The Odd One Out
Copyright © 2015
by Gary Conder
All Rights Reserved
by Gary Conder
All Rights Reserved
Life at the Blake farm could not be more admirable. Charlie had become Colt's second self and day by day Colt sank deeper into their relationship. Eric's perception of them had become fact, they were Mr. and Mrs. Blake, or if one wished, Mr. and Mrs. Wyse, depending on one's point of view and with that observation Colt would have accepted either. His fear of being the odd one out was quickly dissolving within the gentle smile of Charlie but he still choked on the gay word and the admission of relationship.
The days were becoming slightly shorter and cooler but in that corner of the country, winter was never long or miserable and there were still days when swimming was pleasurable but not for Charlie. If it were not bath temperature, than the water was too cold.
It was a time of year when southern grey nomads arrived in convoy. Caravan's large and small; mobile homes of all sizes would pass through the town in continuous monotony. Some pause for a meal, or use park facilities, others giving a spark of interest with a sideways glance as they slowly continued on their way further north, following the sun.
It was football season, once again Colt had been drafted into the ruck and with his chest filled with pride and emotion he was ready to take on the world. The first game proved to be so, with Colt being the catalyst for their victory and Charlie on the sideline cheering him on.
Wednesday night was all talk about the coming game. It would be the big one, against the team that won the previous year's grand final and by quite a margin. Colt had been injured during the finals, receiving a sprained ankle from a purposeful trip, leaving his team without height in the centre.
This year he was strong and full of confidence. He would make a difference. He would be the difference and was ready without any sign of injury. He was ready to take on the world and after that evening's training, was deep in conversation with Charlie about the approaching game when the telephone rang.
"I'll get it – it will be Eric with Saturday's team." Colt suggested, as the full team had not been formulated during that evening's practice. Eric being the vice captain, promised to telephone with the decision.
"Is that you Eric?" Colt spoke blithely into the receiver.
A moment of silence:-
"No it's Sergeant Davis, from the Mt. Oakey station, could I speak with Mr. Charlie Wyse." The sergeant's voice appeared somewhat grave and succinct.
"Sure, just a moment I'll get him for you." Colt nervously placed the telephone down and called for Charlie.
"Who is it?" Charlie asked quizzically, lifting his head from his amuse with the daily paper's comic strips.
"It's the cops from home, they are asking for you." The humour drained from Colt's face, expecting the worse.
"What from Mt. Oakey?"
Colt nodded and stood aside.
"Hello Charlie Wyse speaking," Charlie curiously answered.
"Mr. Wyse, we have some grave news for you, your parents have been in a motor accident." The sergeant paused to retain his composure.
"Are they alright?" Charlie asked, feeling his face prickle with dread.
"I'm afraid not, your father died at the scene of the accident and your mother is in a bad way in the Mt. Oakey hospital."
There was more information transferred but Charlie heard none. His thoughts were frozen into disbelief. Eventually he thanked the policeman and placed the telephone down.
"What's wrong?" Colt asked fearing the worse. Gauging from Charlie's conversation it was obvious his parents had been in an accident but he couldn't 'ascertain the severity.
"There's been a car accident and dad is dead and mum is in hospital in a bad way. I have to go." Charlie answered. His thoughts focused on one objective and that was being at his mother's side and as soon as possible.
"I better go." Charlie repeated from his state of shock but stood motionless in the middle of the room. His eyes cast down towards the floor while softly rubbing the back of his head with an open hand. "I better go." He repeated again as if in a dream.
"Now, it's almost ten and it's more than a two hour drive, why not first thing in the morning?" Colt protested.
"No sorry mate, I should be at the hospital as early as possible, I'll stay at my parents house overnight."
"Would you like me to come with you?" Colt offered.
"No you have the horses and couldn't get anyone at this time of the night."
Colt agreed. As there wasn't any way he could change his friend's decision, he could only advise care. "You be careful I don't want you in hospital or worse yourself."
"Don't worry I'll telephone you after I've visited the hospital in the morning." With that Charlie found his keys, through his arms around Colt and held him tightly too shocked to cry, then as quickly was gone.
Colt stood on the verandah watching the tail lights of Charlie's utility as it crossed the bridge, it paused at the intersection, turned to the right and was gone, leaving him bewildered and empty, all happening with the span of half an hour, even less and the Blake residence went from happy homes to tragedy.
It had been a sleepless night for Colt, tossing and turning concerned with Charlie's driving in his emotional state and so late at night then came the morning waiting for his telephone call. It was past midday and the call hadn't come and still well into the afternoon without a word. Four times Colt telephoned Charlie's parents home but his call rang out and still Charlie hadn't contacted.
After his failure to make contact with Charlie, Colt telephoned the Mt. Oakey hospital but the staff wouldn't give out any information. Colt explained he didn't wish to know Charlie's mother's condition, only if Charlie had visited the hospital but that request was also regrettably denied.
Eventually his telephone rang but was Eric apologising for being late with Saturday's team. Colt related what had happened and Eric spoke the necessary words but without meaning. He was more concerned with Saturday's game than a family he had never met living in a distant town. Even Colt hardly knew Charlie's parents, only meeting them on two occasions when he and Charlie went to Mt. Oakey to collect some of Charlie's possessions.
At dusk the telephone rang and at last it was Charlie and in a state. It had been true about the death of his father. His mother was alive but may never walk again. Her general condition was fair and would only need hospitalisation for a short period but her rehabilitation would be long and arduous, if at all successful.
Charlie apologised but there wasn't any way he could return for some time asking Colt to explain the situation to his boss.
"I'm missing you already." Colt whispered into the telephone.
"I feel the same but there's nothing I can do." Charlie answered, his voice choked with emotion.
"Do you want me to come over to Mt. Oakey?" Colt asked, holding back his own emotion as best as he could, not to place a heavier burden upon his friend.
"How would you get here and back again, besides there's nothing you can do here and who would look after the horses." Charlie was as usual, practical to a fault. "I'll call every day and let you know what's going on." Charlie paused, it was obvious he was crying, "I love you Colt." He whispered and finished the call.
That night Colt found it difficult to sleep. At first he lay on his bed, his eyes wide open and his thoughts racing. Darkness has a habit of bringing on the 'what-ifs' in life and problems not only multiply but expand. Colt heard the clock in the lounge room strike two and he rose from his bed to sit with Max on the verandah. On the strike of three, he returned to his bedroom. Standing motionless at his bedroom door he instead went to Charlie's room and retired to his friend's bed. At least there, he could inhale the faint remanence Charlie's pleasant odour from the bedding, remaining from sleeping separately when Dennis had stayed. Soon he fell into a most disturbed sleep.
Saturday's football game came and went without Colt in its line up. He pulled out early in the morning, claiming stomach trouble, which didn't go down well with the rest of the team. Even worse they lost by seven goals and Eric being a friend and the team's vice captain was asked to ascertain what was Colt's problem but came away with the same reason, being something their ruck had eaten.
The following week was the same, he hadn't been to training and again he wasn't well enough to play. By the third week he was dropped from the team. Soon after Colt pulled out for the year, he had lost all focus in the game, preferring to remain at home and attend to the farm, only going into town for groceries.
As the days progressed Colt once again became accustomed to his own company, although the ache in his chest wouldn't dissipate, nor would the longing to have Charlie return to his bed. Fortunately Max was company and sensing something wrong with his master, was forever by his side.
Charlie did make his daily telephone call but soon it became somewhat obvious he would not be back in the foreseeable future. His mother had been released from hospital into his care and seeing he was the only family she had, it became Charlie's duty to look after her. Fortunately the Wyse family owned their home and had insurance and some money put aside so, in the short term, Charlie would not need to find employment.
There were also rare occasions when Charlie could make the drive back to the farm and even stay overnight, leaving a neighbour to attend to his mother. As for their feelings for one another, they had strengthened, although it became obvious that for the present they would have to live apart and Charlie would visit when he had the opportunity but those times were rare. Mostly Charlie's nights would be sitting quietly with his mother in front of the television until she was weary enough for bed.
It was on one such night. Charlie had joined his mother after talking to Colt for most of an hour. Coming away from his telephone call he obviously appeared stressed with his lot. He took his chair by Meg's side and hadn't spoken for some time. With the lights low and the television's sound turned down, his mother asked why Russell hadn't visited and Charlie said he had his farm to attend to, besides he didn't have a vehicle.
"You could lend him your utility," Meg Wyse suggested.
"I could but he also has his football and the horses need daily attention." Charlie lied about the football, as he knew Colt had pulled out for the year, he was keeping his answers as simple and as distant as he possibly could to avoid his mother's suspicions but the woman wouldn't let go.
"Then why don't you visit him more often, I can manage for a day or two and there is always Liz next door, she could look in now and again."
"Mother, why would I want to anyway?" Charlie protested, attempting to drive a wedge between his mother's conversation and his sentiment towards Colt.
"I like Russell, he's a good lad." Meg admitted, unable to call him Colt.
"He's a good friend." Charlie agreed.
"Is he good to you?" Meg asked.
"Mother, where is this leading?" Charlie was becoming angered with his mother's persistence.
"You do love him, don't you?"
"Don't worry son, your dad and I have always known." Meg's tone came without arraign, she gently smiled and asked if she may have a cup of tea before the advertising between programming ended.
Meg's request for tea was a circuit breaker, as it was obvious a deadlock in conversation between herself and her son was developing.
"Yes mother, he is good to me and I do like him a lot." Charlie answered on his way to make the tea.
Charlie could feel the steam building in the kettle and felt the warmth from the spout upon his face. He could also feel the embarrassment building deep within him. Sexuality was a taboo subject with one's parents and homosexual tendency was even more forbidden, usually ending in tears and rejection. To be actually accepted and even encouraged by one's parents was frightening. Charlie returned to the lounge room carrying one mug of hot steaming black tea.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you Charlie but I've been watching you lately and having to look after some infirmed old woman is something no young man should have to do." Meg paused and sipped her tea; it was hot on her lips. She placed it down to cool.
"You should get out more, go stay with Russell or have him stay here. I can manage, besides I can even take a step or two on my own." Meg's disclosure wasn't totally accurate. She was becoming stronger by the week but still needed help from her wheel chair to her bed.
Charlie refrained from giving an answer. He had none and wasn't ready to admit to his mother's implication. Meg shrewdly changed the subject.
"Did you hear Julie from twenty-seven is marrying that young fellow who works at the mill?" She asked. Charlie had not.
"You went to school with Greg?" She asked.
"I did but he was a year older and I didn't mix with his gang."
"He is such a nice boy."
"They are all nice boys to you, where is this leading?"
"No where son, I just said he was a nice boy." Meg finished her tea and commenced to wheel her chair towards her bedroom.
"I'm off to bed and I'm going to try and manage without help tonight, I will call you if I get into trouble."
"Are you sure?" Charlie turned off the television.
"And you think about what I said." Meg closed her bedroom door and obviously coped as she didn't call.
It had been two weeks since Charlie visited; fourteen days and sixteen telephone calls. Colt believed it was true what he read in his school history books, 'the tyranny of distance,' Two hours plus drive, one hundred and twenty-six kilometres and no vehicle. It may well have been the moon.
Charlie promised to visit for a full weekend and had arrived on the Friday night as the last of the sun sent long shafts of light across the land, painting the tops of the trees in yellow. Colt heard the utility approach and was waiting with Max by his side, on the gravel below the stairs.
"How was the drive?" Colt asked as Charlie alighted from the vehicle.
"Just a drive,"
"Do you want to go to the pub tonight?" Colt suggested as they mounted the stairs.
Once inside Charlie wrapped his arms around Colts shoulders.
"Nope, I can go to the pub any night, tonight I just want you."
Charlie's answer filled Colt with pride and joy, wishing the moment would last and never end but even in their embrace he could feel the weekend ticking away. Almost hear the seconds as they one by one made minutes, made hours, devouring their precious time together.
After tea the boy's ritual was to sit quietly on the front verandah enjoying a couple of beers, watching the stars. Occasionally one or the other would ask a question, pertinent of course and after an extended pause the other would answer.
"Is Meg improving?" Colt asked as the northern stretch of stars disappeared behind a banking of clouds.
"The doctors say it is possible she may eventually gain partial use of her legs but never be able to walk to the shops." Charlie sounded hopeful.
"I like your mother."
"She likes you and you would never guess what she said." Charlie's voice gave a note of nervous excitement.
"I guess I wouldn't."
"She worked out what's going on between us."
Charlie's words made the blood drain from Colt's cheeks as a feeling of dread overcame him, while he expected the worse.
"Don't panic, she's alright with it and suggested you come and stay at Mt. Oakey with us."
"I don't know if I could; how would it be us raunching around in the spare room while your mother was sleeping a wall away." Colt gave a slight shudder.
"Raunching, I don't know about that, maybe a slight entanglement." Charlie laughed.
"It wouldn't be right; it would be like listening to your parents banging on in the next room." Colt shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"We could do it in the potting shed." Charlie suggested.
"You don't have a potting shed."
"Well then, in the garage, I could move the ute out and there is an old mattress in there."
Colt gave a disapproving grunt.
"Well what do you think would you come and stay sometime?" Charlie concluded.
"I'll sleep on it, come on time for bed."
Saturday morning found Colt shopping. Since Charlie returned to be with his mother he had reverted to weekend shopping. This time he was quite proud having his friend tag along as his pack horse and Charlie only too willing to be so.
On the way back to the car they chanced upon Eric Chambers along with Rowan Matthews on their way to kicking practice before the day's game. Eric paused and spying Charlie spoke.
"Mr. And Mrs Blake out doing the shopping."
"Eric," Colt greeted.
"G'day," Charlie delivered.
"Down for the weekend?" Eric asked.
"Yea until Monday morning,"
"Hey Wysie, I hope you're back for the cricket, your mate has wussed out on the football." Rowan Matthews offered.
"Don't know Rowan, mum's in a bad way."
"I heard about your parents." Eric declared, displaying a measure of sympathy. "It must be hard for you." He added and continued on his way, at distance he paused. "Hey Blakie, there is a meeting of the cricket team on Wednesday, be there."
"No you be there."
The key turned in the ignition but nothing. The motor was dead, or was it the battery, or as far as Charlie knew, its big end, its spark plugs its anything. Colt wasn't much better with his diagnosis.
"Shit what now." Charlie's voice mounted to panic.
"No sweat, were only half a block from Fry's garage."
Malcolm Fry arrived, his sun weathered face gave him the appearance of old age, rather than middle aged and his sparse basically black hair, as greasy and unwashed as his overalls.
"What seems to be the problem?" Fry asked making gesture to release the bonnet.
"It won't go." Charlie answered.
"I guess that but what does it sound like? Turn the key."
Charlie obeyed as both Colt and the mechanic stood, their heads buried beneath the car's bonnet. The mechanic poking at parts and pulling at wires while Colt remained silent pretending he knew what Fry was explaining.
"Nothing!" Charlie called out of the open window.
"I can see that." Fry called back.
"What do you think it is?" Charlie called.
"Electrical," Fry suggested.
"Can you fix it?" Colt asked.
"Fix isn't the word Russell, the wiring is a bloody mess. I can get it going but the electrics will need a complete overhaul. I think it's about time for a trade in." Fry paused and shook his head, "or the flaming tip." He concluded and commenced to work on the main problem.
Charlie's utility did make it back to Mt Oakey and to his home but the following day when he attempted to start it, once again silence. Not even a clicking noise or a gurgle. Soon after he telephoned Colt.
"You got back alright?" Colt commented somewhat relieved as to the condition of the vehicle.
"Yea to home but this morning it won't start."
"Are you going to take it to the auto electrician?"
"Na, the opinion of your mechanic was it wasn't worth the effort, it would cost more than the old girl's worth." Charlie sounded disappointed.
"I'll pay for it?" Colt offered.
"As the mechanic said, all the wiring needs replacing and even then he couldn't promise anything. Looks like I won't be visiting for a while." Charlie's disappointment was paramount.
"Maybe I should get myself a little run-around and visit you." Colt suggested.
"Something will work out." Charlie unconvincingly promised but Colt wasn't so sure. It appeared that now the ball was on his side of the net and he would need to act, or Harry's prediction may eventuate and in time Charlie may find someone else, if not in the city maybe someone in Mt. Oakey.
Colt thought of renting a vehicle. It wasn't the cost that concerned him but finding someone to attend to the farm even if for a day or so. He couldn't keep asking Eric and Dennis couldn't be trusted. Not after his last time when it was the local establishment that fed the stock and Mavis wouldn't know a horses head from a horses arse.
'Something will work out.' Charlie's words returned and there was only hope remaining. Maybe the same hope that had remained in Pandora's Box once everything else had been removed but for Colt he could see hope running towards the setting sun with its arse on fire.
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