Brandon has just graduated from university as a primary school teacher. As he travels to his first teaching post, he wonders what he’s got himself into. From the airplane, the tiny town of Gunnanilla looks no bigger than a cattle station. And when he lands, he steps into heat such as he has never encountered before.
Sweating and feeling faint from the extreme temperature, he meets his new boss Mark Petersen, the racist principal of the only school for miles around. Then he meets the school’s other teacher, Mark’s wife Trina, and the students, most of whom are Australian Aborigines.
Life in the small town is no picnic. In the summer, the heat is unrelenting. In the wet season, the town is cut off from the outside world and all deliveries are brought to a halt. There is only one television channel. To top it all off, there are any number of poisonous creatures around, such as snakes, scorpions, and spiders. How’s a poor city boy like Brandon, who’s interested in fashion, music, and clubbing and none too confident with his sexuality, going to cope?
Enter the handsome, rough-around-the-edges miner, Frank. When Mark warns Brandon that Frank is gay, it seems this town might finally have something to keep him entertained. But how can he meet Frank without drawing attention to his own sexuality? How can anything possibly happen between them in such rough, tough, and macho surroundings?
Frank was even more good-looking than Brandon had first realised. Just like everyone else, he was tanned, and there was a slight rosiness to his cheeks. His dark hair was wavy and needed a cut, and Brandon could see evidence of a thickly-haired chest beneath the blue work singlet he wore. His eyes, dark brown and ringed by jet black lashes, seemed to sparkle as he laughed and when his eyes met Brandon’s, he stopped laughing and smiled.
Brandon almost spun himself off the bar stool in his haste to avert his attention.
“C-c-can I have another one?”
“You’ll turn into an alcoholic, Mr Lewis,” Katy said as she poured a measure of bourbon into a fresh glass.
“Er, I’m, ah, I’m just going to have another one and then I’d better get back to my room and do some work.”
“But it’s the weekend,” said Kirk.
“Yeah,” said Brandon, “and it’s the only time I’ve got to finish my programmes.”
Brandon could tell by the look on Kirk’s face that he didn’t really understand what the hell Brandon was talking about. He wished he’d never heard of programmes, although he only had an hour or two more to spend on them before he could submit them to Mark for approval. There were a few reasons why it was important for him to make sure they were as good as they could be. One was that he was under probation. His paperwork was being assessed along with his actual teaching. The second was the fact that the better his programmes, the easier his lessons would be to organise. The third, and best reason, was that he could use them again next year.
“In fact,” he said, swallowing down his drink. “I should get going right now.”
He put the glass on the counter, turned around and in doing so noticed that Frank was no longer at the table. He didn’t think much of it. What point was there, anyway, of busting a gut to meet a man he’d probably never see again? And even if they did meet, how could he do anything about getting to know Frank better without being tarred with the same homophobic brush.
He walked down the short hallway, past the kitchen, where it smelled as if chips were being deep fried. He crossed the grassed area and waved hello to Julie, the long-haired hippy girl whose job it was to clean the rooms and look after the small shop attached to the pub.
“What are you up to?” she called out.
“Got work to do,” Brandon replied with a groan.
Then he did something he had never done before. Instead of accessing the veranda via the three steps directly in front of his door, he walked to the end of the veranda and went that way instead. He had no idea why he’d done it and shrugged it off as just one of those things. The first door he came to was ajar and lying on the bed reading a newspaper was Frank.
Brandon’s heart began to race. He felt weak. Embarrassed at his reaction, he pretended he hadn’t seen the man and hurried by.
In a split second Brandon wondered whether he had really heard Frank call out, or if it had simply been another noise that sounded like a greeting. Having had time for the fact that Frank was in the room right next to his, Brandon swallowed hard and returned to Frank’s door.
“Sorry, did you say something?”
Frank was beaming. He had taken off his singlet and was lying on his bed wearing nothing more than a pair of very short shorts. His chest, slim and toned, was a carpet of thick, dark hair.
“I said hello.”
Brandon smiled back. “Okay. I thought so. Hello.”
He took a step in the direction of his room.
“Whereabouts are you?” asked Frank.
Brandon pointed as he replied. “Next door.”
“So we’re neighbours.”
Brandon nodded. The air of expectation that something was going to happen between them was having a physical effect on Brandon. He could feel himself getting hard. He glanced down and could see that already there was a noticeable bulge in his pants. When he looked up again he caught Frank sneaking a peek, and suddenly Brandon didn’t know what to do.
“Anyway, I’ll see you later,” he said hurrying away, but not before he heard Frank reply, “I hope so.”
As he had done from day one, the first thing Brandon did when he got inside his room was turn the air conditioner on. He got out his books and pens, setting them out neatly on the desk, and then decided a quick shower was needed. He undressed, turned the tap on and stepped under the soothing spray of cold water. He sighed and stood there, leaning forwards with his arms straight out in front of him, bracing him, as water cascaded down over his body. He closed his eyes and pictured Frank, lying on the bed. So hairy. So masculine. And damned good looking. A real man.
Only when he started to shiver did he turn the tap off. He dried himself and pulled on a fresh pair of shorts. Refreshed and rejuvenated, he sat down at the desk and looked at his Maths programme. He sighed. He’d never liked maths. Hated in fact. He was in complete agreement with Leanne, the outspoken student who had told him it ‘was yukky.’ Secretly, one of the reasons he had chosen the junior primary class was because he knew he could do the maths. The same could not be said of the higher grades where they tackled introductory algebra. Ugh!
He was still in the process of motivating himself when there was a knock at the door. He got up, opened it and found Frank standing there with a six-pack of beer.
“Hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said with his killer smile.
“No,” said Brandon, lying. “Nope. Not disturbing me.”