Sorry this has taken so long to be updated. Hope you all had a good Christmas and New Years.


The photos were as bad as I'd expected them to be. Afterwards, when Shay had put away his phone and muttered, embarrassed, that he was sorry that this had happened, I couldn't even form a coherent sentence. Angry and humiliated didn't do justice to how I was feeling. Had Jackie been nearby, I would have taken to him with a baseball bat.

I woke the next morning, after a night of tossing and turning, in a feral mood. I groaned, knowing that my day was destined to be shithouse, and went to the tiny bathroom to pull on shorts and a shirt.

Shay's expression turned guilty whenever he laid eyes on me, and when it came turn to choose who was travelling on which of the two chartered boats, I made things easy for both of us by volunteering to go on the smaller boat, rather than the larger one that Shay was taking.

Admittedly, I enjoyed the fishing. I didn't get seasick, and I somehow even managed to catch the biggest fish. Sure, I'm of the thought that fishing - especially when you have an expert telling you where to fish, what bait to use, and how to cast - is not a real display of any sort of 'talent' but scoring the best catch of the day was a novelty.

It was only when I was returned to dry land, and again came face to face with Shay, that my mood changed. He was acting so guilty about keeping the photos that I wanted to shake him. What did I care that he'd kept them? Fuck knows he'd seen me naked enough before, so it wasn't as though it was his keeping of the photos were anything to get worked up over. No, it was the fact that Jackie had taken the damn shots in the first place that got my blood boiling.

I would have appreciated the chance to have a few quiet words to Shay to let him know it didn't matter about the photos, but I didn't have even a splitsecond of opportunity. No sooner had Shay involuntarily winced, than the guys he'd been onboard with started talking about having a shower and going across the road to the pub. They'd been drinking - more than those of us on the smaller boat had been - and a couple of them were high.

Everyone wanted to go out tonight. Everyone, that is, but me. I had the distinct feeling that a few of the guys didn't want me hanging around. It was a weird feeling, because on numerous prior occasions I'd thought that they wanted me to piss off, but I now realised that they probably hadn't. Tonight they definitely didn't want me around, and the way they were treating me - as though I were an outsider - was entirely different to how I'd previously been treated.

I told myself I was being paranoid. Even though I knew that this time it wasn't simple paranoia, I still showered and shaved along with the rest of them, and made my way to the pub across the street. I was talking to one of the girls I'd been on the boat with. I couldn't recall whose partner she was, but she was refreshingly normal and she ignored the guys when they told her to come over and walk with them. I mentally smirked, grateful that for once there was a woman around who could tell the guys to leave her to make her own decisions.

I was outside, alone, with a beer in one hand and cigarette in another when Shay - surprisingly - approached me.

'Hey Carmine,' he greeted.

I held my glass up. 'Happy Birthday.'

He chinked his glass against mine. 'Cheers.'

We drank from our glasses. I got the feeling that in wishing him a happy birthday, I'd thrown him off kilter. He'd approached me with the intent on talking (I assumed about the photos) and I'd delayed him.

'So,' I asked. 'Did you want to talk about something? 'Cause if it's about the photos, forget about it. You're right; the best thing is for me to pretend I don't know about them.'

Shay looked apologetic. 'Carmine, I'm really sorry I didn't delete them straight away.'

I shrugged. 'No worries. I'd probably have kept them too, you know? Just as...evidence.'

'Yeah. Evidence.'

It was a line of bullshit that we were only too happy to buy. The only alternative was Shay admitting that he kept them because he still loved me, and me telling him it didn't matter, because I thought that maybe I might love him, too. That was a situation that neither of us wanted to be in. It would be awkward. It would fucking hurt. Shay would have to find it in himself to forgive me, and I'd have to acknowledge that I'd caused him a ton of grief.

'So, you had fun today?' I asked.

He nodded. 'Sure. Did you?'

'Yeah. Yeah, it was good.'

'That's sweet,' he grinned. He glanced down at the ground then, cautiously, directly at me. 'Happy birthday, Carmine.'

I smiled a small smile. He remembered we shared a birthday. 'You didn't forget.'

'I wouldn't forget,' he assured me. 'Hey, um, before we...ended things... I bought you a present. Do you still want it?'

I shook my head. 'Nah. You keep it. It wouldn't be right for me to take it. You already paid for me to be here today.'

Shay wrinkled his nose. 'Carmine, what the hell else would I do with your present? Just take it. I bought it with me. I'll give it to you later.'

'Well, okay,' I agreed. 'But you'll have to let me buy you a present in return.'

'Huh, I don't want a fucking present. The guys got me a whore. She's coming later. If you keep her away from me, I'd almost be your slave for life.'

So that was why the guys didn't want me around. They didn't want me interfering. They wanted Shay to bonk this woman, 'see the light' and return to a life of heterosexuality. Nice. It was some really nice fucking work from guys who were supposed to be his mates, who were supposed to goddamn support him.

My stomach churned. Shay's fear was palpable. He'd been a virgin when he was incarcerated, and in the period since leaving jail, he'd only had sexual relations with me. In short, he'd never been with a woman before.

I forced myself to laugh. 'Have fun, Shay.'

'No, you don't understand,' he frowned, visibly anxious. 'Please help me out here. Just let me pretend. I swear to God I won't take it too far, Carmine.'

'You want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?'

'Yes. Shit Carmine, I can't do this.'

This was far too fucking messy. Too dangerous, too. There was no way in hell I was going to get involved. Shay would have to deal with this on his own.

I smiled at him; a broad, fake, smile. 'You might learn a few new tricks.'

His face fell. He understood I wasn't going to help him out.

'Yeah,' he agreed, kicking the ground. 'They'd be disappointed if I didn't do it. They mean well. They want me to change, because it'll make things easier for me if I do. Can't really go kicking them in the teeth for it, hey?'

Shay, who had always gone beyond the call of duty in protecting me, was accepting that I wasn't going to return the favour. I told myself it didn't matter. I didn't need to help him. I'd given him sex. I'd already fulfilled my part of the bargain.


Two hours later, the hooker arrived. Within ten minutes she and Shay were heading out the door, the latter with the former's feather boa around his neck. Our workmates were fully into their turn-Shay-straight-by-organising-a-prostitute-plan. Fuck, I'd even say they were jealous. There was certainly noone in the pub that didn't know that their workmate was about to get a birthday root.

I wasn't impressed. I was annoyed, actually, and my irritation grew when - now that Shay was safely in the company of the hired woman - they decided to once more welcome me into the fold. I'd been good, hadn't made a scene when Shay and the whore had left, and they expressed their relief with offers of camaraderie. They asked what I thought of the girl and I lied and said she had nice tits. This made them laugh.

Twenty minutes later I slipped out of the pub. I'd planned my escape and believed I'd been unnoticed until I was fifty metres down the road, where I realised I was being followed.

'Don't shit yourself, it's only me,' Gary announced cheerfully.

'Did you want something?'

'Only your company.'

'I find that hard to believe.'

He shook his head, suddenly serious. 'I'm not here to mess with you, Carmine.'

'That'd be a change.' I replied angrily. Screw it, why was I still so scared of him? What was he going to do to me if I told him to fuck off? Run home and complain to his brother and father that I was mean to him? I knew he wouldn't hit me. Shay could have beaten me into a pulp for cheating on him and probably no one would have batted an eyelid, but I doubted such courtesies would be extended to Gary. And even if Gary did have a go at me, what if I hit him back? Who was going to stop me?

'Hey, hey, hey,' Gary argued. 'Carmine, I said I'm not here to play games. No shit. I wanted to talk to you about Shay.'

'You're wasting your time. I'm not with Shay anymore; a fucking hooker is with Shay. You want to know about Shay? Talk to her. You guys are the ones who hired her, and trust me when I say if you give her a little more cash, she'll speak. I know my fucking prostitutes.'

'Would you calm down?' He sighed, digging into his pockets. He retrieved a joint and handed it over. 'Smoke up, buddy.'

We were on the front strip of the fishing town, an inappropriate place if ever there was one to light up a joint. Half the population probably smoked, but I was damn certain they didn't do it on the main boulevard.

'We'll go for a walk,' Gary added, guiding me across the road. 'Somewhere away from people.'

I was so angry and tired and frustrated and fed up that I mentally threw my hands up in the air and decided to do as he suggested. There was nothing left to lose. I'd already lost what little I had. Respect, happiness, Shay, it was all fucking gone and I didn't know how to get any of it back without making myself feel even worse than I currently did.

We were soon out of sight and out of earshot of anyone. Gary pulled a lighter out of his pocket and gestured for me to stop so he could give me a light.

'You're so fucking weird,' he muttered, lighting my joint. 'I can't believe Shay fell for you.'

I inhaled cautiously, waiting for my throat to start burning. It didn't happen. This wasn't a shittily rolled joint made of shitty quality, loosely packed weed, this was the good shit. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised. Gary wasn't he kind of guy who had to settle for what the local twenty year old pot heads tried to pass off as 'hydroponic'.

'You don't even trust my weed,' he smirked. 'Carmine, Carmine, Carmine. What the fuck am I to do with you?'

'I don't know,' I replied, handing him the blunt. 'What did you want to talk about?'

He raised the joint to his lips and inhaled. 'I already told you. I want to talk about Shay.'

'You're wasting your time. I can't tell you shit about him.'

'Sure you can,' he replied smoothly. He took one last puff and handed me the weed. 'I've always thought you two were funny about each other, right from the beginning. You know when you were about to be released, how the prison administration suddenly sent you go to the minimum security place for the last week of your sentence? In the middle of the day, without warning. You know why they did that?'

'They needed the extra space in maximum security,' I replied confidently. 'They needed to make room for other prisoners.'

'Nope. It's 'cause they knew that when you were released, Shay was going to go wild. They thought they'd make it easier for themselves if they moved you when he wasn't expecting it.'

'I hope it worked,' I replied harshly. I finished the remainder of the joint with a frown. I was starting to feel it's effects, but it was a good a crutch as I was going to get. This conversation was heading places I didn't want to deal with when straight. It would be easier if I were high.

'Shit no. He fucking lost it. They'd screwed him over, taken his boyfriend. He was fucking wild. He ended up spending two months in solitary.'

I laughed, even though I found the relevation to be the exact opposite of funny. It was the weed, of course. 'You shit me.'

'No, I'm not shitting you.' Gary reached into his pocket and retrieved another joint. 'You think he liked jail? He fucking hated it, and not in the way the rest of us did. Someone was always having a go at him. We all knew he was different. Everyone did. Everyone knew he was a fag, but he had enough balls to stand up for himself. Me, I had to respect him for doing what he did. It takes guts to keep yourself standing when someone's always trying to push you over.'

'You guys protected him.'

'You reckon? When did we ever fight for him?'

I thought about it. 'I don't know,' I admitted. 'I'm too stoned. Maybe I'll remember later on.'

'Maybe you won't. He's not part of us. He's our mate, but he's not part of us.'

'That's sad,' I replied tragically. Fuck, weed, it does really ridiculous things to me on occasion. Tonight it was making me Mister Drama Queen. 'He helps everyone who needs it. He looked after me really well.'

'Yeah, he's a really good bloke. Dumb as a box of rocks, but you can't knock him for that alone.'

We walked along the path, which ran through a park, in silence. Gary smoked his joint and I rolled and smoked a regular cigarette. I thought about Shay as we walked, about who he was, and how his life to date had been. It made me want to cry, really. He was such a sweet, sweet, guy, and he needed someone to stand up for him. He needed someone to love him, really love him.

'You know, I never knew why he was the way he is,' I remarked cryptically. 'Maybe I didn't really see him for who he is. Maybe I was just working on who I thought he was.'

'Maybe,' Gary agreed. 'You know what always confused me? Why you wanted Shay in the first place. Why him, Carmine? What made him stick out?'

I laughed harshly. It was the weed, again. 'He was the first person with any real power that I laid eyes on when I came to the realisation that if I didn't find someone to look after me, I wouldn't last another twenty-four hours without being raped.'

Gary looked disappointed. 'That's all it was?'

'That's all,' I confirmed.

He shrugged. 'Not a bad reason, but not what I expected.'

'What did you expect?' I asked curiously.

'I don't know,' he replied. 'Would it matter, anyway? Roll me a smoke, Carmine. I can barely walk straight.'

I rolled him a cigarette, handed it over, and lit it for him. He was drunk and high and, I realised, barely in control. He might be able to hold a conversation, but the way he was walking belied his true state.

'Thanks mate,' he said.

'It's okay.' I rolled myself a cigarette and lit it. 'Gary? Why are you bothering with us? Why do you give a shit about Shay? Why does any of this even matter to you?'

He exhaled a long stream of smoke. 'He's my mate. It's not his fault he is the way he is. He needs someone to cut him a little slack.'

'Oh.'

Gary pointed into the distance. 'We're almost back at the caravan park. Shay took the whore to my van. I wasn't sharing with anyone, and she's probably done her shit and left by now, so he'll probably be alone. We should see if he's there.'

'He might not be very happy to see me.'

'Bullshit. It'll make his night, and you know it.'