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After saying our goodbyes in the predawn light, it was time to head off on our road trip. Josh had gotten a call at about 1 am from his workplace – they were called to help the US Forest service as they were mobilizing a large group of firefighters with some big fires that were burning in the Sequoia National forest and their logistical support guys needed help.
So, our goodbye was cut a little – well a lot – short as we had to hurriedly say goodbye. With a plan to catch up on the return leg up the east coast – Josh was going to be in NYC in about six weeks’ time for a family thing – a date to see the NY Yankees play was our plan. I’m such a sucker for baseball and NFL – well NHL too really – who am I kidding? I love to watch sport.
I’d been up for hours and packed the truck with the stuff we’d prepared to take. Luckily Tommy’s garage was large, but I managed to make it look like a bomb had gone off the other day with stuff everywhere. At least now it had returned to normal after all my packing, with our care packages ready to be collected and shipped back home.
With the truck packed, Lucas showered and dressed, finally, I’d had enough time to cook breakfast for Tom, Lucas, and Ryan, who had stayed over too. Gotta give Ryan points – he’s a trier, but I don’t think he’s getting anywhere with Lucas. At least they’re having fun. My domestic skills continued making lunches for us all plus some snacks to eat along the way. Guess it will be the last home cooked meal we get till we meet up with the family in Austin, TX.
Tommy was going to send off the two care packages that I’d left behind. The freight company was coming to the fire station today sometime to collect them, so at least there will be some nice gifts for all while I’m away. Shit! I’ve got to skype the boys see how Ty, Gav, and Sam are all going.
The roads they were pretty much empty in US standards this morning as we headed out of Castaic towards the Joshua Tree national park. Lucas had decided that because I was up early and packed etc, – thanks Josh would have preferred to be snuggled up in bed with a nice warm bod for a while longer, but it wasn’t his fault really – that he’d take the first shift driving. I was just about to drift off to sleep when I felt the truck slow down.
“Jamie, look at that.”
I sat up and stared out the windshield, my eye adjusting to the morning light from the most specular sunrise I’d seen for a while: looking out across the valley out into the distance, the beautiful soft blue with shades of pink, red, and orange painted across the sky. Then I saw it – a hand-drawn sign stuck to a power pole just off to the side: “Have a fantastic trip Jamie, am sorry I had to go, Josh” with a smiley face and what I think was a really bad drawing of a kangaroo.
“Lucas, hold up a sec,” I slipped my chucks back on and climbed out of the truck, walking up to the sign, taking a selfie. I was walking back to the truck when Lucas called out the window.
“Jamie, take it down and bring it with us. It’s a memento, buddy.” And I did.
I rolled the large sheet of poster material up into a tube and used a random hair tie that someone had left on the floor of my truck to keep it safely rolled up.
“Okay driver,” I said as I climbed back in, slipping my chucks off and tucking my feet half under my butt. “Let’s go!” Lucas steered us back on the highway and out of the county in what seemed to be only minutes.
I was looking out the side window watching the countryside come to life slowly as the sun broke across the ground. If the rest of my trip is going to be anything like the past few days, I’m going to need a break when I get back to get over it. I could feel the smile warm my face.
Lucas had caught sight of my smile. “Jamie, Josh was a nice guy, hey?”
He looked at me with both a question and answer written on his face.
“Yeah, he was. Probably too nice for me though, Lucas.”
“I call bullshit,” Lucas responded. “But I think you need time to understand what you want in life, cuz. Maybe you need to start closing some of those open doors you have in your head – you know with Sean, your ex, Adam, even Sam.”
I shot him a look of death. “Sean? Really, Lucas, you had to bring Sean up.” I could feel my eyes start to sting. Folding my arms across my chest in anger and trying to comfort myself, it just hurt too much. “I’m not going there, Lucas, that’s… just leave it alone.”
“I’m sorry, Jamie. I liked Sean too. It wasn’t your fault either – you know that, right? You need to stop blaming yourself. Remember, I was there too. You couldn’t do anything.” Lucas reached over and rubbed my arm with a genuine look of compassion on his face.
A tear slipped from my eye. I quickly wiped it away and tried to hide it. “Yeah, I know, I just-” I stretched a little and rubbed my eyes again with my hands “- I don’t like conflict or the finality of ending things, you know.”
“Yeah, you’ve been like that since we were kids. You’ve always bahis firmaları struggled with closing off feelings and moving along. I guess it’s just who you are.”
“Wow, this is going to be a long trip if we’re going to psychoanalyze my behaviors since childhood,” I exclaimed, looking at Lucas. We both burst into laughter.
“Well, maybe not that long. It’s the same theme replayed over and over, isn’t it Jamie?”
“Ouch, nice burn, buddy. Okay, somewhat true, but, wow, a bit early for kicking my butt yet.”
Lucas hit play on the playlist and music started to fill the car. “Oh cool! I like Sam Hunt.”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you like about Sam Hunt, Jamie.” Lucas cocked his head and raised his eyebrows.
“Wha- he can use me as that back road any day. I’m from the south side.”
“No, you’re from the southern hemisphere, you idiot. What – don’t they teach you anything in College other than Kangaroo taming?”
“Fuck off! I kicked your ass that year I was in high school with you, Lucas.” The laughter started up again. We were always so relaxed, honest with each other. I couldn’t stay angry at Lucas for more than half a day. The worst was when I was a kid because he stole my Hershey’s and my aunt, his mom, wouldn’t let me buy another one.
I flipped him the bird and got back to messaging Josh.
‘Thank you, Josh. That was sweet.’ I sent my selfie with the sign and a ton of smiley faces and one blowing a kiss. “Nice,” slipped out of my mouth to Josh who could not possibly hear me, but what the hell – I laughed at myself, putting the cell down in the center console.
We finally arrived at our first stop, the visitor center at Joshua Tree National Park, checking in and booking a site at the big rock campground for the night. We climbed back into the truck with some maps in hand, like a pair of school kids on an exciting trip. I guess on some level we were behaving like school kids, maybe seniors.
Putting on my best winey childlike voice, I asked, “Can we head over to the ‘Desert Queen Mine’? From the pictures, this place looks like they had modelled their ‘Wild West Water rides on theme parks around the world. Pleasseee?”
Lucas just looked at me like I was an idiot. His face warmed into a smile and gave in, nodding in agreement. “Jesus, okay! Damn – that trick is so effective, especially when you put on the sad face with it. Jamie, you’ve got to teach me the ways of the man-child,” he smirked, putting on a childlike voice on his own.
Smiling, I replied, “Sure. No problems, buddy. That was a pretty decent start right then.” Lucas just winked at me yeah ‘He remembers,’ I thought to myself. ‘He is more like my brother than my brother.’
As we approached the township, the view was eerily familiar, but also not – seeing this stuff in the flesh so to speak, knowing that these were actual buildings and not a mine at an amusement park or theme park. No sooner had the truck stopped moving, we both looked at each other and jumped out, slamming the doors a little hard in our excitement to explore.
After wandering around for a while and shooting some video for our diary, we headed off to skull rock, then, big rock and some other rock.
“Jamie, this is amazing: the scenery, it’s breathtaking. Mate, the place looks like all those scenes from the 1960’s Star Trek TV series.”
“I know, right!” Lucas was just as wide-eyed as me. “Everywhere we look, it’s like this,” I pointed out into the distance. “Lucas – Beam me up, Scotty.”
Lucas held up his hand and did the Vulcan hand signal V thing, “Live long and don’t be an idiot,” he intoned in a deep put-on voice.
“It’s ‘prosper’, not ‘idiot’-you idiot, Lucas.”
“Nope, for us it’s ‘don’t be an idiot’, so we have a chance of living long and prospering, Jamie.”
Yeah, he was right, I guess. I just shrugged my shoulders and climbed up some other rocky outcrop.
“Lucas, I just can’t get over it – the whole place is like the movie portrayal of the Wild West desert, you know – with huge Cactus and Joshua trees, boulders and rock outcrops, with sparse arid ground cover.” Laughing to myself, I continued, “Lucas, all you need is tumbleweed and the music from the ‘Good-the-Bad and-the-Ugly’ and we would be set.”
“No, you’re an idiot,” Lucas yelled back from another outcrop.
“Jeez, with friends like that, who needs enemies?” I took out the truck key and waved it at him, teasing a bit, “Oi Lucas, see ya,” and I scrambled down off my high up perch.
Lucas appeared thirty seconds later, a little out of breath after running to catch up with me.
“I’m not your friend, I’m family.”
“Exactly! And just remember, we both have enough dirt on each other – don’t forget it.” I smiled back at him. I put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him into a side hug. There are not many people that I totally and unreservedly trust or love, but Lucas was one.
It had always been the same kaçak iddaa way with Lucas: we brought different aspects of our personalities out. With me, I always was at ease around Lucas. I felt more in control of myself and my world, plus I didn’t feel like I was being judged or treated like a child. Whereas Lucas was visibly more relaxed around me and able to just go with the flow. I so missed that year I spent over here at school with him and my cousins. It’s weird, but I felt like a grew as a person a whole lot in that twelve months, but slipped back into the rhythm of the way things happened in our family when I got back home.
Just before dusk, we decided that it was time to head back to ‘Jumbo Rocks’ camping ground and set up for the night before all the spots were gone, or we’d end up near the latrine building and we didn’t want that, right?
“Come on buddy,” I said as I directed Lucas into our small reserved space to park the truck. Once we were parked, it was simply just unloading a few of the storage crates that were in the tub of the truck in order to make way for our camping swags to be rolled out so we could sleep off the ground.
After fifteen minutes of stacking and cracking open a ‘Dr. Pepper’, we were all done. Our idea around the storage crates and large locker in the tub was simple and easy, plus keeping our stuff safe and secure from people and animals.
We’d finished unpacking some snacks into our eagerly awaiting tummies, so it was time to set a small fire at the back of the campsite although it had been a warm day- can’t go camping and not have a fire – that would be just sitting outside in the dark, and that’s just sad.
“Jamie, do you want to get the fire going, or me? The cold air of night in the desert will be coming down pretty quickly, and you’re always crapping on about how Firefighters light the best fires.”
“Sure, I’ll do it,” and headed off to the wood storage we’d packed in the tub locker for camping, in case we struck rain or no wood to burn etc.
While I was getting the fire set and started, Lucas set up the site with some fold-out chairs, portable light lamp and music, of course. “Calvin Harris getting a run tonight so far nice-choice Lucas, nice.” I was standing back admiring my handy work, well both really, as Lucas had decided to help me light the fire after he’d finished his stuff. After fifteen-twenty minutes we had it cracking away just nicely.
Soon enough, we were joined by the neighbors from a few of the surrounding campsites in short order. Apparently, my Aussie accent was drawing them in. Before we knew it, there were about 15 people sitting around the fire pit, with some kids not much older than my niece and nephew toasting marshmallow and making s’mores, watching the skyline slowly darken and hue of color change. It was nice, extremely relaxing.
Everyone was engaged in conversations when my cell started to buzz. Pulling it from my pocket I could see it was a skype call from home. Gav, Ty and almost all of the gang were calling me from what looked like my parents’ place, wah?
I quickly answered the call and excused myself from the crowd around the fire. Lucas looked up and I smiled and waved him off – I think he was concerned that is was bad news or something. “Hold on guys. Let me switch the call to my tablet so I can see y’all,” I almost yelled into the cell as I quickly crossed the ground to the cabin of the truck, retrieving my tablet and powering it up.
Plugging in my headphones and switching the call over, I climbed up onto the side of the truck, sitting atop the toolbox locker across the rear bulkhead and managing not to drop the cell phone, tablet or my drink – awesome effort, if I do say so myself!
In seconds I was transported away from the US and back to my friends in OZ. Hearing all their voices and excitement in talking over each other was intoxicating and made me tear up a little. Our accents stood out so much in a large concertation of competing voices – it was weird. Did I sound like that?
Everyone was at the ‘rents’ place, as they’d been helping Julie clean out and paint her old place getting it ready to sell. There had been a couple of offers made on the place in record time, which I think Adam might have had something to do with. Noticing him and Jules chatting away in the background, it made me smile. I hope they get it on – it would be awesome – two of my best friends together. Julie deserves a great guy and you couldn’t go past Adam.
Lucas came looking for me after a little while, climbing up into the tub of the truck and sitting next to me, s’more in hand and mouth – hope he bought me one as well.
“Umm-Umm,” with hand gestures was all I got from Lucas as he waved the delicious chocolatey treat at me. Clearly, it was waiting to meet its maker. Once we had exchanged hand gestures, I needed to stuff that delicious looking thing in my mouth. Lucas who had sat back next to me became excited – his face lit up like Fourth of July seeing everyone on the screen.
The kaçak bahis gang, seeing him appear, let out a cheer. Mom and Dad appeared in the background of the screen and let out aloud, “Yes, there’s our boy!”
“Hey, I’m their boy, he’s just a ring in,” I laughed, at my parents’ joy in seeing their nephew.
“Hey guys,” Lucas reached over, unplugging my earbuds when no one responded to him. They all were cheering when they heard Lucas speak.
“My god – it’s the part-time Aussie,” Gav shouted, “How are you mate? You keeping that crazy cousin under control or do you need controlling like last time you were, where Lucas? Oh, thanks for the pics too, by the way. That was awesome stuff” Gav roared with laughter.
“What pictures did you send to the guys, Lucas?” I snapped at him with a look that would stop a clock.
“Um… nothing,” he replied, looking all coy at me.
“Bullshit!” Ty shouted back.
There was a slapping sound of camera. I could hear Mom giving Ty a motherly serve for swearing in the house. It ended with a “Sorry Ma’am,” from Ty.
“Hey Jamie, there are loads of pictures of you on the back of a nice looking truck with your hands down some guys pants.” Ty was smirking into the screen.
I could see Gav in the background trying to look invisible and not doing a good job of it either.
Jeez, these guys are just trying to get me fried with the ‘rents or what? Swiping my face with my hand, “I’m gonna…” Mom let out a yelp off-screen somewhere.
“He did what?” echoed across the room.
Ty looked closely into the camera, “Oops – my bad. Sorry, buddy,” he said sheepishly, pulling a sad face. His eyes were distracted to movement off screen and twisted around – I think he was going to make a dash for the backyard to finish our conversation when I spotted my Mom closing in at speed behind him.
The screen shook for a moment and I could see we were on the move – the camera was pointing sideways at what looked to be knee height from this angle.
“Crap, I’m gonna get an ass kicking now,” I quietly said to myself, rocking back a little, leaning against the rear of the truck cabin. Lucas had seen it all and gave me one of those comical ‘oops-you’re-stuffed’ looks.
I replied with looking to the heavens for divine interference or something, with my hand holding the side of my face like it was about to fall off.
“Okay Jamie, time to be proactive… Mom!”
Nothing – we were still walking.
“Mom,” a little louder this time holding the tablet at almost point-blank range from my mouth, the walking stopped.
She was lifting the cell. Obviously I was loud enough to be heard – either that or the house had just suffered a silent earthquake and the place was turning 90 degrees right side up at speed.
“Yes James,” Mom looked into the screen far too close. It was one of those scary closeup shots where everything is out of proportion.
I couldn’t help myself – a smile broke across my face. “Oh, what a big nose you have grandma, and big teeth too.”
Lucas looked at me with a horrified look on his face. In a hushed voice, he proceeded to explain possible lack of foresight with that last comment.
“What the fuck! What the fuck are you doing Jamie? Your Momma is going to kill you, and most likely me too, you dumb ass.”
Then I heard Steph’s voice, coming closer. “Mom what are you doing?”
I looked at Lucas, “Oh shit! Here we go… this is going to-”
Lucas hit the mute button on the screen. “Shh,” holding his finger to his lips in the age-old ‘quiet’ signal. “This is going to be good. I love it when Steph and your Mom um-talk about you. It’s always been so full-on. I wanna hear this plus don’t want the background noises cutting us out at a key moment and miss a zinger launched by Stephanie. Jamie, this is going to be either quick or catastrophic.”
“Mom, he’s a grown man, having a holiday. What – you’re going to tell him off for having some fun?”
“Well, Stephanie, I don’t think sending photos around with his hands down other people’s pants is fun.”
Stephanie replied, “Hey, Mom! You know that doesn’t intimidate me like it does my brothers or sister. Really Mom, don’t be such a Grandma.”
Lucas and I just looked at each other in stunned silence, checking that the mute was still turned on. We were both in total sync, wriggling a bit closer, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, leaning in closer to the screen.
We were both grinning like idiots. “These showdowns don’t happen too often, hey Lucas?” and we weren’t going to miss a second of it. My mom and eldest sister going at it was always entertaining, even better when it took the heat off me.
Lucas’ finger was lifted to the lips again. “Shhh, Jamie.”
“Jamie didn’t take the photos, did he Mom? Clearly, his hands were busy, And with some guy with a, wow! Really hot ass in ‘Levi’s’.”
We could see Steph had a smirk on her face – clearly she could see the fun part of it – but I was more hoping she’d be trying not to unnecessarily poke the bear. Maybe she was not so much trying the full frontal attack with Mom – sometimes it worked between Mom and Steph, but never anyone else, not even Dad.
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