PROLOGUE

Micah Johnson’s Coming Home

Details page 3

 

THE HEADLINE for that day’s Herald Sun caught Will Deanes’s eye, and he automatically stopped dead on the street and peered at the newspaper holder outside the milk bar.

It had been finalised already? Micah had told him he would let him know as soon as he knew anything—so was this just idle gossip on behalf of the newspapers, or had it all happened so fast Micah hadn’t gotten around to telling anybody yet?

He pushed open the doors and walked into the dim interior of the store.

“Hey, Will,” called out the girl from behind the counter. Her dark hair was plied into pigtails, which made her look even younger than her twenty-odd years.

“Hey, Soong, how are you?”

She laughed. “Can’t complain. How about you?”

“Oh, I could, but I won’t.”

She sized him up. He had been coming to her family’s milk bar for over three years now, and she had gotten to know a disconcerting amount of information about Will and his life. “Leg?”

“No, the leg’s been okay lately. It’s my back.”

“Was it starting to get jealous because the leg was getting all the attention?” There wasn’t any snark to her tone, but there was an infectious cheeky grin.

Will laughed. “Something like that.”

“You have to get that checked out.”

“Is that a professional opinion?”

She rolled her eyes. “Still four years away from that graduation certificate, nuff nuff. Until then, I wouldn’t even want or trust me checking on your cold.”

“Yeah, but I trust you.” It was lucky she knew he was gay, or this whole scenario could be considered flirting.

“Yeah?” Soong leaned in and prodded his chest. “Then go to the doctor.”

He pushed the Herald over to her. “Just the paper, thanks.”

She tapped her finger against the headline that had him so psyched. “Your friend, huh?”

One time when Micah was over from Perth, he had accompanied Will to get some milk, and Soong had almost passed out behind the counter. Even if Micah was some dude from an interstate team, he was still a proper AFL player, and that counted for everything in a true Melburnian’s heart.

“Yes.” As if she didn’t know.

“Going to be a Tiger, according to today’s paper. Dad’s pissed. He wanted him for the Pies.”

“Yeah, well, I have another friend who is ecstatic that he might be a Tiger.” All of Micah’s former transgressions against Simon Murray—and his partner Declan Tyler—would be forgiven if Micah signed up with Richmond.

“So you don’t have any inside information?”

He shook his head and handed her the exact change. “I’m afraid not. See ya, Soong.”

“Bye, Will. Go to the doctor!”

He closed the door on her final command and shook open the paper. There was Micah, in his Docker colours. His long, hairy legs were stretched out like a dancer’s as he was gracefully setting himself up for a kick, the football in his hand ready to drop for a perfect punt. Some copy editor wag had drawn a circle with a line through it over his guernsey, but both the picture and the article denied knowing who Micah was leaving the Dockers for at the end of his contract.

However, Melbourne was a footy town, and footy news spread, even if the papers played coy about it sometimes. Micah would like to know where Soong got her information.

Dec had said, when the Tigers rumours started, Simon had looked the happiest he ever had in his life, including the day their twins were born. Will thought it may have been close, but he’d seen Simon with the kids. He thought the Tigers came a definite second. On even days, at least.

As he walked home, he checked his phone just in case he’d missed a text from Micah, or even a phone call. He was dying to know if there was any news.

Was Micah Johnson truly coming home?

Will hoped so.

 

 

IT WASN’T like he was sitting around pining for Micah. He was probably his best friend, sure, but Will most definitely had a life of his own. It hadn’t seemed like that a while back, when his time revolved around physio sessions and medical tests and learning to walk without the aid of a chair or stick again. (Not that he was fully free—his leg still acted up enough some days that he had to rely upon the stick to get him through it. Will hated those days.) Plus, GetOut was now a fully fledged charity—with paid staff and everything—and Dec had given him a job at a time when Will most needed it. The job wasn’t much at first, just general dogsbody and office assistant. As he had grown stronger, he started doing the public speaking route—going to schools and businesses with Declan, both of them sharing their stories and experiences of being gay in an industry that still struggled at times with its acceptance.

Dec had also encouraged him to take TAFE classes in administration and business management, and slowly but surely Will had obtained some relevant certificates that allowed him to rise up the meagre ranks of GetOut a little more, increase his hours, and even move up the pay scale.

At first Will had felt he was yet another one of Dec’s charity cases, but he really started to enjoy the work, and the way he had slipped into the unofficial role of Dec’s assistant had created a real friendship between the two of them. Will was no longer the starstruck teen who had looked up to Dec as a mentor, he was now a work colleague, and although Dec was his boss, he was also a friend. Of course, he had also been that when Micah, Emma, and Will were going through GetOut themselves, but it was even more so now.

And when Simon had gotten sick and the twins were born, Will had to take up a lot more of the slack to ensure GetOut continued to run in its shambolic splendour. It had been an unnerving time, especially as Dec had decided to step back a little bit and continue looking after his family after the crisis had passed.

That didn’t mean Dec was absent from GetOut, however. His presence was still felt in every way, and he always made visits. A Dec on hiatus was still a very visible Dec. Will assumed, however, that the upcoming fifth anniversary of GetOut’s beginning would bring Dec back into the fold a little more.

When he let himself into his house, he forgot to try and cover up the slight limp he was now displaying, and his uncle Henry stared at him from the kitchen.

“Is your leg acting up?”

Will sighed. “No.”

“It looks like it is.”

“It’s my back, actually. It’s just causing me to walk funny because of how I’m holding it.”

“Your back?” There was a waft of air behind him as Henry’s partner, Scotty, came up close, and his fingers slid underneath Will’s shirt to run across his back. Will stood rigid, too hyperaware of Scotty’s closeness and his warm breath against his neck to allow himself to relax into his touch. “I’ll give you a massage if you want. I don’t have a class until ten.”

“It’s okay, really,” Will said.

“Oh my God, take advantage of a trained masseuse when there’s one in the house,” Tom said, finishing off his coffee in one long swallow.

Scotty waggled his hands in the air, in the style of spirit fingers. “These are magic.”

“I can vouch for that,” Henry said, reaching across and giving his boyfriend a long smooch. “Gotta go. See you guys tonight.”

Scotty watched him go like a besotted teenager. “That man.”

When Will had first gotten injured, his uncle hadn’t been with Scotty. He had seemed destined to become a clichéd neighbourhood bachelor, loved by all the ladies and sniggered about by the men.

But then Scotty had been outsourced by the hospital to do some rehabilitation work with Will, and the rest was history. His eyes had met Henry’s while they were at opposite sides of the pool Will had to exercise in, and all they could think was that the other guy had to stay in place long enough for one to cross the water and let Cupid work his magic.

By the time Will left hospital, Scotty was practically a permanent fixture at Henry’s house, and it seemed like the two of them had always lived there together. There was a slight weirdness about his name being the same as Will’s dad, but thankfully Scotty had always been Scotty. And Scotty suited him far more than the slightly staid “Scott.”

Will was happy for his uncle. He had been alone for a long time, and as odd a couple as he and Scotty appeared, they truly complemented each other.

Which made it so difficult that Will had a raging, hormonal crush on Scotty.

Anybody would have been hard pressed not to. He was a tall, lanky blond, but with muscle definition in all the right places. His chin always had a permanent stubble, even after he shaved, and his furry chest was toned but not too toned. He also liked wearing as little clothing as possible, which proved distracting even at the best of times. Henry had seemed mildly bemused by how much skin his partner displayed when he first moved in, but he didn’t even bat an eyelid at it now unless company was coming over. Then Scotty had to at least put on a singlet and a pair of shorts. Even in a Melbourne winter he was woefully underdressed, upgrading to maybe a long-sleeved shirt with his shorts if they went out, but more often than not he was still in his Jesus boots—sandals that had long ago seen better days.

“My feet need to breathe,” he complained when Henry tried to get him to wear closed shoes to dinner one night.

“You won’t be suffocating them with one dinner,” Henry said.

Scotty grumbled but complied. Will knew Scotty loved his uncle more than anything and would make any sacrifice for him—including wearing dress shoes occasionally.

But he wore his long shorts. They clung to him in the best way, and any gay who’d seen him that night would have overlooked his other sartorial choices when an arse like that was on display.

And yet Scotty sailed through it all, oblivious. That was why you could actually stand him, because there was no ego attached. He was just your genuine feral hippy who looked like an escapee from Nimbin but was so effortlessly charming that he had no idea the effect he had on both men and women.

And on his new “nephew.”

Because Will’s hormones were in overdrive at the moment, and they were all focused upon Scotty as the nearest gay guy he knew (that he wasn’t related to).

It had been quite a long time since Will had been with another guy… since his accident in fact. It wasn’t that opportunity hadn’t presented itself in the meantime—especially when he went to the gym and the pools for therapy. But Will had been scared. He wasn’t fully in touch with his body yet as it recovered, and he felt he couldn’t rely upon it. He had visions of a guy grabbing his leg and repositioning it, only to have Will screaming in pain. Of course, he could be upfront about his situation, but who really wanted to get into that before hooking up?

There had been a guy in one of his hydrotherapy classes: Otto. He was Nordic and looked like Thor’s younger brother. He had gravitated towards Will as he was the closest in age to him, even though Otto was five years older. Will hadn’t even known if Otto was gay until one day in the change room Otto had leaned in and sucked gently on Will’s lower lip. Will had immediately begun kissing him, but they were interrupted by the sound of the drink machine outside the door getting refilled. This seemed to panic Otto, and he pulled away. Will felt his absence before their lips had even parted. They had swapped numbers but seemed to get cold feet—maybe Otto had the same fears as Will. A couple of weeks later, and only a few stolen kisses between them, Otto left the class. Will wondered whether he should call him, but he decided Otto was just as capable of doing the same but clearly didn’t want to.

So, there was Scotty.

Who was currently still waggling his fingers. Dressed in nothing but his boxers. Scotty had a number of tight-fitting boxers and trunks, which were all in varying stages of quality. One time Will had dropped his fork at the table and when bending to pick it up saw that the head of Scotty’s cock was innocently peeking out beneath the hem of the leg. His instant hard-on was bordering on pain by the time he managed to get to the shower and take care of it.

He would probably have to do the same thing after his massage.

Hating himself, Will nodded an assent to Scotty’s offer. It was the closest thing he had to anybody touching him right now.

And it excited him more than it should.

 

 

“TAKE YOUR shirt off,” Scotty commanded as he started going through his bottles of massage oil. “Do you like coconut?”

“I love Bounty bars,” Will said, still keeping his shirt on.

“Alrighty, then, I’ll do a combo of coconut and chocolate. Then you’ll smell like a Bounty, and everybody will want to eat you.”

If anybody else had said that, it would probably be laden with innuendo. But Scotty seriously was only thinking of Bounty bars and how good they smelled. Will could just imagine what Micah’s reaction would have been.

Even though it was early morning, the sun was hot. Scotty’s chest was starting to glisten. He absentmindedly fanned himself with a brochure and said, “Do you mind if I put the aircon on?”

Will shook his head. It would probably be better to be as cold as possible.

Scotty noticed he was still dressed. “Come on, off with the shirt!” As he turned to switch on the aircon, he said, “And take off the shorts too. We’ll do your legs and all.”

“My shorts?” Will asked.

“You are wearing undies, aren’t you?” Scotty sighed as the cool air hit him, and he stayed under the flow for a few moments more.

“Of course I am!”

“Then don’t be such a fuddy-duddy. I can’t do your legs with your shorts getting in the way. If you don’t want to wear your undies, you can just wear a towel.”

No, that would be much worse. That would mean nothing would hide his shame.

Scotty lit some incense, and the woody smoke made Will’s nose wrinkle.

“Do you want some music?” Scotty asked.

Will pulled off his shirt and threw it on the nearby chair. “Yeah, anything but—”

The smooth sounds of Enya filled the air.

“I love her,” Scotty beamed. “So relaxing. You feel like you’re in another world.”

A world of pain, Will thought but dropped his shorts. Standing in his undies, he felt very exposed and thought he probably looked like more of a boy than a man, considering the specimen that stood before him.

“On the table. On your tummy,” Scotty sang, “Let the Orinoco flow!”

Will had to smile at the sing-along with the adapted lyrics. As he rolled over, his dick ground into the padded table surface.

“Your muscle tone’s really coming along on your legs.” Scotty slapped his hands together, and they squelched due to the massage oil. “You’ve never shirked your exercises, which a lot of people do. And then they wonder why they’re taking so long to get results.”

“I want results,” Will said.

“I know you do,” Scotty said, laying his hands on the back of Will’s thigh. “And you’ll get there.”

Will closed his eyes as Scotty began rubbing his thumbs along Will’s muscle. It hurt a little, but Will knew it was the good kind of pain. Not the pain he’d been used to for so long.

He still couldn’t remember the accident properly. His footy team had been singing, he remembered that. He didn’t know what song, though. It wouldn’t have been the team song; by that stage they probably would have tired of it. Will had dropped the ball he was holding, and it had flown down the aisle. The other guys had cheered, a tease but a friendly one, and Will had stood to go after it—

And that was it. He somersaulted to a loud crashing sound, and he felt pain flood through him as he continued cartwheeling along the aisle of the bus.

And then merciful darkness until he woke up three operations later.

He didn’t know why he was dwelling upon it all of a sudden, until he heard Scotty sigh and felt the ball of his thumb against one of his biggest scars. It ran from the side of his thigh, over his left buttock, and along the base of his back until it reached the operation scars along his spine.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” Will said, a warning.

“I’m not, mate,” Scotty said.

“And don’t lie.”

“I’m not lying. It just looks painful, and I’m scared of hurting you.”

“I’ll tell you if you hurt me,” Will said.

“Okay.”

Will was glad Scotty didn’t press him further—at least he wasn’t like other people who couldn’t shut up about it, even if they meant well. And Henry, Micah, and Emma had been among that lot. Even Simon had enough sense to only make some moan of commiseration, and Declan had been Stoic Declan Tyler as usual. He was probably the only one who had any idea of what Will had gone through, as he had undergone many reconstructive surgeries himself—although sporting related and not from a truck going through the bus he was travelling on.

Will closed his eyes again and repressed the memory. It was no good dwelling on it. All it did was cause more pain of another kind, and he had enough to deal with on the physical side of things. Scotty was now focusing on his back, and Will found that much more relaxing, as it wasn’t anywhere near his erogenous zones and felt much more like a “normal” massage—not that Scotty ever intended anything he did to be sexual. He would have been horrified if anybody took it as such.

In fact, he had had reservations when he set up the room in Henry’s house so he could do more work from home—he only advertised through yoga studios and gyms but still had the occasional customer who was expecting a “happy ending.” Scotty never booked them again. He had laughed about it with Henry and Will over dinner when it happened, but he could tell Henry was nervous about his house being seen as a business of ill repute, and Will wondered—jokingly and to himself—if he could set up a little side business for the times Scotty would be at the studio and Will could make some cash in hand—literally.

He didn’t mean it, though, but it was a sweet fantasy. Until the guy saw the scarred freak stripping down to serve him instead of the smooth twink or hairy stud—aka Scotty—he was hoping for.

“You have a really bad knot here,” Scotty said, kneading away between Will’s shoulder blades. “Are you stressed about something?”

“I’m always stressed about something,” Will mumbled, almost asleep.

“I’m going to have to use my elbow,” Scotty said. “This might hurt a little.”

Will winced as Scotty was true to his word. His elbow was like a dagger, heading right to the spot that would feel it the worst.

“That’s it.” Scotty rested his other arm alongside Will’s head for extra stability. Will found himself staring at Scotty’s wrist, lightly tanned, with thick golden hairs. He bit down an irresistible urge to reach out and stroke it, tracing the lines of his tattoo, an ouroboros that encircled his flesh.

The wrist disappeared, and Will was relieved. Scotty had many tattoos he would love to trace. He wondered if Henry did so, and if Scotty liked it.

That was weird. He shouldn’t think about things like that.

“You’re quiet.”

Will felt a cool gel drip upon his skin and knew the massage was coming to an end. It always seemed to go too fast. “Isn’t that the point of a massage?”

“You normally talk, though.”

“I’m tired.”

“Hmm, between your silence and the knot in your back I know you’re worrying about something. Is it to do with a certain homecoming hero?”

Will played dumb. “Huh?”

Scotty’s face dipped down to meet his, and Will flinched. “Micah Johnson?”

“Even though he thinks it, the world and everybody in it doesn’t revolve around Micah Johnson.”

“Spoken like someone with conflicted feelings.” And Scotty’s face disappeared from view again.

“Conflicted? I know Micah can be an egotistical jerk.”

“Everybody can. But you always seem to like to highlight his bad points. Like you’re trying to put us off the scent.”

“Off what scent?” Will didn’t realise he spoke like that about Micah. Did they really think he hated him? Micah was his best friend.

“Oh, Will,” Scotty said. He gave a final slap to Will’s back. “When people love somebody, they either sing all their praises or pretend they don’t give a shit about them. And you and Micah are too good friends for you to see nothing redeemable about him.”

Will sat up and brought his knobbly scarred knees to his chest. “I don’t say only bad things about him, do I?”

Scotty smiled kindly. “No. Just when we get too close for your comfort when it comes to talking about Micah.”

“He’s my best friend.”

“But there’s something more there.”

“Not something I want to wreck.”

“Who said it would be wrecked?” Scotty began putting away his oils and motioned for Will to hop off the table so he could spray it down and dry it.

“I’m not Micah’s type.” Will pulled his shorts back on.

“Types are meant to be broken.”

“That’s not actually a saying.”

Scotty laughed, a flash of white teeth within golden cheeks. “It’s a Scotty saying.”

“I didn’t know you offered therapy as a sideline.”

“Are you kidding? It’s there in the title: Massage Therapist.”

Even Will had to smile at that. “I guess they don’t call hairdressers hair therapists.”

“They probably should. They must listen to the same amount of problems and have to give advice. Along with bartenders and priests. But you know me. Hope by name and hope by nature.”

It was true. He even had it on his business cards as a motto: Scotty Hope: Hope by name and hope by nature. You could probably get away with things like that when you were a masseuse and yoga instructor. It could even work in your favour, what with the mind-set of all the other hippies.

Will picked up his shirt but didn’t put it on. “I might go for a swim.”

“Hey, I just used the best smellies on you!” Scotty shook the bottle at him. “Now you’ll stink like chlorine.”

“Sorry. Thanks for the massage, though.”

“That’s okay. Take a fortune on your way out,” Scotty said, turning back to his cleanup.

Will pulled a small folded piece of paper out of the glass bowl on the counter. Scotty started to whistle as Will left the room and headed for the backyard. Throwing his shirt onto one of the chairs by the pool, he unfolded the fortune Scotty liked to give every client and also tried to fob off onto Henry and Will as much as possible.

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and some people build windmills.

Will couldn’t help but feel Scotty had personally targeted him there. It was just too close to home.

 

 

AFTER HIS swim, and a shower to try and wash away the majority of the chlorine, Will logged in to the GetOut network and started work for the day. One great thing about working for Dec’s organisation was that it wasn’t a true office job in the sense that he had to physically be there during business hours. If he could work from home, he did so. Luckily he had a boss like Dec that trusted him to do the work he had to do, and if Will had been failing him on that front, Dec would have known straightaway, no matter how much he was distracted at the moment. Will wasn’t going to let him down, anyway—not after he had been given this opportunity.

Will knew nepotism had gotten him here, at least at the start. He was an ex-GetOut kid who knew the bosses well and had them looking out for him, especially because of the accident that ended any potential career he had as a footballer. He knew Dec and Simon felt bad for him. But he also knew Dec wouldn’t have given him the job if he wasn’t capable of doing it. That was just what Dec and Simon did—they always tried to help kids make their lives a little bit easier. Micah had once told him that Dec believed it was a generational thing—that older queers should try to make the lives of the next generation better than they’d had it. And then it would be that generation’s turn to pass it on to the ones after them. It was a good philosophy to live by, and Will guessed he was living it now because that was exactly what his job entailed. As GetOut had grown and more sponsors had come on and their reputation increased, so had the amount of kids who joined and, as a result, the number of programs GetOut had to run. With the advent of a larger staff and salaries, Dec was always very careful to ensure they ran by the book, that the money was managed properly by the accountants, and the finances tabled very clearly at each year’s annual general meeting.

Will logged on to the message boards, just to make sure they were being administered properly and there weren’t any red flags about content or interaction between the kids. Will couldn’t believe he thought of them as kids now—he actually wasn’t that much older than some of them, but they seemed like kids: raw and edgy and filled with personal demons that Will had no problem relating to, given his own problems in high school. Just doing this simple act every day made him smile and think of Emma Goldsworthy, his other best friend and the originator of the boards way back when they were still in school and Will wasn’t even a member of GetOut. The boards had originally been a place where the GetOut kids congregated as they were separated across the city by their schools and homes, and sometimes they didn’t have enough time at practice with Declan to indulge in all the gossip and news they wanted to. Micah’s brother had even been a lurker back in the day and had been able to share gossip with Simon, which led them to find Micah when he ran away from home.

How far Micah had come since then! And Will too—hell, he had been nothing more than a clichéd closeted bully who took out his jealousy on Micah in the worst possible ways. If he was honest, back then, he had liked Micah, although he had tried to write it off. A painful memory of a couple of attempted kisses and rebuffs still haunted him.

And now Micah was a three-season veteran of the AFL, Emma was just about to return from an American hockey exchange program, and Will Deanes was an official employee of GetOut.

Sometimes he couldn’t help but feel everybody else was moving up while he was moving sideways. When he felt the pang of regret in some dark moments, he would try to look at his new job through a different light—he was helping kids find their feet in a world that often rejected him when he was making his way through it. Just like Dec and Simon had when his dad had thrown him out of their home and Will had to find his own strange family in place of his real one. If it wasn’t for GetOut and his uncle, he didn’t know where he would be right now.

Will had a lot to be thankful about, but he wouldn’t be human if he still didn’t feel that pang every now and again.

His mobile buzzed on the table beside his mouse. Micah’s official AFL portrait stared up at him, wearing the purple and white of the Dockers’ uniform. Soon they would be replaced by two other colours, but which ones?

“What are you doing?” Micah asked when he picked up.

“Working,” Will said. “It’s a funny thing most normal people have to do.”

“Are you implying I’m not normal?”

“You said it.” Will grinned. “Not me.”

“Are you being grumpy?”

“Nope.”

“You sound grumpy,” Micah pushed.

“I said no.” Will’s fingers continued to fly over the keyboard.

“I can hear you tapping away.”

“I did say I was working, didn’t I?”

“So you don’t want to hear my news?”

“What news?” Will asked.

“Well, you’re too busy working, so maybe I’ll call back later.”

Will considered calling Micah’s bluff and agreeing to a later call, but he didn’t want to look like the bitter ex-football player who resented his friend’s success. Especially because he didn’t. Only momentary fits of jealousy but nothing more. “No, it’s okay, I’ll take a break.”

“Are you in the office?”

“No, I’m working from home today.”

“Slacker! I bet you Hottie Scottie just gave you a massage.”

Micah had no problem admitting his attraction to Scotty, but it was easier for him, as Scotty wasn’t his in-law. But Micah, for all his talk, would never go there either. Micah loved Henry, no matter how hot he thought Henry’s boyfriend was. Like Will, Micah admired Scotty from afar, even though Micah said he had “the hottest chest in Victoria.” Will always found it amusing that Micah specified the state, because his on-again, off-again boyfriend, Kyle, lived in Canberra, and he probably topped the poll for Micah personally.

“He did,” Will admitted.

Micah chuckled. “Did you have to go unload afterwards?”

Sometimes Micah required too much information. “No, I just had a swim.”

“I admire your restraint. That wouldn’t have been enough for me.”

The thought of Micah “unloading” made Will flush. Best to change the subject. “So, the news?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, got distracted thinking of Scotty. Was he only in his shorts?”

“Micah!”

“Okay, okay. Did you see the papers this morning?”

“Yeah, they were pretty vague, though.”

Micah couldn’t hold back anymore. “I’m coming home, baby!”

Will smiled to himself. “Congratulations.”

“How does it feel to have your buddy back in Melbourne?”

Buddy. Ugh, such a reductive word. But what Will said was “Better than I imagined.”

“I’m looking forward to it too,” Micah said. “And Kyle will only be a couple of hours away by plane, instead of six.”

Of course Kyle would be the biggest drawcard. If they were still together that week. Micah was currently in an “open” relationship with Kyle, which meant Micah stayed loyal to Kyle because he loved him, but Kyle fucked whoever crossed his path, although Will had to begrudgingly acknowledge that Kyle did love Micah as well. He just wanted the best of both worlds. As far as Will could see, with his own biases coming into play, it was basically just a friends-with-benefits arrangement, although their feelings for each other were more than those of friendship. They fucked like bunnies when they met up again, but also went on a few dates or dinners and lived in each other’s pockets until they separated back to the opposite ends of the country, where their chosen sport had taken them.

“What about your parents?” Will asked. “And your bro?”

“Ugh, that’s what I feel guilty about,” Micah said. “They moved over to Perth for me, and now I’m leaving again. But they’ve decided to stay behind and let Alex finish high school here. It’s what he wants as well.”

“Are Joanne and Rick upset about it?” Will had always had a good relationship with Micah’s parents, especially after he had come out and they realised the depth of his friendship with Micah.

“They don’t seem to be. They’re probably more worried about thinking I could go off the rails again if I don’t have them keeping an eye on me.”

“They forget you’re coming back to where Dec lives. He won’t let that happen.”

“I think that’s the only thing easing their minds at the moment,” Micah said. “Not that Dec and Simon should be my babysitter. They have their own kids to worry about now.”

“You know that won’t stop them worrying about you,” Will pointed out.

“No, it probably won’t. But, you know what?”

“What?”

“It’s time Micah Johnson didn’t need a babysitter. It’s time I learned to not fuck up so atrociously on my own two feet.”

“Kind of like a preemptive strike?” Will asked.

“What?”

“You know, when you surprise your enemy by attacking them when they’re planning to attack you, and you get there first.”

“How do you know this shit?”

Will wasn’t going to admit it was from watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Because I’m smart, Micah.”

“Too smart for me.”

Typical Micah Johnson self-deprecation.

“Yeah, I guess,” Will said, playing along.

“Anyway, I’m not going to be such a fuckup. And if I am, I’ll deal with it myself and without digging myself into a bigger hole.”

“Part of being mature is probably also knowing when to ask for help,” Will added. “Like you did when you told your parents what was happening in Perth.”

“Maybe.” Micah didn’t sound too convinced. “Anyway, don’t you want to know who I’m playing for this year?”

Will couldn’t believe they hadn’t gotten around to that conversation. “Who?”

He could see the grin plastered across Micah’s face when he replied. “The Tigers.”

Somewhere in North Fitzroy, Declan had just come home to a pile of ashes where his beloved Simon had spontaneously combusted.

“Holy shit,” Will breathed. “Simon is going to fucking explode.”

“He already did,” Micah laughed. “I had to tell him before anybody else did, or else he would never have forgiven me.”

“You’re definitely going to be his favourite GetOut kid now.”

“I put him through enough over the past few years, so I guess it’s his reward. Don’t know what I’ll do for Dec, though. Anyway, I have to get going. Meeting the folks to start making plans. I’ll call you soon with more deets.”

They said their goodbyes, and Will sat back deep into the couch. He smiled.

Micah Johnson was coming home—as a Tiger—and all was right with the world.