Cheers for the reviews

'Did ya get the job?' Darcy asked, as she lit a cigarette.

I stared down at my two-person pine dining table, at which we were both sitting. 'Yeah. I don't know if I'll take it, though.'

'God, whyever not?' she exclaimed. 'It'd be brilliant.'

'Yeah, brilliant,' I replied quietly.

Darcy smoked her cigarette while undertaking an appraisal of my mood. Her hazel eyes, heavily lined with eyeliner and weighted down with mascara, fixed on my face curiously. She was a good whore, Darcy. She could read people, and I knew she was accurately reading my apprehension.

'You're worried about your coworkers?' she surmised. 'The boss?'

'The coworkers,' I admitted, keeping my eyes on her shimmery low-cut black shirt.

My neighbour sometimes came and had a chat before she went out. I hated seeing in her work clothes. They were skimpy, uncomfortable-looking and gaudy, and if you ran into her in the Valley, there'd be no mistaking her occupation. Countless times I'd tried to ask her why she did it, and every time she'd changed the subject or simply ignored my question. It was like secretly knew she was putting herself in a dangerous situation, risking death and bashings, but didn't want to admit it to either herself or another party.

'They don't like gay boys?' she guessed.

'No, the problem is more that when they're incarcerated they love gay boys.'

Darcy reached instinctively for my hand. 'One of them raped you while you were in jail. Oh my God, Carmine. Oh, my poor baby.'

'No, no, no,' I quickly reassured her. 'Nobody raped me. I gave it...willingly. For protection. I mean,' I forced a laugh. 'Damn, Darcy, you know what I mean.'

Of course she understood what I was saying. She was wise enough to know that I'd chosen to give it to one person, rather than let several of them take it.

She withdrew her hand, sighed, and rested her head on her elbow. 'Carmine, take some advice from an old whore,' Darcy said, suddenly sounding incredibly jaded. 'Nobody cares that a pretty young fag did what you did. It's survival. Everyone who's ever been inside understands that. Do you think your colleagues are going to tease you for having sex with them? They're straight men with reputations to uphold, and most likely, women and children to support. They're gonna want to talk about it as much as you do. You go in there, do your job, and hold your head up high. Don't you worry, love, everything will be okay.'

'You sound like you know,' I replied awkwardly. The tone of her voice, and her resignation as to the way men treated their whores, had thrown me.

Darcy patted my hand, and stubbed out her cigarette. 'Carmine, I've been circled the block more times than you could begin to imagine. Trust me.'

My fellow tenant had been firm in her convictions, and not only that, she was bloody accurate. Shay, who yesterday couldn't keep his eyes off me, today didn't even want to look at me.

We were sitting at a workplace meeting at seven o'clock in the morning. I'd called in sick to the bakery, having decided that I'd give this job a day or two before deciding on a permanent path. Geoff was going to be responsible for training me, and his method involved having me follow him around for the next month. In a month's time I'd be undertaking horticultural tasks from the initial meeting, to the labouring, right through to sending the client an invoice for my work. Pay increased with experience, with bonuses given if I earned achieved a particular profit margin for the relevant quarter. It was the best of both worlds; steady pay, with the promise of a healthy commission if I performed well.

The purpose of the meeting was to allocate tasks and assess how the staff were tracking against their quotas. Looking around the table, though, it looked more like a prison reunion, with a few fags and trampy girls thrown in for good measure. Shay wasn't the only person I recognised; there was another, Gary, was also unfortunately recognisable.

'Last call for food,' Jamie announced. 'I'm going to put it away before we start.'

Gary, who was sitting directly across from me, took several pink iced doughnuts. He was stoned, his eyes glazed over and streaked with red, not that anybody seemed to care.

'Thanks bro,' he grinned.

Gary turned his gaze to me and winked, before sucking pointedly on his icing-covered index finger, imitating fellatio. I understood his message; he remembered me, and now he was going to have some fun with me.

My blood ran cold. Gary was an arse; an immature, insecure, fuckwit. There had been countless occasions in jail where he'd fucked with inmates low on the pecking order solely for his amusement. Now I had become his target, and I won't deny that I was intimidated.

Jamie and Luke chaired the meeting, the former raising the main points, and the latter explaining them where necessary, and taking notes. They had a good working relationship and they knew what they were talking about. Were it not for Gary repeatedly making vulgar gestures I no doubt would have learned a lot, but it was impossible to concentrate in the face of his tauntings.

'Well, that's it for another month,' Jamie finished, after what seemed like an eternity. 'Maybe some of you could try to be a bit more interested in what I'm sayin' next time.'

The easiest way for Jamie to regain his audience's attention would be to rid the workplace of me. But he was oblivious, clueless in the face of the obvious, as was Luke. The two of them had been so engrossed in their communication that they had entirely failed to notice the cause of the distraction.

Geoff had noticed something was amiss and it seemed he had a fair idea who the cause of the problem were. Several times he'd looked from Gary to Shay to I, and back again, trying to determine what was going on. I attempted a nonchalant expression whenever his gaze fell upon me. I was yet to determine exactly how I was going to extricate myself from this uncomfortable position, and I didn't want to give anything away.

The staff filtered out, many grabbing donuts and pastries 'for the road' before heading to their trucks, and twenty minutes later the only people that remained were Geoff and I.

'Normally two or three of us are here during the day,' he remarked. 'We're a bit short staffed at the moment. We had to let a few staff go because they were stealing from the till. It wasn't nice stuff. Other than you and Luke, everyone working here got the job because they were a friend or family member, so you can imagine how they reacted when they got the sack.'

Geoff was in his mid-fifties, covered in tattoos, and had a build that suggested he'd be able to break bones like twigs. Not withstanding the fact that he seemed to have a peaceful, easygoing nature, he wasn't the sort of person you would rob. Even I, in my most miserable, addicted days, wouldn't have considered taking him on.

'Not to worry, it's probably best you learn on the job,' Geoff continued. 'You pick up more when you've actually doing the job, rather than watching someone else do it.'

As the day progressed, I realized the truth in his words. The phone seemed to ring incessantly, people wandered in and out of the yard, and tradespeople who worked in conjunction with the company rang numerous times to complain, ask for addresses, and inquire if they could borrow a work truck because their van was at the mechanic's.

By the end of the day I was exhausted. I could now work the telephone system, take orders, and use the work database. It had taken me nine hours, but I could do it.

Twenty-four hours later, I could not only take an order, but I knew how to fill it, and even how to send an invoice. On the bus home I read about soil types, and which vegetation suited it. I learned about rainwater tanks, garden design, and council regulations.

In short, my brain was crammed full of information. If I'd previously thought the salary mentioned was excessively generous, I soon understood why. I was working my arse off, and Geoff's assertion that this was the 'quiet store' because we received mainly wholesale and trade inquiries, rather than having every Tom, Dick and Harry come in to buy a five dollar pot plant for their mother's birthday, made me feel for Luke.

Thursday and Friday were normally my weekend, but this week I worked at the garden centre. I still hadn't quit the bakery job, though by now I was fairly convinced I'd stay on here. The only things preventing me from quitting outright were Gary and Shay. I hadn't seen either for more than two seconds since the meeting, but I understood that this was due mostly to the current busy period the business was experiencing. What I was going to do, and how Gary and Shay would treat me when the amount of work slowed, weighed heavily on my mind.

Before I had a chance to find an answer to my questions, the working week drew to a close. While the commercial store was open seven days a week, this one was open only on weekdays. Friday afternoon was cause for celebration here, and the doors were closed to business at three pm. In preparation for the weekend, and the after-work drinks, Geoff and I watered the plants, locked up the expensive stuff, and went to the bottle shop for beer.

'You coming back on Monday?' Geoff asked, as he negotiated the afternoon traffic.

'I was going to.'

'Good. Were you working before you started here?'

This was what Luke had been referring to when he'd advised I'd be hired on the basis of my personality. Geoff obviously hadn't even looked at my resume.

'Yeah, in a bakery.'

'Have you given notice?' he asked.

I shrugged. 'I was a casual. I don't need to. I'll let them know at the end of tomorrow's shift. I can work on Sunday if they need me.'

'They won't be pissed?'

'I hope not.'

We arrived back at base, where several of the guys were cleaning out their work trucks and discussing the high and low points of the weeks work. Work duties and pay structure varied from person to person - this much I'd gleaned from Tuesday's meeting – and this dictated how everyone spent their days.

If you were undertaking garden maintenance and lawn-mowing at an apartment complex you could generally look forward to body corporate interference. Meeting with potential clients generally meant being subjected to corporate cost-cutters who would attempt to drive a price down as far as possible. Designing a horticultural masterpiece on a bored housewife's lawn, however, might just result in a proposition and it was this that the guys were discussing.

You either find that kind of conversation interesting, or you don't. I don't. Maybe it's because I'm not sexually interested in women. Maybe it's because watching men exploit Darcy has changed the way I view heterosexual sex. Either way, it's not a topic I can either join in or enjoy listening to, so I occupied myself by taking the alcohol inside.

Geoff followed me in, and dialled for pizza. Then he put the beer receipts in the petty cash tin, and at the same time, had me sign for four days wages, paid in cash. I folded the money in my wallet and put it away before he had the chance to reconsider the wisdom of paying a trainee the normal wage. I was pleased to have the money. If this job fell through due to unforeseen circumstances, I'd need a decent amount of cash to see me through until I could get the dole.

'Don't you want to make sure I paid you the right amount?' he asked.

'I trust you.'

Geoff was amused. 'You're a funny kid. Hey, can you drive stick shift?'

'I could several years ago. I'm probably a bit rusty now,' I replied vaguely. Talk about the understatement of the century. I had a good memory of how it all worked, but I'd probably be death on wheels if I tried to do something as basic as drive myself home.

'Do you have a licence?'


He nodded. 'No worries then. Once you get some practice in you can take the black Hilux. It was Sean's, but he got the sack the week after he got it. Jamie wasn't too happy about having a new truck that nobody was gonna be driving.'

I knew the car he was talking about. It was fucking huge, and looked like it sucked up petrol like there was no tomorrow. Did I want it? Hell yeah. It was a definite step up from the crappy old Civic I'd owned in my late teens and there was no way I was knocking it back.

'Excellent,' I grinned.

'I'll get the insurance papers you need to fill out,' Geoff added. 'You can take the truck home when you've got a bit of practice in. Shay has a shitbox lying around at home. I'll get to him to go around to your place tomorrow to give you a bit of help.'

For the past four days Geoff hadn't mentioned the events at the meeting. I'd assumed he'd forgotten about it. Now it was apparent that rather than dismissing the issue, he'd simply been waiting for the right time to resolve it.

'That's not necessary,' I argued. 'I'll find a driving instructor. I'm sure they could help.'

He leaned across the table and met my eye, suddenly serious. 'You're not a rich kid, Carmine. Don't throw your money away.'

'I was paid two minutes ago. I have the money.'

'And two months ago I was more tolerant of what went on in here,' he replied firmly. 'Time goes on. Jamie's kid is going to be born in another month or so, and I doubt he'll be working again after that happens. Unless we get more reliable staff, which isn't looking too likely, you won't have the luxury of avoiding people you don't like. So your options are to either suck it up, or leave. If you want my advice, suck it up. You won't be earning money this good elsewhere.'

He walked out without giving me a chance to respond. Not that I would have, as his directions were clear; either I could learn to live with Shay, or I could quit.

I wished I could quit. I would have, too, if only there was an easy way out. What could I possibly say to Geoff, though, after just having told him I'd be back on Monday? I'd have to tell him about Shay, and that was something I simply wasn't prepared to do.

I cracked open a bottle of beer and downed half of it in one long swallow. Fuck. This sort of shit fucked with me far more than I let on. Shay already knew what it was like to have power over me; what if he decided he wanted more?

'It's all settled,' Geoff announced, walking inside. 'Shay will be around at eleven. I gave him your address.'