally argue. What's wrong?'
'Nothing. I'm tired,' I reply honestly. 'I've been awake for over twenty hours, I'm hot and sweaty, and I want to go to bed. I don't want to argue with you. Not now.'
'You want to argue later?' he asks.
'Pull out your calendar and we'll set a date.'
He groans, and runs his hands through his hair. 'Why do we do this? Why do we always fight?'
My gaze settles on my boyfriend. Something is playing on his mind. It's normally me that starts the fights, me who picks and complains and bitches until he finally snaps, and then it's all out war. Will has been riding for two and a half years, so I highly doubt it's his concern over his motorbike that's causing Mike to stress out.
Perplexed, I turn off the taps and start washing up. Michael pulls a chair out from the kitchen table, dusts off the bits of lettuce (a child had occupied the seat) and sits down. He rubs the back of his neck and sighs tiredly.
'I'm glad Will's moving back in,' he remarks. 'I regret encouraging him to be independent. He wasn't ready.'
The first dish is washed, rinsed, and placed in the rack. 'Yeah?'
He nods. 'He isn't half as clued on as he thinks he is.'
'I'll pay that,' I agree.
'Lee is,' Michael adds thoughtfully. 'Lee has a good grasp of the way the world works.'
'He does. He's very good at surviving.'
Michael stares at me. 'How do you do it? How can you watch them make the stupid mistakes they make, and not want to protect them? I'm so worried about Will. Why does he keep doing dumb things over and over and over again? What if Teagan does the same thing?'
Three dinner plates are now washed up. I'm over twenty percent done of the 'first batch'. The other batches are the cutlery, baking and serving dishes, and cups. I always count down the washing-up in rough percentages; I like to keep track of how I'm going.
'Um, because some things can't be taught?' I suggest vaguely. 'I'm lazy? Irresponsible?'
He smiles wryly. 'Maybe all three.'
'Maybe,' I grin.
My lover suddenly stretches out his legs restlessly. He stands up, stretches out his arms, and then puts the chair back under the table. From the rail in front of the oven he collects a teatowel, and he stands next to me and starts drying the dishes.
'The social workers asked if you were going to be staying in Brisbane for long,' he comments. 'I said 'yes, Brett's working at the local council for a year, while a woman is on maternity leave'. They said that was good.'
'Where is this heading?' I ask curiously.
Michael winces. 'They keep hassling me to take more children. I said I didn't want to. I don't have the time for young children, and I don't want older ones in the house. I don't want Teagan being abused by some messed-up teenager.'
'Teagan's going back, though. Her mother thinks she'll be able to have her full-time, in six months. So the agency was like 'you really should think about having another child'.'
'And you eventually caved in? And now you regret this?'
Michael looks helpless. 'Yes. He's coming tomorrow. He's thirteen, and his mum died, and his baby brother has been adopted. They got me on a bad day. I felt bad for him, but now I don't want him here. Can you speak to them, and tell them we don't want him?'
I nearly drop the dish I'm washing. 'What? There is a kid coming tomorrow and you want me to tell social services that he's not allowed to move in after all, because you're scared he's going to hurt Teagan?'
'Yes. Yes, please.'
I laugh out of pure shock. 'You can't do that to a kid,' I exclaim. 'Take him. What's the worst that can happen? I'm going to be home.'
'He has nowhere to sleep.'
'He can sleep in the sleep-out. Will did it for years.'
Michael twists the tea-towel angrily. 'You don't understand at all,' he spits. 'If you let him move in, you're looking after him. And if you dare leave Australia before he's eighteen, I will rip your balls off and shove them down your throat. And if he even thinks of touching Teagan, and I murder him, I'm going to expect you to back me up.'
I love Michael, but sometimes it's really hard not to laugh at him. Sometimes the way he overreacts makes me want to sit on the floor and cry with laughter.
'I'm not going anywhere, blondie,' I reply, temporarily forgetting the dishes and grabbing his bum. 'Not when you have a butt like that.'
He swats me away irritably. 'I thought you were tired?'
'You woke me up. Rawr.'
'Don't rawr at me,' he glares, giving m a look that is fifty percent contempt, and fifty percent amusement.
I return my attention to the pile of dishes. If social services are coming over tomorrow, then the house will have to be neat and tidy.
Truthfully, Michael doesn't have a thing to worry about. I've spent the past two years overseas, and I'm not going up my bludgy temporary council position for the world. I missed Michael, missed him in a way I don't think he'll ever truly understand.
'I can't believe Teagan's going back to her mother,' I remark.
Michael's face tightens. 'I don't want to talk about it.'