It's never a good idea to get drunk around the ex-boyfriend you're still in love with. Even if you're on the wrong side of thirty and your ex has a new guy and you're at a stage in your career where you're finally making good money and are getting somewhere, it's still a terrible, terrible idea to think 'I can handle four or five more than usual.'
I'm a slow learner sometimes. And, when someone suggested we play strip poker, I, having consumed more than was wise, agreed. If I played, and Michael would play, Michael might get naked and that would at least give me a chance to see him nude.
Okay, I'm not just slow, I'm revoltingly pervy. I swear, though, that I don't take surreptitious pictures of men in change rooms. I just wanted to see Michael naked. And Michael – because I know he's a bit pervy, too – happily agreed to join the game.
There was a group of us playing and several more watching. I polished off another beer as I made it past the first few rounds without losing anything, and drank a whiskey and Coke while losing my shoes, socks, and belt. Michael, I noted darkly, was losing his clothes at a very slow rate.
His boyfriend, Mohammed, was more than making up for Michael's shortfall and was sitting naked and snorting with laughter when Michael offered him the use of his clothing as betting chips. I didn't know whether to be happy I might get to see Michael booty, or annoyed at Mohammed for being such a smarmy, well-hung shithead.
Soon the only people left in the game were Mohammed and Michael and I. Everyone else had either lost their clothes, or a sufficient amount of their dignity to prefer drinking to continuing. I knew what I was doing was massively out of character. Normally I would rather be stuck in a small car with all of my foster kids for forty-eight hours straight than take my shirt off. Normally, I had a lot more common sense.
The game had ended – should have ended – when Michael and Mohammed were both butt naked. I should have been pleased. I had won, I still had my jeans on, and Michael was naked. He looked as good as I remembered him, blonde and tan and handsome. I used to kiss his jawline and his chest and leave light lovebites on his stomach and give him head until he was moaning and begging me to go a touch harder so he could come. I loved him, still love him.
Mohammed fixed his dark eyes on me. He knew what I was thinking, and because he had this knowledge, and because he liked to show off, he made an offer he knew I couldn't refuse. One more game, this time, blackjack. If he and Michael won, my clothes came off. If I won, I could have Michael for the night. I looked at both Mohammed and Michael to see if there were serious. Mohammed wasn't, not really; he didn't think I'd win. He thought he was going to have the opportunity to embarrass the living hell out of me. Michael was eager. He wasn't that devoted to Mohammed and besides, monogamy never seemed to be his strong point, no matter how much he tried to argue otherwise.
'Okay,' I said. 'I'm in.'
The cards were dealt and in a few minutes, it was all over. Instead of standing there naked, I was the winner. Mikey, beautiful Mikey, was mine for the night. I stared at my ex wisfully, willing him to follow through, praying that he would go home with me, and then realise that he, too, was still in love.
Mohammed was panicked. You can say a lot of things about Mohammed – most of them negative – but he loved Michael as much as I had done. Moreover, his pride demanded he keep his lover to himself. My heart sunk when I realised that Michael wouldn't be coming home with me. I couldn't push this, couldn't be an arsehole to my ex and his new lover.
When Mohammed made one last offer, I accepted it not because I thought he was serious, but because I knew he needed a good excuse to keep Michael away from me. He would give me his car if I won, and he would get my clothes if I lost. Either way, though, Michael would not be going home with me.
'Okay,' I agreed, preparing to lose my clothes.
I started unbuttoning my jeans the second the cards were dealt. My luck had to be running out, I told myself.
Well, it should have been running out, because I was too drunk to be thinking clearly about my choices, but I won regardless. For the bazillionth time that night, I was the winner.
Mohammed took it badly. I, secretly, rolled my eyes as I reached for my shirt. The truth was that I would never have slept with anyone who didn't want me, and I probably wouldn't have slept with Michael even if he had gone home with me. I just couldn't force myself to be that kind of guy.
Ben had no sooner removed his helmet than he groaned 'Who invited Mohammed over?'
Fifteen year old Ben who thought a B in at least one subject each semester was a sign of good work, who had a mouth so smart that I often wanted to stuff it with cotton wool, and who was sporting what I suspected might actually be a manicure, hated Mohammed with an ungodly passion. It was the sort of rage that only a teenager could harbour.
'Not me,' I said, kicking down the sidestand and removing my gloves and helmet. I ran my hands though my dark brown hair so it would sit flat and unzipped my jacket. 'I doubt it was Will.'
'If Will's shagging him, I swear I'm going to fucking kill that bastard. I'm going to tell...'
'...calm down,' I interrupted. The last thing I needed was another argument between Ben and his older foster brother, Will. Ben can be extremely aggravating when he chooses to, and it's unfortunate for Will that Will is often the target. 'We've only just arrived home.'
Ben sulked as he stomped up to the front door. He hammered on the security door and yelled out to Will to open up.
'I don't think he's home,' I suggested dryly, leaning past Ben to unlock the door. Something crunched under my foot as I stood on the doormat, and I looked down. There was an envelope bulging with a mysterious object. I left the key in the door and bent down to open the envelope.
'What is it?' Ben demanded.
'Two car keys.' I said. I looked at Mohammed's silver Skyline and groaned. Oh God, no. Oh God, yes, I realised as I read the note.
'Holy shit, he filled in the registation transfer forms,' Ben said excitedly, peering over my shoulder. 'Brett, did you buy his car?'
'No I did not...' I paused. 'Buy his car. We were mucking around. I thought we were joking.'
I opened the front door and sighed. 'Go inside, Ben.'
He groaned. 'You better tell me.'
It was almost dinner time, so I rang Will my only other foste child who was living at home - to see if he would be coming home for tea. He said 'no', he was out with friends. I sighed again and stared disinterestedly into the freezer. I disliked cooking and for the most part was a terrible cook. Both my past and current foster children had remarked on my lack of culinary skills.
'You want to take Mohammed's car for a spin?' I called out to Ben.
'Are you going to tell me why it's here?'
He wrinkled his nose. 'Okay. Can we get dinner while we're out?'
'That was the plan.'
Mohammed's car was lower to the ground than I preferred, fast, and very, very expensive. It was modified to the hilt. It made people look. Ben loved it. He flicked through the radio stations – Mohammed had removed his CD collection – and turned the volume up. The sound system was indeed impressive but I wished Ben had a little better taste in music.
We drove to a shopping strip where Ben bought a kebab and I bought a double bacon cheeseburger with fries. We sat at the takeaways plastic tables and unwrapped our dinner and opened our Cokes. I surveyed our surroundings and sighed. I hated Sundays. Sundays were the precursor to Mondays, and Mondays sucked. I hated Mondays, too.
I work as a civil engineer for a large construction company that specialises in outsourced projects, and supplying skilled technical and professional staff to third parties. This can be nice when you're in sunny Dubai with tons of other expats, or Papua New Guinea, where life suddenly seems so simple, but when you're stuck at the local government council with a bunch of people who resent you simply because you have a different employer, it can really blow. Plus, I get paid more than a council employee. My colleagues don't know precisely how much more, but they know it's council likes my work, and has no issues with me personally – they just told me employers they'd like to hang onto me for another twelve months – but I'm always just slightly on the outer. To put it succintly, I am always offered a slice of cake that has been bought in for someone's birthday, but my own birthday passes unnoticed. I work there, but at the same time I don't really work there.
'Brett, what's the deal with Mohammed's car? If you don't tell me, you know I'll ask Michael and Mohammed about it.'
'Is that a threat?' I asked sardonically.
Ben looked surprised I would take his statement that way. 'Not really.'
I picked up a few chips and chewed them. 'I won it in a game of cards. I thought it was a joke, but apparently Mohammed thought it was serious.'
'What were you going to give him if he won?'
I paused. 'Nothing.'
Ben was intrigued. 'Tell me.'
'I offered to take my clothes off.'
I picked up my Coke and took a swig. 'Nope.'
Ben stared at me for a few seconds, before realising I was serious, and breaking into laughter. 'Man, that's funny.'
'I'm glad you think so.'
'I do.' He stared at his fingernails, admiring them. 'You must have been drunk.'
'I must have been,' I muttered. I grabbed Ben's hands and glanced at his fingernails. It was time to change the subject. 'Why did you get a manicure?'
'Well, I told the guys from school and mosque it was because Lisa made me,' he said, referring to his current girlfriend. 'Really, though, I just chose to get one. I wanted to know what the deal was.'
Sometimes my foster kids just floor me. I suspect that with you own, biological, children, you and your partner can look at their peculiarities and say 'that's from me!', but when your kids aren't in any way related to you, it's very different. Ben, with his light brown skin and grey-blue eyes and massive schnoz not only looked different from me, he did things that I didn't in any way understand. I loved him, of course. I didn't even mind when people mistook him as being biologically mine, even when the only thing we really had in common was olive skin and a tendency to be grumpy. He was a nice kid when he wanted to be, and I knew something about him that just made me incredibly sad. I didn't know how he really felt about Lisa, or if he'd finished grieving his mother's death, or who all of his friends were, but I knew that he hated himself, deeply and bitterly, and it was terrible, terrible knowledge. None of my other kids have ever hated themselves. Lee was so confident, and Will was shy but deep down, he accepted himself, and Teagan plain wasn't that introspective.
'The guys asked Lisa if she'd made me get a manicure and she totally bagged me out,' Ben continued with a wide grin. 'She said 'Ben got a manicure because he wanted one. He also got a pedicure'.'
Ben and I laughed. Several other patrons, who had been listening in, also laughed. I didn't mind. Ben had a loud voice and he could, when he wanted to be, be very honest. There was no middle ground when it came to Ben sharing details about his life; he was either extremely honest or extremely secretive. It depended on his mood and the topic and who he was talking to.
'So, Mohammed's car,' Ben said. 'Are you going to give it back to him?'
'Brett,' he groaned. He buried his head in his arms. 'He would have made you get naked.'
'That's not really a prize.'
'He would have taken photos and totally bagged you out,' Ben complained. He reached for my burger and opened it up. 'I'm taking your bacon, okay?'
'From when do Muslims eat bacon?'
'I'm not eating it. I'm just taking it. Trust me.'
I watched him remove my bacon with slight regret. I knew I shouldn't be eating it, but bacon's just so tasty. So very, very tasty that I forget that I promised Will I would cut back on the saturated fat in my diet. He thinks I'm heading towards diabetes. I actually agree that he might have a point, but as I've said, I really like pork.
Ben wrapped my bacon in his serviette and put it aside. I didn't want to think about what he was going to do with it. A responsible person would have asked him, but I wasn't in the mood to be lied to. I'd rather just pretend I hadn't paid the extra seventy cents for bacon I wouldn't be eating.
We finished our dinner and drove him, taking a bit of a detour. Mohammed's petrol light came on and I drove into a servo and put a whole ten dollars worth of fuel into the tank. I didn't want Mohammed running out of petrol on the way home, but damned if I was going to give him a full tank.
Will was at home when we arrived back, along with his friend Wafiq, the latter of who would be spending a year in Australia studying. If Ben's personality often baffles me, then the same can be said about Will's choice of friends and lovers. I wasn't sure which camp – friend or lover – Wafiq belonged to, but I never would have picked him as someone Will would have chosen to hang around.
'Will,' Ben said. 'Fuck-face Mohammed made a bet with Brett and lost. Brett has his car. He won Mohammed's Skyline. Can you believe this shit?'
'I'm not keeping it,' I interrupted. 'In fact, I'm going to call Michael right now and tell him that he or Mohammed needs to pick it up.'
'Noooooo,' Ben wailed, heading to the kitchen. 'Will, don't let him do it. You know how much Mohammed deserves to lose his car.'
'I don't have any problems with Mohammed,' Will pointed out.
Ben rolled his eyes. Tucked under his arm was a pack of biscuits and he was carrying a glass of water. He flopped onto the couch and opened his biscuits, stuffing two in his mouth. He was a major eating machine. 'You only say that because you got it on with him.'
Will snatched the biscuits away. 'I did not get it on with him.'
Ben grabbed the bickies and offerered them to Wafiq, who shook his head politely. Ben shrugged at Wafiq and rolled his eyes at Will. 'You did so. I saw you. You also talked about perving on guys at the mosque.'
Will removed the bickies from Ben's grasp a second time, took one from the pack, and pegged it at his younger foster brother's head. 'Do you have any sense of decency?'
'I'm not the one who thinks people praying is a turn on.'
Will gritted his teeth. 'I didn't say that.'
I took the biscuits from Will and ate one. 'How about you see what's on TV?' I stated rather than suggested. 'I'm calling Michael. Any more crap from either of you and you'll both be pelted with biscuits.'
At times like these I envied Michael, who had taken our only female foster child and lived in a nice clean apartment in relative peace and quiet. I had a housemate – who was currently in Turkey on holidays – two boys, a houseguest, Ben's wretched cat and no peace. This was why I had a Ducati, albeit one that Will was always borrowing and that my housemate had somehow managed to scratch. The scratch had been repaired, but I was still annoyed that it had happened. Precisely how do you accidentally leave a three centimetre scratch on a near-new, naked bike?
'Michael,' I said, when he picked up the phone. 'Exactly when will your boyfriend be around to pick up his car?'
'His car,' I repeated, stepping outside. The air was warm and muggy still. I loved summer. 'I wasn't serious with that bet.'
Michael paused. 'Brett, he was serious.'
I laughed. 'Yeah, I gathered. I'll admit Ben and I took it for a spin, but I'm not intending on keeping it.'
Michael laughed softly. 'If you'd bet your motorcycle, he would have come to collect it.'
'I wouldn't bet my Ducati.' I pointed out. 'I wouldn't bet my boyfriend, either.'
Michael's laughter dried up into a weary sigh. 'Don't start this again.'
'I wasn't starting anything.'
'You were,' he said firmly. 'Look, I'll come around and get the car tomorrow. Will you be home at six?'
'Maybe. I'll make sure someone's here with the keys.'
He hesitated before hanging up. 'Thank-you. I mean that, Brett, I really do.'
'You're right,' I muttered.
I pressed the 'end call' button and stared at the phone. Goddamn, I loved him so much it hurt.